AN: Thanks to caldera32 for inspiring me to finally write this idea out with her wonderful writing! Hope you guys enjoy!
Merlin wiped at his brow with a filthy sleeve before shoving the pitchfork deeper into the hay, mumbling curses under his breath at Arthur for making him do a job that he did not even have to do really. They did have stable hands after all. Arthur just liked to mess with Merlin and if Merlin complained it only caused more trouble for him.
It had been over a year since he moved to Camelot and it had been the best change of his life. He had made friends, gone on adventures, seen the most amazing things. Although he had to remind himself often, this life was worth cleaning out the stables once in a while.
Of course… he had made enemies as well, both outside the castle walls… and in. One of them was Benton, a foot soldier, and his two pompous cronies who always followed him around, today they ended up waltzing into the stable… Arthur's private stables.
"Can I help you, gentlemen?" Merlin asked with as much pleasantry as he could muster.
"Um… yes… Merlin… I think you could," Benton replied and the two knights behind him snickered unpleasantly. "When you're finished here, if you could clean my rooms as well, that would be lovely."
Merlin snorted, "I'd rather clean all the stables than enter that filth."
The cronies covered their mouths, giggling some more, it was obvious to Merlin that, despite the earliness of the day, these men were quite drunk. Which meant that goading them probably was not his wisest decision.
His sore jaw a few moments later agreed with that statement.
"Shut up, boy." Benton's voice slurred slightly at he spoke.
Merlin just glared at him from where he lay in the straw. Standing up slowly he watched the three drunk men carefully, he leaned over to pick up the pitch fork and felt a kick at his side. Sprawling into the hay again he felt a sharp pain in his side. Glancing down at his stomach he saw four shallow cuts sprawled across his ribs. Luckily the pitchfork had not pierced his skin deeper. He pulled his jacket over the cut and stood up with the pitchfork in hand.
Benton took a step backwards as Merlin held the pitchfork horizontally facing the guard. He walked past Benton, feeling satisfied at the cringe that passed over the man's face and leaned the pitchfork against the wall before leaving the stables. Best to get to where there were more witnesses, the three bullies were less likely to attack him there.
King Uther's stables were right next to Arthur's on Merlin's left, and on the right were another high official's stables. The man never rode horses anyway, just sat getting fat up in the castle but he liked owning them, they made him feel rich Merlin supposed. Out of sight Merlin reached a hand to his side, wincing as he touched the scrapes there. Not life threatening or dangerous but he wasn't looking forward to the lecture he would get from Gaius on being more careful.
Something hit him from behind and he went sprawling to the ground. He couldn't roll over fast enough before Benton was on him, punching him in the face. He felt his magic itching at the surface of his skin, struggling to get out and protect him, but he forced himself to fight with his hands first. He could not risk revealing his magic to them.
He tried to hit the man in the stomach, but Benton sat on his torso at an angle that made it hard for Merlin to hit anything. He swung at his face but the man swiped his hands away roughly. When he did get a punch in it was so weak that Benton hardly winced let alone stopped.
When he couldn't get his hands to do anything useful he brought them up to his face, to protect it, as Benton struck again and again. He hoped he would stop soon but the man kept at it. He knew he couldn't hold out much longer before his magic escaped.
"Stop…" Merlin cried. "Stop… ple-"
Benton stood up quickly and Merlin lay there trembling. He peeked at his attackers through the cracks in his arms. They stood at attention swaying from side to side. His two henchmen glanced at him nervously as they stood there while Benton stared at something to Merlin's right.
He turned his aching head in that direction, expecting to see Arthur or Leon or one of the other friends he had made… who he saw instead was the last person he expected to come to his rescue. There in front of him stood King Uther himself, staring at Merlin's attackers with a cool expression. Merlin rolled to his side attempting to push himself up. No one made a move to help him as he managed to get to his knees. He lay there curled in on himself still facing Uther, for the moment he could not push himself higher but at least he wasn't on the ground in pain.
"What's going on here?" Uther asked calmly. Merlin lifted his head, but Uther wasn't addressing him. Two other guards stood behind him looking quite confused at the whole situation.
"This peasant attacked us!" Benton stated pathetically.
Uther frowned, looking down at Merlin and then back to Benton, and then he did something Merlin didn't expect… he started to laugh.
"Do you think me a fool?" Uther asked.
"N-No, my lord." Benton stuttered.
Uther looked at Merlin who was struggling to his feet. Straightening up tall but staring at Uther's feet as was the respectful thing to do.
"What happened, Merlin?" he asked.
Merlin glanced at the guards and then back to Uther.
"No one will hurt you, Merlin. You have nothing to fear," Uther assured. Merlin hesitated a moment longer before nodding and speaking.
"I was cleaning the stables, my lord, when the guards came in and began harassing me," Merlin said honestly. "I tried to leave, but they followed me."
Uther took a step closer to Benton. "Is this true?" he asked.
"He's lying, my lord." Benton stated weakly.
Uther laughed turning his head away and waving a hand in front of his face.
"And I suppose you have not been drinking either… while on duty?" Uther asked looking down at the guard's uniform.
Benton swallowed, but said no more.
"These men are to be stripped of their positions." Uther announced to the guards behind them. "And a night in the dungeons will do them good I believe." The guards nodded and stepped forward and took the arms of the men, leading them towards the dungeons. Uther was left standing with Merlin alone in the clearing.
"Are you alright, Merlin?" Uther asked.
Merlin nodded. "Yes, sire."
Uther nodded. "I am on my way to a meeting with my son. I believe Gaius mentioned a great deal of work that needed to be done this morning when he visited. I will inform Arthur that you will be assisting your guardian for the rest of the day."
Merlin nodded his head, relieved, he did not think he could face Arthur in his current condition.
"Yes, sire," Merlin said gratefully.
With that Uther turned on his heel and walked away.
Merlin walked slowly back to Gaius' chambers, limping slightly to avoid jarring his ribs. Maybe once upon a time Uther had been a good man, a kind man and he tried to be a good king even if he was misguided in his ways of doing it. He respected his citizens and strove to protect them.
And while Merlin knew that Uther would kill him immediately and without hesitation if he knew what Merlin could do, he could not help the fact that there was part of him, although indeed a small part, that respected Uther as his king.
AN: So I think I was first inspired to write this fic while watching The Witch Finder. There is a part where the Witch Finder wants to search Merlin's quarters and Uther turns to Merlin as if to ask his permission. Pretty much the only sign of respect I see between the two but I always got the impression that there was a small part of Merlin that respected Uther greatly.
I hope the characters stayed in character, I liked that Uther showed respect towards Merlin by giving him the day off but trying to hide the fact that Merlin got his butt kicked from Arthur.
As always leave a review!