Title: Passage II
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin.
Summary: As usual, saving Camelot comes with a price.
Warnings: Continuing from last week's prompt (I hope that's okay - it kind of exploded). I'm not sure why, but this played out in my head as though Colin Morgan got drunk with Matt Smith the night before. Also, it may be apparent which 90s cartoon I've been watching lately.
Word Count: 999 - no words left this time!
Prompt: #18 Gold
"Tradition, is it?" Arthur frowned and felt the slow burn begin, spreading through his limbs like molten steel. "Forcing people to murder each other?"
"This is our home, human." Anwur's thunderous voice took on a threatening anger. "If you wish no blood spilled, then do not seek to enter it."
"You don't defend your home; you condone slaughter!"
"You live here?" Merlin's cordial interjection caused three pairs of eyes to slide his way. "Seems a bit...fusty."
The fiery eyes blinked once. "Our realm is greater than what can be seen here."
"So why this chamber? What's so special about it?"
"It is tradition."
"Yes, you said. But why? What are you guarding?"
Silence. Arthur looked from the impassive stone faces to Merlin's open one. Curiosity got the better of him, and he allowed the belligerent set of his shoulders to fade. If his mouthy servant managed to talk his way past these behemoths...well. That would be something to tell the children. Perhaps he could have Geoffrey set it to verse.
"We have executed this duty for many generations," the one called Anwur ground out. "The price must be paid."
"It is as it has always been."
"There are scrolls in that room that could save Camelot. Can you not permit our entrance in order to save the lives of thousands of people?"
"We do not set the price."
"Of course. You don't bleed. You couldn't enter if you wanted to." A pause as he thought this over, and then that head tilt Arthur had come to know and loathe. "You don't know what's in there, do you?"
Stone tails whipped back and forth in a silent frenzy. It was the only sign of agitation the creatures showed. Arthur sympathized. Merlin's nattering could erode one's patience like water carving stone. He was surprised to find that it was rather entertaining when one wasn't on the receiving end. But his mirth quickly faded in the face of their failure to gain entrance. If the guardians could not be forced, they were left with...no. It was unthinkable.
Merlin stepped towards the door, and this time the living statues drew back their wings, allowing him to approach the door he could not open. Arthur watched, nonplussed, as Merlin put his hand and then his head to the polished surface. His face was intent, as though he were listening. Holding that pose for several moments, he finally pulled away, and it seemed as though something clung to his skin for a moment as he stepped back. Arthur couldn't say what it was. A shadow, maybe. A trick of the light. Except it was something, because the portal changed. Light swirled across the surface like smoke, arising from nowhere and fading away out of sight. Letters appeared across the broad expanse of stone: curving lines of molten gold that bathed the cavern in a fierce radiance.
"What sorcery is this?" The words echoed Arthur's thoughts exactly, but they came from the second creature, which had remained silent throughout this odd parley. The luminous eyes were set on Merlin, who was examining the inscription with interest.
"The only sorcery I see here is yours." Arthur's sword arm rose as promptly as ever, despite the impossibility of harming such fell creatures with an ordinary blade. Simple courage had always stood him in good stead against magical threats in the past.
"This is not of our making." Anwur's voice betrayed the same bafflement as Orsi's. "The rituals do not speak of this."
"They're telling the truth, Arthur." Merlin didn't look away from the script, his eyes scanning slowly even as he spoke. "They're just one part of the protections Iamus put in place here."
A cold thought settled in Arthur's mind. "I thought Gaius said this Iamus was a man of...mundane learning."
"Perhaps he used magic also. Before the ban, many wise men studied sorcery alongside the material arts."
Arthur didn't ask the obvious questions: whether the blight was magical in nature; whether magic would be required to restore his kingdom's food supply. He refused to contemplate it. He had gone against his own law once, when he thought his need was great enough to justify his hypocrisy. Never again. Instead, he forced a lightness he did not feel. "So you can read that, then? It doesn't look like any writing I've ever seen."
"It's very old. Older than anything men have built or thought or said." Merlin's voice had taken on that utterly calm quality that sent not entirely unpleasant chills down Arthur's spine. It was a side of Merlin that he had seen only a handful of times, and which he had blissfully and repeatedly forgotten. This was the unaccountably wise Merlin, the Merlin who seemed to know things obscured from the sight of other men. Arthur wasn't sure what disturbed him more: the impossibly audacious claims Merlin made at times like this, or the fact that Arthur inevitably found himself believing them. When that fey light shone in Merlin's eyes, it invariably meant that something terrible and wonderful was about to happen.
"Maybe it was a mistake to come here. I'm sure Gaius will-"
"No. This is how it had to be. How it will always be. Look, 'blade of a king, blood of a servant.' Your blade, Arthur. My blood."
The words were ice, cracking through the air and freezing Arthur's heart in his chest. Protests crowded his throat, but he couldn't make his mouth form the words. It was Merlin for God's sake.
The stone guardians reacted to the words in a different way, squaring their backs against the door and extending their clawed hands to the floor in front of them. A series of great grinding impacts pounded through the chamber as the rock beneath their claws rose up, growing like a living thing. It followed the creatures' rising hands like a hound on a scent, and shaped itself into a thick chopping block.
"The price must be paid," Anwur rumbled.