Disclaimer: as much as i might like to, i do not own Merlin-the BBC does!
Many, many thanks to my wonderful beta-MagicByMerlin, for making this readable!
Arthur Pendragon was bored. He had been for weeks now. The constant rain that seemed to be falling on Camelot meant that it was considered to be too dangerous to set foot outside of the castle, resulting in a very frustrated prince pacing his rooms, waiting for his idiot of a servant to turn up.
Finally, Merlin arrived, his arms full of a mixture of clothes and armour, all of which was dumped unceremoniously at the prince's feet.
"Where's my breakfast?" Arthur demanded, not noticing how tired and worn his servant looked.
"Good morning to you, too," Merlin replied grumpily, trying and failing to stifle a yawn.
Just because Arthur was bored, didn't mean that everyone else was. In fact, because the prince was not allowed outside, Merlin had found that his jobs had doubled, as Arthur had began to notice all of the things that were wrong with his room and had decided it was Merlin's job to fix them – which, technically, it was, but that didn't make it any easier.
"Your breakfast is probably sitting in the kitchens waiting for me to collect it, but that's pretty hard when you have your hands full of armour."
"Well then I suggest you go and collect it."
The look that Merlin threw Arthur was enough; words were not needed. He turned on his heel and made to march out of the room, when a sudden idea hit Arthur.
"Wait!" he called after his servant, who paused, one hand already on the door handle.
Before Merlin could ask, Arthur disappeared behind his screen and when he reappeared, had one of his old cloaks with him.
"What are you planning to do with that?" Merlin looked at him in confusion.
The cloak was worn and old and at least two feet too short for the prince. He had plenty of new, clean ones, yet the one that Arthur was putting on was far from the attire that the crown prince of Camelot was expected to wear.
"What does it look like I'm doing with it? I'm wearing it," Arthur said. Merlin simply rolled his eyes in the prince's direction so Arthur decided to elaborate. "I'm coming with you. You seem to never have enough time to do all of your jobs and I'm bored. So, I'm going to be a servant for the day."
Merlin looked at him for one long second, before bursting out laughing.
"You, a servant for the day? There is no way that you're gonna be able to pull that off!"
"You think I can't do it?" Arthur retorted, the competitive side of him coming out.
"I know you can't do it. I bet that you won't be able to make it through the morning, let alone the whole day without someone realising who you are."
"A bet, hey?" Arthur grinned mischievously as he tugged the hood over his blonde hair and let it cast his face into shadows. "You're on. The loser has to muck out the stables."
Merlin shook his head in disbelief. Arthur really was bored.
"C'mon on, then, servant. I still have to fetch the breakfast for the prince or they'll get suspicious."
Pushing the door open, Merlin led the way into the corridor, his grin not leaving his face. He was sure that he had already won this bet. Arthur was too proud to be able to act as a servant all day and be told what to do.
To Merlin's surprise, he found that Arthur didn't actually know his way around the castle very well. Yes, all of the main corridors he could tell you exactly where they went and the quickest way to get there, but to get to the kitchens was a different matter entirely.
He stayed quietly behind Merlin the whole time, only speaking twice to ask if he was sure that they were going in the right direction. When Merlin looked at him, he could just make out an expression of confusion on the prince's shadowed face.
"Have you ever actually been to the kitchens?" he asked eventually, feeling surprised.
He had only been here a short space of time in comparison with Arthur, who had never lived anywhere else. Yet he knew the routes like the back of his hand, and believed that he could do it with his eyes shut if it wasn't his amazing ability to trip over anything that was anywhere near the floor.
"Of course," Arthur replied obstinately. "Although it was a few years ago," he admitted on the end, his voice just loud enough for Merlin to hear him.
At the confession, the real servant started to laugh again, only to be cut off by spectacularly tripping over a suit of armour and landing with an undignified heap at Arthur's feet.
Now it was Arthur's turn to laugh. Pulling Merlin to his feet, he could barely get the words out.
"That…will…teach you…to laugh at…a prince!"
"Prince?" Merlin asked, grinning wickedly. "I don't see any princes around here, only a servant."
Rolling his eyes, Arthur motioned for Merlin to carry on leading the way. The boys were walking down the corridor again, when an ominous sound echoed from behind them.
Spinning round, both of them looked back up the corridor in horror. The suit of armour that had tripped Merlin was slowly beginning to topple, before falling with an immense crash, parts flying everywhere. As they watched in dismay, the helmet began to roll down the corridor, straight towards them.
Taking the lead for the first time since they left the room, Arthur sprinted down the corridor, Merlin hot on his heels. They could hear the armour clattering behind them, causing them only to quicken their pace before they were discovered at the scene of destruction.
In the lead, Arthur didn't notice that the rolling helmet had caught up with them. Neither had Merlin. At least, he hadn't until he felt something collide with his ankles, propelling him forwards straight into Arthur's back. Too surprise to react, Arthur fell as Merlin crashed into him, sending them skidding along in a tangle of limbs.
Merlin was desperately trying to stop them from sliding, knowing exactly where they were heading. Although succeeding in slowing their progress, he wasn't quick enough.
"You've got to be kidding me!!!"
Arthur had seen the obstacle lying ahead, and joined Merlin in the frantic rush. The two of them were so tangled up that their frantic movements did nothing to help, and Merlin braced himself as they reached the end of the corridor.
The two boys were sent sprawling down the set of stone steps, wincing as they landed on each one, but completely unable to stop their descent. Finally, they had reached the bottom, only to be sent straight through a wooden door and ending up in a tangled mass of limbs. It was unidentifiable what belonged to who.
"Well, well, well, you do know how to make a dramatic entrance, don't you, Merlin?" the friendly voice sounded from somewhere above them as the two struggled to find which limbs were theirs and attempted to climb to their feet.
"Hello, Mary," Merlin responded when he finally regained his balance. "That was nothing, you should see what I do on boring days. Then you would be impressed. I don't suppose you still have…"
"Yes, Merlin. It's over by the fire, attempting to keep warm. His highness is going to kill you when you turn up late again, you know that, don't you?"
As Merlin hurried off to find what Arthur presumed to be his breakfast, the prince carefully made sure that the hood was still covering his face. He wasn't going to let Merlin win this bet.
"Hello, dearie," the plump cook continued, gazing kindly at Arthur. "You new around here? I don't recall seeing you in the kitchens before."
Arthur gazed at her in a sort of horror. He knew that as soon as he opened his mouth, the game would be up. He may be able to act like a servant if he tried, but there was no way that he could talk like one…
Luckily for him, he was spared from answering by Merlin's arrival, a tray balanced precariously in his hands.
"You found a new friend, Merlin?" Mary asked, turning her attention to the servant after receiving no answer from Arthur.
"Yep," Merlin replied, grinning cheekily. "He's painfully shy. You should have seen how long it took me just to find out his name. He's new here, and extremely lost."
"So what is his name then?"
Merlin opened his mouth to answer, but was cut off when Arthur shook his head warningly. It wouldn't take them long to put two and two together if Merlin delivered his name as Arthur. No one was as slow as his manservant!
"Art…Ar…Archie!" Merlin declared triumphantly, quite proud of himself for his quick improvisation. Lying wasn't his strong point.
"Well, make sure you keep him out of trouble. Yourself, too. I don't want any requests for rotting vegetables because you've managed to end up in the stocks for being disrespectful again…"
"I never end up in the stocks," Merlin said stubbornly. "At least, it's never my fault that I end up in the stocks. I'm always covering for Arthur. That's what you get for being a servant," he cast Arthur a meaningful glare.
"Well, I'm glad you can still joke about it. What about you, Archie?" she asked kindly, turning back to Arthur. "Are you planning to get a job here in the castle like Merlin, or do you have other plans?"
Arthur dropped his head, hiding the expression on his face. He should have thought about the whole 'talking' thing before making the bet. The grin on Merlin's face seemed to indicate that the servant had considered all possibilities before agreeing to it, obviously hoping to get out of mucking out the stables. Thinking about the bet, Arthur felt like he had been cheated. Merlin had to muck out the stables anyway; maybe he should invent something else for the servant if he lost. Possibly something regarding a certain hat…
Deciding that he would need to react in some way, Arthur slowly nodded his head, trying to make his actions as clumsy as possible. It seemed to be enough for the kind-hearted cook, and she smiled warmly.
"Well, you can't end up worse than Merlin, so you have nothing to fear, my pet. The unfortunate boy ended up as servant to Arthur, crown prince of Camelot. You should see the way he treats the boy! The poor lamb always looks dead on his feet and I'm sure that he nearly fainted last week, he was so exhausted."
"I did NOT," Merlin exclaimed unexpectedly from behind them. "I was bending down to pick something up," at Arthur's furious glance, he added more on the end quickly. "You know that Arthur's not that bad really, Mary. I mean, yeah, I do have to work longer hours than everyone else in the entire castle, plus cope with his stupid hunting and constant need for his armour to be polished, as well as him - OW!"
Merlin broke off suddenly, rubbing his ribs and glaring at Arthur, whose elbow seemed to smoothly slot back into its normal place by his side.
The expression on Arthur's face was nearly enough to make Merlin start laughing again. It was only the stinging of his ribs from its impact with Arthur's extremely pointy elbow that made him bit his lip to control himself.
There was a mixture of annoyance, anger and almost shame upon the prince's face, as if not sure what to make of Mary's accusations. Surely he didn't push Merlin that hard…did he?
"Anyway, lovelies," Mary continued, "his highness will be waiting for his breakfast and Archie needs to find some work. And I need you both out of my kitchen, now."
"Alright, alright," Merlin responded playfully, as if used to being thrown out. "We know when we're not loved, don't we, Archie."
Arthur glared at Merlin, who responded with his usual cheeky grin as the pair of them were ushered unceremoniously back through the door.
As the door shut with a snap behind them, Arthur turned his full glare onto the unfortunate boy next to him.
"Archie?" he asked, sounding extremely indignant. "What kind of name is Archie?"
"A servant's one," Merlin responded, more sharply than he intended. He knew that Arthur wouldn't be able to cope not being the centre of attention and was starting to get annoyed by his attitude. It was only because of his pride that he refused to call the bet off; more was at stake than just mucking out the horses.
Merlin marched off down the corridor, aware that Arthur was running after him. Before he had got very far, the disguised prince grasped his arm and spun him around to face him; nearly ending up wearing his own breakfast in doing so for Merlin still had the tray in his hands.
"I'm sorry. That was really snobbish, wasn't it?"
"Yes!" Merlin told him, but then broke the stance of being annoyed by subjecting Arthur to one of his famous grins. Arthur smiled in return, glad that he hadn't really upset his friend by being a prat.
"Come on," Merlin continued, "you may be pretending to be a servant, but I'm guessing that you're hungry, as the prince didn't have any breakfast?"
Arthur went to deny such a thing, but his stomach had other ideas. Gurgling loudly, he sheepishly grinned and followed Merlin to a small crook in the wall. Although it was small, there was plenty of space for them to sit side by side in comfort whilst Arthur demolished the breakfast.
"'ow id you fin thi pot?" Arthur asked, his mouth bulging with the food that he was trying to eat. Merlin was watching him with a sort of horrified fascination, wondering how on earth someone could even attempt to fit that much in at once.
"What?" he asked, having no idea what Arthur had just attempted to ask him; his mouth was too full to be able to form proper words.
Swallowing awkwardly, Arthur tried again.
"How did you find this spot?"
"Oh, I've known about it for ages. Every servant has their own spot where they can escape for a few precious moments in between duties," Merlin said everything in a very matter of fact way, as if it was no big deal, but Arthur stared at him.
"Is it really that tough? I mean, I know I give you a lot, but does everyone have it that bad?"
"Yeah," Merlin responded, his voice slightly softer than before as he realised where Arthur was going with the conversation. "I think that Gwen has it the easiest; Morgana is such a good mistress. But everyone else spends nearly every waking moment trying to get their jobs done."
Arthur swore under his breath, startling the young warlock next to him. He felt such an idiot, or as Merlin would so fondly put it, a prat. He had no idea that life was hard for everyone else. Sure, he knew that he had it easy compared to the servants, but the way that Merlin so matter-of-fact announced that they barely ever stopped, shocked him. Once this bet was over, he vowed to himself that he was going to make sure that they all were allocated time to themselves, Merlin included.
Merlin was beginning to feel slightly uncomfortable with the silence coming from Arthur as the prince slowly chewed his food, looking lost in thought. Maybe he preferred the arrogant prat; at least he knew how to respond to that side of Arthur.
Standing up, he motioned with his arm to the tray balanced precariously on Arthur's lap, clearly asking if he was done.
Nodding, Arthur distractedly handed Merlin the tray, still deep in thought about how to approach the matter with his father. He climbed awkwardly to his feet, absent-mindedly running a hand through his golden hair, causing the hood to fall down.
Merlin was watching him closely, as if trying to fathom what was going on in the prince's head.
As quickly as Arthur had turned thoughtful, he snapped out of it again. With one sudden movement, he jerked the hood back over his head and attempted to grab the tray from Merlin. Caught unawares, Merlin let go a bit quicker than Arthur had anticipated. Not yet having a solid hold on it, both boys could only watch as the tray slowly tipped, before spilling the remaining contents – albeit not much – onto the floor.
Arthur glanced guilty at Merlin, who simply stood, staring at the food. Gesturing to the mess between them, Arthur asked whether they should clean it up. Merlin, however, slowly shook his head, a deviant smirk slipping onto his face.
"We'll get Greg to do it," he said, the smirk widening. It was somewhat disconcerting to see Merlin obviously plotting; he no longer seemed the innocent servant and friend that Arthur had always taken him for.
"Who's Greg?" Arthur asked cautiously.
"You don't know about Greg? But then again, I don't suppose you would do. Yet I thought that everyone knew Greg!"
"Oh, sorry. Greg is the resident enemy of every single servant. He thinks he's invincible, even though he's got one of the lowest jobs in the whole castle. He cleans floors. That is what he does. To say that he is arrogant doesn't begin to cover it."
Arthur frowned at Merlin. He was usually the type who looked for the good in everyone, even when there was none. The prince knew this from experience; the young servant had certainly brought out the good in him, as Morgana took great delight in telling him whenever the opportunity arose. Yet here he was, planning to make someone do a job that was unpleasant, just because the guy was arrogant?
"Merlin, I don't think I've quite understood you," Arthur started, trying to keep his voice deliberately slow and meaningful, knowing that Merlin would recognise the tone. "You want this Greg to do a job that you are quite capable of doing yourself, especially as I would give you a hand, because he's arrogant?"
Merlin rolled his eyes, clearly understanding Arthur's point, but also knowing that when the prince heard the rest of the story, he wouldn't be so quick to judge.
"No," he stated, his voice flat. "I would love to give him a job that's hard because not only is he an arrogant pig, but also because of the way that he treats the girls. He seems to think that he is undeniably attractive and that every girl should simply fall at his feet. Let's just say that he doesn't take kindly to a refusal and even tries to take by force what has been denied to him. Gwen was in a right state."
Almost immediately, Arthur felt his blood begin to boil. No wonder Merlin was out for revenge. Even the thought of someone trying to hurt sweet, innocent Gwen was enough to make him furious. Especially as it didn't seem that she was the only one.
"Right," he said forcefully, any pretence of being a servant gone as his demeanour took on that of a prince. More to the point, that of a prince with a mission in mind. "If I go and get him in the role of the prince, can we suspend our bet for a while? I want this dealt with now, and I don't want it done officially," at Merlin's nod, Arthur continued, not missing the delighted grin that appeared on his servants face as he realised what his master had in store. "Whilst I'm gone, I need you to spread this lot out, as much as you can. Shouldn't be too hard considering your knack for mess," a sarcastic smirk was shot from master to servant, who responded likewise. Arthur made to walk off, but Merlin grasped his arm, startling the prince. Merlin had never done that before. This whole thing of acting as a servant seemed to be making the real one more comfortable about doing things that he wouldn't have normally risked.
"I've got a better idea," he said with an evil smirk that seemed to chill Arthur slightly.