Merlin had known that there was every chance that this would happen, but he had found himself in a situation that had left him with no other choice.
Though the act that he had committed was neither evil in intent or meant for anything other then good, he was to be punished. His crime: using magic.
It had just been very unlucky. He would never have even been caught out if it had not been for the King, Uther, watching him from the shadows.
But he'd only been trying to save Arthur's life. Again.
A huge basilisk had gained entrance to the castle and had attacked. Arthur and the knights had fought hard against the beast as it had slithered and writhed through the grounds.
After killing several innocent bystanders; decapitation administered by it's huge sharp fangs, it had also struck down four of Arthur's best men.
It had turned into a losing battle, and soon, Arthur had been the last man standing, backed into a corner. Trapped. His sword had looked almost ridiculous poised at the gargantuan hideous serpent, and when he'd made attempts to strike at it with the gleaming silver blade, it had done little more then scratch the oozing green scale-covered body.
Arthur would surely have perished if it had not been for Merlin, who had hidden behind a cart of horse-leavings, waiting for the perfect moment to intervene.
The instinct from deep within him had stirred in a very instant. He had raised his hand, feeling a surge of unexplainable mystique erupting through his fingertips.
His eyes had locked upon the foul beast whom had held Arthur completely at his mercy, concentrating with his entire body and soul.
Time had slowed so much then, that his own heartbeat could have been the loudest sound in the entire universe.
Trickles of light had then spilt out from his digits, somehow, a magical extension of his hand reaching out for the creature. As it had touched and merged into a force of that to match the greatest of all lightening storms, the creature had cried out in pain; an ear-shattering wail that had reverberated around the building's great structure for a multitude of long-lasting seconds.
The basilisk had appeared to implode, the walls of it's body bursting inwards, finally turning into a thick cloud of dust which had then completely enveloped Arthur, taking him from Merlin's sight and swallowing him up into a temporary oblivion.
It was that moment that Uther had stepped out of an archway from behind Merlin, a look of pure hatred painting his expression as Merlin turned his head and met his gaze.
The King's amazed wide eyes pondered for a moment as he looked the young man up and down, searching for an explanation of what he had just come to witness, hoping that it could not possibly be the magic that he had made his personal mission in life to destroy.
But he knew that magic was the only thing that it could be.
"Seize him!" Uther had yelled suddenly. Two guards were soon on the scene, so quickly in fact, that Merlin, who was paralysed by fear, was barely able to process what followed in the next few moments. He was soon grabbed tightly by each arm with no room to manoeuvre even if he could have found himself bold enough to make a try for his freedom.
Caught red handed.
"Father?" Arthur's voice had coughed as he'd finally emerged from the confines of the dust to stand beside them, "What are you doing with Merlin?" he'd had time to flash a confused glance over in Merlin's direction before Uther answered.
"He's a sorcerer! I saw him trying to use magic against you!" Uther had boomed.
This had made Arthur laugh, "You can't possibly be serious? Merlin can barely tie his boots, let alone perform magic!" he scoffed sarcastically.
"I bore witness to this with my very own eyes!" Uther countered sternly, "There were streaks of light shooting from his fingers. I believe it was he who was controlling that...that...thing that was attacking you!"
"No!" Merlin had interjected, finding his voice at last, "Arthur, I was only trying to save your life! I didn't summon or control the basilisk! I would never see harm come to you! You have to believe me!"
Arthur had then met Merlin's pleading eyes, he suddenly looked deflated, "With magic?" he'd asked, dumbfounded.
"It would be a waste of time now to deny what your father saw...but you must know, it was the only way. Basilisks can only be defeated by magic."
Uther was not impressed upon hearing this, "I do not care to hear any more of this nonsense!" he'd snapped. He had been appalled in the most savage of ways, and he immediately ordered his guards to take Merlin away and imprison him deep in the cold dungeon to await his bleak fate.
But as they dragged him away, Merlin had managed to quickly look back at Arthur, "You know me, Arthur! I wouldn't hurt anyone! I wouldn't hurt you! Don't let them do this!"
Yet now here he was. Locked up.
Shivering and all alone upon the rough stone floor, Merlin hugged his arms around his legs. There were a handful of guards posted outside of his cell who had been instructed to kill Merlin should he attempt an escape, magical or otherwise. He'd never felt so frightened in his entire life. He had been hoping that Gaius would have been able to visit him, but Uther had forbidden anyone to look in on him.
Gaius had been a good friend and mentor. The only person in Camelot who had, until earlier that day, been in on Merlin's big secret. Of course, he wouldn't dare mention this to Uther. He did not want Gaius to get into trouble for harbouring a sorcerer. For that, the physician would surely be condemned to death, as now Merlin himself was.
So great was Uther's hatred of any kind of magic and sorcery, that anyone caught involved in such acts were executed with absolutely no exceptions.
Merlin himself was now to be executed in the morning in front of the entire Kingdom. Made a public example to warn anyone who might be, or was thinking of using magic in Camelot.
Now Merlin's life was rapidly coming to an end. He had failed to live out his destiny; to protect and serve Arthur, the future king of Camelot.
Arthur. The look upon the prince's face as the guards had dragged Merlin away, was one that Merlin had hoped that he would never have to witness. He was deeply wounded. Lied to by a servant that he'd thought loyal. Disgusted.
Betrayed by a friend.
Merlin had thought Arthur a friend, too. Though the prince had always been too proud and too stubborn to admit it out loud, Merlin knew without words what had passed between them.
But now, that friendship was so obviously ruined and he'd never be there to keep Arthur from harm, or to see the day that the king's crown would sit upon his head. He'd never forgive Merlin; he'd die a traitor, and he'd always be remembered that way.
Worst still, what if in Merlin's absence, Arthur's life was doomed to end in peril sooner then expected, anyway? What if he never lived long enough to be seated on the throne?
Arthur Pendragon sat motionless in front of the fireplace in his chambers quietly watching the red and orange flames dance wildly. The room glowed with the flickering, casting moving shadows upon the walls that surrounded him. So consumed within the sight before him, that he barely had a chance to register that someone was entering the room.
"Arthur!" Morgana exclaimed as she strode purposely through the door, her emerald velvet cloak floating behind her, "You absolutely cannot let Uther do this to Merlin!"
Arthur sighed but did not take his eyes off the flames, "What would you have me do, Morgana? My father has made his decision. There is nothing anyone can do to help Merlin now."
"But you have to try and stop the execution!"
Finally, Arthur looked up and met her gaze, "He was caught performing magic, you know how father feels about such things."
"But Merlin wouldn't ever hurt anyone, you know that, Arthur! His heart is more pure then any man I have ever known or heard of!" her voice had grown desperate.
"Merlin should have known better then to use magic." Arthur responded simply.
"He is still the same person that we have come to know," Morgana had softened her voice now, "Has he not been loyal? Has he not done all that was asked of him? Has he not been a good friend to you? Please, Arthur, I beg of you. Help him."
Tears started to run down Morgana's face as she struggled to keep her emotions hidden, "But why?"
"He has brought this on himself! He lied to us. He lied to me!" he snapped angrily as he brought a fist down hard onto the arm of his chair, "Hes no friend of mine, he never was!"
"How can you even say that?" another emotional voice said from behind them. Both Arthur and Morgana turned to see Gwen walking towards them, "That basilisk would have surely killed you, Merlin saved your life, and this is how you thank him? By turning your back on him when he is most in need? How could you...how could you be so...so... despicable?"
Arthur rose to his feet and started to walk closer towards her, "But, Guinevere..." he started.
Gwen moved a few steps away from him, "I used to think you a good man, that you would one day make a great king. But you are just as closed off as your father. If you stand by and watch Merlin be executed, I will never forgive you. He doesn't deserve this." for a moment, she allowed her sorrowful tear-filled eyes to glare deeply into Arthur's.
It was Arthur who broke the intense and uncomfortable moment by looking away, "I can't help him. I am sorry, but Merlin is a sorcerer and what he has done is forbidden."
Suddenly, Gwen rushed forwards and slapped her right hand across Arthur's face, taking him completely by surprise.
"I could have you arrested for that!" Arthur yelled as he quickly restrained Gwen tightly around her wrists. He was conflicted by what had just happened. There was once a day when he'd sensed that Gwen had been fond of him. Though he couldn't have allowed anything to have happened between them, at least not as long as his father was alive, he was fond of her, too. The kiss that they had once shared had secured his feelings, but now, as fate would have it, she would be forever unforgiving of him for what was about to happen to Merlin. He couldn't really blame her, and that would always be a regret to sting at his heart.
Morgana, who had been stunned into silence by what she had just witnessed, had seen and heard enough. "Come, Gwen. It is obviously not going to do us any good to seek the help that we need here from this...this..coward!" she spat the lasts words out with a venomous tone.
Arthur loosened his grip on Gwen and she pulled away from him, her eyes that were full of hatred, still locked onto his. As she turned away, Arthur felt his heart sink, but he had to save face.
As Gwen and Morgana moved towards the door, Arthur, who had gone back to staring into the flames, called back to them, "Just so that you know. I will not tell anyone what you have said to me, if my father found out that you were taking the side of a sorcerer, he'd be none too pleased." he then looked from the fire and back at them, a stern expression on his face, "I must also warn you not to do anything rash. I would not be able to help should serious consequences befall you."
As Morgana and Gwen swept out of the room, Arthur sat himself back in his chair, closed his eyes and sighed with frustration. He wasn't even king yet, but somehow he already felt an unmeasurable amount of pressure upon his shoulders.
Merlin must have somehow fallen asleep. He had awoken with his face pressed against the dirty floor, and his body sprawled out in an awkward position.
Voices. He could hear voices. No, shouting, coming from somewhere nearby his cell.
He eased himself up into a sitting position and rubbed at his eyes with the back of his hands, stimulating some life back into them. As he looked around, the first thing he noticed was how dark it was still. Well of course it is still dark, he thought, I'm down in the dungeon and there is no way to tell day night from day down here.
The shouting was getting louder as the men creating the disturbance grew nearer. Merlin got up onto his feet and walked towards the door, peered out of the peep-hole and listened.
"But we have our orders!" one man exclaimed.
"And I'm here to tell you that there has been a change of plan. The king has requested me to escort the prisoner to him immediately. He wants to find out if he is holding any information about other known sorcerers. Do you wish to disobey him?"
Merlin didn't know wether to be relieved or worried at hearing Arthur's words, but still, a rush of hope rocketed through his body and made his heart beat quicken.
"Sire, with all due respect, your father told us to let no-one down here unless he himself told us otherwise."
"The king is a very busy man, therefore he has sent me to carry out his wishes on his behalf. Surely you wouldn't want me to anger him by questioning his authority?" Arthur responded.
"Apologies, sire. I did not know."
"Just don't let this happen again. As Prince of Camelot, I expect to be shown respect, is that clear?" Arthur asked him.
"Yes, sire. May I assist you with the prisoner?"
"If you must." Arthur sighed irritably.
Merlin backed away from the door slightly when he saw Arthur and the guard round the corner and head towards him, keys jangling in the young prince's hand.
Merlin watched silently and cautiously as Arthur unlocked and opened the door and walked into the cell, the guard following closely behind.
Arthur stood there wearing his usual red tunic and chain-mail, his expression was unreadable as he stared at Merlin across the cramped space.
"Arthur..." Merlin started.
"I don't remember giving you permission to speak!" Arthur interrupted with a snap in his tone.
Merlin felt that rush of hope disappear as quickly as it had came to him. Seeing Arthur act in this way was truly upsetting.
Without another word, Arthur grabbed Merlin by the arm and jerked him forwards, "Lead the way, would you." he instructed the guard.
"Yes, sire." was the obedient response, and the guard started through the dungeon towards the stairs that would lead them up and out. Arthur pulled Merlin along with him as they followed, passing the other puzzled guards who stared silently as they went by.
After a few moments, they found themselves opposite the stairs. Apart from the three of them, it was completely deserted. Merlin thought this strange. There were normally guards posted here, too.
He obviously wasn't the only one to think this, as suddenly, the guard with them came to a halt and looked around, confused. "Where are the men who are supposed to be on duty here?"
What happened next, happened so fast that Merlin wasn't even sure if it were real at first.
Arthur let Merlin go, rushed towards the guard and punched him square in the jaw, causing him to drop to the floor like a sack of potatoes. There he stayed, unconscious.
"Okay, lets get out of here!" Arthur shouted back to Merlin who was left quite stunned. For a moment, Arthur had had him convinced that he wasn't going to help him, and that he was content enough to let him die.
"Merlin. I would really prefer to get out of here before they discover what has happened and sound the warning bell! Hurry up!"
"Um...I...you're rescuing me?" Merlin asked stupidly, smiling at Arthur.
"Well yes, you idiot! Or at least I'm trying to! Get a move on!" was the sarcastic reply.
"But they will know it was you who freed me..." Merlin realised out loud and his smile faded, "I can't go..."
"Sometimes I wonder about you, Merlin." Arthur walked quickly back over to him and pulled him by the arm, "If you want to live, come with me now."
"But you will be in trouble with your father...I can't let you go through with this."
"When the guard comes to, he'll tell my father that it was I who hit him, it is too late to take back what I have done. The only thing we can do is make a run for it."
Arthur's face looked brave though flustered under his blonde hair, but his blue eyes were glazed with the underlying fright that Merlin himself felt. He was right. They had no other choice but to go through with this now.