Title: Battle Ready
Rating: T (for safety - there will be some fight scenes later on but I don't know how graphic I'll get yet.)
Description: Merlin's sword training is not progressing, Arthur asks Leon to assist.
A/N: Not slash. I'm not sure how long this will be but definitely multi-chapter. Still new to fan fiction and have just discovered reviews are like crack cocaine. I think. Ok, maybe not crack, but definitely chocolate. Really good chocolate. Thank you to everyone for being so supportive!
Disclaimer: I wish I could say I own Merlin and Arthur and keep them in my dresser drawer but alas they are owned by the BBC/Shine/SyFy, etc… I only borrow them to retain my sanity.
Standing on the battlement, Sir Leon watched the two figures on the training grounds raise their swords as they squared off, preparing to spar. Even at this distance it was easy to distinguish the differences between them, Prince Arthur - standing straight and confident, a gleaming column of polished metal and red tunic, his sword held high - and Merlin, in his dented hodgepodge of knight's cast-offs, shoulders slumped and blade barely off the ground. Arthur made a flicking gesture with his wrist, the sunlight glinting off his sword as it bobbed up and down. Merlin straightened up and raised his arm so his own weapon was now closer to the proper height - and in a flash Arthur was swinging, pressing his attack. Merlin managed to parry the blows several times before once again being knocked to the ground.
The first few times they had observed the 'training' sessions, the knights had been highly amused by the all-around drumming the prince had given his impertinent servant. But as time went on and the sparring matches continued it had become rather tedious to watch - over and over they observed Arthur thrash Merlin, only to see Merlin stand up and try again. Having decided his complete lack of natural skill was out-weighed by his bravery and sheer stubbornness, Sir Leon and his fellow knights had come to like and even respect the affable boy. They were somewhat at a loss as to why Arthur continued the attempts to teach him how to fight. Leon watched for a few more moments before deciding to have a talk with Prince Arthur about discontinuing the embarrassing display.
He arrived at the edge of the field in time to see Merlin flat on his back, his knees bent and arms crossed over his chest, with Arthur standing at his head looking down and smiling at him. The prince was using his sword to tap on the side of Merlin's helmet.
"Come on Merlin, back on your feet" Arthur said good-naturedly.
"I already told you, NO." Merlin's voice was muffled by his helmet. "I surrender, you win."
"I always win - that's not the point." The smile replaced by a grimace, Arthur sighed heavily. "Get UP." He reached down to grab the front of Merlin's chain-mail and physically hauled him upright. "What's wrong? I can usually knock you about much more than this before you beg for mercy."
At that Merlin shoved Arthur's hand off his armor and pulled off his helmet before replying indignantly "I was not 'begging for mercy', I was merely expressing my desire to remain on the ground since that is where I end up anyway."
Arthur arched one eyebrow. "Fine, if that's what you want." He grinned briefly before he reached out suddenly and shoved Merlin, causing him to fall back to his former position. As Merlin lay grumbling and calling the prince names that would get anyone else locked in the dungeon, Leon took the opportunity to interrupt, "Sire, may I speak with you a moment?"
"Of course," Arthur leaned over Merlin's face again, "Congratulations, Sir Leon has just earned you a few extra moments of laying about doing nothing. Enjoy." Arthur walked over to the side of the field where there was a bucket of fresh water and got himself a drink before addressing the knight. "So what did you need, Sir Leon?"
Leon hesitated briefly, "I was wondering, my lord, if you would enlighten me as to what is the point?" he asked in what he hoped was a normal conversational tone.
"Excuse me?" Arthur looked puzzled, "The point to what?"
"You just expressed to Merlin that winning was not the point to these… exercises. He has no skill to speak of and being low-born he has no hope of actually becoming a knight. Forgive my saying so, my lord, but there has been talk among the men that his training would appear as more of a reason to…" Leon paused not sure how to finish without insulting Arthur openly.
He didn't need to continue as Arthur had grasped the concern and with a disgusted look on his face completed Leon's thought for him "…as a reason to abuse my manservant by beating him about with a sword."
Arthur looked back to the motionless figure still laying in the dirt. "He better not have fallen asleep." He muttered before returning his gaze to the nervous looking knight. "How many times have you seen Merlin in a fight or confrontation of some kind?"
"Several, more than I can number off-hand."
"And have you ever seen him back down or run away?"
Sir Leon thought back to the Merlin's first days in Camelot, remembering the stories Arthur himself had told of the skinny boy who had dared to insult him, challenge him even, in public - not once but twice. He remembered encounters with magical beasts and brigands, with Merlin always close at hand. "No, I have not, I have never seen him behave in a cowardly fashion." He looked at Arthur quizzically, unsure of where the prince was heading with his questions.
"No matter how many times I order him to stay back, he always manages to get in the thick of things. He is much braver than he is intelligent. The idiot has no sense of self-preservation and if I can't keep him out of the way the best I can do is try to teach him how to survive." His eyes searching Leon's for understanding.
Sir Leon had lost many young men under his command and understood all too well the feeling of causing a young life's untimely end. "Perhaps it is not as much a lack of self-preservation or intelligence as it is his desire to see yourself preserved, my lord, it is a feeling of loyalty shared by all the men you command, that we would gladly sacrifice our lives for you, and for Camelot."
Arthur looked away, obviously uncomfortable with the knights declaration. "I would have no man die in my place."
"Which is what makes you worth dying for, Sire." Sir Leon said earnestly.
Arthur, lost in thought, stared off into the horizon for several moments before addressing Leon again. "So do you have a suggestion on how to improve Merlin's fighting skills or are you volunteering to tie him to a tree the next time we ride out?" he asked brightly, returning the conversation to the situation at hand.
The knight was tempted to point out that Arthur was as likely to leave his sword behind as he was his manservant but thought better of it. "When I have seen Merlin fight for real he seems to acquit himself better than it would appear from his sparring sessions, maybe he refrains from putting forth his best effort in fear of injuring you."
Arthur snorted, "Ridiculous! Merlin at his best could never actually land that damaging of a blow."
"But what about Merlin at his worst?" Leon glanced over at the object of their discussion who was now obviously snoring.
Visions of spilled soup, boiling bathwater, flying silverware, and forgotten flint stones flitted through Arthur's memories. " Point taken." He paused and smiled broadly, "I suppose someone else could take a turn at teaching him something."
"Sir Percival has done an excellent job with the new applicants, I'm sure he wouldn't mind…"
"Not experienced enough." Arthur interrupted.
"Sir Gawain has been with us…"
"He's got too much of a temper." Arthur said, shaking his head.
Sir Leon groaned inwardly, knowing where the prince was heading, but gamely tried once more, "Sir Kay…"
"…is not who I had in mind." he said, reaching over and clasping Sir Leon's shoulder and giving him little shake. "It was your idea you know, and of course you wouldn't ask any knight to do something you were not willing to do yourself."
"Of course not." he sighed heavily. This was not exactly how Leon had pictured this conversation turning out when he started down the stairs a little while ago.
Seeing his knight's look of frustration Arthur said, "Just give it a month and if he doesn't make any progress I'll give someone else a go." Turning to head back to the field he added over his shoulder, "Try and not injure him so badly he can't do his chores. I really hate breaking in someone new."