It wasn't like him to leave his belongings around willy-nilly, "Where have you put it, Merlin?" Arthur threatened after tearing his room apart; he knew he'd left it around her somewhere.
"Me?" Merlin replied innocently, "I haven't done anything with it, you're projecting, sire, for something you lost."
"I didn't lose it. You did!"
"I've not touched it, sire," Merlin stated, polishing one of the helmets that adorned the surfaces in Arthur's quarters.
"Gwen said she saw you shifting around this morning," Arthur narrowed his eyes at his servant. He had to get to training; he couldn't be dealing with this now.
"Well if Gwen said it must be true," Merlin rolled his eyes comically, smirking. Of course Arthur would trust the maid over him; it was coded into his genetic make-up to think only the best of her and the worst of him, even when it wasn't his fault.
"She's a damn sight more trust worthy than you."
"I didn't do it!" Merlin threw his polishing cloth down onto the side and crossed his arms defensively across his chest.
"Well who did then?"
"Flying Pig?" Merlin answered, hoping that Arthur wouldn't kill him too badly for taking it. Though it already seemed like Arthur was out for his cold hard sweat…
"Get it back, Merlin."
"You have to find it," Merlin replied sheepishly, looking to the floor.
"It's part of the game."
"The treasure hunt."
"The treasure hunt? You gave my sword to the treasure hunt?"
"No, sire," Arthur narrowed his eyes at him, "you did."
"You need to be more selective about your non-committal grunting, Arthur" Gwen said as she bundled his bed sheets into her laundry basket.
As it had turned out, Merlin had asked Arthur early one morning when the Prince had still been in bed after a late night sneaking down to the lower town to visit Guinevere. He had taken Arthur disgruntled moaning at being woken as an affirmative statement and had hi-jacked the weapon there and then, "And I suppose you agreed?"
"Of course not. I told him to use his own 'treasures'."
"Of course you did," Arthur said as he rubbed his hand over his face and pinched the bridge of his nose. When he looked up he saw Gwen looking around the room, her brow furrowed, "What's wrong?"
"Did I leave my hair clasp here?" She asked, knowing it was probably a stupid idea; she'd not been in the room for more than changing his bed linens and bringing him the occasional meal when Merlin was busy helping Gaius. Though some nights she'd stayed longer than others it just depended on how busy they were in the castle, or how reluctant Arthur was for her to leave.
"Why would you leave it here?"
"I don't know; I just haven't seen it."
"The weave one my father made for me."
"I've not seen it," he shrugged, and then a small, smug smirk plastered itself to his face, "maybe Merlin stole it for his little game."
Gwen closed her eyes and started to count to ten. Her lips tightened in annoyance before she smiled lightly, "Of course he did."
Merlin pinned a note to the door of the Great Hall in the castle. He needed the people who had given, and those who hadn't, to see the announcement in order to attract the crowds. Word of mouth worked well in the town, tell one child and it would spread like wild fire to the next three and so on.
The nobles however weren't quite so quick on the uptake.
Dear Citizens of Camelot,
The children of Camelot thank you for your generosity, for your treasure and your time. The hunt will commence at sun up tomorrow.
"Merlin!" Arthur shouted on reading it, not expecting his manservant to be three steps behind him at the given moment.
Arthur jumped slightly at the sound of his overly happy tone, "What have you done?"
"It was tradition back in my village," Merlin shrugged, "I thought perhaps we could do the same?"
"By stealing? I could have you put in the stocks for this."
"But as it's for the good of the children you'll let it go, just this once?" Merlin asked hopefully, a charming grin growing on his face with Arthur pointedly ignored.
"Once, Merlin? This is the tenth time you've avoided rotten fruit this month," the servant could sense he was relatively close to being thrown into the dungeons for no other reason than annoying Arthur at the wrong time, but that didn't stop the cheeky smile on his face from spreading.
"It's for the children?" Merlin tried meekly, smiling innocently.
"Give me back my sword, Merlin."
Arthur clenched his jaw, "Why not?"
"I forgot where I put it," he cringed slightly before he ducked the swipe of Arthur's arm. The Prince shouted his name again as he ran away.
Flocks of children were running ahead of the Prince and the King's ward, along with her maid. Arthur had been grumbling for the last thirty minutes after they walked after the children in attempt to find the treasure, "This is ridiculous."
"But look at them, Arthur, they look happy," Morgana laughed as one of the children raced in front of her, and apologised for cutting her off before carrying on, on her happy way towards the next clue and the next treasure.
"Yes, but if an enemy attacks, what use will I be without my sword?" Arthur kicked a small stone that got in the way of his boot as he walked, hefting a sigh as the jovial kids surrounding him let out another shriek of happiness as they played along the way.
"There are plenty of other weapons, including swords, in Camelot," Morgana rolled her eyes at him and lifted her skirts to step across a muddy puddle they came across, "Stop being such a drama prince."
"He doesn't even remember where he's put it," Arthur huffed.
"So follow the clues and you'll find it."
"This is pointless."
"Its fun for the children, lighten up."
"What did he steal from you?" Arthur scowled at her.
"Nothing. I gave him some of my bigger items of jewellery?"
"And you trust the people of the forest to leave them be?" he asked incredulously, he knew how much her stupid jewellery meant to her. She was so materialistic sometimes it disappointed him.
"There are guards and knights of Camelot posted by each item. Never fear, Arthur, your precious sword is safe," the only thought that passed through Arthur's mind, then, was how the hell did Merlin managed to rope in the men in red without his noticing.
The crowds of children led the way around the coursed, a chorus of "Over here!" sounded whenever they spotted the knight who heralded the next clue. As the more noble people of Camelot continued around the kingdom, item after treasured item was returned, and they began to peel off. Morgana had had several of her items returned and Leon his cloak – which he had apparently left unattended for a moment too long whilst his wife decided on an item to give to Merlin.
Gwen's hair piece and Arthur's beloved sword were yet to make an appearance, much to Arthur's displeasure.
"A rose amongst the thorns, a blade forged in stone is where you'll find your final home," the knight said, revealed the final clue to the hordes of children that surrounded him.
"What the hell does that mean?"
"That's what you have to figure out, Arthur," Morgana chastised, thinking about the clue herself.
"Final home, obviously, relates to the last treasure," Gwen piped up, having been the dab hand at these sorts of hunts when she was younger.
"Rose among the thorns?" Arthur asked her trying not to get too close in front of the Ward.
"Beauty against brutality," Gwen stated as if it was obvious, now with Morgana watching her as well.
"Finery against a weapon? Something beautiful in the rough? Something pretty," he quirked an eyebrow at Gwen, "with the down right ugly," he looked, far more obviously at Morgana who's jaw dropped in offence.
"Yes, Arthur, exactly," Gwen smiled with a laugh in her tone, briefly forgetting that Morgana was watching her.
"A blade forged in stone?"
"Where are there big rocks and beauty?"
There was a crowd of children already surrounding the large boulders that resided at the edge of the lake. One boy was stood atop the rock, pulling at something protruding from it.
The crowd parted for the approaching Prince, handmaiden and Ward as they made their way to the front of the town's people.
"The sword in the stone can only be taken by the fairest of hands. The leader of people and protector of equality," Merlin announced to the streams of people. All eyes fell on Arthur.
"You need to do it!" a small girl, Arthur couldn't recall seeing before, shouted. She grabbed his hand and pulled him towards the rock.
"Merlin, what is my sword doing there?"
"Right," Arthur placed his hand around the hilt of the sword, he pulled. Nothing. It didn't even budge. He pulled again, "This isn't remotely amusing, Merlin."
"I don't know what is going on. It should work," Merlin hissed under his breath, suddenly panicked by the lack of movement.
"Let me try," Morgana spoke up. Arthur stepped aside and dramatically gestured towards it for her to try her best. She stepped up to the mark, wrapped her spindly fingers about the metal and pulled. Again, nothing happened.
"Looks like you aren't destined to rule after all," Arthur said sarcastically.
"Never said I wanted to," Morgana retorted, scowling at the Crowned Prince. Merlin turned to look at Gwen.
A worried gaze cast across her face, "What?"
"Whatever for, Merlin?"
"You never know, it might work."
"Might as well try, Guinevere, otherwise my sword might be stuck in the stone forever," he guided her towards the perch only to have her root her feet to the floor in defiance.
"Go on, Gwen," Merlin encouraged, "show us all that we mere servants are better than royalty."
"Merlin!" Arthur chastised hand still resting on Gwen's shoulder.
"Okay," she nodded. Anything to prove that servitude wasn't always a bad thing.
Gwen approached the stone, Merlin held out his hand to aid her to the top which she willingly accepted. She placed her hand about the cool material and gently, ever so gently, pulled the sword.
The crowd all gave a collective intake of shocked breath. Gwen pulled the weapon free, wielding it in her hands before realising quite the indication of what she'd just done.
"My lord," she sheepishly passed the sword to its rightful owner. He took it from her with an embarrassed tinge on his cheeks as he thanked her. Morgana's jaw dropped again, her eyes wide. Merlin smirked.
"And you swear you didn't know what would happen?"
"No, Arthur. I had every intent of it being you who pulled your own sword from the stone," Merlin confirmed, lying to Arthur so he heard what he needed to hear.
"Fairest?" Arthur raised an eyebrow sceptically.
"Perhaps that's what did it."
"Leader and protector," Arthur mumbled with a small smile on his face.
"There is always hope, Arthur, perhaps you just need to wait."
"What about Guinevere's hair piece?" Arthur asked, the piece had never appeared during the hunt, and he knew she'd want it back if Merlin had just forgotten to include it.
"I dropped that by this morning, I found it on your bedside table. I didn't think it a good idea to let anybody else see it, so I returned it to her," he grinned, keeping his teasing remark to himself
"Right," he cleared his throat, now he remembered. Perhaps they should be a little more careful about which items they left lying around when she spent more than ten minutes in his chambers, "thank you, Merlin."
"Any time, sire," the servant smirked joyously at his master.
"Oh and Merlin?"
"I hope for your sake, you are right about this."
Merlin smiled again, "I know I am."