Arthur found that the area of his forehead that had been hit was giving him more grief than he’d expected it to. He had to ignore it, however – Merlin was more important.
He had packed everything he needed without letting his bag get too heavy. Running over the list of items in his head, he realized with a scary jolt that he’d forgotten his sword. Maybe this injury to his head was worse than he thought…
As he quickly grabbed his scabbard, there was a quiet knock on the door. He turned to see Morgana letting herself in, a surprisingly grave look on her face.
“Uther told me about what happened,” she said, gliding over and standing by the edge of the table that had Arthur’s luggage spread over it. “What are you going to do?”
“Rescue him of course,” the prince replied flatly as though that were obvious.
“Have you even rested? You look dreadful…” Morgana observed.
“I don’t have time to rest,” Arthur said, sliding his sword into its scabbard and fixing it to his belt, remembering a fond memory of Merlin’s first day as his manservant and how useless he’d been.
“Arthur,” Morgana chastised with a quirk of her eyebrow, “you need to rest or you’ll be no good to anyone!” she gently led him to a chair where he sat down, before realizing she was trying to stop him from finding Merlin.
“I have to go!” the prince announced in a state of frenzy. He kept trying to get up but Morgana kept him down. “You don’t understand! He needs me! I’m the only one who can save him!” Arthur was finding it hard to breath. His head was killing him, but thoughts of his life in the future without Merlin were a good reason to keep fighting.
“I know that, but if you want to find him, you must rest!” Morgana reasoned.
“I can’t, Morgana. I just can’t. He trusts me! He’s waiting for me. I promised I wouldn’t let anything happen to him!” Arthur said earnestly, “Are you going to let me go, or do I have to call for the guards?”
“Arthur, do I have to remind you I’m a better fighter than your guards?” Morgana tried to sound whimsical, but looking at Arthur’s expression didn’t make it easy. “Okay, you win,” she said, knowing only too well that if Arthur wanted to do something, there was nothing in the world capable of stop him, “but you have to rest at least one hour…and please, go and see Gaius. Your head’s bleeding…”
“And then I can leave?”
“And then you can leave,” Morgana sighed.
She watched him carefully as he finished packing his bag; detecting his tense posture, tightly clench fists and the grim determination in his eyes.
“I always knew you cared about him.”
He spun around, and was about to profoundly deny her statement, when he stopped himself.
“Yes, maybe I do,” he said, abandoning his pack. Morgana raised an amused eyebrow. “Oh, shut up, Morgana.”
“I didn’t say anything!” Morgana laughed indignantly, smiling.
Again the prince was reminded of Merlin. He’d said that exact same thing to him once before. The neckerchief around his neck seemed to become a whole lot heavier and he found himself releasing a long breath and looking at the floor.
Morgana hadn’t noticed, she was already leavening. Just before she disappeared through the door, she motioned towards the bed, clearly wanting him to keep his promise and get some rest.
Arthur knew he should go and see Gaius, like Morgana had suggested, but he couldn’t face speaking to the old physician when he knew he and Merlin were close. The prince didn’t want to get him worried, so instead, he took Morgana’s advice and lay down on his bed to get a few hours sleep.
He prayed that those damned dreams didn’t make an appearance as they often did. They liked to play on his fears…
When would they leave? Of course, they weren’t nearly as bad as before, when the cube had full control over him, but still they persisted…
Different scenarios of Merlin’s death flashed before him in his shaking and disturbed dreams, scaring him badly. Merlin thrown off the ship. Merlin stabbed by a drunk sailor. Merlin starving to death. It was all too much. The prince couldn’t sleep any longer and he woke up, a long shiver running down his spine.
His heart beating far too fast, Arthur climbed out of bed, rubbing his sweaty face, and got dressed.
As he pulled his rucksack onto his shoulders, he went over his plan in his head. The first thing to do was to get to Brinkwell and discover as much information as possible about The Emrys and its destination. Then, hire a vessel to pursue the ship. Arthur’s thoughts didn’t really reach beyond that, other than find Merlin and bring him back to Camelot safe and sound.
It was getting towards noon as Arthur snuck out of his room and hurried through the castle, heading for the stables.
Arthur did not remember the journey to the lake taking too long. Maybe it was just because he was anxious to get there and start looking for clues. Utter silence was the only thing that could be heard as he approached the water’s edge. He couldn’t stop thinking about his friend, Merlin’s eyes just before he had been knocked out, full of trust, having faith in the prince to save him. It was true; in Arthur’s mind there was only space for Merlin, rescuing Merlin. What if he couldn’t save him? He was a warrior; he should have seen it coming, the attack, those men.
“I’m so sorry,” Arthur whispered to the glassy water, not noticing he was talking out loud.
Then the memories arrived into his mind, one by one, every moment, every joke, every smile on his friend’s face.
It had started as a beautiful morning, the sun bright in the sky. With nothing to do in the castle and all the prey taking shelter from the heat, Arthur had decided to go for a swim and, to his friend surprise, had invited Merlin. When they arrived at the lake after the race, there were only a few birds in the trees and nothing else, only a peaceful morning.
“Hey, why don’t we go up that tree and dive into the water, huh?” he had suggested whilst analysing the said tree.
“What?” Merlin had spluttered. “Are you out of your mind? It’s too high,” he had said it, knowing full well that Arthur was going up the tree regardless.
“Yeah, sure, but that’s the fun part.”
“If something happens to you, Uther’ll kill me!”
“Oh, come on, you spoil sport,” Arthur laughed. “Live a little,” he gave Merlin the most mischievous grin ever expressed by a human.
Arthur threw off his clothes and Merlin had only begun squirming on the spot as he proceeded to climb the tree.
“What? Don’t tell me you’re embarrassed about being naked in front of me!” Arthur chuckled, not bothering to look back down at the flushed Merlin.
“No…” Merlin began awkwardly. “Its just, I’m not used to things like this.”
He’d never been out with friends before, not really. He and Will had gone gallivanting around in the village at times (earning themselves the nickname of ‘the terrible two’ in the process), but it wasn’t the same – well, at least not in Merlin’s opinion.
Arthur said nothing, and continued to shinny up the tree.
“Arthur, please, this could be dangerous,” Merlin tried again, but his friend didn’t listen and threw himself into the water from a ridiculous height. Merlin ran to the edge of the lake and peered in, but nothing happened. Arthur didn’t appear.
“Arthur?” Merlin received no response. “Arthur, come on, this isn’t funny any more.”
The young warlock counted to ten, but the water was still quiet and unmoved. He decided to go into the lake and look for the prince. The water was cold. Merlin didn’t like it. He felt something under the water, something brushing past his leg. Turning around, he did not see anything.
“Arthur?” he squeaked hopefully.
Again, something passing close next to him, and suddenly, that something was pulling him down. He felt the water inside his mouth. He tried to yell, but he couldn’t. But then, in a flash and a gasp for air, he could see the sky again.
Arthur began to laugh.
“I’m going to kill you,” Merlin growled.
“I’m the prince remember? You can’t do such a thing,” Arthur replied snobbishly.
“I could have drowned!” Merlin seethed, though seeing the funny side and beginning to pull off his own clothes, throwing them onto the bank to dry.
“Calm down, I just wanted to have a bit of fun,” Arthur raised an apologetic hand of truce and grinned. “Nice underwear by the way.”
Merlin, of course, trying to regain some integrity, had attempted to catch him but Arthur was too good a swimmer.
Time went by and the morning had become midday. They dragged themselves from the lake, laughing like maniacs, and had eaten something before sprawling on a rock to let the sun to dry their bodies.
This put a smile of the prince’s face, regardless of the dismal situation. He wiped it off quickly, however, and instead concentrated on finding anything to help him in his search before he rode to Brinkwell. But if there were any clues, none were brought to his attention, so when he left the lake, he had no more information on Merlin’s whereabouts other that the two words stuck fast in his mind: Brinkwell and Emrys.