The bandits came out of nowhere. One moment everything was fine, the next the prince and his servant were under attack. Arthur leaps off his horse, drawing his sword and charging at their attackers. Merlin turns away from his friend as his eyes flash gold and a bandit goes flying. Another's sword turns red-hot in his hand. Merlin is powerful, but he's only human. He doesn't see the one behind him. Pain blossoms in his side as a dagger hits home. He hears Arthur's enraged shout and a thud as his attacker hits the ground. Merlin is on his knees now, his ears ringing and his vision turning fuzzy. He goes limp in Arthur's arms.
A wave of panic washes over Arthur. All he can think about is Merlin is hurt, Merlin is hurt, Merlinishurt . He screams, an incoherent sound of anger and pain and fear. He stands in front of Merlin, sword drawn and charges at the bandits. They flee, and Arthur returns to his friend's side.
"Merlin. Merlin, wake up. Merlin!"
There's blood seeping through his shirt and forming a puddle beneath him. Arthur is no physician, but he does his best. He uses Merlin's neckerchief to put pressure on the wound and digs through his saddlebag with his other hand for supplies. Once the wound is bandaged and he's fairly sure Merlin isn't about to die on him, Arthur starts planning.
This would be significantly easier if Merlin was awake. They're about a day and a half's ride from Camelot. This area is wild and sparsely populated, with more deer paths than actual roads. Sighing, Arthur shoves Merlin on his horse and climbs on behind him. "If you die, Merlin, I will kill you."
They stop for the night in a clearing by the river. Merlin remains unconscious, and his face is alarmingly pale. Arthur picks at his dinner, too worried to eat. He sits and watches Merlin sleep, poking absently at the fire with a stick. "I'm not going to let you die, you know," he tells Merlin, though he knows he can't hear him. "You've saved my life, and now it's my turn to save yours."
As the moon rises, Arthur tosses and turns, unable to sleep. When the trees start glowing, he almost thinks it's a dream. Tiny blue lights drift through the air like dust motes. Then, he notices the figure standing by the bank of the river. It's glowing the same shade of blue, and it's coming towards them. Arthur can't move, can't speak, can hardly breathe. He's never seen anything like this before, and what if it's dangerous? Merlin is in no shape to walk, let alone run.
The figure kneels beside Merlin, surrounded by those tiny lights. They seem to be singing, a soft, otherworldly sound like the wind in the trees and water trickling over rocks. The lights gather around Merlin's wound and the blue glow flares brighter, then dissipates, and the figure stands. It walks back to the river, and vanishes as soon as it touches the water.
The spell is broken and Arthur rushes to check on Merlin. The wound is gone, nothing more than a scar, and even that is fading before Arthur's eyes. As soon as he touches Merlin, his eyes flutter open. "Arthur?"
For a moment, Arthur is too relieved to speak. "It's alright Merlin, I'm here."
"Did I… get stabbed?"
"Yes, you idiot. And if you do it again I'll put you in the stocks for a week."
Merlin laughs, then freezes as he realizes he's not in pain. Silently, he runs his fingers over the place where the wound had been. "Arthur… What happened?"
Arthur debates lying, but decides it would be futile. "Magic, Merlin. There was this blue, glowy… thing. It's okay. It's not your fault. You didn't ask it to use magic to heal you. I know you're afraid that the king won't see it that way, and, much as it pains me to admit it, you're probably right. Which is why we aren't going to tell him."
"W-we aren't?" Merlin stares at Arthur like he's grown a second head, then a relieved grin spreads across his face. "Thank you, Arthur. You will be a greater, more just king than your father ever was."
When they return to Camelot, Arthur tells his father most of the truth. He does mention the attack, but skips the part about Merlin being wounded and replaces it with a story about getting captured and valiantly escaping from the bandits' hideout. Uther doesn't question any of it. Privately, Merlin is impressed with Arthur's lying skills, though he'd never admit it.
This is a good sign, he thinks. Arthur saw magic heal rather than destroy. Merlin knows Arthur may still fear magic, but he isn't blinded by that fear. He still believes in justice and would never condemn innocents as Uther has so often done. And perhaps someday, Merlin will be able to convince him to let go of that fear, and to see all the good magic can do. This is only the beginning.