"I can't," Morgana stormed into Arthur's room, "I can't." She tossed her robes and paced back and forth, fuming.
"That's nice," Arthur said, placidly examining his boots.
Morgana continued pacing, obviously waiting for Arthur to ask her to enlighten him on her current situation. When it was apparent that Arthur did not notice (or care), she sat in the chair opposite him and folded her arms.
"Sir Flannigan of Oodly-Poodly came to visit Uther today," she said as way of prelude.
"Is that so?" Arthur asked, still nonchalant.
"Yes…to ask permission to court me," Morgana hissed, her eyebrows moving closer towards her flashing eyes.
"Heaven help the poor man!" Arthur snickered, placing the boots on the table, "Did Merlin even shine these? It looks like he went over them with a ball of dung."
"Arthur, have you even met Sir Flannigan?" Morgana questioned, her eyes looking positively dangerous.
"I expect to see much more of him now that you're courting," Arthur said.
Morgana slammed her hands on the table separating them, "He. Is. The. Most. Priggish, stuck-up, horrible, ghastly, son of a..."
"Really now!" Arthur looked up in surprise, "Let's not have you lose your feminine graces over this fellow."
"You'd lose your feminine graces if you ever met this man!" Morgana snapped.
Arthur looked offended.
"And the worst part is…I'm expected to meet him tonight for dinner," she said.
"I'm surprised you didn't reject him then and there, actually," Arthur said, looking at her curiously.
"Oh, believe me. I wanted to, but Uther insisted on it. I have no choice," Morgana fumed, sitting back down in a huff, "He said Flannigan would be an excellent match, has good land, honorable family, etc. and etc."
"Where is his land?" Arthur inquired.
"I don't know, and I don't particularly care. Why?" Morgana asked.
"Hopefully it's far away from here," Arthur laughed.
Morgana leaped up from her chair, "This really is no laughing matter. I might actually murder Sir Flannigan with my dessert fork at dinner tonight. I cannot be in the same room with him, or I feel my blood boiling and every nerve in me pleading for mercy."
"Maybe you can come down with some illness?" Arthur suggested.
"Did that before. It won't fool Uther anymore," she sighed.
"Not show up?"
"Not if I want to see the sun rise tomorrow."
"Pretend you didn't know the dinner was tonight?"
Morgana started pacing again, "No, no, no. None of those will work! Is there really no solution?"
At that moment, Merlin burst into the room, his face obscured by a huge pile of laundry.
Arthur's eyes lit up with glee, "Actually…there just might be a solution…"
"No, no, tighter," Morgana said, shaking her head.
Gwen looked down at the corset strings, and then at Merlin's red face, "I don't know if it can go any tighter, my lady."
"It can't," Merlin gasped out, clutching at Morgana's bedpost for dear life.
"It can and it will. Give it to me," Morgana grasped the corset strings and pulled it with all her might. Merlin was certain that all his vital organs were now one vital organ.
Morgana stepped back and looked at her handiwork with satisfaction, "I do believe your waist is smaller than mine, Merlin."
"Oh…really," Merlin whimpered, collapsing against the bedpost in pain.
"We should use this as punishment instead of the stocks," Arthur snickered. He was sprawled out on Morgana's couch, helping himself to some fruits and thoroughly enjoying himself.
"My lady," Gwen said, and then hesitated, "I was wondering…"
"Yes?" Morgana asked, double knotting the corset strings as Merlin limply leaned against the bedpost.
"Won't Sir Flammable from Wootly-Tootly or whatever notice that your face looks…different?" Gwen asked delicately, glancing at Merlin's face and Morgana's.
"Oh," Morgana brushed the comment away with her hand, "He was too busy looking at his reflection in his little mirror. Don't worry about it."
Arthur finished peeling his orange and sniggered, "Still, Merlin's going to make a horrendously ugly woman."
"Hey!" Merlin protested weakly, raising himself to an upright position.
"Some cosmetics ought to do the trick," Morgana said, "But first…dress. Gwen, how about the dark green silk? That will hide a multitude of sins…or lack thereof," Morgana said, looking pointedly at Merlin's chest.
Arthur laughed so hard he choked on his orange.
Gwen nodded and hurried off. A few moments later, she came back, her arms full of dark green silk and black lace. Merlin recoiled.
"My lady, this is…this is really too much. I don't think I can…"
"Merlin," Morgana said, smiling prettily, "You don't know how much it means to me to help me escape this. You're not only preventing a horrific dinner, but a possible marriage."
"Whoa wait I can't get married…"
"Oh no!" Morgana exclaimed in horror, "Don't worry about that. I don't expect it to happen if you take my place, though. It will be over before you know it, trust me." She gave him one final dazzling smile and that was it. Merlin was putty in her hands.
"Yes, my lady," Merlin said, dazed by the combination of the corset and Morgana's pearly whites.
"Thank you," she purred, "Now step into the dress, please."
Merlin did so, and Gwen pulled the dress up to his shoulders, "Um, my lady, I think it's going to be a little strained…"
"Throw my velvet mantle over it."
"But it's summer, my lady," Gwen said, "No one will wear a mantle in the middle of summer."
"Perhaps the Lady Morgana has come down with a bit of a cold. That could explain the voice as well," Morgana said.
The dress was hooked and fastened accordingly. To Merlin's utmost embarrassment and Arthur's supreme amusement, Morgana stuffed some handkerchiefs down Merlin's (well, Morgana's) dress, to make it more "realistic". Gwen arranged the lace on the long sleeves and skirt. The mantle was thrown over Merlin's shoulders, and a pearl necklace and diamond earrings completed the picture. Multiple rings adorned his (scrubbed clean) hands, and a veil was placed on his head ("For the cold, and to hide your hair."). His fringe was curled and placed carefully on his forehead. Morgana and Gwen looked at their work with satisfaction.
"Wait," Morgana took her diamond pin off her own dress and pinned it on Merlin's (technically Morgana's) mantle, "There. You're ready. Now for the cosmetics, Gwen."
"Please," Arthur mockingly begged.
Merlin was powdered, rouged, lined with kohl, and powdered again.
"There, Arthur. What do you think?" Morgana presented…well, herself.
Arthur stared critically at Merlin, "Not bad. Still ugly, but not bad. It turned out better than I thought it would."
"Excellent," Morgana sprayed her perfume on Merlin, "You'll be going down for dinner soon, so listen carefully to my instructions. Talk softly, eat little, and try not to look or act like a man in woman's clothing."
"Easier said than done," Merlin feebly grinned.
"The Lady Morgana," a servant announced, bowing. Merlin slowly and (what he hoped was) sedately glided down to his seat, offering his bejeweled hand to Sir Flannigan and murmuring his greetings. Sir Flannigan barely noticed, as he was too busy preening himself. Merlin slipped into his seat and hoped that the noble would be as self-consumed the entire night. The servant who placed the first course before them looked askance at Merlin, but went on doing his duty. Merlin smiled awkwardly at the servant and fiddled with the lace on his (her) sleeve. He listened patiently to Sir Flannigan's long and exaggerated stories about himself, and only managed to spill three drops of wine on his (Morgana's) dress. Merlin was starving, but remembered Morgana's instructions and picked at his food. All went well until Sir Flannigan actually managed to look at his dinner companion.
"My lady, are you not feeling well?" Sir Flannigan asked, "You are dressed for cold weather."
Merlin was so alarmed he knocked over a glass of wine and winced as he heard it splash onto the floor, "Uh…oh, yes!' he squeaked, "I was feeling a bit…cold…so I put on…warm…things to not feel…cold. But now that I'm warm I don't feel cold even though I suspect I might have a…cold." He flashed a nervous smile and quickly pulled away the voluminous skirt away from the puddle of wine. A thread snagged and he inwardly groaned. As it would look unseemly for the Lady Morgana to bend over in her chair and tear away her skirt from the table leg, Merlin decided to wait until Sir Flannigan was not looking.
Sir Flannigan nodded disinterestedly and continued on about himself. Seeing that he was preoccupied, Merlin tried to reach for the skirt with his hand. It was of no use. Leaning over slightly, he tried again. Still no use. Deciding to risk it, he started a spell. All attempts at a spell, though, were interrupted. Whenever he started it, a servant would walk in with another course or Sir Flannigan would glance at him. Perhaps if he gently kicked his leg away from the table leg the thread would loosen. He did so, and felt the thread give. However, more force was needed. Merlin jerked his leg from the table leg, and in doing so shook the table slightly. He watched with baited breath as a lighted candle by Sir Flannigan's hand tottered and then fell onto the noble's satin sleeve. Merlin gaped at the flames steadily appearing on the fabric. Sir Flannigan, however, was too engrossed in the story of how he single-handedly fought off a griffin with naught but a hammer.
"Um, Sir…" Merlin said timidly, openly gawking at Sir Flannigan's shirtsleeve.
"Yes, yes, I know. Rather dangerous, wasn't it? But I pride myself on the fact that I am no coward," Sir Flannigan said smugly.
"Sir, may I point out that…"
"Oh yes. That's what my dear father said as well, 'Flannigan, may I point out that you could have died a ghastly death. Then how would the family name go on? You are far too brave for your own good sometimes. It sometimes borders on folly'. That is one of my faults; one of my few faults. It is rather typical of me to take a virtue and act out rashly on it," the noble boasted.
Merlin stared alarmingly at the burnt holes in the shirtsleeve, and at the fire that was beginning to move rapidly upwards, "Sir, your shirtsleeve is…"
"Lovely, isn't it?" Sir Flannigan looked at the shirtsleeve that was, of course, serenely clear of flames, "It's quite old, but in very good condition. Threaded with gold. I will probably have to toss it sometime soon, since it will go out of style in the coming months."
Merlin bit his lip and nodded vigorously. Again he tried a spell to extinguish the fire, mumbling under his breath. The flames abated slightly, but continued on merrily flickering. He wondered why the noble didn't feel the flames, but figured that there was another shirt underneath it. But when the shirt underneath began to burn…
"Good heavens," Sir Flannigan stopped in the middle of his family history. "Are there bugs in here? My arm is starting to sting quite a bit…" he glanced at his arm and shouted a obscenity. He jumped from his chair and began waving it around. Of course, that only managed to make the flames even bigger.
Merlin grasped the wine bottle and flung it over Sir Flannigan's arm. The bigger flames became positively monstrous. So monstrous that now the noble's brown hair was on fire.
Merlin panicked and called for the servants. Before they could come in, Merlin threw the pitcher of water at the noble. However, the pitcher was rather hard and only succeeded into knocking Sir Flannigan unconscious. The servants dashed into the dining room to find a fiery and fainted noble and a panicked and perspiring lady. While the servants put out the fire and tried to awaken Sir Flannigan, Merlin escaped and flew upstairs. He burst into Morgana's room, where Morgana and Arthur were playing chess. They both looked up from their game eagerly.
"Well?" Morgana queried, "You made a quick exit."
"Sir Flannigan is on fire and I think he died," Merlin gasped out.
Morgana laughed, "Well, that was more successful than I thought."