"Come on, Arthur. Put your back into it."
The look that Arthur threw Merlin was normally enough to make the fiercest of his knights quake, but the younger boy only responded with a 'quite-pleased-with-himself' grin. Covered in horse muck probably didn't help the look, Arthur mused to himself as he shifted yet another spade of dirt. Perched on the edge of the stable door, Merlin had kept up a running commentary for the entire time that they had been in the stables. Arthur had been convinced that Merlin was slow at his jobs, yet having to do just one of them himself, found himself respecting his servant even more than before.
Merlin was still looking pale, but he was so cheerful that it was almost impossible to tell that only a few hours ago he had been unconscious.
As Arthur once again swung the shovel towards the pile of something that he didn't even want to consider, Merlin glance over his shoulder. Seeing someone enter the stables, he flung himself off the stable door and almost landed on top of Arthur, bringing the prince down with him.
"Merlin, what are – ?"
Lying on a hard stable floor with his servant next to him, Arthur could not remember the last time that he'd felt this confused. What on earth did Merlin think he was playing at? As the two of them lay where they had landed, Arthur could hear footsteps enter the stable. A muffled voice sounded somewhere from above their heads, but when Arthur made to move to hear better, Merlin stopped him with a warning glance.
Eventually, after what felt like a lifetime, Merlin shifted, motioning that it was safe to once again get up. As Arthur attempted to straighten his dirty clothes, Merlin peered out of the stable door, obviously checking that the coast was clear, although from whom, Arthur had no idea.
"Phew, he's gone. That was close. He's going to find me before long…"
"Merlin! Who the hell are you talking about? What just happened?" Arthur demanded angrily. Whilst he had refrained from complaining about mucking out the horses – he had lost the bet, after all – this was going too far. Whether he was acting as the prince or not, no one liked being unceremoniously thrown to the floor.
"Sir Owain," Merlin responded bluntly. Arthur stared at him; Owain was a good, kind man. Out of all of the knights, it was Owain whom he had the most respect for; he was a good fighter, but more importantly, had a good heart. Why Merlin would want to hide from him was beyond Arthur.
Seeing the prince's confused look, Merlin continued.
"If you want to be on the receiving end of one of his lectures, go ahead. He hero-worships you, Arthur, and takes great delight in telling me all of your wonderful skills every time he sees me. He doesn't shut up for about half an hour, so I've taken to avoiding him before someone tells me off being late."
Stepping out of the stable, Merlin held the door for Arthur before carefully bolting it shut behind the prince. For someone who was so clumsy and careless, it surprised Arthur how attentive Merlin actually was to his chores.
"You know something, Merlin? For someone who can forget to eat for three whole days, you do a pretty good job at remembering things like stable doors."
"Is that actual praise?" Merlin responded, casting Arthur another grin. The smile was infectious and Arthur couldn't help but smile back. It was good to know that Merlin was going to be all right and that things would be better for the servants from now on.
If only that blasted rain would stop…
The two boys walked side-by-side to the entrance of the stables and peered out into the rain, preparing to make a break for it. Before they could do so, a figure appeared through the sheets of cascading water, leading a white horse. Arthur glanced at Merlin and was surprised to see a huge grin spreading across his face. Before the prince could say anything, the younger boy had darted out into the rain to greet the figure.
Arthur didn't have long to wait to find out who it was. Leading the horse, Merlin returned, chattering non-stop to a very bemused and wet Gaius.
The old physician pulled up short when he saw that Arthur was in the stables, and bowed stiffly, staring at Arthur's attire. Arthur could tell by the look in his eyes that he was desperate to find out why the prince of Camelot was dressed in old clothes and had nearly every inch of him covered in horse muck. In comparison, Merlin looked remarkably tidy.
"So, did anything interesting happen whilst I was away?" he asked Merlin, not taking his eyes of Arthur.
Both boys looked at each other and smiled. A twinkle sparked from one set of blue eyes to another, giving them identical 'innocent' looks that instantly made Gaius suspicious. Answering in unison, master and servant responded.
"Nope, nothing at all."
So, that's all for that one! There could possibly be a sequel to this as well, with Greg returning to cause more trouble, but you'll have to let me know whether you want me to continue or just leave it here how it is!
Thanks for all those who reviewed!!