|The Boreas Sapphire
Author: Buffy2204 PM
Camelot is hit by a harsh and unusually brutal winter. Merlin finds himself having to make a journey with only Gwaine for company, while Arthur remains in Camelot to help his people. As always, Merlin finds more trouble than he bargained for. Reveal!fic Arthur and Merlin friendship. No slash.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Adventure/Friendship - Chapters: 8 - Words: 50,380 - Reviews: 81 - Favs: 83 - Follows: 95 - Updated: 01-07-13 - Published: 12-06-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8770291
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Hey. Welcome to my first Merlin fic. Let me know what you think of the first chapter.
It was a cold winter. It was cold and it seemed to have started far too early. Summer had passed as quickly as a shadow and the corridors of the castle grew darker with the shortening of the days. It had lasted barely long enough to warm the waters of the lakes in the valleys surrounding the kingdom. Now they had their first sheen of thin ice layering their tops.
This worried Arthur. Bad weather meant bad harvest and general suffering of villagers in the kingdom. He had already been getting reports of poor crop due to the lack of light and warmth. Some of the outlying villages had even requested a pardon from the taxes. He wasn't used to the refusal from his subjects to pay taxes. Camelot was a fairly wealthy country, they had good natural resources and the king had made sure to be as fair as possible when setting how much each village would owe. He had never had to send knights to check that his people were truthful when they said they could not afford to share food, furs and wood with the city this time. And he did not want to start now.
However, he also had to make sure that people within the city and the castle were fed and sufficiently clothed for the winter.
Arthur sat down at his desk within his chambers and looked over the latest paperwork from the council. They demanded more firewood. The supply that the castle had was enough to last 3 months. Arthur very much doubted that three months would be enough to get them through the worst of the winter and out the other side.
The council were noblemen generally. They were not used to hardship and had also made a side note about the food becoming monotonous. The cook had only served them different variety of pork all week. Arthur knew that this was because pigs were easy and cheap for the people to keep within the city walls. Pigs were readily available and until the next delivery of other livestock arrived from the villages, pigs would be the staple diet. He briefly wondered how the council would react if he told them they might have to endure a bit of Merlin's rat stew for a while if it got too bad.
He shuddered at himself for that thought.
Not for the first time, Arthur let himself dwell on how much easier it had been to just be a prince rather than a King.
A cold breeze made the candle on his desk flicker and this broke Arthur from his trance. The cold air whipped round his neck and around his ear and made him swivel to look at the offending window. Who would leave the window open on a night like this?
It's like that boy lived to annoy him.
Where was he anyway?
He'd gone almost an hour ago to collect more firewood for his room before Arthur retired to bed. It was a testament to his ever-increasing pile of paperwork that he hadn't noticed that he hadn't come back yet. Arthur looked down guiltily at the council's report about the lack of wood for the castle and considered telling Merlin to put it back once he arrived. Then the cold caught the back of his neck again and he resolved to just use less tomorrow.
How could it take one man so long to get wood?
Arthur peered around the room and towards the door but the corridor outside was silent. He picked himself up to close the window and deliberated going to look for the inept manservant himself. But it probably wouldn't do for a king to go charging around the castle after a servant. Even one as irritating as Merlin.
The snow outside had begun to fall now. The first flakes of snow floated down to the courtyard below and attached themselves to the cold cobbles. It looked like there would be a nice layering by the morning. Arthur sighed and ran his fingers through his hair.
And shivered again.
Bloody Merlin, making his room so cold. He hoped he hadn't done the same in Guinevere's room. Merlin had been acting as personal servant to the Queen for a while now. Gwen was having difficulty adjusting to someone else waiting on her and none of her servants seemed to stay long before she dismissed them. Arthur made a note to talk to her about that. Merlin could only realistically serve one person and he wasn't even very good at that.
Arthur crossed the room to retrieve his fur cloak, the leather of his jacket was not keeping the chill away anymore but the cupboard was empty. Typical. That was probably Merlin too.
He huffed a sigh and decided to just set himself beside the fire for a while but quickly remembered that the fire was on its last few embers.
Well, that settled it. He'd just freeze then. He thought petulantly.
Shouldn't a king have a capable manservant?
No, not just capable. The best manservant in the kingdom.
Why had he been left with Merlin!?
At that moment Merlin stumbled through the door in a rush, spilling the wood pile over the middle of the floor and promptly tripping over the nearest log.
"I'm here! Sorry I took so long," he rushed picking himself off the floor and quickly falling over the next log into a table.
"Where the hell have you been?"
"Well, it's not my fault your guards are being ridiculous about dispensing the wood in the stores," he said pulling himself up again.
"Didn't you say it was for the king?"
"Yes but apparently the Queen has given strict limits to everyone in the castle," Merlin said, carefully not referring to 'the Queen' as Gwen. "This includes you. You know, I think they are probably more afraid of her than you sometimes,"
Of course, Guinevere would have already thought about wood rations.
"It was just lucky that Gwaine was also there for more wood and he gave us some of his own," Merlin continued "He's got loads because he's been away for a few days on patrol and not used any of his quota yet,"
Gwaine was a good man. This must have meant Arthur had already used his quota entirely. Arthur frowned at the papers on his desk once again thought guiltily about his frivolous use of resources.
Merlin began rekindling the fire and tidying the wood pile next to the hearth. The warmth was slowly returning to the room as the flames flickered their light across Merlin's face and the haze of warmth went as far as to touch Arthur on the other side of the room.
"Don't worry," Merlin said "Percival is back tomorrow from some of the villages, he should be bringing supplies,"
Arthur was not optimistic. Everywhere was preparing for the cold. Arthur glanced at the window where the snow was already starting to build up on the glass. No one could give what they could not spare and it took a long time to prepare good dry firewood.
Not to mention more furs. Speaking of which…
"Merlin, where have you put my cloak?"
Merlin looked up from his place by the fire. "Umm…" he peered around the room briefly "Is it in your cupboard?"
Arthur glared at him "Would I be asking you if I hadn't checked the cupboard first?"
"Well, no offence Arthur but you never been the best at dressing yourself,"
"Merlin," Arthur growled. He would've thrown something at the man but the closest object was his sword and he wasn't at the point of manslaughter just yet.
"Didn't you have it with you before?" Merlin tried
Merlin had this amazing ability to start a headache in less than sixty seconds of entering the room.
"I'll go and find it," Merlin jumped up and tripped over himself getting out of the door.
Arthur sighed and watched him stumble away.
"Wait!" he said "You haven't finished making the fire…"
It was too late, Merlin was already at the end of the corridor and around the corner.
Why? Why Merlin? He could still hire George again he supposed… But George had been so boring.
Also, and he wouldn't like to admit it, he sometimes…briefly…on the odd occasion…maybe enjoyed Merlin's company. It was just bad luck that he was the most useless servant in Camelot's history.
They had been through a lot in the years. Merlin and himself. It was an unusual relationship they shared. It was not the standard Master/servant roles and as much as this sometimes riled Arthur, he wouldn't want it any differently. A normal servant would not follow him fearlessly into battles. No armour, no weapon, no shield. He couldn't figure out if Merlin was brave or just stupid. Although, if he really thought about it, he knew it was because Merlin was just unbelievably loyal.
Arthur allowed himself a brief smile and in an uncommon bout of affection towards the servant (which he would deny later) and began making the fire up himself. While he was still poking the embers into life when something caught the corner of his eye.
It was Gwen at his door. Holding his cloak.
"You left this in the throne room," she said as she gracefully moved into the room and giving a puzzled look towards the king, struggling with his own fire. Manservant nowhere to be seen. "I thought you might need it. They say the snow will get worse tonight," she peered out the window and registered Arthur's annoyed look towards the cloak.
He stood up and accepted it from her. He decided to hide it somewhere in the room before Merlin came back and saw it. He wouldn't be able to stand that smug look when he told him where it had been found.
Gwen looked worried. He could tell that this winter was playing on her mind as much as it was his. It was looking to be a bad one. She smiled at his concerned gaze and shook her head slowly.
"So… you've put a ration on the wood," Arthur started conversationally.
"Yes. I'm sorry. I should've consulted you first but people are taking much more than they need in fear that they will not have it later," she sighed.
Arthur looked towards his ill-gotten wood pile. Why was everyone trying to make him feel guilty today?
"No need to apologise, I should've thought of it first," he mumbled. "It's late. You look tired,"
"You're right," she smiled again but it did not reach her eyes. However she did not make any movement towards the door but stayed and stared at Arthur. Something was obviously troubling her. She only looked at him like this when she had to break bad news or discuss something particularly uncomfortable.
He didn't know which he'd prefer at the moment.
"Did you want to talk about something?" he asked slowly, not really wanting to know. She looked exhausted and he had enough to think about at the moment. Least of which was where to hide this damn cloak.
She blinked and looked down at the floor. A mannerism left over from her serving days, it was probably only a habit and nothing was to made of it but it didn't stop Arthur from feeling uncomfortable every time she did something like that. There were times he'd almost caught her curtseying to him as she left the room. She'd always managed to catch herself before she did though. He must find a moment to talk to her about that.
However, he wasn't going to find out what was bothering her or start that particular conversation because Merlin burst in the room again.
"I couldn't find it," he said far too loudly "Sir Leon said that Gwen…" he stopped when he saw Gwen and Arthur standing together and, unfortunately, did not miss Arthur hiding the offending cloak behind his back. "He said that Gwen had found it in the throne room where you had left it," he stared pointedly at Arthur.
There was that smug look. All previous guilt vanished from Arthur and an intense desire to clout the servant over the head took over.
"Servants are meant to knock on doors before they enter a room," Arthur warned.
Merlin went outside, knocked on the open door and walked back in.
"Is there anything else that you would like me to do before you retire, sire?" Merlin said with a mock bow.
"I think I might also go to bed," Gwen said with a tired smile at Merlin and Arthur's antics. "I'll talk to you in the morning Arthur,"
She left the room as Arthur shrugged on his cloak defiantly. "You may go Merlin." He said "I'll see you tomorrow. Polish my armour before you bring me breakfast. I want it ready for training,"
He didn't really need polished armour for training but the groan he got from Merlin as he left the room was worth it.
The next few days only brought more of the cold wind from the north of the five kingdoms and the perilous lands. The snow had gotten gradually worse and servants had to regularly shovel deep snow from doorways and paths. A few more supplies had come into the castle, however, this was not going to be enough for everyone and the rationing had now been applied to food as well. This not only affected the castle but also the people within the city walls. Arguments had broken out between citizens over the withholding of meats and grain in the markets.
The city guards were having to stop several outbreaks of fights in taverns on the outskirts of the city and reports of theft were becoming more regular.
Arthur hated that his people could be reduced to this so quickly. Although he knew it was probably the minority. Camelot's people had endured far worse than a little bit of cold before. But the weaker of them had started the crumble and even the strongest would find it unbearable when their children started to starve.
He ordered the castle's supplies to be added to the main hold for the city and for rations to be improved for the people of the town and decreased for the people of the castle and citadel so that they were equal. He was not popular with the noblemen but the knights had taken it in their stride and once again Arthur felt a surge of pride in them for their strength.
Regular patrols had been sent out to the farthest villages to make sure they had what they needed and were under orders to report back what they had found.
Thankfully (due to Arthur's leniency with taxes) the outlying villages were finding it tough but assured the knights they would survive. People from the out-most reaches of the kingdom knew to build a thick skin and positive outlook on life. They were mostly isolated to the rest of the world and remarkably self-sufficient, they did not ask for much but Arthur preferred they knew that they had a king who would care if they froze to death.
And he knew, although he wished he didn't, but he knew that some of them would not survive even through their assurances. The very old and the very young would perish and he would be powerless to stop this.
He had already sent diplomats and traders to the southern kingdoms to barter for food and supplies. These kingdoms were the least affected by the cold. Unfortunately, all he got back were messages of sorrow that his allies could not help him this time. They knew that the cold was coming their way and their allegiance had to be with their own people first. This was fair, but he couldn't help but feel a little resentment.
As the days moved past slowly and coldly Arthur got less and less reports from the furthest villages. This was owing to the length of time it was taking for his men to make the journey itself. Old passages and paths through the kingdom were becoming impassable from snow and ice and the knights had to find more original and inventive ways of getting themselves to and from the people in those villages. Sometimes they were laden with more supplies that Arthur found he could realistically spare.
Eventually though, Arthur had to stop these trips to the most isolated of his people. Some knights came back to report that it was impossible to get to them anymore and some knights did not come back at all because the roads were so treacherous.
Arthur ordered that no one was to attempt the journeys anymore. He did this with a heavy heart and a prayer to whatever gods there were to care for his people so far away.
The weeks brought more snow and heavy storms. The short days did nothing to burn off the previous night's snowfall before another one began. Refugees began arriving in the city from the nearest villages and things were becoming cramped and even more difficult. People's nerves were frayed and food was short. Arthur was, again, eating Merlin's rat stew; however, he was doing so happily this time and without complaint.
His council had advised him to give a speech to the city, more of a pep talk really. He did so. He looked down at his people crammed into the courtyard, in the snow, and talked to them about endurance and bravery. He made the speech short and to the point. It was meant to be longer but there were small children peering adorably up at him… and shivering. In fact everyone was shivering and miserable. He felt like a hypocrite, lecturing them on enduring their suffering while he had his nice, thick fur cloak on his shoulders.
He immediately ordered more furs to be taken from the castles stock and issued out to the people with young families. It made him feel better but not for long.
He was not equipped to deal with this situation. He wanted so desperately to protect his people but he could not fight weather. Give him a dragon, a monster, an immortal army, anything he could physically fight with a sword and a shield. That was where his comfort zone lay. When they trained you to be a king, they really trained you to be a soldier, nothing more. Other people were there to do the thinking. It was just a shame that whenever he convened with the council members he disagreed with every one of the doddery old fools. Only Gwen at his side made any sense. He was sure if he had the knights there it would be different but they tended to be absent when it wasn't a military council.
Maybe he should change that.
Or maybe he should find younger blood for the council. Most of the members on the panel were left over from his father's reign and were finding it difficult to come to terms with some of Arthur's most controversial changes. They didn't even like the round table. Arthur proudly thought it added an air of grandiose to the room that it didn't have before.
Of course, Merlin was always in the council room to listen. He was not permitted to talk but this did not stop him from voicing his many opinions when they were alone afterwards.
Not recently though.
Recently, Merlin had been growing rather quiet.
And this was most disconcerting.
Because, although Merlin's constant chatter and stupid ideas were, for the most part, a pain in Arthur's backside, he had become quite accustomed to them. So the sudden deprivation of them was most certainly noticed.
It was on one morning that Merlin came in to wake Arthur and said "Rise and shine" in the most miserable voice that Arthur had ever heard those words muttered in that had to make a comment.
"Merlin?" Arthur said sitting himself up and rubbing his face to get rid of the sleep. "Are you alright?"
Merlin stopped and looked at Arthur gravely. He looked as though he were about to speak but instead turned around and started to set up Arthur's table for breakfast.
"This is ridiculous, Merlin," he said "You haven't said two words to me in days," He stood up and walked to the window. His heart sank again when he realised that he couldn't look out of it for ice. His feet and toes began to stiffen from the cold floor and he gratefully accepted the clothes that Merlin had appeared in front of him with. Merlin also had the good grace to look peevish for his lack of communication, at least.
"Would you…?" Merlin started but stopped again. Honestly, this was more annoying than the constant talking.
"Spit it out, Merlin," Arthur said as he struggled to get his tunic on. More speed, less haste. Arthur reminded himself.
Merlin was right, he wasn't very good at dressing himself.
"Would you mind if I took some time off?" Merlin asked softly.
Arthur yanked the rest of the tunic over his head, ignoring the ripping sound and studied Merlin for a moment. He looked pale and skinny. Obviously, he always looked pale and skinny but this was more prominent pale and skinniness than usual. His eyes were darker and his face had begun to have a hollow quality to it. His clothes hung a lot more loosely and his belt and trouser were practically falling off his hips.
The skinniness was not surprising. The lack of food was affecting everyone. Even Arthur's belt had to have been brought in a peg or two. Luckily, for Arthur, he could have afforded to lose some extra weight. Merlin never had it to begin with. It was his eyes. They had sunken a bit and his standard cheeky sparkle was missing under the shadow. He didn't look well. This bothered Arthur may than he would let on. Merlin was a servant but he was also, sort of, his friend.
Arthur realised with a jolt that he hadn't enquired how Gaius was coping. The man was old and Merlin had just as much responsibility to look after him as he did Arthur. Did he need time off to care for him?
"Is it Gaius? Is he ok?" Arthur asked
Merlin chuckled. Not the response Arthur was expecting. "No, Gaius is fine. He is being stubbornly helpful to as many people as possible. Handing out warming draughts to whoever knocks on his door."
"What is it then?" Arthur said, confused.
Merlin looked sad and haunted again. "Gwaine told me that we are no longer able to get past the ridge of Ascetir," he said "The snow and ice has piled up too high. The forest is home to many wolves now,"
Ascetir. That is right on the very Eastern edge of Camelot. It marks the border with Essetir… Ealdor. Ealdor was there. Merlin's mother.
He couldn't possibly be thinking he could do anything to help.
"Merlin, you cannot help them now," Arthur said solemnly.
Merlin looked pained for a moment. "I have to try Arthur,"
"I can't send anymore knights out, especially not into Lot's kingdom," Arthur argued "They can't get through and Camelot knights in Essetir would start a war. One we are not equipped to fight at the moment."
"I'm not asking for knights, I'm asking for some time off so I can help them through the winter," Merlin said "I don't need help. Just your permission,"
He looked like the slightest breeze would knock him down. The idiot thought he could do this without help? He'd freeze. Be eaten by wolves. Robbed by bandits. Captured by slave traders. Maybe all at the same time. No. Not happening. No time off. He'd just have to stay here this winter.
Could he really order Merlin to stay though? He paused for a moment to think. If he told him he could not go the first thing Merlin would do is to pack. Judging by the glare of defiance coming from Merlin there probably would be nothing Arthur could say that would make the man stay and do as he was told. But he couldn't let him go either. Merlin shuffled on his feet, waiting for a response.
"You realise you'll die before you even get there," Arthur said
"I might not," he said. That defiance was rearing its ugly head again. "It's not far,"
"It's not far in good weather," he said "Merlin, you're looking at maybe three days or more,"
"Not if you give me a horse," Merlin grinned.
"A horse would only get eaten by the wolves along with you!" This was getting absurd.
Merlin gave him a look which said 'Are you sure you're not the one being absurd?' This only aided in making Arthur more frustrated and sent a look back saying 'No, you idiot'
"I'll be fine, Arthur," Merlin said seriously and with conviction. He had so much conviction that Arthur almost believed him for a moment but then Merlin shuddered in the cold of his chambers and the illusion was broken. He still had the same clothes as he always had on. He hadn't changed them with the changing of the weather. He hadn't even tried to find a thicker neckerchief, for heaven's sake. The boy had no clue about survival.
Although, if he thought about it. Merlin probably didn't have any other clothes.
Arthur sighed with defeat and rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully. There was no way he'd be able to get Merlin to stay. Unless he threw him in a cell. But Guinevere might hold protest to that.
"Take a knight with you," he said finally. "One knight. Take Gwaine,"
"Thank you, sire," Merlin beamed at him. The idiot. Although he looked slightly apprehensive about the company.
"And have something to eat before you go. And take food with you. Tell Gwaine not to wear the crest on his armour, "Arthur rattled off the list "And for gods' sake, take my cloak,"
Arthur grabbed the fur cloak from his cupboard and threw it at the servant who only smiled back. He did not want Merlin to mention anything about the fact a king had just given a servant his cloak. If he did, he might take it back off him.
Merlin seemed to get the hint and had the wisdom to look mildly astonished by the gift.
"Are you going to be alright without me?" Merlin asked tentatively.
Is he going to be…? What? Merlin was the one walking off to his death in the cold wilderness and he was worried that the King would have no one to get his breakfast? Maybe he should go with him. No, that would never be allowed. Gwaine would look after him.
"I think I can manage a couple of months without you stealing food off my plate," Arthur said "Just don't get yourself killed. Servants are hard to come by, even the bad ones,"
Merlin had heard that before..
"I'll leave in the hour," Merlin nodded and examined the fine cloak he had been given.
"Send Gwaine to me before you leave," Arthur ordered as Merlin turned to walk out of the room.
"And Merlin," Arthur called after him "Don't do anything stupid, ok?"
Merlin nodded again with a smile and left the room in a quick pace.
Gwaine came up to see him almost half an hour later. He had thick travelling clothes on and a trademark Gwaine-look on his face, which betrayed the fact that he was quite looking forward to the adventure. The man had no fear. Arthur organised the amount of food that could be spared for them after speaking with Gwen about the rations. He emphasised the importance to Gwaine of this not being official Camelot mission and if he were to be captured at all, he was not a knight.
Last of all he told Gwaine that he must not let Merlin do anything Merlin-like and they should turn back if the journey became too treacherous. This was not worth their lives.
Gwaine bowed and assured him that he would not let any harm come to Merlin.
"Or yourself," Arthur reiterated
"You know me," Gwaine grinned "I always look after myself,"
Maybe he should have sent Sir Leon with Merlin. He was far more responsible.
"Sire," Gwaine said earnestly. "No harm will come to Merlin or myself. I promise you this."
Arthur stupidly believed him.