A/N: This is basically set in my happy!headcanon universe where Merlin was made Court Sorcerer and everybody lived to a happy old age.
I've been working on a longer Merlin story that should be done soon, but in the meantime I have all these happy bromantic ideas that won't go away. So here, take them.
Song references are Monty Python's "Brave Sir Robin" and John Farnham's "You're the Voice." Especially that last one.
Arthur, age 48; Merlin, age 47
Arthur was sitting in his chambers, struggling to finish writing a speech, when the door burst open with a blast of purple smoke.
"Gooooooood morning, sire!"
Arthur groaned as Merlin swept into the room, a tray in hand. The Court Sorcerer had taken to making grand entrances lately, to "liven up the place," he'd claimed. At first, it had been rather amusing, but now, it was just getting old.
A quick glance around the room told Arthur that there was nothing throwable within easy reach to make Merlin go away. The headache thrumming behind his eyes swelled. He was never going to get this speech done.
"What no, flying doves?"
"I'm giving them a holiday," Merlin said happily, pulling a chair up opposite Arthur's with a wave of his hand. "Thought you'd be happy I'm downsizing to just smoke." He plopped the tray on the table and himself on the chair. "Your latest manservant's terribly skittish, you know. His eyes about bugged out of his head when I told him I'd bring you your breakfast."
"Gwaine told him you turned my last manservant into a toad. Poor man's terrified now."
"Right. If you see a toad hopping around the castle anytime tomorrow, that'll be Gwaine."
"Why did you bring me breakfast?"
Merlin shrugged. "Oh, no reason." He grabbed one of Arthur's apples and tossed it in the air before catching it and taking a bite.
Arthur wasn't fooled. "You want something, don't you."
"Me, sire? Never."
"What, can't I just eat breakfast with a friend without my motives being questioned?" He took another bite of apple and spoke between chews. "Really, Arthur, you're getting paranoid in your old age."
"I am not—!" Arthur started, but Merlin was already grabbing the parchment in front of him and looking it over.
" 'We're all someone's daughter. We're all someone's son,' " Merlin read. "That's good, that's good. Establishes common ground. Should probably add something about how you want to start fresh, something like, 'We have the chance to turn the pages over.' "
Arthur snatched the parchment from his friend's hands. "I'll write what I want to write, Merlin."
"Make it end before we get much older, then, will you?"
Arthur smirked. "You're right. Some of us may be getting older faster than others."
Merlin self-consciously patted his hair down. He had, much to Arthur's amusement, been the first of the two to start going gray—all the stress from looking after a pompous prat, Merlin claimed. Guinevere, of course, had pointed out that Arthur's hair was at this point more white than blonde, but Arthur insisted that the white hairs were barely noticeable. Besides, he was king. He looked distinguished. Merlin just looked old. Obviously.
"You're sure you're not here for anything?" Arthur asked again, eyes narrowed in suspicion.
"Weeell…there's a tournament in two days."
"Yes, I know. I'm fighting in it."
"That's the thing, my lord…"
Arthur put his quill down. Merlin never addressed him properly unless he had ulterior motives. "Alright, what is it? Don't tell me someone's trying to sabotage the tournament and assassinate me?"
Merlin snorted. "As if I'd ever let that happen. Although sometimes I wish someone would try. Give me something to do, get the blood roaring again. Might be fun."
"I'm glad the thought of me in mortal peril brings you such amusement."
"Thought you would be."
"Get on with it, then."
Merlin looked as if he were picking his words very carefully. "It's just…don't you think it would be wiser if perhaps you participated more as a ruler and less as a knight?"
Arthur sighed. "You don't think I should fight in the tournament."
"I didn't say that," Merlin said swiftly. "But, well, you've won a lot of tournaments, and I think it might be time to quit while you're ahead."
"Before I lose, you mean?"
"Before you get injured! You're a brilliant fighter, no one can deny that, but your reflexes—"
Arthur's fist banged on the table. Merlin had hit a sore spot. "My reflexes are as quick as ever! I won the tournament last year!"
Merlin took a deep breath. "Yes, but that was last year before…Honestly, Arthur, I really don't think it's a good idea. You hardly even train with the knights anymore, and I think we both know why."
Arthur's hand moved unconsciously to his permanently stiff right shoulder. A couple months previously, he had led the charge against a surprise Saxon invasion and had taken a spear all the way through his shoulder. Merlin, whom Arthur had sent away on Aithusa to fetch reinforcements, had nearly flattened the invading army in his rush to get back to Arthur's side. The warlock had barely been able to stop the bleeding in time to save him. The arm was saved, but every once in awhile, Arthur still felt a twinge when he moved his arm in a certain angle. Merlin had never forgiven himself for the incident, although Arthur had told him countless times it wasn't his fault.
"Maybe the arm will be better next year," Merlin continued, "But between it and well, aging, I really think you ought not to fight."
"I'm king! The people expect me to fight!"
"No, they don't. You've fought in enough tournaments. And your son is old enough to fight this year. Wouldn't it be better if—"
"I'm fighting, Merlin. That's final."
"I'm just being the voice of reason! I'm not going to sit in silence while you put yourself in pointless danger!"
"Well, I'm not going to live in fear that I can't defend myself or my kingdom!"
"I said no. So long as I'm fit to rule, I'm fighting in the tournament."
Arthur raised an eyebrow. Merlin never acquiesced this quickly. "Do I make myself clear?"
"Oh yeah, made a noise and made it clear, my lord."
"You prat." Merlin swept from the room, thunderous anger pulsing off him in waves. The door slammed shut behind him.
Arthur rubbed his temples and turned back to his speech. Merlin would get over it, he reassured himself, ignoring the twinge in his shoulder and the prickle of guilt in his heart. Merlin always forgave him…eventually.
Merlin avoided him the rest of the day, to the point of skiving off a council meeting. Gwaine was also missing from the meeting, which didn't improve Arthur's mood at all. While Gwaine had mellowed a bit with age, his retirement had made him bored. And a bored Gwaine often turned to a drunk Gwaine, and occasionally a drunk Merlin. And last time Gwaine had succeeded in getting Merlin drunk, every Pendragon flag in Camelot had boasted a butterfly instead of its usual dragon until the warlock's hangover had faded.
As Arthur sat down for dinner with Guinevere in her chambers, his wife tilted her head at him. "Merlin's angry at you, isn't he?"
Arthur took his head in his hands and let out a disgusted moan. "Is it that obvious?"
Guinevere let out the smallest of smiles. "Yes. You've got that look about you. What is it this time?"
"He thinks I'm too old to fight in the tournament," Arthur whined as his newest manservant, Francis, piled food on the table. "Which is absolutely ridiculous." He looked at his wife expectantly, waiting for her to agree with him.
To his horror, Guinevere just let out a soft sigh and scooted her food around with her fork. "Arthur…"
"Don't tell me you agree with the idiot!"
"He's just looking out for you. You know that. He's worried."
"He's always worried. And he says I'm getting paranoid in my old age!"
"He's your friend. You know he's just trying to protect you. He still feels guilty about your shoulder."
"I told him, it wasn't his fault. And if he hadn't called for reinforcements when he did…" He took a deep breath. "I'll talk to him."
"Good," said Guinevere, smile returning. "How's Lohot's training coming?"
They talked and laughed for a few minutes before Arthur first heard the voice. He had just taken a bite of his bread when he heard a tinny voice loudly sing, "Bravely bold King Arthur rode forth from Camelot."
Arthur dropped his bread with a start. "What was that?"
"Hmm?" said Guinevere, smiling in thanks as Francis poured her some more wine.
"Did you not hear that?" Arthur demanded.
"Oh, I think it's just the servants in the next room."
"He was not afraid to die, oh brave King Arthur!"
"Well, tell them to stop singing."
"Singing?" Guinevere's brow furrowed uncertainly. "They're not singing, just tidying up."
"He was not at all afraid to be killed in nasty ways."
Arthur's heart started to pound. Someone was threatening him. He needed to find the killer and make sure Guinevere was not in the line of fire…Guinevere, who was now staring at him. She laid a hand on Arthur's hand, which clutched his fork in a death grip. "Arthur, are you alright? You're getting pale…"
"Brave, brave, brave, brave King Arthur…"
Arthur stood up so fast his chair toppled over and drew his sword. Guinevere gave a startled gasp, while Francis outright jumped and dropped the pitcher.
"He was not in the least bit scared to be mashed into a pulp…"
Arthur whirled around, sword at the ready as his eyes swept through the room. "Come out and face me!"
"Arthur, who are you talking to?" Guinevere demanded.
"…Or to have his eyes gouged out and his elbows broken."
"Whoever's singing treason!" Arthur cried, peering out the window.
Guinevere eased her way over to him and gently pushed his sword down. "Arthur, no one's singing. Are you sure you feel alright? Should I call Hywela?"
"To have his kneecaps split and his body burned away…"
"I…You really can't hear that?" Arthur asked, heart still beating furiously.
Guinevere turned to Francis, who had started to pick up the shards of the pitcher. "Never mind that, go get Hywela." She sat Arthur down and took his face in her hands. "Do you feel alright?"
"And his limbs all hacked and mangled, brave King Arthur…"
"I…yes." What in the name of Camelot was going on?
Arthur plugged his ears, but the merry tune did not cease. Only Guinevere's comforting hands on his and her soft murmurs kept him from tearing the room apart as the song grew in both volume and violence.
Hywela, the kindly woman who had replaced Gaius as Court Physician after his death, burst into the room. "Did her highness call for me?"
Guinevere waved her over eagerly. "Yes, yes, it's Arthur. He says he's hearing…" She bit her lip. "Arthur?"
"His head smashed in and his heart cut out…"
Arthur, who was becoming slightly sick, cleared his throat. "I'm…hearing something. A voice."
Hywela nodded. "A voice? I see. Try and understand it. Is it just noise or is it more clear?"
"And his liver removed and his bowels unplugged…"
"Clear. More of a…ballad," Arthur said finally.
Hywela frowned. "May I?"
The song thankfully began to fade as Hywela inspected inside Arthur's ears, cleaned his ears with a tincture, and ran various tests until at last, the voice stopped completely.
"Well, I don't see anything wrong, sire," Hywela said finally after a long while. "Has it stopped?"
"Yes, I think it's gone now…"
"Does that mean he'll be alright?" Gwen asked.
Hywela packed the remains of the tincture back in her bag. "It may just be the product of an overly stressed mind, my lord. There's no need to worry just yet. I prescribe rest."
"Thank you, Hywela," Guinevere said warmly, clearly more relieved than Arthur felt.
Hywela curtsied and left, leaving a slight smell of herbs in her wake.
Guinevere curled up against him. Arthur wrapped his arms around her and planted a kiss on her forehead, but his mind was still elsewhere. That voice had sounded so real…
Arthur's fears had faded by the next day. After all, the sun was shining, a refreshing breeze beckoned from the courtyard, and his head was blissfully silent. Stress, that's all it had been. He was perfectly fine.
He was almost to the courtyard when he came across Merlin and Gwaine, laughing their heads off hysterically.
"Merlin, Gwaine, there you are!" Arthur said loudly to announce his presence, bracing himself for the warlock's ire.
But fortunately, it seemed Merlin had forgiven him; he grinned at Arthur so widely that the king was sure whatever joke Gwaine had just told had been at the king's expense. "Hey, prat."
Oh, good. They were on speaking terms again, Arthur thought smugly. He knew Merlin would forgive him. "What's so funny?"
"Gwaine's thinking of becoming a bard."
"Really, it's easy," said Gwaine, clapping Arthur on the back. "Come up with a rhyme, pick a tune, and there you are! Give me a word, any word!"
Gwaine pouted. "A better word."
Arthur gave Merlin a long-suffering look. "How long's he going to keep that up, I wonder?"
"Hooooooow loooooong must we look at each other…" Gwaine sang loudly and off-key. "Down a…Er, barrel?"
Arthur stared. "You're on the mead again, aren't you."
Merlin cringed as he laughed. "Think we should run?"
"Down the barrel of a…what rhymes with 'run'? Fun?"
"Pun," Merlin said helpfully. "Bun, dun, fun, gun?"
"Son," said Arthur. "Speaking of which, mine's on patrol. I thought I would see to the knights' training in his stead. So if you two buffoons don't mind…" He waved and started off for the training field.
"Ooh, buffoon," said Gwaine excitedly as Arthur walked away, "That's a good rhyme. Moon, spoon, rune, loon…"
"Inopportune," finished Merlin. "Hold on, got to talk to the prat. See you later."
"I'll make a bard yet!" Gwaine called. "You'll see!"
Arthur rolled his eyes and hid his grin as Merlin fell into step beside him.
"Feeling alright?" asked Merlin as they emerged into the sunlight. The knights were gathered in a huddle out in the courtyard. Had the knights always looked this young? Some of them barely looked old enough to even swing a sword!
"Yes. Why?" Arthur asked suspiciously.
"Gwen came to me this morning. Said you were hearing things last night and wanted me to check if it was sorcery."
Arthur gave an exasperated scoff. He loved his wife, really, he did, but she worried almost as much as Merlin. "I feel excellent. It was nothing. Just a trick of a tired mind."
"Yes. She worries too much."
"Maybe she has a right to worry. Lots of things start to go with age, you know: waist, hearing…mind…"
"You didn't even need age to lose your mind…Knights! Line up!"
The almost baby-faced knights snapped to attention as they rushed to get into a line. Merlin shrunk into the background to watch, and Arthur paced in front of the line, nodding at each of the men in turn. For the love of Camelot, had he been this young when he'd begun his training? Maybe Merlin was right, maybe he was getting old…
"Men," he began, "You're here to join the ranks of the finest warriors in all of Albion. As such, your training will be extensive. Bear it with the honor befitting your station. Know that we all will stand together—"
"Brave King Arthur ran away!"
No. No, this wasn't happening, it couldn't be back, he was fine!
"Bravely ran away, away!"
Where was it coming from?!
"…My lord?" said one of the knights in the line, looking faintly terrified. Arthur realized he had stopped in front of the poor young knight and was staring blankly at him.
The king blinked, and continued. "We will all stand together, with the power to…"
"When danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled."
"Er…be powerful." Arthur gritted his teeth and tried desperately to ignore the voice. "Believing we can…"
"Yes, brave King Arthur turned about!"
"…Make it better."
"And gallantly he chickened out!"
"Swords!" Arthur cried, covering his ears. "Duel each other! Go, now!"
The knights, though confused at the sudden order, nonetheless immediately drew their swords and began fighting, determined to impress their king with both swordsmanship and speedy obedience. Meanwhile, Arthur ignored them all as he marched towards his concerned-looking Court Sorcerer.
"Bravely taking to his feet, he beat a very brave retreat!"
"Oh yes, sire, I see you're the very image of fine."
"Shut up, Merlin. My chambers, now."
The song crescendoed as Arthur dragged a protesting Merlin back into the castle. The knights kept dueling, oblivious.
"Bravest of the braaaaaave, King Arthur!"
"So?" Arthur demanded. He and Merlin both sat at the table in his chambers.
"So, what?" Merlin replied, frowning. His eyes were on a constant gold burn as he peered into Arthur's ear.
"Is—it—sorcery?" Arthur asked, jabbing a finger at Merlin's chest with each word.
Merlin's eyes faded back to blue. "Possibly."
"Possibly? Of course it's sorcery! I'm hearing a voice singing about my imminent and violent death that no one else can hear! How is that not sorcery?!"
"Perhaps you should consult Hywela again."
"No! You're my Court Sorcerer, you fix it. I can't rule with that…ditty in my head!"
"Alright, alright! Here, try this. Hleothor, ic the healte."
His eyes flashed a moment, and Arthur raised a hand to his temple.
"So it's gone?"
"Hmmm…" Merlin said, staring at Arthur's forehead.
"Don't 'hmmm' at me, you know I hate it when you do that. Is it fixed or not?"
"In a manner of speaking, I suppose you could potentially say yes."
"Stop speaking in twaddle and answer the question."
"You're not going to like it."
"I don't like anything you say, so you might as well get on with it."
"It was a very powerful enchantment. You'll have to give my healing spell time to work. If you rest up, it should only take a couple days."
"A couple days?! A couple days of resting?!"
"Afraid so," said Merlin with a mocking grin. If Arthur didn't know any better, he'd say Merlin was almost pleased with himself.
"But I've got a kingdom to run!"
"Gwen can easily cover for you for a couple days."
Arthur groaned and let his head sink to the table. "I've got a tournament to fight in!"
"Yes, it's all rather unfortunate," said Merlin, patting Arthur's shoulder. "But I'm afraid you won't be able to compete in the tournament, sire."
Arthur's head jerked up with a frown as he took his friend in. Merlin's face was fixed in complete sympathy; his eyes were earnestly, innocently wide.
Arthur's eyes narrowed. "Merlin?"
"You're the voice, aren't you."
"Try and understand, Arthur…"
"Alright, look, before you do anything rash, you should try and understand that I only had your best interests at heart and…it was really, really funny."
"It was not!" Arthur leapt at him, but Merlin managed to step just out of reach.
"Don't blame me, Gwaine's the one who wrote the song—"
"So help me, I will make you clean this entire castle! Without! Magic!"
Merlin's lips tightened into a solemn line. "…You'll have to catch me first, sire."
Bellowing furiously, Arthur charged after him. Both king and warlock flew through the hall, Merlin with surprising speed despite his constant tripping and Arthur shouting all the way, so noisy and clear that it could be heard beyond the citadel. Maids, visiting lords, and even knights pressed themselves back against the walls for fear of being in the way of the angry king.
"MERLIN, WHEN I CATCH YOU—"
"Bit out of practice, sire, you'll have to run faster than that!"
Gritting his teeth, Arthur coaxed a bit more speed out of his aging legs as Merlin dashed into an empty guest room. Arthur grinned a terrifyingly feral grin. Dead end. Now he had him.
He kicked the door open. "There you are, Merlin—"
But Merlin had a smirk of his own. "Bedyrene mec! Astyre me thanonweard!"
Arthur dived for him, but it was too late. With a resounding crack, Merlin vanished.
Arthur pinched the bridge of his nose with a sigh, his anger giving way to annoyance. Yes, teleporting away, that was very mature.
"Arthur?" Guinevere poked her head in through the door. "Is there a reason you're charging down the hall and terrifying the servants?"
"Merlin," Arthur offered by way of explanation, and stormed back out.
Merlin returned to the castle two days later, after the tournament was over. He spoke to the queen for a moment, then marched straight to Arthur's chambers.
"You prat!" he yelled. "You went and fought anyway?!"
Arthur groaned from under his covers, eyes fluttering open from sleep. With his good arm, he groggily tossed a pillow with perfect accuracy at Merlin's head.
"Oh, and now you're throwing pillows at me? Yes, I can see you've turned out to be a great king."
"At least I don't go teleporting away at the slightest sign of danger. And if I did, I wouldn't mess it up."
"I didn't mess it up!"
Arthur sat up and leaned against the head of the bed, smirking. "Yes, that's why you ended up a two day's journey away."
Merlin flushed. "Teleportation spells are tricky! And it takes decades of practice to figure out how to aim—" He froze when he spotted the bandages wrapping around Arthur's bad shoulder, and rushed over to his side. "What happened?!"
"I may have had a disagreement with Lord Helsin's lance. Ow, stop prodding. Hywela already took care of it."
Merlin's shoulders slumped as he let go. "Sorry I missed it. Really. Maybe I could have stopped this."
"Shut up. You're not allowed to interfere unless I'm in mortal peril. And besides, I won."
Merlin muttered a spell and Arthur felt the pain recede in a way that no natural herb could ever accomplish. "Was it worth it, though? Really?"
"…Yes," said Arthur finally. "After all, it was my last tournament. Had to go out with a bang."
He watched as Merlin's lips twitched, although the man refused to outright smile.
"Oh, don't look so proud of yourself," Arthur snapped, "It's because Lohot didn't participate this year. Said he didn't want to fight me."
"Sounds a bit familiar."
"So I've decided to withdraw from future tournaments. After all, it would hardly be seemly for the king to defeat the crown prince."
"Or the other way around?" Merlin prompted.
"Ah, that Lohot of yours. He'll make a great king yet."
"Of course he will, he's my son, after all."
They both shared a grin before Arthur poked Merlin in the ribs. "So, two days away, huh? Where were you aiming for?"
"…The lower town."
Arthur raised an eyebrow.
"I may have overshot it a bit. Too much power."
"Or lack of skill."
"It's still not too late to turn you into a toad."
"So seriously, where'd you end up?"
Merlin sighed. "It was the strangest thing. Some place called Glasgow…"
Hleothor, ic the healte. = Voice, I stop you.
Bedyrene mec! Astyre us thanonweard! = Conceal me! Guide me away from here!