Characters: Lancelot, Merlin, (Arthur, Gwaine and Leon, briefly)
Warnings/Triggers: Brief mentions of blood
Spoilers: Set between Series 3 and 4 (I think?), no major plot points spoiled
Word Count 1,949
Summary: When Merlin is hurt on a journey with the knights, Lancelot has to play caregiver to an injured wizard, who has his own methods of getting well.
Author's notes: Written for consci_fan_mo, although it’s a reworking of a story I had almost finished before the Great Flashdrive Crash. That version had daemons, but I couldn’t fit them in with the word count limit, so this just plain canonish fic. Unusual for me, I know. :-P
A huge thanks to aelfgyfu_mead for her mad Old English skills. She’s awesome and everyone should know it.
“Aye, I know.”
Lancelot and Gwaine nodded to each other and worked together to lower Leon’s cloak to the floor of the cave. Slung on it as a means of porting him, Merlin was pale as death and unconscious, his chest stained with blood.
No one had noticed him during the battle, but then, Lancelot thought, no one noticed Merlin most of the time. That was how he got away with so many of his tricks. Branches fell of their own accord onto the heads of the bandits and they fell or tripped for no evident reason, but in the midst of battle, no one had paused to question it.
It wasn’t until all of the bandits were dead or fleeing that anyone saw what had happened. Merlin was collapsed on the ground, blood pouring from a stab wound to his right shoulder. No one had seen it happen; whether he’d been caught in the fray or tried to fight off one of the attackers or, as Arthur had suggested, frustration trying to mask his concern, ‘just got in the bloody way like he always does’. It didn’t much matter. Merlin was hurt badly and needed care. They were a full day from Camelot and Gaius and too far from their destination of Kelna for Merlin to survive the journey there. Perhaps if they moved at a gentle pace, but Kelna was under siege from raiders and had requested aid from Arthur. Many more deaths than only Merlin’s might occur if they delayed too long in reaching the village.
Arthur was torn between duty and friendship, that was clear, but in the end, it was decided that Merlin could be moved to the cave they’d camped in the night before. It was dry and warm and easily defended by one person if the bandits came back, which was unlikely given how sound a thrashing they’d received. He could rest there and if they stemmed the bleeding, he might be able to recover without aid, at least enough that he might be well enough for a journey to safer ground. And Kelna might have a healer willing to help that they could send back, or bring with them on their return.
Lancelot had volunteered to stay behind with Merlin, not knowing what he might do while ill that would arouse suspicion of another unaware of his gifts. Best to have someone who understood watching over him.
They laid him down on the ground, Lancelot slipping his pack under his head for a pillow. Merlin gave a soft moan.
“I know,” Gwaine said, in sympathy. “Just rest now.”
“You’re sure you’re all right to stay?” Arthur asked. He still looked torn.
“I’ll be fine,” Lancelot promised, with a reassuring nod.
“We’ll be back as soon as we can be,” Arthur said. He crouched down by Merlin. “If you’re dead when I get back, I’ll kill you.”
With that, he left. The other knights were as hesitant to go, but offered their farewells. Leon waved away his cloak, insisting Merlin should keep it
Lancelot checked on Merlin’s wound, tightly bound with strips of cloth from Percival’s sleeves. No new blood had seeped through. That boded well. “Merlin, if you have any tricks to help yourself, use them now, my friend. It’s just you and me. I promise I won’t tell anyone.”
Lancelot got a fire going to keep his charge warm and looked through Merlin’s pack for any supplies that might be of use. He carried herbs and salves from Gaius’ stores in case of injury, but that was little help when he was the one injured. All the jars were labelled, but most of them meant nothing to Lancelot, except one.
There was a time during his travels when he’d been hit by an arrow and woken up in a place called Astolat. A lady named Elaine had taken care of him and given him an infusion of willow bark to help with his pain. Merlin carried willow bark with him now. It was worth a try, wasn’t it?
There was a stream just down from the cave to draw water from and Lancelot set the pot over the flames, dropping in the bark to brew. The water started to turn the red colour Lancelot remembered and was soon a deep cherry. It also tasted as horrific and bitter as he recalled when he took a sip, but there was little to help that.
He scooped up a cup of it and gently shook Merlin to see if he could rouse him enough. His lids flickered, but he didn’t wake.
“I have something to help with the pain,” Lancelot told him, in case he could hear. “Try to swallow it.” He used a spoon to be more precise, but it still was hard to slip past Merlin’s lips and half of it dribbled down his chin like a baby eating gruel. He also didn’t know the dosage and didn’t want to give too much. He thought Merlin managed to get enough down his throat that it might at least dull his pain. And he’d tried to help, which was better than doing nothing at all.
That done, Lancelot settled down by the fire to watch over him and hope for the best.
The tea must have done something, because about an hour later, Merlin’s eyes opened, hazy and confused. “I’m late,” he said.
“No, you’re not. You have nowhere to be,” Lancelot assured him. “Just rest now.”
“He wants you to rest.”
“He needs my help. The redcaps…”
“We defeated the redcaps last month, remember? We were on our way to Kelna when you were hurt. There’s only raiders there. No magic. Arthur will be fine. Rest, Merlin.”
Merlin's eyes rolled down to his injured shoulder. “Let me see.”
“I’m afraid the bleeding will start again,” Lancelot said. “Can you heal yourself with your magic?”
Merlin’s brow furrowed and he muttered something, his eyes glowing bright amber for a moment, then fading. Nothing happened. He tried once more, with different words, but once more failed to achieve anything. “I can’t. Too weak. Take the bandage off.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. I need to see it to treat it.”
Lancelot carefully unwound the bandage to reveal the wound beneath. It was deep but not long. The bleeding had stopped, except for a little oozing. Merlin cast his eyes down at it.
“Yarrow leaves slow bleeding,” he recited, as though treating another patient and not himself. “Thyme to prevent festering. Make a poultice.” And with that, he fell asleep again.
Lancelot did as he was told, as best he could, and then bound up the wound again, Merlin coming to consciousness a few times, but falling back into sleep again right away. He seemed more comfortable--better able to rest-- and the next hours passed with less anxiety.
Until, at least, Merlin decided to do magic in his sleep.
The first sign was that the fire flared up high behind Lancelot, sending him scooting away in a manner unbefitting of a Knight of Camelot. The hem of his tunic was slightly singed, but he escaped otherwise unscathed and watched in half-perturbation, half-delight as the flames danced and took on shapes--dragons, lions, eagles--sparks flying in swirls and whorls. Merlin’s lips moved in mumbled words that made no sense and his eyes darted under his eyelids, amber glow shining faintly from beneath them. A field of flowers grew up through the cave floor, daisies pushing themselves between Lancelot’s fingers and then bursting into butterflies and fleeing out the mouth of the cave.
Lancelot was grateful he was the one who chose to stay and it wasn’t another who didn’t know of Merlin’s gifts. What great power the young man had and how much everyone underestimated him. Lancelot felt like a little child watching a puppet show, full of wonder at the spectacle.
Still, it couldn’t be good for Merlin to be expending his energy like this. And Lancelot was fearful the tricks might turn dangerous for himself as well as Merlin. He crawled over to him, disturbing one last daisy which flitted away, and tried to gently wake him. His hand jumped back as soon as he touched him. He was on fire, so hot that Lancelot’s fingers stung and a small blister formed as though he’d stuck his hand in a flame. It wasn’t fever, it was too strong for that.
“Merlin, you have to stop this,” he tried to reason with him. “You’re hurting yourself. Stop it.”
Merlin mumbled something else and then, all at once, sat straight up. His eyes opened wide--unseeing and bright gold. He spoke words clear and precise, even if they meant little to Lancelot:
“Gehæl on me min wund!”
A bright golden swirl of particles surrounded him, settling into his shoulder where the wound was, then dissipated. Merlin sat still for several moments, breathing a bit heavy, then simply lay down as though going to bed and curled himself into a comfortable ball on Leon’s cloak, head on Lancelot’s pack like it was his pillow. The fire died down and all that remained was Lancelot’s burnt finger, which he sucked on to soothe the pain he noticed now that everything else was calm.
“Merlin?” he asked, softly, after a few minutes of continued silence.
“Mmm?” Merlin mumbled, grumpy.
“Are you all right?”
Merlin’s eyes opened. “Yes, I’m fine,” he said, his throat a little croaky but his gaze clear. He squinted at Lancelot. “Why?”
“Because you were stabbed,” Lancelot explained. “And you’ve been ill and you just tried to set a plague of butterflies on me and burn me to a crisp.”
Merlin woke up fully now, sitting up in alarm. “I did?!” He looked over Lancelot in concern. “Did it work?”
“Only a little,” Lancelot said, wryly. He held out his blistered finger. “I think I’ll survive. How about you? How’s your shoulder?”
Merlin rolled it and looked down, pulling at the bandage until it loosened. The skin beneath was stained with the poultice Lancelot had made and had a faint raised line where the wound had knitted itself together, but it was otherwise healed and normal looking.
“Do you remember doing that?” Lancelot asked.
“No,” Merlin said, cheerfully. “But I guess it worked.” He looked sheepish. “Sorry about trying to kill you.”
“Apology accepted,” Lancelot said. He looked at his finger. “It won’t take long to heal, I don’t think.”
Merlin raised his hand and swirled it over Lancelot’s. “Lacna þæt dolg,” he said and his eyes flashed amber once more.
The blister disappeared and the pain died away. Lancelot wiggled his finger. It felt no different than before. “...Thank you.”
“No problem,” Merlin said. “It’s nice to fix things the easy way, for once.” He touched his throat, rubbing at it. “I’m thirsty.”
“All I have is willow bark tea,” Lancelot said. “It’s not very quenching. But I can get you water. The way you were burning, I’m sure you’re dry as a bone.” He started to rise, but Merlin stopped him.
“Thank you for staying with me,” he told him, sincerely.
“Of course,” Lancelot said, bowing his head. “Someone needed to make sure you didn’t cause too much mischief. I’m glad you’re well. You gave us all a fright.”
“Arthur is going to kill me,” Merlin said.
“I think he’ll be more relieved than anything. But he will punish you, I’ve no doubt.” Merlin groaned and Lancelot laughed. “Surely it can be no worse than what you’ve been through?”
Merlin shook his head, horror in his eyes. “You haven’t had to do his laundry.”
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