Finally wrote the last chaper of this! God, it was hard! The knights may get another outing; (but they will also just keep appearing in other stories, when I need them.)
The five knights were slumped down on a table in the tavern, all of them just staring vacantly around and sipping at their drinks. Olwen had sprawled across the flat of the table and he lifted his head high enough to say.
"I am aching in places I didn't know could ache."
Gareth looked up. "I'm aching in places I didn't even know I had!"
"I'm never moving again," Robert added, his voice echoing as he stayed slumped over, face down on the table.
"Well, I'm never kidnapping Merlin again," Jonas added. Olwen started to laugh, and then groaned as it hurt too much. He dropped his head back down onto the table.
"Merlin didn't fare any better than we did today," Rupert pointed out. All of them pondered that, including the near miss during Arthur's jousting practice. None of them realised what Merlin had about Arthur's tactics.
"Why didn't he just let Arthur rescue him last night? Wouldn't that have been easier?" Jonas asked.
"For who?" Robert asked, head still on the table.
"Merlin said it wouldn't have solved anything," Gareth said. "Can you imagine what we would have done if Arthur had come storming in to rescue him."
"We would have probably gone to Uther," Jonas concluded.
"I wouldn't," Olwen said stubbornly. "I don't really agree with the king."
He spoke almost nervously, looking around a little to see if anyone heard what he said. Everyone else in the tavern carried on with what they were doing, unaware of what the five knights were discussing. The rest of the regulars were used to seeing the knights frequent the place, and they were left alone. The landlord certainly didn't mind them there, it meant there was never any trouble, nothing got broken, no fights occurred. It was generally pleasant when the knights of Camelot were out drinking. Although he watched them all with curiosity, since the five of them could hardly seem to lift their drinks, and they all seemed very quiet.
They were in fact very quiet as they took in what Olwen had just said, and clearly didn't want to repeat, but the look in their eyes as they glanced around said enough.
"When did Merlin get to be so damn astute?" Jonas asked.
"I always was, I'm in disguise," Merlin announced. All the knights jumped and then groaned as they moved parts of their body that really didn't want to move. "I told Gwen that ages ago."
"Does Gwen know as well?"
"About me… oh, no, no no!" Merlin said. "It was about something else actually, that I could be a rough, save the world, kind of guy, like Arthur."
The knights sniggered and then groaned again. Merlin looked at them, and then down at himself.
"Alright, maybe not, the comparison here probably doesn't put me in the most flattering of lights," Merlin mused.
"No it doesn't," Jonas said lifting his arm to pat Merlin's arm, and then winced at the pain in his shoulder. He rolled it, but that didn't seem to do much to help it. Merlin frowned and took Jonas' arm, putting a hand on the knight's shoulder to apply pressure and he rotated his arm.
"Ow!" Jonas moaned, and then gave a little groan of release. Merlin rotated his arm the other way and started to massage the muscles in Jonas' shoulder. The knight winced for a moment and then relaxed. Merlin let him go.
"Better?" he asked. Jonas shifted his shoulder a little.
"Yeah, thanks. What are you doing here anyway?"
"I've just escaped Arthur, and I wanted to make sure no one was planning to pounce on me again," Merlin said brightly. Five pairs of eyes looked up at him steadily. Merlin gave a nervous grin.
"Okay, just thought I'd check it, if it's any consolation he seems in a better mood now."
They all just groaned at him.
"And I came to see if you guys were all right," Merlin said. They all looked up at him again. "And you are, so good, I need to be going now, if you need anything for… aches and… Gaius has some remedies and stuff."
Very slowly Merlin started backing off, babbling a little. As he got far enough away he turned and hurried out of the tavern again, bashing into tables and stammering apologies as he went. The knights watched him go and then looked at each other.
"Makes you wonder sometimes if he really does have a mental deficiency," Jonas asked. Olwen scowled at him.
"That or if he should be locked up for his own protection, that boy is a walking accident," Robert said.
"Like I said to Arthur weeks ago, his kingdom will probably be ok as long as Merlin doesn't drop it," Olwen said, putting his head down again. The rest of them slumped, and that appeared to be the end of that.
"Well?" Arthur demanded as Merlin stepped outside the tavern. He stood there with his arms folded, shoulders all tense and eyes focused.
"What was the point of sending me in there?" Merlin asked. "Why didn't you go?"
"I am the Crown Prince of Camelot, I do not frequent taverns," Arthur said taking Merlin's shoulder to start propelling him down the street.
"Only when you want to 'measure the mood of your people', or start a fight," Merlin drawled sarcastically.
"I don't recall starting a fight," Arthur said.
"Yeah, you do have rather a selective memory at times," Merlin said. "Ow!" he added as Arthur clipped him around the head.
"I am going to end up damaged!" Merlin said.
"There's nothing to damage Merlin," Arthur said.
"I resent that," Merlin muttered.
"Good for you, now, what did they say?"
"Not much, I think they are just happy to hear that you are out of your bad mood. You are, aren't you? I mean, that's it, isn't it?"
"Yeah, I think so. It's a difficult thing to get over," Arthur said, turning to walk off. Merlin frowned and jogged after him.
"What is? You being a prat, you'd think most people would be used to it by now."
"No, idiot," Arthur snapped at him. "You."
"Yes, Merlin, you, being.. well… you! I hardly expected them just to dismiss it, they can't expect me to either, surely?"
Merlin frowned, "You expected them to do something."
"Maybe, after Olwen came and spoke to me I thought that…." Arthur paused and stopped walking, turning to face Merlin, looking at him steadily.
"Merlin, it is not an easy thing to get over, learning what you are."
"I am doing."
Merlin frowned. The shot of fear lanced through him, far worse than any time that Arthur put him through the rigours of the training ground, or dragged him out on missions. Merlin could protect himself now, and Arthur. It was easier now.
"You mean you're not; I mean you wouldn't; would you?"
Arthur reached out a hand, clamping it down on Merlin's shoulder. Merlin watched him carefully. If Arthur suddenly changed his mind then the whole thing got blown wide open. He watched the changing expressions on Arthur's face, as he tried to work out exactly what he wanted to say.
"It's not easy." Arthur spoke slowly, his eyes not quite meeting Merlin's for a moment. "All I know of sorcerers is what I have seen."
"None of which is good, I get that. And a lot of people who mean no harm don't get a chance, Arthur."
"I know. And I know, I can see it, and that you think I keep being too hard on you. But I don't know anything else that I can do. I know why people attack Camelot, so many times. But when I see that power sometimes and how they use it, I just think I have to stop you."
Arthur, to Merlin's amazement, sounded really worried. At least he could now understand the pushing, it wasn't just Arthur taking it out on him. He was actually worried. Merlin blinked and looked away.
"You do, when I'm not contemplating turning you into a toad."
"Thanks," Arthur said, a smile slowly starting to creep across his face. "But I have to do that for them as well now. I have to give them a reason to not tell my father."
"You don't think their word is enough. That really doesn't show a whole load of faith in them," Merlin said.
"I know, but I just get it going over in my mind, what do I do if I have to make that choice, if my father finds out."
"Then you give me up, Arthur, you shouldn't jeopardize yourself for me."
"I doubt it would be as simple as that now."
"No, I guess not," Merlin said. "But maybe things are changing a little, now."
Arthur looked at him with that expression he sometimes used, when Merlin managed to surprise him by sounding intelligent. Merlin had to admit, he didn't see it very often. Then again as a cover it had stood him in good stead over the last few years. Now a few people knew about him, and were just about willing to take it on face value. Merlin was left with a lot to live up now.
"Maybe they are, Merlin. Maybe they just are."