Title: An Idiot By Any Other Name

Summary: In which Merlin discovers that while Arthur loves insulting him, he does not take kindly to others insulting him. Set when Arthur is king. No slash.

Disclaimer: I don't own Merlin. :(

I apologize for the title. I honestly couldn't think of anything better, but if anyone has any suggestions I would be most appreciative.


An Idiot by Any Other Name

With Arthur finally in his rightful place as king, Merlin had received the promotion to court sorcerer, and, while he loved his position, he didn't like how much more he and the king were in Camelot. Merlin missed the long quests he and Arthur had once taken together, and, in his most restless moments, he even might admit to missing the long hunting trips. As newly appointed court sorcerer, he enjoyed getting out of Camelot, which is why he was grateful for a certain part of his new job.

In the six months since Uther died and Arthur took his place as king, every couple weeks or so some old lord was bound do die and leave his son to inherit his land, and each and every time this occurred Arthur was sent out to said lord's territory to give his condolences and make sure the transition of power went smoothly. As magic was still slowly returning to the land and regaining the trust of the people, Merlin always accompanied the king to ensure the new nobleman understood his responsibilities as far as magic was concerned. The time at the nobleman's home was never very enjoyable, despite how much Merlin preferred it to being in Camelot, because of how much the new noblemen would flatter and fawn over Arthur.

Nonetheless, these trips were godsends for Merlin, who was struggling to stay optimistic about the citizens of Camelot's eventual true acceptance of magic. It was good for him to get out and get away from all those who hated him simply because of how he had been born.

They were currently on their fifth trip in a certain Lord Rugford's territory. Merlin could generally stand the new noblemen despite their flattery because Arthur would break them out of their sycophantism quickly. This time, though, Merlin decided, is far worse than any of the others. Definitely not worth the trip. I could be working on that potion to cure the common cold right now.

They were sitting in Lord Rugford's feasting hall, Arthur to Rugford's immediate right and Merlin on the king's other side. Rugford was a small man dressed in a ridiculous gold and crimson ensemble made more ridiculous by the way he was simpering and fawning over Arthur. Merlin wouldn't have been surprised if the bootlicker had started drooling, but the death glares Rugford was sending Merlin's way indicated that this potent awe didn't extend to his king's court sorcerer. Merlin could care less, and he was glad to see that Arthur was paying no heed to Rugford's cries for the king's attention and favor.

In the center of the dining hall, Rugford's own sorcerer was putting on quite a show, using long-winded, fancy-sounding spells to create gaudy effects that Merlin could have made with no words at all. Nonetheless, he did understand something of propriety, so he clapped along with the rest of the hall when the sorcerer conjured a flock of doves in the center of the hall that went soaring out of a nearby window.

"Ah, Rugford," drawled Arthur as the clapping slowed, "That reminds me. Merlin will be meeting with your court sorcerer tomorrow morning to make sure he understands all the new laws put in place regarding magic."

Rugford's beady eyes flickered from his sorcerer to Merlin and then back to the king.

"Let me assure you, sire," Rugford began smoothly, "That my sorcerer is fully trained in all he does. He was born with his abilities, but he learned from an experienced sorcerer how to use his magic. Your court sorcerer may make sure mine is using his gifts well, but I guarantee you there is nothing that you need to worry about."

Merlin sipped at his wine, and steadfastly ignored the contemptuous glances Rugford was sending his way. The warlock could read them easily, but it wasn't as though Rugford's implied insults were anything new. He understood better than anyone that his prowess with magic was unheard of, particularly as he had never been formally trained. However, he could not believe that these facts said anything about him besides that, yes, his magic was different, despite what many others had inferred from those facts.

"I'm sure your sorcerer is fully qualified, but it is a necessary part of your transition into lord of your lands," Arthur responded, his voice tight.

Rugford hesitated, biting his lip, before leaning in close to the king.

"Your majesty," he whispered, and Merlin knew that Rugford thought that he couldn't hear him, "If you wouldn't mind, I have a question."

Arthur very obviously did mind, but he nodded stiffly and said, "Ask away."

"I have heard rumors that your court sorcerer, this Merlin," the scorn in that man put in his name was near palpable, "Was never trained in his abilities, that he was born able to do serious magic," Arthur didn't respond, so Rugford leaned closer to give his most precious information, "I've heard that some believe that he's not even human."

Merlin wished then that Rugford had thought to speak more quietly. He was used to those rumors as he still heard them whenever he walked around Camelot, from peasantry and nobility alike. He saw all the sneering faces and pointing fingers and those who spit at him in the streets. The paranoid fear of magic Uther had bestowed in his subjects remained even after Merlin had saved Camelot time and time again. Many came around eventually, but Merlin still hadn't had a day since all knew of his magic when someone didn't stop to insult or threaten him because of how he had been born. He was used to the rumors and hatred, but he was tired.

With a weary sigh, he pushed his plate away from him, no longer hungry. Maybe he could get Arthur's permission to leave the feast now. He turned to look to his king, but Arthur's face was unreadable, gone into the stillness that Merlin had learned to dread. It never boded well. The king's knuckles were white around his goblet of wine.

"And I have to ask you this, your majesty," Rugford continued in his whisper, apparently encouraged by the king's quiet, "Are these rumors true? What if he's not human?" Arthur's goblet began to shake in his tight grip and his face was beginning to turn red, "What if he's some freakish magical being only out for Albion's destruction? I don't want to believe it, your majesty, but—"

"Rugford, do yourself a favor and shut up," Arthur said sternly, turning to face the nobleman and not bothering to keep his voice down.

The small man gaped, leaning away from the angry king. Merlin's eyebrows nearly disappeared into his hairline. He hadn't heard Arthur tell anyone (besides him, of course) to "shut up" since before he became king.

"Your majesty, I was only trying to—"

"Discredit my court sorcerer so you could appear to have some level of intelligence?" Arthur growled fiercely, "You forget your place, Rugford, but I will answer your question, because I am a gracious king," it was clear from his voice that Arthur's graciousness was running dangerously low, "Merlin, Camelot's court sorcerer and a man who is above you in rank, is the most powerful sorcerer you will ever meet."

Merlin's jaw dropped.

"He was trained by Gaius, who was, before the Great Purge, one of the most respected sorcerers in all of Albion," Arthur continued, "But more importantly, Merlin is one my most trusted advisors, and a braver, better man than you can ever hope to become."

Merlin wanted to look away, but found that he couldn't. Something warmer than the fire dancing in the hearth at his back was flooding him.

"And if you ever dare to imply that he is something other than a man completely loyal to me and to Camelot, if you suggest to anyone that he is a freak, I will not hesitate to strip your title and your land from you and your entire family," Arthur threatened sincerely, "Do you understand?"

Rugford let out a squeak that Arthur took for a yes. Merlin couldn't deny that he did rather like Rugford looking so humiliated.

"Good," the king nodded, and then easily returned to being the epitome of nonchalance and charm, as though he'd merely been conversing with Rugford about the weather, "Now, I'll be retiring for the evening. Thank you for your hospitality," Arthur got out from behind the table, said, "Come with me, Merlin," and swept out of the room with his court sorcerer gladly following behind him.

When they were some distance from the dining hall, the king stopped and turned to Merlin with a heavy sigh.

"The nerve of that man," he said, still obviously fuming.

Merlin made a noncommittal sound of agreement and Arthur's eyes narrowed.

"You didn't have to do that," Merlin said honestly.

"Do what?"

"Threaten him," Merlin clarified, even though he and Arthur knew that he didn't have to.

Arthur sighed again, this time in exasperation, "You don't deserve to be talked about like that. By anyone. Ever. And especially not by a cowardly bootlicker like Rugford."

"You really would take his title away?" Merlin pressed, disbelieving.

"Of course I would, you idiot," said Arthur, with an almost-smile that told Merlin that the king was grateful for his straight-forwardness, "Look, I know that people in Camelot talk about you like that often, and frankly I've had enough of it. You're not some sort of freak, and even though you pretend it doesn't bother you, I know it does, and I know that sometimes you are tempted to believe it yourself."

Merlin opened his mouth to object.

"No, Merlin, you're going to listen to me this time," said Arthur, "I know that sometimes you're tempted to believe you're a freak, but you're not, and I wasn't about to let no-good, sycophantic, coward make you think that way about yourself."

Merlin knew there was nothing he could say to change Arthur's mind. Ever since Arthur had discovered Merlin's magic, the royal had become an expert at knowing when Merlin was lying, and Merlin would be lying if he said that he didn't sometimes think all those who spoke so ill of him were right. He nodded to his king, and couldn't stop the small smile that started to spread up his face for the first time in hours.

"So, you knew about what people were saying about me in Camelot?" Merlin asked as the two of them began walking again, side-by-side down the corridor.

"Of course I did. Why did you think I took you along with me on these trips? You and I both needed to get out of there." Arthur said proudly, a cocky smile growing on his face as well, "I'm not an idiot like you, Merlin."

The court sorcerer's smile burst into a fully-fledged grin, "No, you're just a prat."

The king laughed and put an arm around his friend's shoulders, and Merlin knew that he would be willing to be called a "freak" any day of the week so long as he stayed an idiot too.

I hope you enjoyed that!

Reviews are always very much appreciated.