The Bonds of Friendship

Disclaimer: Merlin belongs to the BBC, only the storyline and Harold belong to me

27/03/2013 - All these chapters have been updated, still not to a standard that I'd like since due to exams I don't have time to fully sort through them but I think some bits have much needed improvements :)

Hope you don't mind the changes - and don't worry, no plot points have altered x

The Retusum Tournament

Cheers and laughter were the sounds that blew around the streets of Camelot; amazed gasps and squeals of fear and excitement mingled among the carefree joy. The Retusum Tournament was currently taking place and all of Camelot's citizens were tightly packed around the main arena; the ones who had arrived at the crack of dawn sitting in the stands and the rest just as happily standing behind the barriers; being peasants they didn't care about where they were placed, they were just satisfied to be able to see the tournament that gave them a day to relax and forget about the struggles of their lives.

Merlin looked around at the cheerful faces of Came lot; his grin out doing them all, this is how Camelot should always be. Even the King was letting his stony mask slip and was laughing and clapping along with his subjects; a rare sight for many.

Merlin for one didn't see the point in The Retusum Tournament. It was simply a jousting contest fought without full armour, instead only a thin layer of chain mail, not that I'm complaining, less of Arthurs armour for me to clean and the knights competing would only use blunt wooden jousts to ensure nobody got hurt.

"Ohhh!" A groan of relating pain came from the crowd as one of the knights went flying from his horse before rolling among the dirt and coming to a sharp stop. Yeah sure, that guy doesn't look hurt at all! Merlin rolled his eyes, he would never understand Camelot's idea of fun but at least everyone was happy.

"There you are!" Merlin was jolted out of his thoughts by a sudden smack to his back, he stumbled forward at the contact but was quickly balanced by two hands on his shoulders, "Really Merlin you would think as a servant to the prince you would have a few more observational skills." A fond smile crossed the servant's face at the sound of the familiar rough teasing voice.

"Yes but since the prince is a prat I think I can be forgiven," The banter rolled off his tongue as he turned to face Arthur, "Besides I assumed you wouldn't need me since you're not wearing that ridiculous metal suit today, unless someone needs help putting a bit of chainmail on?" He ended in a patronizing tone, raising one black eyebrow in amusement.

The blonde prince grinned at the younger boy, shaking his head in mock concern, "I see you still think you're funny Merlin, but I guess everyone's allowed a dream."

"Yes, like your ambitious dream to be able to dress yourself," Merlin snorted as he noticed Arthur's chain mail, "Which you have yet again failed; the side with the longer neckline goes at the front Mr Sarcastic." He laughed at his friend's bewildered expression as he looked down at his chain mail which was indeed the wrong way round.

"Yes, well if somebody had been where they were supposed to be this morning then maybe I would be dressed correctly, besides as the heir to the throne I have more important things to worry about than my clothes!" Merlin smirked at the light blush that rose on Arthur's cheeks at being caught out, it wasn't often the young man got the better of him, but then he turns back to his motto, when in doubt blame Merlin!

"Of course, I should of remembered the common fact that prince's don't need to waste themselves with the knowledge of everyday essential actions, my mistake." Merlin laughed as he condescendingly ruffled Arthur's hair.

Arthur swatted at the offending hands whilst simultaneously trying to smooth his hair down again but Merlin wouldn't give in and continued messing up the prince's hair, "Merlin, I have to compete in a minute, I can't go out with messy hair!"

"Don't worry; it will distract everyone from the backwards clothes!" He teased through his laughter.

Arthur couldn't take it anymore, thinks he's got the better of me does he? At this thought the prince abandoned the feeble attempt of fixing his hair and launched his hands towards Merlin's stomach. The boy's attack was force to a halt as he burst into pearls of hysteric laughter, "No Arthur… don't… you know how ticklish I am… get off!" He gasped as he fell to the floor, curling himself up to try and block Arthur's vicious tickling.

"What was that Merlin? I can't hear you through your laughter; it sounds like you're having fun!" Arthur questioned with fake confusion as he continued tickling his manservant, you should never tell me facts like being ticklish; did you really think I wouldn't use it against you? Arthur burst out laughing as Merlin started to roll from side to side to try and knock him off.

The two boys didn't notice the looks they were getting from the knights or how most of the crowd were not so subtly watching the prince and his servant rather than the current joust. Nobody understood the relationship between the two; a prince and a servant? That was the furthest way from how they acted; nobody had ever got the side of the prince that could now be seen out of him before and everyone doubted that anybody apart from Merlin would ever be able to do so. The prince kneeling in the dirt tickling a servant! Tickling anyone for that matter! Nobody would have believed the sight a few years ago but present day these kinds of displays of what some would call affection were normal.

A few of the guards casually moved over to block the King's eye line to his son in case he happened to look over. They knew the King would defiantly not approve of such actions from his son and despite how the guards and most of the knights also didn't approve of the prince's affection for the lowly servant they knew that the prince in a happy mood was a lot more pleasant and relaxed than him in a sour one.

They all remembered the time Merlin had left for a week to visit his ill mother and Arthur had been left without his shadow servant for that whole time. Rumours were that the prince had actually asked his father if he could go with Merlin but people were unsure if these were true; the prince of Camelot could not have dared asked to visit a peasant outside of the kingdom simply because she was his servants mother!

But whatever had happened in the throne room it was defiantly true that the prince had been in a worse mood with Merlin gone. There were a handful of knights with Gaius every evening due to Arthur's brutal training and many servants were seen reduced to tears by the prince's harsh words plus it took Merlin's temporary replacement a couple of weeks to pull himself together before he could face the castle again.

That one week had brought out the old side of the prince before Merlin; and that's how people thought of the prince's attitude now; before Merlin and after Merlin. That week had shown the worst of Arthur and nobody wanted to see it again; he had been completely unreasonable, he even kept refusing to admit that his bad mood was because he missed his servant. Although Merlin's return after that week was something none of Camelot would ever forget; Prince Arthur scolded for his behaviour and apologising!

Merlin took in the busy noon life of Camelot and smiled; it was good to be back. The main street was full of people; tradesmen, washer women, children playing, Merlin forgot how much he missed the lives. Of course he loved Ealdor but after living in Camelot for so many years the atmosphere was too quiet for him; he craved the noise, the stories, the energy and also, although he would never admit it Arthur.

Speaking of Arthur, Merlin spotted Harold, the boy who had kindly said he'd fill in as Arthur's manservant while he was gone. "Harold!" Merlin shouted, a skinny brunette boy about Merlin's age spun around and his face lit up in glee and relief.

"Merlin! Your back, thank goodness!" The boy sprinted over to Merlin and threw himself at him, clinging to the now confused boy as if his life depended on it.

"Harold? It's good to see you too but even I would say this is a bit extreme… hey what's wrong?" Merlin's confusion cut to concern as he felt the boy start to shake against him and his chest start to dampen.

Harold choked a sob into Merlin, "Sorry… I'm just over-reacting… I'm just so glad to see you… for you to be here… to take your job back." The boy stumbled between his words as he tried to calm himself.

Merlin's eyes harden as he pieced the situation together, "Harold, has Arthur been a huge prat while I've been away?"

Harold, who had now stopped his tears, pushed himself off Merlin and took a step back, clearly embarrassed by his outburst. He bit his lip and glanced up at Merlin but his eyes fell back down to his feet at the cold stare of the other boy, "Well the prince was… he… well… yes." He mumbled.

Merlin let out an exasperated sigh and ran his hands through his raven black hair before dragging them down over his face. "I leave him for one week…" He mutters to himself, "Just briefly tell me what he's done Harold."

The boy glanced around nervously, subconsciously wringing his hands together, "Well, after you left the prince started to get in a sour mood and was even angrier. He was harder on the knights and… well there was a few of them left with Gaius every evening and then his tongue was sharper… he might of… well he did drive a few servants to tears… he was just awful… people say he had turned back to… back to his old self… you know before… before you came." The boy shuffled his feet self-consciously as he finished, unsure how the news would be received.

Merlin looked shocked at what he had heard, he knew Arthur could have his bad moods but he'd never in his years of serving him seen him drive anyone to tears. He just wasn't like that, but you never knew the old him. Merlin knew people said he had brought out a change in Arthur but he had never realised what a big change he had brought.

"Harold I am so sorry for Arthur, I never thought he would act like this but…" Merlin trailed of his apology on behalf of his friend as he noticed the noise of the busy street had suddenly dampened; the mood had quickly turned quite sombre. Merlin panickly scanned the area for any sign of danger but then he caught sight of that unique head of golden blonde hair and he realised what had caused the unruly silence and how much the prince's behaviour had affected his people.

"Merlin!" Arthur shouted as he spotted his friend, the sight of the prince approaching him without a tone suggesting he was about to have a collection of chores piled on him nearly broke through Merlin's anger - nearly.

"Arthur," Merlin's tone was the exact opposite of Arthur's, it was cold and disappointed. He stepped away from Harold who had slid behind one of the stalls at the sight of the prince and placed himself into the middle of the street. His arms were folded and his lips were set in a straight line, he didn't notice that the whole of the street had stopped their activities and were watching the prince and his servant in curiosity and anticipation.

"What's wrong? You don't look very happy to be back." Arthur questioned in confusion, he too didn't notice the streets gaze lingering between himself and Merlin.

"Oh no, I'm happy to be back, I'm just not very happy with what I heard about a certain prince when I got back." Merlin took a step towards his friend as he spoke, his voice laced with annoyance.

"What have I done?" Arthur asked defensively, also taking a step forward; the crowd's eyes were switching between the two men with each sentence.

"Oh I don't know," Merlin replied sarcastically, "Maybe just beating up your knights, making innocent servants cry and scarring poor Harold who was doing me a favour!" Merlin's outburst got a collected gasp and he had actually shocked himself; he never normally shouted.

Arthur stared at Merlin with his mouth hung open after that surprising scene for a few seconds but he quickly recovered and his Pendragon anger took over, "What are you talking about! I have been doing nothing wrong this week! I didn't beat up my knights I was training them! And making servants cry, that's ridiculous! Maybe some shed some tears but that's just because they couldn't handle the truth of their work!"

Merlin face flushed red at Arthur's words, "Oh yes, that little speech really assures me that you've been a lovely person this week! Of course the fact that your temporary manservant flung himself onto to me in tears just now because of how relived he was to be released from you has nothing to do with your stupid behaviour!"

Arthur faltered slightly at this news but his pride got the better of him, "That's a lie!"

Merlin and Arthur were practically face to face now and both equally as red, "Oh so now I'm a liar! Well if that's how you see me then maybe I should just go back home! This was certainly not the reception I was expecting and if you think that I'm going to serve a man who reverts to a monster when he doesn't have something he wants then you'd better think again!" Merlin finished his monologue in nothing more than a hiss and he stared Arthur hard in the eye.

"What?" Arthur's persona had dramatically changed during Merlin's words and he now resembled a hurt little boy; being harshly reprimanded for actions towards those below him was not an event he was prone to.

But Merlin held his ground, "You heard me Arthur, pull your act together, keep hold of yourself, the man that I have seen you become, the man who cares for and loves his people, whatever their status, the man who treats his fellow knights with the respect they deserve and the man who I have come to call my friend, otherwise I don't see my place by your side." Merlin's voice had ended softly but to make his point he turned his back to Arthur and started to slowly walk away.

"Wait," Arthur coughed, running a hand over his face and grabbing his servants arm, stopping him from continuing his retreat.

"You're right," Arthur spoke slowly as if the truth of what had happened was slowly dawning on him, "I've been a monster, an utter monster! I knew how I was acting was wrong but the truth is it was because… I can't believe I'm actually saying this… but because I missed you. You're always there next to me, stopping me from being stupid or too harsh with your annoying remarks and even when you don't verbally reprimand me I control myself because I don't want to disappoint you – not that I'll ever admit to saying that. Look, I am truly sorry and I apologise for my awful behaviour."

The crowd were shocked at the prince's speech, a few whispers started among the people, nobody could remember the prince ever apologising for something without having a threat from his father hanging over his head.

Merlin slowly turned to face his friend, Arthur was flicking his gaze to the street, clearly realising he'd just shown emotion around his citizens and feeling uncomfortable in this situation. Merlin would have normally laughed at the sight of the prince self-consciously shuffling his feet in the dirt but he was aware that could easily reward him a smack over the head, even from an apologetic man so he moved his hand to clasp the prince's shoulder and light-heartedly replied, "Arthur you're not a monster - you're just a prat."

That confrontation had been retold many times after it had happened, and many citizens who had seen it first-hand swore that it had brought tears to their eyes. Now the peoples love for the duo had grown and they took any opportunity to watch them.

Arthur and Merlin now both lay on the floor wiping the remainders of their tears away, Arthur was the first to stand up and he held out his hand for Merlin. Merlin simply looked at the hand and pouted, crossing his arms stubbornly against his chest like a child in a tantrum.

Arthur rolled his eyes, "Come on Merlin, don't be such a girl, it was just tickling."

Merlin looked up at Arthur still pouting but let out a sigh and grabbed his hand to help pull him up, "You call me a girl, you were the one actually tickling someone!" Merlin pointed out as he dusted himself off.

"Says the boy who started playing with my hair, you were probably going to start braiding it if I hadn't of stopped you!" Arthur drawled as he bent down to look at his reflection in a shield and fix his hair.

"Well it would have been an improvement," Merlin stubbornly replied.

Arthur threw him a smirk through the reflection, "For you maybe."

Merlin rolled his eyes and gave a comically over exasperated sigh; he then grabbed Arthur by the shoulders pulling him away from his reflection and gave him a push towards the knights tent, "Yes, yes, we know your handsome but if you don't sort your chain mail out you won't be handsome you'll just be an idiot who can't dress himself, so shoo!" Merlin lectured as he waved Arthur away with a smile on his face.

Arthur jog away from Merlin's flapping hands before looking back at him and replying, "You're forgetting Merlin; you're the idiot." Then with a wink he disappeared into the tent.

Merlin appreciably laughed at the running joke before turning back to the on-going event, this is one of those days I'm always going to remember; plus it seems the Arthur killers have taken the day off! Bonus!

Hope you enjoyed it, please review :) x