Title: The Washerwoman [Part 2]
Warnings: Canon-typical violence. Cliffhanger ending.
Word Count: 1000 words.
Prompt: #286 Anguish
Summary: Arthur yelled at him yet again to stay back, his face twisted into an expression of horror even as the sword came down, but Merlin couldn’t hear him over the sound of Ygraine’s anguished sobs, now echoing in his ears in time to his pulse, every one of them filled with pain. [ Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 ]
Notes: Happy Halloween? *ducks flying vegetables*
The ambush came before dawn, while the majority of the party were still sleeping. The reports had spoken of a band of brigands, living in the heart of the forest but afraid to breach its borders, preying on travellers and small hunting parties that ventured in too deep. They had not spoken of half a hundred men, armed to the teeth and waiting to capture the young prince of Camelot, and no sooner had Merlin opened his eyes than he knew –– too late –– that it was a trap.
“Merlin,” Arthur said as he sat up, in that low, calm voice he used when things were about to turn very, very ugly. “Nice of you to join us.”
They were surrounded. Arthur had drawn his sword, perhaps half in his sleep, and was angled halfway between Merlin and the leader of the group, who was dressed in green and had a crossbow aimed squarely at the prince’s chest. No one was moving. It was the kind of scene which lay precariously balanced on the edge of total mayhem but which had not yet reached the tipping point.
“We have no quarrel with you,” Arthur said, still so very calmly. “Let’s talk about this like civilised men.”
Merlin’s magic boiled beneath his skin, ready to lash out in defence of his prince, but long practice at keeping his powers hidden made him hold back even as he glanced around the clearing in search of another way. There were too many of them to take out at once, and they were too close to strike with some kind of elemental disaster. Even conjuring a tornado, which might have been his instinctive response under other circumstances, would be too clumsy with Arthur and his knights so close.
He will die in battle, the ghost of Ygraine had said. You cannot save him.
“We have nothing to discuss,” said the man in green, quite simply; and then the battle was joined.
Arthur managed to avoid the first arrow by deflecting the crossbow with his sword; the bolt sailed past him and thudded into a nearby tree, narrowly missing one of the knights. A moment later, the prince had launched himself at the leader of the group, and the fighting began in earnest. Behind him, Merlin could hear the knights scrambling to their feet with shouts of defiance, and the ring of steel where sword met sword. He, however, only had eyes for Arthur, who was struggling with the brigand leader for control of his sword. As he watched, the prince shoved his attacker back with one shoulder and wrenched free, but not quick enough: the man darted back, drawing his own blade and parrying Arthur’s thrust with what even Merlin recognised as considerable skill, forcing the prince to take a step back.
“Merlin, get back!” Arthur bellowed. Merlin hadn’t even realised he was on his feet, hands clenched into fists at his sides, but Arthur must have spotted him. “Stay out of this!”
“Not likely,” Merlin muttered. He cast around for a weapon, sidestepping a pair of fighters as they barrelled past him, their swords flashing like lightning. His eyes fell on the metal ladle, still in the soup-pot. It wasn’t much, but it would do in a pinch. He grabbed it and held it out in front of his body the way Arthur had taught him, and entered the melee.
The altercation was short-lived. Armed with his makeshift weapon, Merlin knocked back a few of the attackers who came at him, and a few surreptitious spells took care of several more. Arthur and his knights were fighting well, as they had been trained to do, but even they couldn’t hold up against such odds forever.
Merlin had always known that, if it came right down to it, he would rather expose his magic and be put to death than allow Arthur to die if he could save him. That was a choice he had made long ago. But Arthur seemed determined not to make it easy for him. He and the green-clad leader were battling fiercely, neither of them willing to give ground. They were too quick and too closely matched for spell-work, and Merlin was afraid to try anything for fear of distracting the prince at a crucial moment. But he couldn’t just stand there: the longer the battle went on, the greater the chance that the sidhe’s prediction would come true.
Gathering himself, Merlin extended a hand, eyes narrowing as he concentrated on the brigand leader. “Áscrence,” he hissed. Power raced through his veins, leaping across the space between them to curl around the attacker’s legs— and did nothing.
“Áscrence,” Merlin said again. Again, nothing happened. The man in green turned to glance at him, a fleeting look but one which spoke volumes. He was smiling.
Merlin dropped his ladle. Either the man was a sorcerer himself, or he was being protected by one: either way, Ygraine’s ghost had been right. Emrys could not save Arthur.
Metal rang against metal, and Merlin heard Arthur curse. Little by little, the prince was being driven back, back into the circle of the camp where his men were fighting for their lives. Another blow; Arthur parried, but only just, and then the man in green was sweeping his feet from under him, and he fell back onto the grass, the brigand’s sword drawing back in preparation for the killing blow.
Heart in his throat, Merlin flung himself forward. Arthur yelled at him yet again to stay back, his face twisted into an expression of horror even as the sword came down, but Merlin couldn’t hear him over the sound of Ygraine’s anguished sobs, now echoing in his ears in time to his pulse, every one of them filled with pain. Without his magic, there was nothing Merlin could do but put himself bodily between Arthur and danger, but so be it.
Emrys could not save Arthur, but maybe Merlin could.