"Sire, you must stop the meal at once!" the elderly man exclaimed, fighting to catch his ragged breaths.
The warning echoed throughout the Great Hall, the eyes of the royal court turning to Giaus. It had been a typical evening in Camelot up until this moment. Merlin waiting on the prince with a lazy dedication, filling Arthur's goblet with wine whenever the royal elbow jabbed at him. At the head of the table, a platter of glistening pheasant had been placed in front of the king, who was exchanging strained pleasantries with his raven-haired ward.
Merlin and Gwen shared a quick but knowing glance. Camelot was a magnificent kingdom, but a kingdom frequently plagued by all manner of ills. If the kindly court physician was this worked up, something must be very wrong. Gaius was not a man to take to action lightly. Let alone run at his age.
"Gaius, what is the meaning of this?" King Uther growled, his cheeks so full of drumstick meat that chunks flew from his lips as he spoke.
"Sire," Giaus said, composing himself. "I have reason to suspect that your enemies are plotting against you in a most dangerous manner. A spy from the northlands was just intercepted inside the castle walls."
"A spy?" Uther replied, wiping the remainder of greasy flesh from his lips. "In the heart of my kingdom?"
"Yes, my lord. And that is not all of it. Apparently this spy was of magic." Gaius's eyes flashed to Merlin as he said this, but fast enough that it escaped the notice of anyone else at the table. "Their intent, My Lord, was to bypass the royal tasters and slip a very powerful potion to the Prince Arthur. A potion that- "
Arthur stared at the grey haired man, his mouth full of wine from his silver goblet.
"That the Prince has just drank," Gaius sighed, massaging his temple.
Arthur hurled his half empty wine goblet across the room, simultaneously spitting wine all over his bewildered manservant. Merlin, whose breeches were now soaked with the ruby drink, fumbled to retrieve the goblet from the floor. Everyone in the great hall stared at Prince Arthur. Even the dogs gnawing scraps seemed to growl in his general direction.
But the King's focus was elsewhere, locked on the physician with one sky born eyebrow. "What is this, devil's work? What will happen to my son?" he shouted.
"At any moment, Sire, in a few minutes, or perhaps a few hours," Gaius said, lowering his voice to a grave hush. "The Prince will become-"
There was a deathly silence, the court eager with anticipation for the next word.
Shock swept over the great hall. Gwen blushed a deep crimson and looked away. Morgana letting out an uproarious laugh that stifled when Uther snarled in her direction. The color had drained completely out of the King's face, his eyes on his son, who gulped audibly in his seat. Only Merlin seemed unfazed by the turn of events, trying his best to clean up his breeches while nobody was looking.
"My son?" Uther whispered, his fists tightening.
"I'm afraid so, sire," Gaius said. "Perhaps it would be wise to dismiss the court while we discuss the potential…er…. repercussions?"
"Indeed," Uther grimaced, avoiding Arthur's eyes; as if he was afraid of what he might see looking back. He gestured the meal's dismissal, leaving Arthur alone in the great hall, looking absolutely mortified.
The physician led the King into the privacy of a stone alcove, and Merlin trailed his mentor. Trying his best to avoid the attentions of the king. It was never a pleasurable experience being near Uther; even falling in the king's shadow made Merlin feel slightly nauseated. Uther spoke in a series of whispers, glancing around the passageways to make certain no servants or guards took notice of them.
"And how long will this—ailment-afflict my son?"
"I'm not sure, Sire. It could be as short as hours, or as long as weeks. Even years," Gaius grumbled uncertainly. "I will do my utmost to decipher the ingredients and find a cure as quickly as possible. In fact, Merlin, will you come here please?"
Merlin stepped forward obediently as Gaius produced a rag from a leather satchel at his waist. "Merlin, please, dab this on your wet clothes."
Merlin took the cloth into his hands, using it to soak the wine that had spilled on his breeches.
"I can use this sample of wine stain to ascertain the ingredients in the goblet," Gaius said, accepting the fabric back. "But it will take time, Sire. I will come to you immediately once I know anything more."
"Damned sorcery," Uther spat, eyes burning with a hatred Merlin knew all two well. "Work quickly, Giaus. I cannot afford to have this information spreading-" Then the king turned from Gaius to Merlin, who was looking paler than usual under Uther's scrutiny. "You are Arthur's manservant, are you not?"
Merlin knew the king asked the question merely as formality, but that didn't make it any easier to answer. "Yes Sire," Merlin replied, with eyes a little too wide.
"Confine Prince Arthur to his chambers. And see to it that he doesn't do anything-regrettable."
Merlin could have sworn that he heard the King shudder as he spoke the last word.
When the King departed, Merlin breathed a sigh of relief. He was getting much better at being around the king, but the constant thought of exposure and death by roaring flames was enough to make any warlock sweat.
Giaus clasped Merlin's shoulder gently. "Now I trust you will follow Uther's instructions? Keep Arthur in your sight at all times and for God's sake do not let him leave his chamber."
"Gaius," Merlin said, wetting his lips. "Arthur will be all right, won't he?"
"I should think so," the old doctor chuckled. "It's not as if he'll die, unless perhaps of embarrassment. All we need is time to find a reversal to the spell."
"Will he be feeling quite ill? Should I gather remedies from the cupboards before I go?"
Gaius considered his lanky apprentice, speaking gently to Merlin, almost as one would to a child. "Merlin, you do understand what's happened to Arthur, don't you?"
"He's under a spell," Merlin blurted.
"Yes. But I'm refereeing to the nature of the spell, you do-understand it?"
" I think so," Merlin said, shrugging his shoulders. "I just don't understand what the one word means exactly, I've never read in my spell book before."
"The gay part," Merlin replied. "Is it a contagious sort of thing?" he asked, fiddling with his scarf.
"Merlin, you mean to tell me you don't know what the word gay means?" Gaius asked, blushing in a manner unbecoming of a man his age.
It was the kind of innocent reply that never ceased to amaze Gaius. How a young man so powerful could also be so incredibly simple. The physician sighed audibly. "Merlin, 'Gay', or to be gay rather, describes the puzzling situation where a man loves-and I mean 'loves' in a romantic sense, not a women but another man-"
"You mean, there's actually a word for that?" Merlin cried.
Gaius raised his eyebrow even higher on his forehead than Merlin thought possible. The two men staring at each other in silence, for what Merlin felt was a very, very long time.
"Did you….. read about that in one of your manuscripts?" Merlin ventured shyly. "You know, the one's you keep in your library. Perhaps I should take a look and do some more-"
The physician chose to ignore the last question, and cleared his throat. "Merlin, don't you think it would be best if you saw to the Prince while I work on a cure?"
"Er. Right. I'll tend to him now."
"And Merlin, remember what I spoke of earlier. You must keep Arthur out of any trouble. I believe that the intention of this spell was for the Prince to commit a social misconduct. It's a complex potion, and I'm not sure exactly how it will come into effect. It is your job to make certain that Arthur is safe, and that he doesn't do anything. Oh. Well, you understand don't you?"
"Right-" Merlin whispered looking sheepishly at the floor.
When Merlin walked into the Great Hall, the Prince was sitting exactly as they had left him, his broad shoulders slumped as he chewed at the core of an apple.
What on earth should I say to him? Merlin thought, peeking in from the doorway. Is it appropriate to joke? Or should I just avoid Arthur all together, lest he throw the apple core at me? Arthur was an unpredictable fellow even on a good day, but this potion business seemed to complicate things between them even further.
"Camelot's enemies have really done a number on you this time," Merlin chuckled as he walked behind the prince. He decided to go with his old safe bet of teasing. Making fun of each other was their thing after all, their unique if not twisted bond.
"Come off it," Arthur hissed.
"I suppose they wanted you to embarrass yourself. Have you fall in love with a knight. Or a duke, or-your manservant or something-"
"The last would be impossible, considering you're a girl," Arthur said, chucking the apple core at Merlin's head. It missed by mere inches, Merlin wondering if he should now add prophecy to his list of magic accomplishments.
"Right then, let's hurry and get you to your chambers. Can you walk? Do I need to help you up?"
"Merlin, I am perfectly capable of walking," the prince barked. "In fact I feel fine, I don't even think it was a real potion."
Despite his pleas, Merlin escorted Arthur to his chambers, trying to avoid anything remotely resembling a man. This included the stocky female cook with a mustache, the limping dishwasher and a very well endowed roman statue. They entered Arthur's quarters, Merlin bolting the door and letting out a long groan.
Arthur flopped onto his bed, propping his arms under his head. Despite what had happened that evening, now that the prince was safe in his chamber, Arthur seemed the picture of calmness.
And suddenly it was Merlin feeling nervous at the thought of being left alone with Arthur. The nature of the potion churning within the Prince's body-a potion that at any moment could-
"What?" Merlin said, his cheeks pinking.
"Your clothing, it's all red, soaked with wine," Arthur said flatly.
Merlin had all but forgotten about his stained breeches, and the deep colour that had seeped into the fibers. "Oh, you mean… my?" he said, glancing and gesturing at the large stain on his crotch.
"I hardly think you can afford to ruin your clothes considering what I pay you," Arthur replied, sitting up in his bed. "Come, let's see if we can get that out."
Merlin was very sure he had heard the word "We" in the sentence and he did not like that one bit. "I'm certain I don't need any of your help," he cried, hands flattening like a shield to protect his lower body. "I clean stains all the time, it's my job!"
"Need I remind you, you're piss poor at your job? Don't be obstinate, Merlin. It's not a request, it's an order."
It was no use, really. Arthur had the physical advantage on him, and though Merlin protested fiercely, the prince easily wrested his manservant next to him on the silk bedspread.
"Relax. It won't take more than a moment," Arthur commanded.
Merlin could feel the creeping of Arthur's fingers at his neck, his calloused hands rubbing up against the hardness of his own Addams apple. He felt dizzy, and was about to cry out, until his throat was left bare. His burgundy scarf held in the prince's rough hands. Arthur reached for a copper basin of water kept for him on the nightstand, soaked the scarf in it and began the gentle task of leeching out the stain.
Slowly and meticulously Arthur's hands worked, dabbing the breeches and ringing the coloured water back into the bowl. Merlin sat rigid, without so much as a breath. Petrified at all the-attention his lower half was getting from the prince.
His pale hands clenched into fists.
"I don't think this is working," Arthur mused, the words a whisper in Merlin's ear. "I'll have to have to try even harder."
Merlin swore the over-annunciation of the last word was purposeful. Almost, dare he think it- sensual? Arthur had begun a new technique of rubbing at the stain in slow circular motions. And though Merlin had in his young life faced all manner of foes-poisons, dragons, enchantments, murder plots and more concussions than he could count, this was too much for much for him to handle.
"Couldn't you just," Merlin said, gasping slightly, his body writhing under Arthur's hands. "I mean, wouldn't it work better if I took the breeches off and cleaned them later?"
"Nonsense," Arthur replied. "See, it's coming out nicely."
Merlin fought the feeling with all his might, tried to think of other things. Things he hated. Cleaning the stinking leech tank, Uther's meaty breath. The way Morgana laughed at him when he tripped down the stone steps. But the devoted attention of Arthur felt so unbelievably good. Merlin closed his eyes and, to his horror, felt the hardness growing in his breeches.
Arthur's rubbing abruptly stopped.
"Horrible" could not begin to describe Merlin's humiliation. He shot off the bed, yelling something that sounded like, "Leave it be!" as he ran for the door. The prince cut him off, pushing Merlin forcefully against the thick wooden slab of the doorframe. Their bodies were close-too close. Merlin no longer sure if he was scared, or just unspeakably aroused.
"And where do you think you're going?" Arthur purred. "Have I dismissed you?"
"You mean no- Sire," Arthur corrected.
"No, Sire," Merlin gulped.
"That's right," the prince smiled, his hands tightening on Merlin's wrists. "Oh Merlin, you and I, were just getting started-"
Merlin was forced into silence, with a kiss. His mouth and his body no longer his own. He could feel the weight of Arthur's desire melting into him. The warm caress of his mouth, and the sinful way the prince's tongue slipped between his lips. As if in a dream, everything around Merlin melted. The world trickling away like candle wax until there was only the two of them burning together-in a passion as steady and hot as any flame. But even locked in this pleasure, Merlin could feel the cold reminder of his difference. Feel his eyes flashing gold, his magic intertwining with his lust. Pulsing through his veins with excitement until he realized that all the candles had dwindled in a matter of minutes to the end of their wicks.
Merlin quivered, freeing himself in a desperate shove.
"I'm supposed to protect you!" he shouted at Arthur, turning to hide the light he still felt in his eyes. "You're under a spell! You haven't a clue what you're doing!"
"Did you do that?" Arthur whispered, giving the pale man space to catch his breath.
"Do what?" Merlin choked warily.
"The candles," Arthur replied, pointing out what was left of the wicks in the silver bases. "They were erupting like the tail of a phoenix as we-" A smile curled the edge of his lips. Remembering Merlin still within reach, Arthur grabbed at his waist. Pushing his lanky body onto the folds of the royal sheets.
Merlin could barely speak. "I don't know what you mean-"
Arthur chuckled. He brought his face up to the raven-haired man so that their noses almost touched. Merlin could feel the sweetness of his breath on his cheek as Arthur said, "Merlin, do you honestly think I'm so dense that I don't notice balls of light exploding in the woods when we fight? That I wouldn't begin to question why you, worse then any page with a sword, alway seem to survive battles that kill my most trained men? "
Merlin's blue eyes widened, becoming so deep that Arthur imagined swimming in their murky depths.
"You're not going to-burn me?" Merlin whispered.
The prince slipped his hand up his manservant's shirt, stroking his milky white chest. "That's fairly obvious," he grinned.
"This potion's made you mad," Merlin said. Voice faltering as Arthur continued a thorough exploration of his body. "You've got to stop this, you don't know what you're doing. You've been-"
"Drugged? Bewitched?" The prince laughed, straddling Merlin "Hardly. You're not the only one with secrets-" He leaned in, kissing him deeply. "I knew I didn't have to worry about that ridiculous potion from the start because I've always wanted you Merlin. Your ridiculous ears, that stupid face you make when you tell me some pathetic lie about where you've been."
"I don't lie." Merlin pouted.
Arthur raised an eyebrow.
"Okay, maybe a little. But it's for your own good, you prat." Merlin smiled.
"I've waited years for the excuse to get into your breaches. Do you know how difficult it's been to restrain myself around you? To make certain my father doesn't notice my favour of you? This feeling is larger than me Merlin, than us. It's as if coming together like this is our-"
"Destiny?" Merlin exhaled into Arthur's neck.
"A mind reader as well as sorcerer?" Arthur crooned. He pulled his tunic over his head and then began removing Merlin's breeches string by string.
"Mind reader? Arthur, If I had any idea you felt this way," Merlin breathed, feeling a barrage of kisses glide down his body. "Do you think I would have made you wait this long?"
Their bodies intertwined. The candles flickering like fireflies in the dark chamber. With a single kiss to Merlin's lips, the fire in the hearth roared into renewed life.
"Just promise me one thing-" Arthur exhaled.
"Promise me Merlin, that you won't burn down my chamber when I make love to you-"