AN: Hello! Wow, haven't done this in a while. This is actually my first attempt at a Merlin story, so I want to apologize to anyone who was author-alerted over here under false pretenses from my scant VD posts ages ago - I'm so sorry, please feel free to exit.
Warnings: fairly action-light story, pretty much character based only, and there will be Gwaine-ness later on, 'cause I love him :)
I don't own BBC Merlin in any capacity.
Hope you like it :)
Merlin didn't know what it was.
Whether it was the bright sunshine streaming down upon the turrets of Camelot, the birdsong in the air, or the way Arthur was twitching in his sleep, something about that morning told him that today was the day to venture a conversation with his employer about a matter that had been bothering him for some time.
Merlin threw the curtains back on the railings, flooding the prince's chambers with stark dawn light. "Why don't you ever give me any days off of work?" he demanded, before Arthur could get his defences up.
Arthur's face remained pressed face-down into his pillow. "What?"
"I'm pretty sure I'm the only servant in the whole castle who never gets a single free day. Even once a month would be something."
Rolling out of bed, Arthur fixed Merlin with a doubtful yet distinctly bleary stare, before reaching for his breakfast. "Well, you're my only servant," he pointed out, "so that means that you're more important than the rest." Before Merlin could find a compliment in the words, he added, "Because you're serving the prince."
"And a prince should show some sort of kindness toward his subjects," Merlin returned, lifting both eyebrows pointedly before gathering Arthur's armour for him.
"What would you do with a day off?" Arthur said through a mouthful of bread.
"Whatever I wanted, that's sort of the point. You know, some masters just give free time as a reward for all their hard work."
"I think we've just stumbled across the reason why you don't have any, then."
Sighing, Merlin affected a thoughtful expression, tapping his index finger against his chin. "Oh, so that wasn't me who fetched you breakfast, got your bath ready, cleaned your boots and your armour and still woke up at dawn in order to get you out of bed on time? My mistake."
They both paused as Merlin finished his sarcastic spiel, with Merlin watching for some sign of airborne objects, but fortunately, there didn't seem to be any within Arthur's reach.
"Shut up, Merlin," he settled on, and continued getting dressed. "And polish that sword while you're at it," he instructed, gesturing at the blade with one hand as he buckled his belt. "I want it sharpened as well; it didn't even leave a mark on the shield yesterday."
With a small nod that wasn't completely insincere, Merlin picked up the blade and carried out of the room, revelling in the strange sensation of walking out of Arthur's chambers without having to duck.
In the end, Merlin simply decided to leave the sword at the armoury for the time being, as he had no particular designs on sharpening it at dawn, when he other chores to complete for Arthur. Absently, it struck the young warlock that if it weren't for the catastrophic – and frequently magical – events that plagued Camelot, he would probably be completely swallowed my monotony.
It wasn't something he thought about very often, but at times, his destiny did make his life interesting at the very least. Even if he did have to return to tidy up after Arthur yet again.
He continued on his way through the castle, taking the northwest corridor as usual, passing by the old, marble statue standing at the beginning of the hall, and then by the rusty sword hanging on the wall, and then passed the window. He had walked this hall so many times it was almost pathetic how well he knew it.
Another squire walked by, and for a brief moment as Merlin turned his head, he heard a strange trickling sound right in his ear, like sand cascading over the planes of an hourglass.
Merlin turned slowly, his sharp blue eyes scouring the hall for some sign of danger. But there was no longer anyone in the corridor besides himself, and the noise had inexplicably faded.
"Hello?" he said uncertainly. There was no response.
Scoffing slightly under his breath, Merlin turned back to continue on his errand, but the moment his head shifted around, he heard the noise again. Barely on the edge of his hearing, and just louder than a trickling stream, but it was definitely there. His head whipped around in frustration, a frown marring his forehead, and this time, Merlin noticed something that he had not before – a slight cloud of white dust floating around the head of the statue at the far end of the corridor.
Merlin walked forward cautiously, staring at the sculpture with greater scrutiny. As he got closer, he saw the tiny, almost unnoticeable cracks that were spiderwebbing out over the surface of the stone, splintering the man's face and skin. He stopped a few short steps away, as the stone eyelids began to shift upward, dislodging another puff of white dust and stone flakes that sprinkled lightly to the floor beside the wooden base. Beneath those lids lay a pair of startlingly human brown eyes that shone in stark contrast to his white, powdered face.
Before the young sorcerer's eyes, the rest of the statue's face began to break free of the stone casing, followed by its hand and the rest of its sculpted body. Plaster began to fall in flakes away from his body, revealing the smooth, elastic and completely human skin beneath. The process was increasing, speeding up like water pouring out over a table-top. Soon, there was a full, living man standing in a pile of white dust, clothed in an identical copy of the white robes in which he had been depicted.
Merlin's eyes were wide with shock, his mouth slightly ajar. "Uh… hello?"
The man blinked his white-crusted eyelashes once, a look of profound confusion on his handsome face. "Where am I?" he managed in a rough voice. Instantly, he was racked over in a coughing fit and handfuls of powder were expelled from his lungs.
"Easy," Merlin said in a concerned voice. His hands rose as if to pat him on the back, but he thought the better of it, and kept his distance from the man. In his experience, magical creatures tended to bring him nothing but mischief – if, on the off chance, they weren't trying to kill Arthur or take over Camelot in some way.
"Where's Landon?" the man demanded the moment his airways were clear. "Where's the king?"
Merlin was nonplussed. "You mean Uther."
"King Uther Pendragon," he clarified. "You're in Camelot. I don't know who Landon is."
If anything, the stone man looked more out of his depth that Merlin did in that moment. He was staring that the young man, agape, as if he was the one speaking complete nonsense, rather than the other way around.
"Who?" he asked blankly, and then he was distracted again, looking around the corridor with wide eyes. "What about Isaac? Where is Isaac?" As he said the name, anger clouded over his kind features, tinged with a strange hurt.
Merlin had no reply for that.
Even if he had, before either of them could say anything else, the unmistakable sound of chainmail footsteps reverberated off of the cobbled floors, making both heads swivel in the direction of the noise. Merlin recognised the muted sound of the guard's cheerful voices mingling with the footsteps, coming closer with every second.
Merlin looked to address the statue-man once more – though whether it was to urge him to run or to help in the arrest, he didn't know – but it turned out he didn't need Merlin's advice at all; he had already began running down the corridor, leaving powdered white footprints in his wake. Merlin's head whipped back and forth on his neck as he debated his options. He could either turn the statue in now and point the guards in the right direction – after all, he was actually not responsible for this particular act of sorcery – or he could let him run, and deal with the situation later. Perhaps he could even rope one of the knights into assisting him, he thought absently. By the time he had decided not to turn the statue in, the creature was already well out of sight, leaving Merlin with only a missing piece of artwork and a mess to clean up before Arthur arrived.
With a muttered incantation, Merlin's eyes glowed bright gold, and the footprints vanished.