A/N: Sorry about the delay in posting. I got laid off last week and have been busy freaking out, filing for unemployment, looking for a new job, etc… Cross your fingers and think nice thoughts for me please.
Disclaimer: Merlin and it's characters are owned by BBC/Shine, I borrow them for my own amusement.
Merlin winced as Gaius applied salve to his most recently acquired bruises, the mixture of old and new injuries turning his normally pale skin into a rainbow of ghastly shades. Merlin whispered a few words of magic to help the medication to work and the tenderness eased immediately.
Gaius turned and set the small clay jar down on the table with more force than necessary. "That's it! This… this… training is ridiculous. If you won't say something to Arthur, then I will."
"NO!" Merlin said vehemently, leaping to his feet and instantly regretting the motion as pain lanced through his abused muscles and joints. "I don't want you to tell him anything."
His tone softening, Gaius put a hand on Merlin's shoulder, "Look my boy, I understand you don't want Arthur and the knights to think less of you, but…"
"That's not it," Merlin gave his mentor a lopsided grin, "at least not all of it. Besides I don't think they can think any less of me."
Gaius huffed, a look of disbelief over-coming his face "All right then, explain it to me. Why do you keep at this nonsense?"
"Because it's working, Gaius, something's changing in me. I'm starting to sense the attacks before they happen. The less I think about what I'm trying to do the easier it becomes." Merlin paced as he talked, attempting to put into words what he had realized a few days earlier. "It feels like my body takes over and knows what I need to do before my mind does."
"That's called instinct, Merlin." Gaius replied thoughtfully, "the question then becomes - is it a natural one… or a magical one?
"It almost feels like magic but I'm not actually casting a spell, I'm not sure. Does it really matter? I'm getting better every day, Sir Leon and Sir Kay were attacking me at the same time today and they only got me twice." Merlin boasted, holding up two fingers. "And neither of them were direct hits, they barely even grazed me."
Gaius shook his head, frustrated "It always matters. Think, Merlin. If this is part of your magic then how can you be sure it's under control? What if this - whatever this is - decides to lash out and you hurt someone? Or if it fails and you receive a worse injury than you already have."
"It won't, I promise… I'm in control." His eyes pleaded for understanding, "Please don't say anything to Arthur, I want to continue. I can do this."
With a sigh of resignation, Gaius turned back to his work table and began gathering ingredients, "You'll need to go and collect some more arnica then, you are running me out of salve."
Prince Arthur watched as his manservant limped away from the field, waiting until he had disappeared from view before he approached Sir Leon. He leaned on the low stone fence, forced a smile, and attempted to sound nonchalant. "You know I enjoy trying to beat obedience into Merlin as much as anyone, but I was serious when I asked you not to damage him too badly."
Leon finished setting the quarterstaff on the weapons' rack before turning to address the prince, "Has he complained then, Sire?" ha asked, frowning.
"No, he hasn't said a word." Arthur replied shaking his head. "You know how much the guards love to gossip though… I heard tales that you were forcing Merlin to spar after taking away his weapon and his armor. I thought to myself 'well that can't be true, no knight of Camelot would assault an unarmed man', so I came to see for myself." Arthur voice hardened and his eyes narrowed. "And what do I see, not one but two armed knights chasing around a defenseless servant. Perhaps you would like to explain this strange display."
Sir Leon studied Prince Arthur for moment while considering his response, he knew he was treading on dangerous ground. Arthur had been raised to be the shining example of knighthood since birth, the knight's code of conduct, honor, and fair fighting ingrained into his very being. "My Lord, a fortnight ago you trusted me to try and teach Merlin to defend himself. I swear to you that I have a plan laid out to that effect and I ask that you keep faith in my ability to do so."
"So… you're not going to explain to me what you were doing." Arthur raised one eyebrow into a look of incredulity.
"Ah…well…," Leon's confidence faltered before his prince's stare. "N-No Sire, I'd rather not. I would prefer for you to judge the journey's end than the path followed to arrive there."
Arthur stared at Sir Leon for an agonizingly long moment before making appearing to make a decision "My sincerest apologies." he said, watching the knight's confused reaction before continuing, "I did not know Merlin's mental affliction was contagious or I would never have set him upon you."
Leon's chuckle quickly twisting into a forced throat clearing as he realized Prince Arthur was not laughing. "Forgive the impertinence, my Lord, but I think you may be underestimating Merlin's defensive abilities. Give me a little more time and you will see a marked improvement."
Straightening up, Arthur stepped towards Leon and closed the distance between them. "You are going to give him a weapon at some point aren't you?" Leon nodded his head in the affirmative, "Alright then, two weeks from today Merlin will face me for testing. But I warn you - I had better be impressed."
"Only one of you this morning?" Merlin called out with cheeky bravado as he strolled into the practice ring. "Did I scare Sir Kay off then?"
Sir Leon laughed and shook his head, "No, but he should be afraid. We are going to choose a weapon for you today." He had laid out an impressively large assortment of tools of war. The standard sword, staff, spear, and flail, were joined by halberds, hammers, axes, and daggers of varying sizes.
"Ah…then I'll be truly terrifying." Merlin picked up a mace and swung it experimentally. He misjudged its weight and promptly sent the heavy spiked club flying backwards. Merlin winced as it landed with a thud behind him.
"Yes, absolutely horrifying." Leon replied solemnly. "If you don't mind to go and fetch that, we will get started." As Merlin turned to retrieve the wayward weapon, the knight looked over the assembled possibilities and mentally discarded all of the heavier options. Sir Leon suspects the longer pole instruments are going to be too unwieldy for Merlin to use, but he would make him try out all of them. He would never want to be accused of not being thorough.
The session progressed at a frustratingly slow pace as Sir Leon made his student go through the basic drills of the larger weapons before discarding them and moving on to the more likely prospects. He picked up a pair of small daggers by their points and stared at them thoughtfully before presenting the hilts to Merlin. "Have you ever tried your hand at throwing knives?" he asked apprehensively.
As the weary and disheartened sorcerer took the blades he remembered the first time he had met Arthur, watching him bully that poor servant and thinking how easy it would be for him turn the knives around and fling them back towards that prat - show him what it was like to be used for target practice. Merlin moved to line himself up with the target downfield and he raised one arm imitating the motion he had seen others do, feeling the weapons in his hands he could taste the temptation of his magic. It was Sir Leon taking several large steps backwards that decided him, he was so very tired of everyone thinking he was totally incompetent. Merlin flung the knife. He needed no spell, his hand was already outstretched - it took almost nothing to adjust the flight ever so slightly… and with a solid thunk hit the target just off-center. The second knife quickly joined the first, deeply embedding itself in the wood even closer to the brightly painted bulls-eye.
Sir Leon came bounding over and clapped Merlin on the shoulder, making him stumble forward. "Well done, Merlin, you have a real gift there!" he exclaimed heartily. "Now all we have to do is teach you how to use them in close combat."
Merlin smiled widely at the praise but couldn't quite bring himself to meet Sir Leon's eyes, knowing he wouldn't be as nearly impressed if he knew the truth of Merlin's 'gift', instead he took off down range to retrieve the blades.