There were few things that Sir Leon of Camelot hated more than night patrols. True, the knights worked them on a rotating schedule, but still. It was chilly, at night. And lonely, really, because there was no one around but the occasional wolf or bloodthirsty bandit. Leon shivered slightly, and, striding across the field, he pulled his cape tighter around himself. It was almost dawn, and someone would be along to relieve him.
A stick snapped. Leon drew his sword and whirled around, eyes scanning the pre-dawn world around him. He stood, still as stone, and waited. There were no more sounds, nothing that he could see that promised trouble. He relaxed slightly, lowering his blade so the tip dug into the soft dirt at his feet. He breathed a small sigh, and ran a hand through his hair, laughing slightly. He was always jumpy at the end of a night patrol.
Of course, then something slammed into his back and sent him flying.
He landed, face first in the grass, and before he could gather his wits, ropes appeared out of nowhere to wind first about his wrists and then his ankles, then drawing together so the knight lay on his side, hands bound to ankles and completely unable to escape. He looked up.
Seven men towered above him. They all were wearing cloaks of various colors – red, purple, blue, green, yellow, and orange. There was also one in a white cloak, and he appeared to be their leader. “Sir…Leon, am I correct?” White cloak said, looking down at him curiously and squinting slightly, “You are Leon, yes? And this is Camelot?”
“I’ll take that as a yes,” White said. He nodded in the general direction of the castle. “This is Camelot, correct? We don’t want to accidentally attack the wrong city, you know.”
Leon continued to glare. One of his eyes twitched a little.
The seven men all sighed in unison. Then they turned, as a single motion, and swept away, leaving Leon bound on his side in the field. He wiggled for a few minutes, and then paused. A bird landed several feet away from his face, and, cocking its head, regarded Leon curiously. “How is it,” Leon asked the bird, “That it’s always me that gets into these sorts of situation?”
The bird shook itself and flew away.
Leon sighed. “No,” he said, “I don’t know either.”
In the east, the faintest glow of dawn began to show.
Arthur woke up to being knocked unconscious by a man in a red cloak.
Arthur woke up again with a pounding headache, sprawled in the throne room. “Good morning,” Gwaine said from next to him, “They got me on my way to relieve Leon. I barely got to the gate. Bastards snuck up on me and dragged me back here. What about you?”
There was a loud smack as the red clad man slammed one end of his staff onto the floor. To his right, a slightly shorter man wearing all white snapped at them to stop talking. Along with them was a third wearing all blue. They returned to conversing amongst themselves as several loud bangs echoed from outside.
“It’s my understanding,” Gwaine said, disregarding White’s orders with a roll of his eyes, “That, based off of their wardrobe, they were an aspiring minstrel group who, having failed musically, have turned to a life of crime and magic and want to destroy Camelot. A classic tale, really.”
“Today’s going to be one of those days,” Arthur said, “Isn’t it?”
Arthur was spared a response as two more men – these wearing yellow and green – materialized, towing Lancelot behind them. They threw the other knight over next to Arthur and Gwaine, and went to confer with White, Red, and Blue.
“Lancelot,” Arthur said, “You all right?”
He was pale, and a little bit green. “Oh, Lord, you ever been moved by magic?” Lancelot said, blinking rapidly, “Just…blinked and you were somewhere else?”
“I wouldn’t recommend it.”
“”You!” White growled, pointing at Yellow, “Go and see what’s taking the others.”
Yellow vanished. Lancelot looked nauseated just watching.
Merlin was woken to Gaius shaking him roughly. He waved his hand and flopped over onto his stomach, burying his face into the pillow. “G’way,” he muttered, “I’m still sleeping.”
“No, you aren’t,” Gaius said, “You have to get up. Camelot’s under attack.”
“Let Arthur deal with it,” Merlin said, squeezing his eyes shut and thinking that if he just wished hard enough, Gaius would go away and he could sleep for as long as he wanted. He continued, “Arthur has a whole army, and Lancelot, and Gwaine, and…and those other knightly types. They can make it go away so I can sleep.”
“No, Merlin,” Gaius said. Somewhere in the distance, something rumbled loudly. There was the sound of shrill screaming. Merlin groaned, and wished even harder. “This is trouble of a magical sort. Besides, last I heard Arthur, Lancelot, and Gwaine had all been taken and were being held in the throne room.”
“Spectacular,” Merlin sighed, and pushed himself up. Gaius handed him his jacket and neckerchief as he pulled on his boots. “What sort of magic?”
“Sorcerer,” Gaius said, “Well, sorcerers.”
“As in, more than one?” Merlin asked, “How many, then? Two?”
Gaius didn’t say anything, just looked vaguely sheepish.
“Three?” Merlin guessed, grinding the palm of his hand into his eye. Gaius still didn’t answer, and Merlin began to get a very bad feeling. “Surely not four.”
“No,” Gaius said, “Not four.”
“More than four?” Merlin said, blinking heavily.
“Seven, actually,” Gaius said.
“You want me to fight seven evil sorcerers,” Merlin said, “At the crack of dawn. Alone. Where probably everyone is going to see me using magic. Where Uther will see me.“
“Crack of dawn, yes,” Gaius said, “Alone, unfortunately. I have to see to the wounded. Uther’s been taken and hidden, far out of the castle. And of course I don’t want you to fight them, Merlin. But someone needs to get Arthur out so he and those ‘knightly types’ can, as you said, take care of the problem.”
“With me helping in the background,” Merlin muttered. “All right, I can handle that. All I have to do is get Arthur out without him knowing about my magic.”
“Good luck,” Gaius said. Merlin rolled his eyes, and he was on his feet, walking out the door. “And be careful!”
“Aren’t I always?” Merlin asked, flashing a quick grin and disappearing out into the hall. Gaius was less than comforted by the sentiment, and busied himself with collecting supplies to help the wounded. Another crash echoed from somewhere in the castle.
Merlin, meanwhile, was running. He was thinking as he ran, trying to come up with a plan that sprung Arthur, Gwaine, and Lancelot and let him escape with his head still connected to the rest of him. As a result, he didn’t see the man in the orange cloak until he ran straight into him, ricocheting backwards off of a wall and landing on his behind on the floor. Merlin blinked up at him. He stared down at Merlin.
Then the orange clad man raised the staff he had in one hand, and with yellow eyes, swung it down at Merlin. Merlin, not having time to react, squeaked and threw his arms up in front of his face, and felt his magic press against the backs of his eyes.
Orange went flying backwards with a shout. He stumbled back to his feet as Merlin did the same. With golden eyes, Orange growled, “You’ll pay for your insolence.”
Merlin cracked his neck, and got ready.
What he wasn’t ready for was another sorcerer – this one in purple – to come up behind him and hit him with a blast hard enough to send Merlin straight through the window pane and tumbling, with the broken glass, down towards the cobblestones below.
Merlin’s ears popped, and suddenly he wasn’t hurtling towards his doom anymore. He shook his head a little, and realized that he was standing directly behind Purple and Orange, who were standing by the window. Purple had stuck his entire torso out, looking down, and was saying over and over, “Where’d he go? Where’d he go?”
So Merlin took his chance and sent Purple flying down towards the cobblestones. This time, the sound of a body slamming into cobblestones drifted up at them.
(Leon, still hogtied on his side in a field, watched as a small figure suddenly burst from one of the windows. There was a tinny noise, faint and fleeting, that accompanied the figure’s fall. Then, suddenly, the figure vanished, a few seconds later a distant bang that echoed around in the air. Huh, Leon thought, that was strange. He went back to fruitlessly wiggling around to try and escape his bonds. Then he watched as a second figure plummeted from the window. He seriously questioned the life choices that had brought him to this point.)
Orange glared at Merlin. Fire licked around the sorcerer’s hands, and Merlin took a step back. His head was still spinning from his impromptu flying lesson. “You,” Orange said, “I’ll get you for that.”
He sent a pillar of fire straight for Merlin. Yelping, the warlock turned and sprinted away. Orange was always just behind him. A whip of flames flew out, and lashed across Merlin’s legs. Arms flapping like he was trying to take off into the air, Merlin tumbled down a flight of stairs. He landed heavily on his stomach, and gasped for breath. Orange was standing at the top, and Merlin could hear him chuckle slightly.
Merlin opened his eyes, and found himself staring at a pair of faded, yellow boots. “Um,” he said.
Yellow’s eyes flashed to the same color as his attire. Merlin rolled out of the way just in time to miss getting crushed with a chunk of ceiling. He staggered to his feet, and sent Yellow flying away. Orange, however, had ventured down the stairs, and raised a hand while shouting loudly. The glass next to Merlin’s head shattered, the shards coming straight for him. Merlin threw his arms and hands to cover his face, and choked out a half-remembered spell.
The glass mostly dissolved to dust, but some still stuck in his arms. Merlin let out a squeak of pain, and yelled a spell out at Orange. First his robe caught fire, and then the rest of him, and as a human pyre he went running away. Merlin sighed in relief, sagging slightly.
But he’d forgotten about Yellow.
Merlin found himself pinned against the wall, an invisible hand wrapped around his throat. Yellow had a hand up, his eyes a savage gold, and advanced. “You’re done,” Yellow said.
Merlin snarled, and his eyes flashed gold. Yellow flew backwards, slamming into the wall and crumbling. Merlin collapsed to the floor, a gasping heap, and tried to force his breathing and thoughts back into order. Somewhere between getting thrown out the window and now, he had gotten angry. Really angry. Angrier than he had been in quite a long time. These men had attacked his home and tried to kill him without a second thought. Who did they think that they were, anyway?
He pushed himself to his feet, adjusted his neckerchief, and jerked his shirt straight. Then, he proceeded forwards to the throne room. He got to the doors, pushing past random fleeing servants. None of them spared him a second glance. Merlin glared at the doors for a moment, and considered just leaving Arthur to his fate. No, no, he’d put too much work into this place just to walk away now. Besides, it wouldn’t be fair to Gwaine or Lancelot.
With a sigh, he raised a hand, and muttered the words to the spell. A large force sprung from his fingertips and slammed into the doors. It bounced back at him, and for a second Merlin couldn’t breathe again, his own spell smothering him. He shook it off with a small shudder, and squared his shoulders. “Someone doesn’t want me in there,” he whispered, his voice rough and grating to his own ears, “Too bad.”
He raised his hand and prepared to attack again. He opened his mouth to say the spell, but instead spat out a mouthful of water. He clutched his throat, gasping for breath, but instead all he did was bubble up more water. He staggered off to the side, and then caught sight of yet another sorcerer – eyes gold – wearing all blue, arm raised and pointed at Merlin. He had snuck up behind the warlock.
Merlin gurgled. Blue sighed, and said, “Believe me, I’m enjoying this less than you are. Really.”
Wait. Merlin had thought that he was just about as angry as he could get before – now he found that he’d been mistaken. He hadn’t known what the emotion was before. Not compared to now. Merlin gurgled some more, and he fell to his knees, his vision filling with black spots. Water poured from his mouth and nose, and the more Merlin tried to break free of it, the more water came.
His magic growled. Apparently, it had become sick of its master’s lack of self-preservation and decided to intervene. In a burst that left Merlin’s head spinning even more severely than it had been before, his magic spiraled out and smacked into Blue. The sorcerer just…disappeared. Merlin spat out a last mouthful of water and with great, heaving gasps wondered just how well he was ‘handling’ this situation.
He pushed himself to his feet with a wordless growl. Without bothering with a spell, he bellowed and sent another wave of magic flying at the door. It was only after it rebounded back at him again that Merlin wondered what, exactly, he was going to do upon getting inside. After all, he couldn’t exactly burst through the doors, sending magic flying willy nily, point, and yell, “Oh! Arthur! Look! It’s a distraction!” before destroying whatever bad guys were on the other side of the door.
His train of thought was cut off by two loud pops. Merlin found himself faced with two more sorcerers, wearing red and green and regarding him with suspicion and wariness.
Merlin cracked his neck again and squared his shoulders. Screw it, he thought as Red and Green advanced, Arthur can just deal with it.
(Roughly six minutes ago, on the other side of the door)
White was rambling on about taking over Camelot and overthrowing the oppressor. Arthur honestly didn’t really know anymore – he’d tuned out somewhere around the thirty minute mark. Every now and again White would pause to look at them expectantly. Arthur glared, Gwaine would nod indulgently, and Lancelot would hum sympathetically. Then, White would return to his ranting.
Then the wooden doors shuddered. It sounded like a giant hammer being swung against the wood. White looked up, plainly shocked. He nodded at the blue sorcerer, who vanished with a splash. The door shuddered again, but then the sounds of shouting, and shattering glass came faintly through the wood.
Arthur glanced around. Red and Green were left, plus White. Three to three ratio, then, he thought, meeting Gwaine’s eyes, then Lancelot’s. Ordinarily, Arthur wouldn’t have balked at the odds. However. These seven men had managed to tackle Camelot and take the citadel.
The sounds of fighting were abruptly gone from outside. Something slammed into the door again, clearly trying to break in.
“Who’s trying to get in, you reckon?” Gwaine muttered. “Sorcerer?”
Arthur shook his head, “Why would a sorcerer try to stop them?”
“Because maybe he’s a good sorcerer,” Gwaine answered, shrugging slightly, “I mean, they can’t all be bad. Statistically speaking.”
“So what you’re saying,” Arthur answered, struggling not to roll his eyes, “Is that a sorcerer, a good one, is trying to break into the throne room for the honor of fighting some of the most powerful, vilest magic users known to Camelot, to save the son of the king who has persecuted his people. And, once said king finds out about this good sorcerer saving us, he will burn him at the stake. And, and this sorcerer would have had to already been in the castle, which means he’s probably been here for quite some time, in order to be here now to save us. Is that what you’re saying? Even Merlin wouldn’t be as stupid as that. Lancelot will agree with me.”
Lancelot carefully didn’t meet his eyes, and said, “Yes. Well.”
“…Could be a girl sorcerer,” Gwaine said petulantly, “I mean, statistically, they can’t all be –”
“What do I have to do for quiet?!” White thundered. The three captives glared up at him. The door shuddered once more, this time shaking dust from the rafters. White nodded to Green and Red. Like those before them, they vanished. Again, there were several tense beats of silence. Then there was shouting, and a roar, and smoke was curling up and under the door. Someone yelled in pain. Then two more someones did.
Again, the doors shuddered under the assault of a nameless force. The wood splintered, and the next time whatever it was slammed into it, the doors flew off of their hinges, bouncing off of the walls and skidding across the floor. Smoke billowed in from the hall, and all Arthur could make out in the mist was a shadowed figure, arm outstretched and fingers splayed. The smoke cleared, and the figure walked forward.
Arthur gaped. Gwaine was slack jawed. Lancelot became very preoccupied with the ceiling.
Merlin was dripping water, drenched from head to toe. One of his eyes was bruised and swollen nearly shut. There were bruises around his neck. He was walking with a strange, hopping limp. One of his hands was dripping blood to mix with the water on the floor. Small cuts covered almost all of his visible skin. His hair, windblown and smoking slightly, stuck up in all directions. He raised a hand, and pointed at White. “You,” he said, and then, more intensely, jabbing with his finger, “You. I have a bone to pick with you.”
“This is impossible, I enchanted that lock myself!” White said, paling out, “No one is powerful enough to get through! Who are you?”
“Think about it,” Merlin said. His voice was rough and low, but thundered through the throne room, “It’ll come to you.”
Whatever color was left in White’s face vanished. “Emrys,” he croaked, “Oh, Lord, you’re the Druids’ Emrys.”
Merlin smiled a terrible, savage smile that disappeared as quickly as it had come. “Got it in one, I’m impressed.”
“But, but…” White began, but Merlin held up a hand.
“I have been bludgeoned, strangled, attacked, smothered, shot with glass, and tossed out a window,” Merlin growled, “I have been burned, whipped, stabbed, thrown down stairs, and nearly drowned on dry land. Then, then someone – the one in red, I think – harpooned my arm. Do you have any idea how that makes me feel? Do you?”
White didn’t answer. Arthur, had he not been so busy gaping, would have realized how frightened the other sorcerer looked. As it was, he simply continued to gape. Lancelot was still busy not meeting anybody’s eyes. Gwaine, however, looked like Christmas had come early, and said, “I knew it.”
Merlin stalked forward, dragging his foot behind him. “I’ll tell you how I feel,” he said, and there was suddenly a wind stirring in the room. Dark clouds were forming below the ceiling, and the flames on the torches leapt high, “I feel annoyed. No, I am cross. Wait, no, I take that back. I am angry. I am very, very angry. At you.”
A bolt of lightening hit the ground at White’s feet, followed by a crack of thunder that almost made Arthur fall over. White did, flying backwards into a wall. He staggered to his feet, raising a hand and shouting words that Arthur didn’t understand. A piece of the stone floor flew into the air and flew towards Merlin.
Merlin’s eyes flared gold and the stone evaporated into dust, completely coating Merlin in the white powder. He coughed, a puff of white dust shaking from him, and glared at White with his good eye. “Now you’ve just pissed me off,” he said, and swung his arm like he was swatting a bug.
White abruptly disappeared into a cloud of ashes, drifting onto the floor.
The clouds evaporated. The wind vanished. Lancelot seemed to recover his ability to look people in the eyes. Merlin deflated, slouching in on himself and swaying like he was going to topple over. His blue eyes were wide and bloodshot, the color standing out against the dust that covered him. Gwaine moved first, walking over to grasp Merlin by the arm.
“Easy, mate. You look bloody awful,” he said, glancing over at the pile of ashes that was once a sorcerer, “Now I know why we don’t let you get angry.”
“Don’t let me?” Merlin muttered, glancing at him, “Please. I am a perfectly lovely person.”
Lancelot walked over and took Merlin by the other arm, and didn’t say anything. He only gave the warlock a small smile. The grins dropped off all three of their faces as Arthur stood before them. “Move away,” he said to Gwaine and Lancelot. After exchanging a glance, they both stepped back. Silence, thick and grave, covered the throne room.
“You have magic, Merlin?” Arthur asked. He felt numb, felt like saying ‘Today has been such a joy and wonder, that this is just perfect, just the mad icing on a ridiculous day’. But it was the mad icing on a ridiculous day, and so Arthur decided to deal with this part of it tomorrow. Merlin, however, true to form, apparently had decided that Arthur’s wishes were not to be acknowledged.
“If you’re going to have me executed,” Merlin said, his eyes impossibly wide, “Could you just get it over with? I’m really tired.”
Arthur stared at Merlin. Merlin stared at Arthur. Gwaine and Lancelot looked at each other, not quite sure how to proceed.
Then, before Arthur could say anything, Merlin’s legs went out from under him and he fell. Arthur leapt forward, as did Gwaine and Lancelot, and between the three of them lowered him to the floor. Merlin’s eyes were closed, his body limp. Arthur had to push down a sudden and intense swell of fear that rose in his throat.
“Gaius,” Arthur said, and panic filled up his lungs. He looked up at Gwaine and Lancelot, “Someone go and find Gaius.”
It turned out that Merlin had, in fact, not been exaggerating over his wounds. He really had been stabbed and harpooned and whatever-the-hell-else that Arthur had lost track of somewhere between the Good God Camelot’s going to fall and Merlin has magic, I should be more concerned about that than I really am.
But then Gaius showed up, and between the four of them they managed to manhandle Merlin up to the physician’s chambers. A quick overview from Gaius set Arthur at ease. “Yes, he’s hurt, but not too badly,” he said, patting Merlin’s knee through a blanket, “It’s more exhaustion than anything else.”
“From the magic?” Arthur asked.
Gaius, to his credit, merely sighed, and said, “Magic, Sire?”
“Yes, Gaius,” Arthur said. Gwaine and Lancelot hung in the background, pretending not to be eavesdropping. Arthur continued, “The magic he just used to save Camelot.”
“Oh,” Gaius said, “That magic. Yes, well, because of that.”
Arthur planted himself next to Merlin’s bed. Gaius looked at him, an eyebrow arched in confusion. “I’m not going anywhere,” Arthur said, in explination, “Merlin and I have some talking to do, and I want to get it over with as soon as possible.”
Gaius nodded, and left.
When Merlin woke up, it was to Arthur looming over him. “Um,” Merlin said, blinking, “Hello.”
“Are you in a better mood than before?” Arthur asked, “Because I’m not going to talk to you until you’ve settled down.”
“Depends,” Merlin said, “On if you’re planning on killing me or not. Could put a bit of a damper on things, you know.”
“You killed him,” Arthur said, “The sorcerer. His men, too.”
Merlin nodded, “Yes. But it wasn’t like they were particularly nice men.”
“Merlin,” Arthur said, and the smile slipped from Merlin’s face instantly. Arthur sighed, and leaned back in his chair, “What am I going to do with you?”
“Um,” Merlin said, “Not kill me?”
And Arthur laughed, because, really, there wasn’t much else for him to do. Merlin started laughing with him, because when the person who controls the decision over if you live or die is laughing, you better damned well laugh with them.
(It would be six hours before anyone started wondering where Sir Leon had gotten off to. It was another three before they actually went and found him.)