To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering, one must not love. But, then, one suffers from not loving. So, to love is to suffer, to not love is to suffer, to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love, to be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy, therefore, to be unhappy, one must love, or love to suffer, or suffer too much happiness - I hope you're getting this down. Woody Allen
Merlin had never seen Arthur happier.
"Matthias is due today, Merlin." Arthur said as they walked through the common together, Arthur holding his sword and Merlin holding a wooden version. For a month now Arthur had been teaching him to fight, not quite trusting Merlin not to take his head off with a real metal sword (and, really, Merlin didn't blame him).
Merlin was surprised at how patient Arthur was when he was teaching, explaining how to dodge and twist, demonstrating, reminding, and finally breaking Merlin's defenses to show that they could be broken, whipping his sword to within three inches of Merlin's face, but no further. Arthur was the more beat up of the two after their practice sessions, and the bruises and small cuts Merlin noticed when helping the young prince into his armor made something odd flutter in his chest.
If only he would stop talking about Matthias! "I know, Arthur."
His tone must have left something to be desired, for it was then that Arthur turned to look at him, expression puzzled, and Merlin turned his face away. He knew that his relationship with Arthur went past that of a master and a servant, or even a ruler and a subject. Arthur looked upon him as an advisor, and Merlin could not let his feelings get in the way on that subject.
He'd never met Matthias, but felt he knew him from Arthur's many stories. The two had been close in childhood, had, indeed, had the same tutor for many years. As they grew up, they grew apart, with Arthur attending to his duties as heir apparent and Matthias going home to a small Shire where he played overlord.
Something about the stories, about the mention of the man, made Merlin's skin prickle with unease. There was an underlying level of cruelty to everything the man did. He'd once saved Arthur's life, but only after putting it in danger. He'd once courted a girl that Arthur was smitten with. He'd once committed a series of petty crimes for fun.
But now Arthur turned to Merlin, wary. "He is my friend, Merlin. I will not stand you being rude in his presence."
"No! Of course not." And, because Merlin was not known for keeping his opinions to himself. "But sire, he sounds…" cruel. Mean-spirited. Jealous. "Unkind."
Well, that went too far. A servant disrespecting a nobleman was unheard of, and though Merlin had done it before, and Arthur had listened to him before, on this matter he would hear no word, even when his own conscience was murmuring the same thing. Matthias had saved his life!
But all the angry words in the world would not be equal to action. They'd reached the sparring grounds, and Arthur turned to Merlin, face unreadable. "Ready?"
There was something in his tone, in his inflection, that made Merlin want to say 'no', but instead he held up his fake sword, suddenly aware that it was totally inadequate against the durable, metal monstrosity Arthur was carrying. "Yes."
Merlin learned, then, why Arthur was undefeated when it came to matters of battle. He understood why the knights, even the older, bigger, stronger ones, all feared sparring with him. He understood the rumors of greatness that surrounded the prince.
Because Arthur, this time, did not hold back. He swung at Merlin fiercely, in his mind protecting his friend's honor, and Merlin's sword splintered on impact. He stumbled backward, dodging and ducking as Arthur's sword came at him again, again, again.
He was pinned in twelve seconds, the useless sword four paces away, Arthur's blade at his exposed throat. And his face! It wasn't the face of the kind young man Merlin had come to know, had come to (it was true, there was no use denying it) love. This face was hard, cold, calculating, and Merlin could have been any other enemy in the world.
The blade rested against Merlin's skin, ripped it, tore it, and Merlin could feel blood trickle down his neck. "Arthur." He murmured, keeping his voice low. "Arthur, let me up."
It was the words, or perhaps the blood, that did it. Arthur blinked, staring at Merlin's neck as if he'd never seen anything like it. Merlin pushed himself up, only to find that his ribs, his abdomen, his chest, were all screaming with agony. He rested for a moment, staring at Arthur.
For his part, the prince looked chagrined. He'd taught children, for God's sake. He knew how to spar without injuring someone. Yet here in front of him was proof that he'd let emotions cloud his judgment. Emotions had no place in battle. "Merlin..."
"It's fine." Merlin pushed himself all the way to his feet, trying to keep in the hiss of pain that wanted to make itself known. "I shouldn't have said that about your friend. You were right to be angry." He pressed a hand to his bleeding neck, surprised at the strong flow of blood. "Go again, sire?" He couldn't quite look at Arthur, couldn't quite get his heart rate under control. The knowledge that Arthur could have killed him with a flick of the wrist was still wreaking havoc with his nervous system.
"You idiot." Arthur drew a handkerchief out of one of his many pockets, wet it with the tip of his tongue, and pressed it against the cut. "Keep pressure on it."
The feel of a handkerchief should not make Merlin feel like this, hot and cold at the same time, dizzy with something other than nausea and blood loss.
Arthur would never say he was sorry, though perhaps this situation warranted it. He'd just attacked his servant, his Merlin. But instead he stood staring at the young man, watching him assess his injuries, watching him mentally tally up how this would impact his day.
Just to give himself something to do other than stare at Merlin (why was it that he could stare at Merlin for hours and never get bored? That was odd, wasn't it?) Arthur went over and picked up the splintered wooden sword. "Perhaps you're ready for a metal blade."
"Really?" This response was eager, and Arthur smiled.
"Well, a dull one. You're still liable to chop my arm off."
"Or my own arm."
"True. Perhaps we should just stick to the wood."
"Oh, come off it, we both know you'll give me a real one."
Merlin really did know him too well, but the back-and-forth they had gotten going at least assured Arthur that there would be no permanent bad blood between them. For some reason (and Arthur would not explore into that strange, inexplicable feeling he felt whenever he saw Merlin, that strange double-beat of the heart, the cold, clammy sensation that came over his skin) Arthur could not abide the thought of a servant other than Merlin. He could not abide the thought of Merlin being out of his life.
Which is one of the reasons why the next few weeks were destined to wreak havoc on them both. The next few weeks would prove that Arthur should have listened to Merlin's worries, to his own misgivings about Matthias and his character. Within the next few weeks, both would understand exactly how much they were willing to surrender to keep each other in their lives.
And, despite all their sacrifices, it still may not be enough.
A young servant entered the training grounds, ran up to Arthur. "Sir Matthias is here!" He cried, sealing their fate.
"How'd you convince your father to postpone the feast?"
"I said you'd be exhausted from the difficult ride. Besides, isn't this better?" Arthur looked up at his childhood friend, resisting the urge to look away. Something, some small, integral part of his face, or perhaps just his eyes, had changed in their years apart. Matthias was still tall, broad, dark and foreboding in a way that made women fall at his feet. But it was his eyes, the one that followed people around the room like they were prey and he was just waiting to eat them.
The eyes that were now following Merlin. Arthur noticed it, but did not bring it up. After all, had he not seen other visiting men, dignitaries and servants alike, watch Merlin the same way? Watch him the same way? He knew of the strange desires some men held for the feel of another man (and wasn't he among them, at least where Merlin was concerned?)
But there was something in Matthias's gaze that was hungry, vicious, staring at Merlin like he was a piece of meat, or small game that Matthias was pursuing on a hunt. And Arthur had the impulsive instinct to hustle Merlin out of the room, or else to leap to his defense, snarl at Matthias for staring at his Merlin (and when did Merlin become his Merlin, really?)
"Merlin," he called, keeping his voice light and jovial, "Why don't you just leave the food here and call it a night. You can take the plates down to the kitchens in the morning."
The grateful smile that flashed across his servants face let Arthur know that the younger man had not been unaware of Matthias's gaze, and he was made uncomfortable by it. A thousand thoughts ran through Arthur's mind in the span of a second, the most important concerning the fact that if Merlin did not want Matthias's advances, would he appreciate any from him, Arthur, should he work up the courage in the future?
"Goodnight, sire." Arthur said, making a small bow to Arthur before turning to Matthias. "Sir Matthias." He left then, closing the door quietly behind him.
"He's no trouble to look at, is he?" Matthias said, making a rude gesture with his hands that caused Arthur to sit up straighter, press his lips together. He did not want another man all over Merlin, especially, illogically, not Matthias.
He let silence hang between them until Matthias broke it by mentioning a boy they used to know in childhood. Arthur latched onto this subject gladly, for he did consider Matthias one of his greatest friends and he did, after all, owe the other man his life. Still, when the night ended and Matthias retired to his own chambers, Arthur could not help but remember the hungry look Matthias wore when gazing at his man-servant, and he could not shake the feeling that this visit from an old friend would bring him nothing but woe.
Matthias had an uncanny knack for getting lost at the exact right times. He took a right in the huge castle, and then a left, and suddenly he was not near the bedchambers at all but in the kitchens, where a young servant who had been given an unexpected gift with a night off had passed along that gift to some of the scullery maids. Merlin was sitting at the great table, watching as the cutlery, the plates, the mugs, all washed themselves in the great basin.
When he heard Matthias's gasp from the top of the stairs, everything crashed into the sink and Merlin was on his feet, but not before Matthias was down the steps and had caught Merlin by the collar.
"You're a sorcerer, then? A magic-wielder?" He shook the slight boy until Merlin was nodding, eyes wide and terrified. "Who knows?" Matthias put his face close to Merlin's and said in a low, deathly whisper, "Who. Knows?"
"N-no one!" Merlin stuttered, not even trying to pull away from the knight's grip.
"Not Arthur? Not the king?" Matthias's thoughts were racing. He'd seen the way Merlin's touch lingered on Arthur's hand, had taken notice of the way Arthur had glared at him when he caught Matthias staring at the young servant. There was a love connection there, and if there wasn't then one would start soon.
And what better way to ruin the man he'd always hated then to steal the love of his life?
"If Uther Pendragon knew that his son was knowingly harboring a sorcerer, he would have no choice but to uphold the letter of the law, especially if that revelation was made public." Matthias's grin was wolfish somehow, animalistic. "You would both be put to death."
"But Arthur doesn't know!" Merlin gasped. Arthur had sworn that he and Matthias were friends. What sort of friend wants to see the other killed?
"That doesn't matter. If Camelot believes that Arthur harbored you knowing the magic that you posses, they will be clamoring for his blood. Uther will have to either bend to their wishes or risk the lives that are wasted in rebellion." Matthias gazed into Merlin's frightened eyes and smirked, "I will keep my peace on this matter." Matthias said, and Merlin looked so pitifully grateful that the knight was sure his plan was going to work. "For a price."
"I…I have nothing." Merlin said, looking frightened again. What could he give such a powerful man in exchange for silence on such a large secret?
Matthias drew Merlin close and murmured something in his ear that made Merlin first stiffen, then nod. He could not take the risk of exposing his secret. He found he cared little for his own life, but the thought of intertwining Arthur's fate with his, of being the cause of his friend's death…Merlin would not allow that. His heart would break first.
So he acquiesced to Matthias's dark deal, feeling a cold knot of dread form in his stomach along with another, very different feeling. Resolve. He would carry out his end of the bargain until Matthias left Camelot.
He had to.
this was all written in response to something that happened in our own lives, and is dedicated to some dear friends who've had to take a lot of flak recently for loving someone they're not "supposed" to love. yes, arthur and merlin and matthias are all gay, in their own ways. yes, matthias is pretty much evil personified. yes, arthur is going to be pissed when he finds out. will he help merlin or leave him to rot? who knows?
anyways, please review.