AN: So this was the first Merlin story I ever wrote and it was meant to be several chapters long, but I lost interest in writing the rest of it, and I realized that the storyline was pretty OOC after the first chapter. I really liked the first chapter, though you can definitely tell my writing has improved the past few months, so I edited the ending so it concluded better and decided to post it. Hope you enjoy it!
"Did you stub your little toe Merlin?" Arthur asked as they tromped through the forest, sparing a glance back at his manservant who was currently sitting on the ground holding his foot.
Merlin glared up at him but ignored the comment for now, simply muttering under his breath. The only word Arthur caught was a hushed "prat" that caused him to smirk when he turned away.
The bantering that went between the two of them was far from serious and the insults had begun to fly over their heads long ago. To put it simply, it was fun. Merlin always complained on patrols, or whenever they left the castle for that matter, clumsy oaf. He was constantly tripping over roots, stubbing his toes, and getting caught in brambles. Honestly Arthur wasn't sure why he brought the servant along in the first place. It started with the hunting trips and then Merlin seemed to assume that he was supposed to go with Arthur everywhere, and Arthur didn't argue. Now he didn't even try to make Merlin stay back in Camelot and he doubted he would be able too. Merlin was fiercely loyal and although the King laughed at this, seemed to believe that he had to protect Arthur, most of the time though Arthur felt as though he were the one protecting Merlin.
Before Arthur's mind got too carried away with Merlin, he was distracted by a noise, a very not-Merlin-complaining noise. He held up a hand for silence, surprised slightly when he felt his manservant behind him. When had Merlin gotten there and how did he get there so fast? He really needed to start working on his reflexes.
"What is it?" Merlin whispered a little too loudly and Arthur suppressed a groan without responding to him.
They waited, listening to the birds call in the distance, the rest of the knights looking around listening, just when Arthur thought he had imagined the noise a shout rang out and men swarmed them on almost every side.
The knights shouted in return and went into battle. Arthur always teased Merlin about lying on the ground or hiding behind a tree but this time he forcefully pushed the servant out of the way behind a log before charging after his knights. The servant had no weapon and no skill with one anyway, he would be safer there and Arthur would be safer knowing he was alright.
The men were mercenaries, and oh didn't this happen much too often, he wondered who had sent them, an enemy from a neighboring land? A king? Morgana? After allowing his mind to trail a bit it returned to the present with a clang of his sword and the ax of a mercenary.
Arthur pushed the mercenary off stunning the man and swinging his sword, mortally wounding his opponent. The battle was short. Luckily the knights had been on high alert, and now as he walked amidst the dead bodies and checked on his knights he noticed the few strange oddities.
A man stabbed by a branch here, another clearly killed by the mace of a fellow mercenary, even one who was buried under a pile of branches. Arthur had grown accustomed to seeing these things, which he had first noticed several years ago. At first he thought it odd, but now he just thought it was normal for every battle; still it had become almost a habit to check and see what new oddities presented themselves after a battle. He was interrupted from his musings by the loud approach of his very clumsy manservant.
Arthur looked at Merlin and quipped something about the servant being useless and lazy all the while looking his manservant up and down checking him for injuries. There was a small cut above his eyebrow and his hands seemed a little scraped.
"Well I could do more if some prat of a King didn't go about knocking poor defenseless servants into bushes of thorns." Merlin said hotly. Arthur winced only slightly, sure that Merlin didn't even notice as he picked out the tears in Merlin's clothing. He plastered on a teasing smirk.
"Well Merlin, while you were lying down and battling thorns we were battling dangerous mercenaries and keeping you safe, so pardon me if you are clumsy and ran into my hand." He crouched down and cleaned his sword in the grass as he said this, surprised when he didn't get a response from his servant.
He looked up to see Merlin standing quite close to him now but squinting off into the distance with a peculiar expression on his face. Arthur stood but before he could ask what he was looking at the man suddenly shouted. "Get down!" He jumped at the King knocking him to the side as Arthur heard the sound of a crossbow bolt whiz through the air.
He looked at his knights from where he lay on the ground grateful to see Sir Leon pull his crossbow up and shoot the man in the tree who had just given his position away for nothing. Arthur was already on his feet sword in hand.
"Check the trees for any more!" he shouted, and his knights fanned out. He turned back to Merlin who was pushing up from where he lay on his stomach and reached down grabbing him by the arm to help him the rest of the way up trying to think about how he could brush this incident off without saying thank you.
He almost dropped him, however, when Merlin cried out in pain and then steadied him with both hands, Merlin's back facing him. "Merlin, what's wrong?" He asked ignoring the concern that flooded his voice.
Merlin was standing on his own two feet though Arthur could feel him trembling, he spun his servant around trying to ignore the hiss of pain that passed through Merlin's teeth. Both of Merlin's hands were raised to his left shoulder where, to Arthur's horror, a crossbow bolt protruded. At a quick glance Arthur could already tell it was not life threatening but couldn't help but notice that a few inches lower would have hit his servant straight in the heart.
Merlin was shaking still. "I'm fine." he said stupidly and Arthur gave him an exasperated look.
"There's a piece of wood in your shoulder Merlin, I seriously doubt it's supposed to be there. What gave you the stupid idea of jumping in front of a bolt?" He asked. The question was rhetorical as Arthur already knew the answer but Merlin seemed to think he should give one anyway.
"Well next time maybe I won't try and save your fat arse." The insult lacked the usual Merlin energy that went with and his voice shook slightly.
"I am not fat." Arthur growled and glared at his servant, he almost wished he hadn't however when he noticed the blood draining from his face.
"But really, it barely hurts." Merlin assured seeing the worry in the King's eyes.
"That's not a good thing, idiot." Arthur murmured continuing to inspect the wound.
Before he could say anything else Merlin's knees gave out on him and he collapsed. He was still conscious but Arthur was afraid he was going into shock. Arthur caught him as he fell and helped him sit against a tree gently.
"You have a great bedside manner." Merlin quipped, picking up where they left off. "You forget that I live with a physician. I at least know what is good and not when it comes to a minor wound." He muttered.
"I wouldn't call this minor Merlin."
"Well at least it's not mortal. Three types of wounds there are, mortal, major, and minor… though there should be a fourth one because I don't think this is major either. What would be between major and minor? Something that starts with an M, medium, median, middle. . ." Merlin's voice trembled and his sentences sped up as Arthur's hand got closer to the bolt and he clenched the dirt beside him in tight fists knowing what was coming next.
Arthur didn't really listen to Merlin's nonsense but pulled the bolt out while he attempted to distract himself. The man gave a cry of pain and then a grunt as Arthur pressed his hand against the bleeding wound surprised as someone handed him a piece of cloth. Arthur looked up to see Sir Gwaine standing looking worriedly at Merlin. Once again he thought he should really start working on his observation skills. Merlin had been staring as Arthur bandaged his shoulder but now leaned back, banging his head on the tree, and released a breath he had been holding once Arthur had finished. "Ow." he muttered and Arthur wondered if he was commenting on his bumped head or the wound on his shoulder.
"Let's get him back to Camelot." he said and they all nodded in agreement.
The horses were a short walk away as they patrolled an area where the forestry was too dense for the horses to walk. Arthur walked beside Merlin with one hand on his friend's elbow. It was quiet, too quiet on the short walk back as Merlin simply focused on putting one foot in front of the other and all the rest of them watched him worriedly. Soon they made it back to the horses. Merlin was tied to the horse beneath him to keep him from falling off, something he complained about profusely, but Arthur didn't like how pale the young man was looking. He kept spouting off nonsense words that sounded very Merlin like except for the quaver in his voice but after they started the ride he became quiet one hand clutching his bandaged shoulder.
It was the silence Arthur hated the most because when it was quiet he could think. Even Gwaine wasn't spouting off chatter like normal but instead watching Merlin carefully, riding right next to him in case he decided to fall off his horse despite the restraints, one hand ready to steady the servant.
So on the far too long ride back Camelot, Arthur had plenty of time to think of all the times Merlin had gotten into danger because of Arthur, of how many times the stupid idiot had not only risked his own life but blatantly sacrificed it in order to save Arthur. One would almost think that Merlin had a death wish.
In the silence Arthur wondered about what would happen if Merlin ever did die for him. He thought about how that might nearly kill him. He thought about every worst scenario and then started to figure out ways to prevent that. He should stop bringing Merlin on these patrols, maybe even stop taking him hunting, there were other far less reckless servants who could take over for him.
Arthur looked back at Merlin who, despite the pain he was in, managed to give Arthur a weak, reassuring smile. Arthur smiled back ever so slightly. Merlin would not like being left behind, and he never was one to follow orders. Arthur once again realized that he wasn't even sure he could make Merlin stay back.
Arthur had no idea what he had done to deserve so much loyalty. It made him sick to think of losing Merlin but he knew that he couldn't control his manservant's life. Merlin's loyalties were his to give and the sacrifices he made were of his choosing.
He glanced back at Merlin again, this time Merlin was focused on the horse in front of him. Merlin was an idiot. He was idiotically loyal and idiotically brave and that was never going to change. No matter what Arthur did, and truth be told, he did not want to go a day without the man by his side.
AN: As always please leave a review!