Last Chapter! Finally getting on with my resolution to get a few things finished!
After that Merlin didn't give Leon any further trouble. Once he had delivered Merlin to Gaius, so he could help with any injuries, Leon went on his way. With good timing he returned to escort Merlin back to help Arthur undress.
Gaius had sensed Merlin's distraction, snapping at him to pay attention as they worked. Merlin had responded, but it stayed clear to Gaius that something laid heavily on Merlin's mind. Leon stayed quiet as he led Merlin back to Arthur's tent. Merlin, however, could not stay silent on the subject.
"How did it happen?"
"Fairly similar I presume. I'd drawn the short straw, or rather I was the newest knight, so they dumped Arthur on me."
"You know you complain about him now?"
"He used to be much, much, worse."
Merlin smirked. "I find that hard to believe."
"Trust me," Leon said sagely, before returning to the story. "One of the visiting knights decided he liked the look of Arthur, and tried the same thing. I just happened to find him in time."
"But Uther must have…"
"Arthur requested that the king not be informed," Leon said evasively. Merlin frowned. That didn't sound entirely accurate. And it wasn't. But Leon was not about to inform Merlin of Arthur's tearful begging.
"But if the knight knew who Arthur was…."
"He didn't, at least not then, if anyone told him later then I never knew of it. And ironically I met him in the ring the next day."
"And you beat him?" Merlin guessed. Leon stopped walking, they were almost to the tent, Arthur lingered, watching the pair of them carefully. The knight took a deep breath.
"I killed him," Leon said. He glanced at Arthur. "He will probably work out that I told you. Just don't try and discuss it with him."
Merlin frowned, watching as Arthur nodded at Leon, who gave a corresponding nod in reply before turning away and disappearing into the cluster of tents. Merlin trudged over to Arthur, wondering about the whole thing. The warlock could easily guess that if he and Arthur had been near victims of the same thing, then there were others who had also suffered, possibly worse. Merlin wondered if Arthur kept track of them all, and how many others he might have protected.
"Come on Merlin, I need to get ready for the feast! I can't have you dawdling about all afternoon!"
"Sorry, My Lord," Merlin murmured, starting to fiddle with the buckles on Arthur's armour, to remove it piece by piece.
"You can bring the armour back to my chamber," Arthur added. "It will need cleaning for tomorrow."
Merlin made no comment, normally it would go to the armoury, and Merlin would clean and repair it there. Arthur, with that order, made sure he had Merlin somewhere where he could keep a close eye on him, and Merlin guessed if Arthur couldn't see him at the feast, Leon would have him in line of sight.
He pulled Arthur clear of his armour and then followed him into the castle, staggering along behind him carrying all the equipment.
"Hurry up Merlin!"
"Easy for you to say," Merlin muttered under his breath. Arthur paused on the steps leading into the castle and he turned around, glaring down at Merlin.
"Another way to keep you safe is to leave you somewhere public, like the stocks."
Merlin blinked, staring up at him. He couldn't be entirely sure if Arthur was joking or not, the late afternoon sun lit Arthur's face but hid his eyes. Merlin tightened his grip on the armour, and Arthur took a step down, which meant the light angled better. There still remained something dark in Arthur's eyes and Merlin guessed the whole situation was not bringing up very good memories for Arthur.
"Sorry, Ar… Sire."
Arthur scowled further, said nothing and turned and stormed into the castle, with Merlin struggling along in his wake.
Merlin's assessment had been right. If Arthur was busy Leon lingered around, and if it became difficult Arthur conveniently needed his goblet topping up, or he wanted his plate filling. Merlin had never run around so much, but it meant that he never went near the visiting knights, although he remained very aware of them.
He was exhausted by the time it ended, Arthur was irritatingly, as always, in the last group to leave. So was Leon this time. Almost all of the other knights had given up and retired for the night before Arthur decided to give up. As he followed Arthur into his chambers, Merlin gave a huge, jaw-popping yawn. Arthur turned to look at him.
"I suppose you had a chat with Leon."
Merlin snapped his jaw shut and blinked, so taken aback he accidentally answered truthfully.
Merlin leant back as Arthur moved into his personal space. It sent Merlin's heart hammering as he tensed up. Arthur stood nose to nose with him, eyes burning with anger as he growled.
"It goes no further, do you understand?"
"Yes, My Lord," Merlin said, so rattled he ended up being polite. Arthur nodded, turned around and started to unfasten his cloak. After a moment Merlin shook himself out of his stupor to help, taking the cloak and folding it. Turning his back on Arthur made it easier for Merlin to steel himself to ask.
"It still happens though."
"Not if I'm around to see it," Arthur said. Merlin turned to stare at him, watching Arthur yank the leather of his belt to fasten it.
"You can't see everything."
"I can see enough," Arthur said.
"What about William, he went off with that knight."
"William is willing, and Sir Derien knows it, and pays him."
"What?" Merlin almost lost control of Arthur's cloak.
"That happens as well Merlin. There are servants that don't object to spending a night in a nobleman's bed. They normally get something out of it even if they just get a decent night's sleep and some breakfast."
"Oh," Merlin said, finally regaining control of the cloak and getting it into the wardrobe.
"There is no point in stopping that," Arthur said. "It happens."
"I didn't realise."
Arthur glared at him, only stopping as he pulled his shirt over his head. "I'm aware of that, Merlin."
"But they try and… well…"
"Some think they don't need to be polite about it. A few little hints can sort out the willing from the unwilling. Some people, unfortunately, like them unwilling."
"And some just don't like to pay for it."
Merlin frowned. "What did they think I was?"
"I've no idea, I didn't bother to ask," Arthur said throwing his shirt at Merlin and unlacing his trousers. Merlin took the shirt and dumped it to one side and then handed Arthur his sleeping attire. The prince slipped out of the rest of his clothes and on getting dressed went to the desk to sift through the pile of papers that appeared to have grown since the morning. Merlin flitted about, tidying up and was only stopped as he reached the door, carrying Arthur's washing.
"And where the hell do you think you're going?"
"To drop this in the laundry room and then go to bed."
"Like I said last night Merlin, you're staying here. Gaius knows you are. I told him."
"You didn't tell him why did you?"
Arthur glowered. "Don't be ridiculous Merlin. I told him that I wanted to train early, and I needed you to be there. You can use the bedroll in the wardrobe, put it in front of the fire. It's quite comfortable."
"How do you know?" Merlin demanded, his voice muffled as he rummaged for the bedding.
"Because that's where I slept last night. I let you have the bed."
Merlin's head reappeared, almost knocking himself against the door, Arthur rolled his eyes as he watched him.
"Oh, yeah, right. Thanks."
"You're welcome, Merlin."
"And thanks for saving me, and everything."
Arthur paused, he had lifted the sheets and had one knee on the bed, ready to climb in. Merlin watched him, leaning back slightly as Arthur gave a rarely seen but deeply affectionate smile.
"You're welcome, Merlin."