Merlin quickly pulled himself to his feet as the door of the brig slammed shut behind him with crash. He could hear Sheridan beginning to laugh on the other side, an evil sound.
“We’re not letting you out of there, you know,” he snarled in amusement. “You’re gonna stay in there to rot forever!”
Footsteps pounded away, gradually fading and leaving Merlin alone in the brig.
The room was cold, which was strange, as the rest of the decks were all both hot and humid. Merlin shivered and wished he had his jacket – wherever it was – but he knew wishing would get him nowhere, so instead, he wrapped his arms tightly around his skinny frame and looked about at his surroundings.
There were a few cells but they were all falling to pieces with rust, and one of them had a door missing altogether, which had fallen on a mouldy crate, crushing it, though it was barely visible, as there was only one window clean enough to allow light through. The Moon bathed the room in silky white light, creating long, dark shadows that drifted back and forth across the floor as the anchored ship rocked with the powerful waves that crashed every so often against the hull.
Merlin swallowed a lump in his throat, afraid of the corners and far side of the room that were still shrouded in darkness despite the porthole. From the ceiling, an old lantern with cracked glass panes creaked loudly on its rusty chain as Merlin slowly edged his way further into the room, keeping a wary eye on the shadows.
A cold breeze that seemed to come from nowhere blew across the back of his neck. It felt like the breath of a dead thing, and he whipped around, feeling his magic surge into his finger, ready for him to hurl it at whatever might attack him.
There was nothing there, however, but that was still no comfort to Merlin as he remembered the ghost the men had spoken of. What if they were right? What if there really was a ghost? And what if it was waiting for him somewhere in the darkness?
Merlin was sure, absolutely positive, that he was being watched. He could feel eyes on the back of his neck, boring into him.
He was facing the door with his back turned to the room, standing stock still, frozen in the stare. There was something behind him. It was coming closer. Where was it? Was it there, right behind him?
He could almost feel ghostly fingers reaching out to him, sending shooting shocks of cold up the length of his spine. He could feel them. They were there. His back was ice.
Bolting, he reached the door and began beating his fists on the wood, shouting for release. But there was only silence. And the thing was still coming towards him. He stood there for a moment, trying to resist the embrace of fright, before spinning around to face the thing.
Nothing. It had all been his imagination.
But he still had to get away. Edging along the wall, feeling his way more than anything, he managed to creep away from the fear, to a little alcove, which he crawled into and huddled, shaking.
Some time later, after most of the initial shock of the ‘ghost’ had worn off, Merlin could be found resting his head against the side of the alcove, eyes closed. In his right hand he held the knife he always had with him. He was twisting it around and around it in his fingers, trying to take his mind off the things what were happening.
But he kept thinking of one memory and one memory only. It was yet another hunting trip Arthur had insisted upon, and one that he had, of course, dragged Merlin along on too…
Arthur let go off a small twig and it swooped back and hit Merlin full in the face. The young warlock objected loudly, but a foot from above made him shut up.
“You know we’re only up here to hunt. Stop complaining!” Arthur hissed angrily, setting his foot on a higher branch. He pulled himself up and he reached out for the next bough.
“It was you who wanted to climb up here, not me. I already know how the forest looks like from above, thank you very much,” Merlin retorted as he tried to pull a twig out from under his jacket where it had firmly lodged itself, poking him.
“Oh, shut up, Merlin…”
Merlin subsided into a disgruntled silence and followed Arthur the best he could, which was hard with all the leaves and twigs jabbing him constantly and getting in his way.
Suddenly, Arthur stopped and grabbed the crossbow off his back. He had to pull at it a couple of times; it seemed to be stuck, but when he got it out, he immediately pointed it at something through the leaves.
Because he was hanging underneath the prince, Merlin had no idea what was going on, and decided to ask.
“Why are we stopping?”
The deer on the ground looked up, her ears pointing in multiple directions, trying to figure out where the sound had come from. There was something in the tree in front of her and there was also a strange smell. Time to flee…
“MERLIN! Now look what you’ve done!” Arthur yelled, quickly stepping down from the uncomfortable position he had been in when trying to aim for the deer.
Merlin was startled with all the sudden movement above him, and let go of the branch he had been holding onto, to keep the falling leaves out of his eyes. In the meantime, his feet lost their grip on the tree and he felt them slip away. Everything was a green-ish brown blur as Merlin fell, until it all came back into focus when he hit the floor with a jarring thud. Stunned, he lay there for a few seconds. Eventually, the leaves became leaves again, and the tree trunks looked like trunks. He lay on his back, catching his breath, and heard Arthur’s voice.
“Merlin? You okay?”
The prince had climbed down from the tree and was now knelt beside him. Merlin tried to figure out if he was okay, but his mind was still a fuzzy blank and the black dots in his eyesight wouldn’t go away.
He wiggled his fingers and stretched his muscles. Nothing seemed to hurt.
“Oww!” he yelped in pain as he tried to move his left foot.
“What is it?” Arthur jumped up and took a step backwards, not wanting to cause any pain by coming too close.
“It’s my ankle. I think it’s broken. Oww!” Merlin had tried to move his foot again, but even the smallest movement of the joint made a sharp pain shoot up his leg.
“Broken? Does this mean you can’t be my servant? Well, that’s more than less than unhelpful…” Arthur grumbled, and went into a rant about finding a new servant who would be, even though the new boy would be better than Merlin, a total disaster.
“Hey, I’m in pain here!” Merlin replied, but was liking the thought of a couple of weeks off. He would finally have some time to practice his magic…
“Merlin,” Arthur wasn’t going to give him his free time yet, “you do know you’re lying in a bed of mushrooms?”
Merlin sat up and looked around him. He was indeed surrounded by a field of the things.
“So? It’s not like they’re going to eat me.”
“No, but…well, look,” Arthur said, gesturing at a disgusting black slime that was oozing out of the split mushrooms and running all over Merlin’s hands.
Merlin lifted his hand. Black sticky threads hung from his fingers and dangled as he shook them.
“Egh…” he tried to wipe it off using his shirt. “That can’t be healthy…well, are you gonna help me up or not?”
Arthur’s eyes widened and his face turned into an expression of aversion.
“You’re covered in that stuff. No way!”
“But I’m crippled!” Merlin stated dramatically. “I can’t get back home all by myself! Arthur…” he was pleading now, “please? Its not like you have to carry me or anything. I just need something to lean on.”
“Use a stick.”
Merlin sighed, covering his eyes with a hand, frustrated. Why did Arthur have to act so stubbornly? He quickly removed his hand when he remembered it was still covered with the ooze. It must be all over his face now as well now…great.
“C’mon, you can’t leave me here,” he reasoned when the prince still made no attempts to help him and was instead glaring at the black slime with contempt.
“Fine!” Arthur exclaimed suddenly. He stepped on the mushrooms, crushing them with his feet and causing blobs of dark goo to go flying all over the place. “Give me your hand, then. And I’m not carrying you, remember that.”
Merlin stretched out his hand. Arthur pulled him out of the fungi and laid his servants arm around shoulders for support.
“Can you stand on it?” he asked briskly, looking down at Merlin’s left foot.
Merlin tried to put some weight on his painful ankle and gasped.
“Yeah, but it still hurts,” he said, hopping up and down on his other foot to regain some balance. “I don’t think it’s broken, though, just sprained.”
Merlin decided he hadn’t heard correctly.
“Excuse me, what?”
“Don’t make me say it again. You heard me perfectly,” Arthur muttered and immediately steered the conversation away from what he deemed an awkward subject. “Try taking a step.”
Merlin smiled. He didn’t blame Arthur for what happened. But he was still touched by the apology. Arthur never apologised, not even when it really was his fault.
“Thanks, Arthur,” he said softly.
Arthur had been there to help him back to the castle. When they reached the edge of the forest, Merlin was completely out of breath. The prince – albeit begrudgingly – took him on his back and carried him all the way to the gates without complaining.
Merlin sighed. Arthur wasn’t there to be by his side, to help him. He was all alone. Not even the rats wanted to have some sort of conversation with him. Of course he knew rats weren’t able to speak, but when Merlin tried, the little creatures would just run off as quickly as they could, as though he had some kind of infectious disease. In short, they treated him no better than the crew.
Arthur had been there for him all that time ago, but now, the prince was probably nowhere near the ship, let alone by his side, and had no idea of his whereabouts. And who would think about Merlin being on a ship, in the middle of some sea? And the sea was big and there were a countless amount of harbours to dock at for supplies. His friend was never going to find him and Merlin was going to die on this awful ship, and probably in this very brig as well. If he was lucky.
He turned the knife around in his hand and grabbed the handle. Suddenly bursting with anger, he lifted the blade and jammed into the wooden floor, letting out an angry growl. No, Merlin wasn’t thinking about killing himself. He wouldn’t give Sheridan the satisfaction.
He was sure Arthur was looking for him out there, whether on sea or land, he was searching. And Merlin just needed to hold on.
But hold on to what?
There was absolutely nothing to be of comfort. Every day was filled with the sickening chores, day in, day out, and misuse from Sheridan and his buddies. Until Arthur found him, Merlin was completely alone on the ship. It hurt deep inside his chest, like his heart was aching.
With both hands, Merlin took the handle of the knife and pulled it out of the floor. Using the sharp tip of the blade and the small amount of light that shined through a nearby crack in the wall, he started to scrape into the wooden column beside him that he had previously been leaning against.
It took Merlin a while to draw the human-like figure. He wanted it to be as perfect and natural as possible, and therefore he took his time.
The knight’s face received some features and even a mop of hair. A few moments later, the armour was completely finished and only needed a crest. Merlin tried to remember what the dragon looked like and copied it perfectly.
But while he cut the wood, tears were streaming down his face.
Eventually, even though his hands were cramped from holding the knife so tightly, there was a semi-perfect drawing of Arthur Pendragon, standing in a relaxed kind of pose, carved into the wood – to stay there until the ship either sunk or was blown to pieces.
Merlin felt just a little bit less alone, now that, to some extent, Arthur was with him.One day his friend would come and save him, but until that day, he had the little drawing to keep him company. Merlin smiled and ran a slender finger over it, before he closed his eyes again and fell asleep, his head resting on the wood.