Title: Sleeping Beauty
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin,
Summary: Merlin had no idea how to rouse his king.
Word Count: 1000
Author's Notes: Hope you enjoy.
Merlin drew the horse to a stop, one arm over his mouth as harsh coughs tore through his body. His eyes stung and his lungs burnt but he eventually managed to get his breathing back under control.
Slipping down from the saddle, he clung to it weakly as he looked around. The sun was setting and he couldn’t go any further tonight. He wasn’t strong enough to be riding, letting alone moving through a danger-filled forest in darkness. The horse would find a safe path, but Merlin needed a direction. For that to happen, he needed his magic to obey.
Sighing, he set about making a small camp. The fire burning helped drive the chill from his body but it wasn’t enough to stop shivers from trembling his form. He knew he was healing; he hadn’t coughed as much today as the day before and he was able to grip his magic for longer without feeling it leaking away from him.
But every day he wasn’t up to full strength was another day that Arthur suffered. If, of course, the king was still alive.
Merlin told himself that he would have felt it if the witch had killed Arthur. She wouldn’t have gone to so much trouble to ambush them and take him captive if she just wanted him dead.
The thoughts plagued him and eventually, Merin fell into an uneasy sleep. It wasn’t restful though, not when memories from the attack flickered through his sleeping mind.
He could see, all too vividly, the terrified look on Arthur’s face. The bandits wouldn’t have noticed, but Merlin could see it in his eyes when Arthur realised that they were outnumbered and outmatched. There was no escape and a witch had been walking towards him, her hand outstretched. No wonder Arthur had been afraid.
But he also still felt the amulet the sorceress had forced over his head. Merlin hadn’t even known she was there until the cold chain had bit into his neck and he had fallen with a cry, knowing instinctively that it was dark magic. It was strong though, and its attack had not only left him convulsing on the ground while Arthur disappeared in a haze of smoke, it had also caused his magic to react. It was now shaky and unpredictable at the best of times and wasn’t being the assistant that Merlin needed to track Arthur down.
When the sun brushed the horizon, Merlin was already awake, the blanket around his shoulders and the nausea threatening to overwhelm him. But he forced himself to eat and drink and to see to the horse before he once again slipped onto the beast’s back.
Gaius had wanted him to wait, to plan the journey and take the knights with him. But Merlin couldn’t afford to wait. He had no idea how long it would take his magic to heal and he needed to find Arthur. He had slipped out while the physician was asleep and not looked back.
His magic was active enough to give him a clear direction and Merlin touched his heels to his mount. The horse set an easy but steady pace and they moved progressively through the forest. A few birds called, but apart from that, all was still.
As the day drew on, however, Merlin started to realise it was too quiet. He paused, dismounting and listening. Not even the birds were singing now. But his magic felt stronger and Merlin guessed there was only one thing that would make it react: Arthur. He was close.
Tying the horse to a low-hanging branch, Merlin pushed his way through the undergrowth. Dark magic hung in the air, making fear prickle at his skin and his heart to thud uncomfortably hard. But his own power swelled inside him, banishing the fear-induced thoughts. Merlin knew it was a defensive mechanism to keep people from pushing through the undergrowth.
Once he was through, however, Merlin stared. A lone tower rose from the middle of the forest. He had no idea how it remained undetected – it was clear enough to the naked eye – but then realised that he himself hadn’t noticed it until he was here. The magic used to keep people away must also shield it from view.
For the first time in days, Merlin knew what he was supposed to do. He ran towards the base of the tower, half expecting magic to stop him. Nothing happened though, and a sharp command made the locked door at the base burst open. The effort left him light-headed and Merlin paused for long enough to stop the world spinning before continuing.
The sorceress wasn’t here. His magic would have warned him, however weak it was. But something was drawing him on, leading him up a spiralling staircase. His hand was shaking as he reached another locked door at the top and Merlin realised he was terrified of what he might find beyond.
His command was a whisper this time, barely a breath stirring the air, but the lock clicked obediently. He hurried in, and stopped short. Arthur was lying motionless on a large bed, his hands folded neatly over his chest. For a wild moment, Merlin thought he was dead. The he realised the king’s chest was rising and falling with shallow breaths.
Merlin stumbled forward, magic radiating out as he tried to rouse the man. But nothing he did made any difference and a ragged sob eventually caught in his throat.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, touching his forehead to Arthur’s. He was too late: he had failed in his destiny. There was no bringing Arthur back.
Softly, gently, Merlin’s lips brushed against the king’s in a silent farewell. He would find whoever had done this and force them to lift the spell, no matter what it cost him.
But as he straightened up, Arthur’s eyes flickered.
“Did you just kiss me?”
His words were nothing more than a mumble, but Merlin had never heard anything so clearly.