ALE AND HEARTY

In retrospect giving Merlin the night off and telling him to go and enjoy himself had not been one of Arthur's brighter ideas. That much he was prepared to admit. The rest of the debacle was entirely Merlin's fault. Combine Merlin's insane lack of judgement with a barrel of honey ale and it could only end in disaster. His manservant had not so much 'sniffed the barmaid's apron' as inhaled it whole.

"Wake up, Merlin," said Arthur, nudging Merlin where he lay huddled in straw with the toe of one boot.

Merlin's response was a whimper.

Arthur nudged him again, harder. "I don't care if your head hurts. It'll hurt even more when the axeman separates it from your shoulders in punishment for unnatural acts and debasing the heir to the throne."

Merlin moaned again and curled up even tighter into the straw. A whispered plea of 'Oh Spirits, kill me now,' emerged from the pathetic figure, leading Arthur to suppose that memory had returned along with consciousness, and both were causing Merlin considerable distress. Good. Merlin had brought this on them both but so far Arthur had suffered alone.

From behind him Arthur heard a snicker. He whirled around to see the prison guard raise his eyes from where he had been ogling Arthur's arse. No doubt, thought Arthur bitterly, wondering if it really was as hot and tight as Merlin had proclaimed. The guard was insolently checking his mouth now, clearly imaging it stretched around Merlin's cock. Arthur felt his face flush and repressed a shudder.

He arranged his features into his haughtiest glare and ordered, "Food and water for the prisoner, and if I find out he's been in any way mistreated you'll answer to me. And I won't be feeling merciful."

The speculative look disappeared from the guard's face to be replaced by an expression of fear. Better. Arthur nodded once and strode out. The guard scurried to get out of his way. Inside the cell Merlin whimpered again.

Right. That was the easy part. Now he had to deal with his father. Uther had never been what you might call a warm man. His talk on sexual relations had consisted of the advice, "Best keep it in your britches, son, and if a hand proves insufficient at least ensure that you're discreet."

And, oh god, not only had Arthur not kept it in his britches but now Merlin had broadcast – complete with miming actions – a full account of their sexual activities to the entire castle. Arthur was sure he would never be able to look at a marrow again without blushing.

A mixture of lascivious glares and averted eyes marked his journey to the throne room. He saw Gaius in the distance. Who would have thought an old man could move so fast? As befitted a prince, Arthur kept his gaze held high and did not even think about the way Merlin had stuck out his tongue and swirled it round and round an imaginary hole. It was this, followed by the way Merlin had stood on one leg and lifted the other to shoulder height while making lewd pumping gestures, that had at last led Uther to call the guards. At the high table Arthur reflected that pride was not a virtue when it forced you to remain seated and pretend to be oblivious to your lover, manservant, Merlin's follies.

Somehow Arthur was not surprised to find the throne being given a complete scrub down with oils and boiling water. His father glared at him from an ordinary chair. The three council members in attendance had been relegated to benches. They all looked as if they would rather be elsewhere. It was a sentiment Arthur shared. Also on benches, Morgana sat with Gwen. They were both flushed, Morgana with what was obviously excitement and Gwen with mortification. His step-sister had a pen and paper and appeared to be preparing to take notes.

Arthur stood at the door, reminding himself that he had never in his life backed down from a fight. After a deliberate delay, Uther looked up and flexed the index finger of a gloved hand, "Arthur, come!"

The flush which had receded during Arthur's walk to the throne room came back in full force. Morgana giggled and turned it into an unconvincing cough.

"Take a seat, Arthur," said Uther, "Unless, of course, you would prefer the table."

Arther opened his mouth, took in the expression on his father's face and silently sat down.

Uther steepled his hands, staring at the black leather as if it had personally insulted him. "It is obvious you have been under an enchantment. A spell cast by a malevolent sorcerer."

"No."

Arthur licked dry lips. Uther followed the motion with a look of distaste but continued as if he had not been interrupted. "Clearly since you were under the influence of magic you are not responsible for – pause – any questionable actions committed during this period."

So that was how it was to be. Ignore. Reset.

"And Merlin?" asked Arthur, "He must have been under the same magical influence."

Uther glared at him. Arthur glared back.

"Merlin too." Uther said, with obvious reluctance. "However, now that the enchantment has been lifted I expect no further repetition of this behaviour. We will put this unfortunate incident behind us."

Arthur nodded. Morgana giggle-coughed again. Uther spared a moment to glare at his ward before continuing. "There is, however, the matter of public drunkenness. For that your servant must be punished."

"And this would entail?"

Uther smiled with a certain grim satisfaction. "A spell in the stocks should teach him a valuable lesson. I understand he has a particular affinity for vegetables."

Arthur twitched. "Very well. I assure you I shall ensure Merlin's future obedience."

Uther rose, indicating the interview was over. "See that you do. I expect to hear that you have put your mouth to good use and that we need never mention this matter again."