Disclaimer: I don't own BBC Merlin. Just my OC's
A/N- o.O 110 reviews? YAAAA! I'll go do a happy dance while you rock stars read the chapter :D
One final hand for Paralelsky for being the best beta ever! Seriously folks, she helped a lot.
Two knights stood in the center of the arena, the whistling wind battering their crimson tabards. Aldwin looked to be carved of stone as he glared at the older knight who was superciliously adjusting his gloves. The sun hid behind murky clouds, keeping its heat to itself for the day. The stands were filled mostly with knights, eager to see the outcome of the match.
Everyone knew the cause of it.
Bets had been issued and the majority favoured Winston for his superior skill, though most here heavily disliked him. There were many mutterings as Aldwin and Winston waited to begin, about the severity of Merlin's injuries. Some were saying that they couldn't be that bad, but they were shut down by those pointing out that Aldwin had started a duel over it. The watching knights closest to the bottom made sure their voices were hushed in respect or fear of Gaius who sat beside Sirs Gerrick and Cadmon. When a theory was voiced that Merlin was dead, Gaius turned to raise an admonishing eye brow. The knights then fell silent like scolded children.
"Hm," Gerrick mused, "if Merlin was dead, I don't think dear Princeton would be standing right now." Beside him, Cadmon and Gaius shared a dark look. The noise of the gates opening captured the attention of everyone and they looked as a group to see Prince Arthur and Merlin - who was in fact not dead.
Voices broke out once more upon seeing the servant's face which was half covered in bruises and scrapes. Red imprints were also visible peeking above Merlin's neckerchief and his right arm was held loosely in a sling. And all the men here knew what a wounded gait looked like and could guess there were other injures under Merlin's clothes. That added to the rumours, had the knights mutter in disapproval of Winston's conduct, even those who did not like the servant.
Arthur stopped before his seat and motioned Merlin to join Gaius. The servant complied with a nod and walked the short distance to the physician. "How are you feeling, Merlin?" Gaius asked.
"No different than fifteen minutes ago," Merlin told him with a small smile. "Hello, my lords." He nodded to Gerrick and Cadmon while sitting down stiffly.
"Merlin," the knights responded.
Any potential small talk was cut off as Arthur addressed the two knights in the arena. He stood beside a seated Morgana who had not taken her furious eyes off of Winston except to smile at Merlin when he walked in. The lady had even given Aldwin a favour, the blue fabric was wound in his chainmail and he had accepted with a bow. Merlin's face reddened when he remembered what Gwen had told him- Morgana had visited the dungeons last night to tear Winston a new one for daring to harm her friend. After Arthur was done with him of course. Merlin noticed with a smirk that Winston was avoiding eye contact with both of them.
"You know the conditions of this fight," Arthur began and then glared daggers at Winston. "First clean hit wins, and you are not to deliver fatal blows." He took a seat and let the arena wait for a heartbeat.
Aldwin's grin could be seen from under his helmet and the knights wasted no time in circling each other. He spun his gleaming sword in his hand as Winston opened his mouth. "Don't think you can beat me, boy. I have years of experience over you."
Aldwin's eyes glittered from behind the visor. "And I will show you exactly what those years were worth." With those words, Aldwin advanced like a striking snake, the speed making Winston's eyes widen. Their swords met in a pulse of steel before the youngest knight started his assault. Their audience leaned forward in interest, ignoring Gerrick's commentary. Winston was kept on the defensive and given no quarter, a fact that impressed those who still thought Aldwin a rookie.
"Damn it," Gerrick swore quietly, and Merlin tensed just as the match turned around. Winston ducked from under a swing and pushed Aldwin back so he almost lost his balance. Before he had time to recover, Winston stabbed at Aldwin's head. The young knight blocked it just like Winston was counting on and he took the chance to kick Aldwin's legs from under him. He landed on his back and lost his helmet- the knights in the stands roaring in protest when Winston plunged his blade toward his chest with force meant to maim. But with a speed that belied his muscular build, Aldwin rolled backward and onto his feet. "Ha! I taught him that!" Gerrick announced to no one in particular.
Aldwin and Winston started to circle each other once more, regaining their breath. The older knight made no move to take off his helmet, something which Morgana complained about to Arthur. The prince nodded and narrowed his eyes at Winston but remained silent. This time it was Winston who attacked first and Aldwin agilely dodged backwards. Unfortunately that was all he was able to do, as there were no openings in which to attack. At the corner of his vision he spotted his helmet and managed to narrowly avoid Winston's sword to dive for it. In a move that no one except perhaps Gerrick anticipated, Aldwin seized the helmet and whipped it toward Winston. It crashed into his head with a clang that sent him off balance and twisted the knight's own helmet to the side. Winston's feet got tangled and he crashed to the ground, but Aldwin having a point to prove, waited for him to get up.
"That is how a proper knight acts!" Gerrick stood up and shook his fist. Cadmon was quick to haul him back down. Once Winston was on his feet, he took off his helmet and glared at Aldwin between damp locks of hair stuck to his face.
Winston scoffed, "Children throw things. You are not a knight. One can only hope your brothers learn better... Oh, I forgot, daddy dearest isn't around anymore."
Aldwin paled in anger. "Knights have honour," he retorted coolly, "therefore neither are you. And my father is still alive, thank you."
"Not for long though, his illness will kill him like the sorry fool he is."
The audience watched as Aldwin surged forward with a furious snarl, but once again played into Winston's hands. He deflected Aldwin's overbalanced shot and turned on the offensive. The young knight did all he could to stay on his toes but could tell he was losing. At the far end of the arena Aldwin glimpsed Merlin sitting rigidly with a tense look on his face. What hit Aldwin and almost made him lose his sword was that there was no doubt on the servant's face. It was like how one of his little brothers would look at him and Aldwin would rather die than fail any of them. With a rush of anger and righteousness he spun in a narrow parry and elbowed Winston in the chin. Before the second was over, Aldwin disarmed Winston and pressed his sword against the man's chainmail. The older knight froze and boisterous cheers erupted in the stands despite the fact that many had lost their wagers.
The youngest knight withdrew his sword and smirked. "Not much of a boy now, am I?" He said smugly before turning to the prince. "And one more comment about my father and I will kill you where you stand," he hissed. Winston was tense with fury but chose not to comment. Both men were out of breath as they waited for Arthur to speak. He was now standing and motioning the knights in the stands to quiet down.
"Congratulations, Sir Aldwin. I am proud to have you among our ranks. However you, Winston, disgust me." The losing knight's expression grew more resentful as Arthur listed his faults to the particular pleasure of Morgana who was smiling dangerously.
Winston it seemed, had no response and had the sense to keep his eyes on the ground. Aldwin's face was blank but any who cared to look saw the pride and not a little bit of smugness dancing in his eyes.
"Now, Sir Aldwin," Prince Arthur addressed him, "if you have a penalty in mind, I am sure we would all love to hear it."
A smile worked its way onto Aldwin's lips. "Actually, Sire I believe I do," he answered pleasantly. The young knight turned to regard Winston and his smile turned dark. "You're going to love it."
Winston could no longer control his anger and unleashed it in a sudden punch. Aldwin's head snapped to the side and he had to take a step back to keep his footing. Boos and jeers erupted in the stands though Winston paid it no heed and surged toward the younger knight. Aldwin revealed his face which had a bleeding gash on the side thanks to Winston's gauntlet. He removed his own quickly and leveled Winston's surprised face with a bare knuckle fist. The knight went flying backward and met the ground harshly. Within seconds Arthur sent two knights to converge on Winston to restrain him. Sir Eadric was one of them and he had no trouble keeping Winston restrained, even giving him a swat to the back of the head which made Winston see stars. The other, Sir Leon, let Eadric take care of Winston and settled for standing imposingly between them and Aldwin.
"You alright?" Leon asked the youngest knight.
"Of course," Aldwin nodded and picked up the gauntlet at his feet.
"Good man. Ah, look out behind you."
He looked to see Gerrick sauntering toward them. The way his custom smile stretched across his face let Aldwin know he was anything but pleased. The dark haired knight placed a hand on his friend's shoulder as he tried to pass. Gerrick's grey eyes flashed in a silent protest but he inhaled and stared at Winston.
"My, Winston, you don't seem very popular this morning. Not too many of us are pleased." Gerrick was prone to pointless chatter but when he issued a threat, his tone and bearing made his meaning clear.
"I'm not scared of you!" Winston growled.
"Then you are a fool," Gerrick frowned coldly.
They all looked as Arthur approached. The prince's face was hard as stone and his lips were pointed downward. He let his gaze be felt before speaking so the whole arena could hear. "In addition to whatever is to be your punishment, you are to be stripped of your knighthood, Winston."
"Over a servant?" Winston loudly exclaimed. In the stands, Merlin's eyes widened and the desire to sink into his seat overtook him as all eyes glanced toward him.
"Over your conduct!" Arthur snarled. "Take him to the dungeons, I have no wish to look upon him," he told Eadric with a wave of his hand.
"Yes, Sire," Eadric grinned and all too readily trapped Winston's hands in irons. Beside him, Leon led the way, ready but not expecting to help. After they were gone, the knights in the stands filed out as well, many sending words of praise to Aldwin.
The prince turned to his youngest knight and smiled. "Good work, now go have Gaius look at that- you are bleeding everywhere."
"Yes Sire, thank you," Aldwin bowed before turning to the gates where the physician and Merlin were waiting. He was intercepted by Morgana though and was given a silk handkerchief that he was not allowed to refuse. Under her insistence he stemmed the blood flow from the gash on his cheek. Arthur and Gerrick could not hear their words as they walked away but could tell the knight was flustered.
"That's Aldwin for you," Gerrick laughed, "can win a duel against a senior knight but can't be charming to save his life. I've failed."
Arthur made a non committal hum and watched the servants clear away the remains of the fight. He started walking now that he was far enough away from Merlin and addressed the lean knight beside him. "Has Aldwin confided his plans to you?"
"He's not very creative, I put an idea in his head though," Gerrick spoke around a grin.
"The Northern Plains are not that pleasant. I'm not sure Princeton would like it very much if he were to join the mining effort."
The prince held in a laugh. "Unfortunately my father will not allow a noble to be treated so lowly... He can however join the guards. I know the garrison commander, and he owes me a favour or two."
A sly smile entered Gerrick's eyes. "A favour to make Winston's stay less than bearable?"
Arthur's answer was to give a smirk of his own.
The knock resounded in the quiet corridor and Merlin questioned not for the last time the soundness of his decision. He stood a little nervously outside Sir Aldwin's chambers and was almost disappointed when the knight's voice bid him to enter. Merlin licked his lips and opened the door, striding in and leaving his reservations outside.
Aldwin looked up from stashing a letter in the desk drawer.
"Sir Aldwin," Merlin gave him a respectful nod, choosing not to bow since his stomach was still quite sore. He took a cursory glance of the chambers and was marginally surprised to find them emptier than those of most nobles. It probably meant that his family had quarters somewhere in the city then.
"Oh, Merlin," Aldwin said as if his presence was a pleasant surprise, "what can I do for you?"
The servant produced a bottle of ointment from his jacket pocket and presented it to the knight. "For that cut, Gaius doesn't want it getting infected." Merlin inspected Aldwin's cheek with a practiced eye and found the gash healing as it should.
"Thank you," Aldwin nodded and took the bottle. He looked at it without much interest before setting it on his desk and looking back at Merlin.
There was silence as the warlock rushed to sort out his words. "And I wanted to- to thank you for... well what you did."
A smile formed on Aldwin's lips. "It was a pleasure. Winston deserved what he got; I only wish I arrived there sooner." His smile disappeared upon remembering what would have happened if he got to the armory moments after. "Listen Merlin," he began and stopped to gather his thoughts.
For his part, Merlin stood straighter with his eye brows slightly raised.
Aldwin glanced at him and looked like he refrained himself from pacing. "About how I acted towards you before, I-"
"It's fine," Merlin interrupted with a grin, "really."
Arthur would have taken the olive branch Merlin offered him but Aldwin shook his head and ploughed on. It appeared that he would say what he needed to, no matter how embarrassing it was.
"No it's not. I need to apologize. I realize there is a difference between nobles and servants but I acted like a complete... prat, is your term for it, I think. Take my brothers for example: if they had acted like I did to anyone I would have had their heads. There is a general unspoken rule about being an ass, you know. "
Merlin could not help but laugh. "I appreciate that. It's lucky they have a good example in you."
"I hope so," Aldwin agreed and the corners of his eyes tightened fractionally. He then shook his head, which flopped his bark coloured hair around. "Well that's settled then."
"Not quite," Merlin decided. He strode to Aldwin and offered his hand. "I'm Merlin, pleased to make your acquaintance."
Aldwin mimicked the mischievous grin on Merlin's face and replied in kind. "Aldwin. And the pleasure is all mine." They shook hands and Merlin then took his leave with a smile.
If anyone had told him the previous week that he and Sir Aldwin would be on friendly terms, he would have heartily laughed in their face. Never mind that in time, the knight was to become one of his greatest friends, and Merlin his.
But for now, the warlock was just a little stumped that they were talking amicably at all.
And that's it! I really hoped you guys enjoyed the story. Thanks so much for reading :D
Cmb- Thank you for reviewing :D And I'm happy you liked it!
Snowy midnight 942- The question is who doesn't like protective Arthur? Thanks for reviewing! And I hope you enjoyed this chapter too :)
CM- Lol Arthur trumps all. Except for Merlin. Thanks for your kind review :D