The monster had been killed, the village was safe and, after checking up on Daniel and the foal, Merlin left with the rest of the Camelot party and started the long journey home, with Arthur promising to send more supplies to help the villagers of Riverford get back on their feet.
And, a year later, that debt was paid back, when Daniel's son, William came to Camelot with tithes from the village, asking to see a member of last year's party to explain why he was here. Leon had sent a message to Arthur once he realised who the man was and the prince promptly invited him into the council chambers.
"It is good of you to see me, Sire," William said with a deep bow.
"Nonsense, I'm pleased to meet you at last. How is your father?"
"He is fairly well recovered, your Highness, although he finds walking long distances troublesome, which is why I agreed to come with the tithes this year. Luckily we had a good harvest and have acquired some new animals to replace the ones we've lost."
"That is good to hear."
"I have another gift from my father, Sire, if you would do us the honour of accepting it."
"If you're sure it's something you can spare?"
"Well, I've already taken the liberty … that is..." He shuffled his feet nervously. "It's one of our young horses you see. He's a bit … wilful. A good animal – strong - but perhaps not with the right temperament for farming work. I took the liberty of taking him to the stables to be watered and hoped your marshal might look him over – see if he'll be of use to you here in any capacity? I'm not sure if he'll grow big enough to be a knight's horse, but there may be some other work he can do here."
Merlin moved forward slightly, subtly trying to get the prince's attention. "Yes, what is it?" Arthur asked in a slightly world weary way.
"I was just wondering which horse you've brought, William. Only I was there when one was born and-"
"Yes, this is the same one," the young man said with a smile. "The black colt born just after that last attack."
Merlin laughed. "Oh, that's great. I'm glad it's him." He turned a pleading gaze on the prince who raised his eyes to the ceiling
"Yes, all right. Just let me finish up here and I'll be down to the stables to check him for myself." His servant attempted to interrupt. "And yes, you can come too, Merlin, if you really must. Honestly, you are such a child."
Merlin did his best not to let his excitement show as he walked down to the stables with Arthur later that day. They arrived to find the marshal and William struggling with the new addition to the stables, the horse constantly rearing as they tried to persuade him to move out into the open.
"Ah, sorry, Sire," William apologised. "I'd hoped that once he was here he might calm down a bit."
"Not sure about this one, Your Highness," the stable master began as Arthur moved forwards slowly, Merlin at his shoulder. "I really don't think he-" That was as far as the man got before the horse suddenly stopped rearing; still a little agitated but quickly calming, as the prince continued to approach him slowly.
"There now," Arthur said gently. "It's all just new and bit much for you to take in one go, isn't it, boy?" The animal snorted, turning his head to watch the two new men approach and calming just a little further.
"You always did manage to connect with the more wilful horses, Sire," the marshal said. "So perhaps this one will be all right for you, although we still need to find someone he trusts who could work with him here." He frowned thoughtfully. "I'll see if he clicks with any of the young grooms."
"Well, I could check on him when I'm down here too, if you like?" Merlin suggested. "He seems fine with me too, look..." He moved a little further forwards.
"Careful, Merlin," Arthur cautioned, but it seemed his concern was not necessary. The colt was now standing still and calm next to the prince and did not react negatively when the servant came to his head. The horse gave a sudden nicker and Merlin held up a hand, worried he might have just spooked him, but the animal turned his head closer and made the sound again, butting his head up against Merlin's shoulder.
The young man laughed. "He remembers me."
"Don't be ridiculous, Merlin, that was a year ago when he'd only just been born," Arthur said. "And I doubt you'll have any more time than I will to come down and see to his training. Look, he seems quite calm now and he certainly is a good looking animal. I think you were right, William. He should grow very well and looks better built for speed than strength. Not a tournament horse, certainly, but he should make a good rider when he's a bit older."
"Then you'll accept him here, Sire?"
"Yes, of course." He gave the animal one further pat. "Are you to stay in Camelot for much longer?"
"No, I shall leave for home tomorrow."
"Well, just talk to Merlin here before you go and he'll make sure you have everything you need for your journey."
"Thank you, Sire. It is good of you to put yourself out for me like this."
"Nonsense." He nodded to the marshal and started to walk away. "Do send our best regards to your father."
"Hello, Merlin, Arthur got you mucking out the stables again?"
"Oh, hello, Lancelot. Actually no, surprisingly. I'm just here to see the new, young horse. You remember him? The one we helped in Riverford."
"The one you helped, if I remember correctly. I did very little."
Merlin shrugged. "Here, come a little closer. He's a bit fussy about the company he keeps but let's see if he likes you."
Lancelot walked slowly forwards and the horse started to twitch his tail and stamp a little. "Apparently not," the knight decided.
"Oh, no, that's actually pretty good for him. I'm not sure why but he doesn't seem to trust many here."
"But he's fine with you?" Lancelot guessed.
"Oh, he's a kitten really, It's a shame that-" Merlin suddenly stopped mid sentence as he realised what he'd just said and then started to laugh.
Lancelot smiled broadly at the joke. "Biggest kitten I've ever seen," he said.
Merlin tried to reply to that but had now got the giggles and was unable to do or say anything for quite a while. Lancelot just stared at him with a small smile on his face, waiting for his friend to get a hold of himself.
"Kitten..." Merlin managed eventually. "That's funny."
"Hilarious," Lancelot replied with a straight face. "Well, now he has a name. A rather ironic one too, if what the marshal told me earlier is to be believed. Anyway, when Arthur discovered I had some experience with horses, he asked if I could take him out from time to time and help train him."
"Oh, right," Merlin said, now a bit calmer. "Well, come a bit closer to Kitten then and see if he'll accept you when I'm close by."
The animal definitely calmed further when Merlin moved back to his head, talking softly to it and nuzzled his shoulder again.
"Are you sneaking him apples or something?" Lancelot asked with another small smile.
"No … well, I did once, but he's just pleased to see me. I think he knows I saved his life."
"Either that or your … other gift … is coming into play here."
"Well, seeing how he was born, I suppose that's quite possible." Merlin replied.
"True." Lancelot slowly moved a hand to pat Kitten and the horse seemed to accept the gesture with no more than a flick of the tail.
"There, now you'll be fine," Merlin decided.
"Well, I've no time today," Lancelot said, giving the horse another pat, "But tomorrow morning, first thing, I'll take him out and see how he is without you around."
"Oh, yes, that'll be good." Merlin smiled at Lancelot and also gave Kitten a final stroke with his hand. "Better bring apples though, just in case."
After 'Points of View'
"See you later, Gaius," Merlin called out over his shoulder as he left the room. "Got to go and see a man about a horse!"
Merlin really was very keen to start Kitten's training as soon as possible and, still laughing at Arthur's stunned reaction to his last comment, the young warlock dashed down the corridor in his usual manner before a sudden bout of dizziness reminded him that he was not yet fully recovered from his recent fall. He closed his eyes for a moment until the sensation passed, before progressing more steadily towards the stables and taking far more care on the stone stairs that was his custom.
"Yes, Merlin?" the marshal asked in a world-weary voice as he walked in.
"I've come to see Kitten." The man stared at him and Merlin grinned, realising what he'd said. "Sorry, the newest horse. Arthur said I could train him."
"He did?" Merlin could never decide from one day to the next whether these surprised reactions to the various responsibilities he was given, amused or annoyed him. "Will you actually have the time?" the marshal continued.
"Arthur has give me time, which is good."
"And unusual?" the man suggested with a smile.
"Well, yes. It's because I'm supposed to be on light duties after my fall, I think."
"This is a light duty?" the marshal asked, sceptically.
"Oh, Kitten won't hurt me. We're friends."
"On your head be it," the man mumbled as he walked away. "And if the other day is anything to go by, you'll probably land on it too."
Merlin had no problem coaxing Kitten out from the stables and, as before, the animal seemed happy to see him, nuzzling him without any apparent expectation of a treat. Merlin took him over to the jousting lists and simply lead him around the tilt, not attempting to push him into anything more ambitious this early on.
The following day he attempted to put a light saddle on the animal. Kitten wasn't especially keen on the idea, but accepted it once Merlin pushed a little magic his way and convinced the horse that it was a really fun game. Merlin wasn't sure that he should be using his ability in that way and had a further moment of concern when he realised that it would be just as easy to put such a thought into a human's mind too. It was something that was amusing to day-dream about perhaps, but he really didn't think he could bring himself to attempt it for real.
So, Merlin vowed to be a bit more patient with Kitten from then on and see if he could persuade the animal without using magic. After all they already had a magical bond of a sort so there was no real need abuse their very special relationship.
And it didn't take too long. Slowly and surely, Merlin was able to teach the animal to trust the saddle and so, when Arthur came looking for him one day about a month after the incident, it was to find his servant confidently riding Kitten around the tilt, both horse and rider seeming happy and relaxed.
"Looking good, Merlin," Arthur called out. Kitten skipped at bit on hearing Arthur's voice, but that was probably because Merlin had jumped and transmitted it to the horse.
"Yes, he's fine with the saddle now and really is very strong, seeing he's not quite fully grown."
"The real question is if he'll accept me on him."
"Perhaps without the armour, Sire," Merlin shot back with a grin.
"What are you implying?" the prince growled.
"Not that you're fat - of course not. I would never say such a thing."
"But, as I said, Kitten isn't quite fully grown yet so it's probably best not to give him any weight he doesn't have to carry."
"Hmm." Arthur didn't seem convinced.
The prince came over and Merlin got down, but it quickly became apparent that the horse was not going to agree to have another rider on his back.
"Is there anyone else he will accept?" Arthur asked.
"Lancelot, perhaps? Although, to be honest, Kitten is slightly better around you so that might not work either."
Arthur sighed. "The whole point of this was to train him so he would be of use to us when we went out on patrol."
"Well, it's still early days. Perhaps if you or Lancelot could come down here more often, he might start to accept you." Merlin winced as he wondered if he could really justify 'persuading' the horse to accept Arthur. He hadn't attempted that trick since the first day of training and the idea of casting such a spell on Kitten now felt just as wrong as doing it to his friends.
Arthur sighed again, deep in thought, looking from the horse to Merlin and back again. "He really is an animal fit for a knight, but I suppose..." He shook his head with a slight smile. "Bit of a waste really."
"Arthur! What are you going to do?" Merlin asked, suddenly worried. "You said you wouldn't have him destroyed if I could train him and, I have. The marshal says that he's not violent any more. Still a bit skittish around others but … nothing dangerous."
"Relax, Merlin, that's not what I meant. I just meant that such a quality horse really should go to a knight."
"Oh, well, that's good then and, as I said, if you just give me a little more time I could-"
"Stop being so dense, Merlin. What I mean is that seeing you and he get on so well, you might as well have him."
"Lancelot said that you saved his life back in Riverford."
"Well then, now Kitten is lumbered with you in exactly the same way as I am. Our 'punishment' for having had you save our lives. I just hope the horse finds you better company that I do."
"Hey! Being made your servant wasn't exactly my idea of fun, either."
"Well, do you want him or not?"
Merlin grinned broadly. "Yes, Arthur, thank you."
"Good," the prince said, turning to leave. "Just don't expect any pay rises for a while."
"A pay rise?" Merlin replied with a cheeky grin. "What's that?"