Another's Favor by ebhg
Disclaimer: Merlin belongs to BBC.
***Spoilers: Series 1-4 and 5x01-04, plus elements of other Series 5 episodes twisted to my own purposes.***
Summary: To fortify their ties after his rescue, Rodor offers Mithian's hand to the one Arthur respects above all others. For power comes not with rank, but from one's connections. AU immediately following Arthur's duel with King Odin in Another's Sorrow.
A/N: As Odin's lands/Kingdom is unnamed, I'm taking creative license and calling it Meredor, as the BBC's map of Camelot has Odin's lands on the Great Sea of Meredor.
Happy birthday to my mom and beta for this story, Oma13. :)
"So be it. A truce... it is."
Merlin could hardly contain his relief that Odin had agreed to Arthur's demand for truce. A heavy weight lifted from his shoulders and he sagged, unable to stop the trembling in his muscles. Merlin's mind whirled; he felt lightheaded and nearly giddy with the realization of how close things had been. Not to death, no, that had never been the warlock's real concern. When he and Arthur had been cornered, Merlin had been on the verge of revealing his magic to defend his king from Odin's unrelenting chase. But Odin's own pride in conjunction with Arthur's skill with a blade had preserved Merlin's secret for yet another day.
Odin's men slowly relaxed their tense postures and completely stood down in light of the newly formed truce. Several of them planted their swords into the ground while others sat heavily, utterly spent after their intense pursuit of the king of Camelot and his manservant. Merlin struggled to maintain his stoic expression as he watched the others around him. With as fragile and new as this truce was, it didn't seem prudent to show how completely exhausted and overwhelmed he was. Even though the soldiers surrounding them had ceased their attack, Merlin and Arthur were still largely outnumbered. The warlock crossed his arms over his chest in an effort to hide their trembling. His mind was still processing everything; he took several slow, steady breaths in an attempt to calm himself, consciously tamping down the magic he had pulled to the surface, ready to defend Arthur from Odin's band of soldiers.
Odin himself exhaled a deep breath; Merlin could see the man straighten with subdued dignity, as though a great burden was lifted from the King of Meredor's shoulders. Odin and Arthur began to converse then, and Merlin dimly realized as he tried to follow their words that his ears were buzzing rather distractingly. His throat was also still smarting from Morgana's magical choke hold. As it was, he nearly missed all of what the two kings were saying as they made plans to return to Camelot to make their new truce official.
Merlin wavered slightly on his feet, the only outward sign that his energy had just about given out. He fought to steady himself and remain standing. No doubt Arthur would call him a big girl if he fainted. Merlin scoffed to himself at the injustice of such a label, and not because women were weak. Morgana, Mithian and Gwen were all evidence to the contrary.
But Arthur would just as soon lump the warlock in with the simpering ladies of the court. Merlin was no dainty cushion-embroidering, hair-curling, giggling courtier. Damn it all, he had just run at least three miles to save Arthur and the knights from Morgana's trap after suffering a significant blow to the head and air deprivation only a couple hours before. Then he had used powerful magic to shake the very earth, further draining his energy stores. Not that he could explain as much to Arthur.
"Merlin?" Arthur asked, pulling the manservant from his musings. Merlin blinked slowly, looking around him in bewilderment only to realize belatedly that he was sitting on the ground without the recollection of having done so.
"Arthur?" he asked confusedly, shaking his head to clear it. The king was looking at him with concern in his eyes but an amused smirk on his lips. Merlin glared at Arthur for a moment, knowing the girl comment was on the tip of the monarch's tongue. The concern in Arthur's eyes melted into relief as Merlin's indignation assured the king that Merlin ought to be fine with a bit of rest.
"Did you forget that you took a blow to the head this morning in your mad quest to save my life?" Arthur teased.
"If I said no, would you believe me?" Merlin chuckled wearily.
"I never believe a word that comes out of your mouth," Arthur jibed. Merlin grinned ruefully.
"See, that's your problem. You never listen to me," the manservant said as his king grasped his arm and hauled the thin warlock to his feet.
"Well your problem is that you never have anything to say worth listening to," Arthur said mockingly.
"I find that hard to believe," Odin interjected, looking between the two men before him. Arthur's face grew stern as he turned back to the King of Meredor.
"Be grateful that this time, I did listen. Merlin would be the first to tell you that I ignore him almost as often as I pay attention," Arthur said without humor. Odin immediately sobered.
"What of my men?" Odin asked, gesturing to the soldiers flanking him. "Are they to be your prisoners?"
"No, but I will allow you only two escorts to Camelot. No more," Arthur said firmly. Odin nodded in agreement and gestured to the two men closest to him.
"You two will be my escort. The rest of you will make for Meredor and send word to all camps that we are retreating from the border."
"Yes, My Lord," one of the men intoned, then turned to direct his comrades. Merlin and Arthur watched gratefully as the bulk of Odin's soldiers formed a line and disappeared into the trees.
"After you, Your Highness," Arthur said as he collected his sword and slipped it into its sheath, indicating that Odin should go first. "The rest of my men are following the ridgeline towards the ruins just on the other side of the border. We'll catch up with them and camp there for the night."
King Odin nodded grimly, resigned to following Arthur's authority for the time being. He was shocked though, when the king of Camelot swiftly reached out and grabbed the dark-haired man's arm, bending at the waist to sling the still wavering servant over his shoulder.
"Shall we?" Arthur asked, ignoring the sudden, indignant protests that Merlin gave as Arthur secured the squirming servant and gestured for Odin and his men to move out. The king of Meredor kept looking back at the unlikely sight, unable to understand why a king would do such a thing for a mere peasant.
"This is completely unnecessary, I can walk," Merlin repeated for the third time.
"And yet, I still don't care," Arthur replied. "Better this than peeling you off the ground when you pass out."
"Please, if I pass out, it's only because the blood has rushed to my head since you insist on carting me around like a deer carcass."
"Nonsense, if you were a deer carcass, I'd drag you. It's not a half-bad idea, actually," Arthur teased, eliciting a grunt from his manservant when he hefted him higher up onto his shoulder.
"You wouldn't dare, these are my best trousers!"
"If these are your best, I don't want to see your worst. Do us all a favor and burn them when we get back to Camelot."
"We don't all of us have kingly wardrobes."
"I still haven't excluded the possibility of dragging you, Merlin."
"If you do, I will sing all of Gwaine's favorite tavern songs as loudly as I can."
"Gods forbid. Has the blood pooled in your head enough to make you pass out, yet?"
"Obviously not, seeing as I am still talking to you," Merlin answered mulishly.
"Pity," Arthur commented, then grunted as Merlin's elbow dug into his back.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Merlin said with casual innocence. "Just trying to adjust myself a little better." Arthur merely heaved the thin man a little higher, being sure to jostle him thoroughly in retaliation and grinning when Merlin grunted again.
Much to Odin's amazement, Merlin kept up a constant stream of chatter, mostly complaining about the indignity he was being forced to endure. More surprising were the frequent insults directed at the blond king, who still insisted on keeping the young man slung over his shoulder. Nothing was safe from the servant's impertinence, not even King Arthur's intelligence nor his waistline. Yet all the young monarch did in reaction to the unkingly insults was roughly jostle the man slung over his shoulder and grin smugly when a grunt was forced from the servant, followed by yet more grumbling. Odin found himself rather relieved when the crumbling structure came into sight and Arthur finally allowed his servant to walk with the king's support. At least then the younger man's protests had finally been silenced.
When Mithian had first seen the ruins yesterday afternoon, she would not have described them as peaceful or calm, as they seemed to be now. It was little wonder that she had missed the quiet beauty of the crumbling, ivy-covered stone walls, considering she had been under Morgana's control and had been forced to lead her friends to what she had thought would be their deaths. The tension and guilt for her actions towards Camelot had sat alongside Mithian's worry for her father like a heavy stone in her gut. As they had camped amongst the ruins the first time, Mithian hadn't thought it possible for her sense of dread to grow. Then Merlin had nearly been killed because of her and Mithian couldn't believe the new level of anguish that she had felt.
But that was over, somehow, thanks to Merlin. Her father was safe and Morgana was gone. Where the witch had disappeared to, Mithian was uncertain. However, she was sure that Morgana would not be gone for long. Until that time, though, they had more pressing matters to deal with. Reclaiming Nemeth, for one.
"You are fairing well, but you should rest, sire," Gaius said after he had finished looking over King Rodor. Mithian shook off her inner worries and smiled at her father, giving his hand a squeeze. The princess nodded her head in agreement with Gaius before helping her father to a seat near the fire that the physician had asked the knights to build up.
"Thank you, Gaius," Mithian said, earning a smile from the elderly man.
"It is my pleasure, Prin- Merlin!"
Gaius' surprised exclamation startled Mithian; the princess whirled around and her heart pounded anew at the sight of King Odin entering the ruins flanked by two soldiers. As one, the knights of Camelot stood with swords drawn until a weary but welcome voice came from behind the king of Meredor.
"Stand down, all is well. He is with us."
"My Lord?" Leon asked. Arthur met his knight's eyes.
"We travel to Camelot at daybreak tomorrow to draw up an official truce between Meredor and Camelot," Arthur explained. Then Odin and his men moved to the side and Mithian finally saw what had caused Gaius' alarm. Though Merlin was on his feet, his left arm was slung over King Arthur's shoulder and the paler-than-usual manservant seemed exhausted. Mithian couldn't help the twinge of guilt that lanced through her when she saw the bruising still evident on Merlin's forehead and the unfocused look in his eyes. Gaius could hold back no longer.
"Merlin?! What did you do? Do you have no care at all for your own health?! Or mine for that matter?"
"Please, Gaius, it's nothing, I'm just a bit tired," Merlin assured his mentor, even as Arthur rolled his eyes.
"Don't listen to him, Gaius. He nearly lost consciousness once we had everything at the tomb settled and I had to carry him most of the way here," Arthur argued. Merlin glared at his king, not bothering to check his expression, despite the gathering of nobles and knights surrounding them.
"Had to carry me?! I believe I protested that indignity. Don't listen to him?!" Merlin scoffed in mock-outrage. "Just what I need, someone else to ignore me, even though my funny feeling turned out to be not-so-funny after all," Merlin said dryly, raising his own eyebrow at his master, earning him another stern look from his king.
Arthur, though, was fighting a grin when he unceremoniously shoved Merlin down onto Gaius' makeshift patient's bed. Mithian covered her mouth with a gloved hand to hide her smile at the obvious rapport between the two men. There was little doubt that they were friends. That Arthur allowed Merlin to address him in such a manner spoke volumes to everyone gathered.
"I suppose you ran the whole way and haven't had anything to drink since?" Gaius asked Merlin, raising his eyebrow in his ward's direction.
"Gwaine did too," Merlin deflected obstinately.
"Yes, but he wasn't cracked in the head and strangled within an inch of his life this morning," Gaius argued. Merlin shrugged but did not try to refute the physician's words. Gaius made a grunting noise in the back of his throat and turned to the pot nested within the fire ring. Arthur punched Merlin in the shoulder, ignoring the servant's protests. The blond king moved off to gather his knights a small distance away from the main group, Mithian assumed, to receive their reports and give further orders.
Seeing Merlin finally relax into the bed as those around him were distracted, Mithian could not hold back any longer. She patted her father's arm reassuringly and made her way around the fire towards Merlin. The princess could feel her father's questioning gaze on her the whole way.
Mithian wasn't sure that her father would understand the draw that she felt towards the lanky manservant. She wasn't entirely sure that she understood it herself, especially after her most recent experience with Morgana. Nevertheless, Mithian had witnessed earlier what Merlin was; rather than scaring her, it made her incredibly curious.
She had been so terrified when Odin had pulled the sword back and made to separate Arthur's head from his shoulders. Mithian had averted her eyes, turning away from the imminent execution, only to catch a glimmer of movement across from where she stood with her father.
Merlin had stood there, a sword in his hands, seemingly unaffected by the injuries that Morgana had given him less than two hours before. Yet, Merlin did not rush foolishly towards Odin as Mithian had expected of the loyal manservant. Instead, Merlin's face had hardened into a fierce expression and he had lowered himself into a crouch. His lips had been forming words, Mithian was sure, but she could hear nothing from where she stood with her father. Then Merlin had hit the ground with an open hand, his eyes flashing the tell-tale gold of a sorcerer.
Then the tomb had begun to tremble.
Mithian was astonished. Magic was in the very heart of Camelot. None other than the king's own manservant and friend. The princess had remained frozen in shock amidst the shaking and the fighting until Merlin had shouted at them to come his way. Only then had her feet moved instinctually towards the promise of safety.
Then, to her further astonishment, when Odin's men had surrounded them in the forest, Mithian had found herself unarmed and clinging in fear, not to her father, but to Merlin. The princess had realized as she gripped his thin shoulders that she didn't care that the servant had magic. She was not afraid of him; she knew that he would never hurt her. So Mithian had resolved in that moment to never reveal Merlin's secret.
Now, as she approached the pallet quietly, her heart pounded inexplicably as she neared the dark-haired man. His breathing had evened out, and he looked to be on the verge of sleep. Mithian bit her lip, hating that he had suffered so for her cowardice and foolishness.
"Merlin," she called softly, not wanting to startle him. Merlin immediately opened his eyes and sat up.
"What can I do for you, Mithian?" Merlin asked, as though he wasn't under strict physician's orders to rest.
"No, no, you misunderstand!" Mithian insisted, pushing back on Merlin's shoulders and sitting down on Gaius' log beside the bed. Her hands tingled at the contact, and the princess wondered if she suffered some sort of compulsion to touch the servant. She blushed when she realized that she was still pressing down on his surprisingly muscular chest, as though holding him to the bed. Mithian hastily drew back her hands and clasped them in her lap to conceal their trembling before she cleared her throat and continued. "I do not wish to disturb you, Merlin."
The man in question grinned in amusement and raised an eyebrow at her words. Mithian blushed anew since disturbing him was exactly what she was doing. The princess looked down at her hands, plucking errantly at her gloves as she worked up the courage to say what she had come to say.
"I'm so sorry," she finally whispered, looking up to meet Merlin's eyes. The warlock's amused expression melted instantly.
"Mithian, you have no reason to be sorry," Merlin said kindly. Distantly, Mithian wondered when the servant had stopped addressing her by her title as propriety demanded, but couldn't find it within her at that moment to care.
"I have every reason to be sorry," she insisted, despite Merlin shaking his head in the negative. "I pulled you into my problem and Morgana almost killed you."
"Trust me, Morgana has wanted to kill me for some time. You didn't have to give her an excuse to hurt me; you are not at fault. In fact, if it wasn't for your message at the river, I wouldn't have known for certain that Arthur was headed for a trap. If I hadn't been injured and Gwaine and I had been with the others, we may not have been able to turn things in our favor when that tremor hit," Merlin reassured her.
"What made you suspect her?" Mithian asked suddenly, Merlin's casual reference to the mysteriously convenient earthquake reminding her of what she had seen. She had her suspicions of what had made Merlin uneasy around 'Hilda,' but it wasn't something that could be stated openly in present company. "No one else could see through her illusion. Yet you never seemed to trust her. Why is that?"
Merlin rose back to a sitting position, studying Mithian for a moment as though deciding how much to say.
"I could see fear in your eyes, Mithian," Merlin said gently. "There was something off between you and Hilda. You didn't seem at all like the Mithian I had come to know when first we met."
His answer stunned Mithian. She'd reasoned that he'd used some sort of mysterious magical ability to see through the witch's disguise. Yet Mithian realized that it was obvious now that he hadn't. Surely if he'd known by magic that Hilda was truly Morgana, the manservant would have said or done something sooner, rather than risking his king's safety outside of Camelot. Regardless of whether or not his magic had been the root of it, he had been suspicious of her unease with Hilda. Though Mithian hadn't known of Merlin's magic at the time, she had felt his eyes on her and Hilda through the entire journey. It was what made her approach him specifically that morning.
"Thank you," Mithian whispered, her voice hoarse as her eyes misted over at the thought of all she and her father had been through in the past week. Merlin smiled again, shaking his head.
"And I told you before, you have no need to thank me."
Mithian shook herself from her inward musings and smiled softly at Merlin's earnestness. It made her heart inexplicably warm to know that one short meeting three years prior had left such an impression on Merlin. Neither of them looked away in the ensuing silence, each of them studying the other. Mithian startled when her father coughed, only just realizing that she and Merlin had been leaning closer together than was considered appropriate. Mithian's blush deepened even further when she realized that she had been staring at Merlin's lips. Sitting back hurriedly, the both of them squirmed awkwardly until Mithian composed herself and gave Merlin a small smile.
"You remembered my character so perfectly that three years had not dimmed your memory enough to ease your suspicions?" Mithian finally asked, seeking a distraction from her embarrassment.
"You are a rather hard person to forget, Mithian," Merlin murmured with a gentle smile. Then his face reddened as he seemed to realize what he had just admitted to and he dropped his gaze to the tattered hem on his tunic. Mithian's own cheeks burned as she moved to study her hands. After a few more moments of semi-awkward silence, Gaius returned with a bowl of broth and a hunk of dry bread.
"Here, Merlin," Gaius instructed. "You must eat this slowly, we don't need you to expel it before it's had a chance to settle in and do you some good."
Merlin took the bowl and looked at the bland broth with obvious hesitation in his expression. However, Gaius knew his ward well and stood imposingly with his hands on his hips until Merlin gave in and began to slowly drink the broth and nibble at the bread. Mithian smiled in amusement at the expression on Merlin's face as he sipped at the bowl.
"What of Nemeth?" King Rodor's voice suddenly rang out, pulling Mithian's attention from the grimacing manservant.
"What of it?" Odin asked. Mithian knew then that Odin wasn't going to give up his newly conquered territory without argument.
"I cannot allow my people to remain under your rule," Rodor said, glaring cooly at Odin.
"And what heir do the people of Nemeth have to look forward to? Your son hasn't returned from his questing in four years. He's abandoned his claim to the throne of Nemeth," Odin argued.
"He expressed his desire to return home in his last missive and I intend to still have a kingdom to bequeath him when he returns!" Rodor growled.
"Gentlemen, we can take this discussion back to Camelot. For now, let us rest and prepare for our journey on the morrow," Arthur said, asserting his authority regardless of being decades younger than the kings he was meditating for.
Mithian turned back to Merlin as Odin stood petulantly and walked a short distance away from Arthur and her father. The manservant's energy was obviously waning. Gaius was smiling smugly at the younger man, taking the bowl from his ward's grasp as Merlin looked at the physician blearily.
"I thought that tasted funny," Merlin mumbled as Gaius caught the falling young man by his shoulders and eased him back into the bed.
"What's wrong with him?" Mithian asked, somewhat alarmed to see Merlin losing consciousness so rapidly.
"It's nothing, Your Highness," Gaius assured her, feeling his ward's brow with the back of his hand before covering Merlin with a blanket.
"Surely falling unconscious in such a manner is a bad sign? He did receive a blow to the head this morning?"
"I've just given him a mild sedative," the physician admitted once he saw Mithian's disbelieving look. The princess' eyes widened in comprehension, now understanding the look of betrayal on Merlin's face.
"Why would you need to sedate him, and in secret? Surely he understands the need to rest," Mithian asked.
"Merlin understands no such thing when it comes to himself," Gaius said with fond irritation. Mithian smiled and looked once more at the sleeping man, reaching out to lightly pat Merlin's hand as she stood and moved back towards her father. King Rodor smiled at her as Mithian once again took her seat beside him, listening to the ending of King Arthur's explanation of what happened when they had separated after the tomb.
"... we were cornered in a shallow ravine. Had Odin not demanded a single combat, we most likely would have been overwhelmed," Arthur explained.
"Single combat? Yet you are both still living and determined to follow through with a truce. How did that come about?" Rodor asked. Arthur looked over to Odin, who sat mulishly with his men away from the rest of the group.
"We did fight. I managed to subdue Odin after just a few blows," Arthur explained, his eyes focusing on a far off point. "He was on his knees and I was ready to kill him. I would have done so, were it not for Merlin. He convinced me to spare Odin and that peace was the better course of action," the king admitted, shaking himself from his reverie and looking back to the king of Nemeth.
"Merlin?" Rodor asked, unsure of how exactly Merlin fit into the situation. The lad wasn't dressed as a knight or even as someone of rank, but as a peasant. Yet King Arthur spoke of him as though the thin man had significant influence.
"My manservant," Arthur answered.
"Your manservant?! The young man who led us from the tomb was your manservant?" Rodor asked, looking in astonishment at the unconscious man under Gaius' care.
"Yes, though when or how he got there, I've no idea. We had left him behind here at the ruins with Gaius. He'd taken a heavy blow to the head..." Arthur trailed off, realizing that Merlin's clumsy nature was likely not to blame for his injury. Mithian confirmed Arthur's suspicions.
"I'm afraid that Merlin's injuries are all my fault," Mithian said softly. "I'd noticed he was not fully comfortable with our mission and that he did not seem to trust Hilda. As you know, she was actually Morgana under an aging spell. I managed to leave a message at the river and then asked Merlin to refill my water skin. Unfortunately, Morgana got to him before he could warn you."
Arthur nodded in understanding, looking towards Merlin.
"How then did he get to us?" Arthur asked. Gwaine joined them then, sitting down beside Arthur to offer the explanation the king sought.
"He woke up about an hour after you left, hellbent on getting to you, Arthur. Said you were walking into a trap."
"He saved my life," Arthur admitted. "When the ground began to quake, the battle in the tomb was resumed. I had just taken down a man when another came up behind me. He was poised to kill me, but Merlin ran him through from behind before the man could even swing his weapon."
"Your manservant ran after you to warn you of the trap and saved your life when he ran a man through?!" Rodor asked, his disbelief growing.
"He did," Arthur confirmed. "It's not the first time he's saved my life, either. I owe him my life many times over, not that I'd admit it while he's conscious. I'd never hear the end of it."
"We all owe Merlin," Gwaine added, elbowing Arthur on Merlin's behalf. "Our sneak attack at the tomb today was actually his plan. He can be quite cunning when he needs to be. But he never asks for anything in return, either. That's what I like about Merlin."
The other knights joined them at the fire as Gaius served a light supper to everyone. Leon, Percival and Elyan told their own stories, confirming that Merlin had done something for each of them with little expectation of a reward.
"Is this man real?" Rodor asked, eyeing the unconscious man-in-question skeptically.
"Merlin's as real as they come," Gwaine chuckled. Mithian wholeheartedly nodded her agreement, unaware that her father was eying her speculatively.
Darkness fell over their small encampment as night came and one by one the gathered knights and kings bid all a good night until only the watchmen remained. Sirs Leon and Percival had once again surrendered their cloaks to create a private area for her, but Mithian could not bring herself to lay down to sleep just yet. She sat alone at the lowly crackling fire, eyeing the slumbering knights of Camelot with a small smile. Mithian was grateful that they had come out of Morgana's trap unscathed. Almost as grateful as she was that they hadn't held a grudge against her or her father for their part in Morgana's plan.
The princess' eyes scanned the campsite, only to find and lock onto Merlin again. Though she had moved away from him after he'd fallen asleep, she had kept a surreptitious eye on the manservant throughout the evening. He seemed so normal and common while sleeping that Mithian was having a hard time reconciling what she had thought she knew of Merlin with the otherworldly display that she had seen earlier that day in the tomb. It was as though he was two different men within one body.
Mithian shook herself from her revery and resolved to get to sleep. Morning would come all too quickly and they had a long ride ahead of them on the morrow.
Merlin woke around midnight, the sedative finally wearing off. He grimaced at the lingering taste in his mouth as he slowly sat up, but smiled when he saw the bowl of stew that sat beside his pallet. There was little doubt that the meal had been left by Gaius, though the warlock was hesitant to trust that the physician wasn't trying to knock him out again. Merlin sniffed the food, trying to detect any trace of his mentor's favorite soporifics. A small taste licked off his finger revealed no medicinal aftertaste. However, it did tell him that the stew was stone cold. With a discreet look around him, Merlin ducked his head to hide his eyes and rewarmed the soup with magic.
He'd already eaten half the bowl when he suddenly felt someone's eyes on him. Looking cautiously around himself, Merlin froze when he saw King Rodor, arms crossed over his chest, watching him emotionlessly from where he was now sitting across the dying fire. Another glance around showed Gwaine and Elyan still on watch at the outer crumbling wall, in addition to one of Odin's men. Turning back to Nemeth's sovereign, Merlin cleared his throat.
"Is there anything you need, sire?" Merlin asked, much more respectfully than he usually addressed Arthur.
"So you do know how to speak to a king," Rodor commented blandly. Merlin froze at Rodor's candor.
"Yes, sire," Merlin said, unable to say anything else. He was taken off guard when Rodor shook his head and laughed as though he was told an exceptionally funny joke. Finally, the neighboring king took a deep breath and sobered.
"You have an uncommon bond with your master," Rodor mused, a hint of a smile still on his lips.
"I suppose that is true," Merlin agreed, allowing a small grin of his own.
"You convinced him, in the heat of battle, not to slay King Odin."
Merlin's smile fell and he shrugged, not sure what Rodor wanted him to say. After another moment of silence, Merlin answered cautiously.
"I suppose, you could say that is true as well."
"I do say it is. You are a strange man, Merlin. Arthur tells me that you have saved his life many times, including today in the tomb."
"It is my job, sire," Merlin answered simply.
"No, that's not it. A manservant is charged with protecting naught but his master's wardrobe. I think it's more than that," Rodor answered shrewdly. Merlin swallowed nervously.
"I'm not sure what you want me to say, Sire," he responded.
"That is exactly my point. You are a manservant to a king, yet you fight like a knight, a young knight mind you, but a knight nonetheless. I, nor any other royal I know of, could say that my own manservant would sprint an entire league before running a man through in my defense. Let alone confidently lead two kings, a princess and a knight out of a quaking tomb to safety without blinking an eye. I have knights who would be hard pressed to perform such a feat. And if they did, they would surely expect a banquet in their honor at the very least!"
"I do not need such things. I serve my king gladly; I am happy in my place," Merlin answered.
"Three separate kings owe you their lives this day, and you want for nothing more?"
Of course there were certain things, or rather, freedoms that the secret warlock wanted, but he doubted Rodor would be so amenable to such things. Merlin looked down at his boots for a moment, schooling his expression before raising his head and looking Rodor straight in the eye.
"My friends are safe; it is the best I can ask for."
"You truly astound me, young man. Uncommon, indeed," Rodor said, though he grew silent when Mithian came out from behind her makeshift wall wrapped in her traveling cloak.
"Mithian," Merlin addressed her, standing from his bed. "Did you need something? Can I help you?"
"No, I was just cold; I decided to come sit by the fire," Mithian replied.
"Of course, please come sit, I'll build it up again. It's very nearly just embers," Merlin said, scrambling to the wood pile and selecting some of the larger branches. Within a few minutes, the fire was warm and blazing once more. Mithian smiled her appreciation, for which Merlin grinned in return and nodded to the princess before settling down to watch the newly placed logs burn.
Mithian turned to the fire as well, a tender glint in her eye as she too took in the crackling flames. Every few minutes, she would glance at Merlin out of the corner of her eye, and her lips would hint again at a mischievous smile. The manservant looked at her questioningly more than once, but Mithian could only shake her head and turn back to the fire. After the third such exchange, Merlin chuckled under his breath and Mithian pressed her hand delicately to her lips to smother her own laughter.
"What is so funny?" Merlin asked curiously, laughing at the situation he found himself in.
"It's nothing," Mithian denied. "I'm not even sure what I'm laughing about. Perhaps it's just a release of all the tension of the last week."
"Of course," Merlin agreed, smiling genuinely at the princess before grabbing up a stick at his feet and poking at the crackling logs.
Rodor quietly observed his two fireside companions unnoticed, glad for their preoccupation. He'd had an idea come to him as he watched his daughter dance around the humble servant and vice versa. It was a bold, though not entirely unprecedented move that some would say was utterly improper. But Rodor was nothing if not a wise man. And a wise man sometimes has to acknowledge that leverage comes not with rank, but from one's connections.
"I fear I am much too old to remain awake any longer," Rodor said, moving to stand with a groan.
"I'll help you," Merlin offered as he dropped his stick and rushed to his feet, prepared to assist the older man, but Rodor waved him away.
"I'm not that old yet," he chuckled, wandering out of the warm circle around the fire and to his bedroll. Mithian threw propriety to the wind and stayed with Merlin by the fire even after her father retreated for the night. Save for the men on watch, they were the only ones still awake; the servant seemed as unable to sleep as she was herself.
After a time of comfortable silence, Merlin rose to his feet to place another log on the fire. The princess smiled gratefully at the increased warmth, watching as Merlin dusted off his hands and sat back down beside her.
"You must be tired," Mithian ventured after several minutes of silence.
"No, unfortunately, I'm wide awake. One of the drawbacks to being unwittingly drugged to sleep in the middle of the afternoon," Merlin said with a rueful chuckle.
"Gaius cares a great deal about you," Mithian replied, smiling slightly at Merlin's indignation.
"He does," Merlin agreed, grinning at the princess.
"Arthur does too," Mithian added, though Merlin scoffed.
"It's nearly impossible for Arthur to admit such things."
"It's easier for him now than it was when first we met," Mithian reasoned.
"That is true. Marrying Gwen has been good for him," Merlin allowed, belatedly realizing how the princess might take his words. "I mean, not that marrying you would have been bad for him, I mean, it's just that Arthur and Gwen-"
"Merlin!" Mithian laughed. "It has been a long time since my heart healed from that hurt. I'm glad that Arthur has married Guinevere, they do seem very good to each other. I am sure that had I married Arthur, he would not be the king he is today."
"I'm glad to hear you say that, Mithian. I felt badly that you left Camelot feeling unwanted," Merlin admitted.
"It really wasn't as bad as all that. And besides, I've learned that past hurts can lead to future joys," Mithian said sagely. Merlin smiled and nodded gratefully at the princess' reassurances, then turned back to study the flames once more.
"The others were very complimentary of you while you were asleep," Mithian said, a hint of her earlier mischievous smile returning.
"Oh no," Merlin groaned, chuckling at the grin that Mithian tried unsuccessfully to contain. "That just means they'll tease me that much worse when I'm awake."
Mithian laughed delightedly at Merlin's expression.
"I'm sure it won't be so bad," Mithian replied.
"Believe me, it will."
Merlin and Mithian smiled at one another for a moment until Merlin looked awkwardly down at his hands. When they first met, he'd felt a bit guilty when he spoke with the Princess of Nemeth, since he had spent most of her first visit trying to get rid of her, despite her significant charm. Now, as he thought about the interactions they'd had since she rode into to Camelot a few nights previous, he was surprised by how much more he liked Mithian when she wasn't betrothed to Arthur.
The crackling of flames was the only sound to be heard as they sat together in comfortable silence. Until Leon broke the quiet stillness with a sudden snort as he rolled over in his blankets. Princess and servant looked to one another, their eyes sparkling with suppressed mirth as they tried to rein in their humor. Then an indelicate chortle from Mithian set them both off, clapping their hands over their mouths to stifle their laughter.
After they calmed down, Merlin glanced around them, trying to see if they had woken anyone. The warlock couldn't help noticing then how very alone he and Mithian were, what with the watchmen standing so far off while everyone else was asleep. Then his mind caught up with his thoughts and his cheeks reddened.
Mithian smiled at the sight; she was tempted to tell Merlin then that she had seen him, that she knew of his magic and that she didn't care. But a quick glance around at the sleeping men surrounding them made her hold her tongue. She had promised herself not to reveal his secret and there was no guarantee that no one would overhear them. Mithian's eyes returned to the servant's profile, smiling inwardly at the blush still suffusing his face and neck. Contrasting the sight before her with the memory of his actions of earlier, Mithian found herself wondering at how a man with such power at his command could still be so very humble.
A/N: Thanks for reading, reviews are appreciated :)