“Now!” Arthur yelled, taking a deep breath.
Merlin gulped the last millimetres of air into his lungs as his head plunged under water. Everything went a murky grey and Arthur disappeared almost completely in the gloom. Merlin could already feel the water pressure pushing both him and the rock up. He tried to do what Arthur had said and pushed the stone as well as he could considering the given circumstances. He tried to stay as calm as possible; knowing that if he were to thrash about and panic his oxygen supply wouldn’t last long enough.
The boulder began to slide up the chimney, slowly at first but then with the combined effort of Merlin, Arthur and the water it’s pace quickened and it was soon rushing up the shaft way. Merlin kept thinking it was breaking free of the pipe every time it bumped over a jutting out rock on the sides of the chimney but he was only disappointed. His lungs began to burn with the need for air. He couldn’t hold his breath for much longer.
Unconsciously he groped around in the darkness and found Arthur’s hand, which he clamped into an almost painfully tight grip.
Suddenly, in a split second, the rock was gone, flying out of the hole and falling heavily to the sandy seabed. Light shimmered down from the sky high above as hundreds of bubbles rose up to the surface.
Merlin shot out of the shaft but quickly slowed down. He released Arthur’s hand, fiercely swimming as fast as he could to the surface.
His throat began to throb from the lack of air and with each stroke he made, the surface didn’t seem to get any closer. He began to feel weaker and weaker as though he was falling asleep, his watery surroundings beginning to fade slowly and his head thrumming with a light feeling, like his body was becoming lead and his head was full of air.
The surface wasn’t getting any closer. Merlin blinked and his frantic pulls through the water began to lessen and eventually stopped all together. He felt his strength ebbing away. Drowsily he lost consciousness and began to slowly sink back down to the seabed.
Arthur made the surface, taking the hugest and most needed of breaths. He was surprised to see it was already night, as he gazed up at the twinkling stars and white orb that was the moon.
Running a hand through his hair that was plastered to his forehead, he trod water and spun around in search of Merlin, who had yet to appear but no one emerged from the water.
This was taking too long. Where was he?
Arthur plunged his head under the water and searched through the cloudiness, salt stinging his eyes. He saw a small shadowy figure was floating eerily away.
Without thinking, Arthur took another deep breath and dived down again, legs kicking strongly. He reached Merlin, who was even paler than normal and clammy to the touch. Arthur grabbed his friend’s limp arm and pulled him up, swimming with his other arm and trying not to kick Merlin as he dragged him to the surface.
Please don’t be dead, Arthur silently plead.
As they resurfaced Arthur pulled Merlin up onto his shoulder, where his head lolled limply.
“Wake up, you idiot!” Arthur muttered and slapped him round the face. Merlin’s head just fell the other way, “You’d better not need it, Merlin, because I am so not giving you the kiss of life.” Arthur told him crossly, forcing a grimacing smile onto his face that only flickered out and died completely.
A few seconds passed like hours and still Merlin did not breath.
Arthur was ready to give up when suddenly Merlin jerked and coughed up a mouthful of water, spluttering and choking. Arthur released the breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding.
“You idiot! You had me worried!” He snapped harshly, fright making him angry.
“I almost drowned.” Merlin mumbled, stating the obvious.
“Yeah, don’t do it again.” Arthur replied.
“You saved me.”
“I always do.”
“Thanks.” Merlin said, fixing him with a grateful blue gaze.
“Yeah, just promise me one thing.”
“Don’t, whatever you do, because I know you will, say ‘it couldn’t get any worse’.”
Merlin grinned and fell back onto Arthur shoulder with a laugh but then seemed to spot something in the distance and looked up.
“What’s that?” He asked, pointing at something behind the prince.
Arthur turned to see a funny little, orange light some way off in the distance, bobbing up and down on the water. It looked like a lantern of some kind. As it came closer and Arthur squinted his eyes to see what it was, it became clear that it was a boat, quite similar to Brun’s in appearance but slightly bigger and without the second hand look about it.
“Hey! Hey! Over here!” They shouted franticly, waving their arms and making as much noise as possible.
There were a few incoherent murmurings from the boat and the sound of scuffling feet.
“Are you friend or foe?” A voice called.
“Nether. We’re wet.” Arthur answered, “Can we come aboard?”
There were more hushed whisperings and a few shadowy figures moved around on deck.
“Grab the rope.” Someone said and there was a splash as a rope was thrown to them.
They latched onto the rope and it dragged them to the boat where friendly hands pulled them into the ship.
The boat was very much like Brun’s, buckets and fishing knickknacks scattered all about the floor and the distinct smell of dead fish mixed with unwashed bodies. The lantern at the hull of the ship lit three curious faces; bathing them in a warm orange glow and making everything seem cosy.
“What would you be doing out here, up the creek without a canoe, let alone the paddle?” One of them asked. He was one of those sorts of people that were big, round, and always wearing a warm smile, no matter what the weather.
“Leave ‘em be, John. They must be freezing.” A woman (also big and round) said and clambered into the back of the boat to fetch a pair of blankets and a beaten up flask.
“There you go, dear.” She said, wrapping a blanket round Merlin’s shoulders and pushing the flask into his hands, “Wet your whistle with that.”
Merlin opened the flask with shaking fingers and took a few small welcome sips of the whiskey he found there. It slipped down his throat, warming his frozen insides. After he had finished he passed the flask to Arthur who promptly tipped his head back and drank the lot.
“Who are you then?” John asked, leaning forward and clasping his hands together as Arthur peeled off his shirt, wrung it out and put it back on.
“I’m…hick…Arthur. This is…hick…Merlin.” Arthur said, hiccupping ever so often.
“We were shipwrecked.” Merlin added.
“Where ‘bouts you from?” The youngest of the three asked. He was small and didn’t take after the other two in the big and round department.
“Camelot.” Merlin said as Arthur suddenly toppled over backwards off his seat and began to snore loudly from the floor.
“The whisky be a bit strong for ye landlubbers by my reckoning.” John said, eyeing the empty flask in Arthur’s hand.
“Yeah…” Merlin said, glaring disapprovingly at his friend, “Might I ask who you are?”
“Of course, where are my manners? I’m John,” John said, stabbing himself in the chest with a large thumb, “This is Matilda, my wife,” (he gestured towards the round and jolly lady), “and this little rascal down here is Kaelan. You can ignore the bird.” He said, pointing the same thumb over his shoulder at a scarlet parrot that was perched on top of the mast, the light breeze ruffling it’s feathers.
“No! Goldrush mustn’t be ignored!” Kaelan protested indignantly, “He might get angry.” He said and stroked his bird feathers as it flew onto his shoulder and nibbled his ear.
“Well, we wouldn’t want that now, would we? Go on, you little hobgoblin, off to bed with ya!” John said, ruffling his son’s sandy hair as Kaelan scuttled away to the other side of the boat. “You’d best get some sleep too. You look exhausted. We’ll have you back in Camelot by tomorrow, no worries!” John added to Merlin.
“Thank you.” Merlin said thankfully and John ambled away to a second level of the boat and disappeared.
Merlin nestled himself beside Arthur, throwing a blanket over the both of them. It was only a few seconds before he was asleep.