Written for the talking_dragon on LJ Christmas Secret Santa for mustbethursday3. She wanted a fic in which Gwen had a BB!Chicken Christened 'Arthur' (BB!Arthur) and I decided to tie it into the whole Christmas theme. A couple of the scenes are vaguely inspired by an episode of Friends 'The One with the Chick and the Duck'. There are also two poems by Catullus in the text as well, 'Tears for Lesbia's Sparrow' and 'On the Death of Lesbia's Sparrow'.
It was the morning of Gwen's birthday and Merlin was traipsing around the markets of Camelot trying to find something to give her.
He had never left it this late before and the panic was starting to tug at his heart. He didn't want to show up at the 'get together' with absolutely nothing in hand. The look on Gwen's face would damn-well kill him. She was his best friend and she would pretend not to mind but he knew she'd be disappointed.
He hadn't forgotten; he just had left getting her present until the very last minute.
With all the male-competition to be weary of this year he was ashamed that he had forgotten what would make a good present all together.
In previous years he had usually made something or got something pretty and cheap from the market. Whether it was a pillow of lavender, a wind chime or gathering flowers and sticking them in a vase, Merlin always had something to give Gwen on her birthday.
This year he had been so distracted with Morgana's evil and saving Camelot (more times than usual) that time seemed to slip by without him. Before he knew it people were talking about Gwen's birthday and he realised just how close it was.
Merlin also knew he had to give her something memorable as this wasn't just any old birthday, either...
It was Gwen's twenty-first birthday.
He groaned as he cast his eyes over the various merchant stalls of cloths, materials, spices, ornaments, fruits and goods. Nothing seemed to capture the imagination or strike him as a good present for Gwen.
Merlin found it easier to suggest gifts for other people to give friends on birthdays but could never think of what to give them himself. What made it worse was that Gwen was surprisingly difficult to shop for. It wasn't just because she was a girl either. He always felt he needed to be careful about what he gave to her, at the risk of her lover – his lord and master – Arthur being made to feel silly because Merlin gave her something more suitable than he did.
Such was Merlin's low-opinions of Arthur's gift sense.
Not that he could talk this time around.
But Arthur didn't seem panicked at all in the days approaching Gwen's birthday. He even had the confidence to remind Merlin a few days before that the 'party' (Used in the loosest terms possible) would be held in his chambers.
"I hope you hadn't forgotten," Arthur said with low-expectation.
Merlin had blushed and his ears had started burning.
"I hadn't forgotten!"
While Merlin panicked in the approaching days towards Gwen's birthday he wondered also why Arthur seemed quite confident as usually he was the one who panicked. The previous two years Arthur had been in a position to give her a present, he had worried over what to give her.
Whether it was because they were now in a committed relationship or because he had thought of the perfect present, Arthur was calm and cool about Thursday.
It made a change.
Last year they had been on that fruitless (and ultimately pointless) search for Morgana, meaning they were out of Camelot and away for Gwen's birthday. Arthur's first solution was to write her a love letter. That wasn't the most extraordinary thing, though. In that letter had been an actual attempt by Arthur to write a poem. It was iambic, or trochaic... or anapaestic... or some new style. Most of the lines revolved around him trying to find a good rhyme for her name.
Merlin remembered peeking at the draft, before the prince had even thought of stringing the rhymes into metre. It simply read: "Guinevere, Guinevere...your name is too long..." followed by a list of rhymes which, unfortunately, made their way into the final thing he sent back to Camelot. "Clear, here, hear, near, freer, fear, dear, endear, appear..."
In the end Arthur didn't send the poem, just the love letter.
But again, it wasn't like Merlin could judge.
Right now, he could only think of the typical things that girls liked. Flowers. Edibles. Perfume. Flowers. Making things... well, Gwen liked making things. Sewing, embroidery, cooking, and she even made the roses Arthur gave her for her nineteenth birthday last longer by turning them into rose water.
Merlin had tried to find out what everyone else was getting her – something which Arthur had already done, it seemed. He listed with expertise what everyone was giving her and as far as he was concerned the main competition for everyone in the gift department was from Elyan, which he was fine with.
Arthur watched Merlin as he tidied his chambers, ready for tomorrow's get together.
"He is her brother so he needs to make an effort," he told him, a tint of irony in his speech when one concerned what a harpy his own sister turned out to be. "Elyan couldn't remember when her birthday was, though..."
Merlin smirked, "Really?"
"He remembered the month, just not the day," he explained. "He had to ask me when it was– and then hinted around for suggestions on what would be a good idea to get her."
"What did you tell him?" Merlin asked, fishing for the scoop.
"I told him that it would be reassuring for all of us if he used his skills as a blacksmith to make her something more effective than her fire poker to defend herself against intruders with," Arthur told him, clearly very pleased with his insight.
Merlin sighed; he wished he had bounced a few ideas off someone else weeks ago. He tried to do it with Gaius but all he could suggest was things he could give her.
"You know what I always do?" Gaius had said. "I always just ask Gwen what she wants for her birthday and I make it for her. Usually it's ointment for her hands or something fragrant to wash with."
Merlin had then explained he wanted it to be a surprise.
"You could help me make my present for her," Gaius had remarked wittily. "That would be a surprise."
In hindsight, maybe he should have just asked Gwen what she wanted. Still, she would have probably rolled back and forth on her heels and said, 'I don't know...'
"What are you going to give her?" Merlin asked straight.
"Well, actually, I paid for the ore Elyan used to make his gift..." Arthur began.
"—and that's it?"
"No," the prince said defensively. "I've got her something from just me as well."
"What is it?"
Arthur glanced at Merlin with an unreadable look. He then looked down again. "It's a surprise," he said.
Merlin chuckled nervously, "It's not my surprise, so you can tell me."
"You'll find out tomorrow," the prince said with a shrug. "I don't see why you need to know now. Besides if I tell you, you'll probably blab to Gwen. I want this to stay a surprise until tomorrow."
"I won't tell her," Merlin assured him. "Why would I?"
"Fine," Arthur said, folding his arms with a sarcastic smirk. "Then what are you giving her?"
The servant blinked, "What do you mean?"
"Well, you're the only person who hasn't said anything about your present yet and usually you at least tell me what you're giving her the day before," the prince explained with a tilt of the head. He was clearly suspicious about Merlin's curiosity about the presents. "So what are you giving her?"
"I... can't tell you."
"Because... I'm worried you're going to laugh."
"And I'm worried you're still going to blab," Arthur finished firmly. "So we can both keep our presents a surprise until tomorrow."
Merlin chewed the inside of his cheek in frustration, "I could blab about everyone else's presents but you still told me..."
Arthur beamed, "I don't care if everyone else's presents get blabbed by you."
And with that he picked up the scrubbing brush and threw it in Merlin's face.
So that was how Merlin came to be walking aimlessly around Camelot's market on Thursday morning looking for a last-minute present to give to Gwen.
As he cast his eyes over the various merchant stalls of cloths, materials, spices, ornaments, fruits and wind-charms, Merlin wished that he would be hit by a sudden surge of inspiration that would tell him what to give her.
He cast his eyes over the stalls until, suddenly, his eyes fell on the stall belonging to the feed merchant who sold food for animals as well as animals to be eaten. Unlike the butcher, however, the animals he sold were alive and designed to be raised by the buyers in order to save money on already slaughtered meat.
The thing that caught Merlin's eyes were not so much the goods but the sound of loud chirping coming from a long, thin box sat on the end of the table. He stood and stared at it. He knew that sound all too well from his days of growing up in Ealdor.
The shopkeeper pointed so violently at Merlin it startled him into attention.
"I saw you looking," the man said eagerly.
Merlin walked closer, "Aren't those... baby chicks?"
"You have a sharp ear, my friend," the man replied mordantly, and he pushed the box to the centre of his stall. "They are indeed chicks, one farthing coin each – for half a penny I'll give you a box to keep it in."
"Oh I don't need a baby chick," Merlin smiled nervously.
The market-stall owner hissed and shook his head.
"You might regret it come Yule," he warned the young servant. "Times are tough. Chances are these little fellas will be dead by then if not enough people buy them. Male chicks aren't very useful in this day and age. More and more people are slaughtering old farm hens to save money."
Merlin stepped closer to the chirping wooden box, thinking of the little white and yellow chicks inside. He remembered what they were like when he lived in Ealdor. Female chicks were kept for eggs and the males were kept for food. The strongest and most attractive of the cocks would be kept for breeding.
The keeper picked up a box and grinned.
"It's a very well made box!" he said with a tempting voice.
Merlin turned up to the party late with a chirping little box.
It was an impulse buy but if anyone knew how to make the best of a strange present like this, it was Gwen. The purpose for a chicken like this was to raise it, feed it up and eat it for Yuletide. It was true that Gwen would probably be eating Yuletide dinner in the palace this year from the way things were going... but a rooster was always appreciated.
That and Merlin decided he would get her something better in the weeks to come as an apology.
He opened the door carrying the little box to his chest and saw everyone gathered around the table with cups of wine. Gwen was standing at the head with Arthur and Elyan on either side of her while Gaius, Leon and Gwaine stood in front of them.
Percival and Lancelot were out of town. When Arthur said they wouldn't be there Gwen's face had been a mixture of forced disappointment and genuine relief. She felt she might not have enjoyed the party (for what it was) as much if Lancelot had been there, staring at her. It made her feel uncomfortable but she was too embarrassed to confront him about it.
Thankfully Gwen seemed to be enjoying the party, again, for what it was.
Merlin caught the tail end of the conversation between Gwen and Elyan;
"...I have to admit to being a little surprised that you went to all the trouble," she told him with a sisterly smile. "I might have to keep using the fire-poker if anyone sneaks into my room at night. It's been a long time since I've actually had any practise with a sword."
"It shouldn't take long to refresh your memory," Leon assured her. "Once a woman knows how to defend herself, the techniques will stay with you."
"We used to play all the time before I left Camelot," Elyan said with a tint of surprise. It was true that girls didn't really play with swords past the age of twelve or thirteen but it had been important to both him and their father Gwen know how to defend herself. "I'm surprised you didn't keep practising."
"Once you left Camelot I had no one to play with anymore," Gwen replied simply. "You lot practise all the time so you have better stamina."
"Well, I'm back now..." Elyan said defensively.
"Yeah," Gwaine chuckled, taking a sip of his wine, "and if you ever need anyone to pretend to be a dangerous assailant for you to practise with, I'm here for you."
Gwen tilted her head, "I'm sure I can."
Everyone laughed at Gwaine's odd joke when Merlin slammed the door shut with his foot and caught everyone's attention.
Arthur put his cup down with a clag, "Where the hell have you been?"
"In town," Merlin replied, unshaken by his master's annoyance. "I had some work I needed to finish off."
"What's in there?" Gwaine asked, pointing to the box.
Merlin smiled nervously at Gwen.
"It's your birthday present," he told her.
She gave the box a confused look, knowing all too well that boxes like it were used to transport small animals. But surely Merlin hadn't bought her a pet for her birthday? Had he?
"Isn't that a..." Gwen began slowly.
Merlin placed the box down on the table in front of her and took the lid off the box.
Inside the baby chick was facing in Arthur's direction, staring up at him with huge black eyes. The moment he saw the little chick he coughed in shock. Of all the things he had expected... a baby chicken? That was an odd choice for a present even for Merlin. He was usually so insightful when it came to what to give girls for their birthday.
Gwen took a deep intake of breath. The chick looked at her, catching both her and Arthur tilting their heads in mutual confusion.
They then looked up at Merlin.
"It's a chicken?" Arthur said, being first to break the silence.
Too ashamed to admit the truth, Merlin pretended he genuinely thought it was good idea for a present.
"I know!" he said enthusiastically. "It's... cute, isn't it?"
The gang all stared into the box again where the little chick stood staring back at them.
Its eyes were fixed on the space between Arthur and Gwen. They looked at each other and then back down to the chick. It seemed to tilt its head, as if wondering which one of them was its 'Mama'. Leon, Elyan and Gwaine were fighting not to burst into laughter. Gaius's eyebrow looked as if it were hooked to the top of his forehead.
Arthur looked up at Merlin, now ready to mock.
"It's a chicken," he stated through his amused, plastered-on grin. "No wonder you were worried I would laugh."
"Stop it," Gwen said, batting Arthur's arm and looking down at the chick again with a smile. "I think it was a very thoughtful..." she then bit her lip in perplexity, realising she didn't quite know how to compliment the gift. "Merlin, what was it about me that said I needed a chicken?"
Merlin shrugged, "I don't know. I just think chickens are... nice animals."
"For eating," Elyan remarked.
Gwaine nudged him, "Quiet, it'll hear you!"
He looked to Merlin with a slightly more sympathetic face, not wanting to tease him too much. It was apparent to him almost as soon as he saw the panic in his eyes earlier in town that Merlin hadn't had a present for Gwen until he happened to stumble upon this chick.
"I'm assuming this is a Yuletide chick?" Gwaine asked politely.
"Exactly," Merlin said, gesturing towards the box. "You're supposed to feed him up."
Gwen stroked the chick's head gently.
"But do any of you know how to look after a chick?" Gaius asked cautiously, clearly not impressed by Merlin's choice of gift for Gwen. "They require a lot of care and attention. At this age they are very fragile and dependant on their mothers. They form an attachment with the first significant moving thing they see."
The chick chirped and ran keenly towards Arthur, as if hoping he would stroke it too.
"My mother used to always get us a baby chick in June or July so we could feed it up for Yuletide," Gwaine explained to Merlin and everyone else willing to listen. "I always used to get attached to them, though. She'd have to send it away to the butcher to be slaughtered but I'd never eat a bite of it. They became like pets to me."
"You can keep a chicken as a pet," Leon pointed out.
"A hen, certainly," Gwaine agreed. "In then end my mother gave me a hen just to stop me from getting too attached to the boiler. It was a good investment too because that chicken laid a lot of eggs..."
"Is it chick a hen or cock, Merlin?" Gaius asked.
Merlin shrugged, "I'm not sure but I think it's a cock. The keeper had them all in a box together and said that cocks aren't much use to people... so he sells them for Yuletide dinner."
"But how can you tell if a day old chick is a boy or girl?" Elyan shrugged.
Merlin and Gwaine looked at each other; it didn't surprise them that the blacksmith's son had little knowledge of chicks compared to the country boys.
"There are ways," Merlin began.
Gwen then added with a smile, "You need to know what you're looking for, though..."
As the conversation went on between Merlin, Gwaine, Elyan and Leon, Gaius noticed Arthur and Gwen around the box with the chick inside. Odd as the present was, Gwen was smiling down at the baby with genuine affection.
Arthur on the other hand seemed confused. "Can anyone explain why this bird keeps coming at me?"
Everyone turned around.
"Now Arthur," Gwaine said wittily, "Is that any way to talk about the love of your life?"
"Ha-ha-ha," Arthur pouted and stared down at the love struck chick. It spun around and chose to chirp at Gwen instead. "Seriously, I only looked at it for a few seconds and it's suddenly gone wild."
"It only takes a few seconds with chicks," Merlin warned him.
"What do you mean?" Arthur asked.
Gwen picked the chick up carefully in her hands. "They form an attachment to the first important moving object they see. He thinks we're its mama."
Arthur scoffed, "Can't it tell the difference between humans and chickens?"
"Of course it can't!" Merlin remarked.
The prince stared at the chick in its mistress's hands, "But surely it will have seen other chickens before it clapped eyes on us?"
"Animals don't think like us," Gwen said, walking closer to Arthur and holding her new chick up to his eye-line.
"They also tend to keep broiler chicks in the dark until they're sold," Leon added helpfully. "It helps them form an attachment and stops them from running away... I think."
Gwaine pointed and nodded, "Right."
Merlin watched as everyone stared at the little chick in Gwen's clasp with a mixture of confusion and affection for the chirping little bird. He had almost forgotten that getting the little chick was a spur of the moment choice. It was almost as if he had been planning it for weeks, though he had no idea for what purpose he would have planned to get it for Gwen for. She was the lover of a prince; Yuletide dinner would probably be on him for her.
Randomly, Merlin spread his arms out theatrically and cried: "Happy birthday, Gwen!"
She laughed, and carefully cupping the chick in her palm, used her free arm to embrace Merlin with confused gratitude. "Thank you, I suppose," she said uncertainly. "Although I can't think what was going through your mind when you decided to... buy me a chicken."
Arthur lowered his eyes and stared at Merlin with a knowing look. He was thinking 'I need to find a quick, cheap present quick', his look seemed to say. "I can hazard a guess," Arthur said aloud, deciding to spare his servant the embarrassment of maybe having to come clean about not having a present for her up until half an hour ago.
"I just thought it might be useful," Merlin fibbed, scratching the back of his neck. "I know I always got satisfaction out of raising a broiler."
"Might have been better if you'd bought her a hen, though," Gwaine said dimly.
Gwen placed the chick down in the box again.
"At least I'll have a little more time to take care of it now," she said, starting to realise just how much responsibly raising a chicken for six months would be. Her tone was a little strained, trying to sound grateful towards Merlin while at the same time still trying to understand why, even if it was a last minute purchase (which she suspected it was), he had decided to get her a chicken. "And the castle is... much warmer than my old house, so that's good."
Merlin nodded, paused and the sighed. He decided to distract himself with the beautiful hairpin in Gwen's hair. It itself was in the shape of a bird, probably a phoenix or peacock which reminded him of the birds sewed into the bodice of her lavender dress. It was designed in a similar fashion if not slightly more detailed and decorative. Nonetheless it was modest and suitable for Gwen to wear around the castle without too many noses being stuck up in the air.
It was obviously new.
He pointed at it and smiled, "That's nice."
Gwen's eyes lit up; she touched the pin affectionately with her fingertips. She smiled adoringly and nodded with more genuine gratitude. "It's pretty, isn't it?" she said, again reaching her free hand to stroke the chick again. "It was a birthday present too."
She looked to Arthur. He was staring down at the chick that began to run towards him again. Gwen slipped her arm around his, gaining his attention. He smiled back sweetly, having missed a grand opportunity for him to gloat in Merlin's face at how much better insight he had while getting his present for Gwen.
But that was probably a good thing.
That evening Merlin came around to call on Gwen and the new chick. Arthur was there too, allowing the baby chick to sit in his hand while it chirped blissfully away. He was watching as Gwen prepared the box properly to keep the chicken in.
"That thing should stick to you two like a magnet now," the servant warned them. "At least that's how I remember it when I lived in Ealdor—"
"Merlin," Arthur said firmly. "What possessed you to impulsively buy Gwen a chicken?"
"Arthur," Gwen said calmly.
Merlin sighed, "Well, like you said, it was an impulse."
"A stupid one," the prince snipped, stroking the chick's head. "I mean, it's all very small and adorable now but what are we going to do in six months when it matures and we suddenly have a fully grown rooster walking about the place—ugh!"
He quickly put the chicken back in the box that Gwen had thankfully just finished setting up properly and walked over to clean his hands in a basin. "That's the fourth time it's done that!"
Merlin nodded. "Yeah, baby chicks do that a lot. All chickens do that a lot."
Arthur nodded, "Exactly, and this thing will be waddling around Gwen's chambers while doing that."
"It only has to stay in here until it is big enough to be kept outside," the servant explained to him quickly. "Besides in six months it won't matter anymore because it'll be cull—"
Gwen suddenly cut in, either on purpose or by chance, "Are we certain it's a cock and not a hen?"
The prince came back over to look at the chick.
"I don't know," Arthur said, and picked it up again. "How can you even tell?"
He then turned the chick over on his side to have a look. Of course, there was nothing there to look at even beneath the light fluffy feathers. Merlin surpassed an amused snort of laughter as Arthur placed the chick down and shrugged.
"Whatever it was went back in too quickly," he remarked with dry humour.
"It's a boy," Merlin assured him. He knew chicks well enough to tell the boys from the girls and he was certain the seller of the chicks wouldn't have sold potential egg-layers for the same cheap price as he did this broiler. "I promise you."
Arthur lost his cynical attitude almost immediately as he turned to face Gwen. He smiled warmly as she walked towards the chick's box to move it ever so slightly closer towards the burning fire so it wouldn't get cold. She then covered the end of the box not pointed towards the fire with a blanket.
Merlin regarded them carefully. Gwen had only had this impulsively-bought-chick a few hours and she and Arthur seemed to be bonding very well over it. He was starting to wish that if he had to give Gwen a live animal, it might have been better to give her a sparrow... or a dog.
He just hoped they wouldn't get too attached to the chick.
Lancelot and Percival returned to Camelot after visiting some of Percival's family in the north. They offered their apologise to Gwen for not being there for her birthday, which she quickly and quietly accepted, but her usual awkwardness was lost on both of them when they saw her new baby chick.
"You gave her a chicken?" Lancelot asked Merlin, as if not quite believing his own words. "Why did you give her a chicken?"
They, Percival and Gwaine were all watching Gwen from a window. She was sitting in the garden with her little chick in her lap. Even in the spring's light breeze and crowing birds they could hear the baby chick's chirps.
"It... just seemed like a good idea at the time," Merlin said slowly.
Gwaine nudged Lancelot, grinning. "He means he forgot to get Gwen a present and panicked."
"I did not forget," Merlin whined defensively. "I just couldn't think of anything better. What did you lot get her that was so much better?"
"Now, don't you insult our presents," Gwaine said, and his arm around Lancelot's shoulders. "I personally think that northern dream catcher you and Percy got her was very pretty, and Gwen told me she needed a new comb so I was being practical!"
Merlin sucked his cheek.
"Regardless of what you all think," he chucked in mild frustration, "Gwen obviously seems to like that chicken, so that makes it a good present."
"Hey, calm down!" Gwaine said, moving his attention from Lancelot to Merlin. "We're only teasing. The chick is very cute. Even Arthur seems to find it cute though he won't admit it..."
Lancelot noticed Arthur appear in the garden; Gwen and the chick waved to him and he walked towards them. It quickly caught the eye of Merlin, Gwaine and Percival also.
"She carries it around it her apron pocket," Gwaine explained to the two friends who had been away. "I'd say it's her second favourite present, if not joint-favourite, with the hairpin."
"Hairpin?" Lancelot asked.
"A pretty hairpin in the shape of a bird that Arthur gave her," Gwaine explained with his eyes on Arthur, Gwen and the chick. He grinned, "She wears it all the time, brushed in with the comb I gave her."
Merlin rolled his eyes but smirked in amusement.
They continued to watch the lovers in silence. Gwen cupped the chick to her breast almost as if it was a child and they regarded Arthur almost as if he were the returning father. The prince seemed to smile, watch and listen as Gwen said something inaudible and played with the little chick carefully in her hands.
Suddenly Percival broke his prolonged silence and began to recite the following:
"Sparrow, my sweet girl's delight,
whom she plays with, holds to her breast,
whom, greedy, she gives her little finger to,
often provoking you to a sharp bite,
whenever my shining desire wishes
to play with something she loves,
I suppose, while strong passion abates,
it might be a small relief from her pain:
might I toy with you as she does
and ease the cares of a sad mind!"
Percival looked directly down at Arthur as if he had just finished reading his mind, then glanced at Lancelot and smiled. Gwaine and Merlin both stared blankly at him, trying to work out what the poem was called.
Typically it was Lancelot who jumped in to fill up the gaps.
"Tears for Lesbia's Sparrow," he told them.
"Oh, of course," Gwaine said understatedly. "Catullus, am I right?"
"You know," Arthur whispered to Gwen as they walked down the path of the royal gardens with the little chick chirping away. "If I ever were to become a farmer, I definitely think I'd want to keep chickens."
Gwen giggled and slipped the chick into her apron pocket.
"Even though he did his business in your hand?" she asked.
"I could forgive him that," Arthur told her with a certain smile. "He's only a baby, after all."
She cooed sweetly and wrapped her arm around Arthur, leaning her cheek against his forearm. "That's adorable, you called him a baby."
He chuckled, "Well, he is a baby..."
Gwen picked the chick out of her pocket again and slipped it into Arthur's hands. He took it cautiously; very weary that it might do its business in his hand again and he's have nothing to clean them on. The chick chirped almost affectionately at Arthur. He clearly had imprinted himself on the tiny mind.
"I've decided to christen him," Gwen decided.
She licked her thumb and brushed down the little chick's fluffy feathers.
"I name thee," she said tenderly, "Baby 'Arthur'."
Arthur's own expression immediately twisted into one of confusion.
"You're naming it after me?" he said slowly.
"Consider it a testament to our love," she said flirty, and began walking up the path again.
Arthur looked at 'Baby' Arthur, who chirped in response, and they followed on devotedly.
It was an especially hot summer that year. Once the chicken began to get too big for Gwen's pocket she began to carry it around in her basket. Unlike most chickens she had been accustomed to, he would happily sit in the basket and allow her to carry him outside the castle so he could run around.
Towards the end of the summer time Gwen was sat under a tree in the shade with Merlin while they watched the Arthur and the knights training. They had sandwiches for themselves and feed for the chicken.
Gwen spread it out on the ground for him and he pecked away out it keenly.
Merlin laughed, "How do you know how much to feed him?"
"The man who sells the feed advised me," Gwen replied with an affectionate smile to pecking chicken. "Chickens eat more than I thought they did before I had 'Little Arthur'..."
He nodded, "Yeah, you have to be careful with chickens too because they can be very greedy if you let them. I remember one time—"
Merlin stopped when he realised what Gwen had called the chicken.
"Did you just call the chick 'Arthur'?" he said.
Gwen laughed, "It's silly really. I only do it to tease 'proper' Arthur with."
"I might have to seize that one to my advantage too."
"I'm sorry," he smirked, nudging her with his elbow. "You can't dish out information like that and expect me to stay quiet. You know Arthur wouldn't if you called him 'Little Merlin'."
"True," Gwen nodded in agreement. "Although the chicken ate an earthworm the other day; and Arthur called that 'Little Merlin'."
Merlin pulled an annoyed face and stared down at 'Little' Arthur.
"Typical," he muttered. "I could be 'little' anything, and Arthur makes me the earthworm his girlfriend's chicken eats."
Arthur walked down the line of men swinging their swords in discipline. He himself always oversaw their training before he practised himself. It was always better to see who was better at doing what and where everyone's weaknesses were before he tested them in those areas.
Each one of his 'new favourites' among the knights, Gwaine, Lancelot, Elyan, Leon and Percival were all handy for him to train against and to train against each other. They were some of the finest warriors he had ever seen. Nonetheless they all had their flaws: Lancelot's reflexes left much to be desired; Elyan still lacked the discipline of a proper knight; Leon was a reliable-fighter but didn't have the spark the others did yet, and Gwaine, while the most talented of the knights (He was certainly the most skilled without a sword let alone with a sword) his less that temperate lifestyle prevented him from reaching his full potential.
He would set all of them up against each other depending on who would compliment them best.
With Arthur it was always Percival's strength and size that proved the greatest challenge for him. While he helped Arthur overcome potential enemies twice his size, the prince helped Percival learn more dexterity. Although he could never be a lithe moving as, say, Elyan (One of the lithest movers Arthur had ever seen), he could at least be more aware of what was going on down there with the average sized fighters.
Though Percival never said much, he was very grateful.
In the heat of summer Arthur's torso was becoming clearly visible under his sweat-damp white shirt. It was hypnotically distracting for Gwen; she was staring at him, shiny-eyed and with her cheek cupped in her hand.
Merlin smirked again and stroked Little Arthur's head.
"See him over there?" he asked the chick, pointing towards Arthur. "You know him. That's 'Prince' Arthur. He's a completely different Arthur to you," he glanced at Gwen, "But don't worry because Gwen loves you both... just in very different ways."
He then winked, and Gwen tapped him firm around the back of the head.
Little Arthur cheerfully went on eating his feed.
Gwen rushed into Arthur's chambers in a faint panic. She hadn't realised yesterday during her 'meetings' (which they shouldn't really be having) with Arthur – which had involved a little kiss, cuddle and tumble in his bed – that her hairpin had somehow come loose and lost in the action.
She knew the last place she had it was here.
The most logical place it could have fallen was under Arthur's bed.
Gwen tapered politely on the door despite knowing that Arthur was out on the training field. Nonetheless she never knew who might be lurking in his bedchambers, a lackey or a servant, someone who might report to the senile king that his son really was engaging in non-enchanted make-out sessions with the former servant of the tyrannical madwoman.
Uther was so unstable these days that God only knew how he'd react to this now. Better than last time? Worse than last time? Gwen didn't want to bear thinking about it but...
The door flew open as she walked in that it swung off its hinges, hit the wall and almost hit her little companion in the face as it swung back. Thankfully he waddled forward quickly, devoutly following his mistress.
'Little Arthur' flapped his wings to get her attention.
Gwen turned around, "We'll go outside in a minute. I have to find that hairpin..."
She immediately rushed over to the bed. She checked the bedside table in case Arthur or Merlin had found it that morning, and once she realised it wasn't there, searched through the sheets. Once it was clear that it wasn't there either, she knelt down and searched under the bed.
Behind her 'Little Arthur' totted up to walk under the bed too. His sudden appearance caused her to hit her head on the bed. She even expelled a tiny, "Ouch!" She gave the chicken a firm look (which he ignored) and then continued searching.
"Arthur, you have so much junk under this bed," she muttered.
Gwen her search, pushing out dusty chests, odd boots and piles of paper tied together. Her hairpin was nowhere in sight and she was starting to get upset. She loved that hairpin. Never before had she had something pretty yet modest that she could wear everyday in her hair. Usually she settled for dry flowers. She really loved that hairpin.
She came out the other side of the bed where 'Little Arthur' was walking around the room, as if searching too. Gwen herself was covered in dust and starting to let the worry over never seeing that hairpin again get to her.
Maybe if she just asked Arthur if he had found it?
With a sorry sigh she began to slowly put the contents from under the bed back. It was clearly Merlin's burrowing place to stick odd things that don't have a place in the room anymore.
As Gwen put the piled of paper away, one sheet of folded paper fell out of the pile and onto the floor. With another sigh she picked it up to put it back when she realised that her name was written on the inside in Arthur's handwriting. Against her better judgement she opened it up and had a read:
"Guinevere, Guinevere...your name is too long...
Clear, here, hear, near, freer, fear, dear, endear, appear...
can't you see the effect
you have on me now? That
every time you are near
I feel a sense of an
Eternity, right there
in your eyes; it is clear
love has never met such
and that is my greatest fear
that our love will not strife,
cross boundaries of class.
I see now, Guinevere
that love has no boundaries
that humanity builds.
Hard as it may appear
there is a fight to win
and I will win for you
and for me, Guinevere."
Gwen's heart fluttered. It brought a smile to her face despite how low she felt over losing the hairpin. The thing she liked the most was that it was written in Arthur's unsteady, unpolished informal hand and that the poem was unpolished... and yet clearly thought about. Along the lines there were corrections, crossings out. It has genuinely been thought about.
And he had tried to make every rhyme about her name.
With a third sigh, this time more at peace, she folded the paper away and tucked it with the others under the bed. It was obvious that Arthur was ashamed of the poem, though she couldn't see why when it was a decent attempt considering he wasn't a poet by any means. So she would put it back.
And if he ever found the courage to show it to her, she'd reaction the same why then as she would now.
'Little Arthur' chirped again to get her attention. Gwen looked over and her heart leapt again as she saw he was picking at the lost hairpin with his beak. She didn't know where he had found it but there it was, safe and sound.
Gwen beamed delightedly and picked it up to slip it into her hair again. She then rewarded her trusty friend with a pat on the head. "I love you, Arthur!" she announced cheerfully.
The day of Judgement came the eve before the twentieth day of the last month, the Winter Solstice – the dreaded holiday of Yuletide. Presents were bought, the streets of Camelot were decorated and blessing logs were collected for everyone to make their New Years wishes. After the year the people had had they deserved a good holiday.
It was also the time for slaughtering the animals.
For the last month Gwen had been questioning whether or not she would be able to send 'Little Arthur' off to his destiny to be part of the Yuletide dinner. For obvious reasons he had become like a pet to her. He was messier and nosier than a regular sparrow; ever since he sexually matured, he had been making the morning announcement well before getting-up time in the castle.
It had been the mad, bad king who had put his foot down in the end.
"I don't ask for much, Arthur," Uther had said in his distant, strained voice that all had become accustomed to. "However I draw the line at former servants who live at the hospitality of the crown keeping broilers past their maturity date. I don't ask for much. I don't ask for much..."
"But," Arthur had tried to argue softly, "we've all become quite fond of the chicken—"
"I don't ask for much!" Uther had finished the argument before it begun, bellowing with more danger than he ever had when he was sane.
Gwen knew it was time; either find 'Little Arthur' a coop of hens or he'd get the chop, and none of the local pens needed a new cock. So it would be the chop.
As the chicken was handed over to the royal cook, Gwen hadn't been able to bear watching him leave and ran off with tears in her eyes. Elyan followed to comfort her but he also felt he couldn't watch 'Little Arthur', who had devoutly followed his sister around the past months. He had become a fixture and it hurt to let him go.
Merlin also found himself welling up; never when he got the chicken several months ago had he expected him to make such an impact. Gwaine placed a hand on his shoulder to comfort him while Lancelot and Percival looked like spectators at a funeral.
Probably because they felt like they were. They all did.
Arthur watched with the heaviest heart of all. As Gwen rushed off he went to follow her, but as he went he caught the sound of Percival as he once again broke his usual silence with a sober verse:
"Weep every Venus, and all Cupids wail,
And men whose gentler spirits still prevail.
Dead is the Sparrow of my girl, the joy,
Sparrow, my sweeting's most delicious toy,
Whom loved she dearer than her very eyes;
For he was honeyed-pet and anywise
Knew her, as even she her mother knew;
Ne'er from her bosom's harbourage he flew
But 'round her hopping here, there, everywhere,
Piped he to none but her his lady fair.
Now must he wander o'er the darkling way
Thither, whence life-return the Fates denay.
But ah! beshrew you, evil Shadows low'ring
In Orcus ever loveliest things devouring:
Who bore so pretty a Sparrow fro' her ta'en.
(Oh hapless birdie and Oh deed of bane!)
Now by your wanton work my girl appears
With turgid eyelids tinted rose by tears."
That was when Arthur turned around and went after the royal cook.
Gwen awoke early next morning after crying herself to sleep to the sound of banging on her bedroom door.
Last night she had been weeping for the loss of 'Little Arthur' and had been quite upset that her 'Prince' Arthur hadn't come to comfort her. The whole night in the midst of thinking about her lost pet chicken, she had stroked the beautiful hairpin she never took out and wondered whether he would come to her, but he didn't. That had made it hurt all the more.
She pulled herself out of bed to answer the door. From outside she could hear Merlin calling to her. His voice seemed... excited. "Gwen, Gwen, Gwen!" he called.
She rubbed her sore-red eyes, put on her dressing grown and opened the door for him.
Gwen was very surprised to see him smiling.
She sniffed sadly, "Merlin, what are you—"
He clasped her hand with his to beckon her forward. They were freezing!
"Come outside," he said excitedly. "Come outside, Arthur and I have something to show you."
"Show me what?" she said dully.
As if it wasn't bad enough that Uther had ordered the execution of her chicken, now Arthur and Merlin seemed to think they could distract her with something else. She knew she would forgive Arthur in the end, as she always did, but at this point she didn't care what they wanted to show her.
It was probably only snow anyway.
Nonetheless she pulled on some boots, grabbed a blanket from her bedclothes and followed Merlin through the castle and out into the royal gardens. There was no sign of snow, which was the first thing that started to make Gwen wonder what else they could want to show her.
He led her a little bit around the back towards where the animals were kept. When they got there Merlin presented his arms excitedly and cried, "Ta-da!"
There in front of them was Arthur, holding 'Little Arthur' in his arms.
"Arthur!" Gwen gasped with relish and relief for the two namesakes and she rushed towards them. She immediately kissed her prince on the lips before moving away slightly to ensure she didn't crush her chicken. "You saved him, you... I wondered—I thought..."
She swallowed a beamed with joy.
"This is what you were doing all night?" she asked.
Arthur nodded and turned around to place 'Little Arthur' down in the coop which Merlin had thoughtfully built for him, all night. The prince had supervised and acquired the other new members of the coop, four egg-laying hens... or at least they would be egg-layers soon.
"He has his own little family now too," Gwen remarked happily, wrapping her arms around Arthur's to keep warm. He noted that she was still only dressed in her nightdress and gown, and moved to wrap his cloak around her. She sighed happily, "I never thought about it before but—the royal gardens now have another chicken coop."
"Of which 'Little Arthur' is the king of," Merlin added cheerfully. "And he now had four Gwen-hens to keep him company."
"Shut up, Merlin," Gwen said, breaking the immortal tradition that Arthur tell Merlin off for his verbal tap running overkill.
Gwen hugged herself closer to Arthur for comfort. Her hairpin scratched the side of his neck a little but he didn't mind.
"Thank you... for saving my chick's life."
...and finding a solution to put him to use, which Uther couldn't argue against.
"Well, you can never have too many eggs," Arthur said proudly, holding her close. "I did say I would want to raise chickens if I were a farmer, didn't I?"
"You want to be farmer?" Merlin asked with interest.
"Don't ruin the moment, Merlin," Arthur said nicely but firmly.
The servant apologised and instead admired his two friends in loving embrace as they watched the chickens move to snugly set up home in their coop.
There was very little that Merlin could have done to ruin in the moment because, as if the complete the Yuletide spirit, it started to snow.
A/N: I wrote this for Christmas (obviously) but my mum has been very unwell so I've been looking after her. That's why I've had literally no updates as well. I also have a lot of essays coming up at uni so I'll be busy with that as well.