Neav gave on last smile, hesitated on a moment longer. The moon shone down, dancing off the palomino's coat and reflecting in Neav's eyes. Already those eyes seemed different... they held pictures of winter days and wild horses, and a slow and silent sunrise. He had been given freedom. He would haunt the forests and speak with the unicorns. He would become who he was born to be.
And suddenly, though no sign from Neav could be seen, the mare sprang into a canter. The Keeper's strange magic coated her hooves so they made no sound against the stones. Neav left Camelot by a little back gate. There was no one to stop him. He and the horse raced over the grass, swift and silent as twin ghosts. They entered the forest. Neav called with the part of him that was connected to his Grandfather. Vaari! Vaari! There was trouble. Please let me come home! And the answer came whispering through the trees. Welcome, littlest and best. Perhaps next time you shall listen to wise words.
Neav was with his grandfather, Keeper of the Unicorns. He was home.
Neav stopped in front of the Prince and Celendine halted behind him. Her head was lifted, alert. She smelled freedom in the air. Neav looked cautiously up at the Prince. He had set him free, given him the chance to 'steal' Celandine, but... he did not say he had forgiven Neav. He still acted as though the boy had done him a great wrong and Neav did not want to leave while the Prince was still angry with him. He wanted him to be proud, wanted it with all his childish heart.
He opened his mouth to speak - and saw Prince Arthur's face grow a little softer. He listened to his words. Then he smiled, ice blue eyes filled with hope and freedom. "Thank you for saving my life." Neav hesitated a moment... and then suddenly wrapped his arms around the Prince in a sudden hug. It only lasted a moment before he sprang back, more than a little embarrassed and vaulted onto Celandine's back. "The Keepers will never forget what you did for me," he continued. And then... then he said something that he ought not to have said. His grandfather had told him many stories - stories of the past and stories of the distant future. Neav knew that he should never repeat any of it, least of all to a mortal like the Prince... but somehow he could not help himself. The Prince had done so much for him. Neav wanted him to know that he would do something in return. "I will be on your side in your last great battle. This I promise."
Then he twisted to face Merlin, leaded close to whisper so that the Prince could not hear. "I will never forget this, Emrys." Meaning he would never forget the way Merlin had helped him... unaware that a very different boy had spoken just those words, with a terrible meaning behind them.
If Neav had not had someone to follow, he would have been lost in a moment. He was not familer with the castle at all, and all these twisting turning ways made his head spin. He kept having to break into a skittering trot to keep up with the long legs of the Prince, and kept glancing back over his shoulder because he was afraid they would be followed.
And then suddenly they were outside. Night-time sounds and smells washed over Neav senses. The breeze danced in his hair as if to welcome him and scold him for hiding away inside. Neav closed his eyes and sighed. He would never go into a stone room again as long as he lived. Then he had to run to catch the Prince once again.
It was only a moment before they were standing outside the stables. Each horse, either sleeping or awake, knew he had arrived. Their whispering greetings ran through his mind. Neav's breath caught in his throat as he realised that he would have to leave all his friends. But not quite all. For the Prince, in his same strange expressionless voice, ordered him to take one. Neav stared in shock and it was a shock with three parts. At first he was shocked because not only was the Prince letting him free, but he was also allowing him to take - to steal, in fact - one of his precious horses. Second he was shocked because how, oh how could he possibly choose one from the many? It was like asking a mother to choose her favorite child. Impossible. And the third shock... the third was because he realised that it was not impossible at all. In fact, the was only one horse that he could possibly choose.
Neav placed the things he carried on the stable floor. Then he lightly ran to a stall at the end of the stable. Inside stood a palomino mare. "Celendine," Neav whispered her name. Some of the horses were older than he was. Some he had seen being born, had gentled them and taught them to understand the language of the riding knights. Some, like Gillyflower, he had saved from a certain death. Celendine, named such for her butter-gold coat, had been with them only a week. She was naturally nervous and shy and though she trusted Neav she still believed every human to be a predator... Neav was what would happen to her if he left her here. Those stable hands would try and beat the understanding into and Celendine would never learn that was, and then she would be labled 'bad' and killed for meat.
He opened the door of her stall and she followed him out. Neav needed no saddle or bridle. He paused where he had left his things and fastened the heavy traveling cloak. Then he grabbed a travel-pack from a shelf and placed the food and water inside. And then he stood very still. Every horse was quiet now. They knew something was about to happen. Neav closed his eyes. He knew he did not have long. I am going. He told them through his magic. I am going... I must join another herd. But you shall be protected. And he detached small threads of his magic, connecting one to every horse in a silver spiderweb. If they were ever in trouble or pain, he would know.
There was no time for anything more. He walked from the stable and Celendine followed, shimmering like a ghost in the moonlight.
It probably was a good thing that Neav did had not realised Merlin's magic, but he still felt a little foolish about it. After all, he had known that Emrys was in Camelot; he had just never thought to look for him, to try and seek him out.
But Merlin (as he said he would rather be named) was right also in saying they had to leave before the Prince came back. Neav nodded, grinning when he also mentioned the guards. It sounded like Merlin had magicked them asleep. "Yes," Neav agreed. "We have to - " He broke off suddenly, fearfully, hearing footsteps on the stairs. And in that terrible way people have of arriving just when they are not wanted, Prince Arthur of Camelot entered.
Neav stared at him, horrified. To worried even to wonder what the Prince might be carrying... His eyes flickered to Merlin and then back to the Prince. Would Emrys be threatened too now, for trying to help him? Neav could not stand for that to happen... But though the Prince's face was as hard as before, he suddenly threw the items he held at Neav. The boy caught them automaticly and then stared in wonder. He held a traveling cloak, water and a small bundle of food. He glanced up at the Prince, hope shining in his eyes. He is going to let me escape!
It became even more clear as he walked away with the command to follow him. Neav caught Merlin's hand because he still very much wanted him to come, whispering "He is letting me go free! I thought his heart must have become the coldest of stones, but he is letting me free!" And he ran to catch up with the Prince.
Neav watched Merlin step closer, somewhat wary. He still did not know why Prince Arthur's manservant had come to talk to him. Could it really just have been to check he was ok...? Why would he do such a thing? Neav remembered how Merlin had tried to stop the guards from arresting him... why?
Neav listened, fasinated by how angry Merlin seemed to be. He was glaring at the cell door as though he was the one who was captive. Neav did not understand. Why did Merlin care so much? Neav was nothing to him, surely. Just the stable-boy... And now he was offering to help him escape! Neav stared, eyes like saucers. Merlin would really do that for him? Risk his own life to help a boy he hardly knew? It seemed too good to be true but Neav was not in any situation to refuse help. He opened his mouth to say of course he wanted to escape when the meaning of Merlin's last sentance suddenly hit him.
"You know what it is like?" he whispered. "You know..." Neav suddenly scrambled to his feet. The shock of learning that Merlin also had magic had jolted his fear off sideways. The walls stopped moving threateningly closer and stayed where they ought to be. Neav's mind was whirling, puting two and two and two together and easily making six.... His grandfather had told him that Emrys was in Camelot. He had told him the stories and the prophecies, that a warlock with magic greater than any ever known would guard the life of the Pendragon prince.... Arthur's manservant. Merlin. Emrys. It had to be.
Neav suddenly smiled through his tears, smiled up at Merlin. "You are Emrys," he said. "I did not realise..." there was no need to be afraid. If Emrys would help him, he was safe.
His mind filled with thoughts of burning and executing and cold walls that pressed closer and closer... Neav did not notice that another person had entered his cell. Normally he would have known, been as sensitive as a wild horse but now... he had other things to think about.
It was only when Merlin spoke did Neav know he was no longer alone. He startled, looking up at him with wide, frightened eyes. What was he doing here? Had the Prince send him to hurt him, or ask more questions, or to say if it would be burning or execution? It took Neav a moment to realise what Merlin had actually said. "N - no..." he answered, rather shakily. He did not move from the floor. Somehow it did not seem nessicary to try and be brave with Merlin, in the way it was with the Prince. "No, they didn't... But these walls... They press on me." He shuddered violently. "No one ever locked me inside before..." From the way he spoke, being inside a cell troubled him more than execution.
The silence seemed to streatch away forever. Neav stared at the floor, stared at the Prince and his terrible expression and then back at the floor again. He did not guess that the Prince might feel betrayed. Neav did not see that he had done anything to harm anyone; he knew he had broken a law... but as he had said before, he was breaking that law anyway simply by being alive. Once again he looked up, still somehow hoping for a flicker of compassion, but there was none.
"You shouldn't have come back."
And with that last statement, the Prince turned and left. He did not look back once. Now he was alone again, surround by cold unfeeling stone... and the walls began to press in on him again. Neav crouched on the floor, curling himself over his knees. He pressed his hands against his eyes. He was going to be killed. He was going to have his head cut off or be slowly burned alive... "Vaari... " he whispered to himself. "I am so sorry... I should have listened. I should have listened."
Neav shivered at the sterness in the Prince's voice. He could guess how much he hurt for having that lady stolen away... that was why he had mentioned it. Not to try and turn the situation on the Prince, as he had accused, but to tell him that he loved his horses in the same way the Prince loved the Lady Morgana. He would do anything for them.
Staring at his feet again, Neav did not notice Prince Arthur flinch at the sound of Anhora's name. Neav knew that the two had met -- his grandfather had told him that story -- but he did not know that the Prince was afraid. Neav did not believe that the Prince was afarid of anything. Indeed his voice was as toneless as before. "I know," he said simply and meant nothing by it. In the story his grandfather told, the Prince had prooved his heart to be pure by giving his life for Merlin's... but looking at the Prince now, Neav thought sadly that pure hearts must twist and change. The was no sweetness to be found in this man. And then his spoke sterness again.
Neav gave the smallest of frowns. Had he not answered it? Had he not said it was because he loved his horses more than he loved his own life? Besides, the magic he had was not fully under his control. It was likely that the mare's need would have pulled the healing magic through him even if he had not willed it. But Neav, who was never good at explaining things, did not know how to say it. "Gillyflower was dying," he spoke carefully again. Perhaps he had misunderstood the question. "So I had to help her. Don't you understand?" and suddenly all his strange wisdom was gone. Neav stood there again, nothing more than a frightened child. "Don't you understand? I can not just watch my friends die if I have the magic to help them. That is why I am here! Vaari - " unthinkingly he used his affectionate term for Anhora "Vaari told me not to come back. He said the Camelot king would kill me if he knew who I was... but I said I would because I promised to look after Gilly and Folly and Kingfisher and everyone and I couldn't just leave them! And if I had not been here in this war then so so many more would have died."
Angry, helpless tears danced in his eyes. Neav rubbed them angerily, refusing to flinch away. He knew he would be in trouble for such an out-burst, but who cared? Let the Prince hit him! He was going to be killed tomorrow anyway. What did it matter?
Merlin: Oh yes you do! All the time. And the nearest town is a half-hour drive away... longer on a bike, because I cannot drive! But there is sure to be a library and I will come and say hello whenever I get time. I am sad also that I only knew you a so short time.
Wolf: Hei kaveri!! Olet todella ystävällinen.
Raven: I will miss to too, so much! I never really played with you but spend so much time talking!! I will certainly tell those horses that you say hi.
Aatos: I will have fun, thanks! And will miss you too.
I will miss everyone. Have so much fun playing here!
How could anyone live inside walls of stone? Neav continued to shiver, eyes squeezed tight shut as if he could block out the feeling of the dungeon. But the walls still pressed on him, seeming to grow colder and closer and closer...
Suddenly the cell door swung open. The hinges rasped and Neav jumped to his feet. He did not know if it was the movement or the sight of the Prince that made his head spin. Neav watched with haunted, hunted eyes as Prince Arthur paced the cell. He quivered like a captured animal, watching and waiting...
"You are to be executed at first light tomorrow."
Neav's eyes widened but he said no word. Of course he had known that would be his fate, but it somehow seemed so much more terrible to have it announced from someone you thought you could trust... The stone walls pressed closer and Neav longed to cry and crouch on the floor... but he would not been seen to be such a coward. If he was going to be killed, then he was not going to cry like a child about it. Instead he just waited, a small and silent ghost, for the Prince to leave again.
But he did not. Instead he stopped his pacing and looked directly down at him for the first time that day. Neav stared back with eyes like chits of ice. He saw the anger in the Prince's face; anger at his breaking the law, he thought. "If you had the power..." Neav began carefully, consentrating hard to keep the tremble from his voice. "If you had the power to save your Lady Morgana, would you refuse because you know you might be murdured for it?"
It was not a direct answer to the question... and nor was it the answer of a child. Those words denied the terrified, shivvering body of a child and whispered of the wisdom of his race. "Even if I had refused to help my mare... I am breaking your law simply by being alive. My mother was not human. My Grandfather..." Neav lifted his chin with a kind of terrified pride. "My Grandfather is Anhora, Keeper of the Unicorns."
The lady was here to warn them of a danger? Neav watched her, eyes wide and her smile did nothing to calm his fear. What danger? And Aatos said he thought Anita were dead, and Anita said she thought it also. Neav watched her, uncertain. She did not seem like a ghost, but he supposed that he did not really know what a ghost should look like... He could be forgiven for being confused. When Anita said Aatos must not trust Arthur, did she mean the Prince? Did she? And his own warning never seemed to come. She told him only that he was special. What was that supposed to mean?
And then the lady was gone, swiftly and silent as she had arrived. Neav stood, blinking and feeling rather useless. He was quite for a long time. He was not sure what mood Aatos could be in now... it might be dangerous to talk. His sister had just walked in when she was supposed to be dead, spoken some words that made no sense and then walked out again.
Neav flinched as two guards moved forward and caught his arms. The boy looked at the Prince and again met those stern, expressionless eyes. He really does not care, Neav realized. As the guards began to haul him away he gave Merlin one last, desperate glance -- but he had his eyes lowered, obedient now after his sudden out-burst. There is no one who will help me.
Neav was marched to the castle, looking smaller than ever between the armored guards. His face was death-pale. They dragged him through the maze of the castle and Neav was lost almost at once. Stable-boys did not often enter into this place. It was not long before they reached an empty cell, the guards wordlessly tossing him inside. Neav staggered, tripped and fell in a scattering of damp hay that he would never let come in a mile of his horses. Then he was alone.
Neav crouched near the back wall. There was a bar-slit window to let the light in but it was so high that he could not see out... He began to shiver. This place was all stone, all cold hard stone... he could feel it pressing in on him. Neav had never been long in any building expect the stables, which was so open and airy it hardly counted. He had the forest in his blood, his mind sang with the wild winds... and they had shut him in this cold dark place to be smothered by stone. Neav gave another violent shiver. "I am not sorry," he told himself through gritted teeth. "They can kill me a thousand times over and I will not be sorry! Not for saving Gilly or any of the others."
If he had not been tired and cold and numb with shock, perhaps he would have considered breaking out. He might have managed it. His magic might have let him... or perhaps he would not have thought of it, for when you have been obedient your whole life it kind of becomes a habit.
Just a shadow? That was alright, then. Shadows were things to spook at, but not to afraid of for a long time. Neav offered Aatos a smile, to show he was not scared. His smile only grew when the man sent Garret off for supper. He was glad, he was so hungry....
Suddenly the door opened. Neav skittered wildly. That shadow had come to prove it was not so harmless! Every horse in the stable gave a cry to match his own. But then Aatos was between him and the stranger, protecting as though he were really his brother and not just pretend. Then they were talking. Aatos and the shadow. And the shadow spoke as though she knew him... and called him 'little brother' and Aatos spoke 'Anita' and sounded as though he could cry. Neav did not understand. His sister? But why did he not know her? And why had some come here in the dark and sneak on them so?
"Is... is she going to kill you?" he whispered and really hoped it was not true.
It might have been eternity or only a few seconds before Neav heard the tell-tale marching of guards. His mind seemed to have stopped working. He could not quite believe what had happened... Could not quite believe that the Prince would arrest him. Neav had worked for the Prince with unquestioning loyalty and all he had done was heal Gillyflower's wounds. Surely it would be alright? Everyone said that they horses moved so much better in fights since Neav had worked with them... surely he could not be killed?
Neav felt sick as the tramping guards filled his stables. He was sure he would be sick if he stood and so he stayed kneeling by the sleeping horse, white as death. The Prince was with them. Neav gazed up at him, ice eyes pleading... but he was met with nothing but the flat order for his arrest. But before Neav could say anything, someone seemed to leap to his defense. Someone pushed through the guards and spoke for him. Merlin. The Prince's manservant, Neav knew. How did he dare... and why did he dare? Of course Neav knew him - Prince Arthur seemed to be always sending Merlin to muck out stables. But it was not as though they were close friends. Shakily, Neav got to his feet. He did not want to seem as though he were cowering on his knees behind a servant he hardly knew. "I - I didn't..." he whispered, so soft it could hardly be heard. "I was not bad. I only made her well again...."
If anyone had bothered noticed the changes in Neav, they did not wonder at them. War does change people, even those who do not fight. But most of the stable-hands noticed nothing more than their tiny stable-boy was growing like a pale bean-plant. He could claim two inches and five feet (if he cheated a little) and his weed-like thinness only made him seem taller. But boys of somewhere-around-fifteen always grew like this and so it was of no importance.
If anyone noticed that Neav seemed to have changed inside as well as out, the made no comment. He had always been silent, after all... and a differerent kind of silence can only be noticed by those who take time to listen to it. At the start of this year Neav had been forever frightened, skittish as a foal. He did not speak unless he was forced. If he stayed secret and silent, he stayed safe. But now... now Neav wore his silence like cloak. A shadow-cloak to hide something that he did not want to be found. His ice blue eyes saw all, remembered all and was not afraid. Changed by war? Perhaps. But perhaps it was more to do with magic. Learning that you carry an anicent and impossibly strong power can change a person far more than war.
Neav was scrubbing out a water-bucket like when they bought her in. If he had his magic cast out wide he would have known... in the early days of the war he had done this, trying to keep track of every horse. But their pain, their deaths he felt so strongly that it had half killed him. Now he had to shut them out and care only for those with him, though it made him cry inside.
There had been another battle, close to Camelot or else she never would have made it. Gillyflower, one of the youngest mares in the fighting, limped into the yard. She was covered in blood and slashes, more dead than alive. Neav heard the head groom draw a sharp breath behind him. "She wont live. Leave her," was his command. Neav ignored him.
He lead Gillyflower to her stall, slowly and gently washing her with magic so that she could walk that last distance. Then he helped her to lay trembling in the straw. Neav did not once think of the consiquences of what he was about to do. He knelt, holding his hands over her, as though warming them at a fire. His eyes flashed silver. Magic flowed through him and from him touching each of Gillyflower's wounds and smoothing them away.
Neav did not know how long he had knelt there. It was almost dark when he was finished. The mare was now sleeping, peaceful with no sign she had been in a fight. Neav found he was shaking. He was suddenly so tired... But next second he was wide awake for a voice behind him cried out. "Magic! You! You used magic. Of all the people..." Neav turned, white with horror. One of the stable-hands stood their, pointing with a shaking finger. The boy said nothing. There was nothing he could say... "You, stay here. I'm calling the guards. I'm telling the Prince!" Still Neav said nothing as the young man turned and ran. Fear took him like a slow, creeping frost in a way it had not done for months. He was caught. He had been careless and he was caught and now he was going to die...
Timeline: one year gap, three weeks before Morgana is found Tags: Prince Arthur, Merlin Notes: I am so sorry about how long this is! I am not sure how it happened... and I hope this is ok for the start?
Neav glanced behind him in time to see the knight smile and wave. Neav took an easy, unconserned hand off the reins to wave back and then did not look behind again.
Soon they were outside the castle walls. Neav knotted the reins and let them rest on Sher-Fore's neck, guiding the horse with his legs and his thoughts. He spread his arms out like wings. Wind whipped his ragged hair and he laughed for joy. The boy and horse raced and danced over the grass as though they had known each other forever.
Neav held his breath as the knight once again began to weave a spiderweb of words. When at last he understood that Sir Lancelot meant no, he would not give him more money, he let his breath out in a rush. He had been so worried that he would offend! But it was ok.
And for once, Neav caught the joke in the last sentance. "Aye, sir knight," he answered with a brightness that prooved he had understood it. Neav swung himself into the saddle with a lightness and grace that was curious in such a skinny little boy. He took Sher-Fore reins - though he would rather have ridden without saddle or bridle, there was no way he could be rid of them here - and grinned down at the knight. Sher-Fore's ears were flicking, one forward and one back as he waited for his commands. "He will be back at the stable when you want him, sir," Neav told Lancelot, and asked the stallion to move forward. They would have to be slow while here in the market, but once they were out the castle walls they could case and race the wind.
Neav was too deep in winding the bandage around Folly's leg to even flinch when his 'brother' knelt down beside him. "Aatos..." he repeted the name as if half in a dream. "My name is Neav," he added because he knew he had not told it before. Soon enough, the bandage was finished. Sheer Folly turned her head to gaze at his work. Neav grinned at her. "You sleep now," he murmured. "And we will get on to Camelot tomorrow." The boy turned back to the leg one last time. He touched it with a gentle finger... and though he did not know it, though it may not have been seen in the dim light, his eyes flashed sliver as magic was drawn from him.
Unaware of what he had done, Neav got to his feet. He grinned at the mention of food. "Yes, please," he said, suddenly finding that he was too hungry to protest about the cost. Neav notice Aatos walk, and suddenly stop as though he had seen something. He felt fear twist in his stomach. "What is it... Aatos? Is something there?" he asked nervously, in a way that a trained fighter never would have. If there was anyone out there, they might guess now that they had been seen.
Notes: It is fine for you to have you sister join us.
My name is Catherine by the way; Call me Kate. *Smiles* You're lucky to have your mother, I ... wish I had at least someone I can talk to, You know? At least i have Arthur. *sits by the window and looks out*
How are you ? Forgive me, I'm Princess Emily Dawson of Anglia, I'm here to a visit with Arthur! *Smiles light Curtsy *
Feb 24, 2019 21:03:14 GMT -5
Sunkissed Paradise Crafted By Alisha A 2014 Adoxography Exclusive
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