"I still don't get why you can't just use each other rather than beating the hell out of me," Merlin pants, trying to keep up with Arthur, who isn't struggling to hold his shield up, not to mention correctly, unlike Merlin.
"Because, Merlin," Arthur turns to face him with an unpleasant smile, "you told them about the extra hole in my belt."
"Are you not over that yet?" Merlin questions, throwing his free hand upwards in a dramatic shrug-like gesture.
"No, Merlin, I'm not. And besides, it's good anger management." Arthur smiles and heads off towards his knights. He gives a brief explanation, and although Arthur keeps his back to him throughout he can tell when he's finished, because Gwaine sends him a sympathetic glance, as do the others. First Percival steps up, sword in his right hand.
"Again?" he asks Merlin as he takes up a battle stance.
"He still hasn't let the belt go," Merlin says bitterly, raising the shield.
"For the record, I thought that was pretty hilarious." Percival grins as he strikes the first blow and Merlin automatically covers himself with the shield.
Five minutes – though it feels like five hours to Merlin – later, Arthur calls, "Time!' and Percival stops.
"You're getting better at this, Merlin. You didn't collapse." The big knights looks unthreatening even with the big sword in his hand as he speaks, mainly due to the big grin on his features and the kind emphasis behind the words.
"Yet," Merlin manages in reply. Percival chuckles before jogging off the field.
Ten minutes later, Leon finishes his practiced strokes as Elyan did five minutes earlier before. Arthur calls Gwaine out only to have the reply, "I can't find my sword!" from inside the tent.
Arthur rolls his eyes and looks heavenward before giving the order, "Two of you go help Gwaine and the other time for me, please!"
Percival and Leon go to help Gwaine while Elyan calls, "Start!" and flips the timer.
Thirty seconds after the action begins, the sword is found and the three head outside to watch, joining Elyan.
"I'm impressed," Leon remarks, "Merlin hasn't collapsed yet."
"I think he will soon, considering Arthur," Gwaine points out grimly.
It's true; with each blow Merlin seems to crumple a little more, and it's hardly surprising, given the force behind them.
"Time!" Elyan calls. Arthur finishes his final blow: it seems to have all the power he possesses in it. Merlin's knees finally, gradually, give way and he hits the ground with a very audible, "Ow."
The knights wince and hiss from the side-lines; the blow seems to sink through the shield somehow. Even Arthur realizes how hard he was and gives his servant a hand up.
After a few words Merlin nods and Arthur slaps him on the shoulder. He walks back to the knights and the now equipped Gwaine, shedding his helmet as he goes.
"Gwaine," he says, indicating Merlin, who, looking a little unstable on his feet, is shakily holding his shield up.
"Are you sure he's alright?" Gwaine shades his eyes from the sun, genuine concern written all over his face.
"He said he'd be fine for another five minutes," Arthur replies, but he too looks concerned at Merlin before shaking his head and pointed Gwaine forward once more.
Gwaine takes to the field, resolving to go easy on him. He looks pale; paler than usual, that is, and Gwaine can swear he sees an ever growing patch of blood on his shirt, before Merlin shifts the shield ready for the blows.
The knights can tell Gwaine's going easy on him, and they all feel glad, he looks paler, they can tell from this distance, his eyes looking like black holes in the white of his face.
When the five minutes is up Arthur calls, "Time!" quickly, and equally as fast, Gwaine steps back. Merlin joins Gwaine in walking back.
"You alright Merlin? You took quite a blow from Arthur," Leon asks in worry, genuine worry; Merlin's his friend now, more than ever.
"Yeah, fine. I've got stuff to do for Gaius, I need to get back," Merlin states before hurrying back to the castle.
"Well, that's strange," Elyan comments, looking up from packing his sword away.
"Why?" Arthur frowns at him, worry creasing his brow.
"Gaius is away this week, remember?" Elyan shakes his head. "Probably just forgot, that's all."
Arthur replies with a faint, "Yeah." But he's still worried. There's something wrong and he's going to find out what.