The King's Favor
A/N: I wrote this for my birthday, which was back on June 13. One more year and I'll be legal to read everything I write! :P
Merlin was in the tent when Arthur had come in bearing the scrap of cloth.
He looked at it, confused.
"It must be over a decade old," Arthur said bemusedly as he collapsed into a chair inside the tent, setting the strip of fine red linen on the table before propping his feet up right beside it.
Merlin rolled his eyes, leaning against the table, watching the damn thing out of the corner of his eyes. What the hell was it?
"Enjoying the tournament?" he asked instead.
Arthur smirked, reaching a hand over to rest on Merlin's hip. "What do you think?"
Before they could continue, though, the announcements sounded, signaling the next round of the tournament.
With a sigh, Arthur stood up. "Duty calls."
"You seem to be enjoying the tournament," Merlin said. "You've been watching quite avidly."
Arthur laughed. "Yes, but I know how it'll end!"
Merlin blushed again. "You never know...I might not be that good..."
Arthur shook his head, resting his hands on Merlin's shoulders, squeezing them once, before exiting the tent.
Merlin waited a few minutes, before peeking out the gap at the round, watching avidly as the bell was run to start.
This round was a rather old looking witch facing off against a young Druid boy, perhaps a little older than Mordred, if that.
He studied them carefully, watched their moves, listened to the spells they used, paid special attentions to hints of battle wards around them.
The boy was well-learned, and had an impressive array of combat spells, enchanting the dirt on the ground into near-lethal arrowheads, conjuring columns of flame to engulf her entire being, conjuring spears and a sword and creating a bog by her feet to slow her down. But his spells were garbled, and his control over his elements were rusty at best. She used simple water, but extensively - whips of water and shards of ice were aimed critically at him, his clothes were soaked only to be frozen by her to hold him still, and finally, Merlin recognized when she used one last spell to significantly chill the water in his body, causing the boy to collapse in the end.
The witch bowed to the crowd, the names on the score-wall were adjusted, and Arthur called for the next contestants to be brought forth for the next round from his seat in the king's throne. By his side, Guinevere was watching intently, equal amounts admiration for the victor as concern for the loser. In the Court stands, Lancelot and Leon were watching with entertained smiled on their faces, even as they kept a close eye on some of the sorcerers with records of hostility towards the Pendragon regime.
Merlin smiled as he spied the visage of that stuffy old baron he and Arthur used to love playing pranks on when they were boys. He didn't seem to like that women in this tournament outnumbered men almost two to one. Merlin remembered, when Arthur had announced a tournament of magic open to all sorcerers, this man blustering when the first several entrants were women.
He'd only shut up about it when one of the entrants was the Princess of Northumbria.
The next round was a pair of twins, two boys. Damn. Considering how predictable so many of these rounds were, sometimes the only fun was in watching everyone else's reactions.
He watched for a few minutes, nodding to himself at their impressive magic skill, and smiling as so many of the crowd looked confused, trying to trace the boys, but having trouble as they were identical, in nearly identical clothing, and darting about all over the ring.
Merlin ducked back into his tent in the next round, and a moment later, Morgana was in the opening.
"Merlin," she greeted easily, drifting through his tent and into the chair. "Getting nervous?"
"Yeah," he said. "I don't suppose you can just tell me what will happen?"
"But that will ruin all the fun!" she cried out, an easy smile on her face.
"Aren't you bored?"
"No," she said. "I know the outcomes and some of what happens, but not all of the process to get there. Besides, even if I do nothing, my visions sometimes don't come to pass." That was incredibly rare, but considering how much her life she knew beforehand, everyone knew it was best to just let Morgana have her little surprises.
Hence why the queen still regularly showed up at the Seer's door with a bouquet of flowers in hand, often with a sword and some breeches to boot.
"How come you're not watching this round?" Merlin asked.
"I know them both," Morgana said. "Neither of them are Druids, but they lived near one of the more permanent sites. The shorter one will win - the taller one's magic is predominantly crop magic."
Merlin nodded. "Of course."
"The real entertainment will be the next round," she said.
"The princess and that Druid priestess, right?"
Morgana grinned. "That baron and you and Arthur complain about will try to talk King Clarience into withdrawing his sister from the tournament to preserve her propriety. She'll win, and Clarience is going to accuse him of trying to stack the tournament."
Merlin frowned. "Couldn't that cause some trouble?"
"It won't be a real accusation, he and Arthur have been joking in the kings' box about this for a while, now," she said. "The funniest part is that both girls are going to be wearing tunics and breeches instead of proper ladies' garb."
Merlin imagined the color of the baron's face when he would see that and promptly burst out laughing.
He stopped abruptly when Morgana asked, "What's this?", and he realized she was looking at the strip of cloth still on the table.
"Um...just a rag, apparently..."
"It's too fine a linen to be a rag," she mused, running her fingers over it. "And the weave is of very high quality...why, Merlin, did someone bring you a favor?"
Merlin blinked, confused.
She smiled. "Might want to make sure Arthur doesn't find out you've captured someone's attentions..." she took in his face, and her own expression broke into one of her mischievous grins. "Oh, he brought it, did he? Marvelous!"
Merlin sighed, dropping his face into his hands as she laughed her way out the tent.
Outside, cheers erupted as the round finished up.
A few more rounds were fought out, some interesting, some not, but by the end, it came down to Merlin, the previous day's winner, and Mordred.
That final round would be tomorrow.
Merlin looked around his tent one last time, before stepping outside and headed towards the castle for the feast tonight.
The great hall was alight with sounds and color and delicious smells well into the feast. Some of the older nobles, one who had been more supportive of Uther, though, looked distinctly uncomfortable, and Merlin found himself grinning.
Probably over half the diners in the hall were sorcerers, and none of them were hiding it, as Arthur had mandated that this tournament be treated like any other tournament of competing knights, and as such all the contestants who could were dining in here tonight. Food platters and places and cutlery and food floated all around and over people's heads. Wine would rise out of their skins to dance in the the cups before dropping in, and flames were dancing all around the air. Many of the flowers decorating the hall would spontaneously rise in full blood despite their wilting at the concentrated look of a sorcerer here or there, and overall, the hall was a grand old mess of magic and mundane.
With a contented sigh, he took another bite of his chicken.
Contented sigh, except his knuckles were white around his fork.
Tonight, he couldn't even get the usual comfort of Arthur's quiet, amused murmurings, for as a contestant, he was dining with all the other sorcerers, rather than in his usual seat by Arthur's side.
No need to be so nervous, he heard Morgana's voice in his head.
I can't help it! I'm facing off against Mordred tomorrow! And Arthur's counting on me!
He almost felt rather than heard the sigh in his mind, then, Talk to him tonight. I think you'll need it.
With that cryptic advice, Merlin was completely alone again.
He was pacing around his outer chambers when Arthur entered.
"You're like a cat," Arthur said without preamble, collapsing onto an uncluttered workbench by the fire.
"I'm just nervous," Merlin said. "I mean..."
"It doesn't matter - you'll win. Mordred is powerful, but you are much moreso than he," Arthur said, reaching over to pick up a small book on Roman architecture he'd left there last night, studying for whatever his latest scheme was.
"But...what if I lose?"
Arthur sighed. "Then you'll be the second most powerful sorcerer in Albion. Either way, you're in my Court, and it's an impressive title to hold."
"But then wouldn't Camelot be second best?" Merlin asked, nearly hysterical, running his fingers through his hair and finding no calm in it.
Arthur frowned at his book, and closed it, looking up at Merlin. "What the hell gave you that idea?"
Merlin swallowed. "You...you were always talking about how when you entered tournaments it was for the kingdom and not just your family and how winning meant Camelot was winning and how Camelot had been so small and powerful at the same time and you've been going on and on about me being the champion of Camelot and-"
Merlin was stopped mid-ramble by the appearance of Arthur in front of him, one of his hands on Merlin's waist, the other on his chin, making him face the king.
"Merlin," Arthur said. "You do fight on behalf of Camelot. But it is not your job to represent her, nor carry her in your field. I was once her champion in tournaments, as Lancelot is now. And we fight representing the kingdom - but that is it. Our fights for the kingdom are on the battlefield and in the courts. This is a show - and useful, but a show nonetheless. Getting second place will not be the downfall of the kingdom, and will not mean you are no longer powerful, in anyway. Understand?"
"I..." Merlin trailed off.
Arthur smiled at him, before curling his hand around Merlin's neck and bringing him in for a kiss.
Merlin sighed into it, and felt Arthur kneading with both hands, his waist and his neck, and for once moved pliantly as Arthur carefully directed them towards the bed in Merlin's inner chambers. He melted into his sheets when Arthur ran his fingers through Merlin's hair, and really, how come it didn't work when he did it himself?
The kiss was slow and languid as Arthur lay down beside Merlin, before he wrapped his arms around Merlin's relaxed form, pulling him close as he tugged the sheets over them both.
"You'll do wonderfully tomorrow," Arthur whispered with his lips against Merlin's neck, before kissing the spot. "You'll see."
Merlin hoped more than anything he was right.
Merlin was fairly certain Arthur wasn't right.
He was pacing his tent again when Arthur entered.
"I can't predict Mordred's magic," Merlin said. "He's almost as well versed as me, and as powerful, and he knows so many branches of it like I do, I have no idea what he'll use, and-"
"Didn't we already have this conversation?" Arthur asked glibly, grabbing Merlin by his collar and dragging him to a standstill.
"Besides, I'm giving you good luck," Arthur said cheerfully.
Merlin frowned, and his confusion grew as Arthur wandered over to the table, where the strip of red cloth was still on it from yesterday. "The rag?"
Arthur rolled his eyes. "You really don't remember, do you?"
Merlin slowly shook his head, and Arthur laughed.
"I suppose you've mended so many of my clothes...think back, Merlin, way back - around the Knights of Medhir. You were injured..."
Merlin's eyes widened as the memory dawned on him. "And you ripped off a strip of your tunic...to bind it."
Arthur grinned as Merlin finally remembered. "You were wearing my favor in that battle, whether you knew it or not. This time..."
Arthur walked over to Merlin carefully, strip in hand as he eyed Merlin up and down carefully. Wearing well formed dark breeches dark tunic and a fine black jacket that went to his knees with red and gold embroidery, Merlin felt overdressed, but Arthur said it looked appropriately rich and intimidating in well proportioned measures.
Merlin had always guessed that it meant mostly rich, because he doubted he could be intimidating by looks alone.
Arthur was smiling at the little Pendragon crests embroidered on the shoulders of the sleeves of the jacket, both in gold thread.
"I knew I picked them well," he said, before pulling Merlin's arm towards him, and wrapping the strip around his arm just under the crests, and just like he'd done all those years ago. No wound, no hurt, just luck. Just his favor.
Arthur stepped back once he'd tied the knot, and Merlin looked down to see it. He supposed it added to the appearance of the ragged, dangerous, though unassuming sorcerer. But more importantly, Arthur was the one who'd tied it there. Arthur had given him a favor normally reserved for-
"I'm not a knight," Merlin blurted.
"You're my champion," Arthur said, stepping closer towards Merlin. "Not Camelot's - just mine."
And with that, he pulled Merlin in for another kiss.
Merlin leaned into his strong yet tender touch and whimpered happily when Arthur wrapped his arms around Merlin's shoulders, pulling away to rest his chin on Arthur's shoulder. "You realize you already gave me a favor, right?"
"Now I did," Arthur said. "You can't possibly lose, now."
Merlin grinned in spite of himself. "Thank you."
Arthur tugged him close and kissed him in response.
Merlin wasn't surprised that he won.
A/N: Remember, comments are love! :D