As Arthur packed his satchel for a relaxing afternoon of hunting, Merlin bustled in the background, tidying up the breakfast tray.
"I'm sorry I can't go with you Arthur. With this measles outbreak, Gaius is run off his feet. He really needs me this afternoon."
With an exaggerated eye roll, Arthur responded "Gods, you'd think I couldn't do a thing without you Merlin."
"We're in agreement then sire!" Merlin teased, his goofy grin appearing and disappearing behind the shirt he was shaking like a terrier with a rat. Merlin ducked as Arthur chucked a pair of dirty grey socks at him, one landing directly on top his man servant's messy hair, the other coming to rest askew on an ample ear.
Arthur grumbled with barely-veiled humour. "Oh yes, I'm sure we are in complete agreement…we can agree that without you stumbling loudly behind me I may even catch something. It's been so long I'd hardly know what to do with a pheasant."
"I can think of a few ideas. Prat…" Merlin mumbled, still smiling.
Arthur retorted with a clap on the shoulder as he passed his friend on the way out, pack slung over his back. "Merlin, Merlin, Merlin. We've got to think of a way to help you build up your solely underdeveloped respect for me. Your prince and master. Perhaps you can hold my jousting target when I get back. Won't that be character building?"
The pout was clear in Merlin's voice "Character building. Excellent."
As Merlin diligently helped Gaius, he was far to busy to have another thought about Arthur as morning passed into afternoon. He was shocked then to see two knights helping a groaning, limping, Arthur into the physician's chambers. With a knight at each elbow Arthur weaved over to the first chair available clutching his left shoulder.
"Arthur! I…" a lecture about the prince's safety was just about to roll off Merlin's tongue when he was abruptly cut off
"Don't even Merlin…"
"Fine." Merlin huffed. He'd save the lecture and deliver it to Arthur once he was banished to bed rest by Gaius, which Merlin was fairly sure would be straight away from the looks of the pale shaky prince. Then he'd be a captive audience.
"And here you claimed that you didn't need me for your little trip to the forest…"
"Stuff it" Arthur bit back. He really wasn't feeling well.
The banter was cut short by Gaius' return. "Good grief! Sire! What happened?"
Looking sheepish, Arthur admit "I was tossed from my horse. I think maybe I'd best just go back to my chambers and lie down a bit…"
"Nonsense" the old doctor huffed, already poking and prodding as he went. Although no one noticed, Merlin winced whenever Arthur did, his eyes following each of Gaius' movements carefully.
After the rather painful go-over Arthur really did want to lie down.
"Nothing too serious Arthur, it looks like a badly sprained ankle, separated shoulder, and some bruised ribs."
"See Merlin" Arthur put on his best tough-soldier face "Nothing."
"Not my exact words sire…" Gaius corrected. "I am going to have to manipulate that shoulder before we put it in a sling. I'm afraid it's going to hurt."
"Just do it." Arthur spoke from between gritted teeth.
"Why don't you let me fix you something for pain first?"
"Maybe you should Arthur…" Merlin added, knowing the prince was too stubborn by half.
"Oh please, this isn't Merlin we're talking about. I'll be fine, let's just do it!"
Merlin grumbled under his breath and rolled his eyes "Of course…bloody fool…" Gaius looked up sharply, his eyes said "Really Merlin, control yourself" but if Arthur had heard his servant's quip, he gave no sign.
"Alright then sire" Gaius motioned for Merlin to steady Arthur from behind. "Here we go..." With no further ado, Gaius' deceivingly strong hands shoved Arthur's shoulder one way and his collar bone the other way. As Gaius expected, Arthur promptly passed out, held in place by Merlin and the doctor.
"Stubborn mule!" At least Merlin didn't have to watch his voice now.
It was early evening judging by the light in the room as Arthur slowly awoke. Looking up at the silks above his bed, his mind cleared and the prince remembered his adventurous day. That certainly explained why his shoulder and ribs were bound, his left arm was in a sling, and a cold slimy poultice clung to his lower leg. At least he hoped that was a poultice.
In the half light Arthur spotted a familiar figure sprawled in the chair. Merlin's stocking feet were up on the bed and his chair was precariously balanced on the back two legs. He was clearly sleeping on the job with his head dropped back, hair sticking up every which way, and snoring comfortably.
Still shaking off the veil of sleep, Arthur blinked a couple more times and then smirked. "Merlin!" he snapped.
With a start that surprised Arthur (even thought he'd been expecting it) Merlin barked out in shock and promptly lost his balance, arms pin-wheeling all the way as he went over backwards with a loud crash. Arthur winced, tightening his shoulders, as he watched the back of Merlin's head miss the night table by a hair.
Both boys cringed identically, Arthur grabbing for his shoulder and Merlin's hand resting on is lower back. "Arthur." Merlin whined "What'd you do that for?"
"Gods Merlin!" Arthur groaned "Those gangly arms and legs are going to be the death of you. I'd thought perhaps you'd grow less clumsy with time, not more so!"
"Yes, well, good to see you too Prince What-are-you-worried-about-Merlin-I-can-hunt-on-my-own." Merlin winced again as he got up.
Without a thought, the two boys launched into a round of their own brand of banter. Anyone watching from outside might have guessed them to be brothers, snipping, teasing, and arguing away.
With considerable effort on both their parts, they managed to get Arthur into a fresh shirt and fed a slice of beef on a bun. As Arthur set-to a large goblet of wine, Merlin began tiding up. "I've got to run Arthur. Will you be alright for a bit?"
"Here we go again…I thought we'd established that I can certainly manage Merlin"
"Yes. That turned out extra well last time didn't it? Ok. I've got to collect some plants for Gaius, preferably before it's pitch dark out." Merlin bustled out the door.
"Do be carefully you great sack of awkward bits!" Arthur called out snidely as Merlin left—each word louder than the one before.
Merlin stuck his head back into the room with a grin and a waggle of his eye brows "I'll try to do better that you did sire. Get some rest."
Arthur spent the next day in bed. It was rather a treat sleeping in until the sun was well up, no training, no disciplining, no paperwork or entreaties from the public. The king dropped by to share lunch with his son and to ensure he stayed put. Gaius was his next visitor and also insisted that Arthur stay in bed for at least another day.
Arthur's assurances that he would indeed stay put were apparently unconvincing.
As he woke blearily the next day, Arthur realized that Gaius was a lot craftier than he looked. It seems that he had slipped Arthur a sleeping draught. He'd been asleep from Gaius' visit until his bladder awoke him near noon the next day.
Gaius arrived shortly thereafter and declared Arthur on the mend. For someone delivering good news, Gaius looked suspiciously ill-at-ease. He had rushed over Arthur's injuries and was just as rushed as he turned to go, he didn't even look the least bit sheepish about drugging the prince!
"Gaius…" Something had been niggling at Arthur's mind.
"Sire?" Gaius hadn't even turned around and spoke with is hand on the door handle.
"Where's Merlin? I didn't see him yesterday…I need a new shirt, some lunch, and this room is a mess" Arthur sounded more than a touch spoiled.
Gaius' shoulders slumped some and he turned to face Arthur. Actually looking the prince in the eyes for the first time since he came in. "I've been wondering the same sire. I sent him for some supplies and he hasn't been back."
Arthur's peevish expression changed almost imperceptibly—but Gaius was perceptive—a touch of concern rising in his features "Since yesterday?"
Gaius nodded his head and added "The day before yesterday actually."
Right. Arthur'd lost track, that had been two days ago.
Gaius' voice drew him back "I am starting to worry." Truth be told, Gaius was well beyond 'starting to worry'.
Gaius couldn't make out the words, but Arthur was grumbling something about his clumsy, idiot, servant actually being more work than not having a servant at all as he began moving as if to rise. Bolts of pain flashed across his face.
"Arthur! Stop right there." Gaius' voice softened "You can get up, carefully, to come over here and eat but you will not be out searching the forest for our Merlin. I was just leaving to go look for him myself."
Arthur carefully worked his way to the edge of the bed then heaved himself onto his feet. To his dismay, that small effort had Arthur woozy and his shoulder was more painful than he'd expected. 'Of course', he told himself 'I really haven't eaten for a couple days.'
After a few iffy steps, made more difficult by the fact that he couldn't balance himself with his arm tied to his side, Arthur realized that he really wouldn't be able to look for Merlin. He'd never get on his horse. He'd broken out in a light sweat and was nauseous by the time he sat heavily at the table
"Eat. You will feel better. Oh, and drink every drop of that water." Arthur eyed the pitcher suspiciously. "It's just water Arthur. This time." Gaius half smiled, although he was obviously distracted.
"Gaius, let me send the knights and some guards." Arthur took a bite of a meat tart and spoke around his food "To look for Merlin." Another bite, "If he's gotten lost, they will be able to cover far more ground than you."
A beat of time slipped by as the two men's thoughts ventured into the same territory…
Gaius broke the silence "But…but, if the boy's hurt sire…" his eyes were forlorn.
In contrast, Arthur's well-schooled features were all business "Then the men will come for you. Straight away."
"Absolutely. Please, send Lancelot in and I'll get them on their way."
"Thank you sire."
Only once Gaius was gone and door closed softly did Arthur let his worry reach his eyes. The prince absent mindedly rubbed his shoulder muttering under his breath "Idiot…"
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