Title: "Hunger Pains"
Summary: Tag to 1x11 "Labyrinth of Gedref." A great famine engulfs Camelot, and the only thing that hurts Arthur more than the hunger pangs in his own stomache are the ones affecting those closest to him. Not slash (because I just adore the cuteness that is bro-mance) but you can read it how you want.
So, here it goes. The fic will be a "two-shot," I guess you could say. Chapter one is an original scene while chapter two will pick up in a scene from the episode. My second Merlin fanfic (and oh what wonderful adjectives these characters produce!). I'm sure that you'll see other stories from me in the future. Once you've read, please leave a review. Enjoy! ~BCA
Arthur failed the second test – miserably. He was willing to kill an otherwise innocent man over an issue of pride and his kingdom was to suffer as a result. The consequence: the remainder of their grain supplies had rotted overnight. Gone, just like that. It was more than they could bear.
Uthur had refused to continue distributing what little food remained to their people. Not that it would have helped much anyways. There was nothing left, and the crown prince was to blame. He knew it was his fault, but he did not know how to even begin to fix it. The last thing he wanted was to see his subjects starve to death. But he could not close his eyes, as his father had said. There had to be something he could do.
Arthur did not move from the chair in his chambers all morning, his face downcast, broad shoulders slumped in defeat. Merlin brought him what meagre lunch the kitchen could scrape up, trying to convince his master to eat. He needed his strength if he was going to find a way to break the curse. However, all Arthur could do was stare at the accusing plate, ashamed. He would not eat while his people went hungry.
Arthur wracked his brain for a possible solution. There has to be a way out of this, he thought. Despair threatened to consume him, but he would not give in to it, would not give up. A tension headache began to pound in the back of his skull, hunger only adding to its intensity.
Merlin interrupted his thoughts several times, offering empty words of encouragement. Arthur paid them no heed. How could his servant have such faith in him when he didn't even believe in himself? He wanted to be alone in his brooding, so he gave Merlin a long list of chores to do, confident that it would give him some peace. The young warlock looked at him sorrowfully but said nothing. He set off diligently to do his chores, closing the door softly behind him, scared that the noise would shatter the already anxious Pendragon.
Day after day, rain or shine, early or late, Merlin never ceased to meet each and every task with perseverance and enthusiasm – even though his efforts and ability were greatly under-appreciated. He was never satisfied with doing just a mediocre job. The castle's stables were cleaner than any in the land, Arthur's armour shined brighter than the cathedral's windows – as did his weapons and crown – his bed was made to perfection, his garments folded neatly in their proper drawers, and his floor swept so spotless that one could eat off of it! Time and again these things went unnoticed by Arthur, but Merlin kept at it anyways. His position in the royal household meant a great deal to him and he took it very seriously.
So even though, on that particular day, Merlin's body protested and his stomach yelled in agony and ached, he did each and every chore as he would any other day – tirelessly and meticulously. He ignored the pricks of malnutrition which slowly worsened, becoming stings and finally biting stabs. He lied to himself, "You're not starving Merlin. You are merely a victim of servant-to-a-royal-prat syndrome."
His first warning sign was the parched throat, which he chose to ignore, chalking it up to the dusty room. The pains in his stomach were a constant throbbing now and he felt terribly tired. However, he only had one chore left and he was determined to do it. As he carried Arthur's even measlier supper up the stairs his hands began to tremble. He struggled to steady them but found it difficult, as though they had lives of their own. Miraculously, he reached the prince's door. He felt slightly disoriented as he went to open it and alarmingly his vision began to swim. Merlin leaned against the sturdy wooden frame for support but the blurriness did not pass. He felt so weak, so unbearably weak. His lips began to form his master's name even as he felt himself falling, but darkness claimed him before he could utter it.
Arthur was busy with his own musings as those familiar footsteps echoed down the hall. Therefore he did not notice the discrepancy between steps, and he was not paying attention when they suddenly stopped. He did, however, hear the loud THUD! that sounded just outside of his room. Startled, he raced to the door, throwing it open wide. A strange surge of adrenaline pumped through his veins. Poised to defend, Arthur was not met by an intruder, as he excepted, but rather by the unmoving body of his beloved manservant and friend.
"Merlin!" He crouched next to the fallen figure, fingers searching desperately for a pulse. The reassuring beat of a heart reverberated through him, if only faintly, and he let out a small sigh of relief. Arthur had no idea what had happened, and he wasn't entirely sure what to do, so he lifted the smaller man into his arms. Something was wrong. Merlin's lightness awakened a deep fear within him. Yes, the brunette man was the definition of scrawny, but he weighed far less than he should. Much less than was considered healthy. Arthur could feel Merlin's spine and ribcage through the material of his baggy, misleading shirt. The feel of bone under flesh made him queasy. He had to get Merlin to Gaius – fast.
To say the court physician was horrified would be an understatement. As Arthur entered, his young ward limp in the prince's arms, Gaius' heart dropped. "Lay him down," he commanded, already grabbing bottles and herbs from the work bench beside him. Arthur obeyed wordlessly, attempting to control his own anxiety. "What happened?"
"I-I'm not sure." Gaius was not impressed. His hands flitted over Merlin as gently as any mother's touch and with as much care. To Arthur his examination seemed to take an eternity.
Finally, "He has succumb to exhaustion and hunger. I need to get something into him." Normally such a diagnosis would not have been so distressing, but given their situation the thought loudly crossed Arthur's mind that Merlin could very much die.
Gaius was rummaging frantically, but with purpose it seemed, through some containers until he found what he was looking for: an assortment of edible plants that could be used to create a tea of sustenance. Luckily the kingdom still had water – a reward for passing the first test which had not been retracted along with punishment for failing the second.
"What was he doing?" Gaius asked, as his pitiful mixture boiled.
"I gave him a list of chores t..." Arthur trailed off under the disapproving, and almost hateful, look the physician gave him.
"He was burning off energy and nutrients that he does not have to spare." Gaius scolded, "How could you expect him to do all of that work when he hasn't much to eat?"
"I-I didn't think. I mean..."
"No, of course you didn't." Gaius had never been so abrupt with him before. It convicted him of the burning guilt that he already felt. Helplessness and red-hot anger burned within him. He was mad at Merlin for over-working himself and for not skipping out on his duty. The idiot, did he always have to be so loyal? And he was mad at Anhora for causing this whole blooming mess in the first place. If the sorcerer hadn't been so cryptic and unreasonable they could have avoided all of this. But mostly Arthur hated himself. He had brought this suffering upon his people and those he cared about most. And he had almost killed his best friend because of his own self-absorption. Maybe Anhora was right, maybe his heart really wasn't good enough.
"Help me get him into a sitting position." Eager to help in some way, Arthur leapt forward and put his arm around Merlin's back. He gently lifted him up and held him as Gaius fed him sips of tea.
"What do we do now?" he asked when the liquid was gone.
Finally, after centuries had passed, Merlin slowly stirred and opened his eyes. As he sat up he seemed dazed and confused. "What am I doing here? And why does my mouth taste like grass?" Gaius laid a hand on the boy's shoulder to keep him from moving too much, a small smile on his face. It suddenly occurred to Arthur that Merlin was the only person Gaius ever seemed to smile around.
"You fainted. I had to get something into your stomach. Slowly now."
"Mm. I haven't eaten all day." Horror crossed Merlin's face as he realized, "I dropped Arthur's dinner. I am so sorry, Sire. I will go g-"
"No. Merlin." Arthur's voice was stern and riddled with concern, although he tried to mask it. "You need to rest. In fact, I want you to take tomorrow off. Have a lie-in. Take it easy."
"That's an order, Merlin. Besides, I believe I can manage one day without you." The warlock nodded, although a plan was forming in his head, and it had nothing to do with sleeping in. Yes, he could use the day off. There was something he wanted to do the following day and it would be the perfect excuse to leave the castle.
The rest to come...