A/N: Hello again! I am kicking off my next medium-long-ish project. How long? I'm not sure. I've got the whole plot mapped out, but you know me. My projects always turn out longer than expected. We shall see.
This brain project sprang up part-way through Iron Grip, although the backdrop for the plot was a recent stroke of inspiration. Set after season 4, but before season 5. Enjoy!
Merlin attached the last bag behind the saddle, his arms protesting the extra weight as they always did before a long journey. Why did Arthur need so much stuff? Seriously. When Merlin traveled to Camelot to start his entire life over, he'd taken nothing but a single pack. They were going to be gone for a few short weeks and Arthur was taking half his wardrobe. And he had a big wardrobe.
"Don't look so glum, Merlin." Speak of the king. "A few weeks away from this place will be good for us. New surroundings, new food, new people."
"I prefer the people I know. At least, most of them."
Arthur slapped him on the back. "Oh, come. I thought you liked Mithian! At least, now that she's no longer my betrothed. You weren't too fond of her then."
Merlin couldn't help but smile. "Hey, I was right, wasn't I? You did belong with Gwen."
"Oh don't rub it in. It's been years, already." That it had been. Arthur and Guinevere had been married for three whole years.
"And of course I like Mithian," Merlin added. "I just don't fancy traveling such a long ways for a wedding I won't even be invited to."
"Merlin, don't be silly," Arthur chided. "Of course you can come to the wedding! Who else is going to keep my goblet full at the reception?"
"Great," Merlin muttered.
But all things considered, Merlin was actually looking forward to the trip ahead of them. Things had been quiet recently—no assassination attempts, no evil creatures, no mysterious earthquakes or foul plots—just calm. This seemed like a good time to be getting out of Camelot for a bit of a change of pace. Maybe they'd even get through this trip without a near death experience.
Plus, Merlin did like Mithian. If not for Guinevere, he would have considered the princess an excellent match for Arthur. All things said, he was happy she had made a match, as well.
The wedding announcement had come over a month ago, along with an invitation to join in the festive occasion, which Arthur had joyfully accepted. Now it was time to head south and make good on that promise.
"You boys will be careful while you're gone, won't you?"
Both of them turned to face Guinevere, who was looking as stunning as ever in her royal court gown of blue silk. For some reason, Merlin still got a kick out of her dressed as a noble every now and again, even after all these years. The Gwen he remembered wore that soft yellow peasant dress. But the nobility suited her, though she clearly still had the heart of a peasant—to which Arthur liked to whack Merlin alongside the head when he called it that, insisting royals can be just as kind as any peasant.
"Of course, love." Arthur quickly and unashamedly pulled her in for a kiss, making Merlin back up a step and shake his head with a somewhat awkward laugh. He turned instead to pat his horse, who stomped his foot in a display of impatience. Somewhere from a short ways away came a loud, appreciative whistle, and Merlin didn't need to look around to know that was Gwaine.
"Oy! Princess!" the knight called. "Shouldn't you be setting off?"
Arthur very purposefully ignored him and kissed his wife for another long moment before he released her. "You take care of Camelot while I'm gone," he instructed her.
"Of course, love," she mimicked, reaching up and brushing his hair to the side. Then she turned to Merlin as Arthur hurried off for a few last words to the knights. "Take care of him, won't you?" she asked.
"Of course, my lady."
"I'm serious," she said, then looked over to Arthur again, where he stood glowering at something Gwaine had just said. "He always manages to get himself into trouble, somehow."
Merlin put a hand on her arm. "I will take care of him," he said sincerely. "I always do, don't I?"
Gwen hugged him, ignoring the impropriety of a queen hugging a servant, and even kissed his cheek.
"Oy!" Arthur shouted upon his return. "I don't think I like you kissing my servant."
Gwen laughed, and in response simply kissed Arthur again, though briefly this time. "Give Mithian my regards?" she asked. "I wish I could go, too."
"Someone has to stay behind and run the kingdom," Arthur pointed out. "She understands that." He took his horse's reigns in hand. "Leon!" he called, "let's mount up!"
Leon obediently broke from his conversation with Percival and swung into his own saddle, as Merlin did the same. Most of Arthur's inner-circle knights—the ones the people had taken to calling the Knights of the Round Table—were to stay behind and lend their support to Guinevere. Of them, Leon alone would accompany the king, as Arthur's personal guard. There was always a possibility of Camelot becoming a target while her king was away. There were several other knights going as well, of course, but none that would offer Merlin any sort of entertainment, unfortunately.
The three of them, plus their small entourage, rode through the city and out the main gates, marking a course south for Nemeth.
When they at last rode into the gates of Nemeth—Arthur and the rest of the knights all sporting their striking scarlet cloaks with the Pendragon insignia—a horn sounded somewhere overhead to announce their arrival. As a result, Princess Mithian, her father, and several people who Merlin could only assume to be members of the court were at the castle's main doors to greet them. They stood at the top of the main palace steps. The castle's stone was much darker than Camelot's, Merlin noticed. Mithian looked as stunning as Merlin remembered, glittering crown set upon her dark locks.
"Arthur," Mithian greeted pleasantly, descending the last steps as they dismounted. "It is good to see you again." He took her hands in his and kissed her cheek gently in greeting.
"And you. Allow me to offer my congratulations on your tremendous news."
"Thank you," she said. It was horribly formal, in Merlin's opinion. But there was no mistaking the sly warmth there. Neither of them had forgotten that they were once betrothed, but neither of them wished things had turned out differently. They were happy.
Mithian gestured behind her, and a man stepped forward. His hair was dark, like hers, and cropped short. A neatly trimmed beard covered his chin. He was dressed in striking blue and gold.
"May I introduce you to my betrothed, Duke Edgar of Caerleon."
"It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Edgar," he offered his hand, which the man promptly took.
"The pleasure is mine, Your Majesty," Edgar responded immediately, bowing slightly over their joint hands.
Arthur dropped his hand and waved the title aside. "Please, call me Arthur. I get enough of formalities. We are allies, are we not? And soon to be equals."
"You are kind."
Arthur next gestured behind him, and Leon came forward obediently. "May I introduce you to my trusted knight and right-hand man, Sir Leon."
The pleasantries continued for a moment, before Mithian cut them off, finally catching sight of the servant standing back by the horses.
"Merlin!" She cried, quite unexpectedly. She stepped around the nobles and made her way to him.
Merlin, still holding the reigns of the horses, bowed. "Your Highness." The princess actually took the reigns from his hands, waved over a stable hand of her own and passed them off before taking Merlin's elbow and leading him forward none-too-gently.
"Edgar, this is Arthur's manservant, Merlin. Really, Arthur, you don't even introduce him?"
Arthur barked a laugh. "Well, he doesn't have the same impression on most nobility as he appears to have had on you."
"Nonsense." She turned back to Merlin. "It is good to see you again. I trust you've been taking as good a care of Arthur as always?"
"Of course, my lady. He needs looking after."
She smiled broadly. "That he does."
Merlin couldn't help but return the smile. He really did like this woman. He was extraordinarily glad that after everything, they had all remained on good terms. He would have been quite sorry indeed to alienate her. Even if he had wanted her out of his kingdom at the time.
"And what's this? Forgetting to introduce your favorite cousin?"
Another man came down the steps to join them.
"Kinsley!" Mithian called in surprise, yet her face broke into a fond smile. "Well, you were nowhere to be found when the guards called out our guests' arrival. Where exactly did you disappear to?"
"Doing some research into your wedding present," he replied. "I have quite the plans for your gift. Unfortunately, I will need to take leave of our present company for a week or so while I acquire it. I hope they will forgive the slight. It is for a good cause, after all."
"I'm sure I can find no fault in a man leaving for so generous a reason," Arthur replied. "If I hadn't brought my gift with me, I may have even joined you. But as it is, I have come prepared."
Kinsley barked a laugh. "I like him!" he announced, clapping Arthur on the shoulder. Then he held out his own hand. "Duke Kinsley, of Nemeth. I am Mithian's cousin. Welcome to our home. You will dine with us tonight, of course?"
"Kinsley," Mithian responded sternly. "I am sure our guests our tired. They have traveled a long ways."
"Nonsense! They have to eat, don't they? Why not eat in good company?"
"It would be an honor to dine with you this evening," Arthur assured her. "Rest will be just as easily attained afterwards."
"Very well. Issel?" Mithian turned, looking around in puzzlement before a young woman appeared as though out of nowhere.
"Yes, my lady?"
"Issel, would you be so kind as to show our guests to their chambers? Then in an hour, please escort them to the dining hall." She turned to Arthur again. "This is my personal maidservant, Issel. If there is anything you require, please make it known to her. She will take good care of you during your stay."
Two more servants, both male, appeared as well to help carry bags. Merlin stuffed his arms full, then followed in the woman's dainty footsteps.
A pleasant princess, a few extra servants…maybe this would be a nice trip after all. So long as Arthur didn't load him with meaningless chores just for the sake of it, which would really not surprise Merlin at all. That prat.
But, a man could hope, couldn't he?
"The king seems…quite amicable with Her Majesty."
Kinsley frowned in response, stroking his chin thoughtfully as he glanced out his window where Mithian and Edgar were both briefly in view.
"Yes," he answered slowly. "That does pose a bit of a problem."
"So how do we proceed?" the knight demanded. "Our plan was based largely on the anticipated animosity between those two. He did call off their engagement, after all. But it appears our plans are entirely baseless."
"Patience, Leric," Kinsley said calmly, raising a casual hand. "Our plan will proceed. We just need to alter the time frame, slightly." He stared out the window, long after Mithian was out of sight. "She obviously sees the Pendragon as an honorable sort of fellow. We'll just need to show her he's not the man she thinks he is."
"And how do we do that?"
"Gradually," was the automatic response. "The wedding is still three weeks away. That's more than enough time. I am scheduled to leave tomorrow to obtain Mithian's 'gift.' I'll slip Arthur the root tonight at dinner, then we will proceed as planned tomorrow."
There would be war between Camelot and Nemeth. Then Mithian and Edgar would die, Camelot would be blamed, and the Nemeth crown would be his.
A/N: So there you go! The specifics of their plot will become clear in the next chapter or two. As of now, enjoy the sense of sinister foreboding.
Setting this plot with the backdrop of Mithian's wedding was the final tidbit that fell into place for this idea. I couldn't resist. I love Mithian. She was quite tremendous in her brief appearances in the show, and I thought she deserved a happy marriage of her own. Plus, I thought it would be nice to have some fresh blood in my stories and I've never written her before.
In the meantime, check out the poll on my profile page.
See you soon!