Last chapter finally! It has probably run it's course, but I'm glad everyone enjoyed it. I do have another silly story in mind, and I will be getting on with the other stories I have up here as well. I might make an effort to finish a few before I get invovled in any more, but probably not. ;-)
"Merlin," Arthur said, making Merlin turn from Arthur's bedding. He was straightening up the sheets and pillows as Arthur snuck in on him, with Gaius in tow. Merlin turned around and looked at them, giving a nervous half smile.
It got a little stranger as Arthur, on seeing the smile, cocked his head and grinned in affectionate amusement.
As far as Merlin was concerned, it had been a very strange morning. He had woken up, feeling as if everything was normal. Or at least he was, the rest of the world seemed to have gone mad. He had got dressed and disappeared out, Gaius had already gone so Merlin had headed off to the kitchens to collect Arthur's breakfast.
Which had led to strange encounter number one.
Merlin wandered in, looking around cautiously as he always did when he entered Mary's domain. He had a vague inkling of being in here, when he was little, when everything had looked so large. Very carefully he stepped forward towards the table where some of the food had been laid out. Merlin always timed it so some of the breakfast trays were ready, so he could just grab the food and run.
He was stacking some cheese, bread and sausages onto a plate when a voice announced.
"Oh, I'll get you some apples too."
Merlin went a mile in the air, eyes rolling in his head as Mary headed off into the larder again. Nearly all of Merlin's instinct told him to run away and forget the apples, but his body stayed where it was. The delay cost him as he was jumped by two more kitchen maids who descended on him cooing in delight.
"Oh Merlin, weren't you just so cute as a baby," one announced pinning him on his left side, the other on his right.
"Especially when you came in to get some apples for Arthur's breakfast. You should take some now."
"Mary's getting them," Merlin said feeling a little faint. It was hard to keep any secrets in the castle, servants might not be paid attention to but that usually meant one was there to see and hear things, and then spread it around like wildfire. Plus the fact Morgana and Arthur had both got involved and leaving Uther practically foaming at the mouth with rage hadn't helped.
"Here you are my love," Mary said, very congenially, when she would normally have been chasing him around with the rolling pin. Merlin's slightly muddled mind flickered with a memory of Arthur threatening her. When had Arthur found out it was happening, Merlin wondered?
"Oh, and I'll get you some apple juice," one of the maids announced.
"Thank you," Merlin said, blinking in shock as Mary started tidying up his ruffled hair. Since he was holding Arthur's tray he couldn't do anything about it, while the other girl came back with a jug of apple juice. Mary finished neatening his hair, and then straightened his scarf and jacket. Merlin took it mutely, feeling again like he was no higher than the table. The women smiled at him indulgently.
"There you go sweetheart," Mary said.
"Thank you," Merlin said, in what was, he realised as he scurried away, a babyish sounding voice. The three women 'aawwwed' to varying degrees as Merlin made a run for it, suddenly feeling very conscious of every female he passed eyeing him with amused, fluffy expressions.
At least Arthur had just asked him if he was all right, ate his breakfast and gave him a list of long chores to be getting on with. One of which included running messages to some of the knights regarding some changes to their duties.
Which led him to strange encounter number two.
One of the messages he needed to deliver was to Leon. Who was on the training field. Merlin rattled off the message, which Leon listened to while staring at him intently.
"Are you all right now, Merlin?"
Merlin gave a bright smile and shrugged. "Yep, just me, being well… me."
"That's good. Is Arthur being all right with you?"
"Yes," Merlin said, drawing out the word as he looked at Leon strangely. "Why?"
There was a pause and Merlin added, quite hurriedly.
"Just making sure," Leon said. "Gwaine asked me to."
Merlin's eyebrows shot up, and he blinked in surprise. Leon shifted his feet, looking uncomfortable. Merlin's mind retraced some of the things that Gwaine had said, and also remembered the angrily hissed conversation that Leon and Gwaine had had in the stables of the hunting lodge. Merlin now concluded that Gwaine had done most of the angry hissing.
"Really?" Merlin said, not only surprised that Gwaine had asked Leon but that Leon had also agreed to do it. It also, Merlin guessed, explained Gwaine's confidence that he could help Merlin out, even if he couldn't get to Camelot.
"Well, something like that."
"Oh," Merlin said, thinking that it probably wasn't as simple as that.
"Sorry if I upset you the other day," Leon added.
"When you started crying, after I mentioned that Uther might have you executed."
"Oh, that. It was a bit of a shock," Merlin reasoned.
"But you remember it," Leon pointed out.
"Yeah, but I suppose it's sort of normal for what Uther threatens me with."
"But you were two."
"Well, not really, I was just made that way by a spell."
"But you're all right now?" Leon asked.
"Yes," Merlin said.
"Good," Leon said.
They had both looked at each other, both feeling vaguely confused and uncomfortable. They went their separate ways without saying anything more. Merlin carried on, and it all went peaceful again until he was strolling through the castle heading to Morgana's with a sleeping tonic.
And then came strange encounter number three.
He had knocked loudly and peered around Morgana's door. Gwen was finishing off Morgana's hair. They both turned as he came around the door, and smiled at him. Merlin relaxed a little, everything seemed normal, until Morgana stood up and turned on the spot.
"Do you like it?"
Merlin frowned in confusion, looking Morgana up and down. "You look very nice."
Morgana stopped twirling. "It's the material you chose," she pointed out.
"Oh," Merlin said, staring at the deep purple fabric, wondering when the time had been found to make the dress. The seamstress in the castle must have been very busy. "It's nice, sorry about that."
"Why? You said it was nice."
"You thought I was a random foundling when I chose it," Merlin said. Morgana grinned.
"You were so cute."
Merlin quailed inwardly. "I wasn't, not really."
"Oh, you are, Merlin." Morgana said. "You always are, and so clingy."
Merlin looked to Gwen for help but Gwen's face had taken on a fluffy affectionate expression as well.
"You were cute Merlin," Gwen told him.
"Especially with Arthur," Morgana said. Both girls started to giggle.
"Oh, hell," Merlin moaned. "I just came to drop this off. Please don't wind Arthur up about it."
"Merlin! The ammunition," Morgana said. Merlin, regretting it even before he did it, put on his best cute face, trying to sound a little babyish when he said.
"But he'll take it out on me."
Morgana's eyes flashed with outrage. So did Gwen's, but to a lesser extent.
"He'd better not, if he does you are to tell me straight away," Morgana said, coming over to him and putting her arm around him, holding tightly. "If he does, promise you you'll tell me."
"Okay," Merlin said brightly, and a little babyishly. Morgana went all fluffy eyed again. Merlin thought he had better get out of there.
"I have to go, I've still got chores to do," he said, employing a more normal voice as he spoke. Morgana took the vial off him and let him go, ruffling his hair, which Gwen then straightened.
"Off you go."
Merlin high-tailed it out of the room very aware that he should not be taking advantage of fluffy eyed women, but they still seemed to be everywhere. He was so busy trying to avoid them, as he took the linen up to Arthur's room, he almost ran into someone.
And so began strange encounter number four.
"Sorry," Merlin said, then he realised who he had run into. "Sire!" Merlin added, backing up as he encountered Uther, trying to respectfully stand aside while lowering his head and simply succeeded in clocking his head on a torch bracket. "OW!"
Uther huffed at him, glaring steadily as Merlin rubbed his head.
"I see things are back to normal," Uther drawled. Merlin rubbed harder.
"Good," Uther said, Merlin thought that would be the end of it. He was back to normal, he could do his duties and Morgana was back in the castle safe and sound, but Uther didn't move. He didn't sweep off as Merlin expected, probably forgetting about him six steps later. Uther lingered, looking him up and down and then the king reached out to grab Merlin's upper arm pressing his fingers in hard. Merlin winced, biting down on his lip to stop himself complaining.
"You really need to carry on eating your crusts," Uther commented. "Didn't your mother ever teach you that?"
"We didn't have bread very often."
"We couldn't afford it," Merlin said. Uther relaxed his grip, leaning back a little and staring at Merlin with a frown on his face, looking utterly confused. Merlin felt a compulsion to clarify the situation.
"I was brought up in a small village, we couldn't build a mill and the one in the village near us was burnt down by bandits. Bread was hard to come by."
"It's not in Camelot," Uther informed him.
"It still depends on how much money you have," Merlin retaliated. Uther's frown deepened and he eyed Merlin with the intensity of examining a particularly fascinating bug. Merlin felt his arm released and Uther went storming off. Merlin fled to Arthur's chambers with the bedding and set about making the bed. He was just finishing when Arthur and Gaius had walked in, and Arthur threatened to turn fluffy eyed. Then something drew him back.
"Merlin, sit down."
"Why?" Merlin asked. "I've got things to do."
He had turned away but there was the violent scrape of chair legs against the floor and Merlin turned to look at Arthur, who had pulled the chair away from the table.
"Sit," he ordered in a tone that was not to be ignored.
Since the morning had been so strange Merlin couldn't help but start the encroaching afternoon by wandering over to sit on the chair and he looked up at the two people stood in front of him with a very sulky expression. They both regarded him sternly.
"How long has it being going on?" Arthur demanded.
"People being strange, just this morning," Merlin said.
"No," Arthur said with excessive patience. "You running between me and Gaius."
"Always," Merlin said, pouting. "If it not 'Merlin, clean my armour,' it's 'Merlin, I need some herbs,' or it's 'Merlin, my chamber floor needs scrubbing,', or 'Merlin, deliver these potions around all the far corners of the castle,' or 'Merlin, if you've got three seconds to stand still then you can clean the leech tank, or muck out the stables!' I never get a minute's peace. I was hoping to get some when you were hunting and you were collecting herbs but that went a little bit wrong. At least you can't do chores when you are no more than table height!"
Merlin decided that sulking was a very good idea, he just sat there and let the two men with him absorb his rant and if they didn't like it, he'd go and tell Morgana, and Gwen; and Leon, who would tell Gwaine.
"Why didn't you say something?" Gaius asked.
"I have," Merlin said and decided not to say anymore. He watched Arthur and Gaius look at each other and then they looked back at Merlin. Arthur eyed him for a moment and then turned his attention to Gaius, waving his hand to indicate they should move away.
"Carry on with what you were doing," Arthur told Merlin. Merlin huffed and stomped off, yanking Arthur's sheets about violently, while he heard snippets of the conversation.
"Certain hours, during the morning," he heard from Arthur.
"It's only occasional," from Gaius.
"He can always do so when we're hunting," from Arthur.
"And we need to make him tell us," from Gaius.
"You need to also realise, he's not deaf, nor is he stupid, and I do remember the last few days," Merlin said. "You're still doing it now. I was far more visible when I was smaller."
"Sorry," Gaius said.
When two sets of eyes regarded Arthur, so he looked at Merlin. "Sorry."
"Oh, it's fine, just… you know, I might want to pause and stop for breath just once in a while."
"Well, there's time now. I have to go and see my father about some new idea he has about giving the leftover bread from the kitchens to the people in the lower town, or something like that," Arthur said. "Will you be all right Merlin?"
"Yes, I'm fine."
"I can probably even dress myself for dinner."
"No, I'll do it," Merlin said looking resigned.
"Well you can take the night off after that," Arthur said before hurrying out. Merlin turned to look at Gaius.
"I'll have dinner ready for you," Gaius said. "And no leech tank."
"I should think not," Merlin said. "I did it last week."
He watched Gaius leave and then Merlin carried on pulling Arthur's sheets about, glancing at the door again before biting down on his lip, trying to contain the grin that was threatening. Merlin giggled and jumping up he hurled himself onto Arthur's bed, wriggling into the covers and continuing to giggle while he flailed and kicked his legs about.
"Merlin?" a voice suddenly announced close to him. He lurched up as Arthur's hand ran into his hair. Merlin gave a squeak of shock and flopped onto the bed.
"Could you make sure my blue tunic is clean, please?"
"Uh-huh," Merlin said. Arthur ruffled his hair and he walked to the door, pausing just on the threshold.
"You're a very cute kid," Arthur commented before he left. Merlin sniggered.
That concluded strange encounter number five.
Merlin sat up and looked around, reaching up to pull his hair straight, thinking about Arthur and Gaius' new resolution, and said out loud to the empty air.
"I give it a week."