The Problem With Beeswax
"Arthur Gets An Albion"
It was midsummer in Camelot and Merlin lay in the secluded fields over the hill from the city. He stared contentedly up at the bright blue sky. One or two fluffy clouds hung there, drifting slowly towards the castle. Merlin rolled over and sighed happily as the sun drenched his back and bottom. He moved his hips slightly so that a blade of stiff grass stopped jabbing him and enjoyed the slight breeze on his bare skin.
The weather in Camelot had been like this for the last two weeks. As a result, Merlin was now nicely browned from head to toe. Not that Arthur knew it. Three weeks ago he'd gone on an official visit to Queen Annis. At the time, Merlin had been recovering from a bout of what he could only describe as 'the eeuuuggghhhs', a condition which had meant that the garderobe had temporarily become his new living quarters. It had not been pleasant and he had certainly not been in any state to travel.
Now he had recovered and had spent the last two weeks taking what for him was almost a holiday. True, Gaius still kept him busy fetching herbs, ferrying medicines around and the like, but compared to his usual workload it was nothing.
He sat up and dusted himself down. Thinking of Gaius had made him remember that he was on an errand for him right now. While Gaius didn't really mind him taking his time, there were limits. Besides, he'd sunbathed for long enough. Nicely brown was one thing, poppy red was completely another. Besides, Arthur was due to return that afternoon and he didn't want to be sitting in a bath of cold water easing the pain of sunburn when he could instead be showing off his full body tan.
He stood up, picked some blades of grass from his bottom and pulled on his breeches. He slipped his shirt – the blue one today – over his head, wriggled into it and draped the red neckerchief over his shoulder. It was far too hot for a neckerchief anyway, he mused, but if he passed by the stream on the way to the bee keeper, he might just be able to get it damp and relieve some of the warmth.
He set off at an amble with a wooden pot dangling from one hand. He made his way leisurely along the cart road, heading vaguely in the direction of Queen Annis' lands. If he was lucky and stuck around nearby, he might just manage to 'accidentally' bump into Arthur later and persuade him to let him ride with him back to Camelot. It would save a long walk under the hot sun.
It was just after midday by the time he arrived at the edge of the bee keeping fields and turned off the main path to head between row upon row of crops. Some of the later-flowering harvests were showing off their blooms, declaring to the world that they were fit, virile and ready for the bees to have their way with them.
Merlin smiled as he shook off the feeling that he was doing the same thing for Arthur by getting a tan. He chuckled as the thought crossed his mind that, when nature was at its best and the wonderful sounds of birdsong filled the trees – nature at its finest, some would say – what it actually meant was that all of nature wanted to get laid, right now.
He arrived at a small hut that had been built in the middle of a clearing at the far side of the field. The drone of the bees could be heard clearly here, but thankfully the actual hives were a little way off to his right.
Merlin had never really liked bees very much ever since he'd been stung by one a year ago. It had happened one afternoon while he had been out with Arthur, on one of those rare days that Arthur had taken pity on him and ordered that he should accompany him on an afternoon ride. This 'hard work' had actually entailed a gentle ride to a scenic spot on the stream and lunch (packed and unpacked by Merlin, naturally) on the banks under a large willow. Merlin had laid everything out, sat down, put his hand behind himself to lean back and had then leapt up, as Arthur had put it, 'like a screaming girl'.
To this day he didn't quite know how the stinger had become lodged in the palm of his hand, nor how the venom sac had continued to pulse when it's unfortunately owner was nowhere to be seen. He assumed that he must have covered the bee accidentally and it had stung him in order to avoid being crushed but, even so, he now had a general aversion to them.
Arthur, once he'd calmed Merlin down enough, had removed the stinger with the edge of Excalibur. It had been a typical Arthur gesture. After all, why fiddle about with a small tool when a massive one could complicate things quite happily? As he'd said at the time, in an effort to cheer Merlin up, "Either I will get it out or I will chop your hand off. Either way, the problem will be solved."
Thankfully Merlin still had two hands now and no stinger lodged in either, a testament to Arthur's skill with a blade.
And if he had an aversion to bees, it was nothing compared to his outright loathing of wasps. Ever since one had stung him mercilessly for no apparent reason when he had been ready to get into bed, he was now inclined to blast them down whenever he saw them. In the end, he'd had to flee the Prince's chambers in nothing but his birthday suit and seek help from Gaius before his throat completely closed. It had been a close thing. These days, Arthur was of the firm belief that Merlin was aiming to wipe out the entire species single-handedly. In fact, he had considered anonymously sending Morgana a yellow-and-black-striped dress and letting Merlin see her, just to see what would happen.
"Hello?" called Merlin. "Is anybody here?"
A head popped up amongst the crops and smiled at him. It belonged to an elderly beekeeper – an old friend of Gaius' – called Urien.
"Ah! Master Merlin! You have come for more wax, I assume? Or is it honey this time?"
He hobbled his way out of the field, supported by a crutch under one arm. Ever since an accident involving one of the hives many years ago, he'd never been able to walk unaided. Gaius had treated him as best he could, but his left leg was still paralysed and incurable.
It was really a miracle that he was still alive, Merlin knew, given that the stings he'd received had numbered in the hundreds, but he held no grudge against the bees. From his point of view, they had only been defending themselves against an attacker who had stupidly tripped and fallen on top of them. But he was grateful for Gaius' skill and showed it by allowing him as much honey and wax as he required for no charge at all.
"Just wax, Urien," said Merlin. "Oh, and Gaius asked me to give you this."
He handed over a jar of ointment. Urien beamed.
"I'm glad he remembered," he said, hobbling over to a basket nearby. "I was running low. How much would you like?"
He lifted the lid of the basket and picked up a wooden ladle which hung on the side.
"Just enough to fill this pot," said Merlin, handing the container over.
He waited as the beekeeper ladled the warm, liquid wax from an urn in the basket into the pot and handed it back to him.
"Tell Gaius that it's been too warm recently to make it set properly," he said. "I melted this harvest yesterday and it still hasn't turned completely solid."
"I will," said Merlin, putting the lid back on the pot. "Thanks."
"Well, I expect that you should be heading back to Camelot now," said Urien.
Merlin knew that he was being dismissed. Much as his magic was unofficially known about in the Royal Household these days, as the Royal Beekeeper, Urien had remained utterly unimpressed by it. It wasn't that he didn't acknowledge it, it was just that he didn't feel the need to treat Merlin any differently than anybody else – magic or no magic. Merlin found it refreshing. They said their goodbyes and Merlin started back in the direction that he had come.
As he reached the main road, he groaned. In the distance, just entering the wood on the side of the hill that blocked Camelot from sight, rose a cloud of dust. He'd missed the returning Royal Party and with it, any chance of a ride home.
He set off at a quicker pace than he had taken to get to the bee keeper. If Arthur got to Camelot before him and found him absent for too long, there would be Hell to pay. There was only so long Arthur could manage without him, after all. Hopefully, he thought, Uther would be waiting to greet Arthur and so would keep him distracted for long enough for Merlin to slip in unnoticed and be ready to greet his Prince in his chambers when he finally got there.
Merlin reached the tree line and struck out on a shortcut he knew through the thick undergrowth. Hopefully it would gain him some time. He sped up and found himself hurrying through the trees. He entered a sunny clearing at a fast walk, attempted to jump a thick, fallen tree trunk, tripped, fell and dropped the wax.
"Ow! Who-? Merlin!"
Merlin froze where he lay, face down on the floor. His legs were lying over a pair of bare, muscular calves. He also knew who the voice belonged too. Oh dear.
He pulled himself upright, turned and looked down at a somewhat squashed Prince Arthur.
Arthur sighed and hit his fist on the floor.
"Much as it might surprise you, Merlin, you will find I know that already!" he said. "Now, I'm not sure what you have just dropped on my bottom or why you're out here, but if I don't get an explanation very soon I shall be very annoyed."
Merlin's gaze travelled to his lover's bottom and his stomach jolted. The molten beeswax encased both cheeks in a film which was quickly hardening as it dribbled down between his legs. It encased a mass of curled blond hair. How exactly did one break this news to his Prince?
"Merlin! What did you drop on me?"
"Well, I've just come back from the Royal Beekeeper and I was running to meet you and I thought I would take a shortcut and-"
"Merlin, stop babbling and tell me that it's honey."
Merlin looked guilty.
"It's not honey, is it?" pressed Arthur. "Merlin, what have you spilled on me? Whatever it is, it's... sticky..."
His voice trailed off as realisation dawned on him.
"It's wax, isn't it?"
Merlin nodded sheepishly.
"Merlin, you idiot!" he yelled. "How am I meant to get it off?"
He got up, forgot about his modesty and bent over.
"How bad is it?"
"You're covered," said Merlin, "and it's hardened. Bits are flaking off when you move, but it's pretty much stuck there. Sorry."
"You will be," snapped Arthur, straightening up and spinning around, his finger outstretched and in Merlin's face.
"Why were you lying there naked in the first place‽" demanded Merlin. "How was I to know‽"
"I was enjoying the sun, alright!"
Merlin couldn't exactly argue with him for that, so they lapsed into a tense silence.
"Gaius should know a way of getting it off," said Merlin eventually.
Arthur scowled at him as Merlin helped him to dress. Thankfully the wax had hardened enough that it wasn't leaking into his breeches and his riding cloak, but that didn't improve his mood much. He led Merlin to his horse in silence and waited until he had got on. He swung himself up into the saddle behind him so that Merlin was leaning against his chest and picked up the reigns. Soon they were in a trot through the woods and had passed out of sight.
Gaius was busy preparing herbs when there was a knock on his door.
Merlin entered with Arthur trailing behind him. His cheeks were red and it was obvious that he was not in a good mood from the way he slammed the door behind them.
"What can I do for you, Sire?" asked Gaius, bowing.
"We had an accident," said Merlin before Arthur could say anything. "I spilled some wax on him when I was coming back here. I was wondering if you knew how to un-stick it without harming him."
Gaius glanced at Arthur.
"Well, I need to check the skin to make sure it isn't damaged first," said Gaius. "Can you show me it?"
Arthur rolled his eyes, gave Merlin a look that could kill, leaned over the work desk and dropped his breeches.
"Some warning would have been nice," murmured Gaius as he set about inspecting the damage.
When he stood up again, he said, "Well, Sire, the skin isn't burned so that's good news. However, I have no potions or lotions which will release it. It's stuck to the hair, I'm afraid. I'm going to have to pull it off."
"You what!" shouted Arthur. "Oh, no! No way!"
"But, Sire, it's the only way," said Gaius. "Not unless you want Merlin to try to magic it away for you."
"No thanks," growled Arthur. "He's already made enough of a mess of this. Fine, do what you have to."
"Merlin, fetch me a candle and some strips of linen," said Gaius. "Make sure it's clean. Oh, and some soothing balm as well."
As Merlin hurried to fetch the items, Gaius went over to the fireplace, took out a smouldering piece of wood and used it to light a taper. He took the candle that Merlin handed him, lit the top and then stooped behind Arthur.
"What's the candle for‽" asked Arthur in mild alarm as Gaius disappeared from his view.
"Well, I have to melt the wax somehow," said the physician from waist height.
"So you're going to wave a lit candle around down there‽ How long for?"
"For as long as it takes to soften. Keep still, Sire. It's hard enough not to burn you without you flexing your muscles about down here as well."
After a few awkward moments, Gaius asked for a linen strip. Merlin passed it to him and Arthur felt it being pressed firmly against his skin. It stuck tight.
The shriek of pain ripped through the castle as Gaius tore it off. Bats flew from the rafters and out of the open window and the table shook as Arthur hammered a fist down on it. Merlin stood there in stunned silence as Arthur turned and glared at the physician who stood holding a very hairy piece of linen.
"Hurts a bit, I expect?" he said, dropping the linen strip into a nearby bowl of water.
"Why didn't you warn me‽"
"Well, I would have thought that you'd have realised it wouldn't be comfortable," said Gaius reproachfully.
"Yes, Arthur," said Merlin, trying and failing to stop a grin appearing on his lips. "Don't be such a girl!"
Arthur muttered something unprintable and went back to his bent position over the table. Merlin, meanwhile, had edged behind a chair. Arthur's body had always appealed to him – it was a large part of why they were dating, after all - but he didn't want that appeal to become as obvious as it was threatening to in public.
Arthur had a long, pink strip taken out of the blond hair which grew down there which would have been very funny if he'd not been ready to strangle Merlin on the spot. Another yell rang out moments later as Gaius yanked a particularly thick clump out.
"Merlin, I hope you know that there is a death warrant sitting on my desk upstairs that will very soon have your name on it!" Arthur snapped as the echo of his fourth shout died in the air.
That one had been the most difficult and embarrassing yet. It had ripped all of the hair out from between his legs. To achieve it, Prince Arthur had ended up lying on his back with his legs apart, gripping the sides of the table. Both Merlin and Gaius together had to pull the linen strip as it had proved too much for Gaius alone.
Besides, Arthur had emphatically rejected Merlin's suggestion that he fetch one of the royal stallions to do the pulling, so they had been left with a choice between doing it together themselves or to fetch one of the knights. There hadn't been any contest, really. If one of the knights had been summoned, Arthur would never have heard the end of it.
Eventually, it was over and Arthur had dressed himself. It felt very breezy down there and a bit tender but otherwise fine.
"If anybody breathes a word of this," he hissed as he snatched the jar of soothing ointment from Gaius, "they will be in the stocks quicker than they can blink! Is that understood‽"
Merlin and Gaius nodded. He strode out furiously, slamming the door shut behind him.
Merlin didn't see him for the rest of the day. It wasn't until he came to see if Arthur wanted anything before going to bed that they were placed together again. Merlin found him laying on his bed covers, still in a funk but less angry than before.
"Did you want anything?" he asked, standing half in and half out of the doorway.
In truth, he was using it as a shield. Arthur had a wicked aim with pillows, jugs, cups and just about anything else that came to hand. It was best, Merlin had learned, to pre-empt the missiles rather than try to run from them.
"Shut that door and come here."
Merlin obeyed and soon found himself standing in front of his lover. Arthur stood up and took him by the shoulders.
Merlin swallowed and ran his hands down Arthur's back to the smooth, firm cheeks below. He hardened instantly.
"You seem to have done me a favour," said Arthur. "It feels nicer like this. Do you like it?"
Merlin swallowed and nodded.
"Good, because I want you to have it done too."
"But I haven't got any wax."
Arthur smiled, bent down and pulled something out from under the bed. It turned out to be a small pot of melted wax, a brush and some linen strips.
"Oh, no, I don't really want to have it done. Honestly," said Merlin, backing away.
"Merlin, did you know that it's the law in Camelot that the Prince's Manservant is not allowed to have hair down there?"
"Is it? Since when?"
"Since I slipped it into the pile of legal papers that had been signed into law a few hours ago," said Arthur with a wicked grin. "I think that you've been quite lax in this area. Allow me to correct it."
He grabbed Merlin, sat down, pushed him over his knees, pulled his breeches down and applied the warm liquid.
It wasn't long before a shout of pain echoed around the room. The guards didn't intervene. Arthur had told them not to. Revenge, it seemed, was as sweet as honey.