On the first day following a festival to celebrate the midwinter solstice - that in the future will be called Christmas - my true love gave to me…


Merlin woke and stretched with a gigantic yawn before looking out of the window and wondering why it was dawn. It was midwinter and Gaius should have woken him an age ago. This time of year he had to be up and doing his chores hours before the sun finally wrapped its fingers around the grey cloud; and even then it sometimes couldn't push a hole in the soggy overcast sky at all. He lay in bed, drowsy, for a few glorious minutes and then remembered that Arthur had said he was giving him the day off.

"I'm giving you the day off," said Arthur the day before the midwinter feast, "It's a time for celebration and I think my dirty socks can wait."

Merlin had nearly mentioned that Arthur's ripe socks were the one thing in the Kingdom that actually couldn't wait, but had thought better of it.

A day off.

And a clear and bright day by the looks of it.

Not only did he get to sleep in; a wonderful and glorious experience. Not only did he get to ignore all the chores that were, quite frankly, below a sorcerer of his standing. (He'd tried to explain this "above chores" notion to Gaius recently who had responded with a simple but devastating eyebrow. He hadn't mentioned it again.) Not only did he get to skip the horrific Midwinter boar hunt ("It's boaring," he'd declared last year, and not one person had laughed). No, this year he finally got the time to... build a snowman.

Merlin grinned and kicked off his shirts and thin blanket. He took off his grey sleeping shirt and sleeping trousers and put on that brown and grey daywear that nonetheless looked remarkably similar to his nightwear.

He considered the choices with much intensity for a moment and then chose the light blue neckerchief. Alyna, the new kitchen girl, had said it brought out his eyes. Then she'd asked him to remove it to see what it was hiding. He'd complied, though he'd had no clue what she was talking about. She'd seemed somewhat disappointed that it hid nothing. He'd overhead her later refer to him as 'sweet'.

"Women," he shrugged and put on his coat, pushing through the door and tripping down the stairs into the main room. Gaius had gone but had thankfully left him some bread warming a safe distance from the fire. He wrapped it up, tucked it inside his jacket, and ran out into the cold day.

Camelot was full of streets both paved and muddy so the Knights' training ground was the closest area of field that would be snow-covered. Merlin dodged and ducked through the population of Camelot, waving a hello here and there and failing to notice several amused grins. The residents had gotten used to seeing his long, lanky, dark-haired frame smiling next to the Prince. Some wondered what piece of mischief the cheeky young man was up to while Arthur was away.

Merlin was bitterly disappointed when he got to the training ground. Someone had obviously decided that the knights would need training in winter and had shovelled away all of the snow. He pouted briefly, a sight he would have been surprised to learn made many of the local serving girl's blood quicken, and gave some serious consideration as to his next course of action.

As he stood there, two children in snow-flecked jackets ran past him obviously from the direction of the city gates. It was a surprisingly clear day for this time of year and the gates had obviously been opened. This meant that outside would be fields of beautiful white snow.

Merlin grinned and ran off, following a group of children who had obviously had the same idea. A random thought noted that he was the eldest by more than 10 years; a thought he immediately dismissed. It wasn't often he got to forget his destiny for a while. He was going to enjoy it.

He ran through the gates and into the fields beyond. There had been some good snowfall over the past few weeks. Merlin remembered winters from his childhood when the snow would cover the ground inches thick, but Ealdor was further north than Camelot and therefore colder. He'd only had one winter in Camelot and had been bitterly disappointed by the amount of snow deposited. The strong falls this year had only heightened his excitement about having a free day.

He raced the children to a small clearing ringed by dormant fruit trees where half of Camelot's youth were enjoying the clear day. One older boy was coaching his younger sister in how to lob snowballs at an unsuspecting rival; others were doing what Merlin had been looking forward to. Making a snowman.

He quickly grabbed some snow and began piling it into the base. The bottom needed to be large and round, the top the same shape but smaller. Like one of the winter pears that had been served with the pheasant for last night's dinner (or at least the leftovers that he and Gwen had enjoyed in the kitchens afterward). He worked the snow by himself, the other children either ignoring him or intermittently staring at him as though he were crazy. They were sure adults didn't behave like this.

As the morning gave way to midday, Merlin raced over to one of the fruit trees and grabbed a twig for a nose; using two smaller twigs as eyes. In a quick flash of inspiration, he tore his light-blue neckerchief from his brown and grey outfit and tied it round the snowman's neck. He stood back to admire his masterpiece and felt a wave of pride at his creation.

Cocking his head reflectively, he realised that in fact his snowman looked remarkably life-like. He could almost imagine it bobbling around the field chasing the terrified children and...

He couldn't.

No, he really couldn't.

He thought about the horse and the smoke and the consequences of such silliness.

No, he really, really couldn't. Shouldn't.

Magic should be used for great deeds, said a deep, reprimanding voice in his head. He could have sworn it was Gaius.

He really really really really shouldn't.

Merlin, as you can imagine, was a believer in fate; a believer in destiny. It was, he'd realised lately, somewhat of an occupational hazard when your job description included 'actualising a prophecy', right after 'fireplace sweeping' but before 'boot cleaning'.

It was therefore understandable for him to think that fate had spoken when - just as he raised his hand toward the snowman, his eyes flashing gold - a giant boar burst through the trees and ploughed him into the icy figure.

As the pig ran off through the trees, the noble knights of Camelot running gracelessly behind it, Merlin lay on the ground in a pool of snow. He wondered momentarily how these things always seemed to happen to him and then gave himself a brief respite before attending to more important duties. Such as counting his limbs.

To his horror, he suddenly realised that where his hand had touched one of the twigs he had used for the eyes, his already-cast spell was bringing it to life. It slowly swelled and flowered and then formed a perfect pear by his left hand. He grabbed it, bringing it up to his chest and quickly taking a big bite, hoping to devour the evidence before someone noticed it.

As his lips closed around the fruit, the blonde hair and bright blue eyes of Arthur swam into view. Of all the expressions he expected to see – fear, confusion, anger, even concern – he certainly didn't expect the one he got.

"Well," said Arthur, a well-known look of pure amusement on his face as he looked at his brown and grey manservant on the snowy ground with a piece of fruit in his mouth.

"It's dinner."