Disclaimer: I still do not own Merlin - the BBC just simply aren't listening to me.
This ended up as a two-shot in the end. It went one way, then I didn't like it, then it went another way - it was only supposed to be a one shot in the first place, then took on a mind of it's own. Oh well, hope that you like it! Please, please, please, let me know what you think!
IMPORTANT: This is set just after series 1 episode 4, so Arthur has saved Merlin from being poisoned, but they are still in early stages of their friendship.
Oooh, for anyone that is interested, the sequel to Web of Fear should be up soon, it's just being beta-d for me!
"Merlin, are you coming or not?" A slightly irritated Arthur Pendragon stood at the bottom of the stone steps, arms folded impressively across his chest as his foot tapped impatiently. He was sure he had been waiting here for ages for his servant to finally catch up with him, and sure enough, Merlin choose that moment to come panting into view. Pausing at the top of the steps, the servant groaned when he realised he would have to navigate his way down them despite being laden with a load of things he didn't even know what they were for. The target hung precariously on his back as his arms were full of swords, maces and throwing knives, a shield hanging from the other arm. Quite how much training the prince wanted to do, the warlock had no idea.
"It would help if you took something, you know." Merlin called down, slowly placing one foot on the steps before peering over the top of the bundle to guide his other foot onto the one below. Everyone in the castle already knew what a clumsy person Merlin was, only he was lucky it was met with humour rather than annoyance. All apart from Arthur, that was, but since the whole poisoning incident, the prince had treated his servant with a new found respect. If it was honest, Merlin was glad. It was the second time he had saved the prat's life, it was quite nice to get a small amount of recognition, even if it didn't get as far as a thank you crossing Arthur's lips.
"What? And miss watching you struggle? Where would be the fun in that?" Despite his teasing, Arthur was watching Merlin carefully as he navigated his way down the stairs. If he was honest, it was less to do with concern for what the servant might do, but more to do with him dropping everything. Not only would it make a spectacular noise, Arthur had only just got the shield mended after Merlin had dropped it down four flights of stairs. He hadn't meant for the idiot to actually carry it up to the top of the turrets with them, only Merlin seemed to have slightly misunderstood the prince's instructions. He had been forced to take it to the blacksmith's to see if they could get the dent out, neither he nor Merlin had been able to shift it.
"You're so kind and considerate, Sire," Merlin responded sarcastically, although any bitterness in his voice was lost by the smile on his face. Merlin tended to be cruel when he meant something, everything else was in jest. Not that he meant to be cruel, he just somehow knew what to say to make the prince feel like a child again, something Arthur was considerably annoyed about. Only his father had managed to hold that power again, up until the fool arrived. Straightening up with a groan, Merlin shut his eyes as he stretched his back out, only to open them to find the prince walking off. Immediately scurrying after him, Merlin wondered quite what he had done to deserve being a servant to Arthur; it was harder than anything he had even considered before. Not to mention the constant guarding of what he did and said just in case anything slipped as to his true identity.
"So where are we going, anyway?" Merlin asked casually, his quick jog allowing him to catch up with Arthur and fall in step with the prince. As he stumbled slightly over the dangling strap from the target, Arthur reached out and seized a handful of weapons without a word, lessening Merlin's burden as he did so. Hiding a small smile, Merlin rearranged the items he still had in his hand, rethinking his previous thought. Arthur had already changed his attitude towards the servant quite dramatically since they had met, he seemed to have realised Merlin was not going to be treated like all his other servants, the black haired boy simply wouldn't allow it. And whilst he wouldn't admit it, least of all to Merlin, Arthur loved having a servant who answered back rather than one who bowed to his every request; it made his days far more interesting.
"The training field."
"Again?" Merlin asked, eyebrows raised in incredulity. "Weren't we there yesterday?"
"A Knights training, Merlin, is never complete."
"Oh, I see," Merlin responded, mock sincerity in his voice and causing Arthur to turn to look at him. Smirking, the prince shook his head, knowing he would never be able to teach Merlin anything of use regarding Knights and what it meant and required of a man to be one. Instead, he merely rolled his eyes and gave the boy next to him a light shove, enough to knock Merlin of balance slightly, but not to make him drop anything.
"We're here." Arthur said suddenly, looking around him. This was the spot he had trained in for as long as he could remember. He could vividly still picture the day when he had spent more hours than sensible throwing knives at the target in the pouring rain, straining all the muscles in his arm as well as catching a cold. He couldn't remember who had been more angry, however, Uther or Gaius. The King may have looked at his son with the cold grey eyes that always made Arthur squirm and coldly ask whether he wanted to be a Knight or not, but it was Gaius who had scolded the prince for not considering his health, and then spent the next two days constantly at the ten year old's side, nursing him back to health again.
"Sire? Arthur?" Suddenly blinking, Arthur found himself looking at Merlin's waving hand, all of the weapons the servant had been carrying in a pile at their feet. He had obviously become more lost in the memory than he had meant too.
"Go set the target up, Merlin." For once not saying anything, Merlin picked the target up good naturedly and began setting off over the field. The prince had clearly been lost in some memory there, and judging by the small smile on his lips, it was a fond one. Something even Merlin could not mock him for. Even in the short time he had spent in Camelot, the secret warlock knew enough about the prince to know Arthur could not have had an easy childhood, not with Uther as his father. In some ways, Merlin pitied him for it, and yet, knew he would give everything up in an instant if it meant he could spend some time with his father.
"Here?" Turning back towards the prince, Merlin felt his eyes narrow as he saw the so called friends of Arthur approaching them from a distance. Arthur had confided enough in Merlin to let the servant know he knew they weren't true friends, yet ones after Arthur for his position and title of future king. However, that didn't seem to stop Arthur completely changing his behaviour whenever they were around, and Merlin knew with a sinking heart that this was not going to bode well for him. The arrogant nobles found nothing more fun than taunting servants. Merlin was glad Arthur had changed his attitude since they had met, he wouldn't serve the prince if not, no matter what the consequences, but still, Arthur had known these boys a lot longer than he had known Merlin.
"No, go back a bit further." Arthur called, peering in the direction of the servant. He knew he was pushing it, but his 21st birthday was coming up fast, and Arthur wanted to show his father without a doubt he deserved the title of Crown Prince. It wasn't just Uther Arthur was trying to show, but himself. Having never received any praise from those dearest to him, Arthur was constantly doubting his own abilities, despite how much he may appear to brag to anyone else. He had yet to notice who was coming up behind him.
"How about here?"
"Idiot. No one can hit that." Hearing the scorning voice behind him, Arthur spun on the spot, only to relax when he saw who it was.
"I can, Percival."
"I have no doubt of it, Sire. I only meant most normal people couldn't." Feeling his skin prickle slightly, Arthur turned back to Merlin, measuring the distance with his eyes. Percival's praise used to make him glow with pride, it was the only praise he received, but since meeting Merlin, it now just made him cringe. Merlin, in his round about ways that meant Arthur had to find the compliment, was more sincere in his praise than anyone Arthur had ever met.
"Well," Arthur said shortly, not quite sure what he was going to say. Picking up one of the throwing knives, he beckoned Merlin to come back, testing the weight of the knife as he did so. It would certainly be a long shot, but Arthur was now even more determined to show he could do it. All of his so called "friends" were older than him, the age to be accepted as a full Knight, yet none of them were good enough to pass the tests. The old instructor who was still in charge at the moment had confided in Arthur he was retiring within the next month and then it would be over to the prince to oversee absolutely everything to do with the knights, and Arthur couldn't help but wonder whether that was why the men were suddenly paying so much attention, hoping to bribe their way in.
"Why wait until he is back?" Percival muttered quietly, a cruel smirk dancing across his face. Glancing back at him, Arthur saw he had also picked up one of the knives, juggling it from hand to hand, his eyes fixed on Merlin.
"He doesn't even have the target, what are you going to do? Throw a knife at him? You'll kill him."
"I can aim, Sire," Percival responded, a bitter note in his voice that betrayed his true feelings about the prince. "I wouldn't hurt him, just give him a scare."
"Oh come on, Arthur, you used to be more fun than this."
"I said no."
Muttering to himself, Percival backed off, but the scowl on his face made Arthur have one of his own. Despite not wanting to admit it, the prince had been having a good day up until now. Feeling a slight drizzle began to dribble its way from the sky, Arthur made a decision. Gaius had made him promise that day many years ago not to train in the rain, and Arthur had stood by that promise ever since. Admittedly, he normally gave up when it was pouring, but the light drizzle was giving him the excuse he needed.
"Go and get the target, we're going in. I'm not training in this weather."
"Honestly, Arthur, you'll make up your mind one of these days." As Merlin turned back around, Arthur found himself smiling at the servant's good natured grumbling. In the few months he had been Arthur's servant, the prince knew he would never be able to have a bootlicker again. Possibly one of the reasons why the crowd standing behind him were making him feel so uneasy.
"You let your servant talk to you like that?" Rolling his eyes, Arthur spared half a glance behind him at Owain. The oldest of the group, the bulk of a man had a sneering expression on his face, one lined with hatred as he watched Merlin. To begin with, Arthur couldn't think of what on earth Merlin had done to cause that expression, the boy normally steered well clear of the group after their first couple of encounters. However, the prince soon remembered, Owain's attitude was like that regarding all servants. He saw himself as a noble and therefore they were not fit to touch the ground he walked on. All Arthur used to do to torment the servant's assigned to him was nothing compared to Owain.
"He saved my life. Twice. He has earned my respect."
"You respect? Sire, seriously? Your servant has earned your respect?
"I'm sorry, Sire, but I can't let this go. What if news reached outside settlements that the prince of Camelot had gone soft? That he couldn't find it within himself to discipline a mere servant who didn't know how to speak to his betters?"
Feeling the anger begin to build within him, Arthur bit his lip, remaining silent. Whilst he knew Owain's words were meant to rile him up, the prince was more annoyed that it was working. One thing he couldn't do, however, was rise to it. His father would not be pleased if Arthur went against someone of noble birth for Merlin's sake again. The case with Valiant had been bad enough. Unfortunately, Owain knew this, and seemed determined to how far he could push the prince. He had no respect for the man, only the title. Personally, he had never felt Arthur was that much fun, he had always been too worried about pleasing his father to act the way any young nobleman should.
"You know I'm right, Arthur. You don't even have to do it if this servant has earned your "respect", which to be honest, I doubt. You were always the last person to give away your respect, Sire. Let us handle it for you."
"It's alright, Arthur. We will have him show you the proper respect before long, the respect a warrior and prince like you deserve."
And to Arthur's utter humiliation, he let the praise wash over him. They were right, he was one of the best knights in the land and was soon to be Crown Prince of Camelot. Merlin didn't treat him with the slightest shred of respect, not the respect he was used to commanding. Slowly nodding, Arthur watched in silence as Merlin drew near, the wide grin on his face disappearing when he caught the mood of the group.
"That's Sire to you, boy. Or my Lord."
"Sorry, but you're not my master. I don't take orders from you." Adopting a defensive stance, Merlin stayed where he was, not daring to come any closer. Whilst he spared Percival a withering glance that told the man precisely what Merlin thought of him, the servant's eyes remained locked on Arthur. He seemed to have realised what was going on, and was silently begging the prince to do something.
"You'll pay for that insolence, boy." And so saying, Percival flipped the knife in his hand over and threw it towards Merlin, causing him to duck with a yelp as it whistled over his head. The rest of the group cheered and began gathering the rest of the knives from around Arthur's feet. The prince himself just stood there, frozen on the spot, having an inner battle with himself. He simply didn't know what he should do, let it happen or lose face in front of the men he could potentially be working with in battle all for Merlin's sake.
Knife after knife all went flying through the air towards Merlin. Ducking behind the shield, the warlock crouched in horror, wondering why Arthur was letting this happen. Hearing the thunk as they all hit the target, Merlin shut his eyes, allowing them to flash golden and secretly reinforcing the target. He was not going to be their victim, that was for sure. The only problem was, he couldn't exactly use his best weapon against them, for it would only see him executed.
"What's the matter, servant? Lost your defiance? Ready to treat your master with the proper respect?" To Merlin's horror, the voices were not coming from where Arthur stood, but a lot closer. Glancing up, Merlin couldn't help but swallow fearfully as he caught sight of Percival and Owain leering over the top of the target, both swinging maces in their hands.
"I treat Arthur with the respect he has earned from me. Don't see him complaining. What makes you think you have the right to-," his voice trailing off, Merlin tried to hide the fear as the target was wrenched from his grasp, leaving him defenceless in the middle of the field.
"You were saying?" Ducking as Owain's mace came swinging for his head, Merlin automatically threw his arm up to try and defend himself. The metal instead connected with the limb, causing the servant to cry out as blood gushed from the wound. Clutching his arm close to him, Merlin glared at the men above him.
"You're nothing more than bullies. If you think this is going to work, you can think again." His words, however, only served as fuel to the fired up men. Dropping his mace, Percival reached over and grabbed Merlin by the back of the collar, pulling him harshly into a standing position.
"You will learn the proper respect." Eyes calculating, Merlin watched as Owain swung his fist towards the servant, only to duck at the last minute. Not expecting a reaction, Owain couldn't stop himself and instead his fist connected with Percival, causing him to drop Merlin with a cry of pain as his hands flew to his stinging nose. Smirking, Merlin wasted no time and pulled himself from the man's grasp as he scrambled across the field, back towards Arthur and what he hoped was some form of protection. The prince was still just standing there, looking like he had been carved from ice. He hadn't even moved to brush his hair from his forehead, where the ever increasing drizzle was causing it to stick.
"Arthur," Merlin called softly, hoping the prince would be able to pick up the pleading note in his voice. Before he could go any further, however, a mace was spent spinning across the field, colliding hard with Merlin's ankles and causing the servant to be sent sprawling. Merlin didn't as much as think of moving before the men were upon him, Percival looking murderous. Someone - Merlin couldn't see who - placed their foot in the middle of the warlock's back, pushing him further into the muddy grass. Owain leant forward and grabbed Merlin by the hair, yanking his head back and causing him to look into his face.
"Arthur, please," Merlin whispered, wincing as he spoke. He didn't care if that made him look weak, he couldn't think of another way out of the predicament he was finding himself in.
"Enough!" An absolutely livid voice sounded from across the field, yet Merlin could not see whom it belonged too, Owain had not relinquished his grip on the servant, but instead tightened it.
"I said enough." Seeing the pair of shoes enter his vision, Merlin let out a sigh of relief.
"Need girls to fight for you, do you boy?" Owain sneered, twisting his hand further and causing tears to spring to Merlin's eyes.
"I am no girl, Owain." The Lady Morgana snarled, her eyes flashing dangerously as she stood imposingly above the crouched men. "And unless you want to find yourself in front of the King in chains, I suggest you remember that."
"Sorry, mi'lady." Owain muttered sullenly, finally letting go of Merlin. The pressure on his back also lifted, causing Merlin to let out an explosive breath, sagging into the ground. Instantly, gentle hands were helping him to his feet, being mindful of the gash on his arm. Making to stand properly, Merlin yelped as one of his ankles refused to support his weight, obviously having taken the brunt of the impact from the mace.
"Oh Merlin," a tear filled voice sounded, causing him to look around for the first time and see himself being helped up by Gwen, the maid looking a mixture of horrified and heartbroken at the same time.
"Gwen? Get Merlin to Gaius and wait for me there."
"Yes, mi'lady." Gwen replied instantly with a small bob of her head. "Come on, Merlin, Gaius will know what to do. I mean, of course Gaius would know what to do, he is the court physician. But then you knew that…"
Gwen's anxious voice faded away into nothing as she helped Merlin hobble across the field. An icy silence fell across the remaining occupants, none of them being brave enough to break it and face Morgana's wrath. It wasn't only the Lady herself they feared, they knew without a doubt she would go to Uther if provoked. Admittedly yes, events would be twisted to suit her favour, but the men knew they stood no chance.
"Get out of my sight. If I ever catch you, or even hear about something like this happening again, you will rue the day you came to Camelot."
With hasty bows, the group of men pelted off into the distance as fast as they could. No one in their right mind risked getting on the wrong side of the King's ward, it was a fate worse than death. Arthur, however, stood exactly where he had been, still frozen to the spot. Morgana, it seemed, had other ideas.
As hard as she could, the lady slapped Arthur across the face, causing him to come back to reality. The look on Morgana's face was so fierce that even the prince, who had practically grown up with that look, took a step backwards.
"How could you, Arthur? How could you let them do that to Merlin? The same Merlin, who if you remember, has saved your ungrateful life more than once?"
"No, I don't want to hear it, Arthur. You're so desperate for people to look up to you that you would let them beat up your friend for it. Get over yourself, Arthur. It's not them you need to prove yourself too, but Merlin. All of the people, not just those with power."
"You sound like my father!"
"At least one of us does!" Breathing heavily, the two stared at each other, sparks flying from their eyes. Within just a matter of seconds though, Arthur's died down, guilt overwhelming him instead.
"I thought I'd be fine. That I could just tell them to go away. I don't even know what happened. One minute I was forbidding them to do anything, the next…" Waving his hand absentmindedly to where Merlin had been pinned down, Arthur ran his hand over his eyes wearily. How could he have let it happen?
"Make sure it doesn't happen again, Arthur." Morgana responded coolly, although the fury was lacking in her voice. As much as she didn't want to admit it, she could see the prince was lost, torn between what he knew and what he was adapting too. If she was completely honest, Morgana had thought the scene she had stumbled across would have happened months ago. Hopefully it would make Arthur realise who his true friends are for once and all.
Suddenly placing her hand on his shoulder, Morgana gave it a quick squeeze before striding away, looking every part of the King's ward as she did so. Blinking after her, Arthur slowly shook his head. That woman confused him, yet she also made more sense to him than anyone. Sinking into a crouch, the prince rested his head in his hands, not sure if he could trust himself any more. He had been so determined to think they respected him for who he was rather than his title he had been prepared to risk Merlin on it, the one person in nearly the whole of Camelot who didn't milk his words just because Arthur was prince.
"Sire?" Hearing the gentle, but concerned voice, Arthur lifted his head to find himself looking into Sir Leon's concerned eyes. Rising, Leon offered his hand to the prince, pulling him up as he did so.
"What's happened, Sire? I just saw Merlin, he looked awful." With a bitter laugh, Arthur realised the man who was addressing him was the man he wanted to become. One who could command the Knights easily, they all looked up to and respected him, yet at the same time knew the servants by name and was as concerned about what happened to them as the men under his command.
"I was an idiot, Leon. I let my pride get in the way and Merlin got hurt."
"Owain and his cronies?" Nodding, Arthur stared over the field with an unseeing eyes. How could Merlin forgive him for what he had just put him through? He knew the servant was prepared to put himself in harm's way to protect the prince, but he probably hadn't even considered the harm might be coming from Arthur.
"How do you do it?"
"I remember what is important to me. Sire, we need to get you in, you're soaked. And you know what Gaius will have to say about that."
With a small laugh, Arthur allowed the Knight to bustle him along. Crossing into the courtyard, he caught sight of the group huddled in one corner, muttering darkly to themselves. As Arthur walked past, they glanced over, but Leon merely tightened his grip on the prince's shoulder.
"Ignore them, Arthur. Don't let your pride rule your head." Nodding so only Leon could see it, Arthur forced the tension to leave his muscles. Relaxed, the prince walked by with his head held high, hiding the fact inside he was bristling with anger.
"They'll make a King out of you yet," Leon commented with a fond smile. Most of the knights wouldn't dream of talking to Arthur in that way, but Leon had been in charge of his training for as long as he could remember, ever since the young prince was old enough to be allowed too. He had witnessed the young man grow, seen him happy, angry, scared. Leon never would have called himself a mentor to the prince, but that indeed was what he had become over the years, someone Arthur knew wouldn't judge him, not matter what he had done.
"What should I do, Leon?"
"I think you already know, Sire."
"I don't know how to face him, though," Arthur whispered, a hint of pleading entering his voice and making the knight at his side recall quite how young the prince still was.
"You'll know at the time, trust me. Well, it is here I must leave you, Sire. Good luck." With a small bow, Leon strode away, leaving Arthur standing in the middle of the corridor. Looking around him, the prince couldn't help but smile when he realised where Leon had steered him too. He was looking at the stairs marking the way to the physician's chambers. The Knight was not going to let him lose Merlin's friendship because of this, not when he had seen how much good it had done him. Taking a deep breath, Arthur squared his shoulders and marched up the stairs, wondering what on earth he was going to say to his servant, his friend.
"Ow, Gaius, that hurt."
"Stay still, Merlin, I need to clean it. You don't want an infection as well do you?" Hearing Merlin grumble even through the door, Arthur paused. His servant sounded like he was in a great deal of pain. Would he even want to see Arthur, let alone listen to what he had to say?
"Gwen, could you fetch me that pail of water? Yes, thank you. Merlin, for the last time, stop squirming."
Knocking gently on the door, Arthur shut his eyes, letting Leon's advice fill his head. Hearing the yelled "Come in!" Arthur pushed the door open quietly.
The majority of the occupants had their backs to the door. Gaius and Gwen were bending over a stool, hiding Merlin from view. Morgana was the only one who saw Arthur enter, offering him a strange smile that seemed to give him strength. It was as if she approved of what he was doing, and yet was not going to forgive him until Merlin had.
"Come, Gwen, we have things to do." She announced suddenly, taking her surprised maidservant by the arm and pulling her away. Gwen looked stunned, but as soon as she saw Arthur, she smiled at Morgana, who responded with the like. The two girls knew each other so well, Arthur knew without a doubt Gwen knew what Morgana was up too.
"Sire!" Gaius exclaimed, sounding surprised as he turned to see where Gwen was going. Arthur, however, only nodded, his eyes fixed on Merlin. The servant had deliberately turned away, shielding his arm from the prince. His ankle, however, Arthur could still see, wrapped up and resting on another stool in front of him. Arthur only hoped it wasn't too bad.
"Merlin?" Arthur called softly, feeling a rush of guilt at the state of his servant. Even his clothes were covered in mud, something Arthur knew was going to take him a while to get out.
"Sire." Merlin acknowledged coldly, meeting Arthur's eyes for the first time since begging for his help. Instead of the anger Arthur was expecting to see, the prince was surprised by the emptiness in them. It was almost as if Merlin had accepted what had happened, as if he had been expecting Arthur to behave in that way. That just served to heighten the prince's guilt.
"Here, Merlin, drink this. I have to go and fetch some more willow bark to help with the pain, I won't be long. You'll stay, won't you, Arthur?" And without giving the prince a chance to respond, Gaius strode from the room, pausing outside to let his smirk work its way free. They didn't have to know about the huge basket of willow bark hidden in the corner. Walking off, the physician decided he may as well do a few of his rounds whilst waiting for the two of them to patch things up. There could be no denying it, Gaius was angry with Arthur, he thought he had matured passed this, but also knew the young prince was growing up, he had improved dramatically over the last couple of months.
"What?" Merlin responded shortly. It hurt having Arthur in the same room as him, knowing the prince hadn't lifted a finger to try and help him. If Morgana hadn't arrived when she had, Merlin knew he would be a in a lot worse shape than he was now. And all because he had trusted Arthur would help him. He had been a fool.
"Merlin, please, I don't know what I can say to make this better. My behaviour was inexcusable, and I want you to know I am truly sorry."
Merlin didn't respond, but Arthur could see his shoulders relax slightly, almost as if he had been expecting Arthur to attack him as well. Knowing the boy wasn't as angry as he wanted Arthur to believe, he hastily pushed on.
"I was a prat, I know. I never should have listened to them, and I promise that something like this will never happen again. Merlin, please, believe me."
"I do." Merlin said softly, finally turning on the stool so he was properly facing the prince. "But Arthur, how do you know it won't happen again? You promised me after I first became your servant you wouldn't do it again."
"I know. I'm a fool, Merlin. But, as long as you keep reminding me that, I'll keep my head next time, I swear."
"Is this you admitting to being a complete and utter prat then?" Merlin asked, the corner of his mouth turning up in a smile. Smiling back, Arthur eased himself onto a stool.
"Tell anyone and I'll have you banished or something equally dramatic."
"Of course, Sire."
"Shut up, Merlin."
And just like that, the tension left the room. Arthur couldn't believe Merlin had forgiven him that easily. He could still see the lingering apprehension in his eyes, making the prince realise that whilst Merlin may have forgiven him, he wasn't so sure about the promise. Arthur hadn't just sworn it to Merlin, however, he had sworn it to himself. He had begun to regard his servant as more of a friend than just another member of the royal staff, and Arthur would be damned if he let the men he knew had no respect for him come in the way of that again. In those few months, Merlin had become a truer friend than they had managed in the years they had spent trailing around after the prince.
Let me know what you think? Part two should be up soon!