Disclaimer- I do not own BBC Merlin. But I do own my OCs which are fairly awesome in my opinion.
A/N- This is set in the King's Legacy universe but takes place before those events, so it can be read completely separate.
A huge thanks to Paralelsky for beta-ing! Any resulting mistakes are mine alone since I tampered with it a tad.
Dark brown eyes were staring balefully at the rising sun, as if saying, 'No. You aren't pretty, go away.' The sun however, ignored the new knight's wishes and continued to climb higher in the dawn sky. He was the first one in the courtyard, before any of the knights, and the silence and stillness were contributing to his bad mood.
He had been waiting for five minutes when the prince's servant appeared, causing the twenty one year old to roll his eyes. So the boy was early was he? He still didn't want Merlin here.
"Sir Aldwin," Merlin nodded to him.
"Servant." Aldwin merely glanced at him before inspecting the courtyard. He might have glared at the servant a few weeks ago to scare him, but it did not look like the boy was going to be intimidated. Aldwin would daunt him when Merlin did something that deserved it, like tripping over his own feet and making noise. Or demand to have the servant in the stocks if he spoke out of turn- which happened quite a lot. The knight resisted the urge to scoff just thinking about it.
"Could you watch the horses?" Merlin led his and the prince's horse in front of Aldwin. The knight's black stallion snorted in greeting. Aldwin did not even have time to arrange his face in an offended scowl before Merlin was bounding up the castle steps and yelling his thanks.
Aldwin glowered at Merlin's impertinence but snatched the two horses' reins grudgingly- he did not want to be responsible for losing the prince's horse. He made sure his hands were well away from Aldieb's teeth- the horse had a mean streak with anyone other than the prince.
He spent the next few minutes adjusting Mandarb's saddle and only looked up when he heard the sound of two horses ambling towards him.
"Well, well, if it isn't little Aldwin," a gruff voice taunted. Aldwin clenched his teeth before clearing his face and turning to face the stocky knight who was leading a grey horse.
"That is Sir Aldwin to you, Sir Eadric," he said coldly.
"Oh, sorry, Sir Aldwin. How could I forget?" Eadric scoffed, his stubbled cheeks rising in a taunting grin. Sir Eadric was a squat fortress of a man, short but wide in the chest and shoulders. Aldwin was convinced that he could win an arm wrestle against the strength of the entire army.
"Enough, Eadric," a long suffering voice said, "you are both on the same team you know."
Aldwin and Eadric both frowned at the grinning Gerrick. The knight was leaning casually against his palomino mare.
"I do not need you to defend me, Gerrick," Aldwin frowned at his childhood friend.
"You so sure about that?" Eadric raised his eyebrows.
Aldwin levelled him with a glare and he smugly noticed that the burly knight's face twitched. He did not bother gracing Eadric's comment with a reply. He had heard the other knights' stories of Eadric's temper and it was not something he wanted to be on the receiving end of.
"You both might want to try something called making friends," Gerrick came up to him and nudged his shoulder.
"Something which you seem to excel at doing." Aldwin eyed Eadric sordidly.
"It's an art," Gerrick grinned.
Aldwin sighed and they did not have to wait long until the last two knights joined them. He successfully hid his ire upon noticing that one of them was Sir Winston. The other, Sir Samuel was a good knight, but Winston was insufferable. Even more so than Eadric, Aldwin thought. Winston looked the perfect knight, tall and muscular, not to mention possessed flowing russet hair that had castle maids likening him to a hero out of a poem, or so Aldwin had heard. Until he started speaking that is. The man had the vilest mouth that Aldwin had ever known, and not just because Aldwin had to be careful of what he said around his younger brothers. Winston spoke ill of anyone and everyone, except King Uther and Prince Arthur of course. He even insulted the oldest knight, Cadmon- Aldwin shook his head upon remembering it. Afterwards though, he never spoke an ill word about the man when Cadmon beat him in a duel spanning three seconds flat. Aldwin was too new to have seen any real action but he had no doubt that Winston was a coward.
"Good morning gents," Samuel called and stopped his horse in front of the three knights. Winston eyed them and scoffed, causing Aldwin and Eadric to scowl at him.
"Morning!" Gerrick called loudly, directing everyone's attention. "Perfect day for a hunt, wouldn't you say, Samuel?"
"Oh yes, I only hope the prince does not steal all of the kills."
"You may be disappointed then, Samuel." They all turned to see a grinning Arthur striding toward him. Merlin was following behind and rolling his eyes. The knights greeted him with a bow.
"Well perhaps Merlin will distract him, you feeling particularly clumsy today Merlin?" Gerrick asked. The servant glanced at him in quickly concealed surprise, knowing the lithe man as one of the more dangerous knights, but seemingly took comfort from Gerrick's smile if his next words were anything to go by.
"Oh sometimes it depends on how many chores I have to do," Merlin grinned, causing the grey eyed knight to smother a laugh.
"Is that so?" Arthur asked loftily while taking his reigns from Aldwin.
"Yep," Merlin chirped and was going to say something else before looking at the faces of Winston, Samuel, and Aldwin. Gerrick was hiding a smile and Eadric could not really have cared less. Merlin smiled at Aldwin as he took the reigns to Tilly and staunchly made eye contact with the knight. "Thank you, Sir Aldwin." The knight merely eyed him coolly before turning his attention to Mandarb. Merlin's throat bobbed as he swallowed despite himself.
"You have some gall, boy," Winston spat. Merlin gritted his teeth but Arthur waved his hand impatiently.
"I can take care of my own servant, Sir Winston. Let's get on with it," he told the knight while mounting his horse. He led the way with Merlin riding beside him and the knights behind. Sir Winston followed right after, with a scowl marring his face and Samuel rode behind him. Aldwin was on Gerrick's right and Eadric on the left- his face remained neutral but he allowed himself to feel just a little excited about the hunt. He was looking forward to an afternoon of good-natured competition.
Unfortunately, the competition turned out to be not so good-natured, when after just an hour into the forest, Aldwin was dearly wishing to pry Winston limb from limb. Gerrick of course, was laughing at both the infuriated Aldwin and at Winston, who was alternating between reciting lines of maudlin romantic poetry to himself and regaling the youngest knight about how green he was. Eadric proved himself to be smarter than Aldwin thought by walking several paces ahead of them, trailing behind Arthur and Merlin.
They had left the horses behind when the trees had gotten too dense and they were now in one of the oldest parts of the forest. The ground was still damp from yesterday's heavy storm, the canopy not allowing much sun to seep through. But there were divots in the ground where the rainwater had run down the slight slope. Arthur was still looking for tracks on the shadowed ground and Winston had finally shut up when Aldwin had finally pinned him with a ferocious glare. There was silence for only a few precious moments when Gerrick came beside Aldwin and whispered in his ear.
"Psst Aldwin... you're so green, you have a sheen. On your face that is not clean!" He laughed and didn't stop.
"My face is clean!" Aldwin hissed.
"I daresay it is not pristine," Gerrick snickered.
"Be quiet back there!" Arthur ordered.
"For we need to find a hare," Gerrick said with a straight face. Behind Arthur, Merlin snorted and stole a glance at the oblivious Winston. Arthur sent Gerrick a warning look which only made the knight duck his head to hide his smile.
"But my name isn't Eric," Gerrick grinned, referring to the quietest knight in Camelot and the five kingdoms, according to Gerrick.
"Why is it you are rhyming when you talk?" Winston asked the blonde knight with a sneer on his face.
Gerrick's smile turned sly. "It is a challenge that I must stalk!"
"That's it!" Arthur called when he picked his way past a large crevice on the ground. "You can help Merlin muck out the horses when we get back."
"What?" Gerrick asked aghast. "But- but it is a talent that I lack!" He then couldn't stop laughing. A smile was grudgingly worming its way on Arthur's face. Eadric chortled at Gerrick who was wiping away a tear from his eye.
"Those are not even good rhymes! Sometimes I wonder about you, Gerrick," Aldwin told him with a dark eyebrow raised. Samuel allowed himself to smile briefly and Winston sneered.
Gerrick straightened and his laughs faded. "Only sometimes?"
Arthur rolled his eyes from where he stood. "Alright, now that you're done, what's say we actually hunt?"
"Yes Sire!" The knights coursed and Merlin gave a loud sigh. The prince eyed him before turning and starting to walk away. But then he stopped when the ominous sound of groaning wood rang loudly through the forest. Everyone looked around when the splintering became louder and extended, and snapping branches could be heard between loud cracks of old wood.
"Sire!" Samuel called out and stared at the tilting poplar tree Arthur was in the path of. The rotten tree gave out one last snap before plummeting downward. The prince was stunned to stillness as were the rest of the knights, but there was one person who acted.
"Arthur!" Merlin yelled and charged toward him. He threw himself into Arthur and was able to send him sprawling forward. The prince recoiled off the ground the same time as the tree did. The sound was deafening. Aldwin could not see over the tree and he was the first one to start towards it. He saw Arthur scramble to his knees and the naked fear flashing in his eyes. Aldwin's mouth went dry for some reason upon seeing that Merlin's legs were completely under the tree. He had his hands over his head and was not moving. Aldwin vaulted over the tree and knelt before Merlin beside Arthur.
"I'm alright!" Merlin called and stared up at the still stunned Arthur. He wormed his way from under the tree. "Lucky that hole was there. But now my breaches are wet." Merlin began to chuckle, which quickly converted into relieved laughter while staring at the deep divot running through the ground and under the fallen tree, right where his legs had been and saved them from being crushed.
The prince spluttered and sprang up to spin Merlin bodily around. When the servant continued to laugh giddily Arthur took a step back.
"I think we can say that is a small price to pay," Arthur breathed, "what luck."
"Are you both alright?" Gerrick asked and looked them over. Arthur nodded dumbly while Merlin flashed a brilliant grin at him. "Good, because you gave me a fright!"
The prince glared at him, making Gerrick feel like the fallen tree between them wasn't there. He had the grace to grin sheepishly, causing both Aldwin and Eadric to smirk at him.
The burly knight gave a laugh. "You're surprisingly brave for a servant," he noted and stared at Merlin like he had something on his thin face.
"Em...thank you?" Merlin scratched his head.
Samuel cleared his throat and looked to the prince. "Did you want to head back to Camelot, Sire?"
Instead of answering, Arthur asked Merlin a question. "Are you alright?"
Merlin nodded and grinned hopefully at Arthur. "Though, if you want to thank me for saving your life, we can go back now."
The prince raised a golden eyebrow at Merlin and clapped his shoulder. "We're moving to a different part of the forest!" The servant gave a half hearted groan before following Arthur back to the horses. Gerrick had roped Eadric into a conversation and Samuel followed quietly. Both Aldwin and Winston were staring at the back of Merlin's head- the youngest knight, with something akin to wonder while Winston's was more of a glare.
Aldwin had to give Merlin credit, he was made of sturdier stuff than some knights it seemed. Certainly more than Winston whom he didn't trust as far as he could throw, fellow knight or not. But Merlin was still a servant which propriety dictated he should trust less. Aldwin scowled, feeling shame of thinking a servant more worthy of a brother in arms and then he scowled deeper of thinking Merlin worthy. As if the boy could actually do anything. And then the image of Merlin tackling Arthur out of the way of a tree that would have killed him if not for sheer luck, caused him to do something he hadn't done since Gerrick got him drunk when he was fourteen and Gerrick eighteen.
"Bloody hell," he swore under his breath.
Up ahead, Gerrick straightened like a hunting dog sniffing blood. He turned back and his eyebrows were hidden in his straw coloured fringe. Aldwin rolled his dark eyes, impressed but unsurprised that his friend had heard him. The lithe knight clapped a frankly relieved looking Eadric on the shoulder and fell back to walk with Aldwin. Gerrick flashed Winston an obnoxious grin which prompted the handsome knight to scoff and flick back his long russet hair, walking ahead to get away from them. He stiffened as he felt Aldwin's heavy stare at his back.
"Swearing, Winny? What would you do if your sweet little brothers heard you?"
"They are not here, are they?" Aldwin snapped and glanced moodily into the trees. "And don't call me that."
Gerrick's smile became wicked. "But a little bird might tell them."
"You're not going near them."
"Are you still angry about us hiding your love letter to Morgana? You never send them anyway," Gerrick said quietly.
Aldwin stopped dead and glowered at him and Gerrick was rewarded by seeing his face redden. "No! And- and no!"
Gerrick just kept grinning which set Aldwin going. "You're corrupting them! Hadwyn and Edwin especially. You three had no right!"
"Now, now," Gerrick chided lightly, "Hadwyn is unfortunately becoming another you, you don't need to worry about him."
"And Edwin?" Aldwin narrowed his eyes.
"It was his idea," Gerrick laughed loudly earning a reproaching glare to be sent his way from Arthur.
"What is with you today, Gerrick?" The prince called back, avoiding a rabbit hole even as his head was turned. Merlin turned to look with a crooked smile tugging at his lips and he was not as lucky as the prince at avoiding a fall. Winston was the only one to send him a disparaging look as he fell among the ferns.
"I'm afraid I don't know what you mean, Sire," Gerrick said confusedly. Everyone but Merlin rolled their eyes. The servant had a surprised look on his face along with his smile. He rushed up and fell into step behind the prince, brushing damp dirt off his shirt but only smearing it in further.
"It's little Aldwin," Eadric boomed, "ever since he joined the ranks, Gerrick can't seem to help himself!"
Aldwin puffed out his chest and straightened his back, his jaw working as he refrained from potentially interrupting the prince. Beside Arthur, Merlin scratched the back of his head self consciously and found a twig nestled in his locks.
"I think you're right, Eadric," Arthur considered.
"Perhaps you should separate them, Sire," Winston flashed his pearly white teeth in a grin.
"Nonsense, I would be foolish to do so. You can't deny they fight brilliantly together," the prince said distractedly as he flung overhanging branches out of his way and into Merlin's.
Gerrick could practically feel the heat from the glow of pride emanating from Aldwin. "Why thank you, Sire!" Gerrick threw in a flourishing bow to the amusement of Aldwin, Eadric, and Merlin. Samuel frowned at him and Winston curled his lip sourly while Arthur just shook his head.
"Honestly, how about a little less of your jokes and a bit more hunting," Arthur stated and moved into a silent gait. Gerrick's smile dropped into a pout, clearly offended that the prince would call his antics jokes when no laughs were uttered- his lips twitching from restraining an actual joke with a punch line. Aldwin punched him in the shoulder and followed Arthur's lead while ignoring his friend's look that promised his slip up was not forgotten.
The knights moved silently through the trees with Merlin following loudly along. Their hunt took an upwards turn and throughout it Aldwin covertly observed the prince's servant whose stumbles were only accidental half the time. They returned to Camelot just after noon, earlier than usual and with an admirable prize of game.
"Alright, Gerrick you have stable duty. The rest of you are dismissed," Arthur said while climbing down from his horse.
"Even me?" Merlin asked jokingly.
"Really?" Merlin's eyebrows shot upward. He waited atop his horse for the prince's answer.
"No." Arthur hid a smile.
Merlin grumbled good naturedly and took the reins to Arthur's horse. Servants came running to help the other knights.
"Sire! The king requires your presence, my lord," one of them told him with a bow.
The prince nodded and turned to Merlin. "The stables can wait, you need to get me ready."
"Yes, Sire." Merlin said enthusiastically, always willing to put off stable duty for as long as possible. He gave Aldeib's reins to a waiting servant and loped off after the prince. The knights dispersed and Aldwin and Eadric momentarily joined forces to tease Gerrick about his punishment on their way to the castle.
Winston walked off separately, choosing to glare at Merlin's retreating back with his blue eyes flashing in disgust. The servant and prince were walking side by side, an occurrence that had been happening more often recently. The knight frowned. If the boy insisted on persisting with his unacceptable behaviour, Winston decided he might just have to step in. The thought caused an unkind smirk to grow on his lips.
Sorry for the slowness, but introductions are important! I promise it gets better. Hope you guys enjoyed it, and see you all in a few days with the next chapter. There's going to be five in all.
Please don't forget to review :)