Disclaimer: Wish it was. But still, this effort is not meant to reflect on the creative work of others. In simpler terms, other people came up with these characters and write them far better than I do, so if you don't like the story, give the show a shot anyway.
They Say It's Your Birthday
One fine day Arthur has cause to ask a question...
"Merlin, when's your birthday?"
Merlin looked up from the corner where he was polishing Arthur's armour. "Sire?"
"Your birthday, Merlin. I presume you do have one."
Merlin cocked his head to the side, one corner of his mouth quirking with a combination of amusement and perplexity. "Well, truthfully Arthur, I don't."
Arthur finally looked up from the paperwork on his table to regard his servant with some confusion. Then he snorted. "I suppose this means it falls to me to explain the facts of life to you. You see, Merlin, when a man and woman love each other very much, they partake in certain… activities, the result of which is that nine months later the woman gives birth to a child, and usually on a specific day as opposed to some vague period outside of worldly time, hence the word birthday."
Merlin rolled his eyes as he went back to polishing Arthur's armour once more. "I know what a birthday is, you bloody great clot-pole. I just don't have one."
"Merlin, unless you're telling me you were hatched - though that is something I wouldn't be too astonished to learn, considering what a chicken-hearted individual you are - as I've just explained, everyone has a birthday. It is, in fact, logically impossible for you not to have one. Especially as I've met your mother, and therefore know you didn't just coalesce out of thin air one awful day."
Merlin was getting truly exasperated now. "Of course I was born. I just don't know on what day. Therefore, since I don't know my birthday, from a practical sense - which I forgive you for not understanding, as practicality is something you've never had to become acquainted with - works out to be the same as not having one."
"Merlin, you fantastic idiot, how can you be so dull-witted as to not remember your own birthday?"
Though he couldn't quite see his face, Arthur could tell Merlin had just rolled his eyes again. "It's not that I don't remember, dollop-head - I've never known it," the servant replied.
Arthur was actually stunned. The scathing, teasing tone disappeared from his voice and he asked in genuine confusion, "How could you not know what day you were born? Didn't your mother ever tell you?"
"She didn't know."
So taken aback by this, it actually took Arthur a couple of seconds to form his next question, "What do you mean your mother didn't know? Surely to goodness a woman would find giving birth a remarkable enough experience to consider taking note of the day! And certainly your mother would be aware of the day the general horror in her life began."
Merlin sighed and stopped polishing again. "You really don't know what it's like, do you, Arthur?"
"What nonsense on you on about this time, Merlin?"
"In the outside world, Sire," Merlin explained slowly, waving the hand still holding the rag around vaguely towards the window. "It's not like we're all born in a palace, Arthur," he went on, as if to a small child. "Or even a city."
"What's that got to do with anything, Merlin?" the Prince demanded.
"What I mean is, we don't all have clerics and scholars and court astrologers telling us what day it is. Sometimes wandering ones will come by to announce the special Feast days and such, but the rest of the time we live by the seasons. Most people spend their entire lives not having any general idea of the date."
Arthur stared at his servant with wide eyes and Merlin was sure that only years of having etiquette beaten into to him kept the blond man's mouth from gaping like a fish's.
"Oh dear, I've broken your brain, haven't I?" Merlin said sympathetically.
"I…I… What are you talking about, Merlin!"Arthur practically shouted. He felt like an idiot; of course what Merlin was saying made perfect sense, and he should have known it without even thinking. But knowing what day it was, having a name to put to the present moment, was so utterly fundamental to his sense of things that it shook him in some indefinable way to find others lived without it. And to not even know what day you were born on… Arthur almost felt as if he had looked up and only foolishly noticed for the very first time that Merlin had lame foot or was missing his nose.
Embarrassed by his outburst though, Arthur quickly drew himself up, put on his best semblance of haughty-I-am-the-Prince-and-you-are-a-particularly-idiotic-worm, and inquired dangerously, "Tell me, are you having a fit of some kind, Merlin? Because you couldn't possibly be laughing at your master, now could you."
"Oh no, Sire! No, no!" Merlin protested. "I could never laugh at you!" It was a denial, however, which might have been slightly more effective if the one making it hadn't fallen backwards clutching at his stomach as he cackled breathlessly.
"Y…y …yes, Arthur?" Merlin stammered, still overcome.
"How is it you're the fool who doesn't know when his own birthday is, and you still think I'm the idiot?"
"I can't change the essential facts of nature, Prat," Merlin answered, wiping a mirthful tear from his eye.
It wasn't that funny, Arthur fumed for a moment, but then he sighed dramatically and decided that he would be the bigger man and play the benevolent ruler, even if meant tolerating once more the daily torment of his intellectually hampered manservant.
"Getting back to the matter at hand…" he began, waving imperiously at Merlin to collect himself.
Merlin instantly became serious. Well, except for a slight twitch about the mouth.
"So you have no idea at all of when your birthday is?" Arthur asked.
"Well, I have some idea. Mother said I was born in the winter."
Elbow on table, Arthur rested his head on his hand and regarded his servant wearily. "In the winter, was it. You couldn't narrow that down any, I suppose?"
Merlin looked back at him, truly puzzled this time and asked what should have been his first question. "Why do you want to know?"
"Because, as pointless as it seems, information is required about you for the Court Records."
"Really? Are you telling me I'm going to go down in the history books somewhere?"
Arthur pinched the bridge of his nose and wondered why every simple conversation with his manservant had to be so painful. "I can't imagine any circumstance under which you'd go down in history, Merlin. No, this is simply for our various records. You know, so that we know how many people in the castle we have to feed, and what they cost in terms of expenses or what taxes are needed. Or so there is some record of who you are and how old you are, so that in the event of Camelot falling down on your head - something I'd almost sacrifice the castle for right now - we'd be able to identify your body once we pulled it out of the rubble. You know, silly things like that."
"That's a bit gruesome for first thing in the morning, isn't it? And here I thought you were going to get me a present!"
"I mean, TAXES of all things! Doesn't a person have to get a wage first?"
"I swear, the first band of Romanys* that come through here this summer and I'm selling you to them."
"That sounds all right to me. I'm sure they have cleaner socks than you."
Arthur gritted his teeth. "Your birthday!"
Merlin grinned but decided to get back to the subject before his Prince's brain dissolved completely and started trickling out the royal ear. "Well," he started to say, thinking about it seriously, "I think I asked once and Mam said it just a little after the Druids celebrated the Winter Solstice. Less than a fortnight later, she guessed."
"So after the Yule Festival then?" Arthur said as he turned to his papers and wrote something down.
"I suppose so, though I don't know what's wrong with saying the Winter Solstice."
"I thought I'd go with something less-magical-tie-you-to-Druids-and-get-you-executed sounding."
"Oh. Oh! Yes, I guess that would be better," Merlin said and now it was Arthur's time to roll his eyes.
There the conversation ended for a little while. Merlin went back to his polishing, Arthur to his paperwork. Some time passed and though neither thought consciously on the idea, both of them found themselves content in their time in close proximity to one another, each quietly enjoying the bright Spring sunshine streaming in their the windows of the Prince's chambers.
Or they did at least until Arthur decided to ask another question.
"Doesn't it bother you?"
"Doesn't what bother me?" Merlin asked.
Arthur, benevolent and tolerant ruler of the afflicted went out the window and Arthur, hurler of ornate goblets jumped in to fill the breach.
"Oi!" Merlin exclaimed with irritation as the heavy cup pinged the top of his head.
"Quit being a girl, Merlin. That barely brushed your hair. Probably straightened the mess it's in, if anything."
"But what did you do it for?"
"You were being a pain."
"No I wasn't!"
"You were! You know perfectly well what I was asking."
"Arthur, it may surprise you to learn that other people don't just put their minds on hold and stop existing until the next demand comes out of your mouth. I was thinking my own thoughts, so how could I know what was going on in your head? It's hard enough to figure out what's going to come out of that pea-sized brain even when I am paying attention."
"Fetch a guard, Merlin. I wish him to enlighten me as to whether the day is cold enough to make the stocks an adequate punishment, or warm enough that the stench in the Royal Stables would be more suitable."
Arthur caught some muttering about "moods shifting with the wind" and "he calls me a girl", but all Merlin said out loud was, "Fine, fine, your cabbage-headed-ness, what was it you wanted to know again?"
"Does. It. Bother. You. Not. Having. A. Birthday."
Merlin shrugged. "Not really. If you don't know what day it is, you don't really think about what days are coming up in the future, so most years I never even noticed it passing. And besides, it's not like we would have celebrated it, anyway."
Arthur frowned. "What do you mean?"
"It's not like my mother had the money to buy me a gift, or even really the time to make one. There usually wasn't enough food for a special meal of any kind and we couldn't stop work for the day, not when we wanted to survive the winter. You wouldn't believe how much time wood-cutting can take, for instance. Not to mention…" but then Merlin suddenly clamped his mouth shut and turned his eyes away from Arthur. He picked up the armour yet again and began polishing furiously.
"Not to mention…" Arthur prodded.
"C'mon, Merlin. Tell me."
Merlin leapt to his feet, accidentally dropping Arthur's armour to the floor with a clang. "I think I'm done with this," he declared and Arthur was surprised to see that the younger man was strangely flustered. Not that Merlin getting over-excited about nothing was new, but still…
"That's as may be, but I still don't see the reason to throw it to the floor."
"Uh… sorry." Merlin picked it up quickly and strode swiftly out the door, murmuring something about getting the scrubbing bucket as he went.
Arthur stared after him for a few moments in confusion, but had already forgotten the entire incident by the time Merlin came back with a tray carrying the mid-day meal and not the bucket that he had gone out for.
A possible answer didn't occur to him until late that night after a meeting with his council, who had spent nearly the entire time urging available Princesses on him and droning on interminably about lineages in the process. As he lay in bed Arthur suddenly remembered that Merlin didn't have a father.
That his manservant was, technically, a bastard.
Arthur was used to the aching hole left an absent parent. So much so that he didn't usually bother to think beyond that when reflecting on another's lack. Therefore, it was for the first time that he considered how much more Merlin might have gone through. While he didn't have a mother, he at least knew who she was. She had a name to solidify her in Arthur's mind, and he even had a few reminiscences from his father and Gaius to give him some idea of what she was like.
But Merlin wouldn't have had that. He didn't even know his father's name, as far Arthur knew. More importantly, at least in terms of the day's conversation, he would have had to face a world of shame and ostracism that Arthur had never even dreamed of. And while Arthur had met Hunith and knew that she was both strong and loving enough to have likely wanted to celebrate her son's birthday anyway, if only given the means, Merlin's birthday might still have been a difficult time for both of them. People after all were seldom kind to fallen women and bastards.
Arthur rolled over, unable to sleep. He felt bad for making such an issue of Merlin's birthday and wished the entire subject had never come up. Accidental though it might have been, he had unthinkingly caused his servant genuine pain and that made him feel small and petty.
Plus, it bothered him that Merlin had never celebrated his birthday. That he had had no gifts, no day off from work, perhaps not even enough to eat. Arthur had never particularly enjoyed his own birthday - knowing he was the cause of his mother's death, not to mention his father's generally foul mood at that time of year had always dampened any pleasure he might have had - but he still felt suddenly guilty about the sheer excess that had been shown on every anniversary of his birth. True, his birthday was just as much a holiday for the people as it was (supposed to be) for him, but it still seemed... vain, somehow, to make such a fuss when most of his subjects (including his best friend, his barely noticed conscience supplied) didn't have a day of their own to even mark the passing of years.
Arthur made a promise to himself: the idiot, at least, would have a day. The Yule festival was more than half a year away, but, as he told Gwen the next morning, he was going to give Merlin a birthday!
"You mean a birthday gift?" she asked.
"That too," he said and left her looking confused as he strode off to the training grounds.
Unfortunately, for both peasants and Kings, life often has other plans. On Arthur's next birthday, his father King Uther was grievously stabbed, eventually leading to his death mere days later. The young Prince's resolution for a gift for his friend disappeared in the grief that his own birth was now the cause of not one, but both of his parents' deaths. Birthdays became a forbidden subject, and though some time after Gwen's coronation he decreed the Queen's birthday a holiday (for both his people and Gwen deserved it), by his orders his own birthday was never again to be mentioned. As to his servant's lack of one, it was completely forgotten by all, including the servant himself.
I'm hoping there will be a second part to this, where Merlin does get a birthday. I have an idea for it, but this part turned out so much longer than I expected (those boys will JUST NOT STOP ARGUING!), that now the couple of paragraphs I had envisioned for the next chapter seem woefully inadequate and anti-climactic.
So we'll see I guess. Fingers crossed!
Also, I would sincerely like to thank everyone who responded to my last story, either by reviewing or putting it on their favourites list. I know I should reply to you all individually, but in case I don't, I want you, and all of those who might review this story, that I am very grateful to hear from you. Your reviews were, and are, very welcome and I'm flattered that you took the time. Thank you so much!