How could this man be so patient and calm through all this? Aria pondered this as she rose to her feet, suddenly feeling safe through his refined and soft-toned voice. She could not recall the last time she felt safe…was it when Liam was still home, or was it with Nolan around? All she knew was, for the first time in who knew how long, she felt safe. Her brow furrowed a bit at his words, a million questions arising in her open mind. She wished to lay all her questions on him at that moment and demand straight answers out of him, but she held herself back. All in good time, she thought to herself, staring at his outstretched hand.
Aria glanced his broad, lanky-fingered hand over, feeling a direct urge to grab it and hold on for dear life, but, again, she restrained herself under much restraint. Why was she feeling all of these strong impulsions for this man? All in good time.
Aria nodded firmly, slipping her delicate fingers onto his palm and over the side of his hand, gripping tightly. "I trust you," she said aloud at last, an adventurous smile crossing her lips.
Merlin grinned. "Excellent," he said, "then we're off." With that, he turned and ran out of the cell, tugging her along with him. He made sure to keep her as close to his side as possible, mostly since he'd be leading her around tight corners and into smaller spaces. Luckily, Merlin was well-equipped for this movement – he knew every byway and passage that Camelot's castle held within its white stone walls, including the secret stairwells leading to empty towers and simple storage areas. But where to hide her…
Truly, the place he'd keep her would have to be a safe-haven of sorts and be secluded enough that no soul would discover her by accident – or on purpose, for that matter. But where was such a place?
Stopping at a corner near one of the stairwells, Merlin listened intently, hearing at least three guards searching diligently, the clanking of their heavy suits of armor resounding in the stairwell as they descended. Merlin was quick on his feet, instantly turning around and heading in the opposite direction. Clearly, an abandoned secret passage was the first place they'd look for her. Perhaps his own chamber would suffice, but then again, he knew, Gaius would surely discover her sleeping or even Arthur when he found out that Merlin was hiding a sentenced convict. Merlin swallowed with difficulty – he would have loved nothing more than for Gaius or Arthur to find an attractive female in Merlin's chambers – he sniggered to himself at that one – but, alas, it would be too obvious. Perhaps under different circumstances it would have been permitted, but surely not these ones.
He passed another room with several guards, quickly evading their gaze and pulling Aria in a flash past the doorway leading into that room. He had been aiming their travels towards the back passages that led to his and Gaius' chambers, but now decided on heading in a different way. Merlin sighed, stopping for a moment behind a pillar – Aria at his hip – as he knew exactly where to take her: the cave. The place where Uther had imprisoned Kilgharrah, the great dragon. That was truly the only safe place to house this girl until he could safely get her out of the castle. His gaze met hers, locking it for a moment before leading her another way, back to the dungeons.
A few sharp turns, a ballroom, a few wide passages followed by a narrow one they had to shimmy through, and then finally descending down two larger sets of steps finally got them back down to the dungeons. Once there, Aria's eyes grew wide and she released her grip from Merlin's, withdrawing her hand as she stared at him.
"Tell me this isn't happening," she said to him in all seriousness. "You tricked me? You lied to me?"
Merlin shook his head. "No, no, it's not like that," he reassured her. "I remembered the only safe place I can keep you for a bit – it's not much, but it'll have to do." He approached her once more and she winced, stepping back a few steps. "You said you trusted me – you can trust me still. One more flight of stairs and then we're there, I promise." He took her hand, staring into her eyes. "You still trust me, right?"
Aria thought long and hard for a moment. The truth was that she really didn't know if she could trust this man, but there was just something about him, something she couldn't shake off – the feeling of total safety still held true, even as she stood there questioning his very honor. A sigh escaped her unwillingly and she nodded, looking down at their hands as she squeezed them, inaudibly telling him that she was still on his side, reluctant though she was.
He led her, step by step, down the steep, dark staircase into the blackest darkness Aria had experienced yet. Merlin snatched a torch off the side wall to give her light once they'd reached the final destination. Standing at the bottom now off the stairs, Merlin helped her down since the last step was a bit high even for him. By the hand he led her around a small corner and through an arch-shaped entryway that expanded into the cave itself. He stared into the cave itself, finding it nothing more than familiar. Aria, on the other hand, was experiencing something completely different.
As she crossed underneath the entryway, she noticed metal doors rusted off their hinges where they'd once been locked a time far into this place's past. Her eyes widened – though big they already were in nature – at the sight of what lay before her. This place was massive, much larger than the small coves where she and Nolan would play as children. She had seen many a cave in her life, but none that held even an ounce of the grandeur that this one held. Not even an ounce.
"I'm sorry your accommodations aren't better," Merlin confessed, rubbing his hand on the back of his neck as he watched her amazement with the utmost respect – this place was wonderful, but Merlin held terrible memories of the dragon and, thus, could not fully understand what she was feeling about this place.
Aria turned to him. "Don't apologize," she said, "this place is gorgeous." She took another look around, dipping a toe of her worn-out boot into a small puddle of water nearby.
Merlin's brow furrowed – her honesty and bluntness left him slightly shocked. "Really? I suppose I'm just used to it, is all." He sighed. "I'm going to have to go away for a bit – I need to fetch you some supplies. I don't suppose you'd like it here alone – I know I wouldn't…"
Aria shook her head, once more meeting his gaze. "Do whatever you need to do. I'll be fine here. If there's one thing I'm good at, it's being alone."
That last statement she'd posed, for whatever reason, left Merlin slightly stunned at her words. This girl was so simple and so sad, but definitely worth his trouble as he now knew. Something that hung around this girl – be it trait or mannerism – made him glad he'd decided to take a great personal risk in saving her. She was worth saving.
"Okay, well, I shouldn't be too long," he said, "unless I run into a bit of trouble. I shouldn't run into much, but you never know. I could be gone awhile."
"Hey," she said to stop him, "don't worry about me – I'll be fine, I promise you. Have no fear – just do what you must."
Merlin nodded, understanding that this girl could – and would – take care of herself at any and all costs. He then realized something terrible out of character, even for him, as he took a good look at her. "I'm sorry I've been rude in not introducing myself. I'm Merlin."
Aria beamed at him, curtsying slightly. "I'm Aria," she said, "it's wonderful to meet you, Merlin."
Wonderful. Never before in meeting someone did they say it was 'wonderful' to meet him. But then again, this girl, however simple, was the farthest from ordinary that he'd yet seen in a person. Everyone he'd ever assisted with anything usually ended up getting themselves banished or killed in the end. He hoped the outcome of this girl would transcend them all – he usually had 'feelings' about people where he could sort of predict how they would end up. So far, his 'feelings' about Aria were positive…in every aspect imaginable.
"I'll be back," he said, and with a quick turn and a sprint up the stairs, he was out of sight once more, leaving Aria to look around the cave and become familiar with her surroundings. This would be her temporary home.
This isn't so terrible, she thought to herself, crossing the small area she'd been in. The area on which she stood was a small area in the shape of an ellipse. From the entrance they'd come in through to the edge of this area where it dropped off like a cliff, there was about thirteen feet of empty, flat space. She peered over the edge of the drop-off, noticing what appeared to be an endless blackness. I can stay here no problem. The only issue she had to face was what happened next.
Aria stopped as a chill ran through the very cores of her bones themselves, sending waves of uneasiness all through her. Her hands found her upper arms, rubbing them for friction-based warmth, but nothing could calm the chills she felt. What was happening?
She spread out her arms in front of her, the center of the chills being in her arms. Aria's fingers felt it the worst however, so she looked them over – everything was as it should be: normal. And yet it wasn't, for she could practically feel the blood inside her as it traveled up and down, in and out of veins and arteries, the liquid life.
Something began pulsing through her veins, pumping at such a rate that Aria's heart rate skyrocketed, her skin flushing from the power of what surged through her. "Oh, God," she said aloud as suddenly, all broke loose – and that was used literally. Her arms threw themselves outward, locked straight with her palms facing upward, as her head tilted back, eyes wide towards the ceiling. A burst of yellow and orange energy poured out of every upper-half orifice with such a blaze that when it finished not five seconds later, it knocked the wind out of her lungs straightaway, leaving her gasping for breath. She felt her knees give way as she toppled to the rocks, palms deep in the murk of water that dipped into the crevices and concaves of the rock. After a few moments she was able to catch her breath and slow her heart rate back to normal as she rocked back onto her bottom, shaky hands finding her face as she hyperventilated from the fright she felt at that moment. Quickly, she scurried backwards towards the rock, finally hitting it with her back as she shakily grabbed hold of her knees and drew them to her chest.
Merlin, where are you?!
Author's Chapter Notes:
I do not own BBC's Merlin, but Aria is mine as is every other character associated with her therein. As I don't believe I stated before, this entire story takes place just after Series 3 of Merlin, so if you haven't yet seen it, don't say I spoiled anything – I'm giving you fair warning right now. So, read along and enjoy, and, of course, no flames. :)