Character/s: Arthur, Merlin, other
Summary: A beating drum warns of the coming of Arthur's bane.
Warnings: SPOILERS for 5x01!
Word Count: 900
Prompt: #27 Tattoos
Author's Notes: Written fast, and unbetaed. Might clean it up later.
The old man’s hand falls down limply, disturbing the still pool of translucent water. Merlin’s eyes are drawn to the surface even as fire rolls across it, showing him a red sky and a field of broken bodies.
A young man steps into view. He seems familiar to Merlin. His ghost-eyes are unreadable, but the tension around his mouth and across his forehead speak of great pain. There is an inner satisfaction in him, though, when he meets Arthur on the field. Arthur who, in contrast to his opponent, is like an open book. He barely manages to lift his sword in time to block the first blow.
Out of the sound of steel on steel, rises the beat of a drum. A fast tattoo, growing louder by the moment. A sword finds home, blood flecks Arthur’s lips, he falls to his knees and the drumbeat threatens to split Merlin’s skull.
“Is he alive?”
Merlin fills his aching lungs with air and lifts his head to see his King unbloodied.
He stumbles out of the cave after Arthur with the drum still pounding in the back of his head. It follows him when he mounts his horse and they ride off towards the court of Queen Annis.
That night the vision returns to Merlin in his dreams. He had lain awake at first, waiting until snores filled the camp before sneaking off to call Kilgharrah, but the dragon knew no more than he. All Merlin has been told is that once again, no one else can save Arthur. After Merlin has slipped back underneath his blanket, he watches Arthur’s peacefully sleeping face until sleep claims him too, and then the fire rolls across the sky again, and the tattoo quickens and quickens, as if it means to outrun the blade that pierces King Arthur’s heart.
Merlin wakes because Arthur is shaking him.
“Merlin! Merlin, you’re waking the entire camp!”
There is a roar in his throat that tastes like dragonrunes, too late to stop, so he rolls over on his stomach and lets it out into his clenched fist, hoping Arthur won’t understand or wonder.
But Arthur’s hand is steady on his back, soothing and supporting him.
“Merlin’s just scared of the dark, the big girl. I’ll handle him. Go back to sleep.”
Merlin sits up reluctantly, aware of Leon and Elyan’s worried eyes on him, aware of Arthur’s hand still on his back. The tattoo slows again, fades into the background, but never stops. It foretells the passing of time, the coming of the ghost-eyed man with the blade that will end everything.
“I’ve a mind to send you home,” Arthur murmurs. “You’re not alright.”
“I’m fine,” Merlin replies hoarsely. “And you can try, but I won’t go.”
A smile softens Arthur’s features. “I’ll tie you to the horse and give you an escort.”
Something swells in Merlin’s heart, a wave of familiarity, belonging and love. “I’d outrun them, tied to the horse or no.”
Arthur bends close. “I’ll tie you to the escort.”
Merlin can’t help but smile. “I’m fine, Sire. It was just a nightmare.”
Arthur scrutinises him for a long moment, but the darkness is too deep to reveal Merlin’s secrets.
For the next few days, Merlin doesn’t hear the tattoo, though he knows that it is still there.
When Morgana attacks them on the road, he throws caution to the wind, using magic to help Arthur escape. All he can think about is keeping his King safe; no secret is worth Arthur’s life. The danger passes, though, and caution comes creeping back. So when the net catches them, he means to wait for Arthur to fall asleep before releasing them from the trap, but the net sways gently back and forth, and the drum’s steady beat lulls Merlin to sleep before Arthur.
And in the morning it is too late. The shout is piercing and commanding, and there he is, the man with the blade.
The tattoo rises in Merlin’s head, drowning out wind and words, beating until he wonders why no one else seems to hear it.
The young man walks like a king, and his pale eyes are without fear. Merlin knows him suddenly. Remembers him. He speaks the name out loud not for his own benefit, but so that Arthur will be on even ground with them, two of the mightiest sorcerers in all of Albion.
Mordred smiles, and looks at Arthur with the fondness that a hunter might show for a hart.
They walk all day, marching towards Morgana, but Merlin feels like the danger is behind him, in the ghost-eyes that are now on his neck, now removed, to watch Arthur no doubt. The drum doesn’t fade or slow this time, but beats on and on, the tattoo of war and flight.
That night the two prisoners lie close together under the watchful gaze of their captors. Merlin presses himself against Arthur’s side and imagines that he can feel his warmth even through a layer of chainmail. He won’t be able to sleep like this, not with the tattoo still so loud in his head. Arthur sneaks his bound hand under Merlin’s jacket and places it on Merlin’s chest.
“Calm down, Merlin,” he whispers. “Your heart is beating so fast.”
Merlin breathes in carefully and feels the drum beating under his skin. It heralds the death of his King.