Title: Their Legend is Born
Fandom/Genre: Merlin (BBC)
Content Rating: M
Warnings: Death, destruction and mayhem. Plus sex
The portents were all for a healthy child. The queen was expected to deliver soon and the babe moved strongly within her. Everyone agreed that things were going well in Camelot.
Everyone but the king’s seer.
His Sight had shown him events that seemed to be favorable. He had foreseen the birth of a healthy son, an heir to the throne. One who was strong, brave, just cunning enough to do the unexpected, and with limbs that were long, straight and well formed. Like his mother, the boy had wheat colored hair and eyes as changeable as the sky. The boy was foreseen to be good at all the arts required of a king; strong in battle, able to navigate court with ease, a charming smile on his face in the face of anything and a willingness to actually lead when events forced him to.
But nowhere in this future the seer saw, did he see the Queen. As enamored as the King was with his Queen, that was a bad sign indeed.
The King’s seer pushed at his gift, trying, begging Magic to let him know what was to come. There was nothing concerning the Queen. All he got for his troubles were images of a boy of an age with the prince.
The boy was curiously comely. He walked with the Prince wherever they went, always there for him. Like the Prince, he was clever, brave, cunning to a greater degree than his royal friend, but never to the Royals disadvantage. Currents and portents moved around this boy and the seer tried to understand, but his visions moved back to the Prince and the King.
And still, there was no Queen.
The King was there, in the visions of possible futures. His Majesty stood tall, visage harsh as he looked over his kingdom. He stood strong and straight in battle, wielded his power and influence in court and only rarely smiled. He saw his sitting judgment, face blank and remote.
The seer saw the castle of Camelot, wreathed in smoke, its citizen’s quiet, moving silently through the castle and town. The king sat on his throne, face set in a savage satisfaction that raised the hackles on the seer’s neck.
Throughout the future he was seeing, he saw no magic. There was no laughter from the King. The softening touches that indicated a wife were missing. There was no throne beside the King when he was at Court.
There was no Queen.
The seer pulled himself out of his trance and stared at the candle he had used to sharpen his focus. How was he going to report all that he had seen?
Eighteen years later:
“You need a manservant.”
“Father, I’ve done well enough without one. I’m not one of the pampered darlings of the court who can’t manage a day without someone there to simper at them and get them sweetmeats when they hunger,” the Prince protested.
“You need someone to take care of your rooms, your armor, make sure that you actually look like you respect your station,” the King told him quietly. He had his eyes on the Court, his face set in a faintly amused expression. If one didn’t know any better, it would seem like the king was sharing an amusing story with his son. Not ordering him to do something.
“I just got my knighthood and you want me to get a squire?” the Prince muttered back as he watched a knot of gossips hiss and cluck over something. Whatever it was, it apparently was juicy because they were all concentrating on the words being shared.
“Not a squire, no. But a manservant who can make sure you don’t look like an elegant ragbag again?” came the slightly biting comment.
The Prince tried not to wince. Yeah, that hadn’t been a good week. Every single thing he owned had either been filthy or ripped to shreds. He had had to summon a laundry wench up to take all his clothes to get seen to. And that night, he had been able to wear nothing but his armor to Court since that was all that he had available to him.
His father hadn’t been pleased at all.
Admittedly, his rooms smelled much nicer now that everything was clean. And maybe a manservant would be able to keep them that way. And take care of the fire. Get him something to eat when he didn’t have to deal with Court. There were a lot of things that a manservant would be able to do instead of him.
“I’ve been thinking about what you said,” the Prince muttered to his father later in the evening. “Now that I think on it, it doesn’t seem too bad.”
The King was nice enough not to smirk at him, and just barely nodded his head in acceptance of his new position. “I have a good dozen coming here in the morning.”
The dozen ‘manservant’s’ that his father had gathered together ran a gamut from very young, almost boyish to an elderly chap that the Prince had no intention of going near. Poor dear might keel over and die if he said anything to him.
It was the younger men who had the Prince’s attention. He made certain to go down the line and talked to each of them. He wasn’t going to take someone on with whom he had no synergy. To make certain that there was at least an honest chance of getting a good manservant, the Prince had worn his worst clothes out again.
Most of the men were as interesting as used dishwasher and the Prince turned away from the final manservant on his mental mist. None of them were going to work.
The possibly unsuitable younger man in front of him caught his interest as he tried to figure out what to do next. “What’s your name?”
“Merlin, mi’lord,” the boy answered. The Prince looked at the boy a bit closer and felt amusement move through him. Poor kid. His ears were a bit too large for his head, his hair looked like something had tried to take up residence and his eyes were direct as they looked into his.
That was the deciding factor right there. The rest of the stuff, if the kid didn’t have it, it could be trained in. No one else at this farce of a morning had bothered to meet his eye.
“And do you want the job as the manservant for the Prince?” said Prince asked.
The look the manservant gifted him was very patient and very sarcastic. “I would love to. But he’s the Prince, and I can’t see things going there.”
Huh. Who knew. Well, he had made his decision.
Holding out his hand, he waved it carefully in front of his new toy. “Merlyn. I choose you.”
His new manservant blinked at him and then looked around him. “You choose me for what?”
The Prince felt a savage grin cross his face. He loved it when he got to surprise people. “I choose you for my manservant. Might want to move your belongings to my rooms. You’re going to be spending a lot of time there.”
Merlin had a shocked look on his face and then stared at him. “You are the Prince?”
The smile that stretched across his face was smug and full of mischief. “Hello, I’m Prince Arthur. Your liege.”
“Your duties will be fairly standard. Look after my room, my clothes, my armor. Make sure I have food when I want it and run any errands I deem necessary,” the Prince, Arthur, told him. “No one else is to use your services. Not even my father, the King. If someone tries, direct them to me,”
Merlin nodded at the directions and looked around the room that would be his responsibility. It was, to put a very fine point on things, a mess. Clothing was piled in corners, dishes were stacked around the table and there was dust everywhere. Merlin knew he wasn’t the neatest housekeeper ever, but even he cringed at the level of filth the Prince was living in.
“Are there laundress in the castle, your highness? And scullery maids?” Merlin asked carefully. From what he could see of the Prince’s clothes, most of them were hardy homespun’s that would likely go under his armor. The rest looked like silks and cottons and he had no idea how to clean those using normal means. The scullery maid would likely want her dishes back.
The Prince flashed him a bright smile and the wizard tried not to flush. What was wrong with him? He had followed his instincts to Camelot, but magic was outlawed in the kingdom and any one proven to use it was put to death. He knew this and still he came: Merlin was insane.
When the Prince started talking, the wizard brought his attention back. “There are laundry maids. And I would far rather you take my clothes to them to be cleaned than you destroying them. The same with the scullery maids,” the prince paused and looked around. “I have no idea what is good to wear or not. Have one of them help you figure that out.”
Merlin only nodded. He was glad that Camelot, unlike a great many other kingdoms he had wandered through believed in cleanliness. Even if the Prince wasn’t the best example, he was still cleaner than some ‘nobles’ the wizard had smelled. It was a sad thing slate of affairs when the peasants were cleaner than their rulers.
“I think that is it. I’ll be on the training fields all day and I don’t expect you to bring me my lunch,” the prince told him as he started moving out of the room. “Now, drop your pack somewhere in here and come with me. I’ll introduce you to the Seneschal. He can get you started.”
Right. Merlin had to wonder how ironclad his Prince’s directive was on not allowing anyone else to co-opt him was. It looked like he was going to find out soon. And how attentive everyone was to what was going on in the Prince’s room. Because the was no way he was going to get that mess clean without assistance.
As the newest and potentially one of the highest-ranking servants in the palace, the chances of him getting help was slim. Merlin wasn’t going to push his weight around to get his way. That would be a quick and horrible way to gather enemies.
The wizard followed his prince to a very small office that held one man. The castle Seneschal was an older man who looked as if he had seen and done just about everything possible in the beastie. The Prince tapped on the door once before shooing Merlin through the opening.
“Henries, this is Merlin. I’ve hired him to be my personal servant and he’s new. Have someone show him the ropes,” the Prince announced before clapping the wizard on the back. “You’ll do fine,”
Merlin kept a smile on his face as long as the Prince was facing him, but as soon as he moved away, he let it drop.
He looked at Henries and sighed. “I really am not trying to step on any toes, but could I be directed to the laundry and the scullery? I figure everyone knows about me by now, so I should be able to get some assistance.”
“Oh, lad,” the look Henries flashed him was full of deep pity, “You may not want to step on any toes, but the Prince surely did when he took you on. You’ll have a rough few months until the insanity settles down. Now, I’ll take you down to the laundry, the scullery and issue you some clothes. Be aware there are people in the castle who will have it in for you.”
The wizard only sighed. He was well aware that the Prince had trampled all over the normal route of acquiring a servant when he had been hired. He could only hope the hazing was short. But that did bring up a question about the Prince’s rooms.
“Who was looking after the Prince before me?” Merlin asked as he fell into step behind the Seneschal.
“It rotated. I think that Alain has it this month, Why?” the older man asked over his shoulder.
“Because I do have a very immediate need of the good ladies of the laundry and scullery, I wasn’t asking for them out of a future need,” Merlin told him grimly. If the Prince had someone taking after him, then the rooms should have been a lot cleaner.
“Really? Alain assured me the Princes rooms were spotless this morning. Let’s go see,” the Seneschal changed direction. “How long has it been since you and his highness left the rooms?”
”A quarter hour? May be less?” Merlin guessed.
”This should be interesting then,” Henries muttered as he effortlessly led Merlin through the labyrinth of hallways that bisected the Castle.
Merlin had nothing to say to that and could only hope the older man found what he was looking for. The door to the Prince’s room was open when He reached it and there were several people in it, all busy cleaning it.
”Amazing,” Henries announced to the room with a knowing smile. “It was so good of you lot to help out the castles newest resident with his tasks. Especially since it looks like nothings been done for at least a month, if not longer. And didn’t the Prince have to take his clothes to the laundry last month? I wonder what I will find if I ask him?”
The wizard almost winced at the words, but held his peace. While Henries wasn’t getting him any friends, he had an extremely valid point. The Prince, his Prince was the Prince. As in the heir to the throne and thus the realm. Given that the servants of the castle had allowed his room to get to the condition it had? Did not speak well of them.
“Sir, the Prince demanded that we not fuss over him. That the servants leave him be,” the lone male in the room protested.
“And you didn’t think to clean in the times he was out of his rooms?” the Seneschal asked scornfully. “No wonder the prince got someone not of the Castle for a servant. You lot will clean this place up, make sure the dishes get taken care of and the dirty clothes are taken to the laundry. Merlin will assist, but you, Alain, were to have been doing this all along.”
“But the Prince told us not to!” one of the two women exclaimed as she stacked a number of bowls together on a large tray. There were cups full of spoons, knives and even the newest invention that had made its way to them with some traders, forks. Merlin looked at the little things and wondered why anyone would put the sharp things in their mouth? What happened if you stabbed yourself?
“And the Prince, though he is indeed the Prince, he needs to have his things clean. Because this? This is totally not acceptable. Can you imagine what would have happened if the King had seen this?” Henries asked as he waved at the mess. “I’ll be back in a few hours.”
Merlin nodded and stepped aside to let the Seneschal pass. He looked at the three servants and tried not to wince. Henries had done him no favors. “Right. Well, I know this is going to be bad, but can you hold off making my life a living hell until we get the Prince’s rooms together? I would rather he not be involved in any actions that might come against me.”
Alain cocked his head to one side and studied the wizard before slanting a look at the woman who hadn’t spoken. She was older than the other two by at least a decade and, from the way she was handling his highness’s clothes, was likely from the laundry. “We can do that dearie. Now you know this isn’t going to stop things, right?”
The newest servant in the castle sighed softly as he went over to the grand four poster bed and started stripping off the blankets and sheets. He would hang the blankets out some morning soon, but he wanted to inspect them first to see if they needed a special trip to the laundry. “I know. I am also not going to try to stop things, so long as it doesn’t affect the Prince.”
The three servants who had volunteered to help him clean all nodded. “We can work with that. As you hear Henries, I’m Alain, that’s Delwyn with the dishes and Oletha with the clothes.”
Merlin bobbed his head at each name and committed them to memory. “I’m Merlin Emrys son of Hunith of Ealdor.”
The three looked rather blank at the name of his village and he couldn’t say as he blamed them. It was days away on a horse, much less on foot. He walked most of a long time, following the inner tug that said that Magic and Fate had something for him in Camelot. Arriving the day the Prince was to choose a manservant wasn’t the plan, but he was adaptable and he could deal.
Introductions over, the four of them got to work. Oletha had baskets that she was piling the Prince’s clothes in and Merlin left her to them, only delivering anything made of cloth to her for her to determine what was clean, dirty or needed repairs. Thankfully at least one of the many piles had held clean clothes and the Prince had something to wear for the next few days.
“Come on then, lad. We’ll be getting this mess down to the castle laundry before the Prince gets back. And I’ll make sure that you have sheets for his bed. Has old Henries told you where you are sleeping?” Oletha told him as she stacked two baskets on top of each other and hefted them in her arms.
Merlin looked down at the two baskets left and tried to repeat her gestures. He let out an involuntary grunt at the weight and closed his eyes, carefully leaching some of the weight off his load. There was no way. When he was certain that he was able to handle the mess, he looked at his guide. “No, I haven’t been told. I’m not even sure if the Prince knows where I should be housed.”
“Figures. Alain, let it be known that Merlin here is off limits for a sevenday. Let him get the Prince back into shape. Only then is he open season,” the laundress declared. From the careful head dip the other man gave her, Merlin was certain that the older woman was one of the powers in the castle. He was going to need to use all his wiles to try and get on her good side. Because he could see someone making waves using his highnesses clothes to get him in trouble. It would be far too easy.
“Thank you for that,” Merlin told her as he followed her out of the room and into the depths of his new home.
“Not doing it for you, lad. Henries is right. If the King had seen that mess, we all would be wearing stripes on our backs at worse or a day in the stocks at best. I don’t know about you, but I don’t fancy either. Now I’ll be issuing you a pallet and a blanket or two, you can set them up in one of the alcoves in the Prince’s chambers so you are close by if he needs you,” she told him with a cheerful sort of viciousness.
“Still, thank you. And I’ll take the pallet. If it’s asked for, where do I draw water from if the Prince wants a bath?” Merlin asked. He had methods that would remove the dirt and stink from him, but the chance at a bath would be beyond compare.
“The nobles have a number of barrel things that they use. We can make sure that you know of the one that the Prince likes to use. As for the rest of us, we go swim in the river in the warmer months and hold our nose the rest of the time,” Oletha told him as she entered a hallway that smelled of damp, harsh soaps and the sounds of a large number of women talking about everything.
“Sounds like home,” Merlin agreed.
“Doesn’t it just? So, here’s where you drop everything off. We’ll tell you when to come back for the clothes and if there is anything special about them,” Oletha waved a hand at the laundry and dropped her baskets off before directing him on where to set his. With his eyes averted, the wizard removed the spell he had used to lighten his load and the baskets returned to their proper weights.
“I’m guessing that the pallets and blankets aren’t here?” he asked as he looked around the room. Most everything in the room was wet or getting there and well on the way to being clean. Not someplace he would store stuff that had to stay dry.
“No lad. Come this way,” his guide told him with a bright laugh. Heading back the way they had come, she opened a door and looked up at the piles of pallets that smelled of peppermint, rosemary and lavender. The mix wasn’t the same as what his mother used, but it was familiar enough that it brought a rush of homesickness. Oletha pulled a premade bundle off a shelf and then grabbed a pallet before dumping the two items in his arms. “There you are lad. Now, can you make it back to the Prince’s rooms?”
“Yes, thank you,” Merlin assured her. And he could. With some magic. “How soon until the Prince’s clothes are clean?”
The laundress gave him a cheeky grin before shooing him on his way. “Three days. I’ll even be nice and let you use a basket or two to carry it all up.”
Bobbing his head lightly, Merlin took the gesture as his dismissal and headed back the way they had come. As soon as he was out of sight, he cast the spell he needed to find his way back to his new home and set off for it. The rooms might be clean by the standards of the three he had been working with, but they weren’t fully to him. And he wanted to cast a spell on the rooms to drive out any vermin.
If he didn’t want to sleep with something with more legs than was sane, he was very certain that the Prince didn’t either. At any rate, a good scouring spell would take care of the last of it. Add in a spell to add the same herbs that permeated his pallet and the place would smell better.
The internal tug that was leading him along got him back to the room and peeking in showed that the rooms were empty. Merlin closed the door behind him and checked his pack. It was undisturbed and he quickly set it in a secluded corner, along with his pallet and blankets. Sitting on it tailor fashion, the wizard looked around his new domain and drew his magic up. He would be doing an in-depth study of the castle later, but for tonight, he wanted somewhere where he wasn’t likely to wake up to bugs.
Letting his eyes flash the distinctive gold that meant he was using his magic, Merlin pushed all the vermin out of the Prince’s rooms and into the moat. There was a fairly large skittering noise for a moment before everything was quiet. A twist of his wrist and the herbs that were present in his pallet were duplicated in the mattress on the bed and in posies hung from the rafters.
Merlin took a deep breath and nodded. So much better. Now he needed to see about supper, if his charge was going to eat with Court or in his rooms and then, maybe some sleep. Tomorrow was going to be a challenge.
Ignoring the ache in his chest that signaled the soul bond he had followed since he had hit his last birthday, the wizard pulled his magic back under his skin and let his eyes return to normal before heading out. Time to get started.
It took a full month for everything to settle down and Merlin wasn’t entirely happy about it. Not that he could do anything about it, because playing with time was one subject he had been told to leave strictly alone. For all his many faults, he listened when it came to that subject. But it had taken a month for him to settle into his role and for the hazing to taper off.
At any rate, it was a month before he had more than an hour or two to himself. The Prince, Arthur, was going on a hunting trip and told him that he was to stay at the castle. Merlin wasn’t upset that he was going to miss it. Instead, he had to concentrate on other things to refrain from showing how thrilled he was that Arthur was leaving.
Puttering around, the wizard straightened everything within reach, making sure that the room was at least looking clean. He had plans. Oh, he had plans. Once the Prince was well and truly gone, he was going to use his magic to clean the room back down to the stones. After telling the seneschal he was going to be cleaning. He was going to make sure that there was a permanent ward against insects on the room, and carved into the bed itself. Because Arthur had come back with fleas, twice and he was tired of cleaning up their little carcasses.
He was actually learning when the best times to use his magic were. Unsurprisingly, none of the best times were when there were people around, Merlin thought slightly sarcastically. A brief spell here, a cantrip there, some sleight of hand… They were all he could manage and he was starting to feel like his skin was too tight.
So the Prince being gone for two whole days was fantastic. Speaking of, the man in question had some last-minute directions to give him. “Merlin, while I’m gone, make sure you get my armor cleaned,” the prince directed as he sat at his table eating the light dinner the wizard had fetched.
Merlin eyed the armor in question and nodded. The gambeson would need to be inspected as well, and possibly washed. If washed, it would take more than the two days Arthur would be gone to dry it. Using his magic would make sure that it took far less time than that, but that would arouse far too many suspicions. “What would you like me to do about the gambeson?”
Arthur glanced up from his meal and gazed at the item in question and shrugged. “Get the seamstresses on making another. That one is a bit tight across the shoulders.”
“Yes, sir,” Merlin murmured and tried not grimace. The Prince wasn’t a fan of fittings he had found. “Is there a squire who can show me how to care for the armor?”
“No,” Arthur was shaking his head as if the topic was taboo. “Just take it down to the armory and they’ll care for it. Now what are you going to do while I’m gone?”
“Clean,” the wizard admitted.
”I should take you along with me then, “Arthur told him with an amused smile. “I wonder how you would handle that?”
“Quite well, highness. I did after all, walk here from my village and that is a good to fortnight’s travel from here,” Merlin returned a trifle tartly.
He did not want to go camping, thank you. Two days without the Prince monopolizing his attention and time? He could use the time to find his soul mate, reinforce the castle wards, magically clean the rooms, get a bath…
The look the Prince flashed him was a trifle surprise and pleased as well. “So you did. Well, there’s always next time.”
Merlin didn’t say anything to that, just went to sit on his pallet. From his pack, he pulled out the only book he had been able to bring from home and opened it to the page he had last read. A treatise on herbs and their medicinal uses, it was as close to his Magic as he could openly get.
He was deeply involved in reading about the medical uses for garlic when his light was blocked. The w bard looked up and saw his Prince was staring down at him, a puzzled frown on his face. “I didn’t know you could read.”
The wizard shrugged and carefully marked his place. “To be fair, sire, you never asked.”
“True. What are you reading about?”
“Herbs and their uses. What is edible, what has edible parts and what should never be eaten because it’s better on the outside of you than on the inside,” the wizard answered promptly.
Arthur looked at the book for a moment and then poked its spine. “Have you shown this to the cooks? Because I have to wonder about some of what comes out of the kitchen.”
Snickering softly at the comment, Merlin shook his head. “No. And the food’s been very decent compared to some of the places I stayed on my way here. Let alone compared to my own cooking.”
“Not the greatest cook?” the Prince asked as he made his way back to the table and his own reading.
“No. I can cook a passable stew and that is about it,” Merlin admitted ruefully. Most of his ‘cooking’ skills were by way of the potions needed for his craft and the medicinal poultices and elixirs that were used to heal someone. He was very good at that, but the skill didn’t seem to want to transfer. It was maddening.
“Then when we go hunting, you won’t be the one doing the cooking,” the Prince announced without hesitation. “You can get the stuff to go in the pot though.”
“Yes, sire,” Merlin agreed before opening his book back to the page on garlic and starting to read again.
The morning of the hunt arrived before the sun was even up and Merlin was in no way, shape or form, happy to be up before the sun. But the Prince was determined that he was going to get the most time he could for the hunt, and that meant getting started early. The wizard went down to the kitchen and got made up some bread and meat rolls, wrapping several in a cloth for the Prince to snack on later. The rest he brought out to the riders.
“Your Highness! Something to make sure you don’t try the game raw!” Merlin called as cheerfully as he could.
Arthur looked over at him and smiled at the sight of the bread and meat. “You didn’t cook those, did you Merlin?”
The wizard shook his head and smiled. “No, I did not! But the cook might be having words with me for taking the meats she had set aside for some reason.”
Arthur looked at the Seneschal who had come out to see the party off and the man nodded. “I’ll make sure all is well. He did well to make sure that you ate something. Since you didn’t want to stay for the normal breakfast time anyway.”
“See? All fixed. Now hand me one,” the Prince directed as he swung up onto the back of his horse. Even for a hunt in lands that were fully under control of Camelot, the man was dressed in light chainmail and a leather jerkin to keep his skin from being ripped. Merlin could see an edge of one of his homespun linen shirts under the leather and nodded. Good, he had all the layers needed to make sure his stayed safe.
Merlin handed the Prince the best of the bread and then the bundle for later. Arthur chuckled again as he settled the package in his saddlebags. The warm feeling of accomplishment carried the wizard through the rest of the party grabbing their food from him and the trek back to the kitchen with the tray. He made sure to clean it fully before returning it where he had found it.
Only then, did he return to the Prince’s room and settle in for a nap. Reaching out with his magic, he made sure to set it to nudge him when the sun was a handbreadth over the horizon. That would let him get at least another hour or two’s sleep. Then his day could really begin.
Four hours later, Merlin was sitting with a candle slowly burning down as he settled deeper into his mind. He could see the threads of his magic weaving through the structure of the castle and let it. For the most part, the weaving wasn’t a conscious event, but was slowly embedding itself into everything. The center of the web was the Prince’s room and that was not a surprise to him at all.
Setting aside the web, the wizard sank further into himself and looked at the bonds he shared with the most important people in his life. The first he touched was pulsing blue. Full of fierce love, tinged with patience and understanding, it moved in time to a heart as it beat. His mother was in good health and from the emotions he could pick up, was content.
The second line was a warm umber, full of curiosity, intelligence and determination. His teacher was doing well and when Merlin touched the line, he could tell the other man was happily involved in some project. Again, like his mother’s line, it was pulsing to the beat of the other’s heart and the sensations shared the relative health of his teacher. The man was after all, quite old and might actually start slowing down one day.
Moving on, Merlin carefully approached the carmine strand and worked to keep his mental hands to himself. He was afraid to touch the strand and it had nothing to do with any worry about harming his soul mate, the man was completely closed down and oblivious. What was causing the most concern to him was that the other man was so oblivious. The wizard had no false modesty about his abilities and he was plugged into magic on a level that no one his teacher had ever taught could understand. Thus, his mate had to be as strong.
But the strand before him was moving only with the heartbeat of his mate, not with the ebbs and flows of his magic. That meant that there was something very wrong, and it concerned his mate. Taking a deep breath, Merlin pulled himself up just enough that he could see the threads of his power as it moved under his direction now. He was searching for the other end of the carmine strand.
The strand was moving away from the castle on the same heading as the Prince. Narrowing his focus, Merlin let his mage sight take over and he observed the party. There were only a few men with strands trailing behind them, and none of the ones he was looking at were carmine. The shade was unusual and he could see it twisting and rippling just ahead of him. Following the strand to its beginning point, Merlin stared.
His distraction knocked him out of his meditation and he was glad that his limbs were heavy from their disuse. If they hadn’t been, the wizard was certain that his flailing would have knocked over the candle and set something on fire. Given his luck, it would have been him burning.
He reached out carefully and pinched the wick out before he stretched out his legs. Getting up, Merlin paced the length of the rooms he was in for several heartbeats and then ran his fingers through his hair. By magic herself, he had never contemplated this! His bond had led him to Camelot, had pushed and prodded at him to stand on the grounds to become a servant at the castle. But he had never realized where his had delivered him to.
Arthur was his mate. Which meant that he had magic too. But since he had never seen the man use magic, and the King had totally outlawed it, that meant that somewhere along the way, someone had tried to cut him off from his magic.
Merlin covered his face with his hands and tried not to scream. He was going to have to reveal his secret, reveal the Prince’s secret, destroy a block that was likely lifelong and try to bond with the heir to the throne. Lady Magic had a very skewed sense of what he could handle.
He was going to ignore the sensations of silver laughter that moved through his mind at the thought.
Life continued in Camelot, the weather warming with the promise of a lush summer. The Prince, Arthur, went out on several more hunts, but left Merlin behind on each one. The wizard was trying to hint that he would be agreeable with going, but the Prince didn’t seem to notice.
Merlin was also started to pay more attention to events that happened around his soul mate. If his magic had been bound when he was young, the wizard knew that it would press against the restrictions, coming out in unexpected ways. He just had to figure out what they were. He got used to seeing the world with an overlay of mage sight, and could only thank Lady Magic that his eyes didn’t change when he was using that. The cat would have really been out of the bag then.
But for all his looking, Arthur’s innate magic seemed steady and sleeping while he was in the castle. Nothing moved that shouldn’t, there were no burst of wild winds or flying objects. Even when the Prince was angry, nothing happened. Merlin had actually expected the other man to go off like the time he had seen an example of Chinese powder displayed. For a grey mess that had been no more than the amount held in his cupped hands, the stuff had caused a lot of damage. He finally realized that while the Prince was in the castle proper most of the day, he actually spent most of his time at the training yard. The wizard mustered up his courage and took himself down to the grounds where the knights, squires and men at arms learned and polished their craft.
It was there that Merlin saw the first hint on how his soul mate’s magic had been working to free itself. Threads of multicolored fire moved out from the Prince and touched every man on the field, lingering on those who had been knocked down by a blow or were showing signs of strain. When Arthur stood against an opponent, the threads that had been spread through the field pulled in and concentrated on the man or men before him. The fire would probe armor, limbs, and weapons, lingering in areas that would get attacked by the Prince only moments later.
Merlin was impressed at the show of unconscious skill and how orderly the threads were. There was nothing haphazard about how they moved around the other man. As soon as the Prince’s concentration was off a singular object, the threads moved back out to cover the field. The wizard stood and watched everything for several minutes before one of the larger threads, almost a rope, moved past him. Reaching out, Merlin brushed his finger along it, trying to get an idea of what his mate’s magic was like.
As he struggled to catalogue the sensations, out on the field, the Prince’s head came up and he looked at him. Unerringly and without having to search. Pushing the impression to the back of his mind, Merlin stood tall as Arthur strode towards him.
“I didn’t think I would find you here,” the Prince told him with bluff good cheer. “Curious?”
Merlin nodded and gestured at the dirt that coated the Prince. “This explains why you are constantly covered in dirt. It’s noon and I wanted to know if I should bring you your meal here or back in your rooms.”
Arthur looked down at his dusty armor and the wizard could see the aborted movement of a shrug. “Dirt comes from training, Merlin. At least I try to knock most of it off before entering the castle. Unlike some of these cretins. Now what’s with lunch?”
Merlin could feel his face reflecting his disbelief at the confession. The prince was wearing most of a field’s worth of dust and he wasn’t sure that was going to change without help. “Your father, the King directed you to show up at Court this afternoon? You requested I remind you of this, this morning.”
Arthur flashed him a faintly disgusted look and then sighed. Turning back to the field, the Prince gathered together several men and gave them quick instructions. From the way they took over directing the training, Merlin surmised the Prince had left them in charge.
The walk back to Arthurs’ room was done in silence and for once the wizard didn’t have the urge to fill it. Being close to his soul mate every day was a form of willing torture, but he couldn’t contemplate walking away.
Once in the rooms, Merlin braced himself to help Arthur out of his armor. The weight and smell of the garment were unpleasant, but the wizard was getting used to it. With the knight keeping a close eye on him, he couldn’t even use magic to lighten the load. He had to use his own muscles to get things moving.
Grunting at the weight, he draped the chain mail over the form the Prince stored it on. He would go over it with an oiled cloth later. Arthur was standing, bent over at the waist with his arms extended and Merlin carefully gabbed the cuffs of the gambeson and started pulling the garment off. He didn’t want to touch the Prince until he had some idea on how to handle the whole soul mate thing.
With the sweat stained gambeson off, Arthur moved to where a basin of water and a rag were kept for daily cleanups. Merlin pulled the tray of food he had placed in the coolest spot in the room and placed it on the table before starting to gather a court outfit together.
He had the wardrobe where he stored the Prince, finer clothes open and was debating between a red or a blue tunic when he felt a chin hook over his shoulder. The wizard stiffened slightly and then relaxed. Arthur was many things, but he wasn’t unwelcome. If he could slowly get used to the touching thing, maybe the soul mate thing would be easier.
“I think the red one,” Arthur murmured, before sniffing loudly. “What do you have stuffed in there?”
“Rosemary and thyme. Both of which keep bugs away,” Merlin answered honestly. His spell work was what was actually doing the work, but having the herbs in place gave a cover to his deceit.
”Well it smells a sight better than the crap that was in there before, so thank you,” Arthur told him. “Let alone what I smell on the rest of the people at Court.”
“Good to know,” Merlin told him dryly. Reaching out, he grabbed the red tunic, Trousers and the over the top jewelry that went with it.
“Ugh. Court,” the Prince grumped once before digging his chin into Merlin’s shoulder and then wandering back to the table to eat his lunch.
The wizard paused for a moment and took a deep breath. Was the Prince feeling the bond between them? This was the first wholly spontaneous physical gesture the other man had initiated between them, and it had come after the wizard had touched a thread of the Prince’s magic.
Gathering his wits, Merlin pushed the speculation to the side and laid the clothes on the bed.
Arthur watched as Merlin moved around his rooms, touching various things in it and twitching others back into place. If he had to guess, the Prince would say that he was bored.
“Sit down Merlin before you get dizzy,” Arthur snapped.
He kept a careful eye on the other man as he looked around the room before moving to the table he was sitting at and pulling the chair at. The Prince could see him steeling himself slightly before sitting down. He suppressed a smile at Merlin’s actions. Arthur was well aware of how he came off to everyone and he used it to his advantage when he could.
“Eat,” he ordered, shoving the very full plate to the middle of the table. Merlin had gotten him simple fare, but it was all very good. Eggs, meat, cheese and some bread were all there in abundance along with a few of the remaining winter pickles. The Prince watched carefully as the other man picked a small meal out of the food he had brought and set it on the side of the plate closest to him.
Merlin had apparently been hungry and fell on the food without speaking, eating heartily. Arthur nodded before going back to his own meal, not paying attention to what he was grabbing off the plate until his hand covered the others as they reached for the same piece of left-over roast.
Arthur could feel something inside of him stretching, pushing against a barrier that he had ignored his whole life. Whatever was on the other side of that line, wanted out. Wanted to touch Merlin. The knight clamped down on the sensation and breathed out, once, twice before lifting his hand off the other man’s and letting him take the meat.
The servant (because that was what he was, despite how Arthur was starting to feel) looked at him, eyes wide and slightly confused. He stared back, surprised to see that there was a faint gold edge to the blue eyes before him. Merlin flushed and Arthur bit back an automatic smile at the sight. “Go ahead. Take the meat.”
The servant shook his head quickly. “Thank you, but you wanted it. I’ve already eaten more than I normally do.”
The Prince could feel a frown start taking the place of the smile. “Don’t you get enough food? I know that father doesn’t begrudge meals to anyone who works in Camelot.”
He looked over at his man and tried to remember what Merlin had looked like when he had hired him. Skinny, big ears, floppy dark hair, mostly acceptable clothes all attached to an underfed frame. Merlin still hadn’t put much meat on his bones. If someone was shorting him food, the Prince was going to be making a very large mess in someone’s face.
“No, no… It’s not that at all! I just don’t eat a lot during the day. I tend to eat more at night,” Merlin protested and Arthur continued to frown. Thinking it over, the Prince realized that he rarely saw Merlin interacting with the castle servants, and even then, it was only with a select few.
“You do know that you can eat with rest of the castle servants, right?” Arthur pressed.
The look Merlin flashed him was annoyed and part of the Prince celebrated the trust shown in him by it. In the months since the other man had come into his life, Arthur had realized that he wasn’t going to be able to do without him. Having Merlin within arm’s reach was turning into a vital necessity.
The thing stretching within him damn near purred when the other man was around. There were very few people who got a positive reaction of that part of himself. The ones that hadn’t and were later proved to be prats at best or enemies at worst taught him a lot about trusting his gut. Most of the time, his gut stayed quiet in the castle, but every once in a while, it flared up and Arthur got to deal with whatever was bothering him.
When there was no response, the Prince sighed. “Merlin? If you aren’t going to eat with the rest of the castle, you are going to be eating me with me.”
It was all he could do not to laugh at the look of amusement and irritation he was being given.
Merlin had no idea what was going on with his Prince, but something was. The man was making sure that he ate now? Stifling his need to twitch at the impropriety of the event, the wizard sat down and took a little bit of everything. He was determined that he was going to eat just enough to be polite and then go. If he wanted more, he would try to get some out of the cook.
The first bite went down and his stomach woke to the fact that he was very hungry. Breakfast had been many hours before and it would be many more before he ate supper. He had quickly finished the small share he had taken and reached for a bit more. The Prince didn’t seem to mind and Merlin took another tidbit.
Between the two of them, they managed to eat most of the food on the platter until there were only a few pieces of meat left. Since they were all close to the Prince, the wizard tried to reach out quickly to grab a last piece before he stopped eating. When Arthur’s hand fell on his, he froze. Not just because he had been caught, but also because he was being touched, skin to skin by his soulmate.
The connection that he had worked so hard keep fallow, keep quiescent, light like fire under his skin. His magic surged and it took a great deal of effort to not allow it to completely bleed through and take over. It took even more not to allow himself to show how quickly his mind is working.
He tried to bow out of taking one of the last bits, but the Prince wasn’t going to take no for an answer and he wasn’t going to share how uncomfortable he still was eating with the rest of the castles servants. Merlin was getting along with everyone just fine now, and his work in the Prince’s rooms was being left alone.
None of the people who had been messing with him had done anything to Arthur’s things since doing that would be a sure-fire way to clue the Prince in to what was going on. The pranks, both good natured and not, had stopped weeks before when everyone had seen him continuing to take care of his charge no matter what had happened. The Seneschal had even complimented on how calm he was in a crisis.
Merlin had learned his level headedness from watching his teacher try to get the basics of their craft through the heads of the youngest children. The messes the kids had been able to get into had been spectacular in many different ways. None of them had done the same level of damage he had done, but then, none of them had his level of power either. Or his problems with control.
His hard-won control was helping him now. Because if he didn’t have it, he would have climbed all over his soulmate, right then and there. And there wasn’t time for that. Arthur still had court, they still had stuff to talk about and what in the hell was he going to tell him?
When the Prince told him he was going to be eating his meals with him from that point on, Merlin glared at the other man and bit hard at his temper. He was, was he? Taking a deep breath, the wizard had to remind himself that this is what he wanted. For the other half of his soul to notice him, want him and desire to have him near. Now that he had it, he wasn’t supposed to want to give it back.
“Yes, sire. As you say,” he finally managed to say with something as close to good grace as he could muster.
Arthur had to wonder what was going on in Merlin’s head. The other man had managed to keep a very straight face, but the Prince was an old hand at reading more than faces when it came to Court. Bodies, eyes, hands, they all told stories and right now, his manservant was at turns upset and happy. Very odd combination, but very him.
From the muted muttering that was almost out of his hearing range, the other man was not happy with things and was trying not to come right out and say it. It would have been more amusing if he had, but if he had to guess, he would say that someone had taught Merlin that doing rude things like calling your employer a ‘dollop head’ were not good things. Not that Arthur really cared since his men at arms called him far worse names when it came to his training of them.
“Merlin, was there any indication on why the Court was being called together? I know I told you to come get me for Court, but Father is being very closed mouthed,” Arthur asked as he went back to the basin to clean his teeth with the salt and herb paste that had appeared one day when he had been complaining about the taste left in his mouth.
“There really hasn’t been much word on who is coming, other than the King requesting that the bower be opened and aired,” Merlin told him as he fussed with some of his boots, holding each pair up to his trousers before settling on one pair. Arthur had to admit that since he had been much better dressed since Merlin had taken over his wardrobe. Even if the other man was dressed about as simply as was possible for a castle servant.
“Hmmm, the bower? I wonder why he’s opening that up,” Arthur muttered around the mouthful of paste he was rubbing onto his teeth. Spitting the mess out, he made certain to clean his mouth out with some water before sighing in satisfaction. His mouth no longer tasted like pickle. Whatever the paste was, it was wonderful stuff.
“The Seneschal said something about Morgana? I think that was the name,” Merlin continued as he pulled a set of small clothes out of the chest he had them stored in.
“Morgana?” Arthur asked sharply as he undid his belt and stepped out of his dirty trousers and old small clothes. Grabbing the wash cloth again, he cleaned up the last of the sweat from the morning and reached for the clothes that Merlin was holding out.
He managed to ignore the blush that covered the other man’s face and got dressed in silence. Merlin managed to help him get ready in record time and did it all without touching him once. Now that he knew what his man’s touch could do, Arthur was itching to have it again. Not right then though. Maybe he would take Merlin out hunting. He had been hinting (badly) that he would be okay with going…
Something to think about. After Court. After seeing if the rumor Merlin had reported was true.
“Father, you are looking good,” Arthur complimented the older man as he came upon him in the halls. His bow was shallow, but still respectful, and filled with the shades of filial adulation.
There was a pleased twinkle in Uther’s eye as he blatantly looked him over. “You are looking good as well. So the servant you hired is working out?”
Arthur hummed in a very calculated display of casual satisfaction. “Yes he is doing very well at keeping my personal effects in order,”
Uther clapped his hands to gather in satisfaction. “Excellent. I am most happy to hear this. Now what was this I heard about him getting uppity when he met you for lunch?”
The Prince swallowed flash of rage at the thought of one of his men reporting Merlin’s behavior to his father. “He was doing exactly as I directed him to, father. Which was remind me that you had called me to afternoon court. He was told not to take my distraction as an answer and to get me off the field.”
Uther looked doubtful, but Arthur held firm. Merlin was his and his alone. The king had less than no say in his relationship with him.
The thing that lived within him, that normally stayed very quiet around his father surged. Arthur let his eyelids fall to over his eyes for a moment while he got himself back under control. There was no way he was slipping and letting the thing that lay within in free while he was near the King. That way lay madness.
When the surge had subsided, he opened his eyes and regarded his father. Utter was staring out over the Court, a small smile crossing his face. There was a very large part of Arthur that didn’t trust that smile at all. Too much bad had happened while he wore that smile. Things that still echoed in his nightmares.
Arthur looked beyond the courtiers milling around in front of his father to the outer edges of the room. Something told him Merlin was close by. Reaching out, he leaned against the feeling, treasuring the warmth that came with it. But there was some part of the Prince hoped that it was more than an overactive imagination as he had been told all his life.
As his father started to talk about the machinations of his court, the Prince devoted most of his attention to him. Just a bit though, stayed with the sleeping beast in his soul as it watched Merlin move around the room. That part of him kept careful track of each and every person that touched what was his.
“Ah, finally!” Uther exclaimed with a soft clap of his hands.
Arthur focused back on his father and looked over at the door where the guard was signaling a subtle alert. At the Kings nod, the herald rammed his staff against the floor to draw attention to himself, before drawing a deep breath.
“Hear ye, hear ye! Know ye all that the Lady Morgana has returned to Camelot!”
The doors that led to the outer antechamber opened with flair as two footman managed a rare show of unison. His foster sister strode in, dressed in her finest clothes and her head held high. Arthur raised an eyebrow at Morgana and made a mental note to seek her out to find out what was going on.
“We are glad to welcome you back to our kingdom, Lady Morgana, and yet sorry that such a loss caused it. Your father was a good and just man and his loss will be keenly felt.” Uther spoke carefully, projecting his words to all corners of the hall.
For all of that, his voice was kind and his voice filled compassion. Arthur knew, intellectually, that his father had friends. But it was odd to see the evidence of it. Even odder to hear something beyond the good of the kingdom coloring his voice.
Arthur turned his attention back to Morgana and looked a bit deeper, beyond the carefully crafted surface image. Morgana looked… Tired, and very sad. Which if her father had died, would certainly follow. He could barely see faint circles under her eyes and they seemed puffy from crying.
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. They had only a few more motions to go through and then he could greet her properly. The Prince listened as his father the lost of the official duties to welcome Morgana back to Camelot. As soon as he was done, he looked to his father for permission and then strode down the stairs.
“Welcome back, Morgana. It is good to see you again,” Arthur used his own orator training to push his voice out to the edges. “I wish it was under better circumstance though.”
“It was sudden, and Father didn’t suffer,” Morgana told him before sinking into his hug.
“Good. Now, let’s get you a glass of wine and catch up,” Arthur suggested before waving at Merlin, hoping he had caught the hint. Over Morgana’s head, he saw the other man nod at an alcove just off the main room. They were semipublic, but private enough for small talk.
It was slow going to make their way there, but there was no getting around it. Morgana had last been at his father’s court more than two years before and had looked nothing like she did now, Arthur thought. The potential for beauty was fully realized, and he wondered if her father had arranged a marriage for her. If not, the courtiers who were flocking to her would try to win her favor.
The thought of another marriage brought him up short. Pushing away the thought, Arthur vowed to think on it later. Much later. When the thought of his own, brief marriage didn’t cause him to break out in a cold sweat. His wife was safely dead and there was no one from that family to try to curry favor with him.
When they managed to slide into the alcove where Merlin was waiting, standing guard over a table with wine, fruit and light meats and breads. Just what a weary traveler would need after arriving at their destination.
“The wine is already watered, sire,” Merlin reported. He was on his best behavior and Arthur hated it. “The seneschal requested that I pass on his joy in seeing you again, Lady Morgana and tell you that the bower has been reopened for you. When you are done with court tonight he states there will be a bath waiting. Your ladies maid is getting everything settled.”
Bowing slightly to her, he turned to the Prince and bowed to him as well. Unlike the one to Morgana, Merrin timed his bow in such a way that he could sneak in a wink as he came up. As a smile spread across Arthur’s face, the servant moved away and let them get acquainted once again.
Many hours later, Arthur stumbled back to his rooms and stood, swaying lightly from the evenings wine. Dinner had been oddly tense and he had had far more wine than he normally did. Looking around carefully, he searched the room for one person in particular. He made a sound of drunken satisfaction when he spied Merlin was sitting in his chair, head tipped back asleep.
“Mur-lain!” Arthur honestly tried, but his lips just weren’t up to it. “Hey! Getup. Thas my chair!”
When that didn’t work, Arthur thought about moving forward to nudge him, but that idea caused the room to spin alarmingly. Standing still seemed to be for the best. Since talking had gotten him nowhere…
Arthur reached into himself and nudged the barrier that he had found many years before. Part of it seemed thinner and the Prince knew that he needed what was on the other side. It felt as if a whole wall of stones was in his way. But he knew how to handle that. He was a knight and knights could take care of walls!
Digging at the join between two stones the prince pulled at the barrier, breaching it in a minute fashion. Arthur smiled happily at the thread that burst through the small opening before he threw it at Merlin.
As soon as the thread touched the other man’s skin a bolt of heat struck him, leaving a tingling sobriety in its wake. The Prince pouted at his thread. He had been enjoying the hell out of his drunk. Arthur nudged the thread with his finger and chuckled softly as the small bit of fire danced out of his way. As it did, he could feel Merlin wake up.
“What did you do?” Merlin asked as he grasped the end of the fiery thread.
Arthur didn’t know what surprised him most. That he could pull fires of thread out of him or that Merlin knew it was there? Maybe both.
“Arthur, what did you do?” Merlin asked again as he wrapped the thread around his hand and tugged.
“I got drunk,” Arthur rather cheerfully announced that first. Even if he was sober now, he had still managed to get very drunk.
The look the other man gave him was pure acid. “I can smell. What else?”
He waved at the thread in Merlin’s hand and sighed. “Seems I discovered I have magic and used it to wake you up. Guess I had better go turn myself in.”
“Oh no you aren’t,” Merlin told him as he climbed out of the chair. “You are not going to be any more of a dollop headed prat than you have to be, Arthur Pendragon.”
“Well I did just break the King’s laws.” the Prince muttered as he waved at the thread of magic Merlin had a hold of. It seemed to be flaring and cooling with his mood and he was reluctantly fascinated at the sight.
“I really don’t care,” Merlin told him calmly. “We need to keep this away from your father and now that you’ve made that hole, we don’t have much time.”
“Time? What do you mean, we don’t have much time?”
Merlin paused as he pulled a set of saddlebags out from under the bed. “I mean, just like a dam that has a slow leak, the hole will get bigger and bigger until the whole thing falls in. And anything downstream is in trouble. Given that you have magic, and it is untrained, I believe it will be a very bad idea to stay here.”
Arthur dug in and carefully pulled his thread back to him and away from Merlin. He wasn’t going to admit he could feel a second thread wriggling its way out. “Why will it be bad?”
“Because that thread of yours is fire, Arthur. And I for one, don’t want to burn the castle the down.”
Swallowing back bile at the thought, Arthur nodded. He would trust in Merion for as long as it took them to get out of danger and then he would push for answers. His servant was far too comfortable with magic not to have some of them.
One hangover cure (that actually worked, amazing), two horses, a note to his father and a six-hour ride to the middle of nowhere and Arthur had had enough, thank you! He was going to get a straight answer out of Merlin if it was the last thing that he did.
Shifting in his saddle he turned slightly to see his nominal servant was riding behind him, eyes scanning the area for threats. It was oddly satisfying to see that Merlin was taking their safety seriously. Arthur looked closely at the other man and winced. Normally Merlin had very nice dark blue eyes, but right that instant, his eyes were a very bright and shiny gold.
“Merlin, not to sound like a hysterical ninny,” Arthur began, at least somewhat calmly. “But were you aware that your eyes are glowing a brighter gold than the stuff that makes up my father’s crown?”
“Yes, I know. It’s my own magic. When I use it, my eyes glow gold. Never have been able to stop that from happening,” Merlin told him, voice absent. “I think this is a good spot.”
“A good spot for what?” Arthur asked as he watched Merlin dismount his horse and tie it to a tree.
Merlin just looked at him and then grabbed the bridle of Arthur’s mount. “You are going to want to be off that horse in about five minutes. Otherwise there is no guarantee that the horse will survive me breaking that leaking wall you have in your mind.”
The Prince slid off the back of his horse without complaint and watched as Merlin tied it next to his mount. When he grabbed a staff out of a sleeve on his saddle, Arthur drifted closer. The staff was the same one that Merlin had used on his walk into Camelot and it was as plain as it ever was. There was nothing to it that said that a magic user owned it.
The warlock? witch? mage? used the stick to draw a circle all the way around the tree and very carefully connected the ends of the line before laying it inside the circle along with his boots. Arthur watched as Merlin stripped down to his skin and pile all his clothes inside the circle. Muttering to himself, he tried to figure out what was going on.
As the other man started tugging at his clothes, Arthur gave up. “Why am I getting naked?”
“I thought you might actually like your clothes to make it through this, but if you are fine riding naked, you can stay dressed for the moment,” Merlin told him with a cheerful grin.
“I hate you,” the Prince hissed spitefully as he pulled everything off and thrust it at his servant.
“No, you don’t. And that is what’s making this all so weird.”
“Bollocks.” Because Merlin was right and Arthur was shivering in the cool air. “So how long will this take?”
“Not long,” Merlin looked over at him, the same cheerful grin on his face before the circle he had inscribed in the ground lit up with a fire that matched the gold of his eyes.
“That’s impressive,” Arthur allowed before focusing on the man before him.
Merlin looked at him and the smile melted off his face to be replaced with a solemn expression. “Sorry about this. It’s going to hurt.”
“Hurt? Hurt how?” he tried to ask. But something behind his eyes was burning hotter than the forge, hotter than the rare house fire, hotter than anything he had ever experienced before in his life and he had no control.
The scream that was ripped out of him moved quickly out of his own hearing and Arthur Pendragon felt a mass of something blow out of his body in a wave that slammed into the forest around them and leveled everything within a hundred yards. Struggling, Arthur could feel another, bigger wave of force building within and he used all of his will to make sure that it went up, instead of out.
Up, there was no one. If he pushed this power out, he might well reach Camelot. And that would be bad. The wave hit him hard and right before he passed out, he saw Merlin and stared. Whatever he was, he was connected to the earth, the sky and everything around them. Amazing.
Waking up was a nightmare that he never, ever wanted to do again. His whole body hurt, right down to his hair.
“Then don’t let everything you are explode out again,” came the dryly amused voice of Merlin. “Good job on making that last blast go straight up. If it had gone into the woods, they would have felt it in Camelot. As it was, I erased our tracks and moved us away from the scene in case anyone investigates.”
Arthur tried to think about that, but his head took that moment to throb viciously. Right, no thinking. He was also going to ignore Merlin. He couldn’t handle amusement.
“Oh, really? Going to ignore the person with the skill to make your head feel better?”
Oatmeal had more substance than his mind right then, be Arthur tried. “Guh?”
“Good enough,” Merlin allowed. Careful hands slipped under his head and pulled him closer to upright. When he had him arranged to his satisfaction, Merlin picked up a cup and filled it from a pot simmering over the fire. Arthur could just see his eyes flash gold before he tilted the cup to his lips.
He sipped, wary of the possible heat, but whatever Merlin had done, it had lowered the temperature of the drink enough that he could drink it down without danger. As soon as he had the full cup of medicine down, Merlin filled a second cup with water and let him sip at it until he was full.
Arthur worked his mouth for several moments before he tried to talk again. “Why do I feel so bad?”
Merlin looked down at the cup in his hands and ran his fingers over the lip before looking up at him. His eyes were blue again and filled with knowledge. “You feel bad because you had a lifetime of magic that had been bottled behind a wall. There was a great deal of pressure there and your small breach hadn’t alleviated it at all. So when I pulled it down, all that pressure had to go somewhere.”
The other man fussed with the cup for a moment before turning serious eyes on the prince. “You let the fast wave off into the trees. Thankfully, that wave was just force, none of the fire that we saw with the thread you woke me with. The next one fired straight up and it lasted for several minutes. You stared at me the whole time and even through the noise, I could hear you screaming. Once your fire was exhausted, I got you dressed and on your horse. Erasing all evidence of us being there just seemed like a good idea since at the end, the fire was visible to everyone.”
“Fuck. That isn’t good,” Arthur wetted with a weak roll of his shoulders. “How did you hide it?”
The shrug was unexpected. “I took advantage of something I found. One of the star stones that falls with just as much damage fell on my way to Camelot. It was in my pack, so I put it in the crater you left.”
Arthur had never seen a star stone in person, but he had learned about them in his lessons. The rare ones that made it to earth were highly sought after and Uther had been looking for one for several years. If there were searchers, they would come across the stone and bring it home to Camelot. The Prince took a deep breath and held it for a moment, trying to assess how he felt. He felt human enough. “Okay. Now what?”
“Now,” Merlin told him, eyes flashing bright gold. ”We get you as trained as we can in four days. That’s the longest you’ve ever been out hunting by yourself and we don’t want to stand out at this point.”
“How long have we been here?”
“About four hours. We have half of today left. Time to get to work.”
Arthur thought that he had worked hard, becoming a knight. That he knew what it was like to have a thousand facts swirling in his head due to lessons. He even thought he knew what it was like to battle using more than his wits to carry the day.
Merlin and the three days they spent in the forest teaching him to use his magic taught him differently.
Every single moment was used in multiple ways. He learned to shield his magic, his mind and his soul as Merlin worked to find him in a demented game of hide and seek. He learned to use his magic offensively in the same game when the wizard grew tired of him slipping out of his grasp. Shielding was learned only moments later.
When he regained consciousness, Merlin explained to him the method that would allow air to enter his shield so he didn’t drop dead from its lack in battle. Since he was already on the ground, the wizard made sure that he learned how to reach through the earth to find the places where fire was. Then he learned to tell the difference between natural fires and ones set by man.
Only once he learned that, did he get to sleep that first day. As soon as they woke up the next day, Merlin made certain that he had a large breakfast and a cup of the tea that was constantly simmering over the fire. Then they got to work again. The lessons from the day before were repeated and new ones added.
Using fire the burn leaves, twigs, kindling, logs, stone… Arthur burned them all. Merlin had small pieces of metal that he used to teach him to blend together. The Prince could see the advantage to that. Being able to use fire to heat and work the metal bits of his kit would be of a great advantage. Using the threads of his magic, he also learned to be able to tell when there had too much fire on a piece of metal and where it was brittle.
The lessons blurred together and Arthur could feel himself evening out. His abilities, by the evening of the third day, didn’t flare as badly with his emotions. Unlike Merlin, when his magic was used, his eyes showed a ring of icy blue, the type found only at the closest point to the base of a flame. The wizard had snorted softly when they had tested for the color and nodded. One less thing to worry about.
“So, have you thought of why my magic would be bound?” Arthur asked as he carefully sipped his final cup of tea for the day. He was actually quite proud of himself. Merlin had taken a cup for himself and was slowly working his way through it with every evidence of needing the relief it brought.
“The only time you could have been bound in the way that you were was right after your birth,” Merlin told him after setting his cup down. Rummaging in his saddlebags, he pulled out a pouch and weighed it before placing it by the fire. “I asked, since I wasn’t from Camelot, about your mother. She was well loved and some of the oldest servants remembered that she had had a hard time carrying you. Many from around the land were brought in to try and find out what was going on. It was only after the Druids came that your mother got better and carried you easier.”
Merlin snapped his fingers and the bucket they had left by the stream appeared, filled with clean water. Arthur tried not to jump, but even with all he had seen his teacher do, that one act was still deeply magical. The wizard poured the last of the tea into his cup and his eyes glowed gold for a moment before the pot was scoured clean.
“That’s how you’ve been cleaning my rooms, isn’t it?” Arthur asked suddenly. His quarters were far cleaner than he had ever expected and he had never seen another servant entering or exiting either.
“Yes. And I got rid of the bugs,” Merlin told him with a shudder.
“Yes, thank you for that. I haven’t itched since the last hunting trip with my men,” the Prince told him with a smile.
“I know. And as soon as you went to sleep, I made sure to drive out all the wildlife you came back with too. Some of which were fleas,” his teacher muttered with a wrinkle to his nose. “The next time you go out, I’m going to make sure that all your clothes have the spell impregnated into them. Better to keep you from picking up the menaces than to deal with them after.”
“I can live with that. Now what happened with the Druids?” Arthur demanded. He had rarely heard talk of his mother, Ygraine and never from his father. The few mentions of her had come in his lessons when he had learned of her family and why his father had married her.
“What happened was, as best I can piece together, that a deal was struck. The Druids would make sure that you were born, alive, healthy and with all chances of making it to adulthood. Your father, the King took the bargain gladly. He should have asked what would happen to your mother. Because as soon as you drew your first breath, your mother drew her last.”
Arthur winced. He had wondered. Every tale that he had managed to hear had mentioned when the Queen had died. There was no doubt on that.
“Your father was beside himself with rage and threw the Druids out of the castle and out of Camelot. Magic may have given him you, but it also took his Queen. That is the major reason behind the laws against it,” Merlin poured the clean water into the pot and returned it to the fire. He picked up the herb bag and weighed it again before opening it and pouring the rest of the tea onto the water. “Last batch, we work tomorrow and then head out at noon?”
The Prince nodded. They would get back late at night, but that would mean that there would be far fewer people to fuss at them for being gone.
“At any rate, sometime soon after your birth, the King would had to have brought someone who could use magic to fully bind your magic to you. They did it well enough that even when puberty hit, you didn’t break out. Whoever it was, they were or are, very powerful,” Merlin told him.
They both stared at the fire for a time and Arthur amused himself by trying to guess where the next burst of flame would appear from. He wasn’t doing anything to augment the fire since the first time he had done that, he had added a fire elemental to it. The salamander had been very pretty, and had purred sweetly, but there was no way he could keep it. He had set it free in the heart of the fire and it had looked at him for a moment before flaming back to where it had come.
“Of all the people who are around my father, the only one I can think of it to be, would be Gaius. Father mentioned once, in passing, that he had once had magic, but had sacrificed it for something,” Arthur motioned in the direction of the aftermath of his awakening. “I would say that sacrificing all your innate magic would make a hell of a seal.”
Merlin looked upset and for a moment, his eyes blazed the same color as liquid gold. Between one blink and the next his eyes had returned to their normal color. “I’ll be checking that when we get back to Camelot.”
“Good idea. Now I had another good idea. I need to get some sword work in and you need to know what to do around on. Grab your staff, it will be a good to start on,” Arthur got to his feet carefully and walked out to the center of the clearing they were using. He did need to make sure that he had some practice, but he also wanted to know what it would be like to fight as tired as he was.
He had a feeling he was going to need to know how to push through the exhaustion later.
Merlin came out of their little lean-to with his staff and looked at the Prince’s sword. “I don’t think my staff is going to stand up to that sword for long.”
“Maybe not, but you are more likely to find a branch of wood to use in your defense than a sword,” Arthur conceded. “And I’ve seen exactly what a well-used staff can do to someone.”
“So have I. I want to try something first,” Merlin told him and reached out, letting Arthur know his moves well in advance. When the wizard rested his hand on the pommel of his sword, the Prince gripped it tighter for a moment and then relaxed. Merlin wasn’t going to cut him.
“What are you thinking?” he asked.
“Well, I was thinking that I still have a piece of the star stone and from what I can tell, it’s mostly metal. I want to see if there is anything, I can do with it,” he told him as he weighed the sword and stared down the length of the blade.
“If you can make a manageable blade out of it, I will teach you how to use it,” Arthur told him. Actually, he had every intention of Merlin learning how to use the sword.
The grin that Merlin flashed him was full of warnings, and mischief and the Prince resigned himself to seeing him on the practice field, learning how to be an even bigger menace. The wizard ducked back into the lean-to and Arthur heard the sound of things being moved around.
When he came back out, he was holding a very dull black rock in his hands.
“Is that the star stone?” Arthur asked as he strode over to where the other man was standing.
“It is. While I get this set up, go ahead and touch it. You should be able to tell me why it came to earth,” Merlin directed as he held the Prince’s sword in one hand and his staff in the other.
Arthur reached out and rested one finger on the stone. The impressions he got off of it were outside of anything he had ever seen of felt and he breathed a deep sigh of relief when Merlin waved for the stone. “It’s traveled longer than anyone can know. It fell to earth because it slipped its bonds.”
“Sounds good,” Merlin told him as he gathered himself for more magic.
The fledgling wizard could feel the rushing tide of his teacher’s magic coming to bear on the stone. The stone lit under his hands and Arthur could see the staff that Merlin had put down get pulled into the mix. There was something missing though and he laid his hand over Merlin’s, adding the heat and fire of his own magic to the mass swirling around them.
That seemed to be the last thing that was needed and when Arthur opened his eyes, he was looking at a sword worthy of a king. It was as long as his own, with a generous grip and good thick crossbars that could withstand combat.
The surprising thing about it though were the three rubies nestled into the pommel and the outer ends of the cross guard. “Well that wasn’t quite what I intended, but it looks nice,” Merlin allowed.
“I think the rubies came from the stone itself.”
Merlin shrugged and looked it over. “I don’t care. It isn’t sharp though.”
Arthur raised his own sword and nodded. “We’ll sharpen it later. Time to get some lessons from me, Merlin.”
This was so much fun, thanks for sharing!
Loved this. Thank you!
I like this very much. Totally plausible and a lot of fun to boot. Thanks for sharing!
Wow. I kinda want Merlin’s patience. Great story. I admit to trying to think about the hazing and whether or not Merlin responded. Everyone seemed so determined about it.
Wonderful prologue. I love the relationship between Arthur and Merlin.
Thank you for sharing.
This is a simply splendid AU premise and dynamic, while still keeping the characters appealingly on key. 👍💖👍