A/N: Written because I found it hilarious that in the show, Merlin, a lowly commoner, knows how to ride a horse like the wind, while Arthur, the royal noble, rides like a sack of potatoes. :D
"So what am I doing, again?" Arthur asked as Merlin leant down to pull on his breeches.
"The horse breeders' fair is coming in, today," Merlin's voice came in from the vicinity of his waist. "You are going to be looking through the stock and selecting the best few horses, personally. Two or three, I think, but your father wants you to test all of them to find the best."
Arthur groaned. "Damnit. I hate it. What's wrong with the horses we have now?"
"Nothing," Merlin said. "Just lost a few in that border skirmish with East Anglia, so your father wants to get some new ones."
Arthur sighed. "Damnit."
"You said that, already," Merlin said, lacing up the breeches.
"Well I'm saying it again!" Arthur growled.
"Why do you hate it, so much?" Merlin asked as he held up two shirts for selection.
"Red one," Arthur said. "And I just…don't like it. Just like Morgana doesn't like fancy dresses, you don't like sword practice, I don't like horses."
"Mm-hmm," Merlin said, standing back after pulling on the shirt and nodded in approval.
"Please tell me there's wine left," Arthur begged, as Merlin helped him into the leather riding jacket for the day.
The wine pitcher poured the red blessing into the chalice and the wine floated over. Arthur grabbed it from midair and within moments, had the entire thing down his gullet, only barely gasping when he pulled it away from his lips. "More."
"No," Merlin said, laying some reassuring hands on Arthur's shoulders. "You need to be at least somewhat sober. C'mon, you do know how to ride-"
"Of course I do!"
"You'll be fine," Merlin said, rolling his eyes and leaning forward to give Arthur a reassuring kiss. "I'll be right there. I'll make sure you get through this."
"Can't you just magically tell which ones are best?" Arthur asked.
"Well, yea," Merlin said with a shrug, pulling on his own clothes. "But how are you going to explain it to everyone else?"
Another groan. "Don't worry, you prat."
Arthur growled, and chucked Merlin's breeches at him – hand-me downs from Arthur that Arthur gave him, partially because he loved the idea of Merlin wearing his clothes and mostly because of the wonderful way the leather fit around Merlin's arse.
If Arthur had to put up with all the other wandering eyes that went towards Merlin's arse, even though said arse was his, because of the fine leather, so be it.
"Just take another goblet," Merlin said, the pitcher already floating over.
Arthur resisted the urge to just grab the thing and down the all the contents, and simply held out his chalice, yet again pondering how the wine always hit its target, even when Merlin has his back turned.
He only managed to get in another goblet full of wine after that, before Merlin slapped his hand away with an exasperated but affectionate, "No more," earning him a slight slap on his bum from Arthur for it. Setting the wine down on the table, Merlin pushed Arthur out the door.
It took everything Arthur had to keep from grabbing Merlin and just jumping back into the room again. He was starting to regret giving Merlin his old breeches…
"This one's a real beauty," the main trader, Matthew, said, pulling along the reins of another horse, some dark sorrel. "Named him Segomo, for the god of war."
Arthur sighed, and looked over the horse. His topline was a little flat, and so was his underline. The flat back wouldn't be that great with a saddle, and the flat underline seemed to indicate a little more extra weight than needed, though it seemed more muscle than anything else. He had broad withers, and yet it was matched by an equally strong rump.
"No," Arthur said. "He'd make a good workhorse, but not a battle horse."
Matthew nodded. "I'll bring out the next one in a moment, sire," and pulled her along.
As soon as he left, Merlin turned to him and with a smirk, said, "Would he actually make a good work horse or-"
"Yes," Arthur said, stiffly. "I may not like horses, but I will not shirk my duty for it. He has a flat back and belly, so he has a lot of extra muscle, and the strong withers would support a good harness easily."
Merlin sighed. "Damn you, you're right. I was so looking forward to teasing you on it, too."
"I'm a prince first and foremost, Merlin," Arthur said, as he turned to look over the large pen, looking over the fair.
He and Merlin both laughed as they watched Morgana tear into yet another of Matthew's stable hands for trying to get her a proper side-saddle.
"Poor bloke," Merlin said, laughing, and without a trace of sympathy in the sentiment.
"I would think the fact she's in her breeches and has Gwen tacking up with the normal saddle would be a clue. Even you could tell just from that, which is really saying something."
"Mm-hmm," Merlin said. "Except for the 'even me' part."
"At least you know something about horses."
"Thank you, your highness," Merlin said, sardonically. "But I'm not the one who had to have half a pitcher of wine just to get out here."
"I take that back. What do you know of horses?" Arthur growled, eyeing the line of destriers before him.
"A lot, actually," Merlin said, cocking his head and studying a white horse over in the distant pen. She was young and powerful…not only untrained, but feisty, too. So far, they'd only managed to get the bitless bridle on her – someone had the notion it might help calm her down – and it was rearing and kicking against anything else.
There was already talk of her just being sold for dog meat.
Arthur and Merlin turned back as Matthew came up with a black stallion. The topline was perfectly well curved, a strong underline, and a good, narrow heartgirth. The shoulders were high, withers narrow, and goddamn, the magnificent beast was possibly the most perfect war horse in this fair.
The prince was caught between awed and terrified.
"This one is very pricey, sire," Matthew said. "As you can see, he's in excellent form for a war horse, perfect for battle, and a good tournament and riding horse, as well. A little on the mature side, Taranis is extraordinarily well trained."
"Taranis?" Merlin asked. "The god of thunder?"
Matthew nodded, with a smile. "Would you like to give him a go?"
Arthur nodded, and the horse was tacked up quickly, before Arthur mounted the horse with the grace of a warrior that he was born to and trained with.
He quickly took the horse to the series of test laps, a walk, a trot, a low canter, and a gallop, and the thing passed through each one.
Arthur actually smiled a touch as he came to a halt in front of Merlin and Matthew.
Merlin was studying Arthur's legs with a slightly hungry look that made Arthur flex and stretch his legs in the saddle just for the show of it while Matthew applauded.
"You and Taranis were born for each other, sire!" he said.
Arthur took a deep, fortifying breath, and said, "Thank you."
Merlin got his lust under control – and Arthur noticed that Merlin's breeches were no longer as tight around the crotch area as they were a second ago – and said on behalf of Arthur, "So…how much?"
"Well…as I mentioned, he's purebred, and useful in so many areas of activity which involve horses, from every day riding to tournaments to war to even acting as a light pack horse and he's simultaneously fierce and yet well mannered, and extremely well trained-"
"Get to the point," Arthur said.
Merlin whistled impressively, and Arthur bit back his sigh and said, "I shall take the horse for a few more rounds and discuss it with my father and the horsemaster before making that kind of investment. In the mean time, you might as well attend to my knights."
Matthew complied, and Merlin was nearly laughing as soon as the man was out of ear shot.
"What?" Arthur growled.
"The look on your face! And bloody hell, Arthur, the way you were riding…"
"If you know so much about riding," Arthur said, testily. "Then how about you go mount that unnamed terror over there!" Complete with a flourish towards the fierce white mare that had apparently just kicked away yet another saddle.
With a slight shrug, Merlin said simply, "Okay," and walked towards the mare.
"Bloody idiot," Arthur muttered to himself.
But he walked his horse alongside Merlin to where Matthew was apparently shooing off stable hands from the mare.
The breeder turned to Arthur, and said, "I apologize, sire – I truly believe she's destined for meat sale."
"Can I try?" Merlin said. "I'm good with animals, including horses."
Matthew laughed, and they all turned and watched as she bucked, her hind legs knocking over a rather burly stable hand, the saddle in his hands the only thing preventing broken bones. "If you can get astride her, you can have her for free!"
"Done," Merlin said.
And then the idiot climbed over the fence and right into the mare's pen, just as all the other stable hands left.
Matthew shook his head, clearly believing Merlin was doomed, while Arthur went closer to the fence as Merlin sat on it, pondering the mare.
"I think I can manage," Merlin murmured quietly to Arthur.
Arthur laughed. "Of course you can. You're a bloody warlock."
Merlin sighed. "I can do this without magic, you know. Actually, I'm pretty sure this would be easier without magic."
Arthur smirked, humoring Merlin for now, and leaning down, slightly, said, "If you can ride her by sunset, I will ride you after sunset."
Merlin's eyes widened at Arthur's promise, and looked up, only to see Arthur rolling his eyes, clearly believing it wouldn't happen.
"I hope you still have plenty of oil," was all Merlin said, as he hopped off the fence and towards the horse.
A few people rolled their eyes – Merlin was famously as sympathetic to animals as Morgana, who regularly reached down and picked up mice off the floor when everyone else would be trying to kill it – and turned to their respective tasks, figuring it wouldn't become interesting until Merlin got himself kicked in the head or something equally stupid.
Arthur, for his part, started pacing Taranis through tighter and tighter circles, seeing how well his turning range was, and looked up every now and then to see what Merlin was doing.
The dolt wasn't exactly chasing after the horse – more like…making it a point of getting in the horse's way.
And apparently, he was catching an audience. Several people were standing by the edge of the pen to watch, if they had nothing else to do.
Arthur stopped Taranis and watched, too.
Merlin ran almost sideways, until the mare was backed into one of the pen's walls, again, and eyeing Merlin, before bolting to the other side, around the idiot, who did it again, and again.
But he never actually stepped up to the mare, just stood in front of it, which Arthur found completely idiotic and really, how did he expect to get on the horse if he never went near it?
The mare yet again shied away from the distant Merlin, running in circles around the edge of the pen.
Merlin turned on the spot to always face her. She always kept Merlin in sight, head slightly tilted, as she ran.
Every now and then, the horse would bolt in a completely opposite direction, well away from Merlin, cutting across the pen and to the other side, usually shying away from some unseen scare, before starting up the running again. It sometimes tread closer to Merlin, and Arthur wondered if that was the point.
The next time the horse bolted, that idiot went and placed himself right in that rampaging horse's path.
Arthur was frozen in shock, staring out in confusion and horror as Merlin threw his arms up in a rather ridiculous 'placating' fashion.
As everyone yelled at Merlin to get out of the way, his servant, his sorcerer, his Merlin ignored them all and stood his ground, and Arthur's heartbeat sped up as he yelled, "You idiot! Move!"
The horse ran up to Merlin, and bloody hell, Merlin couldn't possibly sacrifice his life for a horse-
At last moment, the mare shied away from him, and went right around him. Merlin lowered one hand to the side, brushing along the mare's side as it ran past.
The mare just kept running.
She stopped on the other side, and the bystanders were all staring at Merlin like he was crazy (which he was), and Arthur wasn't even trying to pretend he wasn't focusing on Merlin.
The mare started running in circles again, and bolted again. This time, Merlin actually ran to stand in front of it, and she shied away from him, turning nearly around herself to go in another direction complete, before stopping and seemingly staring him, clearly trying to figure out what Merlin was up to.
She wasn't the only one.
Running circles in the opposite direction, her laps were smaller, tighter, and this time, when she ran at Merlin, it was much slower, though she still stayed away from him, even when he stood right in her path.
Which Merlin did four more times, and every single bloody time, Arthur's heart raced and he only barely kept from jumping off Taranis and shoving Merlin out of the way, himself.
Now the mare stopped completely, staring directly at Merlin, who froze in her sight.
Then he began to move. It was slow, but he took careful steps towards her.
"Easy, there," he said, and Arthur realized it was the first time Merlin had spoken to her at all. She took a few steps back, but no more, letting Merlin closer.
Miraculously, the mare let Merlin touch her.
There were gasps from the few bystanders, which drew even more people, as Merlin simply stroked down her neck, his slightly tanned hand contrasting sharply with the mare's white neck, her hairs almost silver between the sweat and the sun.
He switched so one hand was simply stroking her neck while the other one was gently rubbing down her nose, before Merlin eased his way back. She turned her head to follow his movement, and Merlin kept a hand in her line of sight, murmuring something, which made Arthur ride his own horse just a touch closer, straining to listen.
"…won't hurt you, just stay a little still for me, see? I'm keeping it easy, I'm just moving around you, easy there, don't be scared…" and more inane things like that, before Merlin was just making a low 'shh', stretching out the shushing sound almost impossibly, so it sounded like a fine rain on fresh grass, and the mare seemed calmed by it, if the way she relaxed her ears was anything to go by.
Merlin slowly stepped in front of her, again, taking the reins in his hands very slowly, still working to make sure she could always see, before flipping them over her head and draping them across her shoulders.
She shied and whinnied a little, at that, but otherwise remained still, snorting and watching him warily.
The audience was riveted. So was Arthur.
"Just hold, there, m'lady," Merlin said, and only he would refer to a horse as 'lady.' "That's it, girl. I'm going to get on you, now, and I know you'll be scared, but we'll just wait it out together, all right?"
Merlin…was going to get on the…how did he expect to even get a saddle on her?
A moment later, it became apparent that he didn't.
Merlin, in an all too familiar fashion, placed both his hands firmly on her back, and with a nearly impossible leap, drew himself up and over her girth, and onto her back.
Immediately, she reared, betrayed, as Merlin grabbed hold of the reins, but did little to try and control her. One of Matthew's stable hands jumped the pen to try and help, but Merlin, blast that idiot, just waved him off and clung to the mare.
She galloped and sprinted across the pen, as the stable-hand scrambled back out of there, before she actually bucked, clearly trying to get Merlin off of her.
Now this definitely drew an audience, people stopping their activities, watching, and Arthur could see some people clapping and shaking hands, probably making bets on how long it would take for Merlin to be chucked off.
A long time, apparently.
It must've been almost ages Merlin spent on the bucking horse, before the mare, tired from an entire day of struggling against human beings, started to calm down.
And the entire time, Arthur's had his eyes firmly attached solely to Merlin, watching the way his hands moved to keep himself on the horse, watching the way his neck arched to adjust to his weird angle, watching the way his back curved and his legs clenched…
Now he was really starting to regret giving Merlin his old breeches.
Merlin still did nothing, yet didn't look like he was panicking, either.
Arthur wasn't sure how much longer after that, but he did know soon enough, the mare was walking in circles, but Merlin still wasn't doing anything, just leaning forward, still murmuring something apparently meant only for the mare, while rubbing his hand up and down her neck.
Merlin's now-not-so-small audience was captivated, though Arthur could distantly see some disappointed souls that Merlin never fell off.
Arthur turned Taranis, slightly, as Merlin finally grabbed the reins and tugged the mare in a large, gentle circle, pulling once, then letting the rein go slack when she would go in a straight line. Merlin turned her in opposite directions, and she managed it, walking, though she bucked again when he tried to spur her.
That idiot of a manservant didn't seem all that disappointed.
A smug look on his face, Merlin walked the mare over to the gate, where Matthew, drawn by the noise of the audience, was waiting, dumbstruck.
Arthur almost is, too. Merlin's actually riding this nightmare of a mare, bareback. She isn't exactly trained or even fully tame yet, but still… Arthur could barely believe it, himself, and he was watching the whole time. Merlin spent possibly hours with the horse, which Arthur only just now realized, but it was still a damn sight better than should be possible.
"So I get her for free, right? I got astride her," Merlin said, smiling down at the mare below him.
Matthew barely recovered in time and, nodding, said, "Yes…it's a miracle!"
Merlin shook his head, and turned the mare in a gentle circle, until he was only a few feet away from Arthur.
"Do you plan to name her?" Arthur asked, barely keeping himself composed.
"Hm…I'm thinking…" Merlin looked down at her withers thoughtfully, then grinned. "Tempest."
Rolling his eyes, Arthur snorted – "Of course!" – and Merlin patted the mare's neck again, before he glanced around, and leaned in close to Arthur.
"Are you still planning to ride me, tonight?"
There. That right there unraveled Arthur, and he was staring at Merlin as he leaned back.
"For the record," Merlin said, taking up the reins in his hands again. "I fully expect you to ride me tonight as well as I rode her today."
And Arthur's mouth went dry.
It took a few small kicks and pats and even a sharp whistle, but Merlin got the mare – Tempest – moving again, and Arthur cannot get his eyes off of Merlin's legs, and now he really, really regrets giving Merlin his old breeches, as suddenly his own seat is uncomfortable, and almost painful.
Merlin doesn't exactly get her to gallop, but she trots well enough, even when Arthur managed to get Taranis close to her.
Oh, yes…Arthur was definitely going to ride Merlin tonight.
A/N: Sorry if I got any of the terminology wrong. For one thing, it's been years since I've last ridden a horse, and for another, I'm used to the US-Western rising disciplines. I nearly gave Arthur's saddle a horn and a high cantle, not to mention had the horses kept in a corral!
Damnit…now I have rodeo!Merlin plot bunnies…grr…I need a plotbunny gun! *sobs* WHY ARE THERE SO MANY PLOT BUNNIES?! IT'S NOT FAIR!
Erm…please comment and review? (And someone, please adopt the rodeo!Merlin plotbunny before it tries to 'adopt' me?)