“Is this wise? I mean he said certain death! Don’t you think it could be yours?” Merlin voiced his doubts to Arthur as the prince ordered a few men to clear him a temporary training ground.
“He said sudden death, Merlin.”
“My point still stands though. I can imagine Almaric being pretty handy with a sword.”
“So can I but if I fight in single combat then it will save these men from a battle that I fear would kill most of them.”
“But at the cost of your own life?” Merlin grilled.
“I can beat him.”
“Don’t worry about…oh no…”
“I’m off!” Arthur promptly turned heel and ran as he saw something behind Merlin.
Merlin spun around to see Amy coming towards him with her shark like grin plastered all over her face and a small package in her hands.
“Hi, Merlin.” She said shyly.
“Hi…” He said warily.
“I made you something.” She said and handed the package to Merlin.
Merlin, thinking it was some kind of trick, was slightly apprehensive about what might be in the parcel but opened it anyway. He found a red scarf; almost identical to the one the crow had stolen from him, folded neatly inside.
“But how did you know?” He asked, baffled, and tied the scarf around his neck, where it hung perfectly.
“Oh, I have my ways.” Amy giggled, “I thought you might wear it for our wedding day.”
“I thought an autumn wedding, maybe in a few weeks or so. I’ll have a big white dress and pink flowers and you can wear a nice black suit.” Amy said, deadly serious, looking up at the sky in thought.
Without a moment’s hesitation Merlin ran.
He hurtled into a tent where he found Elliot drinking a glass of ale and sorting through a pile of scrolls.
“Merlin? Merlin?” Amy’s voice came from the tent door.
“Hide me!” Merlin hissed and dove under a table, leaving a bemused Elliot to face his sister.
“Elliot? Have you seen Merlin? He just ran off.” Amy said and Merlin saw her feet appear at the tent doorway from under the tablecloth.
“Umm…no I haven’t seen him.” Elliot said and Amy’s feet shuffled away, kicking up a few leaves as she went.
“Is it safe?” Merlin hissed.
Merlin dragged himself from beneath the table.
“What exactly is going on? No wait. Don’t tell me. Your this weeks victim aren’t you?” Elliot said.
“Who was it she was going down the aisle with last week? Alistair I think it was. Poor guy just managed to escape. And then it was James the week before and Aaron the week before that.” Elliot sighed.
“What am I supposed to do?” Merlin cried.
“Well don’t take it personally. You’re the latest in a long line. Trust me.”
Merlin hurried out of the tent, muttering something about being too young to be married and sprinted away before the still searching Amy could find him.
He found Arthur overseeing the clearing of a small glade that he said he would use for practice for when he fought Almaric.
“So…umm what do you have planned?” He said asked, waving a hand at the clearing and glancing around in case Amy was lurking behind a tree, waiting to ambush him.
“Just a bit of practice. You’ll be the dummy of course.” Arthur replied with an air of amusement.
“Fine, if it gets me away from Amy. Seriously that girl scares me.”
“She scares us all, Merlin. Anyway, enough of clearly deranged girls, I need to practice.” Arthur said, clapping Merlin on the shoulder and grabbing a nearby sword.
They practiced for hours and when Arthur was finally finished Merlin felt almost dead. He made his way back to the tree houses and slept like a log while Arthur went to have his forearm bandaged up by Bryce who had finished tending to the other injures in the camp.
“What’s this swamp like?” Arthur asked him, watching the man’s moustache in fascination as it jumped around on his lip.
“Well, lets just say I’m worried that you accepted that to be the battle ground.” The older man said.
“Why?” Arthur frowned.
“Treacherous place that swamp. Anyway, I’m all done here. You can tell your friend his rib will be as good as new in a few days or so.”
It was the next day and it was drawing towards dusk. Arthur had practiced for all he was worth and had been kitted up with some odd bits of armour that Elliot had managed to scrape together so now he, Merlin, Elliot and a troop of men were now making their way to the swamps.
Arthur surveyed the oncoming bog as they rode up on horseback.
It literally looked as though it had been slammed down in the middle of the forest by some large hand from the sky. There were tall fir trees surrounding it and the bog itself was just a marshy lake with thousands of grass blades poking up through the muddy water.
Almaric and his men had not yet arrived so they tied their horses to one of the trees and waited.
Arthur began to grow very nervous, especially when Merlin kept glancing at him worriedly. If Merlin was worried it was probably for a good reason.
It seemed as though the fight was going to take place on the actual swamp itself, as there was a small circular island in the middle of it. Almaric must be good if he thought he could take Arthur on such ground.
He began to have doubt but pushed them away before they could start stabbing at his insides like he knew they would, given the chance. He remembered how they had dragged Merlin over the ground when they had been caught the first time. That made him angry and helped to keep the apprehension away.
Eventually there came a noise up ahead, on the other side of the bog, and everyone leapt up from where they had been sitting, and saw Almaric leading a group of men towards the swamps, weaving through the dark trees like liquid shadows.
Almaric was clad in a good deal of very strong looking armour, which dwarfed Arthur’s own odds and ends, and a grotesque mask that looked like some creature that was screaming in agony.
This awful appearance was not comforting Arthur in anyway whatsoever and Merlin, knowing his friend almost better than he knew himself, could see this.
“You can still back out.” He whispered to Arthur as Almaric was handed a huge broadsword that was almost the length of a man.
“It’s too late now. I have to fight.”
“What if he kills you?” Merlin exasperated.
“Then he kills me.”
“Why are you risking your own life and the future of Camelot for a bunch of men you don’t even know?”
“Are you suggesting I leave them to be driven from their home?” Arthur asked, appalled.
“Then what else is there for me to do? Besides Adrian’s dieing wish was for me to lead his men.”
“What if you start winning and Almaric sets his men on you?”
“Then I’m counting on you, as my second in command, to fight them off. Okay?”
“Just be careful.” Merlin sighed.
“Stop worrying about me.”
“Oi! I like worrying about you.” Merlin grinned.
“What are you waiting for little prince Artie? Waiting for your Daddy’s men to fight your battles for you?” Almaric suddenly said, disrupting their conversation.
Arthur turned to see the other side’s leader already on the island, brandishing the huge sword and grinning nastily.
He suddenly realized, with some shock, it was the first time he had seen the man smile and noticed that he had a gold tooth that glinted menacingly in the sun.
Arthur took a deep breath and Merlin clapped him on the shoulder before retreating to watch the fight, with Elliot and the men.