Well done to L.A.H.H for recognising the quote. 'Bored now' in the previous chapter. Love Dark!Willow.
Also, this two part ficlet was inspired by P G Wodehouse's 'The Code of the Woosters.' In that story Gussie (Elyan) recieves the advice from Jeeves (Percival) and writes his observations down in a note book which he proptly looses. Stephanie (Gwaine) finds it and bribes Bertie (Merlin) whilst also asking her fiance to steal a policeman's helmet (Yeah, had to go off on a bit of a tangent for that one!)
Anyway, straight on with the story, as there's not much point putting a 'previously' up on this one. Part 1 was chapter 17 if you need a reminder.
The Perils Of Parchment
Merlin made his way to the record's office feeling most put out. Honestly, he would have been happy to oblige Gwaine anyway, he didn't have to be so nasty about it. After all, it was a good idea to have Arthur and the Lords acknowledge the knight's status and the fact that Arthur had accepted him before knowing who he was, said a lot about the prince's changing attitude as well as how ridiculous the Knight's code really was. He froze at the door way when he saw Sir Geoffrey sitting at his desk and sighed, getting the strangest sense of deja vu.
"Hello," Merlin said casually, as he walked past the records keeper.
"What do you want?"
"You ask me that almost every day."
"So, I come here to find books for Gaius or to look up information that he wants me to study."
"So you keep saying, so he keeps saying, but you seem like the most unlikely student to me."
"Hey, I'm a lot brighter than I look."
"That would not be difficult."
It was getting annoying now. Perhaps he could ask Arthur to give him some official permission to come here but then, the prince probably felt exactly the same about his level of intelligence as Geoffrey did. When, oh when, would Camelot actually acknowledge the key role he was playing in it's survival? He took down the familiar volume and flicked through it to find the correct page. A few subtle spells were needed to distract the old man who seemed to be hovering very close – obviously not trusting him – as well as the copying spell which transferred all the information onto a new piece of parchment. With a big sigh, Merlin rolled up the seal, slipped it up a sleeve and then returned the book to the shelf, Geoffrey's eyes following him all the time. Unbeknown to him, the old man walked over to the shelf Merlin had left, to discover exactly what book he had been looking at.
Merlin wasn't the only one getting a strange sense of deja vu.
"Merlin, where have you been? I've been looking everywhere for you," asked Lancelot panic written all over his face.
"Why? What's happened?"
"Gwaine's been hauled up in front of Arthur and the nobles accused of theft and sexual assault."
"Huh ... what?" The theft bit he understood; in fact, given the way this day was panning out, it wasn't entirely unexpected but ... sexual assault? The pair quickly made their way to the main hall.
They arrived to find most of Camelot's elite in attendance and started to make their ways through the crowd towards the front of the room. Arthur was sitting on the King's throne, Gwaine in front of him, restrained by two guards with the highest ranked lords hovering nearby.
"Who brings these charges before me?"
"I accuse this Knight of theft," said Lord Aron, and Merlin saw Arthur's face betray just the slightest uncertainly. "I saw him running from my chambers and noticed an item of jewellery missing from my desk – a ring ... of some importance."
"I see, and the other charge?" One of the guards stepped forward.
"I was pursuing this man, Sir Gwaine, at the request of Lord Aron when I saw him ... touching a lady of the court in a most inappropriate manner," said the man nervously.
"He was running away, you say? Perhaps he just bumped into her?"
"Ah no, he had his head close to her neck and his hand was ... ah ..." the guard turned pink.
"We need the testimony of the lady in question. Did you recognise her?" The guard looked incredibly nervous at the question.
"T-the Lady Guinevere ... Sire." Arthur's face was a picture as he turned to glare at Gwaine. Merlin might have even found it funny, in other circumstances. He and Lancelot moved a little further forward.
"Is she not here?" Arthur asked
"I could not find her, Sire," said Lancelot, reaching the front. "Perhaps she was too upset?" Although the twitch of his lips made it fairly obvious that he did not believe that for a moment. Merlin was still confused though – what had Gwaine been doing?
"Now do you see, your Highness, my Lords and Ladies, what happens to our great court when one allows commoners the privileges that only those of the noble houses are due?" Lord Aron intoned. "No offence is meant, of course, but this proves, beyond doubt, that those born of blood have more honour, nobility and pureness of heart then those poor peasants who, by no fault of their own, do not have the wit or learning to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner." Merlin was torn between annoyance and amusement by this speech and decided now might be a good time to make an announcement of his own. He stepped boldly forwards.
"Lord Aron, as a commoner, I can assure you that I take 'no offence' at your statement." Several muffled giggles could be heard. "As, in this case, Sir Gwaine does not stand as a representative example. He was, in fact, born of noble blood." Merlin walked forwards with the scroll and handed it to Arthur with a bow and a small grin. The prince looked at him suspiciously before reading it and then handing it to Aron.
"Oh, that's appears to be in order," the Lord replied calmly.
"What, so now he's a noble, being accused of these acts is acceptable?" shouted Arthur. "Can you hear yourself, Aron?"
"Ah, no offense mean, Sire, but that wasn't quite what ..."
"Actually, Sire, I have reason to suspect that the document is not genuine," said Sir Geoffrey, shuffling in through one of the back doors of the hall.
"I spotted Merlin leaving the library earlier after inspecting a certain book on lineage. The last time I saw the boy reading the volume, was shortly before Sir Lancelot presented his seal to you, five years ago, claiming a noble lineage that he was not entitled to."
"You're accusing Merlin of ... forgery," said Arthur in a disbelieving tone. "Forgery of this quality?"
"This isn't a forgery, Sir Geoffrey," said Merlin. "It is a true document and has not been altered in any way." Copied, but not altered.
"Yes, but earlier, Gwaine here had no proof currently on his person or in his possession that says he is the same Lord Gwaine who is mentioned here and, given the situation as it stands at the moment, I cannot see how he can prove it," said Geoffrey.
"Sir Gwaine, come here," Arthur ordered. "Do you swear that this document is a true representation of your birth heritage and family."
"I do, Sire."
"Then, that is good enough for me."
"But, Sire. Whether or not he is a commoner or a noble, there is no doubt that he is a thief and a womaniser," Aron objected.
"Certainly there is doubt," said Gwaine. "I deny both charges." There were sounds of disbelief around that hall and Gwaine smiled as he gave an exaggerated shrug of his shoulders. "Alright, I'll rephrase that, I deny both of these specific charges. I swear that I did not steal the ring from it's owner, nor was I in anyway inappropriate in my attentions to the Lady Guinevere." This was followed by several giggles and Arthur's lips twitched, obviously acknowledging Gwaine's comment about the ring's true owner, as well as his very well known character flaws.
"Prince Arthur may trust your word, Sir Gwaine, but I do not," said Aron.
"Then, by all means search me - you will not find it." He caught Arthur's gaze and smiled slightly, giving the prince the confidence to nod his approval of the search. The ring was not found.
"The court is dismissed," says Arthur. "Sir Gwaine, Merlin ... a word in private, if you don't mind." The three young men waited until the rest had left and the guards had barred the door.
"Well, where's my ring?" Arthur asked Gwaine.
"I don't have it but ... it is safe."
"It was all perfectly innocent, I give you my word."
"So, the ring will be returned to you shortly, once the fuss has died down." Arthur glared at Gwaine for a long moment.
"But, Arthur. How are you going to explain how you suddenly have the King's sealing ring after all of this?" Merlin asked.
"Ah, yes. That could be awkward," the prince agreed.
"We need to make sure that it is awarded to you officially, so that no-one can deny it," the warlock continued.
"But how? Uther already gave it to Aron."
"But did he?"
"What are you babbling about, Merlin? Of course he did, that's the whole problem."
"No, no, I see where Merlin's going with this," said Gwaine. "Your father isn't well. You just need Gaius to prove that he wasn't in his right mind to make such an important legal decision and then the ring will automatically come back to you."
"But, will it? If put to a vote, the Lords and, more importantly, Geoffrey, are sure to side with Aron," said Arthur.
"Look, let me get Gaius to talk to Geoffrey about the legality of all of this," Merlin suggested.
"That's all very well, but I still don't actually have the ring."
"I told you, it'll come to you soon and, Arthur, as I do now have my seal, how about I join you and Leon against the three common rabble during your tourney and give the nobles a show to remember?" Arthur glared at him briefly for his turn of phrase but it soon turned into a slight smile.
"Perfect – that's a good combination. Percival and Lancelot on their side will make it an interesting match. Fine."
"Hey, don't forget Elyan," said Merlin.
"Yes, he's good ... I didn't mean to imply ..."
"Give him a bit of a break, Arthur, you have no idea how nervous he gets around you," said Merlin.
"Merlin, are you sure you ...?" Gwaine cautioned.
"What? Elyan?" asked Arthur
"And, as he's going to be your brother at some point, you really don't want him upset because then, Gwen will be upset and that means ..."
"Yes, thank you, Merlin. I know he's a little nervous around me sometimes but he is getting better. In fact, despite the hangover, he gave me a very good work out this morning. Didn't seem intimidated by me at all." They couldn't help it, both Merlin and Gwaine burst out laughing. "What?"
"Looks like Percival was right about that then?" said Gwaine and Merlin laughed even harder.
"Will you two shut up and tell me what's so funny!"
Arthur arrived back in his room after having dispatched Merlin to talk to Gaius about the issue of the sealing ring's ownership, and sending Gwaine along to Geoffrey to formalise his own seal. He then spent some time at his desk, planning his tournament with a better idea of how to show off his ... three ... commoner knights, with the court scene also having given him some ideas of how to improve the speech he was planning to deliver afterwards. He'd wasn't sure how long he'd been sitting there but the next thing he was fully aware of was a sharp, authoritative rap on the door.
"Come." He looked up surprised to see Lord Aron entering his chambers. A very red and angry Lord Aron, clutching a roll of parchment in his hand.
"S-sire ... I have to report a most ... disturbing find."
"What is it you have there?"
"Ah ... you see - not entirely convinced of Sir Gwaine's innocence in the matter of the ring, I ordered his chambers searched and ..."
"Excuse me!" Arthur interrupted and Aron swallowed hard. "You? Ordered?"
"Well, you see ..."
"The knight in question was acquitted of all charges."
"Well, no offence, Sire but ... " He suddenly turned an even deeper shade of red as he glared at the parchment in his hand. "What I mean is that ... I thought ..."
"In future, don't think, Aron. It will be much better for everyone in Camelot."
"Sire, I must object ..."
"Fine. So, you came here to confess? I take it you didn't find the ring?"
"No, Sire. I found this instead." He handed Arthur the parchment and he partially unrolled it, noting that it was written in a hand that he wasn't sure he recognised. The first part was all about Aron himself and Arthur had a great deal of trouble not smiling at the various accurate observations contained within it. "It was in Gwaine's room, Sire," Aron continued. "I would have thought that these new knights of yours would show some respect considering their current predicament."
"Ah, I can imagine that this must have ... ah ... although, I should perhaps point out that this is not Gwaine's hand. Here ... he wrote me this short note the other day and, as you can see ..." Arthur rummaged on his desk until he found the letter and handed it over. Aron nodded his agreement.
"I wonder at it being in his possession then."
"I shall look into it, if you'd like?"
"As you wish, although, you may not have noticed yet, sire, but I am not the only person mentioned in that document. There are a number of other high ranking individuals who's ... characters have been ... analysed in detail including, I'm afraid to say, your good self."
"What?" Arthur quickly opened the scroll even further and, on seeing a sentence which clearly included the words 'Merlin' 'affection' and 'intimate services" within it, he turned red and abruptly rolled it back up, quickly dismissing the Lord who, like Arthur earlier, was obviously trying hard to prevent a smile from crossing his face.
Once the old man had left, Arthur sat back at his desk and read the parchment in detail. As he got to the final section he started to grind his teeth but, on reading the very last sentence about his birth mark, Arthur threw the document down on the table with a flourish and growled just one word.
Arthur was now pacing, the scroll on the desk, now lying half unfurled, whilst he tried to work out who had written it and why. Despite the fact that the last piece of information could have only come from his servant, (He didn't think his father had ever spent enough time with his infant child to have noticed such a thing) he knew for a fact that it wasn't Merlin's writing either. Still ... he was now furious with Aron for assuming control and going behind his back, with Gwaine for possessing the offensive document and having had some interaction with Guinevere that was deemed inappropriate, and Merlin, who he had started to believe he could trust more than anyone else in the whole world, casually revealing secrets that no-one but his future wife should ever know about.
A quieter knock signalled the arrival of the one person that had just entered his mind at that last thought.
"Guinevere," he said, working hard to calm himself.
"Arthur, are you alright? You look terrible."
"I'm having a very trying day. How are you? What happened between you and Gwaine earlier?"
"Oh that," she said with a shy smile, moving very seductively towards him. He swallowed hard as he noted the beautiful pale green dress she was wearing, snugly fitted at the bodice and which, as she moved closer to him and he was required to look down, inevitable afforded him a very pleasant view in the process. "I bumped into Gwaine as he was running down the corridor. He said he was in a bit of trouble and had something of yours – asked me if I'd pass it onto you."
"Oh," said Arthur with a sigh. "He gave you the ring?"
"So, what was all this about ... ah ... sexual assault?"
"What?" Gwen giggled. "Well, I wouldn't call it that. He just ... well." She coloured and looked up at him very seductively through her lashes. "He just thought that something so precious ought to be placed where none but the Regent should be able to lay hands on it."
"Ah, sorry?" She smiled at him again and then moved her own gaze down to her cleavage. It was impossible, therefore, for Arthur's eyes not to take the same route. At least, that was his excuse. However, he was easily distracted from her body by the obvious gleam of something gold, settled in-between her breasts. "He ... he put the ring down your ...?" He started to splutter.
"Hush, Arthur, he dropped it down there, and whispered the instructions in my ear at the same time. That's obviously what the guard saw; his hand ... hovering over my ... and his head close to ..." Arthur growled and Gwen giggled. "There's no need to be jealous, Arthur. Your ring's right here and you're most welcome to retrieve it." She bit her lip as she looked up at him coyly and the Regent's anger quickly subsided. With a small smile he moved slowly forward for a kiss, his hand gently resting on her collar bone and then moving very, very, slowly down towards the ring. No need to rush he thought and, even when his fingers had closed around the object, he kept his hand where it was, fingers moving gently. He felt Guinevere gasp slightly through the kiss.
"Ahem!" A loud cough sent the two of them flying quickly apart.
"Honestly, Merlin don't you ever knock?" His servant was trying to look stern and failing miserably.
"Ah, I know you two are officially courting now but still ... is that entirely appropriate, do you think?" he said with a sudden broad grin at the glare he was receiving from Arthur.
"I was just retrieving the ring that Gwaine so thoughtfully 'left' for me."
"Gwaine left it ...?" Gwen grinned at him and pointed down her dress, leaning forward as she did, so that Merlin was also afforded an interesting view. Arthur noticed that his servant turned an even brighter shade of red than Aron had earlier.
Aron - Merlin - Parchment.
He turned his eyes to the desk and both Guinevere and Merlin followed his gaze. Merlin uttered something which sounded very much like a squeak.
"Oh, that's Elyan's writing," Guinevere said.
"What?" said Arthur. Merlin squeaked again.
"Ah, I've j-just remembered that ... I've got to..." Merlin stammered, starting to back towards the door.
"Where exactly do you think you're going?" asked Arthur in a threatening tone, as he walked slowly his servant.
"Anywhere?" he replied and, with a terrified look at Athur's furious face, suddenly turned tail and ran out the room as fast as his legs would carry him.
A/N That's all for now but, as I said before, these two sets could be reopened at a later day. Thanks for all your lovely comments, support and ideas on this one.
I'm always happier just working seriously on one thing at a time and so now need to decide on my next 'project'. My priority is currently 'Sensing Magic' which I'm trying to expand and I'd love any suggestions you have on how I might do that. However, I now have a number of things on my 'to do' ideas which I've noted down on my profile page so feel free to PM me with any suggestions or requests you have about these. Or perhaps there was a drabble or short ficlet on here that you would like me to explore and extend into something longer? Do let me know.