A Speech for the Guild of Harness Polishers

By: mshutts

Disclaimer: I own no one herein.

oOo

A/N: This one is an off-shoot of the speech Arthur is supposed to give to the Guild of Harness (?) Polishers that Merlin mentions in 4x7.

oOo

Sometimes Arthur really hated being king. Don't get him wrong, it had its perks. But when it came to things like this… ugh. He hated memorizing speeches with a passion. 'At least I don't have to write them,' he thought with a smirk.

That was one good thing about having Merlin as his manservant. The man may be the clumsiest idiot in the world, but Arthur had to admit Merlin had a real way with words when he felt like it. Although, looking at this speech's length, he found himself wishing his manservant was a bit less wordy. But even as he thought it, he realized that if he didn't use Merlin's speech, he would have to write one of his own. He considered it for a moment and then rejected the idea outright. He didn't know anything about polishing let alone polishing—he rechecked the speech, harnesses.

For a moment his mind wandered to, 'Why do we even HAVE a Guild of Harness Polishers? Are we talking about horse harnesses? Is there any other type of harness out there? Do horse harnesses honestly need specialized enough treatment that we need an entire GUILD simply for the purpose of polishing them? It can't take that long, what do they do with the rest of their time? *sigh* I wish I had some free time. I know, I'll schedule a hunt—' before he abruptly stopped that train of thought.

Shaking his head, he sternly reminded himself that he had to memorize this speech right now. He only had a couple hours left before he had to give it. He gave one last idle thought to what Merlin might be doing since he hadn't seen him since this morning before forcing his attention back to the speech, no matter how much he didn't want to memorize it.

oOo

Merlin, meanwhile, had been very productive in his absence. He had been spending the morning tracking down random servants and even a few of the villagers and telling them that the King wished to give them a speech that afternoon. Many of them had looked at him incredulously or in disbelief. Several of them had apologized profusely but pointed out that they had duties to perform and would unfortunately have to miss the speech. However, Merlin was able to find a good dozen people who had agreed to come to the specified place at the specified time.

Satisfied with his work, Merlin went back upstairs to his master's bedroom to see how Arthur was coming along on with memorizing the speech. As he had hoped, his friend was busy staring at the piece of paper Merlin had left and trying his hardest to get it all down in time for the presentation.

With a hidden smirk, Merlin walked over to the armoire and began to look for something that looked suitably pompous. As he was looking, Merlin thought, 'If the King is going to give a speech, he needs to look the part,' before almost losing it then and there. The next thought to cross his mind was, 'Arthur is going to kill me. He really is this time.'

After having selected something appropriate Merlin walked over to his friend and cleared his throat. As he saw the blonde's tired eyes alight on him, he almost felt sorry for what he was doing. But then he firmly reminded himself that Arthur had brought this on himself.

He had been forced to follow George around for an entire week. An entire week of being told the most efficient way to do this and the proper way to do that. A week of not being able to use magic to do any of his chores. A week of being forced to wake at the crack of dawn so that he could be done with half his daily chores before even going to wake Arthur and not only that, but they had to be done to George's exacting standards. A week of BRASS jokes. 'Oh, yes,' Merlin thought vindictively. 'Arthur deserves this and more.'

oOo

Arthur had, of course, noticed when Merlin came in, but thought nothing of it. Merlin tended to wander in and out of his chambers at will at all hours of the day and night. To be honest, he no longer even registered Merlin's presence in his room on a conscious level half the time any more. With anyone else it would scare him, but he trusted Merlin.

But when Merlin suddenly came over to him holding an outfit and cleared his throat, Arthur was immediately wary. Something was up. Merlin never thought ahead to pulling out an outfit for the speech before he told him to. And so, he questioned it.

"What's all this then?"

"Your clothes for the speech this afternoon, sire," replied Merlin.

Arthur narrowed his eyes at him. Something was off, but he couldn't quite tell what it was. Instead of trying to call him on it though, he asked, "When did you suddenly become almost competent?"

He could see the possible answers flick behind his friend's eyes in an instant before Merlin said, "You did have me follow George around for a week. I guess some of him must have rubbed off on me."

"I see," Arthur said, though he wasn't buying it for a second. But even if he knew something was up, he didn't have time to do anything about it, much as he hated to admit it, Merlin was right he really did need to get dressed.

Instead, he stepped back from the table and, spreading his arms, said, "Well, what are you waiting for? Prove your competence."

oOo

It took almost no time to get Arthur into the outfit Merlin had chosen for him to wear for this particular speech. And it looked every bit as pompous on Arthur as Merlin had thought it would.

As they were leaving the room, Merlin asked his king, "So, did you finish memorizing the speech, sire?"

Arthur immediately answered, "Of course I did, Merlin. Some of us actually have to be proficient at our jobs." in such an arrogant way Merlin knew the real answer was closer to: "Of course I haven't finished memorizing it, that thing was insanely long, but I figure I can just wing it, it's not like I'm entertaining dignitaries or something."

Rather than pointing this out, however, Merlin said, "Whatever you say, sire. They are quite looking forward to hearing from you."

"Of course they are. I'm the king," Arthur said imperiously, walking quickly to the hall where he was to address the Guild.

Merlin simply followed behind, rolling his eyes and muttering, "Prat," under his breath with a small, affectionate smile.

As they entered the room, Merlin looked out at the random group of people who were present. Not a one of them had any idea as to why the King of all people wanted to speak to them. Merlin found an unobtrusive corner and stood there, partly to be out of the way, but mostly so that if he lost it there was a chance Arthur wouldn't notice.

oOo

Arthur looked out at the faces in front of him. He tried very hard not to show his confusion. But the truth was, he was finding it difficult to believe these people made up the Guild of Harness Polishers.

While it was true that he had never even heard of the guild before today and wouldn't know how to state the characteristics of the members even in theory if asked, this group just FELT wrong. He wasn't even sure why. He turned a quick glance to Merlin who gave him an encouraging 'go ahead' nod and smile before turning back to the members of the guild.

Feeling more out of place than he normally did when giving a speech, Arthur cleared his throat and began, "Greetings Guild of Harness Polishers. I am here today to thank you for all the hard work and dedication—"

As Arthur continued the speech, or what he could remember of it anyway, he continued to feel out of place. In fact, the more time he stood in front of them, the more out of place he felt. Where he was expecting recognition, he was finding blank looks. Where he was looking for pride, he was seeing confusion.

Feeling more and more uncomfortable, he flicked another glance back to Merlin. Upon looking at his manservant's covered mouth and silent shaking with closed eyes, it all fell into place. He had been set up.

He forced his mind away from promises of death for his soon to be deceased manservant and turned back to the poor people Merlin had apparently roped into this. Who knew what he'd told them, they looked as confused as he felt.

And so, making a quick decision, Arthur concluded the speech by giving general thanks for their work in helping keep the kingdom run and dismissed them.

After the room was clear, he turned back to the orchestrator of this mess. Merlin. It seemed he had finally sobered up and discovered some sort of self-preservation instinct as he was backing up towards a door making vague comments about having places to be and things to do.

Arthur stalked towards him like a predator hunting its prey, "Merlin. There's no such thing as a Guild of Harness Polishers is there?"

"Um, no," Merlin answered, scratching behind his ear sheepishly.

"Who the hell did I just address?"

"Ah, a couple of servants from the kitchens, a few villagers, a couple laundresses, and several chamber maids."

Arthur looked at him in disbelief, "Have any of them even TOUCHED a harness before?"

"Probably not."

"And there I was giving them a whole speech on it."

"To be fair, you didn't actually give the whole speech," Merlin pointed out.

"You made me look like an idiot! How am I supposed to have my people's respect if they think I'm an incompetent moron?" Arthur shouted.

"Now, Arthur, I'm sure it's not that bad," Merlin tried to soothe.

Arthur was having none of it. "Yes, it is! What possessed you to do such a thing? I know you're an idiot but you're normally not this bad!"

"You made me shadow George!"

"So you ruin my reputation?" Arthur shouted, exasperated.

"Stop being so dramatic. I didn't ruin your reputation. And if it matters to you that much, I'll go track all of them down and tell them it was a prank."

"Yes, you will do that. And then, when you're done with that, you will go into the stocks until I decide you can come out."

"The stocks? I haven't been in the stocks in ages!"

"Maybe it's about time to revisit an old friend then, hmm?"

At this point Merlin decided it wasn't worth it to test Arthur's patience any longer and left to go track down those he had talked to earlier, muttering under his breath the whole way.

Arthur, meanwhile, had practically run the whole way back to his chambers. As soon as he arrived, he locked the door and quickly changed back into his normal clothes. He had never been so embarrassed. He couldn't believe he had been taken in by this trick. He had known there was something fishy about it and yet had said and done nothing.

Well, this could not stand. He had to do something to retaliate. The stocks weren't enough, no, Arthur needed to get revenge. And since Merlin had already opened the field by getting the servants and townspeople involved in his charade, it would be perfectly just and equitable to get the knights involved in his revenge. Now he just had to figure out what it was going to be.

oOo

Hmm, this got a bit away from me.

Initially, it was just a reaction to my disbelief in the existence of a Guild of Harness Polishers. So then the question became why would Merlin make it up? Well obviously it was payback for the George thing in the previous episode.

The end, however, got high jacked by Arthur. He decided his integrity in front of the people had been damaged and refused to let it go making this a much more serious fic than had be originally intended.

So what had initially been a 'fill-in-the-blank', 'what if?' story now seems to be bringing up all sorts of trust issues. It even has me debating if I should write another chapter for this fic because I'm getting the uncomfortable feeling that I damaged the relationship between our two favorite boys.

I don't know right now. I would love to hear your thoughts however.