Arthur was woken early the next morning by a hand that was suddenly thrown over his face. He pushed the sleeping Merlin’s arm off him and sat up, rubbing his face sleepily. A glance at the window showed him it was around five in the morning, the white light of dawn shinning through the glassless opening and bathing the room in light.
There was a good deal more people in the tree house, all asleep and snoring loudly. Arthur shoved the noise as best he could to the back of his head and knowing he would not be able to sleep again he got up and shuffled drowsily over to the window, picking his way through the sleeping forms all around.
The camp lay below, half shrouded in a foggy mist, the odd early riser moving sleepily about, poking a fire or stirring a stew.
Yawning Arthur watched one of them idly, having nothing better to do.
Suddenly there was the smallest of yelps and the person disappeared.
Arthur snapped to attention and peered down at where the person had been. A man appeared and for a moment he thought it was the person he had been watching but then another man appeared and then another. He noticed one of them had fiery orange hair and recognized the man immediately.
It was Finnie.
He must be leading an ambush into the camp. But how had they found it? Easy question, easily answered. The camp was not the best hidden in the world, only a few hundred yards from the track and with dozens of houses poking out of the tree tops.
He and Merlin would have seen it the previous night had the weather not been so bad.
Without thinking he kicked a sleeping man near him awake and yelled loudly so that every one else would wake up.
“RAISE THE ALARM!” He shouted, not knowing if there was an alarm but shouting it anyway.
The room was awake in a split second, the men leaping up with surprise and all looking around confusedly.
“IT’S THEM!” He yelled, pointing desperately at the window to which everyone crowded to, squishing him against the wall in the attempt to see what was gong on.
They saw the men swarming into the camp like ants and immediately sprinted for the door at break neck speed.
“What’s going on?” Merlin demanded, pushing through the crowd towards Arthur.
“It’s Finnie and co. They’ve found the camp!”
Merlin stuck his head out the window to see the that the men had met Finnie’s troop and were clashing swords, the noise loud and pounding through his still half asleep head.
“Come on!” Arthur grabbed him and dragged him out the tree house.
They raced over the bridges and slid down the ladder, Arthur grabbing two nearby swords and throwing one to Merlin.
The prince ducked as an arrow flew past, narrowly missing his ear. A man flew at him, his sword nearly cutting him but Arthur whipped round and whacked the man over the head with the butt of his own sword. He fell to the ground but Arthur had no time to finish him off as another man bowled into him, knocking him flat.
Arthur felt the cold sharpness of a sword at his throat and opened his eyes to see the man who had spat in his eye in the tent; the one Almaric had called Kaden.
“You!” Kaden growled and narrowed his eyes.
“There is no way my luck is that bad!” Arthur said before kicking the man off him with a strong leg and sending him flying over his head.
Arthur was up in a second and unfortunately so was he.
They clashed swords, their faces only centimetres away from each other, the man’s rancid breath stinging Arthur’s nostrils. He pushed hard against the older man’s sword and the metal slid away, scraping noisily. The prince rolled to the left as Kaden flew at him again. He wasn’t fast enough and the man kicked him hard in the side with a hobnail boot.
Arthur tumbled away a few feet, groaning in pain and trying to regain his breath that had been knocked out of him.
This opponent was not only bigger, older and faster than he was but out for revenge for tripping him in the tent. Arthur knew he would win though. He always did.
Merlin was having problems of his own. He had no idea how to wield a sword and was only fending off his assailants by pure luck.
That and a little magic.
A flash of gold and another bandit found his sword slipping out of his hands and flying away into a tree.
Merlin rammed into him, digging his sharp shoulders into the other mans ribs, knocking them both into a tent. The man crashed into a table and Merlin ducked as he threw a metal goblet at him.
Yet another flash of gold later and the cup was flying right back at the man, knocking him out.
Merlin stumbled out of the tent, clutching his broken rib, and saw the unmistakeable red hair of Finnie entering Adrian’s tent, clearly wanting to kill the men’s leader.
Pushing the pain of his rib to the back of his mind, Merlin’s eyes roved the battle before him, desperately trying to find Arthur. If anyone were to protect Adrian it would be him.
He saw the familiar blonde head and rushed over, dodging through the fight towards his friend.
Arthur was fighting that man he had tripped in the tent. What was it Almaric had called him? Kaden?
Arthur looked in a bad way, his nose gushing blood and a long slash down his forearm. He was too busy to help anyone but himself right now. It was up to Merlin.
He ran towards the tent and entered it to find Adrian bravely fighting for his life but looking weaker than ever, with a purple bruise on his head.
Finnie was standing over him, about to deal the killing blow.
Merlin knocked the sword out of his hand and ducked as a fist flew his way.
Finnie drew a short dagger from his belt and slashed at Merlin.
Merlin jumped back, the blade just missing his stomach but Finnie leapt at him, striking a blow that just caught the side of his cranium, the dagger cutting his forehead.
Scarlet blinded Merlin for a moment as the blood drizzled into his eye but he wiped it away and jumped back again, trying to tempt Finnie out of the tent and away from Adrian.
Arthur whacked a blow over Kaden’s head that sent him straight to the floor and wiped the blood away from his nose where the man had punched him.
He spun around and saw that the ambushers were beginning to retreat. Some stayed, fighting bravely, but they would soon be seen off by their opponents.
Now the clearing was less crowded Arthur looked around for Merlin, seeing him duck from a swipe that came from Finnie in Adrian’s tent.
Arthur was at Merlin’s side before he even had time to think and was striking a blow at Finnie that hit its mark.
Finnie fell, knees first, to the ground, his beady eyes wide with shock and pain.
Merlin ran over to Adrian who was on the floor of his tent, breathing irregularly and writhing with agony at the sword that had somehow managed to cut him even though Merlin had knocked it out of Finnie’s hand.
“NO!” Someone suddenly shouted and Elliot raced past Arthur, knocking Merlin out of the way and going to his dieing father.
“Elliot.” The old man hissed in pain.
“Do something!” Elliot yelled randomly at Merlin who just stood and stared in shock.
“Elliot.” Adrian mumbled again.
“Yes?” Elliot said, tears falling freely down his face.
“Elliot, someone must take over when I’m gone. I had hoped that I would last long enough to see you become ready but I have not. You are still too inexperienced, too young.”
“But then who will take your place father?”
“Arthur here is not just Arthur. He is the crowned prince of Camelot. He knows how to lead men in a way you or I never could. I have not known him for a long time but in the short time I have, I have seen how he cares for others. He is a honourable man. He may not be my son but he is what these men need, a good leader.” Adrian stopped and coughed up a lump of blood, “I want you to become the leader of these men Arthur Pendragon. Lead them to victory. Do you accept a dieing man’s wish?” He choked, turning his head to Arthur who stood silent, ridged in shock.
“I…” Arthur stuttered, his face going pale, “Yes.” He said and nodded his head slowly.
“But-“ Elliot began.
“Hush my son. This is my will. Do you respect me enough to obey it?”“Yes father.” Elliot held his father in his arms as the old man breathed his last.