Two big guys release the binds on Merlin’s left arm and leg, and roughly turn him onto his front. His chest flares with pain when it scrapes against the raw skin of the fresh tattoo.
It’s nothing against what comes next. Merlin smells the hot iron as his head is forced down. There’s heat on the back of his neck for a moment, and then Merlin screams into the gag until he passes out from the stink of burnt flesh, and the pain.
Merlin turns his head slightly to look up, only to find steely blue eyes glaring back at him. A jolt runs through him, and he gasps, surprised when he doesn’t immediately inhale dust and choke on it. The eyes look away again, back ahead, but Merlin’s unable to look away.
He can see the side of a face, tanned from the sun, hair bleached to the point of being almost white, despite the dirt and sweat clinging to it. This must be Arthur , Merlin thinks. The man they’re all hunting because he stole Uther’s wives.
Arthur stops an arm’s length away, and holds out his right arm with the hose. Slowly, the stranger raises his own hands and tries to take the hose from Arthur, but Arthur holds firm. He reaches up with his left hand to open it, and then a stream of water hits the man’s neck and chest.
With a choked sound, the man sinks to his knees to get his face under the stream, opening his mouth and swallowing mouthfuls. He cups his hands in front of his mouth to better guide the water, and as the shackles slip a little further down through the motion, Arthur can see angry red skin, broken in some parts and scabbed over.
He doesn’t know this man, has no idea what his agenda is, if he even has any beyond surviving, but the sight of his bruised wrists and the pitiful sounds he makes as he nearly drowns himself in his haste to drink more, tug on something inside Arthur.
The blade against his side moves when Cenred jerks in surprise, and it cuts a fine line into Arthur’s skin. He doesn’t even feel the warm trickle of blood down his side because a handful of seconds later, the truck roars to live and the wheels start turning right next to where Arthur’s standing.
Before Cenred can regain enough composure to swing his knife at Arthur properly, Arthur’s pressed the small finger and thumb on his right hand together to extend the blade hidden inside his arm. Cenred’s eyes widen in shock when Arthur plunges it forward and neatly slits Cenred’s throat.
A soft moan breaks him out of his reverie, and he takes a few more steps until Leon and Gwaine come into view. Leon’s got Gwaine pinned against another thick oak, and is kissing him senseless.
“You couldn’t wait for me?” he asks once he’s close enough to run his hand down Leon’s back. He steps closer and wraps his arms around Leon’s waist, holding him close.
“Took too long,” Gwaine replies once he and Leon break away from each other.
Now, Morgause is Priestess of the Old Religion, and Morgana her successor, but guard duty is shared between all women in their camp.
With her arms outstretched, the sleeves of her dark red robe hanging almost down to the floor, Morgause stands in the middle of the road.
It feels right to put a hand on the boy’s head, and Merlin has to smile at the startled look the kid gives him. Whatever it is that compels him to cup the boy’s cheek with his other hand, Merlin doesn’t fight it, and when, a moment later, the boy relaxes visibly, Merlin smiles warmly at him. He can feel the wetness of the boy’s tears on his cheeks and it makes something clench uncomfortably around Merlin’s heart. This boy, this child – because surely he can’t be older than Freya, if even that old yet. He looks to be fourteen at most – was so scared of him and what he might do to him that he’s been crying and trying not to show it.
Whoever’s in charge of raising this kid will have to answer some questions.
“There’ll be no more punishments,” he says softly. “I don’t know what you’re used to, but I won’t hurt you in any way.”
Before he knows what he’s doing, he reaches for her hand, and holds it, while he cups the other around the bracelet. He can sense a faint energy inside it, but it’s weak. “There’s not much magic left in it,” he says, sounding worried even to his own ears.
“I’ll use it for as long as I can, and with any luck, I’ll be able to recharge it soon.” Her voice is confident, as if she truly believes that there’ll be enough magic in the world again to channel some of it back into this piece of jewellery.
Without conscious thought, Merlin’s magic reaches out and flows through the bracelet, rejuvenating what’s already there, and leaving a more vibrant energy behind than when Merlin first touched it.
However, the bodyguard surprises her for the third time in a row when he drags Uther’s body out of the seat, giving Gwen space to take the wheel. Gwen watches with amazement as this hunk tosses Uther’s lifeless body into the backseat as if it weighed nothing and meant even less to him. While Gwen steers, the man finds a piece of white fabric – Gwen recognises it as the same kind of cloth that she was forced to wear while under Uther’s rule – ties it around his wrist, rolls down the window, and holds his arm out.
It’s a flag to signal surrender, she realises. He’s making sure none of my friends are going to shoot at us.
He draws a vertical line above his heart, then adds a second and third line that grow out of the vertical line and describe an angle that’s opened upwards. The paint catches on Arthur’s chest hair, but Merlin doesn’t seem to be concerned about lines that aren’t perfectly straight.
“Ós,” Merlin says, still looking at the rune he painted. “It’s the divine power that guides us.”
Uther Pendragon's crest, designed by whimsycatcher.
Cover of fanmix.
Track List of fanmix.