Dabbling in Falconry
With candles and a roaring fire keeping the cold and the dark at bay, Merlin reluctantly allowed Gaius' effective – if a little rough – treatment for stiff and aching shoulders.
Kilgharrah had been completely correct, of course. After landing just out of sight of the gatehouse, that one simple amendment to the pronunciation of his words had Merlin changing back to his usual form with ease. In his sleeping clothes, he had then crept unseen through the halls of the castle before greeting an extremely relieved Gaius with a beaming smile.
Groaning as Gaius manipulated his shoulder in such a way as to produce a rather loud pop from the abused joint, Merlin lowered his aching head to the table.
Though he would never trade the discomfort for the opportunity to learn to fly, even with Gaius' administrations the warlock would definitely be paying for it tomorrow. On top of that, the two actual injuries he had acquired in his little jaunt as a merlin had translated into one swollen and blackened toe, one hell of a fantastic black eye and perhaps even a fracture on the bridge of his nose. Not to mention all of the other cuts and bruises that had been hidden from sight before. Gaius wasn't completely sure about the nose, but it was much too painful for the physician to prod it over much.
"Maybe this will teach you not to go gallivanting around doing things that your body was never meant to."
"I didn't exactly – argh! – have a choice, Gaius. Gwaine and Arthur threw me across the council chambers, what was I supposed to do?"
"You ran away from Bethilda just fine."
"And you wouldn't if you ever got that close? ...Ouch!"
"Mind yourself. The woman works hard."
"A little too hard, if you ask me. She seemed a little highly-strung."
Allowing himself a small grin whilst the warlock couldn't see it, the physician released his ward and moved over to his table of herbs.
Wincing and stretching each of his arms out in turn, Merlin stiffly lifted up his foot to examine the bandaging there before pulling back on his sock.
"I wonder where my clothes went? You know, when I was in bird form."
"Who can say? There are many things that will never be understood about magic, even by you."
Merlin hummed thoughtfully in reply, gratefully cupping his hands around the warm mug of tea made from a mixture of birch bark and honey that Gaius set down in front of him before returning to the preparations of some concoction or another.
Both Merlin and Gaius jumped as the door crashed open for the second time that day, once again admitting Gwaine. The man's face was set into a serious mask, but it melted quickly into open astonishment as he caught sight of Merlin sat at the table. Frozen just inside the room's threshold, there was a muted grunt as whoever was behind him was unable to prevent themselves from crashing into his back. After a mumbled protest which Merlin couldn't quite catch, Lancelot's head appeared over Gwaine's shoulder.
"And where the hell have you been?"
Lancelot's irritated tone was off-set by the sheer relief on his face. Merlin supposed he owed the man big-time for putting him through the worry he had and for ditching him in the council chambers. Grinning sheepishly at the knight, he nervously started to spin his mug in slow circles on the table with a quiet scraping sound. He would have to catch the man alone sometime to apologise. Lancelot's sharp words did un-freeze Gwaine, at least.
With a beatific smile on his face, Gwaine strode across the room to sit in the chair opposite Merlin.
"And what the hell happened to you? What's the other guy look like?"
Looking down into his tea, Merlin chuckled slightly. He was about to reply when Arthur strode into the room as well, his proud posture portraying nonchalance... or it would be if it weren't for the fact that the prince had just practically run into the room in his agitation.
"Gaius, I'm glad you're back. We searched for hours but we couldn't find... MERLIN! Where the hell have you been?"
Merlin's headache wasn't up to coping with the Call of the Prat right now.
"Is there an echo in here?" He asked with mild irritation, though he guessed he did deserve it.
Scowling, Arthur stomped across the room and threw himself into a chair next to Gwaine. Ignoring Merlin's comment, the prince fixed the warlock with a glare that was a little too searching to truly be angry; eyes lingering on the injuries that he could see.
Arthur's hand twitched, as if he was actually going to touch the bruising on Merlin's face before he decided against it. That or he'd thought about punching him. The latter was much more feasible.
Glancing at Lancelot hovering near Gaius' bench, Merlin lifted up his mug and drained the contents, grimacing at the overly sweet taste when he found that the majority of the honey had settled into a sickly thick layer on the bottom.
"I was on my way back from collecting herbs for Gaius. But I caught my toe on a tree branch and hit my head on this massive oak," depending on how you looked at it, those actually weren't lies. "I must have knocked myself out because when I woke up it was late afternoon. I made my way back here and Gaius patched me up. That's it."
Arthur's jaw actually twitched a few times before the prince stood suddenly, knocking his chair to the ground with a clatter. He glared fiercely at Merlin for a few moments more before spinning on his heels and stomping towards the door.
"You, Merlin, are a complete and utter idiot," were the words which were growled over his shoulder as he went. Then, after he had disappeared around the corner into the corridor: "And still I expect you to be on time tomorrow!"
Once the sound of the prince's boots had faded, Merlin groaned as he lowered his head slowly to rest on the table.
"Great, now Arthur hates me even more than he normally does," he mumbled into the sturdy beech. "I'll be mucking out the stables for a week."
"Nah, the guy was just worried about you."
Turning his head just enough for it to be seen, Merlin raised an eyebrow at Gwaine. True, the warlock knew himself that Arthur didn't hate him in the slightest. But, hearing a comment like that from Gwaine was almost unheard of.
But the knight merely shrugged. "I'm serious. You should have seen him in the forest. He was working himself up into a right tizzy."
Merlin lifted his head again. "Are we talking about the same Arthur, here?"
"Honest! He said he'd rather look for you than some stupid bird... which he lost by the way."
He'd been waiting for that to come up, and it was so typical of Gwaine to point the finger at Arthur whilst the prince wasn't here to say a word against it.
"...Bird?" He asked, screwing his face up slightly in question.
"You know? Your merlin?"
Merlin took a moment to feign puzzling that statement over before allowing his face to light up with realisation. It was actually getting quite disturbing how good he was at acting like this.
"Oh, that merlin. It was fully healed; I was gonna set it free when Arthur actually let me have a chance to do so. You've saved me a job by letting it go."
"Oh. Well, good." Leaning back in his chair, the knight started running his fingers through the knots in his hair. "The bastard seemed to have a thing against decent hair."
Gwaine winced and then pulled a face at the twig he had just extracted before flicking it into the nearby fire.
"Speaking of, I need a good wash and a tankard of mead after today." Standing up and righting the chair Arthur had abused as he did so, Gwaine called across to Lancelot, who had been talking quietly with Gaius. "Fancy joining me, Lance my good man?"
"For the bath or for the drink?"
There was a stunned pause before Gwaine threw back his head in a loud laugh.
"Ooh! That was a good one! I'll admit it; I set myself up for that one. There's hope for you yet."
"I try." Coming closer to Merlin's table, the gentle knight cast a quick glance over the warlock. "You sure you're going to be alright? We can talk to Arthur if you want."
Smiling in gratitude at these two fantastic friends, Merlin shook his head. "It's nothing Gaius can't fix, and I've dealt with much worse from Arthur before. I'll be fine."
"If you're sure," Lancelot replied with a nod, which Merlin returned.
Clapping his hands together, Gwaine span to face the door, giving Lancelot a friendly shove towards it whilst he was at it.
"Welp, tavern's a-calling. Good to see you're alright Merlin."
Smacking the warlock in the shoulder in a friendly way, Gwaine left the room; shoving Lancelot in front of him as he went. Merlin grinned at their retreating backs. At least he did until they disappeared into the corridor, at which point he allowed his smile to fall into a grimace as he reached up to gingerly hold the shoulder that had once-again resumed its painful throbbing. He lowered his arm again as Gaius appeared at his side once more, holding a mortar filled with the salve he had prepared. Whatever was in it positively stank, but Merlin had to admit that the warm tingling which was emanating from wherever it was applied was incredibly soothing.
"You're becoming quite the actor, Merlin."
"I know..." There was a brief pause. "Do you think there'll ever be a time where I don't have to lie like that all of the time?"
Putting down the mortar, Gaius started gently wrapping light bandages over Merlin's shoulders to prevent him from rubbing the salve off as he moved about in his sleep.
"Your time will come, my boy. Patience is a virtue, you know."
"Ha, and whoever came up with that particular virtue clearly never had to wait for anything."
Prodding the pouting warlock in the ribs and causing him to huff out a reluctant noise of amusement, Gaius very gently applied a smudge of salve to his nose and under his eyes before turning back to his bench.
Standing from his place at the table, Merlin gingerly pulled on his shirt, ready for bed. Turning to face his room, he looked up to find Gaius stood at the bottom of his stairs holding out a small piece of cloth that was soaked in some kind of greenish liquid.
"...What's that for?"
"Valerian," the physician replied, his face blank. "Thought it might help you sleep."
Merlin didn't care if it was painful, he laughed long and hard at that one. The warlock went to bed that night exhausted and aching, true. But he also laid down his weary head with a renewed hope for the future and the surprises it may bring.
He was pleasantly surprised upon waking up at mid-morning the following day to find that Arthur had actually come to Gaius personally and instructed him not to wake Merlin up for work.
Yes, the future was definitely something to look forward to.
After SPAMing you email inboxes with new chapters after I fudged up and never saw a 'Replace Chapter' button that was right under my nose, that's finally it!
I'm sorry that I ended up leaving this story on such a long and unannounced hiatus. I don't have any solid excuse, save that I was swallowed up by other fandoms (it took me over a year just to catch up on all seven seasons Supernatural) and that I've been at University.
In terms of my other stories, 'Swords, Magic, Conundrums and Enigmas' and 'On the Wings of a Butterfly' haven't really progressed yet. But after finishing this story and with the new series of Merlin starting today, I'll never say never! Especially considering I want to have a try at the Dreaded Conversation before my view of how it would go is tempered by anything the TV show itself may come up with.
XD :D XD