“Have you got the knife?” Merlin asked, dragging his eyes from the sight below him to Arthur who was on the opposite side of the cage, his feet a foot or so away from Merlin’s own.
“Yeah, I’m trying…” Arthur said, his tounge comically sticking out as he tried to slide the knife out of his sleeve and cut the rope around his wrist.
“Hurry!” Merlin looked up at the sky at the black crows that were already beginning their decent to lunch.
“No!” Arthur suddenly shouted and Merlin saw a flash of metal in the scorching sun.
Arthur had just dropped the knife and their only hope of escape.
“No!” Merlin hit his head on the back of the cage angrily.
At that moment the huge crowd of crows flew around them and they were suddenly consumed in the cloud of black-feathered birds.
“Death by crow. I never thought it would end this way.” Arthur shouted through the feathery storm whilst sending a crow flying with a well-aimed kick.
“End?” Merlin yelled back, also kicking a crow away into a circular spin towards the ground.
“Yeah, unless you’ve got some miraculous escape plan!”
Merlin had to admit he didn’t. He could use his magic to unravel the ropes around his wrists but he would have to be able to see them if he was to do that, and as they were behind him he couldn’t. He could cast a spell but that would require speech and there was no doing that in front of Arthur without the prince noticing.
He briefly wondered if this was it. Was this the moment in his destiny when Arthur would finally discover the truth? Could he trust him?
Suddenly a crow behind him pecked painfully at his fingers, taking a chunk of flesh with it. The noise of the birds was deafening and Merlin thought that it would probably take a while to knock out of his head if they did survive this. His ears bleeding, along with multiple pecks all over him and his rib severely hurting, Merlin wondered if they would get out of this scrape as they did with all the other adventures that they naturally seemed to attract. This was barely something you could call an adventure thought. It wasn’t every day you got eaten by crows.
This was not to be that day however.
The birds seemed to be giving up. Their prey was too alive for them. They would come back later when they were more dead and easier to eat.
Merlin watched as the crows gave up one by one and went back to whirling around in the sky, though some stayed and pecked half heartedly at the old skeletons in the other cages.
“They’ll be back.” Arthur said darkly.
“Don’t remind me.”
“Are you alright? You seem to be missing a bit of shoulder.”
Merlin turned his head to his shoulder that did indeed have a chunk missing from it.
“Great…” Merlin tried to reach the wound and wipe it with his chin but he could quite get to it and gave up.
“Watch out.” Arthur bit his lip and looked at something behind Merlin.
Merlin twisted his head around and was surprised to see a determined crow flying at him, having just taken off from one of the cages.
“Shoo! Shoo!” Merlin flapped his hands as much as the ropes would allow him in a hopeless attempt to scare the bird away.
The crow was not so easily startled and landed on the back of his neck, its talons digging painfully into his skin.
“Get off!” Merlin shook his head to try and unbalance it but the rook only dug its claws in deeper.
Suddenly the scarf around Merlin’s neck (miraculously it was still there) began to loosen and before he knew it the crow had it in its shiny, black beak and began flying away, cawing victoriously, to one of the other cages.
Arthur burst into laughter at the look on Merlin’s face.
“It’s only a scarf, Merlin!”
“LOOK WHAT IT’S DOING!” Merlin seethed as the bird proceeded to rip his beloved neckerchief into long, red shreds.
“Shame really. We could have used it for shade.” Arthur said, staring crossly at the sun that had decided to be a blazing ball of fire for the day.
Merlin sighed heavily and lent against the cage wall.
“Right, we need to escape.” He said.
“Talk about stating the obvious!”
“We could swing the cage and jump onto one of the other ones…except we’re tied to this one…” Merlin mused, inspecting the options of escape that were present, “Or maybe if we jump up and down the floor might break…but then we’d fall…”
“Or we could try calling for help…except no one would hear a thing when we’re up here...perhaps we could send a crow with a message to someone…no, no that wouldn’t work…”
“Or I could eat a hole through the bars…”
“Umm…yeah?” Merlin stopped his ranting and final took notice of Arthur.
“I…umm…well…if we don’t get out of this…” Arthur muttered.
“What?” Merlin asked, frowning with confusion.
“Well…umm…you know when I always call you an idiot…I never mean a word of it.” Arthur said quietly and looked at his shuffling feet.
“What?” Merlin reeled.
“What I meant is…I’m sorry. I shouldn’t treat my best friend in the way I do. Don’t ever let me take you for granted again.” Arthur mumbled and seemed to become extremely interested in his shoes.
“What did you just say?” Merlin stuttered with absolute surprise. This was so unlike the prince it scared him. Where had the old Arthur gone? Who was this impostor?
Arthur was slightly shocked. He had thought it obvious that he counted Merlin among his friends. Was it really so hard to belive? He didn’t have to ask. He already knew the answer.
He never thanked Merlin or appreciated a thing he did. He just told him to get on with some job or other. Or when he was trying to say something important Arthur would just brush him off like he was an annoying pest.
He had saved Arthur’s life from Lady Helen but all the prince had been able to do was stutter and gawp and think how on earth such an idiot could have saved him.
Arthur felt like kicking himself. How could he have been so tough on him?
“You heard me.” He said.
“…” Merlin seemed to be having a heart attack by the look on his face.
“Crow got your tounge?” Arthur asked.
“Who are you and what have you done with Arthur?”
“Oh, come on. Don’t milk it.”
“Anyway…umm…any ideas? You were full of them earlier.” Arthur asked, referring to escape and trying to change the subject, swallowing with embarrassment.
“Err…” Merlin coughed and cleared his throat, “Try rubbing the rope together. Maybe it’ll wear away.” He still looked like he had just suffered from cardiac arrest but was clearly trying his best to recover.
Arthur said nothing but instead executed the idea and began to rub his wrists together. He could feel the friction making the twine hotter and hotter and it began to burn his skin slightly but didn’t break the rope.
Merlin was having just as much luck (not a lot) and stopped suddenly.
He had just had an idea. He could bring the knife up from the ground below and cut the ropes.
Arthur was busy with his own rope shaped problems. This was Merlin’s chance.
The knife was too far away to see but maybe if he concentrated really hard then he would be able to bring it up regardless.
He stared down at the dusty ground beneath the cage, hundreds of feet away, and thought that maybe there was the smallest shimmer of metal in the sun, or perhaps it was his imagination.
A flash like a golden storm in Merlin’s eyes showed that it had not been his imagination but was the knife.
The dagger was flying up at a fast pace, getting steadily bigger and bigger as it neared. Merlin sent it whizzing into his hand where it just missed cutting his palm.
He immediately looked at Arthur who, oblivious as always, had completely missed the whole thing.
Merlin turned the knife around in his fist so that it stroked the inside of the bristly rope. He didn’t plan on dropping it so he carefully began to rub it up and down on the twine. He could hear it snapping and suddenly it was loose around his wrists.
He quickly dropped the knife, which hurtled back to earth again, and pretended to be rubbing the ropes like he had suggested.
If Arthur thought that he had simply worn the rope away with rubbing then it would be a perfect cover up to his illegal use of magic.
“I’ve got it!” He suddenly cried and pulled his hands out from behind him, the rope falling off to the cage floor as he did so.
Arthur’s eyes widened with surprise, as did his mouth, into a grin.
“Well don’t just sit there! Untie me!”
Merlin crawled over and untied the ropes behind Arthur, the cage wobbling precariously at the change of weight.
Once free and rubbing his sore wrists Arthur kicked the door of the crate open. The hatch snapped easily but now another problem arose. How to get out of the cage and onto the platform that was meters away.
“Right…umm…it’ll be risky but if we climb on top of this cage then we could jump to that one and then to the platform.” Arthur suggested unsurely, pointing at the different places he mentioned in turn, his arm sticking out of the small square door of the cage.
“If we fall there’s no coming back.” Merlin pointed out.
“Which is why I said it was risky.”
There was a heavy pause as they both stuck their heads out of the cage and looked down at the drop below, swallowing at the thought of falling.
“You first.” Merlin voiced both of their thoughts.
“Fine, its not like its gonna make any difference.” Arthur said, submitting himself to the dreaded fate.
Merlin shuffled back into the one of the corners of the cramped cage so that Arthur would have room to get out. The cage was still wobbling like mad at all this movement and Merlin was quiet convinced that the rope that held it would snap.
Arthur went out backwards, with his head going first, so that he could grab the top of the cage and pull himself out that way. The crate lurched horribly, throwing poor Merlin from left to right as the prince hauled himself onto the roof, his legs scrabbling on the sides and floundering in the air.
He threw himself onto the rope that held the cage and clung onto it for dear life, desperately trying to not look down and the heart in his rib cage thumped so hard it hurt.
“Y…your turn.” He stuttered, trying to catch his breath that had lodged itself in his throat, almost choking him.
Merlin poked his head warily out of the hatch and pulled himself up the same way Arthur had, refusing to look down and sweating not only with the heat but also with fright. He latched onto Arthur’s ankle, the prince having stood up and now hugging the rope like a life support.
A crow that had been perched on the edge of the cage flew off, cawing, as Merlin clambered to his feet, also clinging to the thin rope.
The whole idea of jumping to one of the other cages didn’t seem such a good one now. The closest one seemed to be miles away from up here.
Arthur took a deep breath and let it out slowly, making a long hiss.
“Okay. You go over to that corner to balance it out while I jump, but don’t let go of the rope. Right?” He said.
“Yeah but who’s going to balance it out for when I jump?”
“Umm…don’t worry. It’ll be fine.” Arthur replied in a rather uncomforting tone of voice.