Merlin came to one conclusion by the time morning came around. Arthur hogged the bed, not to mention the blanket and Merlin was in danger of falling on to the hard stone pavement.
Merlin poked him. "Why don't you move your big ass," he quietly hissed.
"I heard that Merlin," Arthur mumbled sleepily, his face half buried in the pillow.
Merlin didn't have a pillow. Arthur had declared as seeing he was the Prince that he should have the one and only other pillow and that is was his fault they were in this predicament to begin with.
"I have to pee," he muttered, sitting up and placing his feet on the ground.
Arthur managed to rouse himself.
"When you pee Merlin you have to squat," he said, pushing his hair out of his face.
Merlin nodded. "I know."
Arthur frowned. "How do you know that?"
He shrugged. "Makes sense is all."
Arthur muttered something unintelligible under his breath. Merlin glanced at the night dress Gwen had leant Arthur last night and the pink trim around the collar. Given the dim light it hadn't been at all noticeable last night but now it was and Arthur was blissfully unaware of it.
"Why have you got that stupid grin on your face?" he growled.
"I-I'm not grinning."
Arthur looked down at his night dress, noticing the pink flower trim and instantly lay back on bed groaning.
"It suits you," Merlin quipped and quickly ducked out of the room before Arthur could find anything to throw at him.
Arthur just wanted to lie there, pull the blanket over his head and pretend none of this was happening. It was humiliating to say the least, although Merlin seemed to find it amusing and went about things in his usual cheery way. Arthur felt like throttling him on numerous occasions.
Last night Guinevere had begged Merlin to do some magic tricks.
"I'm not allowed," Merlin had returned "Arthur won't let me."
Gwen had looked at him with puzzlement, making him feel bad.
"In case anyone has forgotten but magic is supposed to be outlawed," he'd grunted "not to mention that my manservant has kept this hidden from me for the last three years."
He still felt sore about it. Just how many other lies had Merlin told? Did Merlin mistrust him so much that he felt he couldn't confide his secret to him?
"No one will see in here, what could a little magic hurt," she began "p-l-e-a-s-e."
Of course he couldn't resist her and nodded to Merlin.
Merlin made candle lights dance, dragons and unicorns emerge from the small fire in the grate. His magic was spellbinding, gentle and strangely beautiful. Arthur was beginning to see him in a different light. He was still the bumbling manservant but there was also something else about him, something he couldn't figure out yet.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Arthur had asked as they both lay awake in bed waiting for sleep to come.
"You would probably have had me executed," Merlin half joked.
Arthur wasn't sure, maybe in the very early days but not now?
"I don't know what I would have done," he sighed, rolling over onto his side.
"And I didn't want to put you in that position," Merlin quietly said.
Arthur knew what it was now, what Merlin was beside the bumbling idiot humble.
Guinevere was preparing breakfast. Merlin was sitting at the table happily eating an apple. Arthur emerged from the back room. His hair rumpled a displeased look upon his face. He was still pissed about being a girl. Merlin only hoped Gaius didn't take too long to come up with a potion to put everything right, not that he really minded being a girl. It was kind of fun.
"Guinevere what do women do about these," Arthur grunted pointing to his chest.
Gwen chewed on her lip for a moment, obviously trying to suppress a laugh, Merlin mused.
"I have just the thing," she then said and began rummaging through a chest of drawers.
Arthur sat down at the table, glared at Merlin.
"What are you looking so happy about?" he snapped.
Merlin grinned. "I don't have any chores."
"Don't worry I'm sure I'll have a long list of chores when we get back," Arthur pointed out and the smile left Merlin's face.
He could only imagine and wasn't looking forward to it.
"Here you go," Gwen spoke and handed Arthur a corset.
Arthur gazed up at it scowling.
"What is that?" he finally spluttered his eyes shooting up to Gwen's face.
"It's a corset."
He frowned. "I know that but why are giving it to me?"
Gwen's face flushed a deep red. "Because you asked and it's to you know ... ah it's to hold up you're ..." her voice broke off but her eyes indicated to his chest.
Merlin very nearly choked again on the piece of apple he'd just bitten into.
Arthur's eyes widened then he glanced at Merlin.
"What about Merlin?"
Gwen bit down on her lip. "Well Merlin is kind of flat chested for a girl and can get away without having to wear one."
Merlin felt a smile tugging up at the corners of his mouth.
"And well you are sort of ... um ... well I don't know how to say this but ..."
Poor Gwen was stammering and looking extremely awkward.
"I think what Gwen is trying to say Arthur is that you're well endowed."
Arthur scowled at him.
"Are you saying I'm fat Merlin?"
"No, no," Gwen quickly intervened "just a bit curvy."
Oh there was just too much fun to be had here.
"A bit!" he laughed "he's what the girls in the village would call plump."
Merlin grinned at Arthur's horrified expression. Arthur's eyes slowly shifted to Gwen's face as if expecting her to deny it but Gwen merely bit down on her lip and quickly averted her eyes.
"No not really plump," she said hesitatingly.
"Stop trying to save his feelings Gwen, Arthur is not only a girl but he's a chubby one at that and ow!"
Arthur had thrown a cup at him and Merlin rubbed his forehead, glaring at Arthur.
"What was that for?"
"What do you think Merlin!" he roared, looking extremely pissed off "not only am I a girl but I'm also a so called well endowed one at that! Explain how that happened!"
Merlin was still rubbing his head. "Well I guess that is because you had muscles before and when you turned into a girl that kind of transferred to well ... um ... curves," he finished off lamely.
The anger left Arthur's face and he slumped down on to the bench seat looking dejected.
"It's really not that bad Arthur," Gwen quickly spoke and sat down next to him, patting his arm to console him.
Merlin just rolled his eyes and what about him? Didn't anyone care there was a lump now forming on his forehead?
"If it's any consolation you are really pretty," Gwen continued.
Merlin snorted and expected Arthur to be horrified by those words but if anything he seemed a bit chuffed by them. If he'd called Arthur pretty Merlin could well expect he'd have another cup thrown at him. But no it was okay for Gwen to say it. Gwen could never say anything wrong.
"Now I'll get you both some clothes to wear."
"Arthur's not going to fit into any of your clothes Gwen," he snorted, still feeling sore at Arthur for throwing a cup at him.
Gwen gave him a reproachful look and Merlin shut his mouth.
"Make sure you get Merlin a pink dress, I think pink would suit him," Arthur spoke up and grinned at Merlin in that annoying way of his.
"I'm not wearing pink," Merlin protested but Arthur just gave him that look Merlin knew all too well.
Once suitably dressed, Merlin in a light pink dress that swam on him and Arthur in a yellow smock that went to his knees and what Gwen called her riding pants underneath as they were the only the clothes that did fit him much to Arthur's chagrin and he consoled himself by imagining Merlin in the stocks, every day for a whole week.
"I look ridiculous," Merlin whined as he paced around the small living room, tugging on the dress that didn't even reach his ankles.
"Yes you do," Arthur smiled. Revenge felt good.
"I'll let the hem down for you," Gwen kindly offered.
Merlin was as gangly as a girl as he was a boy. How was that fair, Arthur sulked.
Once Gwen had finished letting the hem down on Merlin's dress she made them both sit down at the table.
"Now we need to fix the hair," she said and Merlin could almost swear that she was finding two men now girls a lot of fun.
She brushed Arthur's hair tying in back into a single ponytail.
"You have lovely hair Arthur," she gushed "maybe when you turn back into a man you should think about growing it a bit longer."
"You think so?"
Merlin rolled his eyes. Arthur's head was fat enough as it was without Gwen giving him too many compliments.
"Just a bit longer, so I can run my fingers through it, it's so soft."
Merlin made a puking gesture with his finger to his throat.
Gwen started on his hair next, the comb catching on the tangles in his hair.
"Ouch, that hurts," Merlin protested.
"You have so many knots," Gwen complained "I guess that's because your hair is so curly."
"And thick," Gwen continued.
Merlin hadn't even looked at himself in a mirror yet. Then his eyes caught Arthur's and he saw the amusement there.
"Actually it looks like a wild bush," he remarked.
"Hmm maybe I should plait your hair."
Arthur's grin widened and Merlin squirmed uncomfortably as Gwen braided his hair into a single plait.
"Your ears still stick out Merlin," Arthur informed him.
"Least I'm not fat," Merlin muttered under his breath.
"I heard that."
Merlin forgot just how good Arthur's hearing was.
An hour later Gaius called by with a list of herbs Merlin needed to collect. Gwen had gone to work and Arthur not wanting to sit around bored all day long decided to join Merlin. There were still a lot of questions he had to ask Merlin about his magic.
"You want to come with me?" Merlin smiled, seeming happy and pleased about that.
Merlin really was a lot like an eager kid just being handed a lollipop by his best friend Arthur mused and he felt oddly tender towards him in that moment.
"What else am I going to do?"
It was a sunny spring day and Merlin liked nothing more than roaming the woods looking for herbs, being outside alone with his thoughts. Only he wasn't alone now, Arthur was with him and had not a clue about herbs which meant as usual Merlin did all of the work.
"You know it's really annoying walking in a dress," he grumbled after an hour "it catches on everything."
"No doubt it does," Arthur returned "though I wouldn't know."
Of course not, he got to wear Gwen's so called riding breeches.
"This would have been a lot easier if you hadn't insisted I wear this dress," he pointed out.
"Well if you hadn't embarrassed me in front of Guinevere I wouldn't have," Arthur returned.
Merlin just snorted really Arthur was so blind sometimes and far too proud.
"Gwen adores you and I somehow doubt that would change even if you had warts sprouting off your nose," Merlin grumbled "so that's hardly fair."
Merlin smiled at the picture of Arthur with warts and felt Arthur suddenly grab him by the arm.
"You can't do that can you Merlin?" he asked worriedly.
Merlin shrugged, taken delight in the sudden alarmed look in Arthur's eyes.
"I don't know. I've never tried it before but there is a first time for everything."
He grinned wickedly.
"Don't even think about it Merlin," Arthur warned pointing a finger in his face "otherwise I will have you executed."
"Don't worry I'm just joking," he smiled "besides I value my head too much."
Arthur managed a smile. "You do best to remember that, as much I might not mind your magic tricks my father would."
Magic tricks Merlin silently mused. Is that how Arthur saw it? He had no idea.
"I'm starving let's stop and eat," Arthur continued.
Merlin glanced up at the sky. "It's not even lunchtime yet."
But Arthur had already sat down on the ground and was going through the duffel bag.
"Is that all you think about?" he began "food."
Arthur glared up at him and Merlin sat down next to him. Yes, actually, other than Gwen, training day in and day out the only other thought Arthur had was food.
Merlin was staring out into space, a stick in his hand, absently drawing in the dirt. Arthur's curiosity was piqued.
"So what other tricks do you have up your sleeve besides making fire dance, and expelling spells that have a tendency to go wrong?" Arthur asked as he ate the sandwich Guinevere had made for them.
Merlin glanced over his shoulder at him, a quick smile on his lips.
"I'm pretty good at making branches fall onto the enemy when need be."
Arthur stopped chewing. How often he had thought that odd but generally in the heat of battle he hadn't had time to dwell on it and all along it had been Merlin.
"My other favourite is making the girth belt on horses come undone so the person riding falls off."
Arthur felt an amused smile curve his lips and shook his head.
"Well then I guess that does make you a handy person to have in battle."
Merlin shrugged modestly. "It's nothing much really."
No, but still useful.
"And what else?" he asked.
"I'm good at moving objects," he admitted with a mischievous twinkle in his eye "saved me that day you tried to take my head off with a mace."
"You cheated," Arthur scowled, though he couldn't be angry with Merlin. And Merlin in many ways was really a bit of an enigma.
"Gaius was furious with me," Merlin continued, then scrambling to his feet "c'mon we should get moving, those herbs are not going to magically appear."
Arthur shook his head at the punt but still smiled.
They went deeper into the woods. It was always quiet there and Arthur felt naked without his sword. He had a dagger but it wasn't quite the same. His hearing was acute, as always. Merlin was digging out some particular nasty looking sort of herb.
Voices Arthur was sure he could hear them faintly and footsteps. Quickly grabbing Merlin, he pulled him down into a hollow.
"Someone's coming," he whispered.
Arthur peered over a log. At least 20 men came into view.
"Bandits?" Merlin whispered beside him.
Possibly and they were defenceless out here if seen.
"Well, well, what do we have here," sneered a deep male voice.
Arthur felt a blade prick into the back of his cloak and slowly turned around, dread forming in the pit of his gut. He knew that ugly grisly face Jarl a well renowned slave trader. His heart sank. They were screwed. Arthur quickly scrambled to his feet, yanking Merlin up at the same time. Merlin might have same magic tricks up his sleeve but there were at least 30 men and how many branches could Merlin fell to kill them all?
Jarl's eyes roamed over his face and body, making Arthur's skin crawl and with a light flick of the blade in his hand, Arthur's cloak fell to his feet. Was that lust in Jarl's eyes?
"You are beautiful," he breathed, reeking of alcohol and garlic, making Arthur screw up his nose in disgust.
And how dare Jarl and his men come into Camelot! Arthur could feel his anger simmering.
"What are you doing in Camelot?" he demanded.
"What we please and it's no concern of yours."
Not yet but it will be, Arthur silently fumed.
Jarl stepped closer, picking up a strand of Arthur's hair and rubbing it with his filthy fingers.
"You will fetch a handsome price with your beauty and hair the most extraordinary colour I've seen."
Arthur's skin crawled.
"Get your hands off me," he snarled.
Jarl let go of his hair and then much to Arthur's chagrin caressed his breast. Something akin to panic assailed Arthur's senses. He'd never felt so vulnerable and outraged at the same time. Was this what women had to fear all of the time? It was wrong. Really, really wrong and Jarl would pay for this. For daring to ever touch or harm any girl or woman in Camelot.
Jarl just sneered again and much to Arthur's relief moved back a few feet to address the other men.
"No one touches the fair haired girl, she's mine but the rest of you can do what you want with the other gangly one."
Blind white rage hit Arthur. No one was going to do anything to Merlin. How dare Jarl suggest those filthy scum of men have their way with his manservant! He glanced at Merlin, who seemed to be taking all of this very calmly.
"You have any other magic tricks up your sleeve?" he whispered.
"You said I'm not allowed to use magic in Camelot," Merlin whispered back and Arthur rolled his eyes.
"Okay I take it back."
Merlin gave a quick smile
"Does that mean I can use magic when I see fit and not just when you order me to?"
"Okay, okay, just do something Merlin."
The men were getting closer and Arthur was growing desperate.
Arthur frowned. "You think you can take them all down just by having branches fall on them?"
"I have another magic trick up my sleeve Arthur."
He did? What?
"Just stand back."
Arthur stepped back and watched as Merlin raised his hands in front on him. What in the hell was he going to do with just his bare hands? The air went still, and the men approaching went flying backwards. The air crackled with an unseen energy causing Arthur's hair to stand up on the back of his neck and he watched in awe as Merlin sent another group flying backwards, hands held out in front of him, his eyes glowing gold. Arthur's mouth dropped open in disbelief.
Merlin wasn't just anyone with a few magic tricks.
Merlin was powerful. He was a force to be reckoned with, his bumbling goofy manservant.
Arthur shut his mouth and swallowed. Merlin had lowered his hands, his shoulders slumped and every man there lay still on the ground, unmoving.
"A-Are they dead?" Arthur asked in a croak.
Merlin shook his head. "No, they'll come around in a few hours."
"Why didn't you kill them?" Merlin should have killed them.
"I don't like killing," he quietly returned.
Great he had a sorcerer at his disposal and he happened to be a pacifist. And Arthur though somewhat disturbed was also impressed by Merlin's skill.
"That ..." he began "was like nothing I've ever seen."
Merlin just stood there, not moving. He should be gloating, so why wasn't he?
Still Merlin stood there. What was wrong with him?
"Merlin," he said again "Merlin look at me."
Merlin slowly turned around and the expression on his face was the last thing Arthur had expected.
Instead of looking pleased with himself, he looked sad and guilty.
"You don't think any less of me?" he murmured so softly that Arthur barely heard the words.
Arthur was unusually touched and he came to one conclusion.
His father was wrong.
Not all magic was bad and not all sorcerers were evil.
"No," he spoke with conviction "I don't."
Merlin managed a smile. "Magic tricks," he scoffed.
Arthur grinned and punched him in the arm.
Merlin felt a heavy weight lift off his shoulders as they made their way back to the castle.
Arthur wasn't afraid of him. Arthur had accepted him for whom and what he was.
They were still friends. They would always be friends. It still probably meant he'd be spending some time in the stocks for turning Arthur into a girl but it could be worse.
A/N: Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it? I had LOTS of fun writing it.
Reviews are much loved and appreciated and not to mention they really do inspire us writers to continue.
I should have this story wrapped up in the next chapter.