A/N: Hello my fabulous readers! Here is a BRAND NEW multi-chapter fic that has nothing to do with my three-part ASG series. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, no worries. It holds no bearing on this fic.)
Inspiration for this fic? Easy! Gwaine is my favorite knight (Currently. That may change to Percival. We'll see what happens in season 5…) and I realized that I've never really written an in-depth Gwaine story! Shame on me! He usually just pops up in my fics for his awesome hilarity. But I figure it was time to give him a leading role.
This idea has been floating around in my head for a while, so I really hope you like it!
Set after Season 4.
And here we go!
Merlin had particular difficulty getting up this morning.
He'd been up late, reading his spell book and trying out a few new, small things while Gaius was asleep. Then, when he'd at last stored the book underneath the floorboards again and lay down, sleep eluded him for a couple long hours anyway. When he finally did get to sleep, he was cursed with strange dreams that made absolutely no sense and that he forgot upon awakening.
So when Gaius came up and yanked his blanket off with a loud declaration that he'd be later than usual if he didn't get up, all Merlin wanted to do was turn over, bury his head again, go back to sleep, and stay there all day.
Later that day, he'd wish he had done just that.
Instead, he got out of bed, quickly dressed, grabbed an apple on the way out, and made his way down to the kitchens.
By the time he at last made it to the royal chambers, Arthur and Guinevere were, unfortunately, already awake.
"Good morning, Merlin," Gwen greeted cheerfully while she continued to make the bed.
"Gwen, you know that's my job, don't you?" Merlin pointed out as he set the tray down on the table, now loaded with twice as much food as he'd grown used to carrying over the years.
"Yes, Guinevere, and you know how much Merlin loves doing his chores, so we'd hate to deprive him of the opportunity," Arthur pointed out. He turned to Merlin. "Where have you been? You're even later than usual."
"Oh as if you're not used to it," Merlin retorted. "Besides, at least you're able to dress yourself after all these years."
"I've always been able to dress myself!" Arthur defended. "I just shouldn't have to."
"And he didn't today, either," Gwen pointed out, coming over now that the bed was finished. "I had to help him when his button got stuck." She stood on tiptoe and kissed his cheek.
"That is beside the point!" Arthur shouted indignantly.
Gwen and Merlin both laughed, Merlin with a sly smirk that said See? "Just come get breakfast, Arthur," Gwen said as she took her own seat. "Merlin, come join us."
Merlin shook his head, as he had so many times before. Once in a while he took her up on her offer, just to annoy Arthur, but he always planned ahead for that and brought extra food—a tidbit that had not gone unnoticed by the king.
But Arthur did take his seat. Merlin glanced around to see what other of his morning chores Guinevere had already done. Mornings were so much nicer now that she was queen. Spotting the un-stoked fire, Merlin went to work stirring up the flames to get rid of the morning chill in the room.
"Remember, Merlin, Lord Nigel arrives today, you'll need to be there with me to greet him."
"Really?" Merlin asked in mock surprise. "Are you sure about that? I don't remember you mentioning it," he finished sarcastically. "Not at training, or at dinner last night, or when you had me prepare the guest chambers at the furthest corner of the palace." Arthur picked up his empty goblet and chucked it at Merlin's head for his insolence. Merlin, back to him as he continued to stoke the fire, didn't see it and took a clang to the back of the head.
"Ouch!" He rounded on the king and glared. "Arthur!"
"Oh, oops? Did my goblet slip from my hand again?"
In truth, Arthur had complained ceaselessly about the lord since he got the letter announcing Nigel's intent to visit, nearly three weeks ago. A minor lord and a butt-kisser, Nigel had been disliked since back in Uther's time.
Well, Merlin thought to himself, at least there won't be any trouble. Just annoyance. And that he was used to on a daily basis.
He picked up the basket of dirty clothes that Guinevere had already piled together and made his exit, giving a cheerful farewell to the queen and purposefully ignoring the prat.
Several corridors later and two floors down, Merlin rounded a corner and was violently smacked into, dropping the basket and landing on the ground with a painful thud.
"Merlin!" A familiar voice called down to him. "Hide me!"
Merlin peered up at Gwaine and groaned. "Nice to see you, too," he muttered.
"I'm serious! Hide me! Percival's out for blood!"
"What did you do this time?" Merlin droned as he stood up. It wasn't easy to anger the even-tempered Percival.
"A harmless little prank which he took way too seriously. Now, help!"
With a grin, Merlin pulled Gwaine several feet back down the hallway, opened a door, and shoved him in. He returned to his basket and picked it up just as heavy footsteps announced the arrival of Arthur's largest knight. Percival came barreling around the corner.
Merlin did a double take as Percival stopped short in front of him. Percival's bare arms, neck, and the right side of his face was covered in a slight, red rash.
"Merlin! Have you seen Gwaine?"
Merlin innocently shook his head. "Nope, not on this corridor. Sorry Percival. What did he do to you this time?"
Percival shook his head. "Tell you later," and he ran up the stairs to their right, assuming Gwaine must have gone up that way.
Merlin waited a couple of minutes before backtracking and opening the door.
Several brooms and mops fell out with a clang as they smacked the ground. Gwaine stuck his head out and looked down the hallway. "Is it safe?" he asked.
"He ran up to the next floor," Merlin assured him. As Gwaine came out of the tiny storage room, Merlin picked up the fallen items and carefully restored them. "You put itching powder in his bed?" Merlin asked, grinning broadly. "Don't you think that might have been going a bit far?"
"He dyed my hair pink!" Gwaine shouted in defense. Merlin grinned wider, remembering last week. The pink had faded now, as it had only been a powder Percival had dropped on him from above, but it had taken two days before all the splotches had finally faded.
"And you replaced all his tunics with dresses," Merlin pointed out.
Gwaine grinned. "Many thanks to Sir Leon for that idea. By the way! I have an epic idea for next time! (Because you know Percy's going to retaliate.) But I need an extra pair of hands so—"
"No!" Merlin protested immediately. "There is no way I'm getting on Percival's bad side. This prank war is between you two."
"Oh come on!" he whined. But Merlin nearly smiled, waved, and walked away. "I'll drag you into this eventually!" Gwaine promised before hurrying in the opposite direction.
The day continued normally enough. And hours later found Merlin standing obediently behind Arthur on the castle's main steps as Lord Nigel and his small traveling party arrived.
"It won't be too bad," Merlin muttered, so only Arthur could hear. "He's only here for two weeks."
"He says he's only here for two weeks," Arthur muttered back. "Last time he said that he stayed for a month."
"Well if he's as much of a butt-kisser as you seem to think, you could always use that to your amusement," Merlin pointed out.
A grin tucked at the corner of Arthur's mouth, but he quickly schooled his expression. "That would be improperly taking advantage of him," he pointed out in his most kingly fashion. Merlin merely snorted, and Arthur had to fight even harder not to laugh.
"Lord Nigel," Arthur said at last when the man had dismounted. He descended the steps to shake hands with the lord, Merlin obediently following in his heels. He hated these formal greetings. "I am pleased you were able to come."
When Merlin was on level ground with the man, he noticed that Nigel was a good head shorter than him. His dirty-blonde hair was cut short, which somehow accented the angularity of his face. His brown eyes were framed with heavy eyebrows.
"Your Majesty it is an honor to greet you as my king. I only regret I could not come sooner to offer my personal congratulations, or even attend your coronation."
Merlin wondered vaguely who would "congratulate" someone about his father dying. If he really was a kiss-up, he was a really bad one.
"My thanks for your kind words," Arthur responded. Merlin fought the urge to roll his eyes, knowing his friend was already aggravated and bored to near tears. "You will dine with me tonight, of course? Or would you rather rest from your journey?"
"Oh, no Sire! It would be a great honor to dine with you. I graciously accept." Only Merlin noticed the tiny droop of Arthur's shoulders at the acceptance.
"Wonderful," Arthur lied. "Until then, may I introduce to you my personal manservant, Merlin. He'll be looking out for you during your stay." Merlin sighed inwardly as Nigel's eyes fell on him. He'd suspected as much. But a man could hope, couldn't he? "He'll show you to your chambers." With that, he bid the lord farewell, winked at Merlin when he at last turned his back to Nigel, and strode away with a grin.
Merlin silently took Nigel's two large bags and began to lug them inside, Lord Nigel following silently, at first.
"So how long have you been working for His Majesty?" the lord asked finally, breaking what Merlin had considered a very comfortable silence.
"Over six years," Merlin answered.
"And how long have you lived in Camelot?"
"The same," Merlin responded again. "I was only here for a couple of weeks before I was assigned to Ar—His Majesty."
Nigel's eyes widened. "How did you come by such an honor so shortly?" he asked.
Merlin inwardly sighed. He missed the silence. And his arms were really beginning to ache. These bags were heavy. "I saved his life, actually," was his answer. "Pulled him out of the way of a dagger. His father thought a position in the royal household a suitable reward."
"You must be quite loyal to him."
Merlin merely nodded. At last, they had reached the rooms. He opened the doors and stood back, allowing the lord to enter first before following and depositing the bags at the foot of the bed, relieving his aching shoulders.
"I will return when dinner is ready and guide you to the Dining Hall. In the meantime, is there anything else I can do for you, my lord?" Merlin crossed his fingers behind his back.
"Yes, actually, I need one more small favor, if it's not too much trouble."
"Of course, my lord."
"Close the door, would you? It is a bit sensitive."
The first knot of true worry sank into Merlin's stomach. He hesitated a moment, but then obediently shut the door. He could not disobey a direct command from a noble. He turned, back to the door, hands behind his back, the picture of perfect obedience, and waited.
"I want you to steal the Amulet of Arolygaeth from Camelot's vaults."
Merlin froze, his palms turning sweaty. Then he laughed cautiously, but the lord did not join in his laughter. He did, however, allow a cruel smile to tug at his lips. "My lord?" Merlin questioned.
"I want you to steal the Amulet of Arolygaeth from Camelot's vaults," he repeated.
Merlin's eyes narrowed and backed up a step towards the door. "I am sorry, my lord, but I must decline your request."
"It is not a request, it is an order." Merlin watched Nigel carefully. He held no knives, there was no sword at his waste, Merlin could sense no magic (though that didn't necessarily mean he didn't have any) and he didn't seem like the kind to get his hands dirty by enforcing his orders physically. Though, Merlin supposed, he might have someone else do the dirty work.
"And why should I obey this order?" Merlin asked slowly.
"Because," Nigel began, his grin widening as he took several threatening steps forward until he was nearly nose-to-nose with Merlin, "I know who you are, and I know what you are capable of." Merlin could feel his face pale, but he said nothing. That could mean anything—a bluff, even. "Emrys," he finished.
Merlin's blood froze in his veins.
"And if you do not get me this amulet," Nigel continued, taking the servant's silence as confirmation, "I will go to your king and tell him everything. How do you think he'll react? Hm? Knowing that his servant of six years has been hiding such a dark secret? That he has magic. That he's probably just trying to weasel his way into court to influence him."
Merlin swallowed hard. "I don't know who Emrys is," he lied.
"No? Oh, well then I must have been mistaken, my apologies." He turned and walked several paces away, Merlin remained tense.
Without warning, Nigel swiveled on the spot and shot a blast of energy in Merlin's direction. Instinctively, Merlin brought up a shield and blocked it.
So the lord had magic after all. The attack barely even phased Merlin, though. Whatever magic Nigel had, it was negligible at best.
Nigel did not seem to mind, however. "No. You don't have any magic," he said sarcastically.
"You report me, I'll report you," Merlin said defiantly, taking a defensive stance, trying not to let his trembling show.
Nigel barked a laugh. "And who's word do you think the court will take? That of a servant, or that of a noble lord?"
"Arthur will believe me," Merlin countered automatically. "And he's the only one who matters."
"You, who are so loyal to Arthur. You'd lie to him so openly? If he asked you directly: 'Merlin, do you have magic?' You'd simply say 'No?'" Merlin didn't answer. He didn't know what he would do if Arthur ever bluntly asked him. "And let's suppose for a moment that you do. Let's even suppose that he believes you, and that I'm executed. Arthur's not the only member of court."
"He's the king. He makes the final decisions."
"Arthur's young. He's been king barely a year. His court is still filled with Uther's supporters. No one else at court would ever trust you again. You'd be watched, closely. Maybe even followed. And all it would take would be a single slip up and," he made a slicing motion across his throat. "Some may even go so far as to murder you in a dark corridor, or down in the market, quietly protecting the king from his own naivety. His inexperience."
Merlin couldn't move. He couldn't breathe.
Nigel was right.
"I see you're beginning to see things my way. Good." Nigel stepped forward again. Merlin backed up another step and collided with the door, where Nigel placed his hands on either side of his head, seeming to loom over Merlin's crouched form despite his shorter height. "You have one week."
Merlin swallowed thickly again. "You're leaving in two," he pointed out.
Nigel smiled again. "Yes," he confirmed. "But I have plans for my second week. Oh, and one more rule. You'd better not tell anyone about this conversation." He opened the door, and Merlin stumbled into the hallway. "See you at dinner!" he called cheerfully before closing the door in Merlin's face.
A/N: Dun, dun, DUN! Merlin's got himself in a bit of a pickle, hasn't he? Please let me know what you think so far. Like I said in the beginning, writing Gwaine as a fully-fledged character is a bit new to me, so I'd love some comments.
Thanks for reading!