Disclaimer: Don't own it. Amazing, huh?
"Merlin? What are you doing here?"
The young man in question barked a short, nervous laugh. "What, can't a man visit his favorite mum without an ulterior motive?"
Hunith arched her brow in a manner reminiscent of Gaius.
Merlin flushed. "Okay, I… might need a bit of help here."
His mother sighed, wondering what on earth her son had gotten himself into this time. "Come on in, then."
Her son obeyed. After closing the door behind him, he wordlessly conjured a ball of light, which floated up to the ceiling. Hunith blew out her candle, settled herself in one of their chairs. She gestured for Merlin to seat himself as well; she had a feeling that this 'bit of help' might take a while.
She was right.
Merlin sank into his seat. "It's a bit of a long story."
"Should I make tea, then?"
"No, I'm good. Unless you wanted some?"
"No." A wry half-smile. "Truthfully, Merlin, I'd prefer to get this over with."
A sheepish grin. "Yeah, me too."
Merlin grimaced. "It's… like I said, a long story. It started on one of those interminable hunting trips that Arthur's so fond of. You'd think that he would have figured out by now that nothing good ever comes from hunting trips. I mean, between the bandits, the unicorn, the angry sorcerers, that nest of baby serkets—no, no, don't look at me like that. We got away from them before they noticed us. My point is just that nothing, I repeat nothing good has EVER come from his bunny-slaughtering excursions, and he's clearly in an unhealthy state of denial if he thinks otherwise."
The young warlock shook his head. "So there we were in the bandit-infested forest that he knows is infested by bandits when, in a completely unexpected twist, we were attacked by bandits!" He spread out his arms. "Amazing, right?"
Hunith began to relax. For a few moments there, she'd been worried that Uther's son had discovered her baby bird's magic. That… that would have been bad. Very bad. But her son was more exasperated and sheepish than terrified for his life, not to mention that he was taking quite some time to get to his point, so obviously his secret was still safe. Maybe he'd actually gotten into some normal trouble that didn't involve shape-shifting cat people or whatever monster was attacking Camelot this week or vengeance-driven sorcerers or another immortal army.
…Well. A mother could hope.
"So we went through our usual bandit-fighting routine, which he still hasn't figured out, and as I'm taking care of one of them for him, another comes up and stabs me in the back. I'm fine, though, so don't worry," he added, correctly interpreting the expression on Hunith's face. "Gaius fixed me up.
"But anyways, I'd been stabbed, and we were about five hours from civilization because our horses had spooked because horses don't appreciate being shot at by bandits, so Arthur decided to play physician. Normally I'd have stopped him, but I'd, er…." He became very interested in a spot on the ceiling. "…I'd already passed out from blood loss. But only for a little while!" he hastened to assure her.
Hunith crossed her arms. "Just how long is 'a little while'?"
"…Less than an hour, I think. But that's not important—no, Mum, it really isn't. It wasn't even the bandit that made me lose the blood. See, I'd been fighting a pack of angry cyanthropes the day before and they managed to get a few good bites in before they figured out who I am and ran away screaming. They're the ones who made me lose too much blood. The bandit just got me before I was completely recovered."
"And why, pray tell, were you out hunting when you were recovering from fighting those kithroes?"
"Cyanthropes," Merlin corrected automatically.
Merlin blanched. "Well, I couldn't—Arthur's oblivious, you know that. He didn't know that I'd had an angry crazy dog-man trying to chew his way to my femoral artery just the day before, and he's been so unhappy since we got Camelot back from Morgana, what with her betrayal and Uther going even crazier and all that I didn't have the heart to fake sick and make him stay back in the castle. In retrospect, though, I really should have, because if I hadn't gone on that trip—well, back to the story."
Two cups and a jug of water flew over to them. "Thirsty," Merlin explained, pouring himself a glass. "Now where was I?"
"You'd been stabbed by bandits and passed out from blood loss."
"Oh, right." Merlin smiled, which was not at all an appropriate reaction. "So I was only unconscious for a bit less than an hour, but it was long enough for Arthur to decide he had to play doctor for me. He did a ruddy job, too. I ended up with this miserable infection and—moving on! Anyways, to try to help me, he took my shirt off."
Hunith's eyes widened. "Oh."
Merlin winced. "Yes, oh. I woke up and he was glaring at me kind of like this." He narrowed his eyes and glowered intently and suspiciously at the water jug. "Then he started interrogating me about where did you get those scars, Merlin. Not that I care or anything, because I'm a manly man and manly men don't have emotions, but it's okay for manly men like me to display anger." The warlock rolled his eyes. "And you know what, Mum? I actually managed to convince him that pretty much every single one of my scars—well, okay, not the one from the serket—that most of my scars came from tavern brawls."
Hunith poured herself a glass of water, wishing very much that it was brandy or mead or a remedy for the headache building up behind her eyes.
"Except that when I was recovering from the infection and also from the fight I had with Lady Deirdre—"
"Lady Deirdre. She tried to poison Gwen because everyone knows that Gwen will be queen one day and Deirdre wanted the crown for herself. Confronting her was actually kind of a nice change. I mean, she didn't have magic or anything. Wasn't even possessed by a dormant Sidhe or in cahoots with Morgana. It was quite refreshing."
Hunith frowned. "But she still managed to hurt you?" That was worrisome. Merlin had defeated, among others, Nimueh and Cornelius Sigan. If a girl without magic had hurt him, he'd been more badly hurt than he let on.
"Don't look at me like that, Mum," Merlin begged. "I was a bit delirious when I went to confront her and really didn't anticipate her going for my throat with her shoe. It was one of those ridiculously impractical ones with the spiky heels, you know? Bad for walking, but apparently good for stabbing. She missed, but like I said, I was slightly delirious and that made me fall and hit my nose, except I fell down by her feet. She still had the other shoe on, so I grabbed it right off her foot and then we had a shoe battle and I won and then I recruited her for Arthur's spy network that I'm making him because I have blackmail on her." He pulled up short. "Have I told you about the spy network? I know I haven't told Arthur yet, but Camelot is in desperate need of some spies."
"Does this spy network have anything to do with the story?"
"Not really, it's just something I'm working on in my spare time. You'd think that a paranoid despot like Uther would have a functioning spy network, though."
"Merlin," his mother sighed, "please get back to the story."
"Okay." He leaned back, thought hard. "Okay, right. While I was recovering from my infection and creating a code for my spies and getting into shoe fights and such, Arthur went and told the Round Table knights that I'd been in about a hundred tavern brawls. They went out to pretty much every bar in Camelot and, well, to make a long story short, they found out that I've only actually set foot in a tavern about five times in my entire life, so obviously I couldn't have gotten my scars from bar brawls." He shrugged helplessly. "So then I told them that a lot of the scars came from the tavern here in Ealdor, except by that time they'd gotten Gwen involved and she remembered that Ealdor doesn't have a tavern."
"We do now," Hunith informed him. "Jean and Charlie started one."
Merlin groaned. "Wish I'd known that," he sighed.
"It's very new," his mother replied. "What happened next?"
"I tried telling them that it was just clumsiness and I'd made up the bar brawls to sound cooler, but Arthur, for once in his oblivious life, wasn't buying it. He had Percival sit on my legs—you haven't met Percival yet, but he's a friend of Lancelot's and he is absolutely huge—while Leon and Elyan pulled my shirt off. Then they all saw… well, everything.
"A lot of those scars could have come from me being clumsy, but there were a few that weren't. The big circular one in the center of my chest, for example."
"I had been wondering about that," Hunith admitted. "How could that have come from a tavern fight?"
"It didn't," Merlin replied. "I mean, it obviously didn't, but I never tried passing it off as a bar battle wound. I told Arthur that it involved an exotic drinking game and a stack of pancakes and that I was too drunk to remember anything else."
"…a drinking game?" Hunith parroted faintly.
"I know," her son groaned, hiding his face in his hands.
"Are you… are you absolutely certain that you have the right Once and Future King?"
Merlin nodded, still not lifting his head. "That's what I asked Kilgharrah. I said, 'Are you sure you have the right Arthur?' Then he fed me his usual line about destiny and coins and whatnot and I kind of gave up."
"So are you? Certain, I mean?" Hunith was beginning to grow very worried.
"Yes, yes I am. I try very hard not to think about what that might mean for Albion."
Hunith poured herself another drink, wondering if she could perhaps convince Merlin to transform it into something more suitable than water. She thought about it for only a moment before realizing just how bad that idea was. "So Percival was sitting on you…?"
"Yes. Percival was sitting on me and Gwaine and Arthur had my arms, and then everybody started yelling at me until Gaius came in and told them to be quiet because they were disturbing his patients. He almost chased them out of my room, but then Gwen…. Gwen can be scary when she wants to be. Let's just leave it at that, shall we?
"So I was obviously in a bit of a bind. No one believed a word I said, I couldn't really think of any excuses, and then Percival got off of me just long enough for Gwaine and Arthur to flip me over so that everyone saw my serket sting. Unfortunately, Elyan, Gwaine, and Percival all recognized it as a serket sting, so the yelling started up again. I think I eventually managed to convince Arthur and Gwen and Leon that it came from bees since they're city folk and don't know any better, but everyone else has traveled too much. They knew.
"Lancelot tried to help. He listened to my story about the bees and then ran off to get Gaius to corroborate it, and he did. You'd be amazed at how much Gaius knows about bees. It's actually a bit scary. So he started going on about bees and how I couldn't have been stung by serkets because people don't survive serket stings, so clearly I had to have been attacked by a large swarm of vicious, angry bees at some point in my life. That's actually one of the reasons I'm here."
Hunith sighed. "Bees, Merlin?"
"Yes." He nodded, the action quick and birdlike. "I went swimming in the pond with Will when we were ten, and I got attacked by angry bees. Barely escaped with my life. You'll remember that, right, in case they ever show up in Ealdor and think to ask about it?"
"Ten years old, swimming with Will," she repeated. "I assume that this incident took place at Red Rabbit Pond?"
"Sure." Merlin shrugged. "Why not."
"And how many bees attacked you?"
Merlin thought. "Let's just go with all of them."
"All the bees?"
"Yeah. All the bees."
Hunith felt obligated to point out a minor flaw in her boy's lie. "And all the bees just so happened to sting you in the exact same place, resulting in a scar that is for all intents and purposes identical to a serket attack?"
"…That's actually very common behavior among bees. It's a function of their hive mind. Gaius could tell you."
Hunith just stared at him.
Merlin coughed. "Yes. So, bees. I need you to remember the story about the bees just in case they ever run across you. Normally I wouldn't worry about that, but they've been watching me like a flock of hawks lately. Gwaine and Percival actually tried to follow me on my last visit to Kilgharrah!"
Hunith was fairly certain that hawks did not travel in flocks, but she opted to let that pass in favor of more important information.
"But back to me on the bed. They were all glaring at me and yelling and I'd lost all circulation in my legs because Percival is approximately five times my weight. I was starting to get worried, so I accidentally shifted in such a way that my stab wound broke open. That got rid of them for a while. Gaius patched me up again, and we spent the rest of the evening trying to figure out a decent excuse. It wasn't a very successful evening. Gaius managed to buy me a bit more time by claiming that unnecessary visitors were distressing the patient, which was actually true, but we still hadn't thought of a good explanation when he had to let me go.
"So I spent a couple days in the stocks, but that wasn't so bad because Iseldir and his clan were in range and it was rather nice to talk with them, even if they wouldn't stop 'my lord'-ing and 'Emrys'-ing me and I was intermittently pelted with rotten vegetables by a sadistic crowd. And Arthur and the knights. They threw some vegetables too. But I actually managed to avoid them for the next week or so. Um, except for when they were throwing things at me. I mean, there were some close calls like when I had to hide in an enormous stewpot and nearly got served for dinner—please don't ask, that would take way too long to explain—but I was doing pretty well until they ambushed me in my bedroom."
Hunith closed her eyes, dreading what was to come.
Merlin continued, "Arthur said that they wouldn't let me go and he'd have Percival sit on me again if I didn't give them a damn good explanation for my injuries. Gaius and I still hadn't come up with anything good, so I, er, kind of blurted out the first thing that came to mind."
Hunith dared to open her eyes. Her son, she noted, had turned as red as his neckerchief. Her heart thudded with dread.
Merlin said nothing, just poured himself another cup of water. His blush did not fade.
"What did you tell them?" Hunith asked, trying to fight down the awful sense of foreboding that threatened to crush her."
Merlin mumbled something indistinct. His blush spread from his cheeks to his ears.
"…I told them it was a sex thing."
Hunith closed her eye. Counted to ten. Opened them. Her son was still blushing and fidgeting and looking at anything but his mother.
"A sex thing."
"You told your friends that all your scars came from a sex thing."
"Not all of them. Remember the bees?"
"You told your friends that all of your scars except one came from a sex thing."
"…They had a rather similar reaction," Merlin confessed.
It was times like this that Hunith truly despaired. She had tried, she really had tried, to teach her boy deception. She hadn't liked it, but they both knew it was necessary, that he had to learn to lie or he would lose his head. More importantly, he had to lie well.
"They stared at me like I was mad before Arthur snapped out of it. He told me that if I didn't tell him the truth, he'd write you and tell you that I had committed unspeakable masochistic depravities with every whore in Camelot."
"So that's the second reason I came here. I just wanted to warn you that the letter you're due to receive in the next two or three days is full of lies. I'm not… you know. I'm just not."
"Please tell me that this is the last of it," Hunith begged.
"Sorry," Merlin replied, sounding genuinely apologetic, "but there is one more thing."
Hunith braced herself.
"Do you think I should blame Morgana?"
"Morgana?" his mother echoed. "Morgana?"
"For the hypothetical sex thing," Merlin elaborated. "See, when Arthur thought that I'd been in a bunch of brawls, he had the knights go to every tavern in the city to try to keep me safe. It was rather sweet, really, even if it is ruining my life. I figure that I've got only a few days before he sends people to investigate the city prostitutes. I can think of a few guards who would love that assignment. I mean, we both know that I'm not really spending all my time with ladies of ill repute and he knows that I know that he knows, but he can't prove that I'm not, so he has to do the investigating before he can confront me. So I was thinking that if I blame Morgana, he wouldn't be able to disprove it and I'd be home free. So d'you think I should?"
"Do I think you should tell the crown prince of Camelot that you've carried on a sadomasochistic affair with the treasonous half-sister who tried to overthrow him?"
Merlin huffed. "Well, when you put it that way…."
"It's a completely horrible idea!"
"What else am I supposed to do?" Merlin moaned, tangling his fingers in his hair. He looked ready to pull the black locks out by their roots. "Walk up to Uther Pendragon's son and say, 'Hi, Arthur, I have all these scars because I've fought off pretty much every threat Camelot has encountered in the past five or so years with my illegal magical powers because I'm secretly the last dragonlord and an all-powerful warlock and pretty much everything you've always been taught to hate'?"
Something large and heavy fell just outside the hut's closed door. A male voice yelped. Another male spat a muffled curse.
For a long second, Merlin and Hunith remained silent, frozen in shock and horror. Then, very slowly, their eyes met. Then Merlin had extinguished his magical light and he was running toward the door, and Hunith was jogging by his side, and she flung the door open to see a woman and half-a-dozen men in Camelot red, each with a guiltier face than the last. Two of the knights were squished beneath a great bear of a man, the biggest Hunith had ever seen, who had evidently fainted with shock. She recognized three of the others: Lancelot, who was gagged with his own cloak and tied to a nearby tree; Gwen, her little falcon's first friend in Camelot; and Uther's heir, Crown Prince Arthur Pendragon himself, his mouth working silently, his eyes about ready to pop out of his head.
Perhaps, Hunith thought wildly, if she could get ahold of her frying pan, she could it everyone over the head hard enough that they'd forget this ever happened. It was worth a try, right?
Merlin blanched, pale as a ghost. "How—how much of that did you hear?"
"All of it," grunted one of the knights currently pinned under the giant's heavy frame.
Merlin's already pale face took on a nasty gray-green tinge. He sank to the floor, hands trembling as they rose to cover his face. "Oh."
"Oh," agreed Arthur.
Merlin groaned. "Oh, bugger."
Cyanthropes: dog-people. In folklore, they mostly show up in parts of Asia (India, I think), but since when has Merlin stayed true to folklore?
This is complete, but if anybody thinks they can expand on it, go crazy. Personally, I think it's funnier as a one-shot, but maybe I'm just not creative enough.
To those who enjoyed my humble offering to the magnificent fandom, there's a poll on my profile about what I should write next. Mind you, I'm not entirely certain I'll write ANY of them *glances guiltily at Harry Potter and the Viper's Brand* but if I do, it'll be the one with the most votes. Until then, ciao ciao all!