The next morning, he tracks down Gwen early. It's not hard - she's in the same spot practically every day before the rooster crows, heading up to Morgana's chambers with a load of brightly colored dresses folded neatly in her arms. Merlin trots down the corridor, hair dishevelled from waking up speedily, intent on intercepting her before she disappears into her Lady's chambers for most of the morning. After a good fifteen minutes of weaving in and out of other servants with a litany of muttered greetings and apologies trailing in his wake, he finally manages to catch up to her.
"Gwen!" he shouts unabashedly, waving his arms around a particularly inconveniently-placed column to get her attention. "Gwen! Over here!"
At the familiar voice, she turns her head, grinning ruefully at his undignified appearance. He has the sense to look at least a bit flushed - with his hair sticking up at all angles, a bit of dirt from his visit to the dragon trailing down his neck, hopping up and down in the castle before most of the noblemen were even awake. "Good morning," he says sheepishly, watching her amused eyebrow approach him.
"Good morning, Merlin," she replies, hiding a laugh in her greeting. "How are you today?"
"Pretty good," he says, pushing thoughts of Morgana's fear-filled eyes and projections of Gaius's face filled with rage and scorn forcefully from his mind. "Yeah. Good. Uh, d'you need help with those?" he asks, waving an arm vaguely at her basket.
Gwen looks at him askance, still biting down amusement. "Not really," she replies frankly, but hands him a load anyway. "But thank you, Merlin."
They set off side-by-side down the corridors of the castle, ducking with smooth motions under servants hefting heaping plates of food for their Lords and sidestepping the Head of the Armory carting an armful of burnished plates of armor and sword sheaths so tall it towers over the bulbous crown of his head. Merlin and Gwen have to walk for about five minutes before passing the purple-curtained windows that marked the corridor leading to Morgana's room.
As they pass beneath the lavender-tinged light of dawn filtering in, Gwen heaves a long-suffering sigh and pulls to a halt. Instantly, Merlin stops fidgeting, suddenly aware that he'd been tapping his fingers against the cloth loud enough to silence the roosters outside and deafen the birds in the sky. "Um..." he says uncomfortably.
"Um what?" she replies, laughter flickering in her gaze.
"You stopped," he points out.
"True," she concedes with a gracious nod. "But you haven't stopped your agitating since we started walking, Merlin."
"So," she grins, with the air of an instructor teaching the alphabet to a particularly slow student. Merlin gets the distinct feeling he's being made fun of. "Something's bothering you. You offered to help me with the laundry."
"I just wanted to help."
"You hate doing laundry," Gwen reminds him easily. "Your stick arms are just too skinny to lug anything around for any extended period of time, Merlin, you'd do anything to get out of it."
"Hey!" Merlin yelps, thankful for the relative desertion of this particular corridor, save the sunlight coming in through the windows, merrily glinting off the floor as if to poke fun at him, too. "I'm plenty strong!"
"Of course," she nods placatingly. "Now, come on, what is it you've got on your mind?"
Merlin fidgets for several more moments under Gwen's perceptive stare, shifting his load from arm to arm. Finally, Gwen collects his load and stacks it back in her basket, waiting patiently for him to work up the courage to ask. "I need a meeting with Morgana," he says in a rush, looking at his boots. He knows this looks immodest, but really, he has to speak with her. Even if some harm comes to his reputation.
"Merlin?" Gwen asks, expression flashing from confusion to alarm. She sets the basket down on the windowsill with a solid thunk. "Is everything all right?"
Trust Gwen to sidestep the obvious romantic explanation and go straight for the truth at the heart of the matter. "It's fine," he lies hurriedly. "I just need to speak with her. Could I take over serving her dinner tonight? You'll have to help Arthur, and I'm sorry about that, since he can be such an arse, but I wouldn't ask you unless it was really urgent -"
"Merlin," Gwen interrupts, stepping toward him. "I'll do it gladly. And I know you won't explain, so I won't even ask, but I just need to know - is anyone in danger? Is someone threatening Morgana?"
"Not everything I'm involved in is dangerous," Merlin protests weakly, trying to sidestep the question, but Gwen levels him with a thoroughly unimpressed glare until he relents. "It's...complicated," he hedges, before running a defeated hand through his hair, unable to meet her soft, concerned eyes. "She's in danger, yes, but it's not anything new. I mean, nothing that came up recently. She's been in danger for a while."
"Then why talk now?"
"I just thought...I should talk to her about it."
"What is it about?"
"I can't say, Gwen," he says reluctantly.
Gwen looks like she wants to say something more, but doesn't. A smile appears on her face, washing away the fear that had marred it mere seconds before, and she gracefully collects Morgana's laundry. "Then I am sure she is grateful to have a friend such as you," Gwen replies, jerking her head toward the door, so that when she steps out of the frame of the window he moves with her. "I will let her know of the change of assignments. Is there anything else you'd like me to say?"
"Uh," Merlin replies, rubbing a hand over his face as he thinks. There's nothing really he could preface this conversation with to make it any more believable. "No, I think I've got to say everything in person. Thanks though, Gwen."
"Not a problem," she replies sincerely, and shoots him one last anxious smile before disappearing through the doors to Morgana's chambers.