Arthur had a tendency to take the direct approach, whether in combat or in thought. Unfortunately, the current situation was as twisty as one of those snakes Morgana kept summoning.
Merlin was missing. That was straightforward enough. It was worr- er, concerning, but straightforward. It wasn't as if this was the first time. Gwen's birthday had been coming up though, and he'd needed suggestions, so he'd marched down to the tavern when Merlin didn't show up for work.
Merlin hadn't been there. According to the owner, he did indeed knew who Merlin was - everyone knew Merlin - but that the manservant apparently never actually drank at the tavern. He just dragged Gwaine out, and he hadn't done that for a week. He did, however, promise to keep an eye out.
After that enlightening conversation, he'd confronted Gaius, who'd changed the subject so skillfully, Arthur hadn't realized what had happened until an hour later.
When, after three days had passed, he led patrols into the forest, there was still no sign of him. Word spread, though, and soon the entire city was looking. Everyone knew Merlin.
Which was fine. Great, even. He just hadn't expected that to include the druids.
They'd surrounded a patrol and demanded to know where Merlin was. When Arthur had explained the situation, the leader, Isildur or something, had gone pale and promised to set every druid in Albion looking and to send word to the Catha.
Arthur was going to have a long talk with Merlin when he returned.
Then a dragon had kidnapped him and Gwaine, demanding to know the same answers, and started combing Albion from the air.
A very long talk.
Relations with the Catha were strained for obvious reasons, but Arthur felt he couldn't refuse a meeting with Alator, no matter how much he would rather be out looking.
"The druids tell me your servant, Merlin, is missing these past three months, and that you still search for him."
"Yes," Arthur said shortly, expecting an accusation of weakness.
Alator nodded, looking worried. "My arts too have found nothing, nor have my people's. We will keep looking."
Arthur was really going to have to talk with Merlin. Druids were one thing, hostile priest-kings who specialized in torture quite another.
When Morgana showed up, he wished he could have said he was surprised. At this point, he was really just resigned to it.
"What have you done with Merlin? He hasn't spied on me for ages now."
Arthur stared, blinked, pinched himself, then said, "He's missing. I thought you might have kidnapped him."
"You mean someone else has?" she shrieked. "Have you checked Ealdor? Maybe he just went there."
"We checked," he said tiredly. Something occurred to him. "If you knew Merlin was spying on you, why didn't you stop him?"
"I don't have to explain myself to you," she said haughtily. "Hurry up and find him already, I'm getting lon- I mean bored. Bored without him." She vanished.
Undead soldiers started combing the woods. Arthur told his men to ignore them.
When they'd found a coin with strange markings belonging to the Disir, Arthur hoped it was a clue.
Apparently, though, they were just worried about him too.
"How does he meet these people?" he demanded.
Gaius changed the subject.
Four months to the day had passed. Arthur woke up and tried to convince himself today would be the day.
"Rise and shine, dollophead!"
"What? I'm on time for once!"
"Where have you been?"
"Oh. Um. Visiting a girl?"
"It's . . . complicated. I did leave a note, you know. Didn't Gwaine give it to you?"
"No," Arthur growled. "I did, however, speak to the druids. And the Catha. And the Disir. And a dragon!"
"Oh. Ah, about that . . . "
Arthur threw a pillow at him.