Gregory glanced around the empty courtyard surreptitiously, before bending and scratching an itch at his ankle. The heat, even this early in the morning, was ungodly, and sweat was already beading up on the his neck, rolling under his chain mail and into his boots. The heat also meant a very boring shift. It had been the third sweltering day in a row, and no one was out in the hot sun unless they could avoid it. Gregory himself was looking forward to stripping off the heavy armor and enjoying the relief of cool stone, and cold beer waiting for him in one of the cellars.
He straightened up just in time to catch sight of Prince Arthur storming across the court yard, dragging his ungainly manservant by an arm. The stocks again, Gregory supposed. The idiot spent nearly as much time in the wood restraints as he did out of them. He pulled the key from his belt without being asked and opened the stocks, earning a tight, humorless smile from his Prince.
Merlin scowled and crossed his arms over his chest. "It isn't fair. You said I wouldn't get into trouble for talking back to you!" He hissed quietly, after glancing at Gregory and deciding that it was safe to defy the crown prince in front of him. Gregory glowered at the back of his head.
While the guard did enjoy Arthur's favor, owing to a short stint as his ….companion before Merlin's arrival in Camelot, and still accompanied him on sentry duty, or hunting trips, he was not nearly as lenient with the bumbling peasant as some of Arthur's knights. He thought Merlin was an appalling, uncouth, servant and deserved nothing more than a swift boot out of Camelot's gates…or off it's walls.
Arthur looked around, gaze skimming over Gregory, and the empty square, before answering. "In private Merlin. I told you that I would never punish you for speaking your mind to me, but not in the hall where my father, of all people, can walk up and hear you screeching that I am a… how did you phrase it? An 'inbred jackass'?!"
Merlin scowled harder. "Was only telling the truth...and I didn't screech."
"You called me a country bumpkin! You seriously thought I… I … consorted with sheep!" Merlin's voice rose into an offended screech.
Gregory coughed to hide an ill timed snicker.
"Well what else should I expect?! You're a peasant! You didn't even know how to dress properly before I taught you "
"That doesn't make me stupid!"
"Says the idiot who can't figure out why a manservant should not be screaming at his master in the middle of a bloody hall! And in the middle of the bloody courtyard!" Arthur snarled trying to keep his voice down, shooting the guard a glare when he caught him watching their interaction. Gregory schooled his face into bored indifference.
Merlin sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Let's just get this over with." He turned away from Arthur and walked over to the stocks, slumping his shoulders melodramatically, and flouncing himself down into the worn wood.
Arthur's jaw twitched as he ground his teeth together. "I will speak to you this afternoon. I expect you in my room before the meeting to dress me."
"Are you sure you trust me to dress you properly? I don't know if I'm smart enough to remember which end the breeches go on."
"….Did you just call me a butthead?"
"….maybe." Merlin grinned up at him, sulk temporarily suspended.
Arthur sighed, ruffling Merlin's hair as he leant in to talk quietly to his servant, brushing a thumb discreetly over the spot behind Merlin's overly large ears. "Honestly Merlin. You're a useless servant. You should be glad I was allowed to choose your punishment instead of my father."
Merlin didn't answer him, just stared at the ground, sulking dramaticly as the guard none to gently locked him into the stocks.
"You can have the rest of the day to yourself. I have to talk to the King, and try to convince him not to execute you." Arthur teased. "Behave, or it will be longer than an hour in the stocks." Arthur pitched his voice a little louder, addressing Gregory, and Gregory looked up briefly, marking the sun's position to properly asses the time.
He looked back down just in time to see Arthur place a quick, light kiss to the top of Merlin's head, whispering something too quietly for Gregory to hear, before gently cuffing his errant servant and leaving the courtyard without even a backwards glance, or so much as one word, in his direction.
Gregory scowled and swiped angrily at the bead of sweat dripping into his eye.
Arthur glared at the door, drumming his fingers slowly on the arm of his chair. It was nearly time for him to meet his father and there was still no sign of Merlin to dress him. It had been hours since Merlin was to be let out of the stocks, and yet his errant man servant hadn't shown hide nor hair of himself since this morning.
The cool bath Arthur had ordered drawn for Merlin had become warm, and Arthur felt his own temper rising, until he decided that he would make Merlin watch while he took the bath instead. He had even considered making Merlin draw a new bath for him.
Thank God he didn't actually need help dressing, Arthur mused, or he would be forced to become a nudist. Though honestly, in this weather, that might not be so horrible. It had been so hot that Arthur was forced to suspend training, letting the knights find their own relief from the harsh sun.
"You have exactly 15 seconds Merlin, or I'll toss you in the stocks tomorrow too." Arthur announced to the closed door. He hadn't expected Merlin, his manservant ,to show up, not really, but he had hoped Merlin, his lover, would.
Exactly 13 seconds later a knock came at the door and Arthur rolled his eyes. Then paused. Merlin never knocked. True, sometime he would kick the door when his hands were full, but he never properly knocked.
"Sire?" A serving girl opened the door carefully, keeping her eyes on the floor. "Sire. The King wishes you to join him now."
Arthur sighed. "I'll be right down." He assured the timid girl. She nodded, and was just about to leave when the prince stopped her. "Have you seen Merlin?"
"No sire. Not since this morning."
"If you see him, tell him I require his assistance in the main hall."
No reason Merlin shouldn't suffer as well. He would go to his father's boring meeting, and if Merlin hadn't shown up by then he would personally hunt down his sulking manservant himself.
Merlin swallowed thickly, his mouth painfully dry. Gods, why did it have to be such a blasted hot day?
The sun was high in the clear sky, beating down on his head and hunched back. His hour was over by now. By a long shot. Arthur wouldn't have changed his mind. Not on a day like this.
He had asked the guard for some water several times the first hour, but each request was ignored, or greeted with a snort. Merlin had begun to suspect the guard didn't like him.
It didn't help his thirst that the sun seemed to just get hotter and hotter. Merlin was sure he had smelled roasting poultry as the pigeons pecked in the dust at his feet.
His stomach rolled treacherously at the idea of food and Merlin shifted, gasping in pain as his muscles let him know they weren't happy with being held in the same bent over position for hours, and the lack of water.
He didn't think it was possible, but he was even thirstier than that time Arthur shot the unicorn, turning all the water to sand. He licked his dry, cracked lips hoping for a bit of moisture. He'd even take being pelted with fruit to get some wetness, but no one wanted to be out in this heat, even for the amusement of throwing rotten produce at him.
The guard had finally relented shortly before the change in shifts, holding a flask up to Merlin's mouth. Merlin could still taste the warm, lumpy mud, and hear the guard's laughter. After that Merlin had decided that if he could ever remember the guard's name he was going to turn him into a leech.
He slumped down, not having the strength to stand any longer and stared dazedly at the ground which seemed to shimmer and shake in front of him. With a tired sigh, he braced his shoulders against the hot wood of the stocks, focusing solely on staying up right.
Arthur growled under his breath as he found himself glaring at his door for the second time that day. No Merlin before the meeting. No Merlin during the meeting. And now, nearly sunset and no Merlin after the meeting.
Of course not. Merlin was probably off somewhere in a snit over Arthur putting him in the stocks. As if one hour in the stocks in the morning, then the rest of the day free was the worst thing in the world. Honestly Merlin was so ungrateful!
The boy could do a lot worse in masters. Maybe his father was right and Merlin needed more time in the stocks to teach him some respect for his betters.
But that's what had started this whole mess. Arthur wasn't Merlin's better, not here when they were alone at any rate. He was Merlin's lover. Granted, Merlin's extremely patient and understanding lover, but still, in the bedroom at least they were equals.
Arthur shook his head violently and stood up from his chair. He'd go drag Merlin out of his room by his ear if he needed to. Then he'd yell at him in the hall a bit, bring him back to the room and ravish him until he was too tired to remember why he was sulking. ….Maybe he would even get Merlin to do the ravishing.
At that moment there was a knock at his door. Arthur jumped guiltily.
Okay, that couldn't be Merlin.
Arthur yanked open the door ready to yell at who ever it was that had disturbed his thoughts, but paused when he saw who it was. "Gaius. What can I do for you?"
"Sire, I just wanted to see if you were done with Merlin for the evening, there's a few night blooming flowers I need for a new sleeping drought. I was hoping Merlin would go and fetch them for me."
"What do you mean? isn't he in his room?"
Gaius frowned. "I haven't seen Merlin since he left this morning, Sire, and I've been in the laboratory all day."
Arthur scowled. "Well he isn't here. I haven't seen him since I put him in the stocks this morning. I was about to go hunt him down and drag him back here. I told him I expected him to dress me for the meeting."
"What did Merlin do to get him self thrown in the stocks this time?" Gaius looked faintly disapproving, and Arthur wasn't sure if the look was directed at him or Merlin.
"The idiot threw a hissy fit and screamed at me in the middle of the hall. Right when my father was walking by. The king turned purple! I swear I thought he was going to pull a sword and run Merlin though right there."
Gaius looked concerned. "How long was he in the stocks?"
"Just an hour. I was being generous. I was going to tell my father he'd been punished and let it be done with, but now with this little disappearing act, I think he's earned him self another few hours in the stocks!"
Okay, Arthur decided, the disapproving look was definitely for him.
"Sire, I don't think Merlin would just go off somewhere...he always comes home to clean up after a session in the stocks. And I would have seen him if he came home."
"Well then he must have gone somewhere else to sulk. I swear sometimes I don't know why I put up with him! Completely useless! Can't even show me the respect to show up on time to do his job, after I only gave him an hour in the stocks and the rest of the day off!"
"Sire. Perhaps you're right to be worried."
Arthur opened his mouth to protest, but Gaius silenced him with a raised eyebrow. "I do not think Merlin would just disappear. Maybe something has happened to him."
"I know Merlin is a clumsy idiot, but even he can't get into trouble between your quarters and the courtyard."
Arthur sighed. "Alright, I was going to go search for him anyway, I'm sure I'll find him holed up in some corner licking his wounds, but if he's in trouble I'll rescue him." Arthur's voice was more then a little patronizing.
Gaius did not look insulted. He just bowed his head slightly, hiding a small smile "Thank you Sire. I will keep an eye out for him myself. Good evening."
He turned and left Arthur standing in the door way, a slight frown on his face now.
With a curse, he buckled on his belt and sword, and left to find his wayward Merlin.
Merlin muttered quietly turning his head away as something pressed against his mouth. No. He didn't want any more mud. Things were bad enough as they were.
Why would Arthur leave him here? He hadn't been that mad, had he? Maybe he had. Maybe he wanted Merlin to be left here to die, burning up like a piece of meat left too long on the fire...maybe this was what Arthur wanted to happen.
Oh gods, burning! It was Uther! Uther was roasting him alive!
Ohgodsohgodsohgods! Uther must know! In all the time he'd been in Camelot, he'd only seen be-headings, no one actually burned alive. Uther must have come up with this torture just for him!
"Arthur!" Merlin called out for his lover. Arthur wouldn't let him burn.
He flailed tugging at the stocks with his last ounce of strength, then slumped, all hope fleeing. He was going to was going to die horribly. At this point he couldn't even escape if he wanted to. His magic seemed to dance just out of reach, like trying to catch a mote of dust.
Merlin coughed, the smoke strangling him.
Even when he reached for his magic desperate to save himself, make the stocks spring open, make it rain, make the sun go down, anything, he couldn't. He was helpless and dying.
"Arthur!" Merlin gasped, "Arthur…please!"
Ginavitis looked around hoping to spot someone else nearby. The courtyard had been empty since he had started his shift guarding the stocks.
He nervously swiped at the sweat running down into his eyes, and bent down to try to get Merlin to drink again.
The boy had been like this ever since he'd taken over guard duty from Gregory. Ginavitis tried to get the boy to drink as soon as he saw him, but the boy was totally senseless, muttering to himself, or staring at the ground.
He didn' know what to do. He couldn't l eave guard duty to get someone, but there was clearly something wrong with Arthur's manservant. Anyone could tell the boy had been punished long enough for whatever he'd done. Why hadn't Arthur come to release him yet? Gregory said that the Crown Prince would be down to release Merlin personally.
Ginavitis knelt down holding a flask of water to the boy's mouth. "Come on, son. Just a sip! You need to drink some water! Please just drink a little!" He cajoled. He'd never in all his years of guard duty seen someone this bad. King Uther didn't even treat the prisoners scheduled for execution this way.
Merlin simply turned his head, pursing his lips against the offer of water, and Ginavitis could only watch helplessly as the boy muttered again and started to shiver as if cold, eyes flickering and rolling.
Ginavitis swore and jumped forward as Merlin slumped, grabbing the boy to keep him from strangling himself on the wood as he shook in some kind of fit.
He looked up and could have cried in relief at who he spotted walking past. Leon. One of Arthur's most favored knights.
"LEON! LEON, GODDAMMIT, GET PRINCE ARTHUR!"
Leon took one look at Merlin and bolted towards the castle.
"Hang on son." Ginavitis coaxed Merlin, tightening his grip as the boy slumped bonelessly in the stocks.
Leon raced through the halls at top speed, swearing as he nearly skidded into a serving maid. He'd try Arthur's room, and failing that, he would go to Gaius.
The knight turned a corner and nearly ran smack into Prince Arthur. Behind the prince, Gaius raised an eyebrow.
"SIRE! Arthur, come quickly! It's Merlin!"
Arthur opened his mouth but Leon cut him off, the urgency of the situation overriding his sense of propriety.
"He's in the stocks! He looks like he's dying!"
Without a word, Arthur took off in the direction of the courtyard.
The prince raced to the stocks and bent down next to Merlin's head. His face was red, and hot to the touch, and he appeared to be unconscious. "Merlin?! Merlin answer me! What's wrong with him?!" He snarled turning on Ginavitis, teeth barred like he might rip out the guards throat with them.
"I-I-I I've been trying to give him water since I came on duty an hour ago, Sire but he's been insensible. He's been like this since I came on duty. I do not know how long he's been here, Sire. Gregory told me that you would come to release him yourself." Ginavitis was struggling to hold the limp body up, and Leon took his place.
Gaius arrived only moments after the Prince, quickly shooing Arthur out of the way so he could examine his charge.
Arthur grabbed Ginavitis by the collar and yanked him lower. "Open the stocks NOW!"
Ginavitis fumbled with his keys and quickly got them open, then helped Leon and Arthur lower the boy the the ground.
"We need to get him cooled off, and get some water into him." Gaius ordered, "He's been too long in the sun." The physician lifted an eyelid, then ran a thumb over Merlin's dry, cracked lips. He sent Ginavitis a dark look.
Arthur picked Merlin up gently, like the boy was a delicate maiden who he'd caught in a swoon. He had seen strong knights laid out with heat sickness, and knew the seriousness of the situation. "Where should we take him?"
Gaius frowned in thought for a moment. "The dungeons. They are always the coolest part of the castle."
"Of course." Arthur agreed, then shot Ginavitis a look. "Fetch a maid to get us water and towels."
"But-" Ginavitis looked at the stocks, obviously afraid to leave his position.
"Go! I give you permission to leave your post!" Arthur barked, and Ginavitis nodded, turning to leave.
"No." Gaius called, not looking away from Merlin. "I will need him to tell me what he knows of Merlin's condition. Leon?"
The knight stood at attention. "What can I do?"
"Have water, cool and lukewarm sent to the dungeons, along with cloths, sheets, and a large tub if you can manage it with the stairs." The physician offered Leon a small smile. "Thank you."
Arthur shifted his burden, and stalked off to the dungeons. "And then go find this Gregory" he snarled over his shoulder. "And tell him the crown prince would like to have a word with him."
In the dungeon the servants worked quickly getting to fill a large metal tub with fresh, cool water. They laid out clothes, towels, and sheets, and a mug and pitcher of water for drinking.
Arthur had stripped Merlin down, laying him against the cool stone, and tucked cold, wet rolls of tightly folded cloth under his armpits, and on his groin. He hadn't even questioned Gaius when the physician handed him the unnaturally cold cloths, and decided to ignore the muttering he had been doing beforehand. At least Gaius was being subtle.
The last of the buckets emptied into the large tub, and Gaius, ungently, shooed the growing crowd out of his way. Leon, it seemed, had recruited all of the knights, half of whom were glaring at Gregory, hands twitching towards their weapons, and of course word had gotten out among the servants.
"Lift him into the tub Arthur, gently." The physician commanded.
Four knights stepped forward and helped Arthur carefully lower Merlin into the tub of water. Gaius dipped a cloth into the water and ran it over Merlin's face, trying to cool him off and soothe him.
Arthur knelt next to the tub, taking the cloth from Gaius and continued dipping it into the water then running it over Merlin's face and head.
"Careful sire, we want to cool him off, but not too quickly as to put him into shock, and we mustn't let him slip under the water, lest he drown."
Arthur nodded silently, focusing on Merlin, ignoring everything else, for the moment putting his thoughts of death and punishment for Gregory to the side as he tried to make sure his servant would live to see another day.
Several knights knelt on either side of the tub to help Arthur hold Merlin above the water as they swabbed the boy down. Merlin, for his part, was oblivious.
The dungeon was quiet for several long minutes as the men worked.
With a resounding crash, Morgana and Gwen burst into the dungeons, obviously having heard the castle gossip about what had happened to Merlin.
The small crowd parted for the two formidable women.
"Oh god, Merlin!" Morgana gasped, covering her mouth with a hand at the sight of the sun burnt and unconscious boy. "ARTHUR! How could you leave him in the stocks all day?! What were you thinking?! Or were you thinking at all?!" She demanded punching Arthur in the shoulder.
"Morgana! I did not leave him there all day! He was to be let out after a hour! And I'm trying to help him here," Arthur snapped "if you can do nothing be screech like a harpie, be gone and let us work!"
Gaius interrupted before the two could launch into one of their infamous arguments. "Lady Morgana, Guinevere. I'm glad you're both here. You're both familiar with my laboratory, correct? I need you to fetch me several important things to help Merlin, please." Gaius gave him a short list of things, and the two woman hurried to get them, eager to be able to help Merlin. Morgana aimed one last punch at Arthur's arm before leaving.
Gaius gave Arthur a disapproving look then turned back to Merlin. "I wish you wouldn't antagonize her." He said, and carefully dipped a edge of a cloth into the mug of drinking water, dripping a couple of drops into Merlin's mouth.
Merlin moaned and turned his head away, showing the first signs of life. "Dun wan' no more mud..." he slurred.
Gaius made soothing noises and tried again. "It's water Merlin. Fresh, clean healthy water."
"Mud" Merlin argued, eyes firmly closed.
"No one would give you mud. Come now, drink up. You need water Merlin. Don't make me cross. I can make your medicine taste worse than normal while you're recovering." Gaius threatened.
Merlin made a rude sound, and kept his mouth firmly closed. Arthur turned to look at Greggory, who had gone pale, clutching his flask by his side. "Leon" Arthur said calmly, looking at his knight then back to Greggory.
Leon carefully relinquished his grip on Merlin, and stalked over to the guilty man, snatching his flask from him, and emptying its muddy contents on the floor.
"Put him in the far cell!" Arthur commanded. The knights, and a good deal of the servants stepped forward menacingly, and the prince turned his attention back to Merlin as Leon whacked Greggory over the head with the empty flask. It looked like they had things well in hand.
"Merlin!" Arthur snapped, and merlin muttered, turning slightly toward's the prince's voice. Arthur took the cloth and held it to his servent's lips. " It's water, and you will drink it."
There was a pause, then the dry lips parted tentivly, tongue swiping out to taste the cool water.
Merlin soon was sucking on the cloth, desprete for more.
"Slowly! Slowly Merlin." Gaius cautioned "You don't want to make your self ill."
Arthur handed the cloth back to Gaius and smoothed Merlin's hair back off his forehead, trickling more water over his hot scalp "You are going to be fine Merlin. That's an order. I have far too many duties to be sitting here watching you laze about. Now you recover and get back to work!" Despite the words, his voice held a tone of affection.
Merlin cracked open a eye and blinked up."...Arthur? ...you came back for me?" He whispered hoarsely.
Arthur swallowed thickly, "'Course I did, idiot. How dare you doubt your master. What a terrible, terrible servant, you are."
"Burning." Merlin complained. "Pyre. Arthur." His cries grew frantic. "Arthur! Arthur, please! … burning."
"Shh." Arthur carefully held Merlin's head stil. "Merlin. Listen to me Merlin, you're not burning. You're in a bath." He scooped up a handful of water and poured it over Merlin's neck. "Feel that? A nice, cool bath."
Merlin nodded and smiled woozily at Arthur for a few minutes, then looked around.
"…Arthur?" Merlin murmered sleepily. " 'm naked." His eyes slid closed, then fluttered back open. " ….why'm I naked?"
Arthur opened his mouth, then shut it again. Merlin was already senseless.
Gaius felt Merlin's face, then stuck a hand beneath the water, feeling under his arms and at his groin to gauge his temperture.
Arthur looked Gaius questioningly, but the physician shook his head. "A good sign sire, though it may not seem like it. Bring him to the pallet now, He'll need to be kept cool. Wet cloths, and a bit of fanning should do the trick, but he's out of danger. I dare say he's fairly lucky."
The phycian ruffled Merlin's hair. "He might appreciate some privacy though." One of the servents, who had been steadily creeping closer blushed and sank back.
Arthur finally paid full attention to his surroundings. The crowd had grown even larger, and Gawain was fussing with one of the cloths near Merlin's waist, trying to preserve the boy's modesty.
Arthur rolled his eyes. "Get back to work!" he snapped at the servents, pointing towards the stairs. "And you." He turned on his knights. "Gawain, stay and help Gaius and myself. Leon, you are in charge of the prisoner. I want the full story. The rest of you … feel free to lend him your assitance."
He dismissed them with a wave of his hand, and turned back to Merlin, stroking the wet black hair behind his ear.
Arthur sat next to Merlin's bed in the dungeon, finishing up the last of Merlin's breakfast.
Morgana had personally instructed the servants in moving the bed from one of the guest rooms, down to the dungeons so Merlin could have somewhere comfortable to rest while he recovered. Arthur had no idea how they managed to make it fit, but somehow Morgana had done it.
The sheets were much finer than any laid out for guests and Arthur suspected that they had been scavenged from the king's personal linen closet. The cool, smooth silk did seem to make Merlin feel better though. He just hoped he could convince Uther that the sheets were Gaius' idea.
It had been Gaius' idea to keep Merlin in the cool dungeon. The only alternative being the wine cellar, which was both too public, and far too tempting for a certain ill manservant. Merlin had perked up considerably at the prospect of being surrounded by easily obtainable wine.
The girls had made the dungeon positively homey. Morgana herself sat on a comfy chair on the other side of the bed working on her rarely seen embroidery.
Arthur moved from the chair he was sitting in (much less comfy than Morgana's he noticed) to sit on the edge of the bed. From this vantage point he could easily stroke Merlin's hair. It had been a couple of rough days and Merlin was recovering with the help of lots of water, ointments for his burns, and rest, but Arthur still worried. He'd been so out of it when they found him in the stocks...
"Mmm" Merlin hummed, turning his head into Arthur's hand, then wincing when the prince's fingers brushed against a sunburned cheek. "Ow. Arthur, still here?"
"Idiot." Arthur chuckled, petting Merlin's hair. Even now, Merlin was ocassionaly addled, but Gaius assured them it was only temporary, and it did seem to go away when Merlin was fully awake. "Go back to sleep. I'm still here."
Merlin complied, stretching slowly and then flopping into a new position before falling asleep. Arthur smiled, resting his hand on Merlin's shoulder.
Movement out of the corner of his eye made Arthur spin, going on the defensive, then tripping and flailing wildly before landing on the floor, when he underestimated the slipperiness of silk bedding. Peeking over the top of the bed, he saw his father standing in the doorway, and quickly clambered to his feet.
Uther looked a cross between amused and irritated. "Arthur, I know your mentally afflicted servant is indisposed, but you do have duties to see to."
Arthur made an apologetic mummer, hoping it would be enough to satisfy Uther, without him actually agreeing.
Uther looked unmoved. "I've let you slide on court meetings for now, but the time has come for you to return to work. You can get a new servant if that one is broken."
"Uther." Morgana grit out throwing down her embroidery, looking ready to launch into a lecture.
Uther held up a hand to stop her. "Fine, fine. Arthur can keep his little pet. As long as he returns to showing up on time for meetings, training the knights, and goes on patrol as planned." Uther told both of them firmly, ticking off each grievance on gloved fingers.
"It's still too hot to train." Arthur argued. "And I've been reading the reports!" He waved to the piles of paper scattered over the foot of the bed.
"Go Arthur. I'm ok." Merlin croaked not even opening his eyes. "Really. It's fine, you can both leave. In fact I'll leave. I'll go back to my room with Gaius. I'm totally fine. All better now." He reach out blindly to pat Arthur's leg. Unfortunately he missed, swatting the royal backside instead. He giggled quietly and burrowed back into the pillow. Before Arthur could even recover, he was snoring gently.
Arthur cleared his throat. "See? He's still obviously delirious and Morgana's vowed to nurse him back to health. I can't leave her alone with him!"
Uther pinched the bridge of his nose. "FINE! Arthur you have till the end of the week. Then, no matter the health of your… servant, you will return to your full duties. For now, just show up to the meetings. No more arguments!"
Uther's eyes moved to the hall leading to the other end of the dungeon. "What have you decided to do about the guard? We can not allow such...sloppiness to happen again."
Arthur had petitioned his father to allow him to be in charge of the guard's fate. It had been his manservant after all, and Uther seemed to think it was a good learning experience for the future king.
"It makes Camelot look bad." Uther continued. "Execution of sorcerers is one thing, torturing mentally afflicted idiots is another. Camelot does not tolerate torture."
Both Arthur and Morgana's eyebrows rose simultaneously, making them look like siblings, and had spent too much time with Gaius.
"Don't look at me like that. Have you ever seen me torture anyone? Even a sorcerer? I believe in swift, painless execution, even for the most vile, soulless, evil, wretched-"
"We get it!" Morgana snapped.
"-sorcerers." Uther continued. "I most certainly do not condone the abuse and torture of one of Camelots servants, without order, by one of my own guards." Uther's voice lowered to a dangerous rumble as he spoke and looked from Merlin's dazed, sun burnt, form to the direction of Gregory's cell.
Arthur straightened and nodded. "I'm pleased to hear you say that father. I've had some thoughts on the situation. I believe it's only fair he should be in the same situation as Merlin was in. The stocks. All day. I will, of course not be as cruel and abusive as he was. He will be given plenty of water."
Uther gave Arthur a slight, pleased nod, and looked at Merlin again, his face softening ever so slightly. "A more than fair sentence. See to it. Gaius is waiting outside. I'm sure he would be willing to keep an eye on your servant while you are carrying out Greggory's punishment. I will be on my way. One of us at least, must run this kingdom." Uther turned swiftly and left the dungeon, as silently as he'd appeared.
Arthur blinked and looked over at Morgana. "...was he almost...nice?"
"I believe he was. Maybe he's getting soft in his old age." Morgana smirked slightly and picked her embroidery back up. "Go on. Uther is right, Gaius can watch him, and I'll stay to help him. Gwen should also be along any time now. Make sure Gregory gets what's coming to him. I recommend you give him the stocks with the splinters."
Arthur laughed then knelt on the bed so he could lean over and stroke Merlin's hair. "Merlin? Come on you lazy sod, open your eyes for a moment."
One eye cracked open.
"Both of them." Arthur needled.
Merlin sighed but obeyed, eyes sliding open to half mast.
"Better. I need to go for a little while but Gaius and Morgana will stay with you. Behave. I don't want any reports of you being your normal bratty self, alright?"
Merlin raised a hand and swung at Arthur's head, batting him lightly. "Yea, sure. 'm good. You go be all princely."
Arthur fondly petted Merlin again and straighted up from the bed just as Gaius and Gwen entered.
"Sire. My lady." Gaius bowed politely, as Gwen curtsied.
"Gaius. Guinevere. Morgana. I must take my leave. I have.... things to see to." Arthur's eyes moved to Gregory's cell and his voice turned dark. "Take care of Merlin. I will be back once the garbage has been taken out."
"Of course sire." Gaius' eyebrow was raised by he didn't look very bothered by Arthur's implied violence towards the guard.
"Give 'em hell." Merlin muttered.
Arthur stalked to the far end of the dungeons and ordered the guards standing watch to open the cell. They complied quickly, looking eager for Gregory's punishment.
Gregory himself looked terrified. "Sire! I had no idea you didn't want him in the stocks that long! Really, sire I didn't!"
Arthur lunged forward and slammed the man against the wall so hard his teeth rattled. There went princely composure. "Do not make things worse for your self by lying! I said an hour in the stocks, then the rest of the day off! You were not even three feet away, you heard every bloody word I said to him!"
"If – if he behaved!" Gregory cried.
Arthur growled. " You knew he was to be let out in an hour. And even if somehow I believed you did not, explain the mud, hmm?"
"I-I... sire I didn't..."
"Shut up. Just shut up. Come with me." Arthur yanked Gregory sharply and half dragged him from the cell and out of the dungeon, keeping him far away from Merlin's room.
Outside, out of the cool shade of the dungeons the heat was even more oppressive then before. The packed dirt of the courtyard shimmered slightly.
Despite the heat, Gregory trembled. Prince Arthur was going to execute him. He just knew it.
He'd underestimated how fond the Prince was of his little loud mouth uppity servant. Oh hell, according to the guards not even that, he loved the boy! And now he was going to take his revenge for Gregory hurting him.
He was only trying to show the boy a lesson! Make him realize how good he had it being the servant to the prince! The boy had no respect for his betters and thought he deserved to be treated as an equal. Someone had to teach the whelp a lesson didn't they?!
"I should kill you. I should throw you in the stocks and let you roast in the hot sun until your mangy corpse stinks of rotten meat. But your very generous, kind, and loving King does not approve of torture. You are sentenced to spending the day in the stocks. Unlike your victim, you will be allowed water. When you are let out, you will pack your bags and leave Camelot. If I even see you any where near here, I will run you though with a blunt and rusty sword." Arthur spoke in a low, dangerous tone, leaving no doubt that he would go through with his threat.
Gregory gulped and stepped back, bumping into the stocks. The same stocks he'd locked Merlin in only days before.
Ginivitis, the guard on duty opened the stocks and jerked his head for Gregory to get in. He was glaring. Oh wonderful. Another member of Merlin's following, out for his blood.
Gregory balked and Arthur grabbed him by the back of his neck, forcing him down on the worn wood.
As the stocked closed with a click that sounded like a thunder clap, Gregory winced.
...wait. That was a thunderclap! A second later the sky opened up and poured down water like a bucket has been upturned over his head.
"What the bloody hell?! It was clear a moment ago!" Prince Arthur demanded, scowling up at the sky, now dark with rain clouds. Arthur shook his head already drenched head and laughed. "Well you certainly will be getting plenty of water! Enjoy the rest of your stay in Camelot, Gregory. I have better things to be doing now." The prince turned elegantly, only pausing to mention that the guard should feel free to continue his shift under cover, then returned to the castle.
Arthur strolled back to the castle, taking his time, being sure to make his presence known to avoid Uther's wrath. He'd been surprised by the rain, but didn't mind that much. It was welcome change from the oppressive heat. Maybe a good long thunderstorm would break the heat wave and cool Camelot off.
Now what was he going to do about Merlin? His father was right, he couldn't live in the dungeons with him. Well Merlin was recovering, soon he should be well enough to return to his normal room, especially if the weather turned cool. Soon after that, his normal duties.
Arthur decided he would stay with Merlin until his father's time limit was up, then move Merlin up to his own rooms, and work from there. He normally did his paperwork in his rooms, so he could watch Merlin, and work at the same time. His father couldn't argue that, could he?
Arthur considered going straight to the dungeons, then thought of the lecture, and possible noxious medicines Gaius would give him if he came in soaking wet, and went to his rooms to change first.
After a quick change of clothes, and a quick detour to the kitchens when he smelled baking bread, Arthur jogged down the stairs to the dungeon, only slowing as he came near the bottom. He silently stepped into the room, watching Gaius scold Merlin gently about drinking enough water, while holding Merlin up as Morgana held the mug to his lips.
"Gaius, I can hold my own mug. I'm feeling better, I really am." Merlin insisted when Morgana pulled the mug back. Apparently Merlin had decided to remain awake and lucid for a time.
"Merlin, you can not even sit up on you own power yet. Give your self time to heal, my boy. You are getting stronger, but not if you push your self to hard."
Merlin scowled as Gaius settled him back down, tucking the sheets in around him.
Arthur sauntered over to the bed and crossed his arms. "Merlin, what did I tell you about behaving your self?"
"I am! I'm being perfectly good!" Merlin struggled to sit up again and Arthur tossed his purloined bread to Morgana, slipping behind his manservant to hold him up. It wouldn't do to have Merlin cracking his head open on top of everything else.
"Arguing with your physician is not being good."
Merlin muttered quietly.
"You'll be happy to know it's raining buckets. I think Gregory is in for a very soggy day. Funny how it just came out of nowhere." Arthur mused.
Gaius gave Merlin a stern look but Merlin grinned, leaned back into Arthur, and picked at the peeling skin on his chin.
With a weary sigh, the physician smacked his hand and gave him a warning look. "I will go get you a ointment for that. No more picking."
"But it itches." Merlin wined, but wilted under Gaius' glare.
Morgana stood, quickly followed by Gwen. "We will accompany you Gaius. I believe the boys could use some alone time." She handed Merlin the hunk of bread that he had been eying greedily, and was rewarded with a blinding smile.
Arthur scowled at Morgana, but didn't get into it with her. He could use some time with Merlin, now that he didn't have to use escorting the King's ward as a excuse. He just didn't enjoy her saying it out loud.
When they were alone, Arthur climbed out from behind Merlin, and laid down next to him. "What am I going to do with you, huh? You just can not stay out of trouble, can you? It's like you're under a magic spell to get into whatever kind of trouble that's within 100 miles."
Merlin stiffened, then relaxed and laughed awkwardly. "It's a gift, I guess..." Arthur heard Merlin swallow. "So...is your father going to have me… killed?"
"What?! Why would my father kill you for having the bad luck to run into a power mad idiot?!"
Merlin blanched, and Arthur sighed. The boy had woken up delirious the first time, ranting about being burned alive, and he had to be convinced that Uther wasn't trying to kill him. Gaius had talked him out of more than one nightmare since then, and had even threatened to drag the King himself down to the dungeons to reassure Merlin.
"Sorry. I- it's just-" Merlin stuttered.
"Merlin, for once, you did nothing wrong. Why would my father possibly want to execute you?" Arthur reasoned.
"...uh. Despoiling the prince?" the question was offered with a shaky, lopsided grin.
Arthur swatted Merlin gently. "You're going to be fine. When you're a little stronger we'll move you upstairs and you can finish your recovery in my room while I work."
"...won't your father have something to say about that? The Crown Prince keeping his servant in his room?"
"It's perfectly common for servants to stay in their masters rooms. Never know when you'll need something. Gwen stays in Morgana's room all the time. We just won't mention to father that you're in my bed, and not a pallet in the antechamber."
Merlin sighed, wiggling down into the soft sheets. "I am so going to be executed. I just know it."
"Shut up Merlin, and go to sleep." Arthur murmured, closing his eyes. It'd been a stressful couple days, he could do with a nap himself.
"…. Can we push your bed next to the window? If I'm going to die I'd like a breeze."