Summary: Under mysterious circumstances Merlin is forced to serve a visiting noble who cannot return to his estate because of a horrible winter storm. The lord begins to act abusive and questions arise about where his first servant has disappeared. Can Arthur save Merlin in time?
A/N: I have always loved Merlin and enjoyed writing stories about him and Arthur so much. But watching the show I noticed that you never see snow or any real type of winter depiction, so naturally I had to have my story take place during extreme winter conditions! Also I wanted to focus on Merlin and Arthur's unique friendship and add new dimensions of character development I feel the show leaves out. So, without further adieu, I give you Ligna et Lapides (Latin for "Sticks and Stones"… a play off the phrase 'sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me').
*This story is set during season 4. Arthur is king but Gwen is banished and Lancelot is dead.
Disclaimer:Merlin is owned by BBC.
Chapter 1 (Wintertime in Camelot)
Camelot awoke with a fresh blanket of snow. The sun had yet to climb high and add its heated rays to the land below. But as the sun struggled still higher, the wind became mistress to the snow, kissing it and whispering wasted, winded words in its ear. The people of the city, however, remained ignorant to the struggle of the sun and simply cursed the wind's frivolous affair. Unfortunately, the harsh weather did not deter the servants who worked in the castle to remain in bed. The call for bigger fires and warm baths kept the servants busy fetching wood and water alike. One such raven-haired servant answered the call of his master, and now he trudged through the crisp snow with a heavy bucket of water for the king's bath. Merlin had made the costly decision - which he now regretted - to go to the closer well located out in the courtyard to retrieve water as opposed to going to the kitchens and carrying the water up four flights of narrow stairs.
The wind bit at the surreptitious sorcerer's back for rudely interrupting its affections with the snow. Merlin ducked his head to prevent being blinded by the sailing snow and gripped the bucket tighter in his uncovered, frozen fingers. A patch of ice aided the wind's assault on Merlin by tripping the boy and causing him to spill water down his front, wetting his only jacket. Cursing mildly, the raven-haired warlock steadied himself and entered the castle, slowly climbing the set of stairs that led to his master's chambers.
Upon entering the dimly lit room, Merlin spotted the fair-haired king still huddled in bed. Ignoring Arthur, he continued into the room and shuffled to the fireplace. Slowly, as not to spill any more water, Merlin poured the frigid liquid into the warming pot above the fire. Setting the empty bucket on the ground, Merlin began to stoke the fire, encouraging it to jump higher and tickle the underside of the pot with its flamed tongue. Striping off his wet jacket, Merlin placed it next to the fire to dry. He then turned to face the bed while frantically blowing hot air onto his hands to alleviate their numbness.
Arthur peered at him from over his duvet. "Are you almost done?"
Merlin nodded, still concentrating on warming his hands.
"Good," came the slightly muffled reply.
Wary of the eyes that watched him, Merlin proceeded to organize the messy room as the water warmed for the bath. Over the past few days snow storms and strong winds had forced almost everyone to remain indoors. Arthur had seldom left his chambers during this time, leaving an even greater mess for Merlin to clean up. Being confined to such a limited space had also caused Arthur to become restless and irritable. His critical eyes and insulting tongue were always turned in his manservant's direction. Merlin, being the cheerful person he was, took the king's mood in stride though he himself was itching to be released from the terrible conditions that led to this confinement indoors.
Merlin sighed as he deposited the dirty garments, which he had collected from off the floor, next to the door so as he could easily retrieve them before taking them down to the laundry room to be cleaned. He then proceeded to straighten Arthur's desk, which was littered with plates from pervious meals and spare pieces of parchment. The drafty window behind him expelled a particularly bad burst of cold air at Merlin's slightly damp shirt. Shivering, he quickly finished straitening the desk and hurried back to the fireplace to check on the warming water. Peering at the pot he noted that the water was almost boiling. Wrapping his hands in a rag, so he could remove the pot safely, Merlin reached over the flickering flames and firmly grasped the iron handle and heaved the pot off the fire. Slowly, he poured the steaming contents into the copper tub with the rest of the water he had previously fetched and warmed. The hot water mixed with the cooler water and hissed in displeasure. Nodding to himself, Merlin said, "Bath's ready."
"It's about time," said Arthur, in a clipped response. "I'm freezing."
Merlin didn't comment that he was far colder than Arthur, seeing how he had to go outside to fetch water and was still wet from his tumble on the ice. Instead he simply said, "Shall I set out your beaver cloak for you to wear, Sire?"
"Hmmmm," Arthur hummed and he slipped himself into the warm bathwater. "Yes, I suppose you should."
Walking away from the warm comfort of the fire, Merlin went to the cloths cupboard and retrieved from the bottom drawer Arthur's expensive furred cloak. It was heavy but extremely warm. Dark brown beaver fur lined the inside of the cloak and its hood, creating a soft envelope for the wear's body. The cloak's outside shone with the golden embroidery that decorated its royal red cloth. Hefting it in his arms, Merlin carried it behind the changing screen where Arthur would dress and placed it by the trousers, shirt, and jacket he had picked out before Arthur demanded a warm bath.
Stepping back out from behind the screen, he was greeted with a content, relaxed Arthur. "Perfect temperature, Merlin," Arthur commented, making the first compliment to Merlin that he had in days.
Merlin beamed and strode back over the fire and placed another log in it. "What are your plans for the day, Arthur?" Merlin inquired informally.
The water in the tub sloshed as Arthur shrugged. "I don't know yet. But I need you to polish my armor and sword to make sure they don't rust in this weather, take care of my laundry, and fetch me breakfast."
Merlin smiled to himself, it looked like he could finally have a slow day where he could at last catch up on reading his magic book and memorize some helpful spells. But that vision slipped from reality when Arthur continued to say, "Last night Lord Harris asked to borrow a servant seeing his suddenly became ill. I told him you would be happy to serve him until his servant was at full health. After you are done with me you are to report to Lord Harris' chambers. George will serve me in the meantime."
Merlin frowned at the news, not only was George replacing him – that bootlicker – but he had to serve the visiting Lord Harris. That man was scary. Unfortunately, the lord was stuck here in Camelot during the last few days of snow, stopping him from leaving at his appointed time to go back to his lands and manor. Completely dismayed by the order, Merlin began to do what he did best: complain. "Do I have to? I mean why can't George do it? Or Liam, or Will, or Hector, or-"
Arthur cut him off. "No. It is only fitting that you would serve him while he is a guest here."
"But Arthur," Merlin said, exasperated. "The man is horrifying! And wouldn't you want to impress a guest with a more capable servant… after all I am 'the worst manservant ever'."
"You may be the worst but you are certainly capable. I mean, you are my manservant."
"I don't want to hear it. End of conversation."
Merlin sighed. "I'll just go get your breakfast then, Sire."
Shoulders slumped in defeat Merlin left the room and made his way towards the kitchens. Taking a shortcut or two, he arrived at the kitchens and was met with a blast of hot air when he opened the door. Stepping inside the room he quickly shut the door and strode up to Mary, the head cook. "Good morning, Mary," he said cheerfully.
She replied, "Merlin! How wonderful to see you today. I have the King's breakfast all ready; it's over on the table."
Now Mary was a plump woman but she had the speed and strength of a teenage male. Her coarse, brown hair was thrown up into a messy bun and she wore her usual forest green dress with the sleeves rolled up. Sweat poured off her forehead as she stood up from bending over one of the giant brick ovens. She quickly made her way over to where Merlin was standing and enveloped him on a hug. "How are you, my boy?"
Mary laughed. "Maybe you should help me here in the kitchens for the day. God knows I need the help and you the food." She poked his ribs playfully. Mary was always trying to fatten Merlin. She claimed he was too thin and unhealthy.
"Would if I could," Merlin said, pulling away from her comfortable embrace. "But I am needed elsewhere."
The cook nodded but grabbed a roll off a neighboring plate. "Here, eat up." She placed the steaming roll into his hands. "You need all the nourishment you can get running after that king of ours."
Merlin took a bite of the roll. It was heavenly and he told Mary as much. Thanking her for the roll, he snatched Arthur's tray of food and a pitcher of water and exited the kitchens with one final "good-bye". The chill of the hallway was unpleasant compared to the heated kitchens so Merlin walked as quickly as he could back to the king's chambers while trying not to spill any of the food or drink.
Upon entering the room he nearly crashed into George, who was leaving. The shorter servant nodded at Merlin and continued on his way down the hall. Turning, Merlin placed the food and drink on the table in front of a fully clothed Arthur. "Feeling warmer?" he asked the King.
"Yes, the bath did the trick."
Arthur pulled the plate before him closer to his person. He began to eat while his manservant filled a goblet full of water for him to drink. Between mouthfuls Arthur said, "George will clear up. You should probably start your chores so you can attend to Lord Harris before you get into trouble for being too late."
"Alright." Merlin made a detour on his way to the door, snatching up his freshly dried jacket from beside the fireplace and putting it on before stooping down to gather the pile of dirty laundry. "See you later."
Merlin then made his way to the laundry rooms to drop off Arthur's clothing. As he entered the tightly packed room he made his presence known to its occupants; "Good morning, ladies!"
The fifteen seamstresses and laundry maids looked up from their work and cheerfully addressed the young man who had entered their domain. One voice rose above the chorus and said, "Merlin, how lovely to see you. What horrible things does King Arthur have planned for you today that you would grace us with presence?"
Merlin turned and cheekily grinned at the questioner. "Now, Emily, you know better to ask me that unless you want me to never leave the room while reciting the obnoxiously long lost of chores."
Emily, a middle-aged seamstress with lovely blonde hair that perfectly framed her heart-shaped face, laughed. "Honestly, Merlin, you know that would be the very reason I asked. Us ladies get quite bored down here and we all enjoy your company."
The other ladies murmured and nodded in agreement.
"How could I deny such lovely company?" Merlin complimented. A few of the younger girls blushed. "In fact, if I finish my chores early and have time, I promise to come back and tell you some stories about our beloved king." He waggled his eyebrows suggestively, implying that the story was not one that praised Arthur but rather told of his less flattering moments that few witnessed. The ladies laughed and chorused their approval of the arrangement; they loved Merlin's stories and treated them as a greedy merchant would horde gold, for Merlin's story telling was a rare occurrence but when it did transpire you could not miss such an event. Handing off the dirty clothing to Emily, Merlin bid the group a jovial good-bye - which was met in kind – and went on his way to the armory.
The armory was empty and Merlin, for the first time in the morning, had a few moments to himself and his thoughts. The gangly servant moved the cleaning rag in rhythmic circles while polishing Arthur's breastplate, humming a tune to himself. Merlin would never admit it but polishing armor was by far his favorite chore. It was a calming, thoughtless task. An hour later, Merlin found himself finishing the last coat of polish on the hilt of Arthur's sword. "Done," he said to himself, proud of his accomplishment. Carefully placing the weapon back on its rack and straightening up his cleaning supplies, Merlin left the armory made his way to attend to Lord Harris.
Not five minutes later Merlin found himself outside the visiting Lord's chambers. Before knocking he sucked in a cavernous breath, trying to calm his nerves. For he was nervous, it was rumored among servants that Lord Harris was temperamental and mean. And then, adopting his formal servant manners, which Arthur claimed he rarely saw, rapped on the thick, wooden door with a closed fist.
After a moment's pause a deep, rumbling voice sounded through the door. "Enter."
Taking one last deep breath, Merlin pushed open the door and strode into the room. Spying Lord Harris slumped in a chair by the fire's side he approached the noble. Then, remembering to bow before the king's quest, said, "Good morning, my lord. I am Merlin. I am here to replace your servant until he recovers from his illness."
Sharp, critical eyes watched the raven-haired youngster in front of him. Lord Harris frowned at the warlock, his dark eyebrows contracted into a steady glare. Noticing the sudden change in demeanor, Merlin inquired, "My lord, is something the matter?"
"You seem familiar to me, boy. Have we met?"
"Informally, my lord. I am King Arthur's personal manservant and I seldom leave his side."
The frown disappeared. "Ah, yes. Now I remember, you greeted me with the king upon my arrival in Camelot."
"You are correct, my lord."
The noble then stood and his full height was revealed. The rumors that the maids whispered in the corridors did not lie; the man before Merlin was tall – even taller than the young sorcerer – and his strong build made him seem to be a small giant. Lord Harris' massive hand ran through his jet blank locks, pausing slightly at the graying temples before continuing down to massage his bearded chin. "Well – Merlin was it? -"
The boy in question nodded.
"- I seem to be running low on wood for my hearth. Fetch some more. When you return we will set to work on other things." Lord Harris then waved his hand in dismissal, cueing Merlin to bow and mumble, "My lord", before exiting the room.
Once in the hall Merlin slumped against the wall and huffed. "Well that went better than I expected," he told himself. Then stuffing his hands deep into his jacket's pockets, the warlock grinned and strolled down the corridor to fetch some firewood.
A/N: Chapter one done! Don't fret, my dear reader, it gets much better. I just needed to set the mood and atmosphere for the story. I hope you enjoyed it!