Chapter 3 – For all you hold dear
Arthur and Leon had been wandering around in circles for what seemed like hours before they found what they were looking for in the clearing where the Unicorn had first been felled. Honestly he didn’t know why they didn’t start looking there, it seemed like this place was where they were always found.
Merlin stood in the forest on the spot where the unicorn had died and he seemed to be looking for something, or more likely someone. Giving a signal to Leon they stayed in the shadows of the trees and waited, he wanted to see how this went before he revealed himself.
“You said you would not interfere young warlock.”
Jerking around to the left he saw the very man he’d been seeking and Merlin had been seeking as well apparently.
“I’m not interfering, I’m seeking an audience to ask for another chance, for the prince and for Camelot.” Why would he do that?
“Why?” Echoed by a magic user whatever would his father say.
“I’m sorry what?” Not the response he was expecting, he would have expected laughter before he would have expected that question.
“Why do you wish for Camelot’s salvation? They hunt your kind, persecute you without cause to near extinction, even now they have convened a war council for the sole purpose of destroying you and everything you have spent your life building. Why do you care if they live or not?” The man had a point, looking over at Leon he found the knight just as nervous as he was. Would Anhora’s words sway Merlin from their side?
“Because… because they are suffering. It is one thing to die because of a something you have done or something you have caused but it is another to die slowly because of a mistake made by one man. If the citizens of Camelot had had a hand in the demise of the Unicorn and the failure of the test after then I would leave them to their fate, but they are being punished for something they had no part in. How could I of all people ever condone that?”
“You words hold truth young warlock, but what of the act of doing nothing? The citizens of Camelot are widely known for their apathy. To die in Camelot is to die alone for all shall turn a blind eye.”
That wasn’t right was it? He couldn’t believe it of his citizens, they were all good people and it wasn’t like they were executing people for no reason. Every person who’s life was lost was because they had broken the laws. He tried to ignore the voice at the back of his mind that whispered that the laws were wrong, but that voice was growing louder and louder with each passing day.
“I do not come before you to argue about the past nor do I stand here and claim that all the citizens of Camelot are worth saving, most of them are not worth much to me. I stand here for the few who are at least trying to rise above. It is not easy to cast aside all that you have ever known to be true and yet at the very war council you mentioned to me before there are those who do not wish to attack me.”
“How do you know this to be true?” How did he know that? Did he have a spy within the castle? Did he have a traitor in Camelot?
“Because they have had months to declare their war and have not yet done so.” Or maybe he just had logic.
“You say yet, you do not believe they will leave you in peace?”
“Not while Uther Pendragon draws breathe I don’t.”
“Then why save him?”
“I’m not doing this for him, I would never do anything for the good of Uther Pendragon, I may be a good person but I doubt anyone is that good of heart as to save their would be murderer. I don’t even really do this for Camelot, I do this for myself, I would not be able to live with myself if I did not at least try to help them. If I just turned my back and returned to my life then I would be no better than they are. I will never allow myself to sink to their level, not if I still want to be able to look myself in the mirror with my head held high.”
He made them all sound like the lowest form of life in the land, and the saddest part was he was having trouble disagreeing with him. Looking back on things now he saw that maybe they were all that he said. He certainly hadn’t truly been doing things for the right reasons lately, it was always about him and his pride, never before now had he truly cared about what happened to the peasants in the lower town. Until he caused their suffering and then was forced to see the consequences of his actions.
“Very well young warlock, I will grant you your request, the young prince may have another chance. Hear me young royal for I know you are there, if you wish to take this chance offered to you then follow the path that I leave you, come alone and face your final test.”
With a wave of his hand both the guardian and Merlin were gone leaving behind only a trail that blazed gold with the purest of magic lighting the way for his final test.
“Sire I do not believe you should do this. What if it is a trap, the sorcerer said it himself that he knew we were here all along.”
“What other choice do we have? If I do not take this chance then our people will starve to death. If there is still a chance to save them, no matter how slight it may be, I must take it.”
Without another word he set out to follow the path and to find Merlin.
The labyrinth of Gedref, honestly, he should have guessed this would be the final testing grounds. Merlin knew of this place, from legend and story, but to see it was another matter altogether. The labyrinth its self was vast and he sat at a table at the far end of it, and still he knew the young prince would have no trouble traversing the distance between them. Anhora wanted him to get to this point after all, for here was the test, not the labyrinth its self.
Hearing a twig snap off to the side of him he looked up and found the prince standing where forest gave way to sand, the look on his face not very promising. He had a bad feeling about this, the guardian had told him this final test would put his very life on the line, and considering how well the other tests went he wasn’t holding his breath. Well, at least he would have a nice beach to look at before he died.
“Took you long enough, come on, have a seat.”
He watched the young prince look from side to side warily, as though he would suddenly be able to see Anhora coming or something. Finding nothing, he eventually sheathed his sword and walked the short distance between them to join him at the table. Finally they could begin, and hopefully he would be back in Haven before sunset.
When he finally settled into his seat, then and only then did Anhora show himself, he had known he was there hidden the entire time but he didn’t see any reason to mention it. Watching the royal prat jump slightly in surprise was well worth the hours he waited for him to finally arrive.
“Ah, young Pendragon, you have arrived. Now that you are here the test shall begin. Before you both sit two goblet with the same amount of liquid in each. One is poisoned, while the other is simply water, the poison is tasteless and odorless. You may each only drink from one cup, and you may not leave until all the liquid is gone, these are the rules. I wish you good fortune on this your final test.”
Without another sound the old man faded before their eyes.
“Wait! How is that a test? That’s just dying!”
Of course he wouldn’t understand, he was a Pendragon after all, and they weren’t exactly known for their quick wit.
“This is a test of your resolve prat, either way you win, because either way both of us was willing to die for the test to be completed. We could sit here and wait it out for another option to show its self, one where we both live, but the curse has yet to be lifted and your people would still suffer while we sit here waiting. That is the test, no tricks this time, only death.”
He almost felt bad for him, he looked so dejected and confused. Like a little boy lost in a crowd with no idea in what direction he would find his home.
“But what if you die? How would that prove my resolve?”
“The reason you are here is because the thought of others dying for you, or because of you, is something you can not abide. In choosing to begin the test and placing my life in danger with your own you prove your resolve of helping your people no matter the cost to you, or me.”
He knew he looked pouty, like a small child told not to leave the table until all his vegetables were gone. He couldn’t help it, when he agreed to help and asked for another chance for the prince to prove himself, this had not been what he meant.
He knew the moment that Arthur noticed his mood, because the prat couldn’t stop himself from commenting.
“What’s the matter Mer-lin? Don’t want to die for me?”
“Not especially no, no I don’t.”
His matter of fact and fast response seemed to throw the man for a moment, before he cleared his throat and sat up straighter as though that would help matters any. Slouched or board straight he doubted the man would be able to think his way around this.
“There must be a way for one of us to survive.” Yeah, but which one of us?
“Oh, there is, I just haven’t figured it out yet.”
“Then how do you know there’s a way?” Idiot.
“Because numpty, there’s always a way, you just have to be smart enough to find it. Normally, I am, so just give me a moment. If you like you can think on it too, though I don’t know how much help that’ll be, what with your limited brain power and all.”
“Why you little -” Really he was just so easy to rile, it was almost like a game.
“Careful, your majesty, remember that temper of yours is why we’re both here in the first place.”
That seemed to deflate him in an instant, as well it should. Maybe he wouldn’t forget this so soon after all.
“I got it! Anhora said we could only drink from one cup, so we pour both goblets into one that way we know which is poison. Then all that’s left is for one of us to drink it.”
Reaching forward he did just that before tossing the now empty goblet to the ground and placing the poisoned on in the center of the table between.
“Now we just have to decide who drinks it.” He thought for sure the prat would start to prattle on about his being the heir to a kingdom and all the reasons why his life was more important than Merlin’s. After all they were the Prince of Camelot and a known sorcerer, it was almost tradition.
He was about to offer a compromise, a way to choose fairly, when the prince’s hand shot out grabbing the cup and he chugged it all down in one go. It seemed to have no effect for a moment before the prince, fell to the side, crashing to the ground below.
Noticing the steady rise and fall of his chest he got up and went to check on him, he was still alive. In fact it almost seemed like he was-
“Sleeping.” Jerking his head around he found Anhora standing just behind him. “The young prince sleeps, and the curse has been lifted, you are both free to go whenever you so choose.”
So the lughead did it after all. Good on him.
Arthur woke up beneath a tree in the forest boarding the castle, he was home. How did he get there? The last thing he remembered was, sitting with Merlin on a beach in a maze, then -. Shooting up to his feet he remembered the rest, poison! He’d drunk poison! He should be dead, so why wasn’t he. Looking over he saw his horse tied to the tree next to him just waiting to take him home with a note tied to his saddle that hadn’t been there before. Untying it he read as he walked back towards his home, he would ride but he knew after this letter he would likely need the time to get his thoughts in order, and he was right.
It seems that there was a trick after all, instead of poison you ingested a sleeping draught, good news for you I’m sure. Your willingness to die for your people and not to let me die for them instead demonstrated your good heart, which was all Anhora had been looking for to begin with, a sign that you weren’t heartless. For this reason the curse has been lifted and your Kindom should be back to normal by the time you wake and return. Now, don’t get me wrong it’s not like we’re friend or anything, you and your father are still trying to destroy me and all I hold dear, which would make any friendship between us more than awkward, but I just wanted to say that I respect what you did back there. You took responsibility for your actions and that is never an easy thing to do, for just a moment the good man you could become one day shined through which gives me hope that maybe you won’t be such a prat forever.
Until next time, because let’s face it with the way your life is going at the moment there will very likely be a next time very soon, try to remember that man you were for a moment in the labyrinth. Because that man is a true leader and he will get through all the things to come with dignity and grace.
Your NOT friend,