Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended, no profit is being made from this.
Notes: Many thanks to anoyo for the beta!
Arthur hadn't noticed it at first. Not until a few weeks after Merlin became his servant, when he was eating supper with his father, did he see the look in Merlin's eyes. Merlin stood against the wall, ready to spring forward to refill an empty goblet when required. Usually, the servants stared straight ahead as they waited on their masters, faces blank. Not Merlin. His attention was directed to the plates of food that covered the table, a longing, hungry expression on his face.
Arthur frowned. Wasn't Gaius feeding him? Merlin was skinny, certainly, but surely he was getting enough to eat.
A few subtle enquiries in the kitchens assured Arthur that plenty of food made its way to the physician's chambers. Arthur finally decided it was simply the amount of food, all spread out at once, that had astounded Merlin. For someone used to a limited, simple diet, the extravagance of the royal table was probably overwhelming.
After a while, Merlin no longer gaped at the meals, becoming accustomed to the variety and largesse. But Arthur sometimes still surprised that look in Merlin's eyes—that longing, hungry gaze.
When autumn arrived, Arthur ordered a large basket of apples brought up to his chambers—ricardons, blaundrelles, and bittersweets—the best of the harvest.
"Take an apple, if you want," he said to Merlin, as Merlin was about to leave after bringing Arthur his breakfast.
Merlin paused and slowly picked up an apple, rubbing his fingers over the smooth surface.
"Have as many as you like," Arthur added.
Merlin never took more than one a day and always hesitated before reaching out to snatch one up.
The wind tugged at Arthur's jacket, gray clouds pressing down onto the barren trees. A crackling in the bushes announced Merlin's arrival as he emerged into the clearing where Arthur stood. Arthur lowered his crossbow. The deer kicked a few times before going still, two of Arthur's arrows sticking out of its neck. The rest of the hunting party caught up a few moments later, and Arthur stood to one side while two of the men dressed the carcass. Merlin shifted his feet, trying to stay warm.
When they returned to Camelot, Arthur ordered some of the fresh venison for his supper that evening. He sniffed appreciatively as soon as Merlin walked in the door holding the dish. Merlin set it down and backed a few paces away.
"Anything else, sire?"
Arthur didn't reply for a moment. Instead, he took a bite, dipping the meat into the sauce, which was spiced with ginger and pepper. A hint of cinnamon gave the venison an extra flavor. He ate a bit more and then looked up at Merlin.
"Sit down," he ordered.
Merlin shuffled his feet.
"Sit down," Arthur repeated, gesturing at the chair across from his own.
Merlin sat awkwardly.
"Try some." Arthur pushed the plate across the table.
"Um," Merlin hesitated.
"Go on. It's not rat."
Merlin cut himself a piece. His eyes closed as he chewed, and he reluctantly laid the fork back down on the plate.
"You can finish it off," Arthur told him.
But the next day, as Merlin made up the fire, Arthur watched that hungry, yearning expression cross Merlin's face again.
As the days became shorter, leaving long hours of cold darkness to fill, Arthur had Gwen show Merlin how to roast fruit over the fire. Truthfully, Gwen did most of the work. She threaded the pieces of dates, figs, and raisins onto a piece of string and wrapped it around a spit. Merlin hovered over her shoulder as she mixed up the batter with its ginger, sugar, saffron, and cloves. Then Gwen carefully poured the batter on the fruit while Merlin turned the spit. They knelt on the rug, talking and laughing quietly with each other, watching as the batter turned crisp and golden.
When it was done, Gwen cut the string into pieces, handing some of them to Merlin and bringing a few over to Arthur as well. Arthur had been sitting at the table, pretending to read.
Merlin popped a few morsels into his mouth before they had cooled properly and uttered a yelp of pain, followed by an approving noise as he tasted the sweet, spicy fruit. "It's wonderful," he told Gwen.
Later, though, when Gwen had left, and Merlin was snuffing out the candles, Arthur heard him sigh heavily and looked over in time to see that wistful look in Merlin's eyes before the last light went out.
The pears had been puréed, sweetened with honey, thickened with egg yolks, and finally sprinkled with cinnamon and ginger. Arthur watched as Merlin swallowed each spoonful, going so far as to run his finger around the bowl when it was empty, catching the last drops.
"You didn't leave any for me," Arthur said.
Merlin flushed guiltily. "But you said I could—"
"No matter," Arthur interrupted him. He bent down, looking into Merlin's startled eyes. "I can still taste it," he whispered and licked his tongue across Merlin's bottom lip before pressing his mouth against Merlin's, gently demanding reciprocation. He could feel Merlin's heart pounding. Finally, Merlin relaxed, letting Arthur savor the sweetness of the honey on his tongue.
Merlin sprawled across Arthur, skin warm, hair sticking up in all directions. Occasionally, he reached out blindly for the plate next to the bed, grabbing one of the pastry coffins filled with quinces, sugar, and ginger that Arthur had ordered sent up from the kitchens.
Arthur had come down Merlin's throat earlier while Merlin kneeled between his legs. He'd held Merlin tightly, making him swallow all of it. Then, after a while, he'd fucked Merlin, listening to Merlin's pleading whimpers. He'd come in Merlin again and reached down to stroke Merlin to his own pleasurable fulfillment.
But now Merlin lay there, fingers sticky, staring up at the ceiling with those longing, hungry eyes. Arthur scowled and pushed Merlin out sooner than he usually did because he didn't understand how to erase that look, how to make Merlin happy.
It all made sense afterwards, of course. Afterwards, when the sunlight faded from the stone walls and the magic shimmered in Merlin's eyes. Yellow flames leaped up on the candles. Merlin hummed, looking pleased.
Arthur reached for his cup of wine, spiced and heated to an aromatic simmer. He felt—resentful. Resentful that this strange force did what he could not.
Merlin's fingers brushed against his neck and then twined in the laces of Arthur's shirt. Arthur ignored him, taking another sip of wine.
"What is it?" Merlin whispered.
"Do you not want to—"
Arthur stood up, cutting him off. He crossed over to the window, leaving Merlin standing alone by the table.
Merlin fiddled with the cuff of his jacket and there—there—Arthur saw the shadow of hurt, of unsatisfied want in his eyes.
"Merlin," he said, and Merlin glanced at him quickly. Arthur held out his hand.
Merlin's long legs took him to Arthur in a few steps. He pressed against Arthur, tucking his head against Arthur's neck. Arthur twisted his fingers in Merlin's hair.
"Thank you," Merlin sighed, his words and breath drifting across Arthur's skin.
Arthur smiled and held Merlin closer, feeling the warm satisfaction roll off Merlin and seep into his own soul.
Note: the different foods are drawn from Fast and Feast: Food in Medieval Society by Bridget Ann Henish