An Interesting Morning

Arthur was having a very interesting morning. He had been awakened by someone who was most definitely not his happy-go-lucky manservant turned court warlock, and most definitely not his beloved wife.

Let's just say being awoken by a cheery, smiling Sir Gwaine was not one of his most enviable moments.

His conquest over Morgana, now that was an enviable moment, his wedding to Guinevere, hell, the day he united Albion was an enviable moment. But emitting a shrill squeak like an oversized mouse and tumbling out of the royal bedcovers and slamming his head into his side table, which then caused his water jug to upend itself over his head? Anything but!

He was harbouring a strong desire to take his head knight and throw him bodily into the stocks and leave him for a few days. He'd probably die of withdrawal from alcohol, the drunkard, and Arthur could peacefully go about the day without breaking up any bar fights, without receiving any exorbitant bills for unbelievable amounts of mead, and without the horribly common innuendos that the handsome knight tended to throw his way in some misguided sense of camaraderie.

He dreamily considered that plan of action before he contented himself with yelling at the man, which admittedly hadn't been all that impressive, given that his hair still clung wetly to his scalp, and then throwing Gwaine, still howling with laughter, out of his chambers.

Yes, a very interesting morning. And Arthur was going to find his warlock manservant and inform him of it, and then proceed to figure out exactly why it had been Gwaine who had awoken him, and why, of all people, Merlin had chosen him to replace him in his duty as the King's manservant.

He expected to find the man camped out in his quarters off Gaius's rooms, poring over some old spell that couldn't possibly be more important than Arthur's beauty sleep.

"He's not here, sire," the physician told him, inspecting a bottle of some sort of foul green paste before sticking a label on it. "I haven't seen him since last night."

The tavern was the next place he looked. Merlin did seem to have a tendency to shirk his duties for the sake of a good glass of mead, if the past was anything to go by. Gwaine had obviously rubbed off on him.

The barman just stared at him as if he'd lost his mind. "Merlin?" he guffawed. "Here? Beggin' yer pardon, yer majesty, but I haven't seen Merlin set foot in my tavern in all the time I've lived here!" He shook his head amiably. "Man's not much of a man, if ye get my meaning." He winked at the King and continued wiping out one of the mugs on his counter.

Arthur muttered something vaguely agreeable and wandered back out of the building, confused. But hadn't Gaius told him of all the times Merlin frequented here? He shook his head bewilderedly and headed back to the palace.

When he finally did find his wayward manservant, and court sorcerer, but really, the former duties were much more important than the latter, he found him in the place he would have least expected the warlock to frequent.

In the training grounds, of all places. Sparring with Percival, of all people. With a staff, of all things!

The King froze, staring with utter disbelief as his usually clumsy manservant spun a span of wood between his hands and knocked one of his best knights around the head with it. A couple seconds later, the stunned Percival was forced to relinquish his grip on his sword as he received a hard whack across the gauntlet, and then another swipe of the staff knocked him off his feet.

The knight froze, disarmed, lying on his back, with the staff, which had some sort of blue crystal attached to the end of it, pressed into the hollow of his throat.

"Dead!" Merlin stated, before he grinned happily and straightened, summoning Percival's sword to him with a quick word in the old tongue, before handing it back to his owner.

He then proceeded to shake his hair out of his face and stare at the staff with a gaze that bordered on adoring. "I love this thing. It is infinitely better than a sword."

The brawny knight he had just laid out flat on his back winced slightly as he sheathed his sword, looking a bit battered. "You are rather better at fighting with it."

"Better?" the warlock made a face. "I am brilliant," he admonished.

Percival rolled his eyes and appeared to resign himself to Merlin's ridiculousness. Then he saw Arthur.

"Your Majesty!" he greeted, with a strained smile as he took in the King's frozen stance.

Merlin jumped and tried to hide the staff behind his back (which was stupid, really, as the crystal on the top still protruded above the warlock's brunette locks). "Arthur!"

The three stared at each other in tense silence. Percival began to inch away slightly. Arthur made him freeze with a glare.

"Would you mind explaining, Percival, just how – exactly – a knight of Camelot just got laid out on his backside by an… an overgrown stick?!"

"Hey!" Merlin objected, clutching the staff to him like it was a small child and pouting slightly.

Arthur half expected him to start crooning "he didn't really mean it" to the thing and petting it.

Percival gave his liege a wide-eyed look and a fake smile. "W-well, Merlin's been getting tired of resorting to his magic whenever we get in a fight, which is quite often, you know. You'd really think all the bandits and evil sorcerers would have learned by now," he babbled. "So, we knights decided we'd try to find a weapon he'd be able to use easier than a sword, because he's really quite hopeless with a sword…"

"Hey!" Merlin protested again.

Percival didn't stop babbling. "We tried maces and axes and bows, but the first two were too heavy for him and he nearly shot Gwaine's ear off with the bow. The spear didn't work so well because he couldn't throw it all that far, and he couldn't even lift the war hammer. And he nearly took out my eye when we tried the daggers. So we tried the quarterstaff! And he was quite good at it, especially when he spelled it so it wouldn't break when it came in contact with our swords. He knocked Leon out for half an hour yesterday! So he wanted to try with this other staff, which he calls a sid-hee" – Percival sounded the word out carefully – "staff, so we decided to practice this morning! And I think… I think that's it." He shot Arthur a wild look and made to hide behind Merlin.

Arthur missed the last few sentences. "He… knocked Leon out… for half an hour?"

Percival practically squeaked an affirmative.

"So, basically, you're telling me that some of my best knights have been downed by a scrawny manservant-"

"Hey!" Merlin shot him a murderous look.

"-who is in possession of only an overgrown stick?"

"It's not an overgrown stick! It's a Sidhe staff! Very powerful magical weapon!"

"It's a piece of wood with a blue stone stuck to the top of it," Arthur stated, unimpressed, before ignoring the warlock in favour of the knight still trying to hide behind him. "Percival, you're saying that while I was being awoken by an overly energetic drunkard instead of the manservant who is supposed to be there in the morning," he shot Merlin a glare, "my knights were losing hopelessly in battles against said manservant?"

"Yes!" Percival squeaked, while Merlin shot the king another murderous glare.

"How many times do we have to go over this, Arthur?" the warlock began. "I am the most powerful warlock in Albion! It is beneath me to be a manservant!"

"You were my manservant before you were a warlock!"

Merlin provided him with a look that implied he was an idiot. "Arthur," he stated slowed, "I've been a warlock since the moment I was born."

The King paused, his mouth hanging open as he tried to think of a witty comeback. "Well, I'm the king!" He resorted to his standard reply to these situations. "You have to do as I say!"

The brunette practically growled at him, the crystal on the top of the staff glowing eerily. "Make me!"

"What?" Arthur stared at him blankly, unused to such insubordination.

"I said: Make me! I challenge you to a duel. You win, I have to do what you say. I win, I no longer have to be your manservant and I become a full member of the court."

"You challenge me to a duel?" Arthur repeated, raising an eyebrow.

"For the love of… Are knights so thick they don't understand English?! Look…" Merlin glanced around and caught sight of Percival inching away from the arguing pair. The big knight froze, and the warlock stalked after him and grabbed his hand, tugging one of the metal gauntlets he was wearing off of his fingers, before turning and flinging the piece of armour at Arthur's head. The King caught it out of pure reflex. "Does that make more sense?"

Arthur threw the gauntlet after the hastily retreating Percival and drew his sword. "I, Arthur Pendragon, accept your challenge."

The warlock whirled his staff in a circle so fast that it became a blur of blue and brown. "Come on then!"

Percival decided to hide behind the newly arrived Gwaine and Leon as the commoner and royal began circling each other warily in the middle of the training ground.

"What's up with you?" Gwaine asked the bear-like man.

Percival gave a very un-bear-like squeak that made the mead-loving knight quirk one eyebrow and turn to Leon.

"What's up with him?" he asked.

Leon shrugged. "How would I know? Hey, Percival, what's Arthur done now that's got Merlin so riled up?"

Percival just shook his head and ducked behind the smaller knight, out of sight of the duelling pair.

"I suspect it's something to do with Merlin still being a manservant," Gwaine stated, taking a bite out of the apple he'd brought with him and continuing with his mouth full. "He was ranting about it this morning, going on about 'most powerful warlock in Albion', and 'Arthur's a prat', and 'Court Sorcerers shouldn't have to wake idiot Kings!' So I volunteered to go wake the King myself and he went off to spar with Percy here."

"Ah, makes sense," Leon agreed, watching the still circling pair, who were now occasionally feinted a step forward to see how the other would react, but not yet engaging. "I bet you ten mugs of mead that Merlin wins."

Gwaine laughed, spewing a few apple chunks as he did so. "Much as I love mead, mate, I'm not stupid enough to take that bet. I've seen Merlin with that staff." He rubbed his shoulder as if remembering an old wound. "Felt it too."

"Bet on first blow?"

They both contemplated for a moment.

"Merlin," they stated simultaneously.

Leon faked a frown while Gwaine laughed. "You're no fun," he complained, punching the brunette lightly on the arm.

"Hey, go prey on some unsuspecting townsperson for your bets. I know perfectly well how good Merlin happens to be with that piece of wood."

Leon's reply was cut off as the sound of metal hitting said staff reverberated through the grounds, followed by Merlin's laughter.

"Come on, Arthur," he grinned at the king's stunned expression. "Excalibur might be forged in dragon's breath, but do you really think I'd be stupid enough to fight you if I hadn't already thought of that? Going to take a bit more than that to beat me, sire!"

The royal practically growled and leapt forward, swiping the gleaming blade of his sword towards Merlin's midriff.

The warlock stepped back easily, twirling his staff forward with the strength to knock his opponent off balance. "Come on, Arthur! That all you've got?" He twisted around and knocked the Sidhe staff against the king's knee, nearly sending the already off-balance man to the ground.

Gwaine laughed and took a bite of apple. "This is going to be good." Leon nodded in silent agreement.

Arthur recovered himself with a quick step, ducking under another swing of Merlin's staff, before taking a quick stab at the warlock's upper arm, bringing up a forearm to stop the length of wood from parrying the blow.

Gwaine and Leon winced in unison at the solid smack of wood on flesh. They'd both tried that move, and Merlin had no mercy. It might not be a mortal blow, like the slice of sword would have been, but it would still hurt for days, especially since the king wasn't wearing armour.

Arthur's leapt back, cursing, and his own blow never came close to Merlin's body.

"Come now," the warlock taunted, grinning, "still think my staff's just an overgrown stick?"

"He didn't!" Leon gasped.

"He did! No wonder Merlin's so upset!" Gwaine exclaimed.

Percival squeaked in agreement.

"That hurt, you imbecile!" Arthur exclaimed, staring at Merlin like he'd never seen him before.

"I challenged you to a duel, you prat. What'd you think I was going to do? Hit you with a pillow?" The warlock grinned, eyes glinting almost maliciously, and twirled his staff between expert fingers, stalking towards the king.

The royal took several hasty steps back, raising Excalibur again and displaying the violently red mark on his arm that was already starting to turn purple around the edges. Then he seemed to remember that he was a knight, and supposed to be renowned for his courage, retreating from a scrawny manservant with a stick. He stepped forwards again, brandishing his blade.

The next few seconds were a whirl of red and blue and wood and metal, the two of them nearly blurring as they fought, neither holding back.

They eventually broke apart after another loud, wince-worthy smack, Arthur revealing another painfully scarlet mark on his other arm. Merlin was still grinning, looking as if he was having the time of his life. Which, the knights supposed, was probably true. The warlock seemed to have an unhealthy attraction to the adrenaline of the fight.

The pain seemed to make the king angrier, and he re-engaged almost immediately, making a quick slicing movement towards Merlin's hamstring that had probably downed many lesser men in the battles he had fought.

The warlock leapt casually out of the way and tried to take Arthur's feet from out of him with a well-aimed sweep of his staff while the King was still off-balance from his movement. The blow caught the royal off guard, and he stumbled, nearly falling.

Merlin took advantage and preformed an almost ballet-like spin to bring his staff against Arthur's other leg, making a hard strike against the King's inner thigh (for which Gwaine and Leon winced sympathetically). The blonde cursed again and fell backwards, barely catching himself with a quick backwards step. The warlock was having none of that, however, and he twisted another hard blow across Arthur's knuckles, making him instantly relinquish his hold on Excalibur, before making a hard strike against the king's unbent knee.

Startled and even further off-balance, the royal toppled and fell flat on his back, getting the wind knocked out of him.

A second later, the crystal at the top of the Sidhe staff was pressed firmly against his throat.

"It's not like you can kill me with that thing," Arthur objected, siting the rules of duel in being that the winner had to be in the position where he could kill his opponent.

Merlin grinned in a most un-Merlin-like way, in a threatening way that showed all teeth and no humour. "You forget, Arthur, that it's a magic staff. Ælmesæcer, ásælan hine!" With those words, the crystal at the top of the staff shone brightly, sending beams of light into Arthur and into the ground surrounding him.

The dirt of the training ground seemed to shift as if alive, and suddenly tendrils of earth wrapped tightly around the king, circling him like arms and immobilising his ankles, wrists and waist.

Arthur yelped and tried to struggle, and another tendril of earth shot up, rearing like a snake, and latched onto the king's neck, chaining him as effectively as a hangman's noose.

Gwaine made a worried noise in the back of his throat.

"I win, Arthur," Merlin stated.

The King stared at him, eyes wide.

"Now, why don't you swear to the terms we started this duel on, and I'll let you go."

"I swear that you will be Court Sorcerer and no longer my manservant," Arthur stated, never one to go back on his word.

Merlin grinned, back to his normal self with the suddenness of dusk in winter. "Perfect!" He released his spell and drew back, staff as innocently un-glowing and non-magical looking as an old man's walking stick.

Arthur got up slowly from the ground, eyeing his ex-manservant warily and rubbing his throat. "You're… somewhat terrifying when you're angry."

The warlock summoned Excalibur to him and handed it back to the King. "So I've been told."

"Really terrifying."

Later, at dinner, after Arthur had made the announcement that officially changed Merlin's status in the eyes of Camelot's court, the king approached his Court Sorcerer.

"So… this means I have to find a new manservant, doesn't it?"

Merlin nodded agreeably, looking quite different in the new outfit Gwen had chosen for him, made completely of red and blue silk, with touches of gold jewelry. "Just promise me you won't get a bootlicker."

"If you choose one for me, that won't be an issue."

"My first duty as Court Sorcerer," Merlin grinned happily. "I think I'll find a druid. He can be my apprentice and your manservant, and then I can teach him not to be a bootlicker."

They were silent for a moment.

Then: "Merlin?"

"Yes, Arthur?"

"Will you still wake me in the mornings?"

Merlin sighed. "Sire, I'm not your manservant anymore."

"But… I don't like when other people wake me up. They don't do it right."

"Fine," the warlock acquiesced. "But I swear, if you ask anything else of me, I will tell everyone that you like being woken up by me singing to you!"

I swear there is a rabid plot bunny somewhere out there that wandered along and decided that I looked like a good target. Poor peaceful, non-confrontational Percival. Poor singing!Merlin-deprived Arthur. Poor knights who have been targeted by that Sidhe staff. Strangest thing I've ever written. I willingly admit that I am a very weird person. Oh, and the spell is "ground, bind him!" in probably horribly grammatically incorrect Old English. Hope you enjoyed it!

I do hope you know the drill by now: Reviews are love!