Finally he snapped out of his reverie.
"I've been yelling at you for ages! What's going on up there?"
In truth, he had been thinking about the events of the day, what had led him to be in the predicament he was in now. But he didn't want Arthur to know that. Didn't want Arthur to know how frightened he really was.
"I was thinking how if I ever get out of this mess, I'll finally cut your hair like I've been meaning to. You look ridiculous."
Merlin was terrified. That morning Morgana had fallen deeply ill and when prompted, had gasped out that it was Merlin's doing; Merlin and whatever incantation she had heard him mumbling the previous evening. Of course, this was rubbish but as Merlin was the only other soul who knew of Morgana's magic, she felt she had to get rid of him. And then, just a few short hours ago, the king, upon hearing Morgana's story, had ordered Merlin's execution. Since then he had lain here, on the dungeon floor, knowing he needed to find a way out but unable to keep from feeling completely hopeless.
"Yes, well, hair aside, I've been sent down here by my father to speak with you." Even with his best efforts to keep a neutral tone to his voice, Merlin could hear the pain there and knew that Arthur considered him to be more than a meager servant. Merlin was, in fact, his friend.
"Yeah? And what does he want?"
"He claims there's no way you could have worked this magic on your own. He wants to know who helped you and he wants me to get it from you."
"Even if I had done this, which you know I haven't, even if I had help, why should I tell Uther anything?"
"He's instructed me to use any means necessary to retrieve the information."
"Ah, so the king is torturing prisoners now? Being burned at the stake or beheaded isn't enough, must have some fun before too?"
"Yes, I do believe those were his thoughts. My father, noble as he is, can be a harsh man when he feels the livelihood of Camelot is at stake. I, however, don't have it in me to hurt you, pitiful as you are." While they had been talking, Arthur had entered the dungeon and was now standing next to Merlin, face to face.
"Well thanks, I guess. Arthur, I'm telling the -". At this point, Merlin was cut off by Arthur's hands digging into his sides. Stopped by this sudden burst of laughter, his plea to Arthur was cut off, and Merlin could barely get enough air to ask him what he was doing.
"I said I didn't want to hurt you. Tickling doesn't hurt, it, well, tickles. And it should still be somewhat helpful at extracting a confession out of you."
Merlin escaped his hands and quickly backed away from Arthur, who just stood there amused, arms now hanging at his sides.
"Won't work," he said, trying to keep the desperation from his voice, "I'm not really that ticklish. You just caught me off guard is all." Still retreating, his back was now pressed up against the far wall of the dungeon. As Arthur began approaching him again, he slid along the wall to his left until he hit the corner. It was only then that he realized he had effectively trapped himself.
"Well I don't know about that. Seemed like you were squirming about a fair bit there. What do you say we try it for awhile, and if it doesn't work, well then no harm done." With that, Arthur raised his hands and again began to torment the sorcerer. Helpless, Merlin slowly slunk down the wall until he was sitting on the floor, unable to stop the pouring of giggles coming from him. Even with his knees bent up in an attempt to protect his abdomen, Arthur still managed to wriggle his hands around them, digging into his stomach with a strength and speed that can only come from years of training in hand-to-hand combat. The only defense he had was trying to use his own hands to stop those of the prince, which kept finding new areas to poke and prod at.
After a few minutes of this, Arthur suddenly stopped and stood up, hands on his hips. "That's enough of that I suppose." Merlin was relieved but shocked nonetheless. What could have made Arthur give in so quickly? As he sat up, trying to catch his breath again, he realized that Arthur wasn't giving in at all.
"Can't have you fighting me while I'm trying to get information out of you, can I?" With that, he grabbed Merlin roughly by the wrists and before Merlin knew what was happening, he was pulled up and locked into the manacles chained to the wall so that he stood facing Arthur, arms raised slightly above his head.
"There. That's better then." With that, he resumed the tickling only this time nothing was blocking him from attacking Merlin's entire torso. He started quickly, digging into his sides with all ten fingers, causing Merlin to jump and writhe from side to side in an effort to escape. Then, without warning, Arthur would slow down, lightly grazing his fingers along his ribcage up to his underarms so that Merlin now deeply resented the fact that, while the chains holding his arms had some slack to them, it was not nearly enough to protect himself.
After what seemed like an eternity, Arthur stepped back a few steps, allowing Merlin to catch his breath and taking in the sight of his servant before him, still laughing slightly with tears streaming down his face.
"Are you ready to tell me anything?"
"I swear, I didn't do anything to Morgana. I didn't even see her last night!" he yelled, gasping for air as he did so. "If you want the truth, I'll tell you. You won't believe me, though."
"Morgana is a witch, Arthur. She has magic. I've seen her, talked to her, and she's terrified! Terrified of what will happen to her if Uther finds out and apparently terrified that I'll be the one to tell him! She made herself sick, Arthur, not me."
"Ha! Honestly, when I came down here tonight I never thought that I'd be the one laughing in the end. You really expect me to believe that Morgana made herself sick in an effort to get you killed?"
"It's the truth, sire."
"Yes. Well-" Just then the guards were at the cell door, telling Arthur that Morgana had made a miraculous recovery and had taken back what she had said about Merlin, saying that in her delirium she must have imagined what she saw.
Arthur looked at Merlin, still standing against the wall, arms above his head and merely shrugged. "Huh, I suppose there's no way you could have cured her magically while you've been down here. Perhaps it was just a simple illness after all." With that, he unlocked the manacles around Merlin's wrist and left the dungeon without another word.
Back in his chambers, Merlin asked Gaius how he had cured Morgana when her illness had been nothing more than an enchantment.
"I used magic, of course. From the book you keep in your room. I'm not very skilled at the craft but with you scheduled to be executed and all, I figured I had no other choice."
"And why did Morgana play along then? Why did she take back her accusation?"
"I don't think we'll ever know. I can only assume that she was so surprised at being well again before she had planned that she didn't know what to say. I think she was frightened at the prospect that there really is another person of magic around here."
"Yes, well, hopefully the fear will keep her quiet for awhile. I don't think I could handle many more nights like this one."
Saying good night to Gaius, Merlin excused himself up to his room, where he slept until he would be forced to face the prince again the next morning.