One Good Quest Deserves Another: A Crown Of Amaranth Story

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A sliver of moonlight provides the only illumination, falling across the rough brown wool of Arthur's coverlet. He pauses for a moment. Asleep, Arthur looks younger and much less forbidding, his brow creased in a frown as though even his dreams are troubling him. Merlin feels the grip of his resentment loosen a little. After all, Arthur, too, has the hand of destiny on his shoulder; he has to weigh up all his decisions against the safety and prosperity of his people.

How many times before has Merlin tried to defend Arthur to others, only to lose sight of that himself? If he were to wake Arthur now, to pour out his soul, every last one of his secrets, maybe Arthur would listen, would understand. Not for the first time, Merlin finds himself woken before dawn by a creeping sense of unease. There's something, there on his left, where Arthur is sleeping Merlin sits bolt upright, eyes wide open.

Arthur isn't there. It's not his watch, it's Gwaine's, Arthur should be sleeping.

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His chainmail is there, in a pile at the foot of his bed. Merlin tries to clamp down on the rising tide of panic in his gut. Surely there's nothing wrong. Arthur has gone to make water, that's all. He could hardly have been kidnapped right under Gwaine's nose. The bracelets, Merlin realises. If Morgana had wind of the plan, or any of their other enemies, they might be looking to stop them, to take the bracelets for themselves. And if not Morgana, then someone else. I'm to lead any followers on a merry chase and return the rest of you safely to Camelot. It's not a bad plan.

Well, in the long written history of Arthur's terrible plans it probably doesn't rank in the top five, but it's bloody close. Merlin seethes, heading back into the room to pack what he can carry. Gwaine follows him. Gwaine gestures in the right direction. Merlin returns his smile for a split second, then heads for the door.

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Whatever happens, Merlin has a feeling that if — when — he sees his friend again, things will be a lot different for all of them. And then he's off, sneaking quietly out of the door and down the stairs.

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Arthur has a head start of a little under an hour. Trust Arthur to pick the brave but foolish course of action. There is a pale glimmer of sunlight filtering through the canopy of trees.

Merlin allows himself a small smile at the beauty of it, listening to the early morning song of the birds overhead. He reaches into his pack for an apple to break his fast. Merlin drops the apple and it rolls away into the undergrowth. Even with the cool steel pressed dangerously close to his bared throat, he can't help but think how Gwaine would think it a waste of a good apple.

He gathers his magic until he can feel the warm glow of it at his fingertips ready to fling his attacker away from him. His mouth has half formed the word when he hears an incredulous,. The sword falls away and he spins round, face to face with Arthur. Arthur glares at him, unimpressed. He doesn't look Arthur in the eye as he pushes himself away from the tree and adjusts his pack on his shoulder.

It grates on him, sometimes, just how oblivious Arthur is. Arthur lets out a long suffering harrumph and busies himself returning his sword to its scabbard. Any gentleness Merlin might have thought he'd glimpsed the night before is gone, vanished beneath a steely veneer of impatience and resolve once more. But he doesn't positively forbid Merlin from accompanying him, so he decides to take that as tacit permission.

Not that he needs permission, he'll follow Arthur to the ends of the earth whether Arthur wants him to or not, but it would make destiny a little easier if he had it. Arthur sets a punishing pace as they push on through the countryside, leaving the wood and trekking across rows of fields marked by hedgerows. Merlin doesn't complain, doesn't give any reason for Arthur to regret letting him tag along. The sun's position tells him they're heading north west, rather than the true west Arthur had marked out on the map. They arrive by dusk at the edge of a dense forest. It's not on any maps of Camelot that Merlin's ever seen, and he supposes they've crossed the border with Caerleon once more.

Borders are funny things, but Arthur, as king, seems to have some kind of instinct for where his kingdom ends and others begin. Merlin recalls Arthur getting out the map in the inn the night before and wonders whether that was all a diversion. He thinks about how Arthur had sent the message for him, how Percival had kept Merlin down by the bar.

One Good Quest Deserves Another A Crown of Amaranth Story by Winkler & Ashley

The whole point of the plan was that as few people knew about it as possible. Or invite him along. You, on the other hand And okay, it seems that Arthur's going to laugh at him anyway. He can't help smiling a little in return; for all that he's being insulted, it feels a little like old times. Arthur's lips twitch one last time and he sighs.

Merlin's legs all but collapse under him and he doesn't bother to hide his sigh of relief as he roots through his pack for something to eat. He's been mourning the loss of that apple all morning although better that than the loss of his head, he concedes.

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There's little enough there that he decides to ration it — who knows when they'll have the luxury of restocking their supplies again? They spend another night in the open. There's damp in the air threatening rain but the wood lights quickly enough with a whispered word, and they sit quietly with the crackle of the fire for company. They haven't managed to catch anything to roast on it, walking all day until their feet threatened mutiny, no time for diversions like hunting.

Arthur leans back against the nearest tree, fatigue evident in the hunch of his shoulders and the tightness around his mouth. Couldn't we have at least taken the horses? Merlin looks over at him. He's not sure Arthur knows the meaning of the phrase. We climb to the top, you just throw the bracelets in this fiery chasm and they disappear? He goes back to poking the fire. It's not the right time to remind Arthur he doesn't agree with his plan. Merlin rolls his eyes. A bath drawn perhaps? A feather bed?

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Merlin bites his lip and crouches down to gather up the dropped items.