-Haven't looked for typos yet, so sorry about that-
It hadn't been difficult for Merlin to get permission to visit the Doctor, John and Sherlock in the dungeons. They were Arthur's personal responsibly -Uther felt his son was the only person skilled to handle the incarceration of sorcerers- and no one would question Merlin's visits if he said the prince had ordered them. Which he hadn't, but the guards didn't need to know that.
He and Gwen were now stalking down the dimly lit corridor towards the cell. Gwen had been hanging out with him a lot since the trial; she tidied Morgana's room early in the morning whilst the witch was asleep, and only tended to her when asked. Morgana clearly hadn't forgotten that Gwen suspected her, and the maid-servant had told him that the King's Ward seemed happy that Gwen was keeping her distance.
The atmosphere in general was rather unpleasant, gloomy situation aside. It was stormy outside, and a cold breeze blew through the grates, rain dribbling into the cells from the flooding cobblestones outside. Instead of the peaceful 'pitter patter' of a spring shower, all they could hear was the ill-boding heavy drops of hail against the ceiling. Merlin screwed up his nose; the scent of burning flesh didn't help. A couple of pigs had been found dead and rotting at the back of their pen, but the cause of death was as of yet unknown. Gaius had examined them, and all he'd found of interest was a round hole in each pig's side. Now they burned, a mystery going up in flames. And his new friends would share the same fate if he didn't think of something.
"Ten minutes." The guard's keys jangled against the metal bars as he unlocked the cell and pulled opened the door for them. "If you're not ready by then, I'm leaving you in here." Merlin smiled at the young guard as he and Gwen were ushered inside; clearly the young man was bored and eager to get down to the tavern. The cell door was locked behind them.
There they were, sitting casually in the right corner. The left was far too damp; a steady stream had formed through a crack in the wall, creating a puddle on the floor. At least they couldn't go thirsty down here, Merlin thought, although the soot and horse dung picked up by the water along the way probably wouldn't be found very appetising.
John still appeared embarrassed. Though he'd spent several minutes apologetically stroking Gwen's hand in their previous visit, the blonde-haired man still eyed her with guilt. Sherlock and the Doctor, however, were completely calm. The detective was in a sort of trance, possibly traversing the depths of his mind as Merlin sometimes did when drifting off to sleep. The Doctor was carving something into the wall, which Merlin found ironic; why leave a momento for the future when you could just travel there in a second. But he couldn't go to the future, Merlin reminded himself, if he was executed.
"How are you all doing?" Gwen broke the silence, her echoing voice mixing with the drip-drop of rain and the chorus of wind. "Do you need anything?"
"I need my Tardis." The Doctor dropped the stone he'd been using on the wall and stood up, purposefully clasping his hands together. Merlin watched his strong gait; this 'witch-finder' had a plan.
"The blue box?" Merlin was ready to listen, to understand what role he and Gwen could play in whatever plan had been devised in this dark, damp cell. "What do you want to do with it?"
"His plan is perfectly simple," Sherlock began, "and requires minimal effort on your part."
"I just need you to fly my Tardis into this cell, and then we're good to go." The Doctor inserted a hand into his pocket and withdrew a key. It wasn't like any of the keys in Camelot; bronze, big and elaborate. This key was silver in colour and unnaturally small, tiny incisions were cut into it. Even for a warlock, the innovations of the future were still mind-blowing.
"But how do I fly your Tardis?" Merlin didn't think was even the slightest bit simple.
Gwen took the key from the Timelord as he held it out in front of him. Merlin noticed the way he examined it, her lips turned in a curious smile, her eyes filled with admiration for the delicate workmanship.
"You're clever," the Doctor made curled his middle and pointing fingers when he said clever, "so it will come naturally to you. Plus, I've programmed it all in, so just insert the key, flick the switch, and she'll go on autopilot." He grinned. Almost manically. "Nothing to worry about."
"If you're there then he can't say no." Merlin smiled peevishly and bumped his shoulder against Gwen's as they walked side by side.
"I wouldn't really make a difference, Merlin." She shook her head, gaze focussed on a bird hovering by an oak. The storm had passed, and now seemingly every one in Camelot was taking advantage of the warm sunshine. People hurried back and forth on errands, arms clasped around baskets. Some casually strolled along the paths, taking in the aroma of sun on rain-soaked earth. There were old knights, bold knights, knights in training- all strutting to hastily planned training sessions.
He and Gwen were following a similar course, they were off to the Tardis. And as of that morning, going to the Tardis required going to Arthur, who had had the 'suspicious' box locked away. It was now out of the stables and in a storage room, sacks of grain leaning against it. Merlin had the Tardis key, but Arthur had the key to the first obstacle.
"Oh, come on, you know he'd jump off a cliff if you asked him to." The warlock teased.
"No, he most certainly would not. Besides-" Gwen was interrupted when the pair heard a shout coming from down the path. Merlin's legs sprung into action, and he ran to the source of the sound; a woman being pulled away by some guards. She didn't look dangerous; her hands weren't bloody, she didn't show any signs of fighting or law-breaking. But she did look odd, in pants and a fluffy blue overshirt. Uther had slackened his grasp on the future-people, but was he stiffening his hold on them once again? Perhaps the arrest of the witch-finders had set him on edge.
He felt Gwen lay a hand on his shoulder, and pull him gently to the right. Further down the path, a larger group of foreigners were being led away. They didn't look like they were going willingly. The group weaved around the Camelot locals, who watched on curiously, some of the villagers even began talking to the guards, but they were ignored.
"What's going on?" Gwen asked, but it wasn't a question Merlin could answer. Luckily Arthur answered it for him.
The prince coughed from behind them, Gwen and Merlin swinging round to attention. The warlock could sense Gwen waverig beside him; she must have been torn between bowing before the prince, like an obedient member of the household, or showing familiarity and demanding an answer to what was happening. Merlin just looked at Arthur accusingly, that was enough to get him talking.
"Guinevere," he addressed her like a true gentleman, even though his face was plastered with worry. "Merlin," he nodded at his servant. "I suppose you're both wondering why innocent people are being arrested?"
"The thought did cross my mind," Merlin said bluntly.
The prince spoke quietly, expressing his true thoughts. Merlin understood his anxiety, it wouldn't be proper for anyone to hear him speaking against the king. "My father has ordered me to lock up all the foreigners... in the cells. The earlier arrests have worried him, and the pigs, amongst other things..."
"What does he plan to do with them?" Gwen piped up after a short moment of silence.
"He wants them gone. He plans to delay the witch-finders' executions. Instead, he's going to order them to send the people back; if they don't," he paused, "or can't, then he'll start killing these people one by one."
"You've got to do something!" Gwen said in distress. Merlin could only think that Gwen was thinking about the future girl she'd befriended, and what this could mean for her.
"I don't know what to do." Arthur confided. "I believe they're innocent, so does my father, I think, but he's frightened..."
"Arthur." Merlin removed his neckerchief and unravelled it; the Tardis key fell into his palm. "We know how to fix this." He watched the prince's bewildered eyes take in the marvel of craftsmanship. He may not have been a blacksmith's son, but he was just as amazed by the key as Gwen was. "The witch-finders are innocent -I think you know that- and they know how to fix this." He tilted his head towards Gwen. "Ask Gwen, she'll tell you." It was now or never, he just hoped she could convince him of the truth.
Arthur appeared to be in a state of half shock and half I-want-to-throttle-my-manservant, but he fixed his gaze on Gwen, ready to listen. Merlin was relieved when he didn't actually get throttled, or arrested for associating with sorcerors. Which would've been a laugh.
"Everything he's saying is true, Arthur. These people, they all come from the future. And I know that's hard to believe... but for goodness sake, you've seen dead corpses rise from their graves! The witch-finders came here to solve the problem, they never caused it. I know who did, and we can stop her-"
"Who?" He interrupted. "Morgana, I suppose?"
Gwen breathed in deeply and exhaled. "No. I did see a sorceror, very similar to Morgana." Merlin could see where she was going. Right now, in this moment, it might not be possible to convince Arthur of Morgana's guilt. However, if he thought they were fighting someone else- that might work. "I described her to the witch-finder and he must have thought I meant the Lady Morgana."
"But who are these people?" He shook his head in frustration. "I mean the witch-finders, who are they really? How can they fix this?"
"Do I need to tell you?" She spoke softly, as if to a child. "They've come from the future too. They could tell us more about medicine than Gaius, or more about weapons than even you," she took the key from Merlin and held it up, "more about blacksmithing than the finest craftsman in Camelot."
Merlin knew Gwen was good, but this was something else. He could have questioned whether she was actually using magic to bewitch Arthur. The prince has folded his arms, and was swaying back and forth slightly, thinking. He was really considering what she was saying, and thank goodness for that, because the guards and foreigners were almost out of sight. Soon they'd arrive at the dungeons, and soon after Uther would lower his fist; the executioner his blade. They had to act now before innocent people got killed.
"They know how to send the foreigners back home. Please help us to help them... help me. It's the only way to save everyone. Everyone, Arthur, because if these people aren't returned to their proper time then everything collapses. The Camelot you've fought so hard to protect will die."
He raised his gaze, eyes fixed longingly on Gwen. That last sentence had struck him like a sword to the heart. "I've always trusted your council, Guinevere."
"And I've always trusted you, Arthur, to keep us safe. Please help us now."
It was as if Merlin wasn't even there. Arthur took the Tardis key from her hand and closed a gentle fist around it, then he took the hands of his future queen. "I will always protect you." He paused once more, making a final decision. Then he said something which was completely out of character for a prince. "If you believe aiding the witch-finders is the only way to put things right, then I'll follow your lead."