Another's crime

After Gwen's father is executed she is a little out of it. Gwen makes a mistake and Merlin is punished for it.

King Uther arrived at his quarters with a purposeful stride, as always the King was moving determinately from where he had been to where he was going. Uther had always been a man of action and did not tolerate ideally wasting time getting from one place to another when he had something important waiting for him. This time Uther was looking for a set of crucial repots that had arrived the day before, the reports gave information on the maned outposts along the borders of the kingdom. Reviewing them regularly was required to help stave off attacks, kept them informed about bandits and crops, and be alerted them about potential problems like plagues or other difficulties.

Uther had ordered the reports to be brought to his quarters as soon as they'd arrived, and the master of the house had informed the King the reports had been delivered that morning. Uther scanned his table and his eyes narrowed in rage, the reports were not there Uther instantly bellowed, "Guards!"

Two soldiers arrived in the King's quarters as he explained, "I was told the reports from the outlying military stations had arrived, but they are not here. Someone may have stolen them, I want the entire castle locked down and searched until they are found. Those reports give crucial information about our outposts and could be used against us. GO!" The two men did not need to be told twice, they instantly headed off and alerted Prince Arthur and the other members of the Camelot guard.

Apapapapapapapa

Merlin was darting through the castle, heading to the library desperately hoping to find the King's missing reports. Merlin knew (as did everyone else who served in the palace) that those reports were crucial to the protection of the kingdom, he also knew that with the reports missing innocent men's lives could be in danger. Merlin had a pretty good idea of what had happened to the reports and headed to the library praying he got to them before any damage was done.

Merlin skidded into the library and startled the aged librarian Geoffrey, "What are you doing?!"

Merlin gasped, "No time to explain, where are the new scrolls you received?"

Geoffrey pointed to a stack on the table next to his desk, "Right there, why?"

Merlin instantly started looking through them as Geoffrey asked, "What are you doing?" indignantly.

Merlin explained, "I'm looking for the reports from the outlying military posts, I think they got mixed in here." Merlin riffled through the papers, opening each scroll and skimming over the top. One of the reasons he was helping to locate these lost items was that he was one of the only servants in the castle who knew how to read.

Merlin continued to look through them before he found a group of scrolls that held the information everyone had frantically been searching for the last hour. Without saying another word Merlin scooped up the scrolls and ran for the king's chamber hoping no harm had been done. Merlin arrived at the king's rooms to find Prince Arthur and several other knights standing around Uther discussing the search. Merlin bowed clumsily, "I found them sire."

Uther took the scrolls and said, "Good, we must discover who misplaced them immediately. Whoever it was must be punished."

Merlin felt himself pale, he knew exactly who had misplaced those scrolls and he would be damned if he allowed any further harm to come to her after all she'd gone through. Swallowing Merlin bowed, "If you please sire it was me."

Uther and Arthur's head jerked up at these words. The knights all glared angrily at Merlin while Arthur gaped and Uther seethed. Merlin knew Arthur looked shocked, because the prince was perfectly aware Merlin had not lost those scrolls, Merlin had been assisting the prince on the training ground when the scrolls had arrived so there was no way he'd handled them before now. Arthur looked like he was going to speak out, but Merlin shook his head meaningfully as Uther shouted, "WHAT?!"

Merlin bowed, "The master of the house asked me to deliver two groups of scrolls that arrived this morning sire. One group was those reports, which were to be brought to your rooms. And the other set was to be taken to the library. I was in a hurry because I was training with Prince Arthur this morning and accidentally left both sets of scrolls in the library. You have my deepest and most humble apologies for my actions Sire, and I ask you to please show mercy."

Uther stalked forward looking absolutely furious, "SORRY?! Do you have any idea what you could have done?! If these reports had been lost innocent men could have been killed, we could have been attacked, you put the entire kingdom in danger through your carelessness. You stupid foolish boy!"

Merlin cringed, he had never seen Uther so angry and he didn't know what the king would do. Arthur seemed to sense this as well and said, "Father, Merlin's actions where foolhardy, I'll agree, but we have the scrolls now and they have only been delayed an hour in being read. It is unlikely any harm will be done because of it. Why not simply sentence Merlin to time in the stocks and allow that to be his punishment?"

Merlin gave Arthur a grateful grin as King Uther turned and shouted, "The stocks! You think that is suitable enough for this?! The boy's actions could have been catastrophic for our kingdom and it's people. No, the stocks is not enough this time. This time the boy will receive a more severe punishment."

Uther turned back to Merlin, whose stomach had dropped during the king's rant, "The boy will be flogged, he will be taken to the whipping post this afternoon and receive 12 lashes with a braided whip."

Merlin's face paled as Arthur stepped forward, "Father, please surely that isn't necessary."

Uther turned back to his son, "I will decide what is necessary."

Arthur gaped at Uther, Merlin could see the prince was about to tell the king that Merlin hadn't lost the scrolls, but Merlin cut him off, "I humbly accept your punishment sire. I hope that my actions have not caused any innocents to suffer and once again beg your forgiveness."

Arthur turned back to Merlin looking shocked, he knew Merlin was covering for someone, but couldn't for the life of him figure out who it was. Arthur was also surprised to hear Merlin speak so eloquently. The bumbling servant was often crass and blunt to the point of rudeness (which Arthur found refreshing compared to how most people on the kingdom walked on eggshells around him) and to hear Merlin speak so well was a real change to his manservant.

Uther glared hatefully at Merlin, "I do not forgive incompetence. If you had not saved my son's life twice I would dismiss you immediately, hopefully the whip will teach you a lesson in carelessness."

Merlin bowed once again, "Yes my lord."

Uther turned to the knights, "Guards, escort this boy down to the dungeons, he will remain there until the whipmaster has arrived,"

Arthur could see Merlin shaking with fear, and he couldn't blame him for it. Growing up in Camelot Arthur had seen men whipped before (and he knew Merlin had not only seen whippings, but helped treat them as well) and they both knew that a whipping was a dangerous thing. Many men (even hardened soldiers) ended up getting sick or dying from a whipping because of infections, blood-loose, or simply because their hearts gave out during the actual beating. For those who survived recovery was a slow and painful process, and the victims were always left with scars.

Arthur didn't want to see his friend suffer, but he wasn't going to betray Merlin's decision by explaining Merlin was about to be punished for another's mistake. Also, Arthur knew perfectly well that Uther was just as likely to insist Merlin be beaten anyways as punishment for lying to the king. Arthur decided to do all he could and said, "Father I would like you permission to escort Merlin to the dungeons, I would like to have a few words with my manservant."

Arthur added a tone of false anger and disappointment to his voice and the king nodded, "Of course Arthur, and if you wish to dismiss the boy yourself I will have no objection. "

Arthur shook his head, "I don't think that will be necessary father, I think your punishment is suitable enough. Now let's go."

Arthur bowed respectfully to his father and walked out with Merlin and the knights. Merlin stiffened as he felt the two knights he didn't know grab him by the arms. Merlin's stomach felt like a brick as he was led down to the dungeons. He had never expected this when he confessed to the loss of the scrolls, but at the same time he didn't regret it. This would be a difficult and painful experience he knew, but Merlin would rather it was him opposed to her.

Merlin didn't say anything as he was taken down to the dungeons, he honestly wasn't sure he could open his mouth without throwing up. Once they arrived the knights tossed him in the cell and locked it. Arthur turned to them, "Leave us."

The knights obeyed without a moments hesitation, once they were out of ear-shot Arthur said, "Alright Merlin, I know you didn't lose those scrolls so tell me. Who are you covering for?"

Merlin looked around anxiously before he swallowed and said, "Gwen."

Arthur's head jerked up. "WHAT?!"

Merlin sighed heavily, "It was Gwen, I saw her talking to Timothy the house master this morning, I heard him tell Gwen about the two sets of scrolls and that's how I knew where to find the lost reports (at least I hoped they'd be in the library)."

Arthur's mouth hung open in shock, in all the time he'd known Gwen, he had never seen her make such a careless mistake, but Arthur knew it was true. He could tell by the devastated look on Merlin's face that it was Gwen who was a fault. Arthur couldn't believe it, Merlin explained, "Ever since her father died Gwen's been having problems. She sometimes starts crying for no reason, and is a little more forgetful; and clumsy in her actions. The other servants and I have been covering for her. Picking up extra duties and doing what we can to ease her burden. I heard Master Timothy telling Gwen about the scrolls this morning, and I assumed she had mistakenly left the reports in the library because of her difficulties."

Arthur barked, "Why didn't you say something?"

Merlin shot back, "Because I didn't want Gwen to lose her position. I know you would never say anything, and neither would the Lady Morgana, but if King Uther or Master Timothy, or someone else found out Gwen could be dismissed. Losing her position here in the castle so soon after losing her father could devastate Gwen."

Arthur sighed heavily, "Why didn't Gwen just take some time off then?"

Merlin rolled his eyes in that exasperated way he often did when Arthur said something that showed his lack of connection with commoners, "She can not afford to. Gwen lost her father, and when he died she became solely responsible for paying for everything she needs. She does not have the funds set aside to 'take time off' and even if she did, she doesn't want to. Myself and a few other servants said we would tend to her duties if she needed time to mourn, but she came in after lunch the first day, she said she couldn't stand just sitting around in that empty house surrounded by things that reminded her of her father. Personally I can't blame her for that. I remember when my friend Will lost his father. Will's father Edward (a/n I don't remember if this is actually the name of Will's father, if it was even mentioned in that episode) used to play the lute, and after he died Will couldn't even look at the lute for over a year because of the memories that come up with it. Seeing that lute reminded Will of all he'd lost and it was just too painful. For Gwen seeing the empty house is the same. If she had to stay home I'm sure she'd have lost it completely by now."

Arthur nodded in understanding, he had seen many knights and nobles who had lost loved ones and he knew that people who had suffered such losses often had difficulties being around things and places that reminded them of those they had lost. Arthur had known many nobles to move to back country estates to escape the constant crush of memories associated with a place where a departed loved one had been. Gwen of course would have had no such option.

Arthur reached into the bars and grabbed Merlin's hand, squeezing it in comfort as he said, "You're a good man, and a good friend."

Merlin gave a weak smile, "Thanks, Arthur there's something, actually two things, I need you to do for me."

Arthur looked Merlin right in the eye, "Anything" He meant it to, Merlin was doing this to protect Gwen, the woman Arthur loved, and Arthur knew it was a debt he would never be able to fully repay. Therefore, Arthur would help Merlin in whatever way the other man asked.

Merlin nodded in gratitude and said, "You must promise me, on your word of honor Arthur. That you will not tell Gwen, like I said she's been a little absentminded lately. It's been getting better with each day that passes, but it's still there and I'm sure Gwen doesn't even realize what she did. If you tell her she'll be devastated, wracked with guilt, and I don't want that. Gwen's been through enough and she doesn't deserve to suffer any more."

Arthur looked Merlin in the eye and for the first time since he had met the other young man, Arthur gave him a look of utmost respect, "I swear to you, on my honor as a knight that I will do everything in my power to ensure Gwen never learns the truth." It actually wouldn't be that hard, Arthur doubted if anyone other than Merlin and himself knew Gwen was actually responsible. As Merlin had said Gwen wouldn't remember, and as for Geoffrey and Timothy, they wouldn't be a problem. Geoffrey was so consumed by his books and scrolls that he often got lost amongst them.

Geoffrey was very forgetful when it came to people (which is part of why he had never married) and wouldn't remember Gwen dropping off the scrolls. As for the Master of the house, Timothy had so much to do on any given day in Camelot that he would never recall which servant he'd ordered to deliver the scrolls. In fact Arthur was willing to bet his title Timothy was so relieved that he wouldn't personally be punished for the loss of the scrolls that the other man wouldn't delve too deeply into the matter. Timothy would simply be grateful he hadn't been punished, call Merlin incompetent, and keep a closer eye on the bumbling young man from now on.

Arthur prompted, "You said you had two things to ask me."

Merlin squeezed Arthur's hand as his breathing became labored, "Will you be there when it happens?"

Arthur understood what Merlin was asking, as the crown prince it would be expected for Arthur to attend, Merlin was his servant after all, but Merlin wasn't just asking Arthur to go to the whipping he was asking Arthur to be there for him. Arthur knew that Merlin needed his support if he was going to get through this. Arthur squeezed Merlin's hand back ,"Yes I will, Merlin I wish I could stay with you, but my father will expect me back soon."

Merlin said, "Thank you." Quietly and Arthur turned to leave, Arthur felt his stomach drop as he walked away. He was conflicted, on the one hand Merlin was going through all this to protect Gwen. Arthur understood and respected that, he was grateful (Arthur knew Merlin was doing this for Gwen and not for him, but still it meant a lot) on the other hand Merlin was going to suffer for his actions and Arthur didn't want to see that. He knew there was no other option, but he didn't like the idea of watching Merlin hurt for a crime that the other man hadn't committed.

Arthur stopped by Gaius' chambers on his way back to his father, Arthur knew that he had to deliver the news about Merlin to Gaius personally, the other boy deserved as much. Arthur knocked and Gaius' voice came from the other side, "Come in."

Arthur opened the door and Gaius turned around, "Ah, good afternoon sire, I assume you are here to explain where Merlin's gone off to."

Arthur swallowed heavily, he didn't want to do this. He knew how much Merlin meant to Gaius and he didn't want to be the one to tell the kindly old physician about his ward, but he knew that Gaius deserved to hear the truth, and Arthur was going to tell him. Arthur gestured to the bench, "You better sit down."

Gaius took a seat as his face fell, he had noticed the grave expression Arthur was sporting and knew this was a serious matter, "what's wrong?"

Arthur sat down, "Merlin is in the dungeon."

Gaius' eyes went wide, "WHAT?! WHY?"

Arthur sighed, "We received the reports from the outlying military posts today, and they were misplaced. Merlin confessed to having misplaced them, and my father." Arthur paused as he struggled to get the words out, he had always respected his father, but there were moments like this when he truly and utterly disagreed with the king's decisions. As these moments became more and more common Arthur could feel them causing a rift between himself and his father. True, they were still close, but there were some things that would always come between them and this was one of those things. Arthur knew it was going to be difficult for Gaius as well, Gaius was a good man and he and Uther had been close for many years. To hear what the king had sentenced the physicians' ward to was going to be hard.

Arthur took a deep shuddering breath and said, "My father has ordered Merlin to be flogged."

Gaius' face went white, his mouth fell, he looked completely stricken and for a moment Arthur couldn't help being worried this news might cause Gaius to have some sort of heart episode. Gaius gasped, "No, oh no, Arthur is there nothing you can do?"

Arthur took in the saddened and desperate look on Gaius' face and shook his head miserably, "My father is determined to see this through, I'm afraid nothing will dissuade him."

Gaius closed his eyes and tilted his head back, "Merlin wasn't the one who made this mistake is he?"

Arthur shook his head, "No he isn't, but I have sworn not to say who he is protecting."

Gaius swallowed and instantly began to gather items from around his quarters, "He'll need treatment. I'll have everything ready when the time comes, do you know when it is scheduled for?

Arthur sighed, "As soon as the whipmaster arrives, my father will probably order the other servants to watch as some kind of 'lesson' I will personally bring Merlin to you once he has been released."

Gaius nodded and went back to puttering around the room gathering ingredients. Arthur left him to it. Most people would have seen Gaius' behavior as cold, but Arthur knew the older man was throwing himself into his work so he wouldn't torment himself over what his ward was about to suffer. Arthur didn't call Gaius on the matter. He knew this was going to be difficult for Gaius in particular, it was common knowledge that the physician loved Merlin like a son and seeing him suffer would be hard on Gaius.

Arthur stopped one of the palace servants, a young boy of about 13 with brown hair, freckles, and deep set green eyes whose name Arthur did not know, "Gaius needs assistance with preparing for a patients' treatment please see to it that a knowledgeable servant is sent to him."

The servant's eyes widened at the word please, but he nodded and said, "Yes sire, right away." Then he continued on his way, continually glancing back at Arthur as though unsure what to make of the prince.

Arthur arrived back in his father's rooms to see Morgana standing there starring daggers at the king, as Arthur came in he picked up the conversation, "Surely this isn't necessary, a flogging is a very serious punishment."

Arthur winced, so Morgana had heard, Arthur wasn't surprised, news spread fast around the castle and Morgana had a number of connections with the servants, knights, and nobles, that ensured she was always kept well-informed of everything that was happening.

Uther looked up, "and the boys actions could have had serious consequences." Uther held up the reports and continued, "Without these innocent lives could have been lost, men could have been killed. We could have been attacked, any number of tragedies could have occurred. "

Morgana shot back, "But nothing happened, the reports were only misplaced for an hour, and you've just told me that there is no urgent news in any of them."

Uther slammed his fist down and said, "That is not the point! The point is, that something terrible could have happened, and slip-ups like this can not be tolerated by servants working in the royal household."

Morgana pushed back, "But surely a flogging isn't necessary."

Uther stubbornly stated, "It most certainly is, a flogging will show all the servants the consequences of making dangerous mistakes like this."

Morgana instantly bristled and Arthur braced himself, he knew that whatever was about to come wouldn't be good, and he was right. Morgana's voice turned icy as she said, "So this is just a way for you to put fear in the hearts of the palace servants and show everyone what a strong, powerful king you are by having an innocent man punished for a simple mistake that caused no serious problems in any ways."

Uther stood glaring angrily at his ward, "I am doing this because we as the royal household have to do everything we can to protect our kingdom. We can not afford for anyone serving us to get sloppy and make foolish mistakes, whether it be a noble, a knight, or a servant, and the sooner people learn that the better it will be. The boy should be grateful, if these reports had been lost or delayed any longer, or if there going missing had resulted in some tragedy befalling the kingdom I would have ordered for his immediate execution."

Morgana tensed and then shook her head in disgust, "You want your people to respect you, but they don't they fear you."

Uther shot back, "I would rather they fear me than have them walk all over me."

Morgana turned and walked out saying, "Perhaps one day you will learn that true strength comes from showing mercy to those below you, as opposed to simply crushing them beneath your feet whenever you feel the need."

Uther scowled at Morgana's retreating back as Arthur sat down, he was required to go over the results of these blasted reports with his father (even if there was nothing in the). Arthur sat there starring angrily at the scrolls, he found himself hating everything about them from the ink coloring them to the way they curled in on themselves. Arthur knew it was stupid, the scrolls weren't to blame for what was about to happen, but he couldn't blame Gwen, and he knew that if he held his father responsible he wouldn't be able to deal with Uther right now, and the last thing this situation needed was to be inflamed by Arthur going off at his father. Uther would probably have Merlin banished or beheaded if he found his son taking the side of a servant over the king. So Arthur starred angrily at the scrolls wishing he could tear them into pieces and throw them into the fire.

After what seemed like no time, but was actually well over an hour a knock came at the door. Uther called, "Enter."

And Timothy came in with a bow, "The whipmaster is here and the servants have been assembled along with the knights and peasants."

Arthur winced of course Uther would want to make this as public as possible, he wanted to show he punishment for incompetence in his kingdom. However, Arthur knew Morgana had been right, this would not make people respect the king it would make them afraid, and that kind of fear could turn against Uther one day. Arthur just prayed that day would never come. He and his father disagreed on a number of things, but Arthur didn't want to see any harm come to the king (no matter how angry he may be at the man at the time).

Arthur arrived at the courtyard where the whipping post was held and felt the bile rise in his throat as he saw the whipmaster standing their unfurling the instrument that was about to be put to Merlin's back. Arthur had maneuvered himself so that he was standing directly next to the whipping post. This way he would be directly in Merlin's line of sight when it came. Morgana was standing next to Arthur and Gauis was standing across form them with a sobbing Gwen next to him. Arthur felt a sense of deepest sorrow as he looked upon Gwen, he promised himself once again that she would never know Merlin was enduring this for her, because Arthur knew it would destroy all three of them to learn this.

Morgana was starring angrily at the king as Uther called out, "Bring forth the prisoner for his punishment."

The same guards who had taken Merlin to the dungeon now lead him to the post, Arthur noted with pride that Merlin was walking with his back straight and his head up. Despite the terror the other young man must have felt, he was obviously determined to face this whipping bravely and not surrender his dignity by being dragged to the post kicking and screaming. As ludicrous as it may sound Arthur had seen many hardened soldiers who had literally been dragged screaming to the post when they where ordered to be whipped.

Merlin walked up to the post, and Arthur saw his legs shaking slightly (he hoped for Merlin's sake that no one else had noticed) the guards had Merlin remove his shirt, Arthur noted absentmindedly that Merlin was missing his trademark jacket and neckerchief, then they tied him to the post.

Uther's voice rang out again, "This servant is to receive 12 lashes with a braided whip as punishment for misplacing important correspondence that was intended for my immediate review. Let this be a lesson that incompetence will not be tolerated in the royal servants. Begin."

The whip master brought his wrist back and the whip fell onto Merlin's back with a resounding crack. Merlin screamed in pain (which didn't surprise Arthur at all) and the whip tore at his back causing it to bleed. Arthur winced as he saw tears falling down Merlin's face, the whip came down again and Merlin threw his head back as he screamed again. Arthur felt revulsion rise in him as the whip came down again, each time it hit Merlin would scream in agony as his blood spattered over the ground behind him. Gwen was sobbing desperately, and Gauis held her to him looking stricken.

As the whip came down for the forth time Merlin's screams turned to gasping sobs, the whip master was the type who would always put as much force behind his blows as he could. Arthur knew it was because Uther would not allow for any sympathy or mercy to be shown to those who were being publically flogged.

Arthur had seen men whipped before, but watching was never easy, and watching someone you cared about being beaten was even worse. The whip master brought the whip down on Merlin again and again as the young man continued to sob and cry in pain. After the sixth strike Merlin's legs gave out completely, his head banged hard against the wooden post, and he was now supported only by his wrists which were tied to the post. By this time, even those who had been glaring angrily at Merlin for having misplaced the repots were giving him looks of utter sympathy. Arthur could see Leon standing resolute besides Gaius, the ever-loyal knight was looking sadly on his friend and Arthur could see that Leon hated watching this as much as he did.

As the whip continued to fall Merlin's screaming sobs became quieter, it was obvious that he was loosing strength. By the time the last three lashes fell Merlin had completely lost his voice and was simply sagging against the post shaking with sobs as the blood ran sickeningly down his back. Arthur strode forward as people passed him by, walked up to the post and saw that Leon had done the same. Arthur cut the bonds that were all that was holding Merlin up and he and Leon caught the smaller man as his body sagged. Merlin leaned into Arthur and took several shuddering breaths.

At first Arthur thought Merlin was unconscious (he certainly wouldn't be the first person to pass out after a whipping), but Merlin's glazed eyes starred groggily back at Arthur. Merlin whispered a weak, "Thank you." And instantly began to try to get his feet underneath him. Arthur and Leon each put a shoulder under Merlin's arms, careful not to touch his still badly bleeding back, and began to walk him to Gaius' rooms.

Merlin limped into the castle, he leaned heavily on the two men supporting him, but he stayed upright the entire time. Morgana, Gwen and Gaius all followed closely behind them as they left. Arthur could feel his father's eyes boring into the back of his skull and knew that Uther would be angry, but couldn't bring himself to care.

Once they were out into hall what little strength Merlin had retained seemed to falter, his legs were shaking badly and his breathing was getting raspy. Arthur looked over and said, "Leon."

The other knight nodded not needing an explanation, the two of them each placed a hand behind Melrin's knees and lifted up so they were cradling the smaller man in their arms. The sudden shift in position caused Merlin's stomach to turn and he leaned his head over their shoulders and vomited. Arthur winced as he felt the warm bile hit the back of his shirt and pants, he looked over and saw the mess had hit Leon's cape as well as Gwen, and Morgana's dresses and Gauis' robes. Arthur felt a sense of gratitude that he had worn a simple outfit today, and not his ceremonial robes, he shuddered to think what his father would say if Arthur's best robes had been ruined because Arthur was helping Merlin.

Merlin flushed with shame as he mumbled, "Sorry."

Morgana came forward walking right through the sick without a moments pause, and kissed Merlin's temple, which was already beginning to bruise, and wiped his mouth with the silk handkerchief that Uther had given her as a part of her Christmas gifts the previous year. The handkerchief and the dress would both be ruined, as would Sir Leon's cape, but none of them complained. Once Merlin was cleaned up Morgana said, "It's fine." And they started off again.

As they continued to Gaius' rooms Arthur could smell the vomit that was drying on the back of his shirt and trousers. Arthur knew he stank, and he knew that if his father found out there would be a very long discussion about appropriate behavior and decorum, Princes' didn't walk around the castle carrying injured servants with vomit staining the back of their clothes. Arthur knew this could cause problems, but frankly he couldn't care less. His friend needed him and Arthur would be damned if he'd let Merlin be abandoned right now.

Morgana stopped one of the palace guards and whispered some orders Arthur couldn't hear, the guard nodded and instantly headed off. Arthur gave Morgana a questioning gaze, but she waved it off. Soon they came to what Arthur had been dreading, the stairs. It wasn't a particularly long walk up, and Merlin was certainly light enough to not cause any trouble with carting him around, but the movements would jostle the smaller man and undoubtedly add to his pain.

Arthur muttered a quiet apology and they started up, sure enough his assumption had been right. With each step up Merlin hissed in pain as his back was jarred. Arthur could see the blood from the lashes falling onto the stairs and reminded himself to have another servant clean it up. It wouldn't do for someone to trip on Merlin's blood and get hurt, what's more he didn't want to see servants, nobles, and knights wandering around the castle with Merlin's blood sprinkling the bottom of their hems and the tops of their shoes. Arthur shook himself out these morbid thoughts as Gwen opened the door to Gauis' chamber.

Leon and Arthur carried Merlin to the cot, with their right hands behind his shoulder where they wouldn't touch the lash marks, and their left arms under his knees. They set Merlin down gently and he rolled over onto his stomach with a groan. The other four all winced in sympathy at his back. Gwen was crying once again and Gaius gave a quiet, "Oh my dear boy."

Then he quickly gathered the items to treat Merlin's wounds. Merlin's back was torn with the 12 lashes, they were long and deep, and bleeding profusely. There were bruises forming along the lashes, Arthur winced in sympathy Merlin was going to be in a lot of pain.

Gaius came over with a yellow potion that Merlin recognized as a typical pain killing potion. Merlin swallowed it and Gaius handed Merlin a wooden bit. Merlin groaned as he took the bit into his mouth. Gaius gently rain a hand through Merlin's hair, "I'm sorry my boy, but there's no other way."

Merlin nodded and Gaius began his work. Arthur watched as Gaius, Gwen and Morgana gently cleaned Merlin's back with clean water and wash cloths. Because the wounds were still bleeding they had to continually switch out the cloths as they became too badly stained with blood to be used anymore. Once the wounds were clean Gaius motioned for Arthur and Leon, the two men had helped Gaius treat wounds before and knew what was coming next.

Arthur and Leon both said, "sorry." Together as they carefully held Merlin down by the shoulders. Gauis took out two needles and two sets of threads and then he and Gwen began to carefully sew the wounds closed. Morgana knelt down and placed Merlin's head in her lap she rubbed his hair and sang softly to him. Arthur saw Leon starring at the king's ward in shock, but he knew the loyal knight would never speak a word to the king about this. Merlin's fists clenched and he chomped hard at the bit as the stitches were applied. Merlin's body instinctively jerked against the pain, but Arthur and Leon held him steady so he wouldn't hurt himself further.

Arthur could hear Merlin's muffled cries as his back stiffened, and he tried to move away from the pain. Arthur was surprised with how strong Merlin was, it took everything he and Leon had to keep the smaller man braced on the bed and unmoving. Arthur could tell Merlin was in agony, he could see tears streaming down the smaller mans face, staining Morgana's already ruined dress, but no one complained about it and Arthur knew they would never mention any of it to Merlin. Gaius and Gwen worked together to stitch the wounds, but there were so many, and they went so deep that it took them well over two hours before they were done.

The entire time the stitches had been applied Merlin had been crying and gasping in pain, writhing against the two men holding him down. Once the stitches were done Merlin went limp, Arthur wasn't surprised to see that he had passed out, in fact if he had been entirely honest he'd expected Merlin to loose consciousness much sooner. Arthur and Leon released Merlin as Gaius removed the bit and tenderly cleaned the fresh blood that was now staining the young man's back. Gwen and Morgana didn't help this time, they could all tell that Gaius needed to do this for Merlin on his own. Once the wounds were re-cleaned Gaius rubbed honey onto the wounds and then also put a green poultice that smelled like a musty cave on them. Merlin hissed in pain and squirmed in his sleep, but didn't wake.

Once the poultice had been rubbed in Gaius turned to Arthur and Leon, "If you could please sit him up Sir's."

Arthur and Leon gently lifted Merlin up out of Morgana's lap, they all saw that there was snot smearing her dress along with tears, but again none of them would ever say anything. Arthur knew that Morgana's lovely silk dress was now completely ruined, and he also knew that she didn't care in the least. Gaius carefully wrapped Merlin in bandages with Gwen's help, once the young man's torso was covered they laid him back down.

Gaius said, "He needs sleep, he'll be tired and sore for quite some time, and we'll have to watch the wounds carefully for infection, but he should be alright."

Arthur nodded, "Gaius if you need anything for Merlin just ask."

Gaius gave him a grateful look, "I will sire, but what will you tell the king?"

Arthur smirked, "Nothing unless he asks."

Gaius gave a conspiratorial grin back and checked Merlin once again, as he ran his hands carefully over the rest of Merlin's body to check for other injuries his face dropped, "Oh dear boy." Then he turned to Gwen, "could you go into Merlin's room and grab and extra pair of trousers please Gwen?"

Gwen nodded as Arthur asked, "why does he need extra trousers?"

Arthur couldn't understand why Merlin needed a different pair of trousers and Gaius said, "Because the one's he is wearing are soiled, and not just with blood or vomit." Arthur starred at Gaius curiously before realization dawned on him, Merlin had wet himself during the whipping.

Arthur looked straight at Leon, "Not one word."

Leon straightened and said, "I would never."

Gwen came down carrying a fresh pair of trousers and the others backed away so Gaius could put up the privacy screen and help clean Merlin up and change his trousers. Arthur's nose wrinkled as the smell of drying vomit hit his nose, he had almost forgotten about Merlin splashing them all as he threw-up. He wondered how they were going to get to their quarters and change without Uther noticing, but before he could worry a knock came at the door.

Leon opened it and a young serving girl with mousie blonde hair and freckles on her face came in carrying two new dresses (one a simple homespun and one a fine green silk) and two pairs of shoes (one plain brown and one black leather), behind her came a red-haired serving boy holding a new cloak for Leon and fresh clothes and boots for Arthur.

Morgana smirked knowingly and Arthur said, "thank you."

Morgana said, "I knew we'd need them, and I also ordered for the cleaning of the floor."

Morgana and Gwen slipped into Merlin's room to change, grabbing a bucket of clean water as they went, and Arthur and Leon changed in the corner of the room after Arthur locked the door. The two servants left as Arthur and Leon cleaned the left-over from Merlin's vomit off themselves (they hadn't gotten much on their skin, mostly it had been their clothing that was damaged) and put on fresh clothes once they were cleaned and changed Arthur asked Gaius, "Do you need anything else?"

The physician stuck his head out from behind the screen and tossed Merlin's ruined breeches onto the floor, "No sire, you'd best get to your father, he's probably waiting for you."

Arthur sighed as he piled the ruined clothes together in the corner of the room, "I'll have a servant come and get these."

Gaius gave a quiet, "Thank you." As Gwen and Morgana came out of Merlin's room holding their clothes, they added their dresses to the pile and put their shoes next to Leon's cape and Arthur's boots.

Arthur headed down to the throne room and unsurprisingly found his father waiting there for him. Uther proceeded to give Arthur a very long lecture about propriety, proper princely behavior, and how to 'deal with' the peasant class. Arthur only half-listened he'd heard all of this a dozen times before and he was more worried about Merlin than anything else. Arthur couldn't get the image of Merlin's shredded back out of his mind, he had never seen the smaller man look so vulnerable, not even when he'd been poisoned. Eventually Uther dismissed is son and Arthur decided to go and down and train. If he couldn't take his frustrations out on his father, he would take them out on a few of the training dummies.

Arthur and Leon both pushed themselves harder than usual during training that day, Arthur knew it was hard for the loyal knight to see his friend suffer. Gwen spent the day helping Gaius tend to Merlin and Morgana made sure that food and other necessities were sent to the physicians' rooms. Arthur knew Morgana had received the same lecture on behavior that he had, and he knew that she hadn't taken anything in either. Sooner than Arthur would have liked it was time for dinner, Arthur cleaned himself up and headed to the table where he would be dining with his father and Morgana. Ideally, Arthur would have preferred to eat in Gaius' rooms and be there to help with Merlin if need be, but he knew it would never do. Uther expected Arthur to eat with him and Morgana, and if Arthur skipped out there was a good chance Merlin, Gwen or Gaius would take the punishment and he wasn't willing to risk that after today.

Dinner was a quiet tense affair, Morgana glared daggers at Uther while the king simply ate quietly, not bothering to say once again that Merlin had gotten what he deserved, and Arthur simply sat there starring at his food, hardly eating any despite the hard training that afternoon.

Once the meal was over Arthur headed to Gaius' rooms with Morgana close behind, they found Gwen and Gaius standing next to Merlin's bed as the young man slept. The two of them looked up as Arthur asked, "How is he?"

Gaius sighed, "he's been in and out of consciousness almost all day, there's no sign of infection as of yet. And he doesn't have a fever, and fortunately the blow to his head doesn't seem to have caused any serious damage."

Arthur nodded and sat down running a hand gently through Merlin's short hair, "How long will he need to recover?"

Gaius sighed heavily, "At least a fortnight (a/n two weeks), and once he gets back up he'll need to take it easy. No heavy lifting and no training, you'll need to have one of the other servants assist with some of those duties."

Arthur turned back, "I could just have another servant take over until Merlin's fully recovered."

Gaius snorted, "And what do you think Merlin would say to that?"

Arthur grinned knowingly, as much as Merlin complained about his job they all knew the other young man wouldn't just sit around and do nothing, he would want to go back to work. Merlin leaned into Arthur's hand and gave small sigh, Arthur shook his head ruefully and sat down.

Gaius asked, "How is the king?"

Arthur knew Gaius wasn't asking after Uther's well-being, but regarding his feeling towards Merlin. Arthur said, "Fine, he seems appeased, Merlin should probably keep himself scarce for a while, but I don't think father will do anything else."

Gauis let out a relieved sigh, the kings' tendency to hold a grudge was well-known and it wouldn't be the first time the man had overly punished a servant for doing some wrong. Arthur knew Gaius wanted to spare Merlin that. Gwen looked sadly at her friend, "he'll have scars." She said simply.

The others nodded, as Gaius said, "He'll learn to live with them."

Arthur turned back to Gwen, he could tell by the look on her face that Merlin had been right, she didn't realize that she had been responsible for all of this, and Arthur had no intention of informing her of it under any circumstances.

The four of them sat there together and Gaius talked about Merlin's recovery, he would have to stay in bed for at least a week (which Merlin would hate), and then he could get up and around again as long as he took it easy. After a fortnight he'd be able to go back to light duty, and then full duty once his back was completely healed, which would probably take about a month. Gaius added, "It is important that we keep a close eye on him, even though the head injury isn't serious it could cause problems later on like memory problems, or dizzy spells, or blurred vision. He'll also need to take it easy as he builds up his strength. Merlin will probably insist that he is 'fine', but he'll be very tired and weak at first, it will take time for him to recover."

Arthur nodded his understanding and said, "Don't worry Gaius I promise I'll see to it he doesn't push himself too hard."

Gaius gave him a severe look, "You better."

Arthur gulped and promised he would, he and Morgana stayed a few more hours before returning to their rooms. They both wanted to stay the night, but knew Uther would have a fit if they did. Arthur slept fitfully that night, he kept hearing Merlin's cries of pain and seeing the blood splashing the ground as the whip came down over and over again, only this time it was worse. In the dream the whipping didn't end., it went on and on until Merlin's screams completely died out.

Arthur gasped as he jerked up in bed, nightmare, just a nightmare he repeated this to himself over and over again as he sat up. Knowing there was no point in trying to sleep he got up and started going over grain reports, knowing it would need to be done anyway and now was as good a time as any. The sun was just starting to peak out when a quiet knock came at the door, "Come!" he called and Gwen came in.

Arthur stood quickly searching her face for a sign of any problems. Gwen smiled brilliantly, "he's awake."

Arthur instantly headed to Gaius' rooms and found Merlin still lying in bed, but obviously awake, his head was up and he was looking around. Merlin grinned as he saw Arthur come in, "Hello sire."

Arthur strode forward and noticed Morgana was already sitting at Merlin's side smiling genuinely at him. Arthur put on a falsely gruff voice, "Well slacking off as usual I see."

Merlin snorted and then winced in pain, "Yeah well you know me, lazy good-for-nothing."

Arthur sat next to him, "No you're not, now honestly how do you feel?"

Merlin winced again and Arthur saw the large bruise on his temple standing out against his pale skin, "It hurts like Hell."

Then he turned to Morgana and blushed, "sorry, my Lady."

Morgana waved him off, "Oh please Merlin, I've watched Arthur training with his knights since I was 8, I've heard worse things walking across the marketplace in the morning."

Merlin grinned back at her as Gwen sat down. Merlin turned to Arthur, "Gaius says there's no sign of infection, and I think I'll be alright."

Arthur crossed his arms, "You better be, I expect you up and out of bed, and back at your duties by days end."

Merlin could hear the teasing in his voice and replied with a whine, "but sire, my back's been torn to shreds."

Arthur shook his head and spoke in an imitation of his father, "Excuses, excuses. I will not tolerate excuses from my servant, you have duties which you are expected to fulfill and they will be fulfilled."

Everyone cracked up at this and Merlin winced once again. Gaius brought Merlin something to eat, it was a light porridge with a bit of bread. Merlin scrunched his nose up, but Gaius said, "you need to eat simple, easy to handle foods for a few days so your body can recover."

Merlin grumbled something about, "doesn't mean I have to like it." But carefully ate anyway. Merlin spent the rest of the day resting, he took several naps and Gaius and Gwen rewrapped his wounds. Arthur winced at seeing Merlin's back, but didn't say anything.

Apapapapapapapapa

The next few days passed in a fairly quiet manner, Merlin was tired and sore, Gaius did all he could, but it was obvious the young man was still in a great deal of pain. Merlin often had trouble sleeping and Gaius had to give him potions to counteract it. Arthur had one of the older palace servants take over Merlin's duties. His name was Thomas and he was decent man, but he was not Merlin. Arthur found himself ridiculously bored after the end of only the first day. Thomas wasn't the type to make jokes, or engage in any real conversation, he simply did as he was told and went on his way.

After three days Gaius gave Merlin permission to get out of bed, the young man started walking around their rooms slowly rebuilding his strength. By the end of the week Gaius had allowed Merlin to take walks outside, Gwen or another servant would always accompany Merlin, because he was still very weak. Merlin didn't realize that Arthur had noticed, but Merlin's legs often shook from exhaustion and he usually had to take several naps throughout the day just to keep himself going.

Merlin's strength returned and he went back to his duties, Arthur ensured that Thomas stayed on to help with heavy lifting and other difficult tasks. Arthur followed Gauis' orders and made sure Merlin didn't do anything with training, and kept him out of the stables as well. Finally, after nearly a month Gaius gave informed Arthur that the wounds had closed with no sign of infection. Arthur would never admit to anyone that he sighed in relief when he heard this, he would never admit how happy he was to hear that Merlin hadn't gotten an infection and that he would be all right, he would never admit it to anyone, but of course it had happened.

Arthur was thrilled to relieve Thomas of his duties and gave grin when he was woken the next day by the usual, "Rise and shine sire breakfast is ready."

Arthur sat-up and said, "Good to see you up and about again Merlin."

Merlin nodded as he went about picking up Arthur's clothes, "Good to be seen."

Arthur turned serious, "How are you feeling?"

Merlin sighed as he put the laundry in a small wicker basket, "Still sore, but it gets easier every day. Arthur can I ask you something?"

Arthur stood and said, "Yes, sure."

Merlin swallowed and asked, "Can I use that hand mirror you have for shaving, and your looking glass?"

Arthur gave him a puzzled look, "Why?"

Merlin's eyes turned sad, "I need to see them." And he pointed to his back.

Arthur sucked in a breath, "Are you sure you're ready?"

Merlin nodded, "As I'll ever be."

Arthur could see the determined look on Merlin's face and knew that Merlin was going to do this with or without Arthur's help, and Arthur was determined not to let Merlin do it alone. Arthur slid the full-length mirror out to the center of the room and Merlin took off his neckerchief and jacket, then pulled off his shirt. Arthur hissed as he saw his friends back, the 12 scars were nasty they ranged all across his back making a grotesque pattern of crisses and crosses that stretched from Merlin's shoulders down to his hips.

Merlin took a deep breath and put his back to the large mirror as Arthur handed him the shaving mirror. Merlin held the mirror up and his eyes widened as he gasped in shock, "Oh God." He said.

Arthur walked forward and took the mirror from Merlin's hands and pulled the smaller man into a hug. Merlin leaned into it and Arthur could feel tears leaking out of his eyes as Merlin's body shook. Arthur said, "let it out Merlin, you need it. Let it out."

As though this were some sort of signal Merlin broke down, he sobbed as he leaned heavily on Arthur, the prince was the only thing keeping Merlin standing, and he quickly maneuvered the shirtless man to his bed. Arthur sat there holding Merlin until he had cried himself out. Finally, Merlin pulled back and looked Arthur in the eyes, "Thank you."

Arthur said, "You're welcome, better?"

Merlin shook his head, "Not really, I needed that, and it meant a lot to me, and thank you, but it doesn't change anything. The scars are still there, I'll carry them for the rest of my life. I'm marked forever, I'm" Merlin searched for a word and finally said, "damaged'."

Arthur forced Merlin to look at him and said, "No you're not, your scars aren't a sign of weakness they are a sign of strength. They show how brave you are and what you are willing to go through to protect those you care about, they are not something to be ashamed of. They are simply something you must come to accept."

Merlin gave him a watery smile and said, "I can't make any promises, but I'll try."

Arthur gave him a playful punch which was accompanied with an indignant, "hey"

As Arthur said, "you'd better, now how about we get started on our day?"

Merlin sighed as he stood up and began to redress, "I suppose we should." And smiled cheekily at Arthur, "After all someone's got to clean up after you. God knows you can't do it yourself."

Arthur snorted and then sat down for breakfast, once he'd eaten he and Merlin walked out to the training field. Merlin walked a half step behind Arthur as they traveled through the castle, but once outside Arthur motioned him to fall in step. As they walked out to the training field side-by-side as equals Merlin couldn't help the grin that was covering his face, this meant more to him than he could ever say. Even though Merlin knew he had a long way to go before he was fully recovered, he realized that he would get there. The scars would stay, but as long as he had his friends and Gaius to support him he would get through it all and he would endure all the pain again to have this moment, walking beside his prince being treated as friend and being accepted as an ally.

The end.

So what do you think? I seem to have a case of one-shot itiss, I'll get to work on my chap fics again soon. Please review