Not a Jest

Merlin has developed a cough and falls ill. When he and Arthur are kidnapped, the prince is hurt and imprisoned while Merlin is fading. A little magic might not even be able to save them.

By Emiliana Keladry

Setting: Set somewhere before season 3 because I have no seen it yet. I've only seen up through season 2, so the only spoilers would be for that season and previous.

Pairings: NOT slash, Arthur/Merlin friendship, some mentions of Arthur/Gwen

Author's note: This is my first Merlin fanfic. I fell in love with the series and I really enjoy the characters. I hope that I can portray them correctly and that you enjoy my story. Please let me know what you think!

Disclaimer: Merlin belongs to BBC and I make no money from it. I only wish to see Arthur wearing his shirt a bit less. :)

Merlin rolled over in his bed, trying to untangle his blankets from his legs as the thunder rumbled in the distance. A storm was blowing in and it appeared to be a bad one. Gaius was asleep in the other room, snoring softly. Merlin couldn't sleep. He sat up and softly commanded the candle to light. He took a deep breath before standing up and moving across the room to his hiding place and pulling out his book of spells. His room was incredibly cold. The young man crawled back into bed, shivering slightly. Lightening lit up the sky and Merlin listened to the sound of the rain pouring down on the stones and against the thin window pane. He felt a tickle in his throat and he coughed twice to clear it. The young warlock opened his book and began to read by the dim light. A soft knock on the door interrupted him.

"Merlin," Gaius spoke.

"I'm awake. You can come in Gaius."

The door opened and the King's physician slowly entered. Thunder clapped loudly, startling both of them and causing Merlin to jump a little.

"It's dreadfully hard to sleep with all of this noise. I brought you another blanket. I thought you might be cold," Gaius offered.

Merlin gratefully thanked him as Gaius wrapped the blanket around his shoulders. He motioned for Merlin to follow him into the main room and sit down by the fireplace to warm up. Merlin coughed as he rubbed his hands together.

"Are you feeling alright, Merlin?"

"Yes, I'm fine," he said.

"I don't like the sound of you coughing."

"My throat is just a little dry."

Gaius nodded. "This really is a bad storm; the worst that we've had in a long time. I doubt that many will get rest tonight."

"I hope this doesn't mean that Arthur won't sleep. I'd hate to put up with a grumpy prince in the morning, not that he normally wakes up in a good mood anyway. Any chance I can sing him a magical lullaby?"

Gaius frowned, taking the kettle out of the fire and pouring some of the hot water into a mug. He added the tea bag and handed one to Merlin. Merlin thanked him, taking a small sip of the water and tasting the sweet honey that would ease the irritation in his throat. Gaius was always taking care of him. The storm continued to rage on as Merlin sat in the chair, dozing slightly. He didn't really notice as Gaius helped him up from the chair and into his bed beside the fire. He took the chair instead. The boy needed rest if he was going to serve a bad-tempered Arthur in the morning.

Morning came too quickly and the storm hadn't ended. The rain kept pouring down as Merlin dressed in his normal blue shirt. He glanced out the window as he pulled on his jacket. Gaius prepared his breakfast of bread and some fresh berry jam. Merlin rubbed his throat as he coughed into his hand.

"That cough sounds a little worse this morning, Merlin."

"Its fine," he lied.

"Is your throat sore too? You can't lie to a physician."

"Yes, it's a little sore, but it's nothing. Probably just something I've picked up from the bad weather."

"Alright, but if it gets any worse I expect you to come to me at once."

Merlin finished his toast. "I will, I promise. I better get going. Arthur hates when I'm late and he's up before me."

Gaius nodded, watching as the young man ran out of the door. Merlin stepped out into the rain, covering his head as he ran towards the main entrance and up towards Arthur's room. He almost slipped on the stairs from the rain water dripping off of him. He opened the door to the prince's chambers to find that Arthur already awake and sitting up in his bed, rubbing his forehead. Merlin tried to sneak in, but didn't succeed.

"You look rested," he grumbled.

"Did the storm keep you awake?" Merlin asked, pulling out a clean shirt and pants for the crown prince.

"Yes Merlin. I don't know how anyone could have slept well last night."

"I slept fine."

"Of course you did."

Arthur threw back his blanket and stood up. He stepped behind the dressing screen and waited for Merlin to hand him his clothing. The room was cold and he shivered, crossing his arms over his chiseled bare chest and waited. Nothing happened. It was quiet in the room and he couldn't hear Merlin. Arthur groaned.

"Merlin, I need my clothes."


"Merlin, my clothes! Honestly, you are so lazy," he complained.

"Just a minute."

Something sounded strange about the way that his servant had spoken. The prince stepped out from behind the screen and saw Merlin bending over, covering his mouth to suppress his coughing. He gasped. Merlin put out a hand to keep him back as he took a deep breath and got control of himself.

"Don't ask. I'm fine," the young man stated. "I think I swallowed wrong."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, I'm positive."

"Then can I have my clothes now?" Arthur asked.

"Oh, of course."

Merlin motioned for him to go back behind the screen and he handed the prince his clothes, helping him put on the undershirt to keep him warm. Arthur felt Merlin's warm hand brush his shoulder. It was too warm. The kid had a fever and he still came to work. Arthur rolled his eyes and finished getting dressed. He pulled on his belt and emerged. The prince sat down at his table as Merlin went to fetch his breakfast. Everything was a little fuzzy. Gwen said good morning to him in the kitchen as she helped one of the servant girls clean up some fresh strawberries to eat. She put a few on Arthur's plate, asking Merlin if the prince had slept well.

"Nope, he's a bit crabby. This rain better go away soon."

"I agree," Gwen chuckled, looking him over. "You look a little pale this morning."

"Oh, I'm fine. It must be the lack of sunshine lately."

"Your face is a little sweaty too."

"Gwen, I'm fine."

She frowned. "I don't believe you."

Merlin picked up the plate without speaking again and headed back to the prince's room. Arthur didn't say anything. Merlin went straight to work, gathering up the dirty laundry and heading down to wash it. He had a long day ahead of him. The storm and the cold air didn't help at all. All of the dirt had turned to thick mud and the cobblestones were extremely slippery from the puddles of standing water. Merlin finished with the laundry, polishing Arthur's armor, boots, and changing his bedding. All the meanwhile, his throat continued to feel sore and coughs burst from his chest as he gasped. Merlin knew that he should go see Gaius, but the court physician was tending a knight that had fallen in the water in the courtyard and had a head injury. His cough wasn't that important.

"Did you get everything done?" Arthur asked.

Merlin placed his supper in front of the crown prince and backed away. "Yep, I just finished."

The prince nodded, taking a bite of his food before studying his servant. The young man was soaked; his hair was dripping water into his face. Although Arthur suspected that some of the liquid was sweat. He frowned.

"Merlin, you look terrible."

Lightening flashed outside the window, causing both men to glance over in that direction.

"I hope this storm ends soon so you can get some better sleep tonight," Merlin said, changing the subject.

"I doubt it will."

The rain began to come down even harder, making it impossible to see anything outside the window. Merlin felt the persistent tickle in his throat and began to cough again, grabbing the edge of the table to steady himself.

"Merlin?" he inquired.

The young man couldn't answer as the coughs erupted from his chest. He tried to cover his mouth and face away from Arthur, but almost stumbled. Arthur grabbed his cup of water and moved Merlin's hand, gently coaxing a little of the liquid into his mouth. His servant was hot to the touch. His fever had risen. Merlin clutched the table as he struggled to take a few deep breaths.

"I'm fetching Gaius," Arthur declared.

"No," Merlin whispered.

"Merlin, you are obviously quite ill."

"He's… not in his chambers. One of the knights fell earlier and he has… a severe head injury. Gaius is tending to him. It's more important."

"But you –"

Merlin swayed a little, letting go of the table. His eyes blinked slowly as he tried to stop the room from spinning. This was not a good day for him. "I'm not feeling too well," he said before his knees gave out.

"Merlin!" Arthur exclaimed.

Moving quickly, he caught his servant in his arms and lifted him before he hit his head on the floor and injured himself further. Arthur didn't think twice as he lifted Merlin onto his bed. He had to figure out what to do without interrupting Gaius. The prince had never taken care of anyone before, let alone a sick person. He barely tended himself most days. Merlin did all of the work. Arthur put his hand on Merlin's shoulder, feeling the wet clothing. That couldn't be helping him.

"Come on, please wake up. I don't want to undress you," Arthur mumbled.

Merlin didn't wake. His chest rose and fell in an even rhythm, the only sign that he was still breathing despite the harsh sounds coming from his chest. He pulled off Merlin's jacket, hoping that would wake him, but it didn't. Arthur groaned as he lifted up the young man's shirt and slowly started to pull it off. With this cold weather, he really should have been wearing an undershirt to keep him warm, but Merlin wasn't. It was surprising to Arthur. He gently pulled Merlin's arm out of his sleeve, seeing the faint outline of his servant's ribs. The young man needed to eat more, but Gaius probably couldn't afford to feed him much more. It was well known that the court physician spent his money on herbs to make tonics and medicines for others, barely keeping enough for himself. Arthur pulled out Merlin's left arm and saw something that made him stop.

"What?" he hissed.

Inked in red on Merlin's forearm was a strange twisting symbol. Arthur had treated a wound on his arm once and never seen this before. The skin was red around the edges and a little swollen. It was fresh. But there was something unnatural about it. Merlin stirred slightly, coughing and gasping a little. His blue eyes opened for a second before closing again. Arthur tried to wake him, but with no avail. He returned to his task of tending to his servant. The prince removed Merlin's pants and quickly dressed him a clean, dry pair of his, along with a warm shirt.

Now what?

I hope you liked it! Please review!