Merlin stretched his aching back gratefully; glad to be able to stand fully upright again. Not that he was complaining. After the last few weeks, this was nothing. Being Brun’s cabin boy certainly had some advantages. No longer was he the scullery boy, made to do every job that Sheridan could think off. No longer spending every waking moment in fear of what was about to happen. With his escape from the brig and saving Brun from the mutiny, he had escaped the horror of the last few weeks.
However, whilst his physically injuries may have been healing thanks to the respite from the almost daily beatings and his mind was once again becoming stronger now that he was able to eat and sleep more regularly, Merlin was feeling worse than ever. Although tidying through Brun’s belongings was easy work for him, it was too familiar for him to be happy. Memories of doing exactly the same for Arthur were plaguing him at every turn, making the hole in his heart grow bigger. He was missing the arrogant prat more than he would ever admit, and being back on familiar turf when it came to work was making it even harder.
The young warlock sighed as he observed his surroundings, noting how much tidier they now were. The cabin had been a state. Brun seemed to be too distracted to bother doing any type of cleaning at all, leaving it all to his new cabin boy. The cupboard in the corner was next, now that the drawers in the desk were finished.
Crossing the room, Merlin glumly opened the cupboard door. His suspicions had been right; it was a tip. Even Arthur’s had not been this bad. Bending down to pick up a stray shirt, Merlin froze, feeling as if his very blood was freezing. Moving almost as if he was in slow motion, he slowly moved the shirt away further, revealing fully the object that lay beneath.
As soon as he confirmed what it was, Merlin dropped the shirt as if it had stung him, and leapt backwards from the cupboard. Sinking into a crouch, Merlin wrapped his arms around his skinny figure, rocking himself backwards and forwards.
It could not be here. They had destroyed it. Hell, he had even died to try and save Arthur from it. It was not possible for it to turn up here. But through the raging turmoil that was his mind, something was registering common sense. They had been certain that Brun had died; yet here he was. The bumbling man, who had taken great delight in taking himself and Arthur fishing, was now commissioning people like Sheridan to press-gang crew for the ship. And something that Merlin believed to be destroyed was now sitting in the cupboard of the very ship that he was on.
Almost subconsciously, Merlin ran his hand over the wound on his arm. Being back in the presence of the cube was enough to make it hurt, even if it was all just psychological.
Snapping out of his horrified daze, Merlin ran his eyes over the cabin, looking for anything that he could use to destroy the accursed thing. He knew only too well of the power that lay within, waiting to be unleashed in a single action. Merlin shuddered as he imagined Nimueh and whoever else was trapped in that cube, hell bent on returning to life. There was no telling what harm they could do.
Hopelessness washed over him as he realised that there was nothing he could use. Turning towards the door, determined to find something, Merlin paused. Just visible under a pile of documents that looked like maps, a handle of an old knife was pointing out.
Smiling in relief, Merlin crossed the room and grasped the handle. Ironically, it fitted his palm perfectly, as if it had been made for him and this purpose. Taking the knife in both hands, Merlin brought it hovering over the cube. Just as he was about to bring it down, something stopped him. This cube was magical, powerfully magical. An ordinary knife probably would not destroy it, but the warlock knew a trick that might just change that…
Closing his eyes to help his concentration, Merlin delved deep into himself, searching for the right spell. At last he found it, and, muttering under his breath, he could see the blade of the knife change colour even through his closed lids. Opening them a fraction, Merlin grinned when he saw that the knife was a deep blue colour, looking both beautiful and powerful at the same time.
Raising his arm once again, Merlin brought the knife higher and higher, readying himself to bring it down on the object that had caused both him and his friend so much grief.
His arm began the descent in a graceful curve, the power held within him all too evident in the glowing of the knife. The blade got closer and closer, almost touching the top of the cube. Merlin could feel the tip of the blade meet the resistance of the cube, and so pushed harder, when something suddenly grasped his arm.
His eyes snapping open, Merlin saw another hand gripping the arm holding the knife, directly over the wound in his arm. The moment that his concentration was distracted, the knife faded back to its normal colour. Merlin only hoped that whoever had stopped him had not noticed the display of magic. As his arm was forcefully pushed away, he could not help but cry out, both with pain and frustration. He was so close to destroying the thing for good. Tracing the hand back to the owner, Merlin was surprised to see Brun standing there, looking ferocious. Keeping one hand gripped on the young warlock’s limb, Brun used the other to scoop up the cube, and cradled it in the crook of his arm, the way that one would a newborn baby.
“You have to let me destroy it,” Merlin told him, his voice pleading. “You don’t understand, this cube, this thing is evil. If you release the spirits inside, evil sorcerers will be able to return. I can destroy it, let me.”
“I trusted you,” Brun responded, his voice hard and with an icy edge to it that made him sound far from his normal self. “I thought you were helping me…but all along you were working with those traitors, weren’t you? You wanted the power of the cube all to yourself, just like them!”
“No! I’m not like them at all. Please, just listen to me! You have to destroy it! Whatever it’s told you, it’s lying!”
Angrily, Brun tightened his grip on Merlin’s arm and proceeded to drag him out of the cabin and up onto the deck, ignoring both the warlock’s struggles and his cries of pain when his nails bit into the already damaged flesh.
Those who remained loyal to the captain watched in amazement as the boy that he had so recently promoted was roughly hauled up on deck. With a strong arm, Brun threw Merlin at the two nearest sailors, who immediately caught hold of his arms, leaving him trapped.
“Please, Brun. You said that you trusted me. Trust me again now. Don’t belive it. Let me destroy the cube!” Merlin begged the captain, pleading with both his voice and his eyes. This could not happen. Not again. But when he saw Brun’s eyes harden in defiance, he knew full well that it was happening. If that cube could manage to persuade Arthur to keep it and try to open it, then there was no way someone like Brun would be able to resist.
“It has promised me a new life, everything that I ever wanted. All I have to do is get to the destination and follow its instructions. It did mention about someone returning, but it is going to give me my life back, the life that you and that prince of yours destroyed when you sunk my ship! Men, throw him over board.”
“What?” Merlin cried, horror struck.
Even as he spoke, the sailors began to drag him towards the edge of the deck. The waves could be heard lapping against the side, as if eager for its new victim. Fighting hard against his captors, Merlin was all too aware of just how weak and skinny he was compared to the burly sailors. His struggles were all in vain, and despite his resistance; Merlin soon felt his feet begin to leave the floor, as his back slammed into the railings on the side.
Before he had a chance to plead once more with Brun, Merlin felt himself leave the ship completely. His last view was of the captain, still cradling the cube in one hand, a look of wild delight on his face. Then the warlock hit the waves.
He had no time to comprehend what was happening, and Merlin suddenly found himself inhaling a mouthful of salty water. Spluttering his way to the surface, he realised with horror just how far already the waves had already carried him. Even though he had only been in the water for minutes at the most, the ship was far away on the horizon, any hope of a rescue going with it.
Merlin mentally shook himself as another wave crashed over his head, submerging him once again in the icy depths of the ocean. It would not help to think like that, he had to stop Brun from opening that cube. What should he do? What would Arthur say?
Choking yet again on the salty water, Merlin could feel the coldness starting to penetrate him. Yet, his mind still on Arthur, Merlin felt that the cold was not only penetrating him from the outside, but the inside as well. His heart was turning cold with each passing moment that he thought of Arthur. He knew all too well what the prince would say. He would call him an idiot for not realising that the cube had a hold over Brun, and that he should have fought off the sailors.
What was it he would say about drowning? It did not seem that long ago that the two of them were doing just that, the day that the cube come and ruined their lives.
Swirling in the cold water, Merlin felt himself turned over once, twice, three times before his head finally broke the surface again. Gulping down the air, Merlin knew that it was not only salty seawater that was on his face – tears had also joined them.
No, Merlin thought fiercely to himself. Arthur had promised that nothing would happen to him and Merlin still believed that, despite everything he had gone through. The prince would be on his way right at this very moment and then…
Then what? He was all alone in the middle of an ocean, fighting every second to keep his head above the waves that were determined to keep him under. There was no way that anyone, not even Arthur, would be able to find him out here.
With a sense of utter hopelessness, Merlin did not fight the next wave that washed over him. He would not even get to say goodbye to the prince, something that almost annoyed him. After everything that they had been through together, was it not fair that he should at least get to say goodbye? Arthur had been allowed to say goodbye the first time that he had ‘died’. Why could he not now?
The waves, however, had other ideas. With increasing intensity, they crashed continuously over the warlock, each time knocking more precious oxygen from his lungs. The salt burnt the back of his throat. His eyes stung. He was cold. Brun was going to open the cube and Arthur would probably never find his body. In Merlin’s heart, he had already given up, moments before the water sent him spiralling down into the realms of unconsciousness.
Pain. That was the first thing that registered in Merlin’s water logged mind. Its not fair, he thought to himself. How come even death hurt? Yet with each throb, Merlin found himself becoming more and more aware of his surroundings. A cool and refreshing breeze was playing across his face; water could be felt gently lapping at his feet. But yet, the water stopped there. No longer was it submerging him, no longer was it stealing the valuable breath from his aching body.
With an agonising groan, Merlin forced himself to open his gritty, stinging eyes, half expecting to see a white light greeting him. However, although the light was so bright that it immediately made him scrunch his eyes shut again, it was not white. It was the light from the sun. Even as the thought lodged itself in his mind, Merlin could feel the warming rays start to dry him. It was such a pleasant feeling that Merlin decided there and then that maybe death was not so bad. He was so tired that the warmth of the sun was sending him into a gentle slumber.
His body, however, had other ideas. Screaming in protest at lying on something extremely hard, Merlin finally opened his eyes again. Squinting in the bright light, he realised with a start that he was not dead at all. Not unless death came in the form of a deserted stretch of land, surrounded by the sea in any direction that he chose to look in. Struggling, the young warlock finally managed to sit up. Although he felt like it may be a relief to be dead – fate, it seemed, had other plans for him…