Summary: Wilfred Hardcastle is the proud chairman of the 'Yorkshire Tabletop Fantasy Miniature Wargaming Society'. It's largely a family affair, until a mysterious stranger appears. Modern AU, reincarnation-fic, two-shot, Merthur
Little Men On A Table Top (Part 2: Sunday) by frostygossamer
The next morning the Hardcastle man enjoyed an excellent full Yorkshire breakfast downstairs in the 'Richard III'. Afterwards, as they opened up the Function Room for the second day of the exhibition, they discussed their strange challenger of yesterday.
"I suspect he's what they call a 'ringer'", Wilfred suggested. "Probably put up to it by the 'Lancashire Tabletop Fantasy Miniature Wargaming Society'."
"He's just some lucky idiot", Arthur retorted.
But secretly Arthur was fascinated by the newcomer, and his unorthodox approach to the game. The way he had seized control of the map was almost... magical. There was something familiar, and yet strange, about him, that he couldn't put his finger on. He was looking forward to seeing him again later.
"He's a wizard that one, Mr. Hardcastle", Gwenda chimed in with a giggle, having quietly arrived to restock the refreshment area.
Arthur gravitated to her side.
"Lester had to give me a lift home last night", she informed him, tetchily, "Again."
"Sorry", Arthur replied, shamefaced. "Fa'ther and I got talking, and we lost track of time. Did Lester get you home alright?"
"Lester", Gwenda said pointedly, "is a gentleman, and you are your father's son. You're too much at the beck and call of Wilfred and his society."
Arthur wasn't too sure how to take that remark. But it couldn't be good.
"I'm beginning to think you've forgotten that we're engaged, Arthur", she continued. "We haven't even talked about setting a date, never mind choosing a honeymoon."
She looked up challengingly to find that Arthur had wandered off again. She slammed the lid down on the tea-urn and swore, in a rather ladylike way, under her breath.
When the doors opened again at 12.30pm on the dot, Arthur scanned the spectators for number 34's palely familiar face. He hadn't turned up. Arthur felt a little disappointed, as did his father.
"Lost interest", Wilfred declared, sadly.
The exhibition recommenced.
As on the previous day, the remaining players, Lester, Gwenda, Mildred and Arthur all played each other. Arthur, a strong player, won all his games. Mildred, psyched by her defeat at the hands of the newcomer 34, lost her game to her brother, but won against the two weaker players, Gwenda and Lester. Lester, ever the gentleman, deliberately let Gwenda win their game, so Lester dropped out.
With only Arthur, Mildred and Gwenda left, the next round saw Arthur win both his games and Mildred only able to beat Gwenda. So now only the ever rival siblings remained. After a truly shocking frontal attack, Arthur was triumphant. It was at moments like this that Arthur knew, in the game at least, he was born to lead.
Wilfred stepped forward, amidst rapturous applause from the excited audience, and presented his son with the usual trophy. Sundry raffle prizes for the children where drawn and distributed, and Wilfred expressed his hopes that a few of the audience might be interested in joining their little society. If so they should see him.
The public started to file out of the venue. When the room had emptied, only one figure remained. It was ticket number 34 from yesterday. He had slipped in quietly, sometime in the middle of the afternoon. He smiled and wandered over to Mr. Hardcastle.
"We thought you'd decided to give us a miss", Wilfred commented.
"I couldn't pass on the final, now could I?", 34 replied. "AND I've been promised a game with the champ."
Wilfred turned to his son. "Still have energy left for another game, Arthur?", he asked.
"Aye, Fa'ther. I do.", Arthur replied. He wasn't going to miss the chance to play their mystery challenger after all.
"I'm right hungry, Fa'ther", Mildred whined. "I could eat a scabby whippet."
Wilfred chuckled. "Aye, lass", he replied. "Let's get downstairs to the pub. I'll order you all a slap-up tea, my treat."
Then he turned to Arthur and 34. "We'll leave you two in peace, and I'll expect to see you both in the bar when you've finished your game, alright?"
Arthur nodded and watched as the others shuffled out of the room, then he turned to 34.
The young man smiled as if he was glad to see the back of the rest. He picked the tiny model of King Arthur up from the table. Arthur's game figure was an inch-high exemplar of attention to detail. Gwenda had herself personalized his shop-bought features to favour her man. He wore a beard, true, but the head supporting the kingly diadem was golden like young Hardcastle's own. He wore full armour and a long red cloak, and in his tiny right hand he held the mighty sword Excalibur, almost half the length of the figure.
"Nice", he said, with a genuine smile. "Like the beard. Mind if I use my own figure?"
Arthur shrugged, and 34 took a small black velvet bag from his pocket. He took a figure out of it and set it on the table beside King Arthur. It was evidently based on himself, dressed in peasant costume with right hand outstretched, no hat, no beard, no long robe.
"Not exactly a traditional representation of the character", Arthur snorted, picking the thing up to study it, "But hand-crafted, and the detail is very fine."
"Thanks", 34 said. "Made it myself specially."
Arthur placed both command figures in their correct places on the game table.
"May as well get started", he said and rolled his dice.
"Been playing long?", 34 asked casually.
"All my life, seems like", Arthur replied, as he moved his pieces. "It takes me away from the humdrum dreariness of reality. I work for the City Council shuffling paperwork, and daydream about military tactics and battle strategy. Sometimes my everyday life seems to have something missing."
"It certainly has", 34 agreed quietly.
As Arthur watched the young man walk around the table, he noticed a strange elegance in his movements, as he measured out distances, and his long delicate fingers adjusted his miniature heroes. Why was he feeling so drawn to this person he'd just met? He shook off the thought, and reapplied his mind to the game.
Both players fell silent for a while, as they concentrated on game play. Then, as Arthur carefully adjusted a particular manoeuvre, hunkered down to view the scene as his 'men' would see it, at model eye-level, he became aware of an irritating click click as 34 toyed with his tape measure. Arthur stood up. 34 was leaning against the table smirking.
"That's not the best way to scope out the field", 34 said, and he grabbed Arthur's hand. "This is the way."
Arthur felt the room turn around him, colours blurred and there was the sound of a mighty rush of birds. He found himself standing with 34 on the brow of a low hill overlooking a battlefield swirling with motion.
"Where am I?", he asked.
"It's Camelot, Arthur", 34 replied. "As it was when we were last here."
"We were here?", Arthur asked stupidly.
"Yes, you and me, Arthur", 34 explained, "Mighty king and his faithful sorcerer."
Arthur looked into 34's face searchingly. "This is a dream, based on the game, am I right?"
"No, Arthur, it's a game based on a dream", 34 answered. "And the dream is the Golden Age of Albion."
Arthur chuckled. "That's my father's favourite dream", he said. "To recreate it."
"It's not his destiny, Arthur", 34 replied. "It's ours."
"And who are 'we'?", Arthur asked, confused.
"You and me, of course. Arthur and Merlin. You Arthur, me Merlin", Merlin spelt out.
Arthur smirked. "So you're calling yourself Merlin now."
"I am Merlin, and I always have been. Your Merlin", Merlin insisted. "Who else could have brought us here in the blink of an eye?"
Arthur glanced around him. "Maybe you are Merlin, but how do you know I'm Arthur, THE Arthur? It's just a name."
Merlin smiled. "I always find you. When the time is right. I haven't been wrong yet."
Arthur frowned. "How many times?", he asked.
"Too many", Merlin replied, "and not yet enough. There's still work for us to do, a little in each lifetime."
"I have a life", Arthur protested. "Gwenda and I are getting married soon."
"Arthur, you've been engaged for five years. You've put it off too long. She's already moved on to the next chapter of her story."
"Lancelot?", Arthur asked.
"Uhm", Merlin agreed. "But that's fine because you have me."
"In what sense 'have'?", Arthur enquired curiously.
"Arthur, we've been together for a very long time", Merlin answered coyly. "So, in any and every sense."
For some reason Arthur felt encouraged by that thought.
He grinned. "Right, what do we do now?"
Merlin grinned back. "Kick-start destiny."
He was standing close but he moved still closer. He slipped his long fingers behind Arthur's neck and pulled him into a kiss, so warm and strange, and yet oddly so familiar.
Arthur had never been ravaged by a kiss before. He'd never completely dissolved into someone's arms. He'd never felt himself unravel like this. And yet he knew he had, a thousand times, and always with this boy, his Merlin.
Meanwhile downstairs in the 'Richard III' bar, Gwenda remembered that she had left her handbag upstairs. Lester had been a gentleman and paid for her drinks, but she decided to pop back into the Function Room to retrieve her bag, before she went home.
Gwenda was totally unprepared for what she discovered going on, in the very room where they had all so recently been playing with miniature armies.
Arthur was lying on his back in the middle of a thousand tiny mediaeval warriors, his costume disarranged, his blond hair dishevelled, and with a slim, dark-haired youth poised above him, kissing the breath out of him. Her Arthur, her fiance, kissing that man!
Gwenda shrieked and ran away, straight into the arms of Lester, who had followed her up. Hearing her shriek Arthur sat up suddenly.
"Gwenda", he cried and, pushing his new amour aside, he jumped up and ran after her.
Merlin sat on the edge of the table, his blue eyes glimmering, and chuckled happily. Arthur caught up with his fiancee, just as she was nestling into the strong, comforting arms of Lester. Gwenda stared accusingly at Arthur, and sobbed as Lester pulled her close.
"Oh Arthur, I thought I was your Guinevere", she wept.
"Apparently you are", Arthur retorted, taking in Gwenda and Lester's embrace. "And you seem to be my Lancelot, you traitor."
Lester glared at Arthur defiantly. "You made her cry, dammit", he accused gallantly.
Arthur sighed. "I'm sorry, Gwenda lass, I didn't mean to upset you, but we were a mistake. We both know that now. And I think I've finally found my destiny. That lad back there, his name is Merlin, and I'm going away with him."
Then he turned and hurried back to find his warlock.
Lester laughed at the irony. "His name is Merlin? That's a turn up."
"You know what, Lester?", Gwenda grumbled angrily. "I've always hated bloody wargaming."
A/N: Hope you enjoyed that. BTW I love the people of Yorkshire and I would have liked to do this in proper Yorkshire dialect, but no one would have understood it Stateside, shame.