Disclaimer: I don't own 'Merlin' or the BBC, so none of these characters are mine. However, I do own a 2005 Kia Sedona with a faulty transmission that I can offer in trade for them. What's that, BBC? You don't want my crappy minivan? Oh well ... your loss.
A/N: Seeing as how I am the classic poster-child for Adult ADD, I have a ton of unfinished stories I should be working on, but when I was hit by the idea for this fic, I pushed everything to the back-burner so I could work on this instead. It was originally going to be a one-shot, but it just kept growing and growing until before I knew it, it was 25,000 words long. Thankfully, it's already completed, and I feel quite accomplished since up until now, I had yet to finish a Merlin fic. I'm still editing the story however, so I'll probably post a chapter every day or two (depending on how busy I get).
Anyhoo ... this story is a reveal fic set just before "The Changeling" and is heavy in H/C, angst and bromance, but no slash. There is a little Het between Arthur/Gwen, but not much more than cannon.
I'd love to hear what you think of this, whether it's good or bad.
The Perfect Day
"Up and at 'em!" A far too cheery voice demanded.
The sound of curtains being pulled open filled the air and the room was flooded with bright light. It hit Arthur's sleeping head, piercing through his closed eyelids and he groaned miserably. He buried his face further into his pillow to avoid it, but the damage had already been done and his head pounded mercilessly in response to the stabbing sunbeams.
"G'way, Merlin!" Arthur moaned back defiantly. Rolling onto his stomach petulantly, he took his pillow and hid his head underneath it. Why did it seem that his manservant only showed up early on the days those day when he desperately needed to sleep in?
"C'mon, Arthur," his servant coaxed, tossing open another set of curtains, "the sun is shining, the birds are singing … it's going to be a brilliant day."
It seemed that Merlin was bound and determined to annoy him awake, so Arthur rolled onto his back again and tossed his pillow at his irritating servant before flinging an arm over his eyes.
"Shut up." he ordered.
Of course, Merlin ignored him as always and began to prattle incessantly. "MMMMM … smell that? I have breakfast for you … some nice greasy sausages, a pile of eggs and cheese … there's even some bacon fresh from the pig. I know how much you love the smell of bacon."
Arthur removed his arm so he could glare at Merlin, whose eyes twinkled with amusement. He really wasn't in the mood for any teasing as his head hurt and the plate of food Merlin had oh so thoughtfully brought to his room, gave off an aroma that turned his stomach.
"What's the matter? Not hungry?"
Arthur didn't answer; he just continued to shoot daggers at his servant with his eyes.
"Oh that's right ..." Merlin continued, snapping his fingers, his voice dripping with sarcasm as he bustled about the room, picking up discarded clothes and tidying up. "You might not remember this, but last night there was this certain prince who decided to ignore his far wiser and more sober servant when he suggested that the first five goblets of wine the prince had during the banquet was plenty to make him happy but not too happy, if you know what I mean. But noooo … this prince just had to keep ordering his servant to keep pouring glass after glass -"
"Merlin –" Arthur interrupted, rolling until his feet were over the edge of the bed.
"He lost count after ten refills –"
"Merlin!" Arthur shouted, causing the nails being pounded into his skull to be driven in deeper. Elbows on his knees, Arthur dropped his pain-filled head into his hands, "Just go away!"
Merlin stopped and pulled an entirely faked expression of hurt as he pulled something from his pocket that looked an awful lot like a vial, "Alright. I know when I'm not wanted. I guess I'll just go back and take this supposed miracle hangover cure that Gaius prepared with me since you clearly don't need my help -–"
In one swift movement, Arthur pushed his way to his feet, snatched the potion from the lanky boy's hand, and downed it all in one gulp. The taste was something between a sweaty sock and pond scum, but Arthur somehow managed to keep it down with only a grimace. Gaius' potions were almost always vile, but they usually worked and given the current state of his head and stomach, he'd drink just about anything to make his hangover go away.
"You're welcome." Merlin smirked, as Arthur tossed him the empty potion bottle. "I guess this means you want me to stay?"
Arthur just grunted and pushed past Merlin towards the wash basin, splashing his face several times with the cold water. The effect of the water combined with whatever it was that Gaius put in that potion seemed to clear his head a little, even if the headache remained as a throbbing reminder of the previous night's over-indulgence.
After he dried off his face, Arthur dragged his heavy legs back to the bed and plopped down as he waited for Merlin to gather some clothes for him to wear that day. Once again, his head ended up cradled in his hands and he moaned, "I'm never touching wine again."
"Riiiight," Merlin snorted as he draped Arthur's clothes over the top of the dressing screen.
"I mean it. I wouldn't have had so much to drink if I hadn't been so ... so ..."
"Bored?" Merlin finished for him.
"Yes … Gods yes." Arthur agreed. "As if having to listen to Lord Cadwallon drone on and on about the sheep husbandry practices on his estates wasn't bad enough, I also had to deal with his daughter."
Merlin smiled cheekily as he offered a hand to help Arthur up from bed. "Ah yes … the fair Lady Catrin."
"She's hardly what I would call 'fair'." Arthur grumbled, then waved his servant off to get up under his own power.
"'Beguiling' then?" Merlin suggested as the prince ducked behind the dressing screen. "Or perhaps 'bewitching' is a better way to describe her?"
Arthur snorted a little, "She certainly was creepy enough to be a witch."
"Oh c'mon … she wasn't that bad."
Arthur peeked his head around the screen so Merlin could see his dramatic eye-roll and 'are-you-kidding-me?-face'. "She was staring at me all night long. It was …" he shuddered, "disturbing."
Merlin chuckled, "She wasn't staring at you Arthur. She has a lazy eye, she can't help it."
"Well, that one eye was trained on me the entire time." The prince argued as he ducked back behind the screen and pulled on his shirt.
"I think I know what's really bugging you," Merlin began without teasing; "It's about Gwen, isn't it?"
"What?" Arthur stepped from the screen, annoyed that Merlin was right on the nose. He really hated when his servant did that.
"I'm right, aren't I?"
Arthur didn't respond, instead he walked over to his desk and sat, dejected. It had become painfully clear that Uther was looking to see his son married off soon. After all, an heir to the Pendragon family was on the line and in the past few months no less than four eligible girls of the appropriate age and status in nobility had come to visit Camelot.
But Arthur wasn't interested in any of them - Guinevere had already stolen his heart. But her position as a servant was an impenetrable barrier to their ever being together and marriage was something he could only dream about with her. Uther would certainly have a fit if he ever found out how he truly felt about the maid and Arthur had to be careful to hide his feelings.
One day, Arthur would be king and could change the laws about who he would be allowed to marry, but for now, Uther's word was law. His father expected many things from his son, and one of those things was marrying a woman he deemed appropriate. Luckily, Uther hadn't seen much in the girls that had come to visit either and so far, and Arthur had managed to dodge any potential matches. But he knew it was only a matter of time before Uther found a girl he approved of to marry Arthur. He could only hope that she wouldn't be a complete troll.
Arthur didn't know what to do. It would most likely be many years before he became king and in the meantime, he was expected to follow the wishes of his father, even if that meant marrying a woman he did not love, or even like. While Guinevere and Arthur both knew marriage for them would most likely never come to pass, the reality of any impending nuptials between Arthur and someone else was crushing and heartbreaking and the prince didn't even want to think about the day he would have to let her go.
Tangled in his thoughts, Arthur was jolted back into reality when Merlin plopped his boots into his lap. "You know what you need, Arthur?"
"A respectful servant?"
Merlin didn't miss a beat. "No, sire … what you need is a day off – a chance to get outside the walls of the castle and exercise your horse and perhaps do a little … I dunno ... hunting?" He suggested with a wink, emphasizing the last word.
Arthur shook his head, a little confused. Merlin never suggested that he go hunting; he hated the sport. "You want me to go hunting?"
"Yes, you need to go hunting, Arthur." Merlin waggled his eyebrows as if the prince should know what he was getting at. Arthur gave his servant a blank stare.
Merlin sighed heavily, "Do I have to spell it out for you?"
"What are you talking about?" Arthur's hangover didn't help clearing up his confusion.
"I ran into Gwen this morning. Apparently Morgana has been tasked with entertaining the lady Catrin, so she gave Gwen the day off. She told me she was going out to pick flowers, so if we just happened to run into her while you are 'hunting'..."
Arthur let that sink in, "Ahhhh. You know what? Hunting does sound like a good idea."
Merlin rode alongside Arthur, happy that the prince seemed to be recovered fully from his hangover and in much better spirits than when he first awoke. And seeing Arthur's face brighten as soon as they left the walls of the city only served to strengthen Merlin's belief that the prince had been under far too much pressure lately. He'd always had to live up to his father's expectations, but it seemed like he was suffocating under the weight of his responsibilities since the king began his none-to-subtle search for a girl worthy (in his opinion) of his son's hand in marriage.
But today would be different - a perfect day where Arthur didn't need to be pressured into doing anything he didn't want to do. And he needed this – this little rebellion. If he was ever to become the kind he was destined to become, he would have to start making his own decisions, especially those regarding his own life and happiness instead of just blindly following the lead of his father. And one of the most important decisions Arthur would have to make would be over whom he should be allowed to love, whether they were of equal status or not.
Besides, it just felt right. Arthur and Gwen were simply made for each other and he wanted his friends to be happy; that alone was enough for Merlin to set up this little rendezvous – to give them a little chance at happiness, at least for one day.
Merlin often joined Gwen on her trips into the fields and forests outside the city when he needed to find herbs for Gaius. Knowing how much Gwen enjoyed the smell and beauty of the lilac bushes that had just started to bloom, Merlin had more than just a hunch where to find her. After telling him where she might be, Arthur allowed Merlin to pull ahead and take the lead and soon they were approaching her favorite spot in a large clearing beside a slow moving stream. Sure enough, before he could even see her, he could hear her humming to herself as she sought out the best blossoms.
Stopping, Merlin turned to Arthur, and almost burst out in laughter. Looking towards Gwen with an almost comical, rapturous smile, Arthur looked more like a love-struck puppy than the crowned prince of Camelot.
Gwen had her back turned to them, but the moment Arthur's horse snorted, she turned around in surprise with a little yelp. "Arthur! Merlin! What … what are you doing here?"
Merlin chuckled as the prince stuttered, "Uh , well … I was just hunting ... and we must have taken a wrong turn and well ... here we are," he explained rather lamely. "But I'm glad we ran into you." It was hard, but Merlin managed to hold back a witty observation about how the brave prince could be turned into a puddle of nerves whenever he was around Gwen.
Gwen smiled shyly. "Catch anything?" she asked.
"Just you." Arthur replied.
Merlin tried not to roll his eyes at Arthur's cheesy response, but the words seemed to have an instantaneous effect on Gwen and she smiled brightly.
"Perhaps, if you're not too busy hunting that is, you'd care to join me." Gwen boldly offered. She wasn't usually so straightforward with her words, but in the last few months she and Arthur had become more than just prince and servant to each other and her tongue rarely tied when she was around him anymore.
"I think that would be a lovely idea." Arthur replied, beaming.
Merlin watched as Arthur got down from his horse and walked up to Gwen, extending an arm for her to take. Pretty soon, Arthur and Gwen had all but forgotten that Merlin was even there and took off on their own, walking at a leisurely pace through the woods to the bank of the stream.
In the meantime, Merlin got down from his saddle, took hold of the reins of both horses, and then walked them over to the brook to let them drink and refill his waterskin. Downstream from him, Gwen and Arthur sat close together, the young woman dipping her toes into the water. The warlock grinned to himself hearing Gwen laughing at Arthur as he fumbled, trying to get his own boots off so he could do the same.
Merlin reveled in the easy smiles on both of their faces. This had definitely been a good idea, he thought, mentally patting himself on the back.
It was then that the warlock felt an alarming tingle race up and down his spine and his smile fell. Senses on alert, he couldn't shake the feeling that they were being watched and that danger was near. Merlin scanned the woods surrounding them, peering deep into the trees, but he could see nothing. He gathered his magic, certain that Arthur and Gwen were too distracted to notice, and allowed his power to flow, his eyes burning bright gold as he searched deeper into the forest than his normal vision would allow.
And there they were. Three men, desperate and hungry looking sat in the cover of the bushes on the other side of the stream. They all wore rags and their skin looked as if it hadn't been introduced to water in weeks. The largest of the men might have been their leader, but all three appeared to be arguing silently amongst themselves with jerky hand gestures and shaking heads. That was most likely why they hadn't yet attacked; they had no organization or strategy.
They didn't look much like bandits, but Merlin knew that times were desperate in many villages. Floods from the previous summer had destroyed many crops near the border between Camelot and Caerleon. While both sides had suffered losses, Camelot had weathered the storms slightly better and none of its citizens had starved. But across the border, it was a different story. Many were desperate for food there and starvation forced many to cross into Camelot to find it, or steal it in some cases. Such times often drove otherwise honorable men to resort to banditry and they trespassed further and further into Camelot just to feed themselves. Merlin wouldn't be surprised it that were the case with these guys given how raggedy and thin they looked.
He looked over at Gwen and Arthur; they were oblivious to the men in the woods. He hated for anything to disrupt their time together, so Merlin hatched a quick plan to take care of men before they would even notice that he was gone.
It would be easy.
He may not have been armed with steel, and there may have been three of them, but Merlin was fairly confident that he could handle the lot. Of the weapons he could make out, he could see that at least one of them had a sword, but even that looked like it had seen better days. As for the others, they may have been armed, but probably with nothing bigger than a knife and Merlin could easily disarm them with his magic. With any luck, no one would get hurt and he could probably send them packing without revealing himself to them or Gwen and Arthur seeing what he was doing.
With determination, the young man set his plan into motion. Tugging at the reins of the horses, he calmly led them both from the water and tied them to a nearby tree. He then pulled out his water-skin and went back to the stream, kneeling down as if to fill it. Keeping his head down, but his eyes trained across the stream, he focused his magic on the sword in the largest man's hand.
"Fleoge seax forþ." Merlin whispered, his eyes flaming to gold.
At once, the man's sword began to lift into the air, along with the his hand. The bandit pulled desperately at the hilt, but Merlin's power was far too strong for him and his tugging only led to him falling backwards into his companions. Tangled together, all three men watched silently with mouths agape and growing dread as the sword floated up and then stopped in mid-air. Merlin mentally willed the sword to change its angle from vertical to horizontal and pointed it at the men. At the same time he repeated the first spell and lifted the knives from the hands of the other two men and soon there were three blades trained on the bandits.
Merlin hoped that the men would get the picture and make a run for it, but the morons just sat their trembling, clinging to each other. Rolling his eyes, the young warlock raised the height of the blades so they were just above the heads of the men the whispered, "Fleoge!"
Driven by a burst of power from Merlin's spell, the blades flew close enough over the top of their heads to blow their hair back and then buried themselves all the way to their hilts into the trunk of the tree behind them.
That seemed to do the trick.
With a three simultaneous yelps, the men jumped to their feet and started running, tearing through the woods until Merlin could see them no more.
The secret warlock hardly had time to snicker to himself before the noise the men made as they fled alerted Arthur. The young prince was instantly on his feet and had his sword out, protecting Gwen as he shielded her with his body. "What was that?" he shouted at Merlin.
Jumping to his feet, Merlin feigned surprise, but tried to downplay the commotion."I dunno. I think it was just a just bunch of birds taking off."
"Those were no birds, idiot!" Arthur yelled back."Stay with Guinevere!"
Merlin rushed over to Gwen just as Arthur started sprinting into the woods.
"Arthur!" Merlin and Gwen shouted after the prince at the same time.
Dammit … this was not how he imagined things playing out.
Arthur wasn't going to let them get away with this. It was quite possible the noises he heard could have been robbers or assassins, but they took off in such a hurry and without a fight, that he started to believe that they might have been nothing more than kids hiding in the bushes trying to get a peek at Gwen as she waded in the water.
Hell … he'd done worse as a boy, but that wasn't going to excuse their behavior and if he caught them, he was going to teach them a lesson about snooping that they would never forget.
Luck however, was not on his side and by the time he made it across the brook, through the bushes, and into the woods to give chase, there was no sign of them. Arthur finally came to a stop, panting harshly from the exertion of the chase. Damn, they were fast runners.
Miffed that he hadn't caught the brats, Arthur let his anger out by taking a swing at a tree trunk with his sword.
"Ah I see you caught a tree, Arthur. Nice job!" The prince whirled as his sarcastic servant stumbled out of the bushes.
"Merlin! You're supposed to be staying with Guinevere."
"I did. She's –"
"Right here, Arthur." Gwen finished, coming out of the bushes.
Arthur was one part relieved and one part angry that the two of them ignored his order to stay behind, but then again, he was the only one with a sword and he had been the one to take off to leave his friends defenseless. Guilt overcame him, but as it seemed that no harm was done, he tried to let it go.
"Well … it seems that whoever was there has run off," Gwen pointed out. "Why don't we go back?"
"Alright," Arthur readily agreed. It was rather pointless standing around and wallowing in his failure to catch a few miscreants when he'd much rather spend the rest of his afternoon with Guinevere. Arthur held out his elbow so Gwen could take his arm and began to lead her out of the woods while Merlin lagged behind them, muttering to himself as he caught his sleeve on a thorny bush and he became hopelessly ensnared.
"Need some help getting free from the big bad bush, Merlin?" Arthur teased while Gwen giggled.
Merlin grinned lopsidedly, "No, no … I've got it. No need for another poor plant to fall victim to your sword. Just …" Merlin tugged on his sleeve, perilously close to ripping his shirt, "just go on without me … save yourselves!" he joked.
Gwen's musical laughter filled the woods and Arthur felt lighter than he had in ages. He shook his head at Merlin's idiocy, leaving the dark haired boy to get himself out of his mess. The prince then led Gwen back towards the stream with an easy smile on his face.
So far it had been a lovely day and for once, though Arthur would rather chop off his arm than admit it, one of Merlin's ideas had turned out to be rather brilliant. This was just the sort of thing he needed to get his mind off of things and if it hadn't been for Merlin, he might never have had this opportunity to enjoy Gwen's company. He'd have to remind himself to thank his servant one of these days – sometimes he wasn't a complete buffoon.
Arthur stopped just at the edge of the small stream and on a sudden impulse, he swooped Gwen into his arms bridal style.
She gave a yelp in surprise, beaming, "Arthur! What are you doing?"
"Helping you across, of course. Wouldn't want you to get your dress wet."
"I'm afraid it's too late for that." She smiled, looking down at the sodden hem of her dress. Golden rays of sunlight highlighted her curls and when she lifted her face, it was only inches from his, her body warm in his hands. It was the perfect moment and he had never before felt such a need to kiss her.
He leaned in to do just that when they were interrupted by a clamor of snapping tree limbs and a series of grunts coming from the woods behind them.
"Merlin …" He groaned, closing his eyes and feeling all of the gratitude he had previously thought of expressing towards his servant disappear in an instant.
"You'd better go help him." She nodded towards the ever increasing noise.
Arthur reluctantly set her feet back down on the ground, "I'll be right back – I have a servant to go kill."
As Gwen and Arthur slipped out of view, Merlin tried again to free his sleeve from the thorn bush and cursed as one of them scraped across his skin and drew a little blood. Why him? He thought to himself once again. How did he always manage to get himself into these sorts of pickles? No wonder Arthur thought he was an idiot.
He was supposed to be some kind of powerful warlock, yet a simple thorny bush had trapped him soundly. But Gwen and Arthur weren't around, so what harm would there be in using a little magic to get himself free? Better than than destroying his clothes or scratching himself into ribbons.
Merlin shifted his gaze to the thorns embedded in his sleeve and let his magic flow through him and into the bush. He didn't need a spell for such a simple task and immediately the thorns worked themselves out and pulled free from the fabric without loosening another stitch.
Smirking with satisfaction, Merlin laughed at the bush, "Ha! Think you can outsmart me, do ya?"
Just as he was turning around to head back towards Gwen and Arthur, Merlin felt another trickle of apprehension curl up his spine. It was the same as he had felt before when he felt the presence of those three bandits he chased away, but only stronger and more sudden. Had Merlin missed something? Had one of the men he scared off returned or had he simply been mistaken and there had been more than just the three men?
He stopped to look around, but just as he did, there was a cracking sound as a figure streaked from a branch above and landed on top of him. The air in Merlin's lungs exploded out on impact and he was left unable to so much as inhale. A man, dirty skinned and reeking of body odor straddled his legs then clamped a hand over his mouth, pointing a sharp dagger at his throat.
"Don't move or make a sound." The disheveled man hissed, fetid breath wafting from his rotten mouth and searing Merlin's nostrils. The bandit had to be at least twice as heavy as Merlin, but he ignored the man's threat and struggled anyway, causing the outlaw to press his knife deeper against the younger man's skin until it stung.
"I said … don't move or I'll slice yer neck open!" the man growled lowly. "Now … you're gonna listen to me, boy. I saw what you did to my friends back there and to that bush just now. That were magic, weren't it? Seein' as how we're in Camelot and the king here don't look too kindly on sorcerers, how 'bout you go and fetch me the purse of that rich fella you're with ... or I'll tell him all 'bout yer magic."
Merlin's nostrils flared in anger and he shook his head. He wasn't about to give into this smelly man's piss-poor attempt at blackmail. He would rather die than let him get anywhere near Arthur or Gwen. He could feel his magic rising and he used it instinctively to push the bandit from him and send him careening backwards. His attacker however, was far faster than Merlin anticipated for his size and was back on his feet, barreling into the smaller man with all of his weight before the young warlock had a chance to do anything.
The bandit tackled him forcefully into the thorn bush he had just escaped from only minutes before. The young man grunted in pain as dozens of thorns poked through his shirt and into the skin his back. Not ready to give up without a fight, Merlin's magic resurfaced, but just as he was about to unleash it against his attacker once again, there was an eruption from the bushes as Arthur stumbled out of them, voicing his displeasure.
"Merlin, I swear I'm going to – "
Merlin turned his head, to warn the prince, "Arthur, NO!"
Distracted by Arthur, the young warlock hardly had time to register the repeated blows that struck him in the abdomen. Strangely, he felt no pain at first, only a surreal detachment from his body as he looked down and saw the handle of a knife embedded in his stomach. Merlin then fully realized what was happening and time became sluggish so that everything unfolded in slow-motion.
Eyes wild, the brutish man pulled the dagger from Merlin's body with a sickening squelch and then, to the young man's horror, launched the blood coated blade straight and true towards Arthur.
To Be Continued ...
Sorry for the cliffy, but I'll post more soon.