Disclaimer: I don't own it. Yet.
"Please enlighten me as to why there is a seal in my bathtub."
"I'm waiting, Merlin."
The seal made a honking noise as it splashed about, soaking the already-wet Merlin in the process. The manservant groaned. "Quit that," he grumbled.
The prince glared.
"It's a pet."
Arthur was incredulous. "You got a pet seal? Do you have any idea how stupid that is?"
The seal looked very offended. So did Merlin. "Not my pet," he huffed. "She belongs to a family of fisherfolk in Gedref. They brought her to see Gaius because she was sick."
"What kind of a person keeps a pet seal?"
"They're quite likeable, actually."
"A pet seal, Merlin!"
"Don't look at me like that! I'm not the one responsible for their choice of animal companions."
Arthur closed his eyes. "All right. I'll just pretend that possession of a pet seal is completely normal."
"She's very useful for fishing, they say," Merlin tried to explain. "You know, she can dive down and herd fish up to the surface."
"So now it's a specially trained fishing seal?"
"I think that all seals fish."
"You know that's not what I meant."
Merlin sighed. "Yes, Arthur. She is indeed a specially trained fishing seal."
"And this specially trained fishing seal is in my bathtub because…?"
"Her owners brought her here for Gaius to look at. She was sick, you see. Skin condition."
Arthur arched a brow in a manner quite reminiscent of the man in question. "Is there some reason he—wait." The prince's tone sharpened. "Skin condition? You put a wild animal with a skin condition in my bathtub!?"
Merlin winced. "Oh. When you put it that way—don't worry, Arthur, it's not contagious."
"How would you know?"
The seal made a bugling sound that reminded Arthur of human laughter.
"Read it in a book. I'm actually an expert in seal physiology, you know. That's why Gaius had me look after her instead of doing it himself. Said that my talents were much more suited for helping Cordelia here and that if anyone could do it, I could."
"Don't you have anything better to do with your life than reading books on seal physiology?"
Merlin's face twitched.
"Though," Arthur continued, "I suppose it's somewhat better than your constant trips to the tavern."
Merlin's eye gave a little tic.
"Honestly, Merlin, I don't know why I bother keeping you around. You're incompetent and lazy and you stick diseased seals in my bathtub! Diseased seals, Merlin! How do you even get into these situations?"
"…Just lucky, I guess." The manservant sounded a bit resentful. "Believe you me, Arthur, I don't exactly go out looking for trouble."
The seal nuzzled Merlin apologetically. His ire evaporated. "No, no, Cordelia, I know it's not your fault either. You didn't ask for your skin to be burnt like that." The seal shuddered and gave a very human nod, though of course the dumb beast had no idea what nodding meant.
"Burnt?" Arthur pulled up short. "I thought you said it was sick?"
"She was!" Merlin yelped. "Um, that is, she was burnt first, then she got infected, so her owners brought her to me and I patched her skin right up." He nodded rapidly.
"You—infected—Merlin!" Exasperated beyond words, Arthur chucked a paperweight from his desk at his idiot manservant.
Cordelia did not appreciate that.
With an ear-splitting bellow of rage, she launched herself from the tub, knocking it over and spilling all over Arthur's floor in the process. The seal charged, improbably swift for something that didn't have legs, whiskers trembling with rage. Then she barreled into Arthur, her thousand pounds of tightly compacted muscle knocking him down.
"Cordelia, don't!" Merlin cried, grabbing the enraged beast around the neck. "He does that all the time. It doesn't hurt, it's not a threat, really."
The seal growled suspiciously but subsided. She backed up from Arthur but did not relent in her watchfulness. Brown eyes glared daggers at the prince. A low growl rumbled in her throat.
Someone knocked on Arthur's door. A nervous male voice called out, "Is everything all right, Master Em—"
"Cagan!" Merlin yelped, scrambling to his feet. "No, no, everyone's fine. Everything's fine, just fine." He opened the door to reveal a thirty-something man with the weathered brown skin and strong arms of a fisherman. "I was just telling Prince Arthur here about how your pet seal had been cured of her skin condition, both the burning and the infection." His smile was far too wide.
"I'm sorry?" Cagan was very confused.
"Yes," Arthur growled. "And then there's the bit about you putting a diseased seal in my bathtub!"
"I'll clean it up," Merlin promised. "In fact—" He shoved his prince through the door. In the same motion, he grabbed Cagan by the arm and dragged him into the room. "—I'll clean your entire room while Cagan takes care of his seal. Maybe Cagan's wife will show up and she can help take care of the seal too!" That too-bright, too-wide, far-too-toothy smile was the last thing Arthur saw before his manservant slammed the door shut in his face.
Arthur was a prince. As such, he was fairly certain that his manservant was not supposed to slam the door of his own chambers in his face, rudely kicking his master out of his own chambers. But considering that his floor was soaked, his bathtub contaminated, and his personal space occupied by a homicidal seal of all things, he decided to beat a hasty retreat to the training field.
A few hours later, a pretty woman with dark brown eyes and hair the color of Cordelia's fur approached him. She wore a vaguely embarrassed expression. "I would… like to apologize for the behavior of… er, my and my husband's specially trained pet seal." There was a faint note of incredulity in her voice, as though she still could not believe that such a thing existed in her life. Arthur felt very sorry for her. Thanks to Merlin, he understood that feeling quite well.
"Apology accepted," he said.
The woman turned to Merlin, who had sidled into his usual place at Arthur's side sometime in the past five minutes. Arthur was so accustomed to him doing such things that he hadn't noticed his manservant's return. "Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you."
Merlin blushed. "It really wasn't…."
"But it was," the woman said, voice firm with conviction. "I've never seen, never even heard of a damaged skin becoming whole again. It was a true miracle, and I am forevermore in your debt, Master… Merlin."
"You're welcome," mumbled the blushing manservant.
"Cordelia!" Cagan's called. "It's time for us to leave!"
"Coming, darling!" she shouted back. After a quick curtsy to Arthur (though, as she was clearly unaccustomed to curtsying, she ended up accidentally making the gesture to Merlin instead) and a reverent, "My lord" (which was also directed towards Merlin. Perhaps she had some kind of vision problem?), she kilted up her skirt and darted towards her waiting husband.
Arthur went rigid in shock as he gawked after the departing fishwife. "Merlin?"
"Wasn't the seal's name also Cordelia?"
"Um…." Merlin's expression became very innocent.
Arthur shook his head in disbelief. "Do you know what this means?" he demanded.
"Means?" Merlin yelped. "Why would it have to mean anything?"
"The man named his pet seal after his wife! Of course it means something!"
"Oh." Merlin pulled up short. "Quite right, sire."
Arthur rolled his eyes. "Honestly, Merlin," he sniffed, "you are the most oblivious person I've ever met."
Selkie: a Celtic shape-shifter who can become a seal by donning a sealskin. While in human form, they have to keep the skin safe or they'll never be able to transform into a seal ever again.
"Peter Cagan and the Wind by Gordon Bok tells of the fisherman Cagan who married a seal-woman. Against his wife's wishes he set sail dangerously late in the year, and was trapped battling a terrible storm, unable to return home. His wife shifted to her seal form and saved him, even though this meant she could never return to her human body and hence her happy home." –copied and pasted directly from Wikipedia article on selkies.
In this fic, Cagan is the husband's first name. Cordelia means 'of the sea.'
I suppose that this might take place in the same universe as "The Birdbrain and the Bees," but somewhat earlier.
There's a poll on my profile about which Merlin fic I should write. As of right now, the Ultimate Fixit (not the actual title, just how I think of it) is winning. If anyone's interested, it should be up until at least the beginning of March.