Disclaimer:: Merlin (c) BBC
Notes:: Just a twist that's been floating around in my head for a while. Because Merlin always seems so sweet and innocent in the show, I wanted to try a not-so-innocent!Merlin, and a not-so-much-of-a-prat!Arthur. I hope they're still somewhat in character though...this story's all written, with the exception of the last chapter which is almost done, so finishing should be no prob, I promise not to pull another Come What May. :)
The Lancelot bit was inspired by a post in the Do You Ship Merthur thread by Petrelli Heiress. Thanks for that xDD.
Arthur/Merlin: While guarding the village of Ealdor, Prince Arthur finds himself smitten with the town medic, Merlin. Years later, these feelings inevitably resurface when Arthur finds out that the very same Merlin is in Camelot, on trial for being a warlock.
Chapter I: Just Like Magic
The name clung to the cusp of his consciousness. It was the village Arthur and his knights were sent to guard because it was much, much too close to the border of Albion. And now that troops from Mercia were en route to Camelot. Uther couldn't take any chances. He was supposed to guard Ealdor, protect its people...although Arthur knew that his father didn't much care about people. He only cared about the security of his land, the security of his power and his throne. There was a sudden lurch, and Arthur wanted to vomit.
"Hang on, Arthur." Said a distant voice, "We're almost there. We're almost to Ealdor." It was a voice that sounded vaguely familiar. Owaine, or maybe Pallinor, or Lancelot. "Arthur, nod if you can hear my voice."
Arthur nodded, once, the effort sapped him of his strength. He let go, and fell into the darkness that so sweetly crooned his name.
When Arthur woke, he found that he was lying on a bed, albeit an uncomfortable one, there seemed to be no mattress at all, and in a mattress's stead, there were a couple of old dirty sheets, and a straw mat of some sort. Nothing luxurious, his head was situated on a lumpy pillow that had holes in it. The holes looked as if a rat had gnawed its way through. Arthur shuddered. And then he blinked blearily, taking in his surroundings. He felt decidedly lightheaded.
He was in a small room, the rest of its furnishings were just as sparse and dilapidated. There was a man there, with dark hair, who looked to be about Arthur's age, crushing some leaves with his fingers, and then he put the crushed leaves into a wooden bowl. Arthur watched him work for a couple of minutes, and then gave a pointed cough.
The man looked up, he had bright blue eyes. "You're awake." His voice sounded hoarse, tired, as if he hadn't slept. "Your knights will be happy to hear of that. I'll go tell them right away." He cleaned his hands with a damp cloth and hurried towards the door, which creaked dangerously, as if the whole hut was going to fall apart when the door was opened and shut. Arthur stopped him.
"Wait a minute."
The man stopped, looked at him.
"You took care of me." Arthur said, "Am I in Ealdor?"
"I did, and yes, you are." The man paused. "You've been in Ealdor for four days, but this will be the first day that you remember." He looked away briefly, "You're lucky. A couple of hours more, your death would have been certain." Then, he bowed, "If you'll excuse me, sire. I will go at once to inform Sir Lancelot that you are awake."
Arthur struggled to sit up, and after a couple of tries, he succeeded, "I'm coming with you."
The man looked at once disapproving, "You should rest, it took me forever to flush the poison out of your blood. I'd rather you not ruin my handiwork just yet."
A lecture was on the tip of Arthur's tongue, something about how this person obviously did not know how to speak properly to royalty. But even with that, the man did take care of him, and he seemed well. Arthur bit his tongue, "What happened to my knights?"
"We quartered them." At this, the man couldn't quite hide his displeasure, "Granted, our accommodations are meager and it's hard for everyone to be comfortable." He walked back to the bed and set a hand on Arthur's shoulder, "Lie down and do as I tell you. You may be a prince determined to infest our village, but for now, as you are ill, you are my patient."
"You're a physician?" Arthur blinked, in his mind, physicians were weary old men, because Gaius, the court physician was the only doctor he'd ever known. But then, he remembered that the man's retort offensive, "I'm not here because I want to be, my father ordered it so. The army from Mercia is barely two days' ride away. With me here, you won't have anything to worry about."
"Yes, I am. Don't worry, I would not have guessed that about me either." The medic's voice dripped with quiet sarcasm. "Of course you're going to save us, you're a prince. It's what you do." He kept his hand there, until Arthur grudgingly lay down again. "If you'll excuse me."
With that, he headed to the door again, and Arthur did not stop him. The medic made it as far as the door, when he stopped, "Will, what are you doing here? Lancelot is watching me, and he's already suspicious enough of you as it is...there's no need to provoke him." He was blocking the door, but Arthur could make out another shadow. "...How's my mother?"
"Well enough." Will said, "Worried out of her mind for you, obviously. How's the prince?"
Arthur hated the way they said 'prince', as if it was a deadly disease that he was doomed to carry until the end of his days. The man's eyes met his, and then he coughed.
"The Prince is awake, Will." The medic hesitated, "...I suppose you couldn't go fetch Sir Lancelot for me? I'm so tired, all of the sudden."
Merlin. The man's name, and Arthur felt oddly lightheaded just knowing his name.
"Will, save the sentiments for later when I have time for them. Just go get Lancelot." Merlin sighed.
"I will..." Will stepped away from the door, "You'll be able to get some sleep after this? You look like hell."
Merlin closed the door. He wandered aimlessly around the room once, before spotting a chair and sinking heavily down into it, rubbing his temples. Arthur looked at him, "...Merlin." He liked the way the name rolled easily off of his tongue.
"...What did Lancelot do?" Arthur asked, if his knights were up to some mischief, he'd every right to know about it, as prince. "Did he hurt anyone?"
The look Merlin gave him was so scathing that Arthur had to force himself not to wince. "I suppose I can't blame him. He's worried for his prince, and when the situation is dire, they don't think rationally. You nearly died."
Arthur said, "So you've told me. But you haven't told me what he's done."
Merlin was silent, "He took my mother away. He said I couldn't see her until I saved you first. If you had died, I've no doubt Lancelot would have killed her. For these four days, you were my only patient. This spring is destined to be a cold one, sire, and not many villagers can stand one cold after another. Will's been helpful, he's delivering all the potions he can, but my villagers need me. I haven't slept for days, and I--" Merlin shut his mouth, "Why am I telling you?"
"Because I asked, and I"m a prince." Arthur said haughtily, for the first time, the haughtiness was mocking. "Did Lancelot really?"
"I do a lot of things." Merlin said, "Most of which are dishonorable, but I wouldn't lie. Especially since you're a prince."
Arthur opened his mouth, but thought better of it, as Lancelot suddenly stormed into the hut without warning. The door swung dangerously and its hinges creaked. His face smoothed out when he saw Arthur awake. "Arthur! I'd thought you'd never wake up..."
But Arthur just glared at him, and Lancelot faltered.
"Merlin, leave us. Please, I only need a minute." Arthur addressed the medic, who got up from the chair with some difficulty, as if his bones were old before their time. "You have my full permission to go tend to your villagers and go release your mother from wherever Lancelot is keeping her. Which brings up a good question." Back to Lancelot again, the knight was practically quaking, "Lancelot, tell Merlin where you are keeping his mother so he may release her."
"Lancelot, speak up. The poison in my blood has made me a bit deaf."
"I..locked her with the wheat bins. Sir...Gale has the key."
Arthur felt his blood boil. "Merlin, go and ask Sir Gale for the key. If he refuses, tell him that I'll have him publicly hanged along with the rest of the prisoners in the square when we return."
That coaxed a look of gratitude on Merlin's tired face. He bowed quickly, and left the room.
Lancelot took the opportunity to fall to his knees, "Please, Arthur...don't you see? I had to. The physician said you were going to die without proper care, and I and the rest of the knights had nothing but your best interests at heart. We only wanted to make sure you were well cared for."
"So...locking up an innocent peasant woman with the wheat bins was in...my best interests." Arthur raised an eyebrow, "Forgive me if I don't follow, Lancelot. Not to mention you kept her son from caring for innocent, sick people."
"You wield a sword better than any knight that has ever stood before me." Arthur interrupted, before Lancelot could dig himself further into a hole, "For that, I was proud to knight you, and call you brother, and let you fight by my side. Now...I sorely question my logic. Remove yourself from my sight, Lancelot."
The creak of the door warned him of Merlin's return, and Arthur quickly closed his eyes, feigning sleep. But when Merlin slammed down his hand on the table, Arthur gave up his charade, "...What's wrong? Is your mother all right?"
"My mother is fine," Merlin bit his lip, "A bit famished, but she's resting, Sir Lancelot deprived her of food, apparently. Will is with her."
"Merlin...about Lancelot." Arthur sucked in a deep breath, "I didn't know...on the behalf of Camelot's honor I offer you my apologies."
"Of course you didn't know. You were unconscious." Merlin sighed, "Camelot's honor means nothing around here, Ealdor's not even in Albion's official territory. The last time I checked a map, we were part of Mercia. If the armies knew you were here, it'd be nothing short of total war. I wish you hadn't come here. Nothing good will come of it."
Arthur studied the young medic, he'd only known Merlin for a few hours, but he already knew that something was bothering the other man, "...Merlin, what's wrong?"
"Little Rosalie died." Merlin bit out, "Not that it matters to you any...but I promised her she wouldn't. I was a day too late. She's just a little girl, sire. It's not fair, and I could have saved her!" His eyes were dark with anguish, "...Lancelot made me kill her."
"...You mean, I did." Arthur corrected dryly. He was not quite sure why, but his eyes stung, for a little girl he'd never seen. "None of this would have happened if I'd woken up a day earlier."
"I never said that."
"You know, when my knights make a mistake, I'm just as responsible. Even if I was unconscious." Arthur pointed out.
"I suppose this is what they mean by unconditional chivalry." Merlin walked a few steps to his bedside, brushed careless fingers by Arthur's forehead and left a tingling sensation in Arthur's temple. "What difference does it make, who killed her? She's still dead. How are you feeling? Your color's returning to normal."
"I'm..." Arthur felt horrible, actually, but if Merlin was asking after his health, "...a bit dizzy. But fine."
"Do you feel like eating? I could fix you some mush, if you'd like."
Mush. Just the word alone didn't sound very appetizing. But Merlin had dented his dignity, and Lancelot had destroyed the honor of his knights. "If it's not too much trouble." He said finally.
This time, Merlin smiled, it was a faint one, it was only there for a second. "I'll be right back." But Arthur contented himself that he had put the smile there.
Merlin returned with a small bowl. Stirring the gray mixture with a spoon, he offered a small spoonful to Arthur, "We don't quite eat like kings or princes. I hope you will forgive me."
It took Arthur more than a few tries to swallow, it was distinctly bitter. Still, he put on a brave face and said, "It's not so bad."
Merlin didn't look so amused, "You are a bad liar."
"You talk so boldly to a prince." Arthur countered, although he had to wonder if his words had any effect on Merlin at all. "Seriously though, I'll get used to it, yet. You got used to it, didn't you?"
"But I grew up on potato mush, you...grew up on whatever they feed princes in Camelot." Merlin retorted, "There's scarcely a difference, I'm sure."
Arthur was proud of himself for taking the second spoonful without such a noticeable wince. "There isn't." He agreed, willing a cheerful grin to come to his lips, he only succeeded halfway, "See? It gets better already."
Merlin looked skeptical at best.
Merlin stayed with him until nightfall, leaving only once to check on his mother. Arthur was able to learn a few more things about this extraordinary medic. For one thing, he could see that Merlin was still upset about his mother being locked away without food, at Lancelot, and the little girl that had died. But Merlin still cared for Arthur the same, and hatred had not clouded his mind, and vengeance had not swayed his judgment. He fed him the whole bowl of mush. Arthur couldn't safely say the same for himself, if he were put in the same situation.
He was able to learn that Merlin had studied by himself the art of healing, from what books he could scavenge around the area. He had a talent for just knowing what herbs were used for what, and though Arthur was not too keen on any of this stuff...he was pretty sure Gaius would be impressed. He learned that Will was Merlin's childhood friend, and he'd been strong where Merlin had been sickly. Merlin's face shone when he talked about Will.
Arthur felt a prickle of irritation.
"Sire, I think I shall retire to the next room." When Merlin rose to his feet, Arthur decided that he was unsteady, like he was drunk. Merlin fetched a cracked goblet filled with a dark, ominous looking liquid and handed it over. "Before you retire, please drink this."
The tips of Merlin's fingers were like ice, Arthur thought it stung his fingers. "...What is it for?"
"A dreamless sleep." Merlin turned, and then when he looked back at Arthur, it was with a grin. Arthur liked a grinning Merlin, "If you survived the potato mush, drinking that should be no problem for you. Good night, sire."
"Arthur." Arthur corrected, before his mind could function logically again.
Merlin's grin spread, "Good night, Arthur."
Arthur woke when the door creaked. Merlin entered with a bucket of water. "Good morning, sire, I mean...Arthur."
"Good morning, Merlin." Arthur couldn't help but beam, "Did you sleep well?"
"Quite." Merlin set down the bucket, he did look refreshed compared to last night. "Are you still dizzy?"
"...Not so much now." Although Arthur thought about lying so that he could have Merlin still fuss over him. "Why?"
"I suppose word travels fast. All your knights are asking for you." Merlin shrugged, "I'd rather you rest before facing such excitement, but would you mind if I let them in for a little while? Just for a few minutes."
Arthur wasn't really in the mood to see any of his knights after the incident with Lancelot, but he supposed lecturing them before they did anything stupid wasn't going to hurt. "Will you stay here with me?"
Merlin looked surprised, "If you wish me to."
His knights looked very much lost without Lancelot as a proud figurehead. Sir Gale turned pale at the sight of Arthur and everyone else just respectably bowed their heads, "I'm glad you're all right, Arthur. I'm relieved that you've awakened. How are you feeling." It all jumbled together, and Arthur waited until everyone was done murmuring about how glad they were, and then he glanced at Merlin.
"Do I have permission to sit up?"
Looking amused now, Merlin approached the bed, "You do, Arthur. I'll even help you."
Upright, Arthur fixed all of his knights with a glare, "I hope none of you followed in Lancelot's footsteps while I was unconscious." Sir Gale quaked so much that Arthur could have sworn he heard the knight's knees rattle. He gave Sir Gale an especial glance before continuing, "While we are here in Ealdor, I wish to preserve the honor of Camelot. I'm sure the lot of you agree with me." He trailed off in stony silence.
"It's spring." Arthur looked at the medic, "Do the villagers sow seeds in the spring?"
"I think they do, yes." Merlin replied, after a pause, "But Matthew and Will are the ones that direct work in the fields...I don't have anything to do with that."
"...My knights are hard workers when they set their minds to it." Arthur said, "Do you supposed they'd mind extra help? They learn fast, I assure you." They better learn fast, Knights were the sons of nobles, they never worked a day in their lives. After Lancelot, Arthur had a mind to keep them busy.
"Not at all." It took Merlin a moment to recover, "...I'm sure Will would love the help. I'll go tell him right away--"
"Wait, Merlin, and tell Will he will not have any trouble." Arthur fixed his knights with a stern stare, "I'm going to hang you, any one of you who doesn't prove to be remotely helpful."
By the end of two weeks, things in Ealdor had settled into something of a routine. At first, the villagers were not so welcoming of the knights that tried to toil in their midst, but after Merlin explained everything to Will and Matthew, the knights went out to the fields every morning. Arthur supposed that having his knights associate with normal common folk every once in a while was good for them. He himself was allowed out of bed too, by the end of the week, and his time was spent following Merlin around as the medic made calls.
Merlin seemed to have a remedy for everything, snake bites, bug bites, rat bites (that one was very common) warts, a cough, a headache, wheat grass rashes. He treated each patient the best he knew how, and was courteous to every one. He didn't just heal the sick in Ealdor, sometimes, Merlin went to neighboring villages that were more than a half day's walk...on foot. As Merlin had no horse. These excursions took him days (and he functioned without sleep for most of it.) It was at the end of one of these excursions that Arthur realized:
"Yes, Arthur?" Merlin was busy spreading out a couple of blankets and he had a fire going. He also had a small pot of what Arthur had come to grudgingly admit wasn't so bad--potato mush.
"These villagers, they don't ever pay you, do they?"
Merlin looked at him, as if he had just grown horns, "Of course not. Just because people aren't wealthy, doesn't mean that I can let them suffer." With that, the medic stretched out on a blanket, "As a medic, I have a responsibility, you know."
Gaius had said the same thing, on more than one occasion. Arthur was sure that they'd like each other, if they'd met. "My court physician says the same thing." After a moment, he lay down beside Merlin, on the same blanket, but there's a modest space between them.
"All physicians have to feel that way." Merlin looked at him, "Else...I don't quite know how we manage to go on as we do." He sighed, "Actually...it might be a little selfish of me to say this, but I'm glad you're here with me. Sometimes, these visits are...hard to make. This is the first time I've ever made it not being alone."
Arthur felt his own face color unexpectedly, "Well...Mercia's armies are out there. I can't just leave you run around however you like."
"Because you have to be noble."
"No." Arthur purses his lips, "Because I worry about you. You did save my life, it's not like I'm gong to turn down a chance to save yours."
"But you're prince of Camelot." Merlin admonished him, "Who are you, throwing your life away for me?"
"You're a healer of the sick and your people need you." Arthur said, "I don't know how to live with that on my conscience."
It was a flicker of a movement, one so small that Arthur barely noticed it. He only started noticing when Merlin was practically breathing against his lips. His heart almost stilled altogether. "If you weren't born a prince...you would have made a very good medic."
"Thank you." Arthur shifted slightly so that Merlin's head could be pillowed more comfortably on his chest, he pressed his lips to Merlin's temple and kept it there for a long moment, "If you weren't a medic...you would have made a good prince."
"I doubt you would have spoken so quickly if you saw my prowess with the sword." Merlin tipped his head up, and his mouth found Arthur's jaw. The kiss there was feather light. "Which is to say, I have none."
"Well, aren't you glad I came along, then?" Arthur had to force himself to remember how to breathe, as Merlin's mouth worked to the corner of his lips, and stayed there.
"Glad enough to wonder..." Merlin lifted himself up and straddled Arthur's hips with a grin, "...how much trouble a mere medic would get into if he kissed a prince. And not just any prince, the Crown Prince of Camelot."
"Frankly speaking?" Arthur wrapped his arms around Merlin's waist, "A lot." He tried to put on a straight face, but his lips kept twitching in anticipation. "If the said medic doesn't hurry up and make good on his words."
Merlin leaned forward two inches, and Arthur tangled his fingers in dark tresses and moaned. Merlin's lips were like magic, they took Arthur's thoughts to places Arthur never even dreamed of going. Even when he was back in Camelot, with a bunch of fresh noblemen's daughters to inspire him.
"Merlin..." He was dazed on all counts, "You don't know what you do to me."
"I have an inkling." Merlin gazed down happily at him, "Just because I'm a medic doesn't mean I have to be a prude." If anything, the man sounded wholly amused, as he wound his fingers around a strand of Arthur's hair. "Would you rather I was?"
"Then, you've..." Arthur stared.
"Of course I have. Don't be silly."
Arthur felt a hot poker of jealousy thrust deep in his chest. Yes, Merlin seemed to be the toast of Ealdor, he was friendly with everyone. All of the girls were eager to be recipients of his smile. Merlin had a kingdom here, all in his own right. A kingdom where Arthur had no throne, no shrine. In fact, he wasn't blind, he sent his knights out to the field every morning, and then he never let Merlin out of his sight. There were whispers that the prince wanted nothing more than to take their pride and joy away from them. Will, especially. Arthur wondered helplessly if Merlin had ever grinned like this to Will.
"Arthur," Merlin's voice called him back.
"Don't pout, it's unbecoming on you. Even less so for a Prince to be jealous of a mere medic."
Arthur bit his lip, "Merlin." He felt his cheeks color as Merlin's fingers ghosted over heated skin. "Who said I was jealous?"
Merlin only moved to press their mouths together once more, and Arthur only was too happy to let him.
Chapter I End:: 5/06/09