A/N: Mildly crackish, but not really any more than would be, say, a goblin-possessed Gaius licking money and causing flatulent epidemics. Not that that would ever happen on the show.
Disclaimer: At almost five in the morning as I wrote this, I almost talked myself into believing that the whole glorious Merlin universe was mine. Then I got some sleep and realised that no, all I really own are a few trinkets and a blue teddy bear named PJ. Oh well. PJ loves me.
Northumbrian Culinary Assassins
When Merlin recovered from his latest bout with near death – poison or venomous sting or cursed ague or who even kept track anymore – he was even paler and even scrawnier than usual. It bothered Arthur… more than he'd like to admit, so he didn't admit it. But he did do something about it.
"When you get my breakfast tomorrow, Merlin," he said muzzily as he collapsed into bed one night, "get two plates this time, and ask for extra sausages. I think they've been skimping lately," he lied. "I've gone half-hungry every morning for the last week."
Merlin said something, and it sounded very impudent and dripping with fond disdain, but Arthur didn't catch the words because he was already buried in his pillow.
The next morning, as commanded, Merlin brought two breakfasts heaped with sausages. He set both plates down in front of Arthur and set about his chores, rolling his eyes.
"Wait," Arthur halted him. Merlin looked back with tired eyes, expecting the usual list of daily tasks. "These haven't been tested, have they?" Arthur demanded.
"Er, no?" Although Uther's meals and any food at the royal table at feasts were tested, it wasn't customary to check everything that Arthur ate.
"There have been rumors of assassins sent from… Northumbria," Arthur invented. "As my servant, you ought to be aware of these things and take precautions." The prince put on his best prat face. "You'll just have to test everything now, that's all. Come on." Arthur jerked his chin toward the chair across from him, and Merlin grudgingly took a seat. Arthur pushed one of the plates toward him. "Check this one first."
Huffing, Merlin picked up one of the sausages and broke a tiny piece off one end.
"More than that, Merlin, there wouldn't be enough there to tell if it was poisoned."
Just to be contrary, Merlin broke off at least half of the sausage this time and downed it before Arthur could stop him. The prince, however, said nothing.
Merlin sat there for a minute, glancing around the room, bored as he waited for possible doom to befall him. Finally he looked back to Arthur. "I think they're fine," Merlin said, pushing his chair away from the table to get back to his duties.
"That one was, yes," Arthur snapped, snatching the remaining half (more like a third) of the approved sausage. "But you still have to check the rest. And the bread and cheese. Really, Merlin, do you want me to be assassinated?"
"It is tempting sometimes, I must admit," Merlin grumbled, but he scooted back to the table and proceeded to check every sausage on the plate. If he didn't take enough, Arthur called him on it immediately.
"I think you really wish me dead!" the prince carped, munching on a bit of sausage that Merlin had almost not checked thoroughly enough.
The process continued through both plates, and Merlin got a bit less surly with every bite. An odd look of contentment spread across his face as he finished off "his" half of the prince's second slice of cheese, and Arthur put on a scowl to hide his gratification that today, at least, Merlin would go to work on a full stomach.
Arthur had Merlin bring a double breakfast the next day and each day after, observing with satisfaction that Merlin's color returned (although there was never much there to begin with) and that he lost some of the gaunt, sickly look. The "threat" of Northumbrian assassins was never lifted, although Camelot renewed and strengthened a treaty with Northumbria less than a year later. Around that time, Merlin suspected the real motive for Arthur's convenient paranoia and tried to protest, but the prince absolutely refused to be gainsaid.
Years later, the king and his sorcerer shared breakfast every morning (after the queen had left – she was an early riser, and almost never there when Merlin showed up bearing two plates). Now that Arthur was king, it really was policy to have all his food checked, and why delegate the task to some servant when Merlin had done it admirably for years? Even now, Merlin never truly had his own breakfast, but lived off of the half-sausages that it was his "duty" to check. He now knew a spell to detect poisons, of course, and he used it every morning. But Arthur insisted that he have a twofold security system on his breakfast, "just in case something slipped past."
"Arthur," Merlin wheedled sometimes, "I'm really not sure I checked the eggs well enough. Pass 'em back here, will you?"
"No, I think they're fine, Merlin."
"Trust me on this, it's not safe for you to be eating those. You'd better let me have the lot."
"Get your own eggs," the king growled.
The warlock scowled and magicked one of the boiled eggs (he refused to taste-test pickled ones) off the plate and into his waiting hand.
"Cheat!" Arthur cried.
"I'm only trying to protect you, sire," Merlin said, eyes wide and innocent, before taking a huge bite rather smugly.