Summary: Merlin didn't really expect it to take five Knights, two old men, a woman and a horseshoe for his plan to work, but then again the extent of his plan had been more along the lines of an adamant 'I'm not in love with Prince Prat (except, really, I am)' than an actual plan.
Pairing: Arthur x Merlin
Genre: Bit of everything, including fluff, h/c and a dash of romance.
Length: 30,000 words [total]
Warnings: Spoilers for S3E13 (The Coming of Arthur pt. Two) – continued directly from the end of the series. (Canon) mentions of Arthur/Gwen and (canon and non-canon) Lancelot/Gwen. Little bit of swearing.
Notes: Written for goss for the merry_merthur fic exchange on lj.
Bucket up, all for Luck
The Tale of Merlin (i): The First Day.
Merlin watched as Arthur strode around his room, ripping the inky banners emblazoned with the red tree off of the wall. They had been put up in every room and it was the duty of the servants (well, the ones that were left and able to work) to tear them down for a public burning. Merlin had moved to the side of the door when they'd entered Arthur's rooms before he'd been stopped by a hand clasping his wrist.
"I'll do it," Arthur had muttered in a low voice and Merlin moved to the centre of the room, unsure what to do aside from watch.
Arthur was meticulous, grasping corners of the black material and pulling them down from where they were pinned onto stone walls. They ripped with a startlingly loud noise and Merlin couldn't help but wince each time Arthur started on a new banner.
Tatters of black still sat on the walls where the fabric had ripped in the nails, but Arthur seemed satisfied now as he bundled the black material up, shoving it against Merlin's chest. His head was tilted downwards and Merlin knew that he should say something.
No words came, though, and instead Arthur turned away, looking around his room for signs of Morgana's brief reign.
"I want everything in here stripped," Arthur said softly, directing Merlin's attention to the bed. "I have to return to council meetings again, will you make sure it's all burnt?"
Merlin answered affirmatively and Arthur turned, shoulders straightening as he drew himself up, preparing to descend back into the chaos that was Camelot's court. He'd been in meetings all day so far, determining emergency courses of action to those who needed it and preparing Camelot for repair. Not even after the great dragon's attack had such measures been put into place and it was a simple statement of how ruined Camelot was under Morgana's hands, in just a week.
Arthur had been gone for a while before Merlin moved into action, dumping the black cloth in his hands onto the table and frowning as violent red poked through the masses of black. Merlin's eyes moved to the hearth and he took the banners over, throwing them onto the cold logs, covering the fire dog, where he held his hand over them.
Magic swelled within him and he didn't need an incantation to bring forth the flames. The fabric caught easily, smoke billowing upwards as Merlin cleansed the room of Morgana's colours. He moved to the bedding next, stripping it and folding until it would fit the hearth, where he burnt it.
They didn't know who had slept in Arthur's chambers, though it was clear someone had. Maybe Morgause? Morgana would have undoubtedly kept her own chambers, or moved to the King's, depending. But Arthur's room… no, Merlin was sure he'd have been able to tell if Morgana had been in here.
He continued to burn anything that could be justifiably burnt, whether or not it took alight naturally. The hair comb Merlin found, for example, wouldn't have even smouldered unless a magical fire had been blazing, but Merlin made sure it was buried in charred ashes.
Merlin left a little later, loading the fire dog up with logs and burning some herbs on the fire to make the room smell less of burnt cloth, to fetch Arthur dinner. It was debatable whether he'd return to his chambers to take his meal, but Merlin wanted something to be there in case he did.
Even so, he chose foods that wouldn't perish if left untouched until later, loading a plate with bread and cheese, cured meats and a few sliced vegetables. Hardly a meal fit for a Prince, but Arthur had grown accustomed to eating rat as gourmet cuisine recently so Merlin was quite sure the gesture would be appreciated.
Arthur did return, breezing into his rooms and allowing the door to bang shut behind him. His eyes widened at Merlin's presence, but Merlin just smiled in return.
"I wanted to make sure you got something decent to eat," he said, gesturing to the food laid out on the table. Arthur sank into his chair (his favourite, though it was lacking in the usual fur coverings and Arthur looked a little sad in it now) and his hands darted to the meat first, nibbling an edge with his teeth before placing the whole slice in his mouth.
The sun was beginning to sink now and Merlin watched Arthur in the light of their new Camelot. He looked both like a King and a peasant, a man of great riches and one of great hunger, though Merlin knew this hunger to be one of change and prosperity.
Camelot was changing, whether Uther liked it or not. Arthur had been allowed his knights and he was now practically acting as Regent until Uther was 'well' again. That he'd ever be truly well again was difficult to say, but even with a full recovery, Camelot had changed beyond Uther's control and he would need to rely on Arthur more than he ever had before.
"Thank you," Arthur said between mouthfuls. "You can go now. I'm sure Gaius could use the help and I'll probably be in meetings until tomorrow or something ridiculous."
Arthur ran a hand through his hair and Merlin swallowed, ignoring the lazy sunlight through the window and definitely ignoring the way it made Arthur look more than human.
"Sleep well," Merlin replied, instead of staying to watch Arthur in the dying sun. Arthur was right – Gaius needed his help and he still had things to do before the dawn broke.
Gaius was finishing their supper when Merlin arrived and said dinner would be served in a few minutes. Merlin nodded, walking to his room with unease as a thought crept into his mind.
He liked Arthur, yes. They were friends, of course. Merlin would lay his life down for Arthur's, without a doubt. They'd been in each other's company for years now so what the hell was that back in Arthur's chambers?
Arthur had been sitting down, eating. There had been sunlight… nothing about that was particularly spectacular and yet something inside of Merlin was churning, bubbling up merrily when it had no business to bubble up anything.
The traitorous little thought that had crept up kept whispering, but Merlin tried to ignore it. No, rather, he forced himself to ignore it, smothered the feeling and thought in a massive bundle of ignore and locked it away forever.
It didn't stop him grabbing a piece of parchment from the side of his desk though, nor stopped him from dipping a quill into ink and titling the page 'The Plan'. Ignore, ignore, ignore was the word he tried to write out, but his hand hovered too long and, instead, different words were formed.
"I'm not in love with Prince Prat," Merlin muttered as he blew on the page, trying to dry the ink before the page curled over. He'd have to place it under a heavy book to straighten it out; scrolled paper became a nuisance after the novelty of the springy-ness wore off.
"Brilliant," Merlin said, smiling slightly. It was true; he wasn't in love. Couldn't be. A ridiculous thought…
Writing it down was supposed to help. Nothing could come of it (it wasn't true and plus Arthur had Gwen), but writing it down should get rid of the little voice.
Ignoring was harder when it turned to a little voice screaming the word denial.
Merlin closed his eyes for a brief moment, sinking into his pillows and ignoring Gaius' call for food. The main question, aside from the whole 'what-the-hell-was-he-going-to-do-now' issue and the fact that his plan only had one stage so far was… when had it all started?
The Tale of Sir Percival (i): The First Night.
For Percival, it began on a stone floor of an old castle, in the middle of a war. He'd barely begun to drift off into sleep when he'd heard Lancelot speaking and, instantly, had woken. Over the past few months since they'd known each other, they'd become attuned to each other's voices. It was a mandatory requirement when there were only two of you sleeping in bandit infested forests that you wake at the mere whisper of the others' voice, and the habit hadn't died down after being around others.
He could only just hear the strains of conversation, but Lancelot spoke with such strength behind his words that even Percival found himself agreeing, not even knowing what he was agreeing to other than Merlin was far braver than them all and deserved much more than he'd been dealt.
The air shifted and Percival rolled over, moving an arm to cover his ear. Whatever Lancelot was talking about, he had no right to listen. He respected Lancelot greatly and he wouldn't break that trust by eavesdropping.
Like any normal man, Percival had his suspicions. After the letter came, in hurried scrawl, Lancelot had explained his bond to Merlin, saying that they had saved each other a few times before and he owed Merlin a great deal. There was something hidden behind Lancelot's words, but Percival hadn't said anything. He wasn't there to judge Lancelot's relationships (if he was correct in his suspicion that is), and he'd never even met Merlin.
It had, however, made him curious as to who this Merlin was that he could captivate such a man as Lancelot and when word that Camelot needed them bled through Merlin's letter, Percival had been ready to defend King and country, as well as get a sneak peek on someone with a vast amount of influence.
Well, this was until the ride to collect Guinevere. The red cape of the Knights of Camelot twisted in the wind currents as they trotted to the underground tunnel system, preparing to meet Gwen. She was waiting for them and ran out, barely waiting for Elyan to dismount before throwing her arms around his shoulders, hugging the life from him.
Lancelot had been the next person and Percival saw the way his eyes were guarded, as if facing a group of skilled thieves rather than a maidservant. Gwen hugged him, but the way Lancelot held her – loosely, as if she was made of glass – convinced Percival his earlier thoughts were wrong with regards to Lancelot's feelings about Merlin.
It led him to wonder about the exact dynamics of Camelot's relationships. The Prince clearly loved Guinevere if the kiss as they arrived back in the courtyard was any indicator, and it was true that Gwen loved him too… but as they moved back to the castle, Arthur drew into conversation with Merlin and, regretfully he'd said, had to leave to attend meetings of some form or another.
Percival had been left then, to go back to his rooms and get a decent sleep for the first time in… well, the fact that he couldn't put a date on the last time he'd felt fully comfortable asleep spoke louder than any number he could think of. It may be the afternoon, but Arthur had told them their one task until he called them again was to go get Gwen and then rest.
And, really, rest sounded good right about now.
Percival woke a few hours later, the ache in his stomach unable to ignore any longer. It was dark outside and while dinner had most likely been served hours ago, castle kitchens were always humming with life. There would surely be at least a bit of bread for him to eat, just to stave off the hunger until morning anyway.
It was easy to get lost in a big building such as Camelot's castle and Percival had hoped that he'd be able to flag someone down to direct him. Unfortunately his hopes were extinguished as it seemed everyone had drifted away from him and the best Percival could do was to wander around, looking for any signs of hustle and bustle that noted kitchen life.
He didn't find it, though, and instead bumped into Merlin. The other man frowned and took a step back, face breaking into a grin when he noticed who he had stumbled into.
"Percival! Or should I say, Sir Percival!" He gave a snort of laughter, bending into a mock bow and looking up conspiratorially, "That's more respect than Arthur gets you know."
There was something about Merlin's disposition that was infectious, and Percival found himself smiling in return. He'd been loyal to Arthur and the others through what Lancelot had told him at first, but it was easy to see why Lancelot had praised them so. Percival had grown proud to say his allegiance lay with Prince Arthur, and he was oddly happy to say it lay with Merlin too.
"So, what brings you to this gloomy corner of Camelot? I can't imagine it's for the sights!" Merlin smiled again, shrugging his shoulders.
Percival was, generally, a man of little words. It wasn't that he didn't like to talk, but he preferred to observe things first, especially in new places. He took in Merlin in a single glance, noting he held something in his hand, sword-like in shape.
"I just woke up," he replied, meeting Merlin's eyes with a small smile of his own. "I can't find the kitchens though and no one seems to be around to help."
Merlin nodded with a roll of his eyes. "This is the time of night when the servants that are supposed to be on duty skive off to do their own things. You won't get any help unless it's straight from the kitchen itself."
Percival nodded. It was clear that Merlin, though he was a trusted man to Arthur, was no different from other servants and was clearly 'skiving' off for his own thing, whatever that was. Percival wasn't there to ask questions, but it didn't stop him being further intrigued by the man before him.
"As luck would have it, you're almost there. All you need to do is take that corridor there until you reach the first left turning. Then go straight across the cross section and it's the… third right. Once you're there, get one of the staff to take you back to your rooms." Merlin shifted on his feet and stepped back a little, clearly signalling their meeting was over for now.
"Thank you," Percival said, following the first part of Merlin's directions and starting off down the corridor.
"It's nothing, really. I remember when I came here, the whole place is like a labyrinth until you get used to it. If you need a tour or anything, just come ask. I'll either be with Gaius in the physician's quarters or with Arthur, but you can always just ask someone and the word will spread." Merlin turned, making for the opposite way to Percival.
"I'd… appreciate it if you didn't tell Arthur I'd slacked off of my chores and took to polishing his sword in the night." Merlin gave Percival a small smile and the Knight nodded, smiling as Merlin left.
It was a badly concealed lie, but there was no reason for Percival to call Merlin out on it unless someone ended up dead when the sun was up. Plus, there was something strangely intriguing about Merlin and, for the first time in his life, Percival wanted nothing more than to make friends with this man.
The Tale of Sir Lancelot (i): The Second Day.
In reality, the whole thing probably started for Lancelot when he lied about Merlin's whereabouts, but he was probably part of it all since he'd saved Merlin from the griffin. And then Merlin had saved him. And then the circle of saving had begun and it was probably too complicated to figure out if anyone actually owed the other, but Merlin had knocked the Cup of Life over so Lancelot figured he could offer his help up for a friend in a predicament.
The lie had begun when he'd been walking to check his horse. It was a fine horse, but he'd thrown a shoe the day before when they'd gone to collect Gwen and he wanted to check that the blacksmith had reshod him.
Minding his own business, Lancelot had walked towards one of the castle's exits, to see Merlin by the archway that led outside and Arthur standing between them. He wondered if he should be here, not that he hadn't been witness to Arthur and Merlin's infamous arguments before, but this seemed a little different somehow.
Maybe it was because they had just survived an immortal army, maybe it was because they had all shared the same living space for a while, but Lancelot could see this wasn't like their usual arguments. Even then, their banter shone through, but there was no light hearted-ness in Arthur's words as he spoke to Merlin.
"When I come out of council to decide the fate of Camelot, perhaps you might think it's too much to ask for an attending servant. Fine, but when I ask you where you have been, you have the gall to lie to me." Arthur didn't raise his voice, but each word carried easily to Lancelot as he moved closer.
Not even Merlin had noticed him, though he was windswept and had clearly been out of the town for a while… the night if the rings under his eyes were anything to go by.
"Sire?" Lancelot interrupted softly, eyes darting between the pair of men. "My horse threw a shoe yesterday. I asked Merlin if he could see if he could find it… I thought it might bring luck after all we've been through. I realise now I should have asked, but we assumed you'd be busy all day."
The lie slipped easily and Merlin nodded along, shifting his weight slightly.
"I should have left a note," Merlin said, ducking his head slightly, the first true subservience Lancelot had ever seen of the warlock. "But I wanted to be back in time for lunch." He chuckled weakly, "I was still late though."
Arthur was silent before he looked at Lancelot, looking into his eyes deeply and letting out a huff of breath. It was clear he wanted to say much more, but the effort he'd probably spent in council all day and the lingering exhaustion from their campaign still hung heavy about them. Without a word, Arthur turned on his heel and walked away, presumably heading to his rooms.
"Thank you," Merlin said, ushering to Lancelot's side quickly. Up close, he looked even more tired than he had before, his shoulders drooping and eyes half closed. What on earth had he been doing?
"Is this something that I shouldn't really ask about?" Lancelot wiggled his fingers a little and Merlin – thankfully – smiled a little. It was a relief to see that smile and it relaxed Lancelot a little.
"Sort of. More to do with the sword I used." Lancelot remembered that sword and Merlin's cryptic 'forged-in-dragon's-breath' answer. It was an amazing sword, pity that he couldn't see it again, but Merlin probably had a reason for what he'd done.
"So still something that Arthur shouldn't know about then?" Merlin nodded to Lancelot's question and that was that. There was no need to pry into Merlin's secrets, though he knew them better than most, and if it was important, Merlin would tell him.
"How are you settling in?" Merlin asked conversationally as Lancelot directed them back to the main castle. He could check on his horse another time, but he wanted to see Merlin back to Gaius and make sure the physician put his ward to bed.
"Strangely well. I'm not sure if it's because no one's really taken notice to Camelot's new knights or if it's because I actually fit in for once…" Lancelot smiled as Merlin bumped their shoulders. This was familiar, it was easy and comforting. Despite all they'd been through and who they'd become (Sir Lancelot and Merlin, the sorcerer who defeated an immortal army. Who would have thought!), they were still old friends, still the two people who had fought over a chair one morning, just because they could and it had been fun.
"You belong," Merlin said softly, smiling as he looked over Lancelot. A tingle of warmth spread through Lancelot and he nodded back at Merlin.
"You do too, even more than any of us." His voice was little more than a whisper and Merlin already knew what he thought regarding Arthur and his position, but he received a nod in return anyway.
"I don't think anyone but Gaius will say this, but thank you Merlin. You saved all of us and you don't even want to set anyone right about what happened. You didn't believe me when I said you were the bravest man I knew, but I think you'll be the bravest man I'll ever know." They'd reached Gaius' quarters and Merlin laid a hand on the door.
"So thank you. I may be Arthur's knight now, but I'm as much your man as I am his. And if you need me for another adventure…" Lancelot smiled and Merlin shook his head, the return smile clear on his lips.
"Next time it'll be a safe adventure, like rescuing a cat from a tree or something. Nice and tame without evil and swords." Merlin opened the door a little.
"I'm not sure about that one," Lancelot said, "I hear some cats have an agenda against you."
Merlin laughed, waving a hand as the door banged shut behind him.
"That was one time and I didn't know the cat was there before I sat on it. Gossips should get their facts right before they go spreading rumours!" Merlin called out and Lancelot smiled to an empty corridor.
Even knowing about the magic, there was something about Merlin that you couldn't pin down. Lancelot didn't know of many people who would pass up the slightest hint of glory, and all the tasks that Merlin had completed (and Lancelot was certain he hardly knew of them all) should, by all means, make Merlin one of the most skilled men in the kingdom.
But Merlin wasn't a man who sought such things, and it was why Lancelot vowed to do everything in his power to keep his friend happy and safe. Merlin had saved them all, multiple times, but wanted for nothing.
If there was anything Lancelot could do, he would. (Though later he'd come to regret those words when he was covered in mud and standing on the edge of a dirt path while Merlin foraged through the undergrowth).
The Tale of Sir Elyan (i): The Second Night.
Unlike the others, Elyan was technically drawn into it all through Gwen. Their relationship had been slightly strained over the years and Elyan knew Gwen would never completely forgive him for not being there when their father had been on trial, but she still loved and cared for him.
He also knew of Gwen and Arthur's budding relationship. He'd seen the way they looked at each other back in the castle of Fyrien, and how a Prince was willing to risk more than his life for that of a serving girl and her brother. It was astounding, and even seeing them kissing in the courtyard the previous day had been a shock.
Princes didn't marry servants. That was what everyone had been told, that they had all grown up knowing. It was a dream of the serving class to discover you were a bastard prince or princess, and that your lineage had been discovered, and you were called to court to take the rightful place on the throne… but that was all it was; a dream.
Except Guinevere had shattered all illusions of this and seemed as though she was free to pursue her relationship, without the accusations of sorcery or enchantments now. Elyan was pleased for her, truly he was as if anyone deserved someone to love it was Gwen.
So when Gwen had returned to their house with a thoughtful look on her face, Elyan couldn't help but be curious. She wasn't smiling as she usually was when she'd run into Arthur on her way home (Elyan wasn't blind, he knew how his sister looked when she'd seen the Prince), and he wondered if the King had forbidden their relationship.
"I don't know what to do," Gwen said a few moments later, sitting down at the table. Elyan moved from the sword he was sharpening to sit opposite his sister, waiting for her to continue. While he hadn't been a model sibling in the past, he did love his family. Now that Gwen was all he had left, he wanted to protect her and so her happiness was paramount.
"I could see him looking at me," Gwen began, her fingers splayed out on the table in front of her. They traced over patterns in the wood while Elyan waited patiently for her to continue. "Just… looking at me with that expression," she said, frowning.
Elyan wondered why it was such a big deal. Surely Arthur had looked at her before?
"But every time I looked back he refused to meet my gaze." Gwen's head snapped up to look her brother in the eye. "It's not as if I was the one to leave was it? He's the one who chose to leave me and swan off to who knows where. If he cared he would have-"
Gwen broke off, a pained expression on her face and Elyan got the message that they weren't quite on the same page. This wasn't about Arthur after all.
"I've tried," Gwen continued, her voice little more than a whisper. Elyan moved to her side, wrapping her into a hug and holding her while she tried to think everything through.
Gwen had been through a lot too, and perhaps Arthur was the only one who could understand what the Lady Morgana's betrayal meant to her. They'd been close friends, Gwen had told him, and now that Morgana had betrayed them all… who could Gwen turn to with her problems?
"I've tried so hard to love him. And I do, I really do love him." Gwen's voice lost the anguished edge, turning instead into one of determination. When she set her mind to things, Gwen never backed down. "But if there was ever a choice, I'd choose Lancelot."
Elyan realised this must have been torturing her for some time. She loved two men, but she'd committed her heart to one and the rest of herself to another. By all means she had pledged to be Arthur's lover, but even the Prince of Camelot couldn't take her heart. She'd given it willingly to another man, one who apparently gave his in return.
"You need to talk to him," Elyan said, pulling away from their embrace. He didn't know what else to do, except tell Gwen that she needed to sort this out. While it was a horrible time, Arthur needed to know that Gwen couldn't be his woman. If they continued, it would only bring heartache and disaster.
"How about I talk to Merlin, find out when Arthur's free, and then make sure that Merlin knows to be around afterwards." Elyan didn't want to add 'in case something bad happens', but while he trusted his Prince, this was his sister and he felt better knowing that someone else could be on hand. As Merlin was the only person known who could diffuse Arthur with ease, it seemed the right thing that he be there too.
This, of course, led Elyan to go up to the citadel in the darkness of the evening, nodding to passing guards as the red, dragon-emblazoned cape gave him full authority to be out at this time of night. The novelty of being able to wander around and never be questioned on authority still hadn't worn off and by the time he reached Gaius' quarters, Elyan couldn't help the smile on his cheeks.
"Sorry to disturb you Gaius," Elyan said as the physician opened his door. He was still in daytime robes, but even so, he felt bad for disturbing Gaius at this time. "I was wondering if I could have a word with Merlin?"
Gaius stepped back and allowed Elyan through the threshold.
"Merlin! You have a visitor," he bellowed. There was a loud bang before the door at the back opened and Merlin peeked out, bleary eyed and hair wild. It looked as if he'd just woken up, but he smiled and gestured for Elyan to come in.
The disarray of the room showed that Merlin had indeed been sleeping, and so Elyan took a seat over at the table rather than on the bed. He pushed a few vials and herb bundles out of the way, resisting the urge to pick a few flowers from the sprigs of lavender and smell them, before resting his arms on the table.
"I was wondering if you could possibly help me."
Merlin looked surprised and ran a hand through his hair. "Help you? I'd love to, though I'm not sure how exactly."
"It's about Guinevere," Elyan said and noticed the way Merlin snapped to full attention. Maybe Gwen wasn't as alone as she'd though' Merlin certainly looked as though he cared for her.
"Is she okay?" Merlin said hurriedly and Elyan smiled, nodding briskly.
"She's going to talk to Arthur tomorrow." Apparently Merlin understood from those vague words as his face drew sombre and he looked down, picking at the fabric of his sheets.
"She's chosen Lancelot, hasn't she?" His voice was subdued and Elyan realised he didn't like it.
"Yes. I wondered if you could possibly be around when she tells him… it's not that I don't trust him but-"
"Gwen's your sister and you just want to protect her." Merlin flashed a brief smile. "I can be there, but it's not going to be pretty." Merlin's face returned to the grim look it was before, but he met Elyan's eyes.
"I'm sorry," the knight said, wholly meaning it. "I owe you for this okay?" Merlin tried to shake him off, but Elyan wouldn't have any of it. "No, I do. And thank you, so if you ever need me for anything, all you need to do is call. You're a great man Merlin and I'm proud to call you a friend."
Elyan left shortly after, but the image of Merlin's surprised face stuck with him long after. It was clear that he hardly received any praise for the things he did; to be so shocked when someone said they were proud to be friends was a rare commodity.
For some reason Elyan felt that he owed a great deal more to Merlin than just for watching over Gwen and he swore he'd repay him. Not many people would willingly face Arthur's anger unless they were brave or stupid, and to think Merlin as the latter was beginning to seem an impossible feat.
And perhaps it was his determination to repay Merlin for unknown things that dragged Elyan fully into this, thinking about it.
The Tale of Sir Leon (i): The Third Day.
It began for Sir Leon when he made the mistake of peeking through the crack of the door, arm touching Merlin's as they tried to get a glimpse of what was happening inside.
Leon had been attending yet another meeting. The sheer density of the council was beginning to ebb as the kingdom was under control once more, but the knights of Camelot needed to be briefed on what to do and the job had fallen to Leon as Arthur had requested a few hours of rest. Everyone had been more than willing to give the Prince his rest as he'd been in back to back meetings for hours (possibly days even), and they could manage without him.
Still, Leon needed to tell Arthur of what had happened and was walking towards Arthur's rooms when he saw Merlin outside the door. It wasn't uncommon for Merlin to be up here – he was still Arthur's manservant after all – but he was pressed to the wooden door, jerking his head from side to side and moving about, as if trying to find something.
"Um… Merlin?" He asked hesitantly, unsure what to make of the scene before him.
It wasn't that he'd never got on with Merlin before, but he'd never spent that much time with him. They'd spent time together in the castle a few days back, but it had been overshadowed by plans of attack and their impending and (then) very likely deaths. He knew that Merlin got on well with almost everyone, especially Arthur, and that he was good for the Prince, but he still didn't know how to react to the man when he was… well… doing something strange.
"Come here!" Merlin whispered, waving a hand furiously. Leon looked over his shoulder to check that Merlin did actually mean him before moving forwards, until he was standing close to Merlin.
"You won't get a good look over there, come closer, here," Leon was suddenly pulled forward, head pushed closer to the crack in the door as Merlin shuffled over.
"Can you see anything? Arthur's been in there with Gwen for a while now and I'm getting a bit worried." Merlin was moving around again, trying to see people who couldn't be seen.
"I don't think it's something you should be looking at," Leon admonished, trying to step away from the door. Really, he knew Merlin had grown up in a small village, but did he have to be so uncouth about the Prince's relationships?
"Don't be disgusting, it's nothing like that," Merlin said in reply, offhandedly dismissing Leon's words. He was still trying to look into the room, but then sighed and straightened up, apparently giving up.
"Gwen's breaking his heart in there and I'm assigned to make sure he doesn't go around throwing things and injuring himself."
Merlin sounded so calm about it all that Leon frowned, looking Merlin up and down to make sure it was really him. He hadn't even thought that there was cause for Gwen to be breaking Arthur's heart, but apparently there was and Merlin seemed perfectly pleased with it all.
Merlin jumped in before he could carry on. "She loves Lancelot and I think she's only fully realised that now. I mean… it's awful that Arthur's going to be hurt but it's better that they do all this now than later, rather than ending up hating each other."
Leon supposed that it was logical, but it didn't stop him from turning down the corners of his mouth and frowning. Guinevere – though she had done a lot for them all – was still a peasant. What right did she have to turn the Crown Prince away?
"Lancelot doesn't know. He left so that she'd never have to choose, but he forgot that she'd decide anyway." Merlin's voice grew softer as he leant into the door again, narrowing his eyes.
Suddenly he cursed under his breath, springing away from the door and manhandling Leon down the corridor a little. So such a skinny pole, Merlin was surprisingly strong and they were a few paces away from the door by the time it flew open.
"I really am you know," Gwen said as she appeared at the door, a light smile on her lips as she looked back into the room. "And you deserve better than me. You know that, you're just too stubborn."
Merlin wheeled round, eyes wide as he whispered, "Pretend to be talking to me," to Leon, just as Gwen looked towards them.
"Why? Oh right. Um, I need to speak to Arthur about the… new training regimes." Leon coughed, desperately trying not to look towards the open door.
"Ah, of course!" Merlin's smile was one a simpleton would wear as he looked to Leon. "Those training regimes. How could I forget!"
Gwen came up beside them at that moment, smiling tightly at their attempts to negate the fact they'd been trying to sneak a peek into a private conversation.
"Thanks Merlin," Gwen whispered, patting him on the arm. She curtsied to Leon before walking away, leaving a knight and a manservant to sneak towards the door.
"Do you think we should…" Leon began, eyes darting from Merlin to the open door. Merlin looked back, bottom lip caught between his teeth.
"I'll go first shall I?" he said, drawing himself up and darting away from Leon and into the room.
"I'm impressed that there's less broken things," Leon heard Merlin say, before the clang of metal signalled that something (probably a goblet) had been thrown in Merlin's direction.
Leon had to admit that Merlin was brave. And very noble, for the fact he'd offered to go in and take the brunt of the anger, just so Leon could evade it...
"If you'll stop," another clang, "Throwing things, I'd like to inform you that Sir Leon is just outside and, while I understand you like throwing things at me, perhaps you could curb the hobby for a moment so he could go back to his duties?"
If anyone else had ordered Arthur around like that, they'd probably be run through by his sword. Except Merlin was the one person who'd ever managed to get under Arthur's skin and stay there, just next to his heart. They irritated each other, that much was in plain sight, but Arthur was willing to change for Merlin, and Merlin for him.
They were far more complex than any master and servant Leon had ever met, and he knew the relationship was so much more than that. They were friends, but even so that term seemed so weak for what the pair shared.
"You can come in. He'll throw things at me after, but you're in the clear." Merlin's head poked around the door, smile easy on his mouth but eyes guarded. Leon realised that he had to make this quick so Arthur could face whatever he had to and so strode into the room.
He gave a brief report and relayed instructions that council was to meet under Uther in a few hours, before he took his cloak in hand and bowed, leaving the room. Merlin gave him a small, grateful smile as he took leave, the door locking shut behind him.
It was Merlin's fault, really, that he pressed his eye to the keyhole. He just wanted to check that Arthur was alright with Merlin, when it occurred to him that Arthur seemed to be taking it extremely well. Whatever Gwen had said (or rather, however she had said it) seemed to be less of a heart break than a realisation they had both known and ignored.
He'd expected Gwen to be less upset about leaving Arthur as she was the one the decision lay with, but he'd expected Arthur to be angry, upset even. Instead, he was silent, head downcast as Merlin stood uncertainly, hands crossed over his chest.
There wasn't a heart broken man in the room and Leon looked at the two of them, so at ease it was almost enviable how comfortable they were with each other. Leon drew himself up and started down the corridor, nodding to himself as pieces fitted together snugly, realisations dawning as he'd recognised the look on Merlin's face as he'd come away from the keyhole.
He decided, in that moment, that he'd help Merlin in whatever endeavour he embarked on. Leon had a feeling that Merlin's plans would be a little sketchy and what better way to conquer a Prince's heart than to use the mind of a man who'd known him for a long time.
Because it was clear in the look he'd see on Merlin's face… and with Arthur not falling apart at the seams as he was supposed to, Leon suspected Gwen had realised the same thing and made Arthur realise it too.
It would be a lot of work and Leon would need help, but luckily he had four new knights to break in. This would prove a brilliant exercise in stealth and loyalty.
And, much later, if Merlin wanted to think of it as his own plan, then they'd all let him, darting secret smiles to each other.
The Tale of Sir Gwaine (i): The Third Night.
With futile resistance, Gwaine decided to help when he saw Merlin walking alone through the courtyard. It wasn't that he hadn't been informed of the supposed plan, but he'd thought it completely ridiculous and refused to help when Leon had mentioned it, offhandedly, earlier that evening.
"How would you like to be part of the plan to make Merlin happy?" Leon had asked, passing over a flagon of mead and looking around the newest members of the Knights of Camelot.
"I never pinned you down for the type Sir Leon!" Gwaine said, clapping the man on the back and raising his eyebrows. Leon frowned at Gwaine's grin.
"I don't quite follow," he said, looking at the others to see if they got Gwaine's meaning.
"You know. The type of man who likes to indulge himself in a bit of group-"
"I'm not," Leon grated out and Gwaine's grin widened. "What I meant was, I think we should help set Merlin up with someone… a particular someone."
Silence greeted Leon's words as the others looked at each other.
"Um…" Percival said, choosing to take a deep gulp of his drink rather than continuing his trail of though. The idea was mirrored around the table as none of the knights wanted to play matchmakers of all things.
"It's a stealth exercise," Leon insisted and Gwaine snorted into his drink.
"A stealth exercise? Setting Merlin up on a date? Does the poor bloke even know of your plans?" Leon's deadpanned look and silence was all Gwaine needed.
"Well I'm out. Merlin's not pining over anyone and he certainly doesn't need cheering up. He's just Merlin, a bit tired like the rest of us, but certainly not some willowy maiden who needs setting up." Gwaine looked around to see if anyone shared his sentiments and was horrified by the reception he received.
"It would be nice to do something for him," Elyan said.
"If nothing it'll let us get to know him better," Percival said.
"I suppose it won't harm him, and he might get a decent night out of it even if he's not after anyone after all," Lancelot said.
Gwaine felt betrayed. "You're not supposed to agree with him!" he cried, outraged at the turn of conversation. Where were the men he'd been knighted with? These were mere imposters with foolishly romantic ideas in their heads.
Merlin didn't need anyone. He was fine without their meddling and Gwaine wouldn't stoop so low as to interfere in his friend's life unwanted.
Gwaine walked back from the tavern, completely sober for once which was an odd feeling, but more aware of everything around him. Even though he'd said he'd never come back under Uther's rule, here he was, and a knight to boot. It was technically his title by blood, but only Merlin knew that particular detail.
It was true that Merlin was a friend, one of the closest he'd ever had, but Gwaine couldn't lower himself to meddle with Merlin's private affairs. If the man was in love as Leon claimed he was, then he could deal with it himself. He didn't need a group of knights chivvying him along at the side lines.
At least, that was what Gwaine thought until he saw Merlin in the darkness, walking across the courtyard towards him with an odd dip to his shoulders and a blank look on his face. There was an air of sadness surrounding him that hadn't been there before and Gwaine wondered if Merlin had confessed his feelings to the imaginary-love of his and been rejected.
"Merlin?" he asked quietly and the other man looked up, smiling instantly.
"Gwaine! I thought you were out with the others." Gwaine shook his head, falling into stride next to Merlin.
"Called it an early night. Have to be up early tomorrow for our first day of proper training. Arthur's overseeing us, as you probably know already." Gwaine looked over, his smile slipping as he saw the frown on Merlin's brow.
"Oh, tomorrow is it? Arthur didn't say, thank you."
Maybe Leon's theory wasn't so far-fetched as he'd originally thought then. Gwaine decided he didn't like this Merlin, not one bit.
"Is something wrong?" Gwaine asked, the words strange on his tongue. He'd never really been one to offer comfort, but he was the only one aside from Arthur and Gaius who Merlin could go to at the moment (the others still in the tavern), and Gwaine was right here.
Merlin shook his head, "I'm fine."
A cold, tingly feeling overcame Gwaine and he raised his eyebrows, taking a slight step away from Merlin.
"You don't… I mean… you're not…?" He swallowed and Merlin looked at him as if he were a bit touched in the head. "You're not in love with me, right?"
The howl of laughter that came from Merlin was enough to set Gwaine off too and they drew filthy looks from passing servants as tears of laughter streamed down their cheeks. To make matters worse, each time they seemed to be controlling their laughter, they caught each other's eye and the laughter set off again.
"Of course I'm not! Where did you get that idea from?" Merlin gasped as the laughter was wrestled under control.
Gwaine shrugged, not wanting to betray Leon and his plan. Not that there was anything wrong with Merlin being in love with him, but he needed to know these things before he agreed to anything Leon wanted them to do.
"You know ideas, they just creep in and you're unable to stop them!" Gwaine chuckled uneasily, but there wasn't any responding laughter from Merlin.
"Ignore them all you want but they just won't back down," he muttered and, well perhaps Leon was right after all.
Merlin said goodnight a little later, moving to where he lived, and Gwaine moved to the opposite part of the castle. His chambers were sparse, but warm and the bed comfortable at least. It was onto the bed that he flopped, staring up at the canopy in the darkness and thinking about Merlin.
He refused to believe Merlin was pining over someone, but it was clear that he wasn't happy. Well, that was true of almost everyone since Morgana had been overthrown, but it was more a case of there was a problem with Merlin.
Gwaine bolted upright, moving out of the castle and straight back to the tavern. The knights were still there, gathered at a table, and Gwaine took his seat again as if he'd been merely relieving himself rather than returned to his rooms.
"I'm in," he said, grinning at the others and raising the drink pushed in front of him as a toast.
There are twelve 'days', and in theory three days to a chapter. Hopefully I'll have a chapter up every day, but who knows! The only reason I'm able to post this is because it was finished a while ago... my time's vanishing rapidly!
Anyone have a device to stop time? I could do with one of them right now...
Anyway, I hope you enjoy this story, feedback is always appreciated, especially as I haven't written too much in the Merlin fandom. Also, if you have a Y gallery account, I run two merlin clubs so... talk to me! :D (I'm a lovely person, talk to me even if you don't have a y! account, why not!)