Summary: Geoffrey learns that there's a lot more to Merlin than the rumours would have you believe.
Here's a little 'slice of life' featuring Merlin and Gaius, with Geoffrey of Monmouth as a bystander. I wrote it in response to one of my own prompts over on Gentable at livejournal (go there now if you want ideas for gen fanfics, lots to choose from!).
As a mother myself, I've always loved the Merlin–Gaius dynamic, and admit that I'm quite jealous of Gaius for being the one to always give Merlin those loving/parental hugs. I did manage to slip one of those in towards the end of this story.
This fiction is set somewhere within S1 or S2, when Merlin is still getting his feet under him as a servant, but has been in Camelot for long enough to have picked up a few skills.
I hope you enjoy it.
Disclaimer: I don't own Merlin or Gaius or even Geoffrey.
Also, thank a million to Ariel_of_Narnia for the great book cover. Gaius is especially wonderful!
The Physician's Ward
"Gaius, I'm off to get Arthur ready for his training. Then I've no doubt he'll want me to stay and be the practice dummy, since I was late with his breakfast this morning," called Merlin as he bounded down the short staircase from his room, pulling on his patched brown jacket at the same time.
"Merlin, slow down!" answered Gaius from where he was eating his lunch at the table in the centre of the room. "You'll break your neck one of these days, running down the steps like that. Then where would I be, with no assistant, and what would I ever tell your mother?"
"I'm sorry you were late to Arthur," Gaius continued, "but thank you for going out to get that comfrey for me. I hadn't realized how low we'd gotten. Now, can't you at least take some soup before you run off?"
"No, sorry Gaius, I can't stop right now," said Merlin hurriedly, pausing by the table only to grab a piece of bread. "I'm already late and Arthur's not been in a very good mood today. I think it's something to do with the Lord of Tir Mor's daughter," said Merlin.
Gaius smiled in amusement. "Ah yes, the lovely Lady Irene."
Merlin grinned back impishly. "Yes, the very one. So, Gaius, you can imagine that Arthur's VERY anxious to get outside, well away from the castle and onto the training grounds, where he can start hitting things. Meaning me, most likely. I'd best get going."
Gaius grinned back knowingly. "Off with you then, my boy. Oh, and don't forget that I will be out for supper tonight. Geoffrey has invited me to his quarters and we two old men plan on reminiscing into the evening. We haven't had much of a chance to get together since almost last spring, it's been so busy around here."
"Sounds like quite a party, Gaius," said Merlin still grinning. "Now, be sure you stay away from Geoffrey's cider, and don't stay out too late. We don't want you tiring yourself out now, do we old man?"
"Impertinent imp," laughed Gaius giving the boy a swat. Then he turned and fondly watched as Merlin ran from the room. Gaius shook his head, amazed again at how he'd been so lucky to be given this wonderful boy as a companion in his autumn years.
"So, Gaius," said Geoffrey to his old friend, as they settled into carved chairs near the fireplace in Geoffrey's chambers, each with a mug of Geoffrey's favourite cider in hand. "I've been wondering how you are getting along with your ward. Is he a trial to you?"
Shaking his head in sympathy with what he assumed his friend was suffering, the archivist continued, "By every account I've heard, he's getting a reputation as a clumsy, lazy and incompetent idiot. I've even heard a rumour that he'd had no idea what to serve at breakfast, and actually brought unsweetened gruel, of all things, to the Prince one morning. Can that be true? Can you not send him back to his mother and his village?"
"Well, I admit to having had my doubts before he arrived, Geoffrey," answered Gaius. "When his mother asked me to take him on, I almost said 'no'. But I knew his mother back in the old days. She'd done me quite a service and I didn't feel that I could refuse her in this.
"Even so, I fully expected to have my hands full, and that I'd end up with an uneducated, poorly mannered, country peasant boy underfoot," continued Gaius with a smile. "But it took me all of five minutes after his arrival to realize that I was much mistaken in my initial judgement. MUCH mistaken."
"How so, Gaius?" Geoffrey countered. "He's come to me in the archives several times, and I've certainly not seen anything to disabuse me of that reputation. I mean, the boy can barely make it into the stacks without tripping or overturning a pile of my books. Why, just the other day he almost set the east wing afire when he knocked over a taper!"
Gaius chuckled, "Well, there's no denying Merlin has a certain…..well…. lack of grace…. if you will. But the rest of his reputation is largely unearned and also VERY untrue.
"You know, I can't tell you how much it grieves me that you and so many others around Camelot also seem to have made this same mistake," he added seriously, pausing to take another sip of his cider. "And I know how much it hurts Merlin that it seems to persist. I think a lot of his reputation has stemmed more from his inexperience along with no small amount of jealousy among the other servants," he continued.
"They've got a pecking order rigid enough to rival the oldest noble houses, and many were outraged that this country upstart would be given a job in the Royal Household, manservant to the Prince himself, no less. Never mind that none of them really wanted that job with Arthur being the way he is, or was, anyway," Gaius reflected. "And they certainly didn't make it easy on Merlin in those earliest days, though now that they've come to know him, it seems that most have quite taken a shine to him. I can't say I'm surprised about that, though!"
"Come, now Gaius," said Geoffrey. "What could a boy like that possibly have to offer in a place like Camelot?"
"Well, Geoffrey, he is a very caring and compassionate young man. He offers his help to anyone in need of it, and he never asks for or even expects any thanks. His peers have started to appreciate that the value of receiving an unexpected offer of assistance, cheerfully given during a time of need, far outweighs any imperfections in the job's execution."
"But what about the incompetence, Gaius? I'm surprised that the Prince hasn't tired yet of his mistakes."
Gaius sighed. "Well, Geoffrey, as I said, a lot of his reputation for 'incompetence' is exaggerated, and it is more due to inexperience than anything else. He's already much better than he was at his duties, and in any case I believe that our Prince values Merlin more for his companionship, than his cleaning and polishing abilities.
"You must remember that Merlin was not brought up to be a servant, and he had no idea what life in a city, let alone amongst nobility and inside a castle was all about before he came here. He'd lived his whole life in a tiny farming village that led and still leads a hand-to-mouth existence.
"Do you know he'd never even slept in a bed or seen anything but a dirt floor, before coming to Camelot? And he definitely had never sharpened a sword or even had a close look at a suit of armour fashioned for a noble. So, I ask you, how would he ever have been able to guess at how to take care of the person, chambers and tools of a prince? These things need to be learned, Geoffrey, just like our own trades.
"And about his mealtime services; in his home village, the boy was lucky to get one meal in a day and that was often 'unsweetened gruel' as you called it, so it's unfair to see him ridiculed for not knowing what constitutes foods suitable for a 'breakfast'. I know for a fact that he still finds it strange that people can and do eat several times a day, and for pleasure, rather than for sheer sustenance of self."
Geoffrey nodded slowly as these facts gave him new insight. Then he chuckled and said, "Eating for pleasure, Gaius. I expect that he'll continue to find that an unknowable mystery, given your cooking skills!" Gaius laughed back, "That is probably very true, Geoffrey. But luckily he doesn't seem to complain about it too much, so that's a blessing. And I must say, I enjoy his company at meals much more than I'd thought I would, after living on my own for so long. I guess it is not just our Prince who has taken to having him around."
"Prince Arthur?" countered Geoffrey, leaning back in his chair. "You've said that before, Gaius, but you can't tell me that he enjoys the boy for his wits. Everything you have told me about his lack of skills as a servant makes a certain sense, but surely with my job as the archivist, and assisting with your research, I would have noticed if he had any glimmer of intelligence!"
Gaius shook his head in reproach, "Indeed Geoffrey. I would have expected you of all people to have recognized it, but I think maybe the boy is a little afraid of you, and is nervous and keeps his distance while in your domain. In fact he is VERY intelligent, and not only that but well educated too. Knowing his mother, I suppose I should not have been surprised, though I admit I was."
He continued, "You of course have noted that the boy can read, which is rare enough in itself for a country lad, but did you know he actually does so in more than one language, and can speak several tongues as well? In fact it was he who found the treatment for that fever that ran rampant in the lower town last spring, using those very skills. He'd overheard some traders from Gaul talking amongst themselves about a similar malady in their homeland, and suggested we look into some of the Gaulish healing volumes I've kept in my chambers for no useful reason, since I can't read them. When I chided him about needing to actually know Gaulish to be able to do such research, he looked at me like I'd grown two heads, told me that was obvious, and then took down the books. He found mention of the ailment in less than an hour, and several treatment options in less than two. In fact, when you add in his caring nature, he's got all the makings of a fine physician.
"And for Arthur's part, I'm not sure what the bond is, but I'd almost call it friendship, though I'm sure Arthur would never admit to it. I mean, he brings Merlin with him on hunting trips, and even on patrols. And as much as Merlin complains about having to spend so much time taking care of Arthur's horses and dogs, Arthur loves those animals dearly, and would not leave their care to anyone he didn't have a high amount of trust for. Have you ever known him to do any of that with another servant? No, I'm sure he finds Merlin amusing for his incompetence, but above all he values the boy for his wit, his loyalty, his company, and maybe even the occasional piece of advice," Gaius concluded, then leaned back took a large swallow of his cider.
"Gaius, I can't believe our Prince would value the advice of a peasant," Geoffrey responded. "Though now that I think on it, he has shown some gains in maturity and compassion lately in his dealings with the people of Camelot, especially the commoners. I do believe, that it does seem to coincide with his taking on Merlin. Hmmm, there may just be something in what you say."
Geoffrey and Gaius sat quietly in front of the fireplace for a few moments, drinking their cider, with Geoffrey reflecting on what he'd learned. Gradually talk resumed, and the old friends caught up on each other's lives.
Just as the men were about to move towards the table to begin their supper, a knock sounded at the door. Geoffrey walked to the door and opened it to show a nervous, and wet, young manservant, holding a thick blue cloak.
"Merlin my boy, come in, come in," boomed Geoffrey with a broad smile, taking Merlin by the arm and leading him inside.
Merlin gaped in surprise at Geoffrey's joviality, then closed his mouth and said "Hello, Sir Geoffrey, could I speak to Gaius for a moment?"
"Of course, of course," Geoffrey answered, adding, "Come right in over here and sit down with us at the table for a few minutes. Gaius has been telling me all about your adventures in coming to Camelot."
Merlin flushed at the attention, but lost some of his nervousness as he allowed himself to be led towards the table where Gaius stood smiling. "Thank you Sir Geoffrey, but I can't really stay," he said with a smile, then turned to Gaius. "Gaius, I've brought you your cloak because, I'm not sure if you noticed, but the storm has really picked up and now it's raining cats and dogs outside!"
"Thank you Merlin," said Gaius taking the bundle, "but you didn't have to come all the way over here to do that! A little rain wouldn't have hurt me."
"It was no trouble Gaius. I have to head over to the armoury anyway, to put away Arthur's training equipment. When I was in our chambers finishing up folding his laundry, I noticed your cloak on the hook by the door, so I just brought it along. I figured you could use it. After all, we don't want you catching a cold, because the people of Camelot certainly don't want to have to depend on the likes of me to tend to them," Merlin said with a flash of his dimples.
Geoffrey spoke up, "Really? From what Gaius has been telling me, you are becoming quite the physician, young Merlin, and it may not be the end of the world for Gaius to be forced take a short break in his duties and have you fill in from time to time."
"Is it really true that it was you who diagnosed Lady Celestia's intolerance to sheep's milk?" he continued. "That was truly astounding, as she's been suffering from those symptoms for years."
Merlin looked up at Geoffrey in surprise, and Geoffrey thought he saw the tips of the boys ears redden.
"Yes, it was Sir Geoffrey, but that was really just some luck. I mean, I've seen that type of thing before in a girl from my village, and I'd overheard the Lady Morgana teasing the Lady Celestia about using sheep's milk. Apparently Celestia thought it gave her skin a 'lustrous glow' or something like that. I just put two and two together."
"That is true, Merlin," countered Gaius, "but a good part of a physician's art is in observing, listening and using his experience. Exactly 'putting two and two together' as you say. So don't underestimate yourself in those skills. You've got them aplenty."
Geoffrey smiled at Merlin, saying "Well, in any case, it's given the Lady Celestia, and as a result all of the rest of us who frequent the nobles dining room, no small measure of relief to have those particular symptoms eliminated!"
"And Gaius tells me that you read Gaulish as well as English?" Geoffrey continued, starting to get excited as he led the conversation into his passion of books and languages.
Merlin answered, "Yes. I can read Latin and German, and … um… bits of some other languages too," he caught himself before blurting out the name of a language which was in fact, banned on pain of death. "I've even tried to learn a bit of Arabic, though we didn't really have enough books to make a proper study of it. I'd love to learn more. The script that they use to write it in is so interesting to look at."
It was Geoffrey's turn to show surprise, "Really! Arabic! Well, do you know, I learned a thing or two about that in my younger days, when I was still a knight errant. If you ever have some time, why don't you stop by the archives, and I'll teach you. The physician's art is very advanced in that part of the world, and I've got some wonderful Arabic scrolls on healing that you will no doubt find interesting. In return, maybe you can help me with some German translations. It's just not a language I've ever had time to master."
Merlin's eyes opened in astonishment at the offer, "Really? I'd love to!"
Then he hesitated, "But, I'm not sure Arthur would ever let me have enough free time for that. He likes to keep me busy, and if he thinks I'm not working when I should be, then he's pretty likely to put me in the stocks. And I don't know if he'd understand why anybody would WANT to go to a library on their own initiative other than to hide from 'real' work. Um…, no offence intended, Sir Geoffrey," he added quickly, looking up to see if Geoffrey had, in fact, been offended.
"But, I will certainly try to convince him from time to time, as I don't share that opinion. I mean, I've been told I'm not one of those 'save the world' types like Arthur is, and I know it's probably true. I'm much more of a bookish type, I'd say. That's one of the reasons my mother sent me to Gaius in the first place. I wouldn't have made much of a farmer, although I doubt she expected me end up in the service of a prince!"
"No offence taken young man," Geoffrey chuckled. "I'm well aware of how hard it is for a certain breed of knight to understand the pleasures to be found in a good book. And may I say that I'm very impressed that you know so many languages coming from such a small village."
"Thank you," Merlin responded with a shy smile, and yes, Geoffrey saw that the tips of Merlin's ears were indeed getting red this time. He surmised that the lad didn't get complimented very often, and was surprised to find that it saddened him.
Geoffrey cleared his throat and asked "Well, Merlin, Gaius and I were just about ready to sit and eat, why don't you join us since you're already here?"
Merlin looked over wistfully for a moment at the stew pot near the table. "Oh, I'd like that, but I've got a lot to do tonight. After I'm finished at the armoury, I've got to go over to the kennels."
"The kennels! But Merlin, that's clear on the other side of town, you'll get soaked and no doubt ill going over there on a night like tonight!" Gaius cut in. "Surely there is a houndsman who can feed Arthur's dogs just this time?"
"Well, yes, but, oh, I didn't tell you? King Uther's favourite hunting dog is carrying pups, and is being very particular right now. For some reason she's decided that she won't let anybody except me go near her to feed or walk or groom her. So the King has decreed that I must take over those duties until she has her litter," explained Merlin, turning back to face Gaius.
Gaius objected, "Merlin, how are you going to manage that? It's twice a day all the way on the other side of town, and it's not like you don't have enough to do already, running around for Arthur and me!"
"I'm not sure Gaius, but it's not like the King will care about my difficulties, as long as his dog is catered to. And it will surely go badly for me if I don't manage it. Anyway, in a way it's almost flattering, and it's probably not going to be so bad. She should have her pups within the next month or so. Arthur already sends me over there most days anyway, to walk his own dogs, and if not the kennels, then I usually need to go to the stables which aren't too far from there. I'll just have to do my best to do all the work I have over on that side of town at once. I'm sure Arthur will be reasonable about it.
"It's just too bad that it's not a real girl rather than the four-legged, furry kind that is so anxious for my company," Merlin said with a dimpled grin, then he turned towards the door.
Gaius had to laugh, and retorted "Well, I think that's probably a good thing. You're busy enough, Merlin."
Geoffrey smiled to himself. With his new insights on Merlin, he had no doubt that there were more than a few 'real girls' who would be very happy to keep the lad company.
"Oh, and Gaius, I'll probably be out very late tonight, so don't wait up for me," said Merlin turning back once again.
"Once I get back from the kennels, I've got to help Arthur get ready for dinner with his father and Lord Tir Mor. That's sure to go very late, as I've hear the Lord is quite a talker. Arthur is happy though, the Lady Irene is NOT invited and will be dining earlier with Lady Morgana."
"Merlin, unless I miss my guess, you haven't even had time to eat since breakfast, other than that piece of bread you took, running out my door. Should I leave something out for you?" Gaius asked.
"Nah, don't bother, Gaius. It's nothing I'm not used to. To be honest, I'm already so tired that I'm pretty sure I'll just go straight to my bed when I get back. If I'm hungry, I'll find something, I promise.
"Oh, and I haven't forgotten that you need more lavender, and I really should get you some more comfrey, because what I got today won't last you for very long. I'll get up and get that taken care of early. Hopefully I'll be back with it before you are even up tomorrow, Gaius, especially now that I see that you've been drinking Geoffrey's cider in spite of my warning!" he joked.
Laziness was yet another baseless rumour, Geoffrey concluded as he and Gaius walked with Merlin toward the door. There wasn't a lazy ounce to the boy, of this Geoffrey was certain. He had a sudden thought, and stopped Merlin at the door. "Wait, Merlin. If you can't stop to dine with us, you can at least take a pear to snack on." Geoffrey went back to the table, then returned with a large, brown fruit.
"Thank you, Sir Geoffrey," Merlin said in appreciation. "We never grew pears in my village for some reason, and I've taken quite a fancy to them since I've arrived in Camelot."
As Merlin reached out to take the juicy offering, Gaius gasped and stopped him with an urgent gesture. "Just a minute. Merlin. What's that you've done to your arm?" he asked, pointing to some dark bruising that was apparent from where Merlin's wrist was now exposed from under his jacket sleeve.
"Oh, um, that," answered Merlin sheepishly. "Well, I had a bit of an accident during Arthur's training session earlier. You should see my shoulder!"
"Merlin, did Arthur hurt you?" Gaius asked sharply, in concern.
"No, it was actually Leon, not Arthur," answered Merlin, then continued on quickly as he saw Gaius start to open his mouth in anger. "No, it was nothing like that, Gaius. It's, well, it was my own fault really," Merlin added quickly to allay Gaius' fears.
Gaius was not appeased though. "Maybe so, Merlin, but I wish they'd remember that you have neither the training nor the quality of armour that the knights have for these practices. Arthur may have had his old servants hold targets for him, but he never used them as sparring partners. I don't know why he's decided to do so with you and it's not surprising that you'd get hurt."
"Well, this time I think it's more due to my lack of talent than my lack of armour," said Merlin with an embarrassed smile, then went on to explain, "Apparently, Lady Irene has transferred her affections to Sir Leon, and he didn't really appreciate it. So, Arthur had him spar with me so he could take out his frustrations. But just as Leon was parrying, I was weaving, and he hit my arm. Then, well, my hand slipped because the rain had started, and I dropped my shield, and then when I bent down to catch it, my shoulder and Leon's practice sword somehow ended up in the same place at the same time!"
Geoffrey assumed that Arthur and Leon would not have taken much notice of the injured servant, so he was astonished when Merlin continued, his embarrassment transforming into a broad grin.
"You should have seen Leon's face, Gaius. He must have apologized to me ten times! You'd have thought he'd chopped off my arm! I kept telling him I was fine, but between him and Arthur I'm lucky they didn't carry me to the infirmary like a damsel!"
Merlin's brow creased into a frown at that memory. "Really, Gaius, I'm not a girl! They only left me alone about it when I promised to see you immediately, if it hurt too badly, and Arthur must have checked with me about it every ten minutes all afternoon!"
"Well, I wish you had come and let me take a look at it, Merlin", said Gaius with some rebuke colouring his voice.
"But it didn't hurt too badly, Gaius. I promise I would have come if I'd thought it was anything serious."
"Well, go back over to Geoffrey's table and sit down. Let me at least put some salve on it now that I've got you here. I've got some in my kit here, somewhere. Are you SURE there's nothing broken?" Gaius asked, looking at the arm sceptically, while Merlin sighed and started to take off his jacket, knowing there was no way to avoid Gaius once he went into 'physician' mode.
"No, Gaius. I'm sure," Merlin answered from where he now sat with his arm and shoulder exposed. He added with another sigh, "Leon and Arthur BOTH checked me over. Twice! I've had broken bones before, and this didn't feel anywhere near as bad. I'm sure it's just a bruise. In fact it looks a lot worse than it feels. I'm FINE, honestly."
As Gaius applied the salve, Geoffrey looked on, winced, then shook his head in amusement and in some wonder. It was easy to see that Gaius cared greatly for the boy. What was surprising, was that apparently so did Arthur and even Leon. He wondered how many others, both noble and common, the young man had charmed with what Geoffrey could now see was a straightforward, cheerful and forgiving nature, rather than the idiocy he'd heard so much about in the rumours. In fact, he was almost certain that he, himself was falling under the spell!
"There now, you should be good to go," Gaius said to Merlin, breaking Geoffrey out of his thoughts.
As they stood back up Gaius added, "Merlin, maybe you should take my cloak. You'll surely need it more than I will, if you've got to go all the way over to the kennels."
"Thanks, Gaius, but you should keep it. I brought it over here for you, and a little more rain won't hurt me. Maybe I'll even be lucky and the storm will have stopped by the time I leave the armoury."
"I will be glad when you can finally get your own cloak. You must have almost saved enough for that by now, haven't you?" asked Gaius.
"'Ah…about that," Merlin began sheepishly and glanced over towards where Geoffrey was listening in interest, before turning back to Gaius with a worried look. "Um, Gaius, you're going to be so angry at me."
Gaius frowned and said slowly and carefully, "Merlin, I hope you haven't spent all of your savings. You know I usually get paid in services and food rather than coin, so I won't be able to help you out if you have."
"Um, well, Gaius, it's just that I had a letter from my mother a few weeks ago, and this rainy, cold autumn has hurt the harvest back home."
Merlin rushed on to explain, "There's sure to be a food shortage again this winter. And, well, I've been without a cloak this long, so another season isn't really going to make much difference, is it? So I thought… well, anyway, I bought 5 bags of grain and some carrots and apples with my savings, and sent them all back to Ealdor. Do you realize that will be enough to feed a fair number of the children for a few weeks?" Merlin looked up at Gaius in hopes that he would understand.
"I hope you're not too upset with me, but I just couldn't bear the thought of them being hungry when I could do something about it. I mean, I remember what it's like to be hungry like that. You hurt so badly that it feels like you're being eaten from the inside out."
Gaius stared at his ward for a moment, open-mouthed, then smiled proudly, and drew him into a hug. "Merlin," he said softly, moving back again, and reaching up to cup the boys cheek, "It would be very hard, not to mention uncaring of me to be angry at you for such a selfless act. You did the right thing, and I'll do whatever I can to help you get your cloak of course."
Merlin smiled back at his mentor and said back just as softly, "Thanks for understanding, Gaius."
Then he turned back to Geoffrey once more and said a bit more loudly, "And now I really have to leave or I'll probably be all night in the kennels. Thanks again for the pear, Sir Geoffrey, and I'm very sorry for interrupting your get together."
Geoffrey shook his head as he watched the boy go, realizing just how wrong he and everyone else, it seemed, had been about most of the things they said about this young man.
And if Geoffrey happened to have too many pears all of a sudden, it was only right that he should bring them to the archives to share with whoever happened to use the place. That was just a judicious use of provisions. It had nothing at all to do with Merlin being amongst the most frequent visitors.
And if that winter found Geoffrey needing urgent help in German translation on precisely some of the very coldest of days, and usually just before Arthur happened to be setting out for training sessions in the snow with his reluctant servant in tow, well, that was certainly just coincidence, wasn't it?
And needless to say, Geoffrey was getting on in years, so it was perfectly acceptable for him to want to keep a spare blanket and a pillow in his archives in case he took a chill or needed an impromptu rest. And if Geoffrey found that the very best place to keep those just happened to be exactly where Merlin preferred to sit on those days when he came in to research for Gaius, well of course, that was coincidence too.
Several months later, Geoffrey looked over to where an exhausted-looking Merlin had fallen fast asleep, chin on hand above the book he'd been poring over late into the night for Gaius.
Geoffrey hushed the boy's sleepy murmurs of protest as he gently put the blanket around Merlin's shoulders, manoeuvred him into a more comfortable position and slipped the pillow underneath his head.
Then again, he admitted to himself with a fond smile, maybe they weren't such coincidences after all.