Obviously Arthur had never intended for this to happen. And it wouldn't have happened, either, if it weren't for Merlin, who always seemed to mess things up. Of course this time was no different, and if Merlin had the capacity to listen to simple instructions Arthur doubted he would have been in this mess to begin with.
All he had asked Merlin to do was fetch him a cool washcloth for his feverish forehead, because Arthur had woken up ill again this morning, for the third day in a row. It irked him to no end having to stay in all day, especially confined to a bed as he was; Arthur looked out his window every day aching to be able to join the others outside, to duel and ride horses and joke around. To have fun. But this fever was not subsiding, so he had to stay out of the bright, hot sunshine if he was to get any better.
So here he was for the third day in a row, stuck in the cool confines of the castle. And Merlin was late with his washcloth.
"If I burn up and die, I'm going to kill him," Arthur muttered as he threw his thin blanket to the side and made to get up, the bed groaning underneath him. "I'll have to just get it myself," he continued grumbling as he got to his feet. Which was rather a mistake, as his head began to throb the moment he was upright.
Perhaps Merlin had been right that he stay in bed, he thought begrudgingly.
But right now he had to get his compress, and he willfully ignored his pounding headache as he rushed down the corridors to Gaius's chambers. Besides, he might find Merlin there anyways, dawdling, and then he'd have a good chance to yell at him. Arthur's headache seemed to lessen slightly at the happy though. He waltzed down the corridor with a smirk as he imagined some choice words for his indolent servant.
To his dismay, Gaius's room was empty. Robbed of his chance to berate Merlin, Arthur stomped around looking for a stupid cloth that he could bring back to his bed. He wanted to continue his lie down as soon as possible; his forehead was burning up and screaming at him for relief.
And then he spotted the small basin of water sitting at the end of a long work table. There were already some cut up pieces of cloth folded neatly beside it, as though waiting for Merlin to fetch them. What an idiot, Arthur thought as he approached the basin. It was all laid out for his taking - Merlin's task could not have been any simpler.
Arthur reached out to test the water; it was cold as ice, and Arthur sprang away from it. He had not expected it to be that cold. But it was perfect. A minute later, he had already soaked one of the cloths and sank down into a wooden chair, holding the cloth against his forehead. He couldn't wait a moment longer, not when his fuzzy head and burning skin made his bed seem miles away.
Ahh, the cool kiss of relief. The cold cloth did the trick, soothing his burning skin with icy comfort. It even cleared his mind from the feverish haze it had been trapped in.
The walk back to his chambers seemed much shorter now that he wasn't suffering through it. He thought he might even join the others in the dining room for dinner later if he continued to feel this good.
"There you are," he said upon spotting Merlin standing next to his bed. "Where the bloody hell have you been?" Arthur demanded. "And why in the name of Circe are you wearing my clothes?"
Merlin looked at him with an incredulous expression. "Your clothes?" he said, straightening out his velvet vest. "I think you've gone a bit loopy since that fever, Arthur. It's left your brain addled, hasn't it?"
Arthur snorted. Not only did he have no idea what Merlin was talking about, he found he slightly cared. "I still have a fever," he said as he strolled to his bed longingly. "No thanks to you." As soon as his hand touched the mattress, however, Merlin swatted it away.
Arthur glared at him. "Enough!" he shouted. "Stop playing your games, Merlin, I've had quite enough for one day, not to mention I'm ill. We can discuss where you were later, and don't think you're getting away with that either. I had to fetch my own cold cloth," he said, holding it up to show Merlin, who was still looking at him as if he had lost his mind.
"Is that any way to talk to your king?" Merlin said, clearly outraged.
Part of him wanted to laugh, but that part was overwhelmed by his aching need to lie down, and therefore his extreme annoyance at the situation. "Will you shut up, Merlin? I said no more jokes today."
"I will not be spoken to like this by a servant!" Merlin exclaimed, his cheeks flushed with indignation.
Arthur's temper was building to irreversible levels, but before he could open his mouth to tell Merlin to shut up or else, Merlin turned his face toward the door and yelled, "Guards!"
Percival and Elyan rushed in immediately.
Arthur sighed in frustration. At least here was some help he could rely on. "Will you two get this clown out of my face before I send him to the stocks?" He indicated to Merlin. "He's getting on my last nerve."
Instead of bowing their heads in agreement like he expected, their faces became as equally shocked as Merlin's.
Arthur's fever had cut his patience in half, and he was had reached his last nerve. "What is going on with everyone today?" he demanded. "Are you all deaf? When I say something, I expect it to be heard and my command obeyed immediately."
He lifted his finger in an accusatory manner, opened his mouth to yell a bit more, but all that came out was a yelp as he found himself unceremoniously lifted up and flipped over so that his face was pressing into the mattress and his feet hung to the floor.
Arthur was in such shock, all he could do was lie there with his mouth open.
"I told you not to mouth off," Merlin was saying behind him, and Arthur craned his head to have a look. "But since you are terrible at listening, it seems, maybe words won't get through to you. Maybe you need a bit of a harsher… punishment."
Arthur struggled against his assaulters, and he was fairly strong bloke himself, but the combined muscle of Percival and Elyan proved too much. They continued to pin him face-down on the bed by both arms, his stomach crushed against the edge. There was no way he was escaping their grasps.
Shouting and kicking did nothing but irritate them more, and they used their legs to pin his down against the edge of the bed.
"Let me go! You will regret this! I am your king, you will obey me!"
But Arthur's demands went unheeded.
It wasn't until he felt cool fingers against his trousers that he stopped, shock still.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"Giving you what you deserve," came Merlin's voice, stern and confident, unlike Arthur had ever heard him before. "A sound caning should teach you some manners."
Arthur struggled anew, kicking and thrashing against his captors, but it was just as fruitless as before. They roughly pulled his trousers down around his calves, binding his legs together effectively enough that Percival and Elyan released them, and focused their strength on keeping his arms pinned
A swishing sound from behind him - the tell-tale hiss of a cane whipping through the air - sent Arthur's blood racing. Merlin whipped it around a few times, and Arthur cringed, waiting, resigned to his fate.
The first strike came down hard against both cheeks, in the middle of this arse.
"That's only the first," Merlin said, a distinct sound of pleasure in his voice. "And what a lovely pink mark it left."
The second strike… the third strike… the fourth… all came down with equal fervor. Arthur was screaming into his mattress and blanket, drool escaping his open mouth and pooling in the fabric around him. The strikes kept coming until Arthur lost count and he was a moaning, crying mess.
He rubbed his face against the blanket to get rid of his tears. His arse felt like it was on fire - literally, like his skin had caught fire. He was epically annoyed that it would look like he was crying. Which he was not! His eyes were just watering from the sting of the cane, that's all.
And what was going on anyways? Why was Merlin convinced that he was in charge, and why weren't his faithful knights stopping him? How could they hold Arthur down like this, taking Merlin's orders as if he were king and Arthur were the servant?
Apparently he wasn't going to find out any time soon because nobody was answering any of his questions. After his caning, Arthur had been put straight to work as though he had been doing Merlin's job for years. Everyone seemed to think that was how the world had always been. When Arthur insisted that he was the king of Camelot, his former knights even laughed at him!
"I don't think Merlin's going to be amused by this act for much longer," Gwaine said. "You'd better start to behave soon. Now go on and shine that armour nicely, and don't miss any spots!"
Gwaine left him alone in the Armory surrounded by a fleet's worth of sullied and smudged iron chest plates and helmets. Arthur would be damned if he were going to shine anything but Merlin's arse before the end of the day. He unconsciously rubbed his own behind, which still smarted from this morning's treatment.
He tiptoed out of the Armory, careful not to attract the attention of the guards who were now all working against him, and ran as quietly as he could down the hall. By the time he reached Gaius's quarters, he was a bit winded.
"I need your help," he said immediately upon entering the room. Only then did he lift his head to see who was in there. And sadly, Gaius was not alone.
Merlin gazed at him sternly.
"What is it, Arthur?" Gaius said impatiently, which was not how Arthur was used to being spoken to by the old apothecary. "I'm having a conversation with the king at the moment."
Arthur groaned. "Not you as well!"
At Gaius's puzzled expression, Merlin explained, "He has been acting very strange all day. Insists he's king and that I'm his servant. Can't do a thing to convince him otherwise, I think he's concussed."
Gaius then looked at Arthur with an expression of pity one might give a helpless child. "Have you hit your head anywhere this morning?" he asked slowly. "Feeling out of sorts, hm?"
"I'm not concussed, you imbeciles!" Arthur snapped, ignoring their shocked and affronted looks. "What the hell is happening to this place today? If I didn't know any better, I'd say this was some sort of Dark Magic!"
The moment the words came out of his mouth, he knew they were true. There was no other explanation for every single person in this castle operating under the same delusion. Arthur would bet his life that Morgana had enchanted the place, and this was yet another one of her attempts to dethrone him and steal Camelot for herself.
"Listen," he said, now intent on warning them, "you have to snap out of it. It's Morgana! She's got you all cursed!"
But Gaius continued to stare at him with that pitying look.
"I'm telling you," Arthur insisted, now feeling the tightness of panic in his chest. "I'm only trying to warn you!"
"No good intention goes unpunished," Gaius said, and Arthur frowned, because it was a very odd thing to say.
Merlin scoffed. "He's just being insolent as usual. If he doesn't want to listen to reason, then he will just have to do his work for the rest of the day in chains."
And that's how Arthur found himself with wearing wrist and ankle cuffs, connected by short hobbling chains. His insides raged with red hot anger as he was poked and prodded into obeying every order Merlin spat at him from then on.
Go fetch my underwear from the wash.
Go get me an apple, cut into exactly eight pieces.
Go shine my favorite boots.
Go fix my bathwater with the soapy bubbles.
Half the time he was performing his duties, he was looking around expecting Morgana to pop out from behind a door frame cackling, convinced she was going to turn up any moment to gloat about her curse. By the time dinner came around, Arthur was exhausted.
"Come here," Merlin said, pointing at a spot on the floor beside his chair. "And don't spill any of it," he warned Arthur, who was carrying a tray of red wine
It was hard to hold steady and walk across the floor with these short chains between his wrists and ankles. They clunked every time he moved, scraped against the stones, and Arthur blushed with humiliation. He was forced to serve dinner to his own knights and his own servant. Needless to say, he was not used to this kind of treatment, and every laugh and taunt in his direction made his blood boil.
His thoughts had distracted him, and sure enough, the wine in the goblet splashed about and droplets sprayed the stones.
"I told you," Merlin said, "not to spill a single drop of that wine, didn't I?"
Arthur glared at him.
"You will answer your king with respect!" Percival hollered, brandishing his sword in Arthur's face.
Arthur swallowed against his rage and then forced himself to whisper, "Yes, sir."
"And what have you gone and done?" Merlin needled him.
"That's right, you spilled."
Arthur had the burning desire to wipe the smirk off Merlin's stupid face. And knock the crown off his head because it certainly didn't belong there.
"Lick it up."
Arthur's mouth dropped. He couldn't have heard that right; his anger was clearly messing with his hearing and making him imagine terrible things.
"I said," Merlin repeated slowly. "Lick. That. Up." He pointed to the spot where the wine had spilled.
"You're joking," Arthur said under his breath.
But apparently Merlin was far from joking. "I will not tell you again." His voice was low, dangerous. His eyes were piercing. Arthur had never seen Merlin like this before. Then Merlin sighed and spoke to his knights. "He's not listening, boys. You know what to do."
Moments later, Arthur was being forced on all fours by a pair of knights, while another two aimed their swords at him. Someone's fist gripped his hair tightly, pulling them at the root, and forcing his face close to the floor.
"Lick it up!" Merlin demanded again.
Merlin threw the goblet down, and it clanged on the stone and spilled the remainder of the wine. The red liquid formed a fragrant puddle under Arthur's nose.
Arthur held very still, determined not to let Merlin win. He wasn't going to lick the floor like a dog, he was the king of Camelot, whether this lot remembered that or not!
Merlin walked closer until his boots came into Arthur's vision. "Fine, if you won't do it willingly, then I'll make you." With that, he pressed the sole of his boot against Arthur's head, forcing his face into the wet floor.
The knights laughed as Arthur turned his head, his nose and lips and chin stained red, trying to breathe.
Merlin kept his foot there, pressing Arthur's cheek into the floor. He leaned over Arthur's body and snapped his fingers. Arthur felt them dragging his trousers off, exposing his arse to the cool air of the dining room.
Where Merlin had gotten a crop, Arthur had no idea. But he definitely used a crop to swot his arse over and over as he continued to step on Arthur's face and force him to remain in the puddle of spilt wine.
Arthur didn't think his humiliation could get any worse. He was chained, covered in wine, and arse-up on the floor, being spanked in punishment by his former servant. And what was worse, Arthur still felt his had a touch of fever. In fact, it was coming back… with every stinging swot of the crop, his head pounded in chorus. He felt the hot, sticky burn of fever creeping over him…
When he awoke next, he was assaulted by sunlight. With a hiss, he threw his arms up over his face to shield his eyes. Where was he? It felt like a bed. A soft, cool bed. Oh, it was his own bed, he realized. But who had brought him here?
He looked around and saw Merlin and Gaius staring at him with wide eyes.
"Sir? Sir?" Merlin was saying. "Are you all right?"
Gaius was waving his hand at the boy. "Step away, Merlin, and give him some room. You're suffocating him!"
Merlin's face was rather close, and Arthur could feel his breath on his cheek. Thankfully, Merlin stepped off. "I just wanted to make sure he was alive."
"Of course he's alive," Gaius said, shooing Merlin away from the bed. He turned to Arthur. "Nothing to worry about, your highness, it's only a spike in the fever. But we've gotten you some helpful herbs that have calmed down the inflammation, and you're looking better than you have in days."
Arthur blinked. "I'm… whot?" he asked thickly. His voice felt like it hadn't been used in ages.
"We'll leave you alone now, sire. Go back to sleep, you need all the rest you can get."
Arthur nodded, his eyes drooping. He was confused, but his confusion seemed to melt away by the second, until only a feeling of faint uneasiness remained; the kind that lingered after a nightmare. By the time he shut his eyes again, a relaxed smile on his lips, he had happily forgotten entirely what he'd been worried about.
Gaius closed the king's curtain and turned to Merlin, his eyes sharp. "You are one lucky boy, Merlin! We should be thankful the king didn't take anything worse from my stores! He could have picked up any number of things from my room."
"It's not my fault," Merlin insisted, holding his hands up in a gesture of mock-innocence.
"You left him alone for far too long and he wandered off. Who's fault would you say that is, then?"
Merlin rolled his eyes. "Nothing happened to him, he just had a bad dream."
"Bad dream?" Gaius waved his finger in Merlin's face. "He had a whole cloth of essence of toad against his face, breathing in the fumes and letting it soak into his skin! You now what essence of toad does to the body, don't you? I've taught you better than that."
"It gives you highly realistic and intense delusions," Merlin chanted mechanically, repeating the definition of essence of toad from memory. He rolled his eyes. "Just because that great git didn't mind his own business and went snooping around your room -"
"Looking for a damp cloth, which you should have brought to him."
"I was going to," Merlin said with a shrug. "I was just waiting for his tea to be ready until I could bring them both up at once. He just had to be patient."
"Good intentions…" Gaius said with a disapproving tisk.
"...never go unpunished," Merlin finished for him, again in that mechanical, learned tone. It was something Gaius said a lot. "I wonder what he dreamed about…" he mused as he followed Gaius back to their chambers.