Apple juice dripped onto his chin as he bit loudly into his snack. He munched thoughtfully for a moment then said,
"Lancelot, I've been thinking."
"Are you sure that's safe? You might hurt yourself."
Gwaine turned to glare up at his fellow knight, but Lancelot only smiled, so he turned back around and continued. "As I say, I've been thinking. About Merlin." He nodded toward the serving boy, who was helping Arthur train on the fields.
Lancelot looked between Merlin and Gwaine. "What about him?
Gwaine took another bite of his apple. "Have you ever noticed how he's not dead yet?"
Lancelot tried not to laugh. "Full of bright thoughts today, are you?"
"No, I don't mean it like that - I mean, all the stuff he's been through, with us, with Arthur… He's survived. Somehow. But how? It's not like he's a fighting man, after all he's… Well, just look at him!" Gwaine pointed his apple to where Arthur was handing Merlin a warhammer he'd just finished with. The man promptly fell over.
"You've got a point," Lancelot said, trying to conceal his smile. "The boy must be lucky to have lived this long."
"No," Gwaine shook his head insistently, "It's not luck. It's something… It's something else. I just can't put my finger on it." He bit into his apple broodingly.
Lancelot arched an eyebrow, watching Gwaine. Surely he hadn't guessed… No. He couldn't have possibly. Could he have?
"I mean, just think about it, Lance," Lancelot hated that nickname. Gwaine knew. He didn't care. "…every single time Arthur goes on some horribly dangerous quest, Merlin goes with him, right?"
"And every single time that happens, they both turn back up in Camelot some time later, alive – if not a bit scratched up – despite horrible odds, being completely outnumbered, outmatched, bewitched, what have you. Right?"
Lancelot shrugged. "Of course."
"But then just Arthur goes out on a quest, and suddenly he's spending every second on death's doorstep – like that time with the gold trident quest nonsense. When Merlin and I got to him, he was very nearly a wyvern's lunch. But after we showed up – that is, after Merlin showed up – he got along just fine. Everything bad that has ever happened to Arthur – at least since I've known him - has happened when, or even because Merlin wasn't around. Have you noticed?" Gwaine twisted around to look at Lancelot.
Nonplussed, Lancelot wasn't sure what he was supposed to say. Of course, he knew why what Gwaine was describing was true, but it wasn't as though he could admit it. He frowned as though he was confused. After a few odd moments of silence, the knight shook his head. "You know, Gwaine, I think you've had too many apples. Maybe they've fermented and gone to your head." He looked up at the training yard again. "You're suggesting that Merlin, that Merlin, Merlin the Daffodil, is the reason that Arthur is still alive?"
Both of them glanced back up at Merlin, who was trying incredibly unsuccessfully to wield a quarterstaff against his master. Within seconds, he yowled and dropped his staff, shaking the hand that Arthur had hit. The surrounding knights laughed.
Gwaine frowned uncertainly, and realized the weakness of his developing thesis.
Lancelot patted him on the shoulder. "Perhaps you should stick to talking, not thinking."
Gwaine threw an unamused look in Lancelot's direction. Lancelot smiled. Gwaine stood to his feet. "Anyway." He said awkwardly, tossing his apple core out into the field. "I need another apple." He walked off, muttering something about fermentation and sour apple juice.
Lancelot shook his head and looked back over at Merlin, who was still tripping over his own feet.
"You've lost your touch, Merlin. Now even Gwaine is on to you," Lancelot said, knowing there was no way Merlin or anyone else would hear him. "Next thing, Percival will get wise. Better watch yourself, Magic Boy." And even though he held Merlin in the highest respect, Lancelot had to laugh when Merlin tripped over a tent stake and fell, taking the tent with him. He saw the looks of amusement and fool-pity on the other knights' faces, and Lancelot wondered what those faces might look like if they knew exactly whom they were laughing at.
If only they knew.
That day would come eventually, Lancelot knew, and he hoped he'd be around to see it, to see their faces, to see that priceless expression on Arthur's face when he realized that Merlin the Daffodil was really Emrys the Dragonlord. What a day that would be.
Though honestly, Lancelot hoped that Merlin would stop being so clumsy before he revealed himself as Camelot's all-powerful Sorcerer and protector. Somehow, the two traits didn't seem congruent.
He shook his head and smiled. One day, Merlin's time would come, and credit would finally go where credit was due. Until then, however, Merlin could stay as clumsy and incompetent as he pleased - it was well worth that befuddled look on Gwaine's face.
At least, Lancelot thought so.