A/N: Excited for this one! Hope you guys will join me for the ride. Much, much Merlin whumpage later. :D
Disclaimer: I do not own Merlin, unfortunately.
Merlin glanced at the pretty little leaves. They were small (around the size of the nail on a baby's pinky finger) and dried, the deep rosy hue of late autumn. He brought them closer and sniffed hesitantly. They didn't smell like much. Maybe, faintly like poppy seeds. Though, it was hard to tell in the compact shop filled with pungent herbs. He squished the little bit he had between his thumb and forefinger, and watched as it crumbled to bits. He then looked back up at the herbalist. The woman couldn't have been more than thirty-eight, but silvery strands already decorated her nondescript hair. She had pretty blue eyes surrounded by laugh lines, but there were stress marks on her forehead and around her mouth that told the story of her difficult life.
She was wispily thin, and her clothes were tattered at the cuffs and collar. A modest necklace was her only adornment, homemade with a leather string, cheap stone, and Merlin guessed there was no clasp, either. The woman smiled hopefully at him. She had just started a new business in town, and Merlin had only come here to get Gaius' herbs because he wanted to help her get started. Her family (Merlin had now seen two children, and a baby boy) lived in the back of the shack-like store. They were struggling, it was obvious. The woman, her name was Selina he believed, had seen him wince at a twinge from his perpetual migraine, which Merlin had only half-jokingly nicknamed "Arthur", and had eagerly offered up the leafy remedy,
"Aah! Well, this should do the trick," She'd sprinkled a few into his palm, "Burn it, breathe in its fumes, you'll be feeling right chipper, you will!" Merlin gave the woman a sad smile, and saw her face drop. It was almost unnoticeable, but being a peasant who'd lived on scant resources himself growing up, he saw. He didn't have that much money, after all. And Gaius had been specific about what herbs to get. Merlin wanted to help the woman and her family. But hadn't Gaius just lectured him the other day on not being flippant with his money after he'd bought a bit of garlic to flavor Gaius', for lack of a better word, stew? Merlin opened his mouth to say no, to tell the woman that he wanted to, but he couldn't, but the words that came out of his mouth were different,
"Sure, I could use fewer headaches," The bright smile that lit up her face would make Merlin's day. He would pocket the little leaves with a full intention of using them, than would have to save Arthur from some unfriendly assassins later that night, and he would forget them.
"Merlin!" the young warlock turned at the sound of his name, and knew before seeing that Gwaine was barreling towards him at concerning speeds. Bracing himself for the inevitable collision, Merlin just had time to set down the basket of Arthur's dirty laundry before he was swept into an impressive sleeper hold, being noogied by a knight.
"Merlin!" Gwaine repeated, still digging his knuckles into Merlin's skull, "You wondrous, whining, warlock, you. How aaare you, ducky?" he said affectionately. Apparently considering his head to be properly tenderized, Merlin was let go and swept up in an enthusiastic embrace.
"Are you drunk…again?" Merlin asked. Gwaine laughed and pulled away from him,
"Haha! I wish, but, no. I'm as sober as Princess was when you stuffed raw eggs in his pillow case," Merlin suppressed a grin,
"That was you!" he denied vehemently. Gwaine waggled a finger,
"Aaaah! But, you covered up for me, remember? I'm eternally indebted to you. And, admit it," he grinned evilly, "it was worth it," Merlin couldn't hide his smile this time, images of their king's shouting face as egg yolk dripped from his blonde hair onto his nose assaulting him. He covered up a strangled laugh with a cough,
"What do you want, Gwaine?" he asked, though not harshly. The dashing night beamed,
"Tonight's our monthly Romp of Manliness. I need you to tell Arthur for me," Merlin nodded,
"All right, but I don't think I'll come this time," he said. Gwaine stuck out his bottom lip,
"Why?" he whined. Merlin cocked an eyebrow in a rather impressive imitation of Gaius,
"Because last time you coerced me into getting drunk, and the next day all I heard from Arthur was, 'Merlin I had no idea you had so many pent up wiggles,' and 'Merlin I wouldn't have brought ail if I'd known you were going to sing, and 'Merlin, how I wish I could do something to help you with your disturbing fascination of belly buttons'". Merlin grimaced at the memory. Gwaine had the decency to try and look guilty,
"I won't force you this time, I promise," he vowed. Merlin was having trouble not melting as Gwaine's puppy dog brown eyes began to glisten suspiciously.
"I don't know if Arthur will let me after what happened last time," Merlin winced. Vague fuzzy images of want to make Gwaine's hair sparkle, a small fire, and a near explosion ran through his head. Gwaine did look honestly apologetic this time,
"Well, if he doesn't let you, I'll have words with him. You're an important part of our brotherhood!" his smile returned. Merlin laughed,
"All right, but he won't let me do anything if I don't get these clothes put away in time," with that, he heaved the heavy basket up, and began making his way to Arthur's chambers. Hopefully, the king was in a good mood.
Arthur sat at the desk in his chambers, papers, scrolls, and various important documents strewn before him in a disorganized manner. That was the one place in Arthur's chambers that Merlin was not allowed to touch. The king was very, very particular about that rule. His arms were crossed over his muscled chest, and blonde strands of his hair hung over his mischievously sparkling blue eyes,
"So, you want to come tonight," he said, his voice dripping with amusement and simple evilness. Merlin tilted his head in a mock-considering manner as he folded another of Arthur's tunics into his drawer,
"Well…it's not so much that I want to go, but that Gwaine thinks it wouldn't be the same without me," he considered, then added not desperately at all, "I promise I won't lose control of my magic…again…,". Arthur laughed,
"That's for certain," he said, "I still can't believe you…" Merlin cut that thought off at the neck before it could reach its full potential,
"I thought we agreed never to speak of that again," he said quickly. Arthur's eyes glinted deviously,
"I never agreed to anything, you simply stated that none of us were to mention…"
"Exactly!" Merlin said loudly, "So let's move on shall we? Are you going to tell me whether or not I can come, or do you want to continue trading embarrassing stories? Because, I could bring up that time I caught you and Gwen-"
"That won't be necessary!" Arthur said quickly, his voice tinged with fear, and his cheeks turning red. He stood up from behind his desk and strolled over to his manservant,
"Course you can come!" he said cheerily, and clapped Merlin on the shoulder, "We need our sister of the brotherhood to make the rest of us feel stronger," Merlin didn't miss a beat, and gave Arthur a curious look,
"Arthur, I realized that your grip on masculinity was tenuous, but I never thought you'd admit it out loud," he said sympathetically. Arthur just grinned and ruffled Merlin's hair before striding out,
"Idiot!" he called back.
"Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooo oooooooooooohhhhhhh…!" Gwaine stretched out the beginning note as long as was humanly possible, "I wandered into a tavern that day! My clothes and hair in disarray, but none could ever shy away! For my love is Bonnie Green! Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooh hhh!" the knights all groaned as Gwaine started another verse. The dashing knight pranced drunkenly around the armory, sloshing ale from the mug in his hand everywhere, and knocking over a pile of armor from one of the tables, sending the clanging metal crashing to the ground.
Elyan and Percival were having a staring contest by the sword rack, in which Merlin was convinced Elyan had used an enchantment to win. It was obvious that no one could keep his eyes that open, for that long without outside intervention. Lancelot twitched and sneered, struggling to keep from blinking. Really, it was a valiant effort, but Merlin could see it was a lost cause. Elyan smirked and tut-tutted at his foe, his eyes wide open and bright,
"Just give in Lancelot, you're waning," Lancelot grimaced, and his left bottom eyelid wiggled dangerously. Elyon grinned maliciously, "I will break you." Merlin laughed and cringed when Gwaine started another verse,
"My Bonnie Green Love, though her eyes were quite blue, her skin was akin to a vegetable's hue! Ooooooooooooohhhhh!"
Merlin chuckled, and swept his gaze across the room once more, alert for any signs of danger. Really, there was no need. After all, this was probably the safest space in Camelot, considering how savagely Arthur protected his one night vacations. But still, Merlin's gaze flickered over every shadow, crawl space, or possible hiding spot. It was habit now, a reflex. Merlin still tensed at the sound of twigs snapping, he found himself gravitating to stand in front of Arthur when he saw someone he didn't recognize, or who seemed suspicious. Years of protecting a kingdom and king from a wide variety of extremely armed and dangerous enemies on a weekly basis can tend to make a person…a bit cautious. But despite the young warlock's…alertness, he found his gaze flickering over to the mugs on the small table Arthur and Leon were playing cards on.
He was still barely twenty after all, and the brown, frothy ale did look rather appealing. Licking his too dry lips, Merlin tried to focus on Percival as the large man walked back and forth, practicing sword strokes with a calm expression, with the vain hope that Arthur would notice his fidgetiness and have mercy. Just a sip to sooth his mangled nerves would be lovely. The last few months had been, well, they had been a challenge. With Arthur king, Merlin now not only had to worry about keeping him safe from old enemies, he now had to keep an eye on the many kings in distant lands who would just love to take advantage of a young impressionable king, or perhaps raze Camelot to the ground.
He was still Arthur's servant though, residential punching bag in the knights' training, and still Gaius' apprentice, so those chores were added to his list of things to do. On top of his duties protecting Arthur and regarding his destiny, Merlin was now an unofficial advisor to Arthur on all things Camelot, and was called upon more often than not to give his opinions during council meetings. While this steady climb in gaining influence in Arthur's kinghood pleased Merlin, it also meant that the stakes were higher in the journey towards uniting Albion.
After Arthur discovered Merlin's secret, and the repercussions that ensued from that not so little drama were dealt with, he had decided to get started on the whole uniting Albion "once-and-future-king-great-destiny" thing write away. This involved a lot more politics, prodding, pleasing, and parting ways than either Merlin or Arthur had been anticipating. So, needless to say, every night after studying his magic book for a few hours, just before drifting off to sleep before dawn, Merlin was exhausted proud, and ready. And when he woke up in the morning to bring the king his breakfast, he was proud, ready, and somehow more even exhausted. So, it was that Merlin had to stifle a pained whimper when Arthur said without even looking back,
"No, Merlin. Remember the only reason you're here is because you promised not to drink," Merlin made a pouting face, which Arthur pointedly ignored. Percival chuckled deeply though, and set the training sword back on its rack as he glanced with amusement at the young warlock,
"Don't worry, Merlin. Alcohol his highly overrated," he said. Elyan guffawed from the other side of the room, not breaking his gaze away from Lancelot's pained face,
"Especially if you're an all powerful sorcerer…"
"Warlock…" Merlin corrected,
"Whatever," Elyan snapped his fingers, making Lancelot blink, and raised his arms with a yell of triumph as the knight buried his face in his mug with an irritated scowl. Elyan turned to Merlin and grinned,
"We don't want a repeat of last time after all," Arthur stifled his laughter with a loud cough. Merlin glared at him, though his heart wasn't in it,
"I just wanted a sip, my nerves are taught as a bow string…" he complained. Arthur snorted, but jumped when Gwaine, who had been ball room dancing with an invisible partner and singing under his breath, jumped around with his arms splayed outward as if ready to embrace whatever fantastic idea he'd conjured in his drunken stupor,
"I knooow hows our Merlin can feels, *hic* better!" he chirped gleefully. Reaching inside of his sloppily worn chain mail, he pulled out what appeared to be a long stemmed pipe, with the handle depicted as a circle of scantily clad, wooden, women interlocked together in a twisted myriad of shapely arms and legs. Merlin mused for a moment on where on earth Gwaine found these things. Just the other day, he'd proudly displayed to Merlin a strange perfume that he'd then promptly sprayed in Merlin's face. The rest of the day the young warlock was dealing with continuous slavering, hungry glances from the opposite sex that, frankly, scared the hell out of him. He turned to Merlin with glazed over eyes,
"I gots this from…my special sourshe," he tried to wink, but it ended up looking more like a spastic twitch with both his eyes. Merlin grinned,
"Let's try it,"
The tension seemed to seep out of Lancelot as he breathed out, smoke curling upwards from his nostrils and forming a wispy halo above his head. He passed the pipe to Elyan. The knights had formed a circle on the floor, sprawled about in various relaxed positions. Merlin sat cross-legged, propped up on his elbows, watching bemusedly as Elyon's dark face went lax with pleasure. He opened his eyes and puffed out a ring of smoke, which he then twirled between his fingers. Arthur, who was sitting next to Merlin, then snatched the pipe from him, giving the abashed Elyon his signature I'm-The-King-So-Deal-With-It look. Arthur breathed in deeply of the pipe, then made an apprehensive look at the sight of his manservant's outstretched hand. Lancelot, who sat with one arm dangling lazily over a knee, chuckled at Arthur,
"Have a heart, my king. I'm sure that one draught won't lead to a repeat of," catching a glimpse of Merlin's venomous glare, he chose his next words carefully, "…Last time," he said safely. Arthur gave a courtly sniff and shoved the pipe at Merlin with a not-so-elegant shrug. Merlin snatched it from him, murmuring,
"What was that, Merlin?"
"Nothing, sire…" Merlin smirked, and raised the pipe, but groaned when he saw that the green fuel had burned down to nothing. Sighing, he started to hand the pipe to Percival who sat next to him, but then…
"Ahh!" he cried triumphantly, and reached into his trouser's pocket. He pulled out the little glass vial, and smiled at the contents. Arthur noticed it and cocked an eyebrow in Merlin's direction,
"Was' that?" he asked, words slightly slurred from the ale. Merlin popped the cork and tipped some of the contents into the pipe, shrugging nonchalantly,
"Something the medicine woman gave me, said it'll help with Arth…uh, my headache," Arthur narrowed his eyes at him suspiciously, but decided to let it go. Merlin leaned over and tugged a lighting stick from Gwaine's pocket. The long-haired knight was passed out next to him, snoring loudly with his head tipped backwards, making his neck look grotesquely large. Merlin stifled a laugh and lit the pipe. He breathed in deeply from the stem, and almost gasped from the sensation, or rather, lack thereof. Every ache, pain, minor itch or slight discomfiture immediately vanished from his body. The swirling thoughts and frustrated worries plaguing the back of his mind dissipated into thin air.
Merlin was aware of letting out a soft moan, that would have been embarrassing in any other situation, but right now he couldn't quite bring himself to care. Merlin took another deep whiff from the pipe, and was hardly aware as Arthur started talking to him in an annoyed, slightly alarmed voice. The world blurred considerably, and it was no longer that Merlin couldn't feel pain, he couldn't feel his body at all. Merlin took one deeper whiff, and it was that he completely sunk into blissful oblivion.
A/N: Whaddaya think so far? Reviews please!