The Invisible Servant
"Now where has that lazy servant got to?"
Arthur knew it had been too good to be true. Just one day after he'd decided Merlin had finally started to learn the nuances of the job, the boy suddenly reverts to type and is nowhere to be found. To be honest, the only reason he hadn't begged his father to change his mind about the appointment four years ago was the fact that the boy intrigued and amused him and, more importantly, really annoyed all the nobles. However, it appeared that Merlin had been telling the truth when he said he was a quick study because Arthur couldn't remember the last time he had to reprimand him for being late with a meal, messing up his armour, or attending to the usual duties that was required.
Until this morning.
Yes, in private Merlin usually still called him by name - well, many varied names if truth be told - but on serious occasions or in public he always addressed him properly, bowed and drifted into the background when anyone else came into the room. The perfect invisible servant.
Invisible? Well, he certainly was now. Arthur strode towards Gaius' chambers thinking the old man had requisitioned Merlin for an urgent case and 'someone' had forgotten to inform him, but the half opened door showed the main room to be empty. He was about to leave when he heard quiet voices coming from the room at the far end. He moved closer and then froze as he recognised who was there... with Merlin... in his bedchamber.
"If you knew all this time, why didn't you tell me?" Guinevere sounded hurt and more than a little cross. Curiosity overcame jealousy and he moved a little closer. "Did you not care about the danger I was in?"
"Gwen, of course I did but... I have been looking out for you, honestly. It's just..." His servant's voice trailed away.
There was no immediate reply and so Arthur edged slightly closer and sat down on a step. The rickety wooden door was closed but had a large enough gap at the hinge side for him to see through quite clearly. Merlin was sitting on his small bed, facing the door with his head down and Guinevere was sitting next to him. Arthur took a deep breath as a stab of jealously hit him. They were sitting very close, on his bed... their knees almost touching and Arthur tried hard to put the negative feeling to one side. He knew they didn't feel like that about each other, and Merlin was hardly real competition after all, but it wasn't Merlin himself he was jealous of he realised. It was the boy's freedom to spend time and talk to the beautiful Guinevere whenever he liked, without having to look over his shoulder and worry if anyone had noticed. He took another deep breath to calm himself and concentrated on the conversation.
"You have to tell Arthur," she said firmly.
Merlin's head sprung up and he looked at her with pure terror in his eyes. "I-I can't." Frankly Arthur was a little offended. He'd given no reason to make Merlin that scared of him, had he? "I can't tell anyone."
"But, I know."
"You found out by yourself. I can't tell anyone."
"Why not?" Merlin shook his head and dropped his gaze again. It said something about how engrossing this scene was that Arthur did not feel any negative emotions when his love gently placed a hand under Merlin's chin and raised his head to look at her. His eyes were full of fear.
"She's threatened you, hasn't she?" Merlin didn't answer but the terror in his eyes did the job for him.
"Tell me." Her voice was so gentle ... so kind. Arthur smiled despite himself.
"I c-can't say."
"Merlin, we had this conversation in reverse not this long ago. You told me to go to Arthur, you said he'd want to know I was in trouble and help me. Don't you realise he'd do the same for you - that we would both do anything for you?"
"Well, I don't know about that," Arthur thought. The speech hadn't comforted Merlin though, he shook his head.
"You'll feel better if you tell me and then we can work out how to get you out of this," she continued.
"I-I can't Gwen. You'd hate me... even knowing about... and Arthur? He'd never believe me... and when Uther finds out..." There were tears in his eyes now and Arthur found it difficult to look at the scene. Merlin didn't have an evil bone in his body, he'd never hurt anyone. And whoever this 'she' was would have to answer to him for causing his two best friends so much pain. He paused, surprised at that thought, and nearly laughed out loud. His two best friends were servants. How ironic was that?
"He has to know," Gwen continued. Merlin just shrugged. "Look, I'd talk to him myself but you know how things are?"
"No, you shouldn't risk that either." He suddenly looked at the window in surprise. "Gwen, look at the time. We're going to be late." They both stood up and Arthur copied, starting to move back towards the main door.
"Yes, we don't want her to have any more ammunition against me." Arthur froze in shock. He'd never heard Guinevere talk about anyone like that. She'd practically spat the word 'her' and, as he quickly continued out of the room so the pair would not be aware of his eavesdropping, he found himself suddenly nervous about who this mysterious female might be. When he ran into Morgana in the corridor, he almost yelled in surprise.
"Arthur, whatever is wrong?" For a moment he thought he should steer her away from the room, so that she didn't get any strange ideas about Merlin and Guinevere being together but just as he thought it, he realised that he had a much better idea.
"Just looking for that bone idle servant of mine."
"Well, so was I. Well, not that Gwen's anywhere near as bad as Merlin." Arthur looked briefly surprised at how firmly she said that.
"Ah, well that explains it then," he said with a sly wink and pointed to open door where Merlin and Gwen were hurrying out looking rather flustered. The panic on their faces was a treat and he was now going to make things even more uncomfortable for them. Served them both right for canoodling on Merlin's bed together.
Morgana looked even more shocked.
"What? I thought ..."
"We were enchanted remember?" he said smiling broadly at the two servants as they moved closer. "Didn't you know how these two felt about each other before that? I've known for ages." He was enjoying himself now. All three were looking totally confused. "Come, Merlin, I'll let you off this once but let's not make a habit of it, eh?"
"What are you doing?" Merlin hissed as Arthur pulled him along with him.
"It's the perfect cover for me. I could probably trust Morgana but, seeing she didn't know until recently, I think we can blame that old sorcerer and then it's only you who knows our true feelings."
"And Gaius ..." There was a very long pause. "Actually, that's not a bad idea. You could also use our apparent relationship to cover for any meetings you want to have with her."
"You see. I'm a genius."
"I wouldn't go that far. Ah, you seem surprisingly relaxed about this."
Arthur suddenly turned towards Merlin, grabbed one hand around his throat and pushed him against the wall. It was rather satisfying to see the scared look on his face, although slightly worrying that he didn't look anywhere near as terrified as he had when talking with Guinevere a few moments before.
"If you do anything to take advantage of this alibi I'm creating and I will kill you... very... slowly. Understand?" Merlin attempted to nod and gave a slightly strangled sound in response. Arthur released him. "Good. So, as your spending time with her just now was entirely innocent, what exactly were you doing that required you both to miss your duties?"
"Nothing... talking... lost track of time."
"Merlin?" The tiniest smile touched his servant's lips.
"Just brother/sister stuff."
"You know, 'cause that's how I feel about Gwen you see, being an only child." Arthur stopped walking and turned to look at Merlin, interested in the comment.
"Well, yes, like me and Morgana?" He was shocked to see a cloud descend over Merlin's face and a steely glint appear in his eye. He could never have imagined seeing anything like that look on his servant's usually soppy face.
"Hardly," he hissed.
"What is that supposed to mean?" They'd arrived back in his chambers and Merlin abruptly fell into servant mode and the stern expression faded. Arthur began to think he had imagined it.
Merlin started to help him on with his armour for his training session and gradually, during the process, they started to relax into something resembling their usual banter. Now alerted to the fact that there was some major stress in Merlin's life, Arthur could see that it was a little forced, but he still hadn't made the connection until a few moments later.
The prince had his back to the door and had just supplied an excellent retort to his servant's latest rude insult which, at long last, had returned Merlin's usual cheeky grin to his face. Then there was a soft knock on the door, the tiniest creek and Merlin's face changed.
Arthur had been shocked enough by the subtle change of expression earlier but this was pure hatred, forced behind a steel mask. Arthur both recoiled in shock at the intensity of that look and, at the same time turned quickly towards the door and lifted his sword off the table in one move, preparing himself to face the enemy behind him.
"Arthur?" Morgana was staring at him in shock.
"I-I ... sorry." He had no idea why he'd reacted like that, other than he'd had the very real sense of danger close at hand. Then he saw a similar look on Morgana's face, directed straight at Merlin. Arthur turned back to find his servant had moved towards the wall, placed his hands by his side and bowed his head. The invisible servant again. When he turned back to Morgana, Merlin bowed and slid out of the room.
"What has he been telling you?" Morgana said the word 'he' in the same way as Guinevere had said 'she' earlier. Arthur now thought he knew who that conversation had been about. He was really hoping he was wrong.
"He's not said anything of significance since we arrived here - as if he ever does. He was just getting me changed. What's your grudge with him anyway?"
"What do you mean?"
"Oh come on. Every time you walk in the room the poor boy practically hits the ceiling." It was bizarre. As he said it, he realised that he had noticed it recently but ... subconsciously, as you might observe an extra cobweb on the ceiling and think nothing of it. He had hoped that Guinevere had done a better job on him than that.
Morgana's face had now also changed. She had arranged it a smile and, for once, Arthur could see it was false.
"There's nothing wrong ... I think perhaps we're all a little jumpy lately?" She raised an eyebrow at him and he realised he was still holding the sword.
"Ah yes, you're probably right."
"Anyway, I only came in to say that the king has asked us to be ready an hour earlier for supper today, we have a guest ... an old friend of his staying."
"Right ... thanks. I'd better go then, I'm really very late for training.
He arrived on the ground to find Merlin already there. The swords were laid out, the shields ready and he was assisting the other knights that had already started their workout. He tried to catch his eye but the boy simply bowed, stepped forwards and handed him the very mace that he had been about to ask for. Arthur shook his head and wondered if he'd ever be able to concentrate on the training with all the questions going on in his head.
The following morning Arthur made his way towards Gaius' chambers, determined to get to the bottom of the whole Merlin/Morgana issue. He arrived to find Merlin in the main room.
"Is Gaius here?"
"No, he's on his usual rounds."
"Right Merlin. I need to you to go and see if Guinevere is free and bring her here."
"Your room. It's the perfect place for a meeting - we're not immediately visible from the main door and everyone has an excuse to be here."
"The three of us."
"Ah ... right ...?"
"Now Merlin." He scurried off still looking confused whilst Arthur pondered things. Merlin and Guinevere knew something about Morgana - something that scared them both. Morgana also knew something about Merlin which meant he felt he couldn't tell Arthur. He wandered up the steps into his servant's room expecting the clutter he'd seen before, and was surprised to see how much the space had changed. The tiny bed was neatly made and more furniture now decorated the room, including a table in the corner housing all sorts of interesting bottles, jars and a large pestle and mortar. A collection of herbs dangled from a rack hung from the ceiling. A string tied across the corner had a damp blue shirt hanging on it. Probably Merlin's only spare, he quickly realised. The smaller desk under the window had an ink pot and impressive collection of pens.
Three tatty, unremarkable books were piled next to a piece of parchment. On inspection Arthur found the top one was written in a completely unfamiliar language. The other two seemed to be in different languages again, with the parchment next to it covered in similar script all written in Merlin's surprisingly neat hand. Merlin learning other languages? Arthur had known for a while that Merlin was considerably brighter than he looked but still ... it was a surprise to find out he was a such an avid scholar.
He walked around to the other side of the bed contemplating this latest revelation and, without really thinking about it, sat down heavily on the bed. The rickety narrow little thing slid backwards abruptly almost pushing the prince onto the floor. He placed a firm boot against the nearest floorboard to steady himself, only for the board itself to give way. The bed continued to slide towards the window whilst he ended up in an unceremonious heap on the floor. He got up quickly, quite convinced that Merlin and Guinevere would choose exactly this moment to make their entrance, but was relieved to find the doorway still empty.
As he went to move the bed back, he noticed that the floor board wasn't just loose, it had lifted straight off, leaving a neat secret compartment underneath. Arthur grinned broadly as he knelt to replace the boards and saw a book in there. Secret diary Merlin? Ordinarily he wouldn't have considered looking at something private, but there was something about it that got his attention. It was large, old and very beautiful and Arthur quickly glanced at the door before just as quickly lifted the book up... fear suddenly bubbling in his stomach. This could not be what he thought it was. His shaking hands undid the clasps to find the most beautiful script, drawings and symbols decorating every page.
It was a magic book ... unmistakable.
He should confront Merlin with it. Actually, he should take it to his father. He should ... What he actually did surprised him; he returned the book to it's hole, taking note of various other interesting shapes contained within it, replaced the floor board and slid the bed back to it's correct position. He then left the room, closed the door and sat on one of Gaius's chairs with his heart beating faster than he'd ever remembered. After a very short time, Merlin and Guinevere arrived. The boy gave him a broad grin and Gwen gave him a loving one. He attempted to return it but obviously failed. Both their smiles promptly faded.
"Arthur, what is it?" asked Guinevere concerned.
"Let's go next door," He let Merlin go first and the young man opened the door for them and offered Guinevere a seat on the bed and Arthur the only chair. He then perched on a bench, Arthur allowed his eyes to wander around the room again.
"A bit neater than the last time I was in here."
"Ah, yes ..."
"Planning to take over Gaius' job when he retires?" he asked, indicating the various bottles on the tables.
"Not really my strong point but I am trying to learn." The idea of Merlin having magic had been aired before but it always seemed ridiculous. Even now, despite all the evidence, Arthur could look at Merlin's open honest face and be totally convinced that a room full of herbs, potions and magic books could not mean the obvious.
"Why do you want to talk to us Arthur? What's wrong?" Guinevere was looking at him with concern in her eyes.
"What's up with you two and Morgana?" he asked abruptly. Merlin and Gwen exchanged a worried glance. "Well?"
"She's changed since she returned," said Guinevere carefully when Merlin didn't answer.
"I don't think she was a prisoner whilst she was away I think she was... learning things."
"What things?" Gwen looked at Merlin again. He shrugged his shoulders very slightly and didn't answer. "Magic."
Arthur laughed out loud. He couldn't help himself. There was an hysterical tinge to it that even he could hear. His two friends looked at him wide eyed.
"Morgana? What makes you say that, Guinevere?"
"I saw her use it."
"You did?" She nodded.
"Merlin?" The boy lowered his head and shook it. "He's known for ages," said Gwen confidently and Merlin's head snapped back up with a glare. "But Morgana knows he knows and has threatened him... with something."
And they're both keeping each other's dirty little secret. Sorcerers together. He could feel another manic laugh coming on but managed to control himself.
"Is this true?" he asked instead. Merlin just shrugged again.
"You must tell us what she has on you. That way we can protect you and she'll have no hold on you," Gwen urged. The fear in Merlin's eyes increased and Arthur had no idea how he felt about that.
"I-I can't. You two might understand now you know about her but ... if she tells Uther ... I'm dead."
Too right you are.
"Alright, that's enough information for now. Let's all think this over and meet again here tomorrow?" He continued out loud. "Merlin, go and see to my armour, I'll be along in a couple of minutes."
"You're staying here? With Gwen?" A hint of his usual relaxed smile returned.
"It's just well... this is my room and I'm not sure how I feel about you two... in here ...alone." He pulled a slight face.
"Get your mind out of the gutter. We won't be here for long. Go."
Once Merlin had left, he turned towards Guinevere and gave her a very gentle kiss. It calmed him slightly, but it seemed that she knew that it was just an excuse for something else.
"Have you any idea what this secret of Merlin's is?"
"No, he wouldn't tell me, even though the thought of him doing anything bad seems ridiculous."
"Doesn't it though." He bent down and lifted the loose floor board.
"Arthur, what are you doing? I'm sure that must be private." He handed the book to her and waited. She looked up at him wide eyed and tipped her head. "No ...?" she whispered in a strangled tone.
"There's other stuff down there too. Some sort of staff, a bottle..."
"Merlin? No. I mean... Morgana was enough of a shock but, Merlin? Merlin can't be evil."
"Magic is evil," he replied taking the book back off her. Guinevere suddenly frowned as if remembering something. "What?"
"Merlin said he knew Morgana had magic years ago but didn't say anything because he was convinced she was good - said magic didn't have to be a bad thing."
"Well yes but, he would say that, wouldn't he?"
"I suppose he would but... Merlin isn't evil. You know he isn't."
"It's all an act, Arthur. Spend more time with her and you'll see it's true. Did you see how scared Merlin was - how pathetic?"
"Arthur? Why have you put the book back?" There was a look of awe on her face. He stopped what he was doing, surprised to find that he was now replacing the loose floor board. "You're not going to tell Uther?" She gave him an adoring look.
"I'm not telling him about either of them, I'm just going to watch them both very closely from now on. If I see either of them doing anything that threatens you or Camelot then that will change." She came back up and kissed him on the cheek.
"You are a good and just man, Arthur Pendragon."
"Just be very careful when you're around them, Guinevere. Promise me?"
A/N: One of my very first fanfictions, I've been thinking for a while I should edit out all my horrible early mistakes but haven't got around to it until now.
Anyway, it's a start. (Edited 31/5/14)