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the island of conclusions

Two Boys from Kansas...6/7 (Merlin/SPN Crossover fic)

the island of conclusions

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Two Boys from Kansas...6/7 (Merlin/SPN Crossover fic)

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nimueh
Title: Two Boys from Kansas in King Uther's Court, 6/7
Rating: gen, PG-13
Characters: Sam, Dean, Merlin, Arthur, assorted canon BBC Merlin characters
Word Count: ~7K, this part
Warnings: here with part one. Takes place S1 for Merlin, S1 for SPN. There's a lot of Arthur in this part--if that's something one should warn for. ;)
Disclaimer: not mine, no profit.

a/n: beta'd by the wonderful [personal profile] calamitycrow--thanks, hun!
a/n 2: more notes here.
a/n 3: there's a scene in this section--you'll be able to tell which one--that is more or less lifted from A Connecticut Yankee. It's a scene that made a big impression on me as a kid, and I wanted to see how it fit on this Arthur. Absolutely no disrespect meant to Mr. Twain. Quite the opposite, in fact!
ETA: beautiful banner by ala_tariel

As always, thanks for your patience!




Picture Credit by: ala_tariel


part one * part two * part three * part four * part five *

Part Five

For a moment, Dean thought he was going to have to coldcock the once and future king.

Arthur was peering through the shadows, sword in one hand and torch in the other, taking in the scattered bags and weapons on the armory tables.

Dean eased himself silently towards the prince, wooden practice sword poised for a knock-out blow to the skull.

Before he could swing, however, Merlin stepped forward into torchlight. The prince’s expression instantly went from watchful to annoyed.

“Merlin,” he said harshly, an undercurrent of concern in his voice, “what are you doing here? There’re thieves about—they’ve already broken into the Tower.” He looked around warily, “I thought they might try here next.”

“Yeah?” Merlin said, wide-eyed, “is that what’s going on? I thought I heard a noise. And I, um, came down here to investigate.” He managed to look innocently horrified, and continued hurriedly, “But there’s no one here—I’ve just done a thorough check—so we can leave now.” He tugged at Arthur’s sleeve, “maybe they’ve gotten into the grain stores.”

Arthur eyed him suspiciously, but allowed himself to be guided towards the door.

It was a decent improvisation, Dean thought, and reasonably well-executed. It might even have worked. Except that when Arthur turned towards the door he caught a flicker of movement as Dean tried to sink back into the shadows. The prince moved fast, had him pinned against the wall, forearm against Dean’s throat and blade raised menacingly before Dean could even get the wooden sword up in self-defense. The torch fell guttering to the floor.

“Arthur,” Merlin said, alarmed, “let him go—I can explain.”

“I think I can put two and two together, Merlin,” the prince said, pressing harder against Dean’s windpipe, “And I don’t like it. Half of Camelot’s salt store is missing, and you’re here in the dead of night with a stranger—a stranger I trusted with my life yesterday,” he glared at Dean. “I actually don’t think it’s a good idea to let him go.”

“Oh, I expect you’ll find that it is.” That was Sam, who had taken advantage of the flurry of movement to come up behind Arthur. He was looming over him now, his knife resting on the skin behind the prince’s ear. “Let my brother go—or this kingdom’s going to be missing an heir.”

He was a cool customer, Arthur Pendragon, Dean gave him that. He didn’t flinch under either Sam’s weapon or his threat—nor did he make any move to let Dean go.

“Back away,” Arthur said, for Sam’s benefit, though he kept his eyes on Dean, “or you’ll be missing a brother.”

“All of you!” Merlin almost shouted, “Stop acting like idiots.” He picked up the torch and waved it at the three of them as if they were a pack of wild dogs. “Put the weapons down, and let’s talk about this like rational beings. Arthur,” he said beseechingly, “Dean saved your life yesterday—he’s not trying to hurt you now. Sam—you know Arthur’s just trying to protect the castle. We’re all on the same side here, guys. There’s a good explanation for everything.” He sounded a lot more confident about that than Dean felt about it right now. “Please?” Merlin was pleading now, ratcheting up the puppy dog eyes like he’d been taking lessons from Sam.

With a sigh, Sam lowered his knife and stepped back.

“Arthur? Just let me explain what’s going on—“

Arthur glared at him, but lowered his sword and moved his arm off Dean’s airway. Dean sucked in a deep breath and inched away.

“This had better be good,” Arthur said, and Dean marveled again at Merlin’s ability to get Arthur to do what he wanted without using magic.

Merlin himself seemed slightly startled by his success.

“Um, okay,” he stammered, “the gist of it is—is this: well—it turns out that it’s much harder for Sam and Dean to get home—to their home—“

“To Impala?” Arthur said

“Yeah,” Merlin said, “there. See, it’s really hard for them to get back there. But they have to. Because there are people here—well, not people exactly—creatures—who want to stop them—want to hurt them. And the only protection they have—or one of the only protections—against these creatures—is salt—

“So it was you who broke into the tower!“ Arthur declared, shooting Dean another glare. Dean shrugged sheepishly.

“Yes,” Merlin continued, “but that’s not the important part.” Arthur raised his eyebrows, but didn’t interrupt again. “The important part is—is that there’s somebody else—who can help them get home. And we need to take the salt, and the weapons, and meet that person very soon, or—or—well, I’m not sure what will happen, but it won’t be good.”

“Merlin?” Arthur said.

“Mmm?”

“That’s the worst explanation I’ve ever heard.”

Merlin visibly deflated.

“Do it again,” Arthur said, “and give me some facts this time—like names and dates and places.”

“You won’t like it.”

“Try me.”

Merlin steeled himself. “Right, then, Sam and Dean are from the future. A demon brought them here for some power-mad scheme of her own. But they are upsetting the balance of things by being here. So Nimueh is going to help them get back. There’s a place she knows, past the Northern Fells, that will take them back. A magic place,” he added tentatively, “that will help them get back to the future. But demons are after them. That’s why we needed the salt. Demons hate salt…” he trailed off.

When he’d finished, Merlin held his breath, looking as if he were sure that the prince was about to start yelling, or laughing, or both.

Arthur did neither. He just looked at Merlin and said, “And you were going to go with them?”

If Dean hadn’t known from personal experience what a fearsome warrior the heir to Camelot was, he would almost have thought that Arthur sounded hurt.

“Well, I was going to come back,” Merlin said reassuringly. “I would never leave for good, would I?”

Arthur seemed somewhat mollified by this, though he still furrowed his brow at Merlin.

“You know demons don’t exist, right?” he said.

“Yeah, I do, except I just watched one try to eviscerate us,” Merlin said. Arthur pursed his lips.

“And Nimueh? You do remember how she almost killed you—I mean me—but mostly you—don’t you?”

Merlin nodded, “Yeah, but I think—for the moment—that she has other things on her mind.”

Arthur paused, thinking. Dean tensed, and felt the others do the same. If he were to decide to tell Uther now, that magic had been performed on castle grounds…. But once again, the prince surprised them.

“Well,” he said, “if you really do need to go over the Northern Fells to get to this place, I’d better come with you. The three of you won’t last two hours in terrain like that.’

“Sam and I are perfectly capable—“ Dean bristled. Arthur ignored him.

“Best get a move on, hadn’t we? If you really do have to meet your new sorceress friend. Come on, then.” He urged brusquely, when they didn’t budge, the three of them flummoxed by the prince’s sudden self-inclusion in their plans.

“But—what will you tell Uther?” Merlin eventually got out.

Arthur paused, halfway out the armory door. “The truth,” he said defiantly, “That we are indebted to this man,” he nodded at Dean, “for his aid in ridding Camelot of a terrible sun-stealing, peasant-snatching beast, and I would repay that debt by helping him and his brother reach their homeland.”

It was Merlin’s turn to look unconvinced.

“Alright, then,” Arthur crooked a sly smile, “I’ll leave him a note, telling him I’m tracking down the dastardly salt thieves, who have fled to the western borders.”

“We’re sorry about the salt,” Sam said contritely, “We’ll give back whatever we don’t use, we promise.”

The prince waved it way, clearly swept up by the spirit of adventure.

“To the stables,” he said, “we’ll need horses for a journey like that.”

As they followed Arthur out into the pre-dawn gloom, Sam bumped up against Dean’s shoulder and gave him a what the fuck? look. Dean remembered that Sam hadn’t seen Arthur in action against the manticore, had only been exposed to his imperious high-handedness.

It’s okay, Dean mouthed, rubbing his bruised neck, he’s pretty good in a fight.

Sam raised his eyebrows skeptically, but otherwise kept his peace.

::::::::::::::

“You’re late,” Nimueh called disapprovingly when she saw them approaching.

She was standing under a huge oak tree, still bare shouldered, seemingly impervious to the chill dawn air. The tree’s thick trunk was riven by lightning, or some other disaster. One side was blackened and dead, while the other was in full leaf.

“We were delayed,” Arthur said unapologetically, as the four of them dismounted and walked towards her.

“I see you’ve brought Uther’s whelp,” Nimueh said contemptuously, surveying them. “This is nothing you need concern yourself with, princeling,” she sneered at Arthur.

“All that happens in Camelot is my concern,” Arthur declared. A bit pompously, Dean thought.

The sorceress seemed to find the statement vastly amusing. She threw back her head and laughed, a clear, trilling sound like water over underground rocks.

“Well,” she said when she’d recovered, “since you’re here, I suppose you can make yourself useful. Do you know the second ford of the Lodon?” Arthur nodded. “Good,” she said, and proceeded to rattle off a set of directions filled with incomprehensible place names and unfamiliar measurements of distance. Suddenly, Dean was glad he and Sam hadn’t managed to go it alone.

“Can you remember that?” She asked when she finished. Merlin and Arthur both nodded. “I will help you when I can,” she went on, “but you would do best to keep your wits about you and your weapons at the ready.”

“Story of my life, sister,” Dean muttered. Nimueh cocked her head at him curiously, then vanished with the same casual gesture as before.

::::::::::::::::::

Dean was feeling pretty good, all told. Even though none of them except Arthur had gotten any sleep the night before, they’d decided they needed to get some distance from Camelot before stopping. So he was tired, but a fresh breeze was tempering the morning sunlight, and for the first time since they’d landed in 528, there was a glimmer of hope that they’d be able to get back to 2005.

Sam, to Dean’s surprise, remembered their childhood adventure on the dude ranch fondly, and had leapt into the whole equine transportation thing like fish into its favorite pond.

“Awesome!” he’d exclaimed when presented with a horse, swinging himself neatly into the saddle and giving his mount’s neck an affectionate pat. Dean had resisted the urge to smack him as he’d gingerly climbed onto his own horse.

They were headed away from Camelot in a direction he hadn’t yet been, down a broad, packed earth track that rose gradually through open fields, both cultivated and uncultivated. Dean had been taking up the rear, but after they’d been riding for a while, he nudged his horse until he was alongside Sam. His brother turned to him and smiled, the kind of uncomplicated happy smile Dean remembered from rare occasions in their youth, and Dean couldn’t help grinning back. They watched Arthur and Merlin ahead of them—Arthur riding point with easy alertness, Merlin swaying a little with his horse’s gait.

“It’s weird, isn’t it,” Sam mused, “that he’s going to be king someday, just based on who his father is? No elections, no job evaluations, no nothing.”

“I don’t know,” Dean answered, “I think he’ll make a good king.”

“So legend tells us.”

“No—I mean, he’s trained for it his whole life. He’s kinda rough around the edges now—cocky—but he seems like he takes his responsibilities seriously, cares about his people and all that.”

Sam stared at him.

“I should’ve known you’d like living in a monarchy,” he told Dean. “Clear hierarchies, everyone knows their place, everyone follows orders,” he said, a sudden bite in his words.

“Oh, jeez, Sammy, don’t start with that,” Dean shot back, “not everything is about you and me and Dad. I’m just saying, if that’s the way they do things here, I think he’s going to make a good job of it.”

Ahead of them, as if to belie Dean’s confidence in his future dignity, Arthur had managed to snag Merlin’s neck scarf, and was cantering in circles around him, waving it and throwing taunts. An exasperated Merlin grabbed for it futilely. Both young men were laughing.

“Hey Dean?” Sam had a wicked smile on his face now. “You don’t think the prince and his servant are—you know?”

“What?” Dean asked. Sam wiggled his eyebrows suggestively. “Aww—Sam! It’s the sixth century, for chrissakes.”

“Prude. You think gay sex was invented in 1969? In my History of Sexuality of class Junior year…”

Dean flashed back to Merlin running his hands over Arthur after they’d killed the manticore, searching for injuries—then quickly thrust the image away again. He glared at Sam instead

“First of all: anyone who takes a sex history class in college is a pervert,” Dean told him sternly, “Second of all—they’re friends—they both need a friend, you know?

“Friends who keep huge secrets from each other.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Dean muttered, and looked sideways at his brother.

They rode on in silence.

::::::::::::::::::::::

They kept up a good pace through the morning, as the countryside gradually began to cant uphill at a steeper and steeper grade. At mid-day, they found a spot where several willows overhung a small brook, shared out some of the food they had brought, and—finally—caught a bit of sleep, sheltered by the trees from the heat of the day. Or, at least Dean, Sam and Merlin did. Arthur, Dean was pretty sure, kept watch.

The way in front of them was rougher and stonier when they set out again, the open fields turning into sparse, piney forest. The road narrowed, became more a trail, really, and an uneven one at that, studded with partially embedded rocks and tree roots. Their progress slowed, as the horses picked their way around the obstacles, their hooves slipping every so often on the rocks. All morning, they had passed numerous prosperous farms and cottages with well-kept kitchen gardens, but now these became more widely separated, and habitations they did see looked poorer and shabbier. Some of the dwellings were built so low to the ground that their eaves practically touched the earth. No decorative flowers graces these yards, just cabbage plants and turnip greens.

In the late afternoon, they passed one cottage—a hut really—that looked worse-off than any they had seen before. Weeds grew among the vegetable plants in front, and various tools and pots lay haphazardly in the yard. Even the door was slightly ajar.

For some reason, the cottage caught Arthur’s attention, and he stopped in front of it.

“Something’s wrong here,” he said, when the rest of them caught up.

“Looks abandoned,” said Sam.

“No,” the prince replied, “they wouldn’t have left those things behind,” he pointed to the wheelbarrow lying on its side in the yard, a hoe beside it. “I’ll check—just to make sure there’s no foul play,” he continued, dismounting and pushing open the flimsy gate in the stone fence ringing the building.

“Arthur, be careful,” Merlin called. Arthur just threw him a please, what could hurt me? look over his shoulder and kept going towards the house. Shaking his head, Dean swung himself off his horse and followed.

The prince knocked gently on the unclosed door, and then knocked again when there was no answer. Finally, Dean leaned past him and pushed the door open.

Inside, the hut was a single room, with a dusty, unlit hearth against one wall. It was dark inside, and the close air stank of sweat and sickness. A rickety ladder in one corner suggested some kind of loft above. There was no furniture, but a rough blanket had been thrown over some straw mounded up near the cold hearth, and a few people-sized forms were huddled on it. One sat up suddenly, and Dean could see that it was a woman.

“Have mercy!” she cried, her voice weak, “whoever you are, we have nothing left for you to take.”

“Ma’am,” Dean said, “don’t worry, we’re not going to take anything from you. Are you in some kind of trouble? We’d like to help.” His eyes had adjusted a bit to the light, and he could see that she looked terrible, gaunt with illness, eyes sunk deep into her face.

“Trouble, aye, trouble.” She laughed weakly, and then her voice sharpened. “Trouble you should fly from. Go. Please go.”

Arthur had come into the room, and he moved past Dean to open the shutters covering the window on the far wall. Afternoon sun poured into the hut, and in its light, Dean was able to see the woman’s face more clearly. It was covered with small white, painful looking blisters—she looked like Sam had when he’d had chickenpox as a kid, only much, much worse. He heard Arthur’s sharp intake of breath, and looked to him for explanation. Arthur had turned towards the door, however, where Merlin was just crossing the threshold.

“Merlin,” Arthur said, voice flat, “turn around now. Go see to the horses.” Merlin looked from Arthur to the woman on the floor, and clearly saw the same thing there as his master had, because he charged into the room anyway, and grabbed the prince’s sleeve.

“Arthur, you can’t stay here--”

“It’s not for you to say whether I stay or go, Merlin,” Arthur said, firmly pulling his arm away. Then his voice dropped, and he leaned close to his servant. Dean had to strain to catch his words. What he could hear sounded oddly formal, “It were a shame that a knight should know fear,” Arthur was saying, “and a shame that a prince should withhold his hand when his people need help.”

“Sire,” Dean has rarely heard Merlin use the honorific, and it seemed to signal the severity of the situation. “You can’t stay here,” Merlin repeated, sounding a little desperate, “Your father will personally wring my neck if anything happens. Come back outside—and I’ll—I’ll deal with it, if you really think it needs dealing with.”

“Merlin. See to the horses. I’m not asking you, I’m telling you.” The prince and his servant exchanged a long, fierce look, while Dean watched, still bewildered. Finally, Merlin dropped his eyes and turned to go. Dean caught his elbow as he passed and hissed,

“What is it? What’s going on?”

“Smallpox,” Merlin said, and Dean went cold at the name of the disease, something from history books, from antique horror stories, “That woman is suffering from smallpox. Arthur is making me leave because he knows I have never had it.”

“And he has?”

“No. But he feels his knightly honor is at stake, so there is no arguing with him,” Merlin said bitterly. He pulled his arm away, and left the cabin, almost colliding with Sam, who had been hovering in the doorway.

“Dean?” Sam said questioningly.

“Sam,” Dean said, rounding on him with a surge of atavistic protectiveness, “you too, go with Merlin, help him with—with stuff.”

“What’re you talking about?”

“This woman,” Dean turned to look at her, and saw she had been watching their frantic exchanges, eyes glazed, no energy to be more than dully curious. He lowered his voice. “She has smallpox.” Sam goggled for a moment, but quickly recovered.

“But we were vaccinated against that, when we were kids.”

“Yeah, but who knows if that’s going to work here, with the time warp shit and everything? Just get out of here, okay?”

“And you? You should leave too, if you think the vaccines aren’t going to work.”

“Nah—I can’t leave him alone,” Dean cocked his head towards Arthur, “who knows what he’ll get up to?” he tried for a laugh, and then gave up, “Look, there’s no point both of us risking it, and I’m already here. It’ll probably be fine. Please, Sammy?” he begged, “Just go get us some water or something.”

“He’s a prince, Dean, I think he can take care of his own goddamned self.” Sam said scathingly. “You, on the other hand--.” But Dean gave him another pleading look, and Sam relented. He rolled his eyes, muttered, “don’t touch anything,” and left.

The woman seemed to have mustered some strength, for she now said, in a clear voice,

“Kind sirs, if you truly wish to help, would one of you climb up and bring me news of what you find? Don’t be afraid to tell me what you see, my heart’s past breaking now.”

“I’ll go,” Arthur said, before Dean could stop him, “see if you can get her to eat or drink something.”

The prince moved to the ladder, but paused on the first rung, looking at a pile of blankets next to the woman on the floor, which Dean now realized must be another person, though it hadn’t moved or made a sound since they’d come in. “Is that your husband?” the prince asked.

“Aye.”

“Is he asleep?”

“Oh yes, these three hours gone.”

“We’ll try not to wake him,” Dean said, in a voice he hoped was soothing, and didn’t betray any of the panting anxiety he was beginning to feel about the situation.

“Ah no, that you will not, for he is dead,” she said, something almost like a rueful smile playing across her ravaged face.

There was clearly nothing to eat in the hut, or any water either, and Dean felt useless. He crouched beside the woman and tried to make comforting faces, though a kind of shameful animal dread prevented him from touching her.

After a few moments, he heard the ladder creak. Arthur was coming down one-handed, using the other arm to hold something close to his chest. As he moved forward into the light coming through the window, Dean saw that he was carrying a young girl, somewhere between eight and twelve, but so thin and slight he couldn’t tell her age with any certainty. She was barely conscious, clearly dying of the same disease that would soon make her an orphan.

Dean looked again at Arthur, and suddenly knew that he had misjudged him, or only understood the part of him that was familiar. He had assumed that Arthur’s bravery, the courage he’d seen when they’d fought the manticore, was mostly an arrogance born of confidence. He was of royal birth and a gifted fighter, capable of holding his own against any adversary in battle. There was no reason for him to be scared of anything.

That was a kind of courage Dean recognized. How many times had he thrown himself into danger himself to save someone, or seen Sam or his father do the same thing, all of them sure that they were a match for anything the supernatural world could throw at them?

But there was no rescuing going on here. The future king was bearing death in his arms, so that a peasant mother might have the comfort of a final moment with her child. For all the creatures he’d hunted and all the gore he’d waded through, Dean wasn’t sure he would have been able to do this: cradle the disease-ridden child of a stranger, without the protection of vaccines or disinfectants or rubber gloves. It was a kind of courage, a kind of honor, peculiar to this world, this time, where natural death was waiting in every nook and cranny. It was outside his experience, and despite himself, he blinked a bit in awe.

Arthur laid the child next to her mother, who caressed her and whispered endearments as best she could.

“Her sister--?” the woman breathed.

“She is at peace,” Arthur said gently.

“I would not change it. There is nothing left for her here, and we will all be together soon.”

Dean heard someone clear their throat in the doorway, and found Sam with a wine skin, some food, and a bucket of water. From the look on Sam’s face, he could tell he had seen it all.

:::::::::::::::::::::::

The girl died first, as her mother keened her name in a thin, sweet voice. After that, the woman had refused any food or water, wanting, she said, nothing to impede her journey to rejoin her loved ones. The prince sat next to her, holding her hand, and played along as the woman confused him with her husband.

Dean made himself as useful as he could—built a fire in the dirty hearth, heated some water, scrounged some cloths to wet and lay across the sufferers’ faces. Only gestures, he knew. Mostly, he just watched.

Sam and Merlin occasionally poked their heads in the door, passing them firewood and other supplies. Merlin gave them worried looks, and Sam favored Dean with the bitchy-to-the-point-of-outraged look that Dean knew signified deep concern.

“Where is your family, your friends, your neighbors?” Arthur asked the woman during one of her lucid intervals. “Why has no one helped you in your hour of need?”

“We are criminals, kind sir,” the woman replied weakly, “did you not know?”

“We aren’t from around here.” Dean supplied.

“Ah,” she said, “then you won’t know the story.”

“Tell us?” Dean asked, thinking it might distract her from the pain of her ruined body.

“’Tis not much to tell,” she replied, her voice barely a whisper. “We lived in a better place once. Lower down, with rich fields. Our lord, whose land it was, planted fruit trees in one. And one night, someone, we know not who, cut those down. And so my husband was sent to gaol.”

“But why?” Dean protested, "it wasn’t your fault. And why would he be sent to jail for because someone had damaged your property?”

“No,” the woman said, “the trees belonged to our lord, and he punished us for their loss.”

“It was his right,” Arthur said, his tone unreadable.

“Oh, aye,” the woman agreed. “We did not dispute that. But what happened next is a familiar tale. We could not keep the farm without my husband’s labor. And by the time he was released, we had come to live here, where we could barely grow enough to feed ourselves. Our neighbors shunned us as criminals and paupers—and who can blame them? Ah well,” she trailed off, “it’s all over now.” She turned her face away from them.

Arthur bowed his head, lips pressed into a tight line and made no comment. Dean wondered if he was rethinking the privileges of rank. He didn’t ask. The woman was right. It made no difference now.

:::::::::::::::::

By midnight, Dean and Arthur were alone with four corpses.

Dean had seen more than his share of death, but he had never seen anyone succumb to illness like that, their systems gradually shutting down. It was awful, and would have been worse, if the woman had seemed anything but happy that her suffering was ending and that she would soon find her family again. No trace of fear crossed her features, nor any tears. Arthur didn’t cry either, though Dean sure as fuck wanted to, and had to bite the inside of his mouth hard several times trying not to totally lose it. The prince just held her in a steady gaze while she slipped gradually away. Whoever had said that the past was another country knew what they were talking about, Dean thought.

When it was over, Arthur pushed himself to his feet, scrubbed a hand over his eyes, and walked out to the fire Sam and Merlin had built in the weed-strewn yard, Dean trailing after him. Merlin stepped forward.

“Is it over? Are you both alright?”

Sam just thrust a stack of clean clothes at them, and said, “Strip.”

“Aw, Sammy, I was beginning to wonder whether you still cared,” Dean said, with a relieved bark of laughter.

Sam tossed him a cake of crude soap, and pointed. “There’s a well just over there. Get those clothes off, I want to burn them. Then scrub down as hard as you can. I’m serious. I want several layers of skin gone.”

“Yessir,” Dean said, and saluted. Arthur snorted. But they trudged wearily to the well and followed Sam’s orders.

:::::::::::::::::::::::

They camped in the kitchen garden, too weary to go further. Sam carefully laid salt lines while Dean watched. He was sure he wouldn’t be able to sleep, after what he’d seen. But he was so exhausted he even forgot how much he hated camping, and crashed hard as soon as he lay down.

He woke with the nagging sense that there was something they had forgotten to do, and wasn’t surprised to find Sam using one of the abandoned hoes to dig a shallow pit behind the hut. Still leery of infection, they wrapped the bodies in coarse blankets, and lowered them carefully into the communal grave.

::::::::::::::::::::::

They arrived at the Northern Fells soon after leaving the hut. Once they broke the cover of the pine trees, three high hills rose in front of them, each one slightly taller than the last. They were treeless, carpeted by short grass dotted with lichen and tiny flowers, traversed by a dusty, rock-bordered track.

They didn’t look dangerous, Dean thought. They looked—well, pretty—in a barren, windswept, middle-of-fucking nowhere kind of way. Like a postcard you might send from the ends of the earth. So, okay, maybe pretty wasn’t the right word. The sheer emptiness of the terrain, laid bare under a cloudless sky, was starkly beautiful. Maybe sublime. He rolled the word around in his mouth a bit.

Dean wasn’t sure why robbers or bandits would patronize such a place, though—there didn’t seem to be much to steal, or anyplace to hide. But Merlin explained that farmers from lower elevations grazed cattle and sheep there during the summer—flocks that would be vulnerable to gangs of rustlers. Since it was getting on for high summer now, gangs of criminals would be lurking in the crevices and small caves under the hills, waiting to pounce on unwary shepherds and other naïve travelers.

“Well, that’s not us, is it?” Dean said, because it sounded like an old wives’ tale designed to deter children from running away. But Merlin just shrugged, and continued looking worried.

It took them all of a not unpleasant day of riding to get over the first two peaks. The way was steep, but the road was clear and unobstructed. The air cooled considerably as they ascended, but the chill was a welcome respite from the June warmth.

They set up camp on the far side of the second hill, near a pile of stones that might have been a ruined building, some kind of monument, a grave, or something else entirely, for all Dean could tell. Merlin called it a cairn. If they could get past the third peak tomorrow, Arthur told them, they’d be close to the place Nimueh had described.

:::::::::::::::::::::

They took turns keeping watch, but the night passed peacefully enough. In the uncertain light just after dawn, they grabbed a hasty bite to eat, and set about breaking camp. Sam collected the pots and pans, Dean folded up the cloaks and blankets they had slept on, and Merlin started to saddle the horses, while Arthur watched him, teasing him about something or other.

Dean was just thinking how nice it must be to have a servant, when a group of men materialized out of the mist on the other side of the horses.

The bandits knew their stuff. They made some sharp, loud noises, cut the horses’ reins, and slapped them hard. Freed and spooked, the horses barreled into Merlin and Arthur, knocking the dark-haired boy to the ground. Then they rocketed across the meager campsite, narrowly missing Sam where he knelt near the remains of the fire, and took off into the gloom.

The tricky early morning light made it impossible to tell just how many attackers there were—they’d timed the attack well in that regard. The bandits—four or five of them maybe--were scrambling for the bags and supplies scattered near the severed tether ropes. Not intimidated by their numbers, Arthur had drawn his sword and was advancing on them on them, shouting some pungent medieval swear words.

For a moment, Dean allowed himself to believe that the men were simply robbers.

Then he realized, with a horrified jolt, that the horses had broken the salt lines in their wild careen. Sure enough, out of the corner of his eye, he saw two heavily cloaked figures enter the scene. They showed no interest in the possible plunder. Instead, they headed straight for Sam.

He bellowed his brother’s name. At the sound, one of the new figures turned towards him. It was too muffled in folds of cloth for him to be able to tell its gender, but even in the half-light, Dean could see that its eyes were wholly, impossibly black. It leered at him, as if he were no threat at all, not even worth speeding up for, and continued sauntering towards Sam.

Dean grabbed for his pack, lying next to the half-folded bedrolls, scrabbled in it ‘til he found what he was looking for, launched himself at the demons.

“Hey, assholes,” he yelled, and sprayed a stream of Camelot’s finest holy water at them. Both screamed. While they were still distracted by the pain, Dean moved in on one of them with his iron knife. The thing resisted frantically, but the holy water had weakened it, and Dean was able to plunge his weapon into its heart with relative dispatch. It fell, a column of black smoke billowing out of its mouth, snaking across the white sky like an airplane trail.

It was only after he pulled away that he realized it had been holding a knife too: there was
a gash down his left forearm, blood sliding down his wrist and between his fingers.

The cut burned, but he had no time for that now, just wiped his palm on his pants leg, took a split second to re-evaluate the situation.

Arthur was dealing with the human bandits handily—all but one of them had already dropped their loot and turned tail. Merlin was still down, though, so a magical assist from that corner seemed unlikely. Sam, he was surprised to see, had neither run for cover nor rustled up some a weapon from the scattered packs. He’d simply risen to his feet, holding the iron cooking pot in front of him like a shield. Dean couldn’t figure out what he was playing at—until the demon crossed some line of proximity, and Sam started to intone the first words of the exorcism ritual.

It was a brave play. Dean couldn’t decide whether he felt proud or furious about it. The demon, however, simply laughed, and continued inexorably towards Sam.

Dean calculated the distances, calculated the odds, and then threw himself backwards, lunging wildly for the bow lying next to his pack, feeling one-handed for an arrow from the quiver beside it, desperately hoping he would choose the right sort.

Without pausing to examine it, he notched the arrow into the bow, sighted at the cloaked figure, and let the arrow fly, ignoring the searing pain that shot through his arm at the movement.

The arrow lodged itself neatly in the demon’s back—a little wide of a heart shot. But it didn’t matter because--thank fuck--he’d managed to grab one of the arrows he’d coated with salt back in the armory. The demon contorted, howling in agony as it futilely tried to grab the arrow in its back. It toppled over and another column of dark smoke shot up against the lightening sky.

:::::::::::::::

“You’re bleeding.” Dean jumped a bit when he realized Sam was standing right next to him. He hadn’t realized he’d stayed still that long.

Sam took his bloodied hand, and then searched gently up his arm until he’d found the wound. “Nasty cut,” he said.

“It’s nothing,” Dean replied, suddenly giddy with relief that they’d survived another round with the demons. He put on his thickest Monty Python accent, “It’s only a flesh wound.”

“Idiot,” Sam said, but the corners of his mouth twitched upwards.

::::::::::::::::

Arthur brought Merlin over to them, supporting some of his weight with a hand around his bicep. The boy was still sucking in ragged gulps of air

“He alright?” Dean asked.

“Just winded,” Arthur replied, settling Merlin on one of the small piles of stones, and clapping him on the back, “he’ll be fine in a moment.” He looked Dean over, took in the blood, and the way he was cradling his left arm, and frowned. “You?” he asked.

“I’m good,” Dean said.

Arthur looked skeptical, but nodded, “I’ll go round up the horses,” he said, “they won’t have gone far.” He walked a few paces and then turned back.

“Those weren’t just robbers, were they?” he said reluctantly. Dean shook his head.

“Demons?” Arthur asked, like he really didn’t want to know the answer.

“’Fraid so,” Dean replied. The prince made a disgusted noise, and headed off into the brightening day.

Sam sat Dean down next to Merlin and peeled the layers of clothing away from the gash on his arm. It was almost four inches long, shallow, but with jagged, torn edges. It was still bleeding freely. Sam made a sour face.

“Dean, you know that knife was ten kinds of filthy,” he said, a hint of suppressed panic in his voice, “and we don’t have any hydrogen peroxide, or antibiotic ointment, or…”

“I know, Sammy,” Dean cut him off, gently, “just do what you can, okay?”

Sam turned to Merlin. “You didn’t happen to bring a needle and thread, did you?” he asked.

Merlin stared at him, and then nodded. “For mending,” he said. He scrounged around in the scattered saddle bags until he found them. The needle was a bit thicker and rougher than they were used to, but the thread was silk, and very fine. Sam started the fire going, sterilized the needle in the flame, and put a pot of water on it to heat. “Keep pressure on that wound,” he said to Dean, grimly. Dean rolled his eyes, but followed the advice.

Arthur was back with the horses before the water had boiled. Somehow he had managed to round up all four of them, even in the open terrain. The stern lines of his face, however, telegraphed his displeasure with their situation. He looked at Sam.

“Bind that up,” he said tersely, gesturing towards Dean’s arm, “we should ride out as soon as we can.”

Sam looked at the prince impassively. “It’s going to take a little while,” he said, “I’ve got to clean it properly, and put in some stitches. And I’m not doing either without boiling some water first,” he added.

“You can do that once we’ve put some distance between ourselves and this place,” Arthur said, in a tone designed to squelch any opposition, “for all we know those blackguards will decide to come back and finish the job.”

“No,” Sam said bluntly, “we’ll deal with it properly now, or we’ll end up in a world of trouble down the line.”

Shit, Dean thought blearily, recognizing the familiar tones of his brother’s defiance. He should have seen something like this coming. Since they’d started this journey, Arthur had been telling them all what to do with the assurance of someone whose orders were never questioned. And up ‘til now, Sam had been following his lead without comment, mainly because all the directions had all been about routes and weather conditions—things on which the prince was the clear authority.

But throw enough orders at Sam, and he was bound to crack at some point, especially if they concerned something on which he considered himself an expert: like Dean’s wellbeing.

Arthur crossed his arms and stared up at Sam, not intimidated in the slightest by his height and bulk. “I know how these ruffians work,” he said firmly, “and I think we would do better to depart at once.”

Dean tried to pull himself together to intervene. “Yoohoo, guys,” he called, “it is actually attached to me. And I think it’ll be fine for a few hours. So--

“No, Dean,” Sam said, rounding on him, “it won’t—you’re just going to loose more blood, and leave yourself more open to infection. We need to patch it up properly before we set off.”

Arthur and Sam glared at each other—Sam clearly spoiling for a fight, Arthur mostly mystified that someone wouldn’t do what he said.

Finally, to Dean’s surprise, the prince relented. “Perhaps you’re right,” he said, a trace of some unidentifiable emotion in his voice. “See to your brother. I’ll keep watch.”

Perplexed by Arthur’s sudden capitulation, Dean threw a “Christo” at him as he walked away.

But nothing happened.

tbc

  • (no subject) - ex_calamity172
  • Love the smallpox scene and the discussion b/t Sam and Dean about the politics of the time. It fits quite well with their respective characterization.

    And Dean checking that Arthur isn't possessed. XD
    • I borrowed the smallpox scene from Mark Twain--it's a scene I've always loved--but I'm really glad the "re-mix" worked for you! And yeah, usually when someone's nice to the Winchesters, it's because they're possessed--so of course Dean's suspicious--

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • That was great. Loved the fight and Sam insisting on cleaning and sewing the wound up. Plus smallpox.... they don't talk about disease too much other than magical ones on the show but it would be a really big problem.
    • Thanks! I borrowed the smallpox scene from Mark Twain--it's a scene that I've always loved--because, yeah, we forget how scary the "ordinary" Medieval world was!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • Okay, I totally had to laugh at that second to last line :-)

    I apologize for not commenting more...this is a very lovely fic! Thank you for posting it! :-)
  • Despite the depressing three days, that last line made me smile. I love this story and can't wait for the final installment. =)
  • Oh, this was a great chapter. I have no complaints against an Arthur-centric chapter. I was missing him in the previous chapter. :(

    I really liked Sam and Dean's observations on Merlin and Arthur's behavior toward each other.

    Also, Dean's:

    “First of all: anyone who takes a sex history class in college is a pervert,” Dean told him sternly,

    LOL. That's so Dean...hmmm, you would think he'd be applauding Sam for taking that kind of class, but I guess even Dean has his limits. Must be the "history" part of it that bugs him.

    I *loved* the smallpox scene and how poignant and just so heartbreaking it was. I'm glad that Dean got to see another perspective of Arthur - that this moment was when Dean truly realized how different things were in the past...

    I really liked this part:

    It was a kind of courage, a kind of honor, peculiar to this world, this time, where natural death was waiting in every nook and cranny. It was outside his experience, and despite himself, he blinked a bit in awe.

    Nicely written. :)

    Oh, and of course Sam would have a breaking point and not take orders from anyone - especially when it's to do with something he believes he knows best. I'm a bit surprised too that Arthur ended up backing down and letting Sam have his way. Ha at Dean thinking he was possessed. :p

    I look forward to the next chapter. :)
    • I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I was missing Arthur too--and was really happy to get him back in there!

      I was thinking Dean would consider anyone who talked and read about sex instead of, you know, having sex would be kind of a pervert. But maybe if Sam explained that it was a good way to meet girls, he'd change his mind!

      I "borrowed" the smallpox scene from Mark Twain--it's a scene I've always loved, for just the reason you say, that it shows how different the past was, and the kind of "ordinary" dangers people had to face. I'm really glad the "re-mix" work for you.

      And Arthur may have had his own reasons for giving in to Sam...

      Thanks so much for reading and leaving such a detailed comment--I appreciate it!
  • (no subject) - alias_chick
    • I'm so glad you're enjoying it--and totally thrilled it made you laugh! Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • you have great voices for all of them, merlin arthur sam and dean!
  • Way to go Dean, tossing Christo around. ^__^ Awesome lil' bit to add. Omg, I'm so glad you updated this fic, I love it! I'm really happy to see a fight scene with some demons, and Sam with a frying pan is a great mental image. I was also really struck with how you describe death in the Middle Ages, and how it's so different from what we're used to. You kinda rock. :3 Can't wait for mooore!
    • I'm so glad you're enjoying it! I pretty much lifted the smallpox scene from Mark Twain--it's a scene that made a big impression on me, and I'm really glad the "re-mix" worked for you.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • Yeahh.. A fic about my 2 favourite tv shows. Dean and Sam are awesome and funny in this universe, and Merlin and Arthurs characters are spot on. Especially Arthur in this last chapter, where he and Dean take care of the woman with smallpox. That was some intense writing, damn good job, can't wait for the last chapter..:)
    • Thanks! My favorite shows too--and it's been fun to put them together! The smallpox scene was borrowed from Mark Twain--it's a scene I've always loved, so I'm really glad the "re-mix" worked for you.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

      (love your icon! I wish I had the skillz to make an manip of Dean with a sword or bow...or Arthur w/ a gun...)
      • LOL, I've actually be thinking about the same thing in recards with Dean. He would look totally badass with a sword in his hands(like the black knights in series 109). But alas my skills with photo manipulation is VERY limited..:)
        • Dean as a black knight...*guh* In another lifetime I teach myself to make manips...but until then I'll just imagine Dean in armor...*g*
  • “He’s a prince, Dean, I think he can take of his own goddamned self.”

    Umm... thought i'd point out you forgot the word 'care' in there.
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