Title: They are nothing but beasts
Pairing/s: Merlin/Arthur, background Lancelot/Gwen.
Character/s: Aredian, Merlin, Arthur, Morgana, Gwen, Lancelot.
Summary: Aredian doesn’t just question Merlin, he imprisons him. Once Arthur, Morgana, Gwen and Lancelot find out, they go to see him, only to be caught by Aredian.
Warnings: Aredian, aka Mr. Creepy McCreepster.
Word Count: 999
Prompt: #18 Gold
Author's Notes: This is a part of a longer fic I work on a bit now and then. It’s a retelling of “The Witchfinder” (2x07). While Merlin’s imprisonment seems meaningless at first, it soon becomes apparent that Aredian knows exactly what he’s doing, because as Merlin goes longer and longer without being allowed to sleep, he begins to lose control of his magic. Arthur and Morgana are up against a ticking clock if they want to free Merlin before it is too late.
Merlin sat on some straw in a corner, looking no worse for wear except a little tired. He rose when they entered.
Gwen was with him immediately, hugging him close. “We were so worried,” she mumbled against his shoulder.
“I'm alright, Gwen.”
She pulled back and smoothed her hands over his hair and cheeks. “You’re a liar,” she said affectionately.
Lancelot was next, clasping Merlin's shoulder. “You're holding up?” he asked. Arthur felt awkward in the face of their friendship. They seemed so close and yet so easy with each other.
Morgana hugged Merlin as fiercely as Gwen had, but of course it didn’t compromise her dignity any.
“Aredian has no right to do this,” she said, voice shaking with emotion.
Merlin blushed, ducked his head and murmured something Arthur didn't catch.
Arthur cleared his throat, wishing he could reach out as easily. “We'll get you out,” he said. “I’ll make Father see sense somehow.”
Morgana snorted just as Merlin shook his head.
“Don’t do it, Arthur.”
“Don’t?” Arthur forgot his awkwardness for sheer indignation. “Merlin, my room is a mess and my armour is rusting. If you think I'm letting you laze about in here all day, you're about to be proven wrong.”
Morgana raised a delicate eyebrow, smiling. “He's trying to say that he's been worried too.”
Merlin shared her smile. “I know. If I leave, Aredian will find someone else to imprison. All he’s done is ask me a barrel of questions.”
Arthur shook his head. “You don't have to be brave, Merlin. Aredian is not much better than the wretches he hunts, and for all his supposed skill, now he’s barking up the wrong tree. I will speak to my father.”
Merlin broke free of the others and pulled Arthur a little away from the others. “Arthur, please. Aredian's been asking about Gaius and Lady Morgana. I'm afraid they're his next targets.”
“He wouldn't dare,” Arthur growled.
“He would. I don’t think the man knows fear at all.”
Arthur shook his head. “I'm not sacrificing you. They are safer than you are.”
Merlin looked frustrated. “I'm sacrificing me, and for as long as I can last, everyone else is safe.”
“No,” Morgana said behind them, effectively ending their little huddle. “You’re wrong. No one is safe. We’re getting you out, Merlin, that's an order.”
The door went up. Merlin was quickly back against the wall.
“Well, this is a merry little gathering. Consorting with sorcerers, my lord?”
Aredian stood in the entrance with a tray in his hands.
Lancelot and Guinevere slid almost imperceptibly into place behind their respective masters, suddenly deferential and invisible.
A fine sheen of sweat had appeared on Morgana's brow, but her eyes were steely and her back straight. “Your accusation of Merlin came as quite a shock. He's been with us for so long, I could scarcely believe that he might be a traitor to our King. So I came to see for myself.”
Arthur glanced at her, surprised at the cover-story, especially since she had left Arthur entirely out of the picture.
“Quite the party you brought with you.”
“I brought protection,” Morgana said, as if Aredian was an idiot. “The boy would hardly dare lay a hand on me, but just in case, I had the best knights in Camelot escort me.” She sent a disparaging glance over her shoulder at Gwen, who somehow knew to bow her head and look awkward. “I would have left my maid behind, but she insisted on coming.”
Aredian smiled without warmth. “Loyalty. A rare quality to find these days.”
He studied Morgana through narrowed eyes, and she met his gaze stubbornly. Arthur noticed her hands trembling though, and prayed that Aredian didn't see it.
“And what have you found, my lady, now that you have looked the animal in the eye?”
“I hardly know,” Morgana said casually, upper lip curling in distaste as she looked Merlin up and down. “I don't know what I'm looking for.”
Merlin’s shoulders were hunched and his face guarded. Aredian handed the tray to Guinevere and cornered Merlin, grabbing his neck and pulling him into the faint beam of light from above. “Then come here, my lady, and I will show you how to recognise the taint of magic.”
Arthur was unaware of his own white-knuckled grip on the hilt of his sword, until Lancelot's hand closed subtly over his own. Arthur let go with an effort.
“He doesn't bite, I hope,” Morgana said as she walked closer.
Aredian shrugged. “I could have him gagged.”
“That's not necessary,” she replied too quickly, the pretence slipping for a moment. “I’m sure you’ll protect me.”
Still holding Merlin firmly by the neck, Aredian used his other hand to pull the boy's chin up. “Look into his eyes, my Lady. Don't let him beguile you with his seeming innocence. Look deep. Past the blue, beyond the lies.”
Morgana eyes grew as wide as Merlin’s. They seemed so similar for a moment that they could have been twins.
“Do you see it?” Aredian's voice was quiet and deep. “Sorcerers are nothing but beasts. They hunger to tear the natural world apart in a blaze of fire. Their gods are crafty, greedy and wicked. Look beyond the blue. Do you see the tainted gold, my lady?”
Morgana’s breath hitched. “No!” She tore herself away, stumbling with her eyes closed. Arthur ran to her, taking her in his arms.
Merlin was panting. He twisted in Aredian's hands. “Let go of me!”
The Witchfinder shoved the boy away with a laugh. He yanked the tray from Gwen's shaking hands and thrust it at Merlin.
“I've brought you your meal, boy. Eat up. You'll need your strength.”
He turned to Arthur, mad and triumphant. “I suggest you take the lady Morgana away from here. I fear I've upset her.”
Arthur caught Merlin's eyes as they left, and for the first time since they arrived, Merlin looked like he feared for his life.