Autumn in Camelot

DISCLAIMER: Not for profit, no copyright infringement intended.

NOTES: This story took on a life on its own when I was doing brief research but I couldn't resist including truffles once I read about the beliefs about them in the Middle Ages. You get brownie points if you recognise the pig herding reference :)
For LJ's "100 Tales" prompt: 027 Autumn

There's a chill in the air and as Merlin sniffs the cool morning breeze, even a hint of snow. Still, he loves this time of year. The grain is harvested, and berries and vine fruits are being dried and stored to preserve them through the long winter months. Apples and damson fruits are piled up in bowls around the castle while for decoration, vases are filled with fir branches or berry laden rowan branches and bowls of many-hued leaves hold acorns and geraniums. Mouth watering dishes of partridge and hare are served with fresh breads, sweetcorn, onions and leeks.

Gwen walks past, smiling gaily, and waves to him. She has a wicker basket tucked over one elbow and is wearing her red cloak that accents her dark hair and eyes. "Morning."

He grins and waves back, still leaning on the broom he was supposed to be sweeping the courtyard with. "Morning."

"I'm going to go and pick mushrooms," Gwen confides as if it is a secret, her eyes shining. "Do you want to come?"

He considers. The courtyard will soon be dirty again despite his efforts, with the coloured leaves being tugged from their branches by the north easterly wind, not to mention the mud on the hooves of the knight's horses as they come and go on their chivalric business. Arthur is out hunting with a visiting noble's son so he won't notice his manservant's absence for hours.

"Why not?" Merlin says cheerfully and discards the besom, jogging over to catch up to the maidservant. They talk easily about items of no importance. When Gwen asks about Arthur's whereabouts Merlin confesses he was forbidden to go on the hunt because of the recent unfortunate incident where he sneezed and scared away all the ducks. Gwen laughs at the image this conjures, not at him, and he joins in.

"And Morgana?" Merlin asks.

Gwen sighs. "She's in a foul temper because her favourite shawl has a hole in it and so she's apparently freezing to death." She shakes her head at her mistress's exaggeration.

"I offered to repair it but I don't have the right thread to patch it exactly. The seamstress has been working on a new shawl but it won't' be ready until tomorrow on account of all the embroidery Morgana insisted on, so she's sulking. Morgana, that is," Gwen adds for clarification, "not the seamstress."


"In bed, where it's warm. Because it's not as if she doesn't have a dozen cloaks she could wear instead," Gwen says, rolling her eyes.

Merlin smiles and reaches out, holding back a spindly tree branch so Gwen can pass. "Aren't you waiting on her?"

"She told me to go out and fetch her something nice," Gwen explains. "I'm hoping I might find a truffle."

Merlin gives a low whistle. "They say they're witch's fare," he says, only half jesting. "Most have been destroyed because of their magical association."

"All the more special," Gwen says.

Does she suspect, Merlin wonders, about Morgana's abilities? He shrugs and steps around a puddle. "Do you even know what one looks like?"

Gwen nods. "I saw one in Gaius's book of plants," she tells him. Obviously she's done her research. "They grow under the ground, nestled in the roots of chestnut, oak, hazel, and beech trees. There's a giant old oak not far from here. I thought it would be a good place to look." She stumbles on a stone and smiles gratefully as Merlin reaches out to steady her. "They say pigs can smell them," she goes on knowledgably.

"Pigs?" Merlin asks, one eyebrow raised. "I don't much fancy herding pigs about the forest."

She giggles at the thought and they walk in good natured silence until they reach the tree. Gwen begins scratching at the dirt with her bare hands. It's a fools errand, Merlin thinks, but a nice gesture. He closes his eyes and stretches out his hand towards the root bolus. He opens his eyes, his pupils golden for a moment, and whispers a magical word of encouragement. As his eyes return to normal a movement shakes the soil near the tree.

Merlin reaches down and brushes away the dirt and comes up holding a black, roughly shaped fungus that looks almost like a piece of coal.

"Found one," he calls.

Gwen's eyes widen and he wonders if he's gone too far.

"Er, I think I have. It was just sort of lying, here." He points, puts on his best look of naivety, the one that causes Arthur to sigh and say, "You're an idiot, Merlin."

Gwen examines the prize carefully. "I think you're right," she says and her joy at his success overwhelms any suspicions she might have had.

They gather some mushrooms too, for their own supper, and walk back, picking blackberries to nibble on. Gwen is talking about looking in Gaius's book again to see how to serve the truffle and Merlin is content to let her ramble. It's been a pleasant excursion and tomorrow the weather will turn colder, so he's enjoying the sunlight while he can.

Oh yes, he loves autumn.