As he watches Merlin go through a difficult time, Leon is forced to question everything he knows about duty and responsibility and the places of servants and nobles in society. Set very early in season 1 canon.
All Merlin fans know about how Merlin transformed Arthur from a bullying prat into the 'Once and Future King'. But I've always wondered about Leon. Here was a traditional Uther knight and noble that became one of Arthur's most trusted Round Table knights. I think Merlin must have had an influence on not just Arthur but on those around him too, so here's my take on Leon's transformation.
It's my first chapter story, so I'm a little bit nervous posting it, though it is completely written except for some final polishing that I'll do as I post (likely once a week). Thanks a million to my beta LyricalSinger who has gone over all 60K words with a fine-toothed comb. Also thanks to Ariel_of_Narnia for the fantastically perfect book cover!
Disclaimer: Don't own Merlin or Arthur or any of the knights. Well, not any of the ones you recognize, anyway.
A/N About physical abuse. I certainly don't condone it in any form. However I believe that in the canon timeframe it would likely have been used in a controlled way as a disciplinary measure for, say, poorly performing manservants!
Hint: Merlin is a poorly performing manservant, and some people have more control than others. (I should also mention, though -Arthur is not the abuser!)
Leon and the Servant
Sir Leon yawned as he walked down the cobblestone street towards the city gates to begin his turn on watch. As one of King Uther's most trusted senior knights, monitoring the comings and goings of the people of Camelot was not usually among his duties. But with Lord Aelrod of Cambria's imminent visit, surveillance had been stepped up in the last week, lest sorcerers or other undesirables try to set up in Camelot to cause trouble.
Luckily, it was really not turning out to be such a bad morning to get stuck with the duty. Although his shift began at the breaking of dawn, Leon was only assigned to the watch for two hours. That would give him plenty of time afterwards to return to his chambers for a hot breakfast. He should even have time for a bit of a rest before he had to head out to run his group of squires through their morning drills. And although it had rained for most of the night, just now it was clear, and the sky was beginning to glow pink in the distance where the sun was starting to rise. Leon took a deep breath in appreciation, and smiled. Due to all the rain, the air had a loamy, earthy scent; Leon thought he could detect newly cut hay from the plots on the other side of the walls, and a hint of the sweet smell of the roses from the palace gardens which were not far away.
As Leon had expected, at this time of the morning there were very few citizens going through the gates. Most of the people he let through were night workers from the castle or town who were returning home to one or other of the small huts that were common in the farmland just outside the city walls.
There was only one person who would need to be let through from outside the walls and into the city.
Leon watched as the person walked along the road leading to the gates. He was laden down with a large burlap sack, and had two unlit lanterns attached together by a rope slung over his shoulder. Leon supposed that he must have been out collecting something in the night.
As the person got nearer, Leon realized with a start that he recognized the dark-haired boy. It was hard to be certain from this distance, but surely this was Prince Arthur's new manservant? Leon wondered whether the prince had sent him on some errand, though he doubted it. What would Arthur want with something from the countryside beyond the walls? Well, Leon would find out soon enough what mission had the boy outside the city in the night.
When the boy reached the gate, Leon saw that he looked tired and there was a goodly amount of mud all over him. His boots were soaked through with it. But he still smiled and said cheerily, "Good Morning, Sir Leon. It's turning out to be a nice morning, isn't it? I'm glad the rain finally stopped."
"Merlin, is it?" responded Leon without returning the smile. "Could you please tell me what has you coming into the city at this time of morning, and what is inside that bag you are carrying?"
Merlin pulled the rope holding the lanterns, in order to hitch them up a bit higher on his shoulder. "Well, I was out collecting some herbs for Gaius. There is this one he needs that only shows its blossoms for a short time right at dawn, so you have to be ready and waiting near the area where it grows if you want to find it."
Merlin looked up at Leon's perplexed frown, and continued, "And since I had to be out early anyway, I figured I may as well get a few more of the things that he's been asking me for."
Merlin's brown creased into a frown as he apparently had an unpleasant memory, "One of them only grows at the edge of that bog down the road and over in the valley a ways."
"Do you know how hard it is to find the exact edge of a bog in the rain, in the dark, even with TWO lanterns?! I fell in twice, and I'm soaked right through!"
"Luckily the rain got most of the mud off though," he added as an afterthought.
Leon raised his eyebrows at that. If Merlin's state now was AFTER the mud had been washed off, he hated to think what the boy had looked like before.
He didn't have much time to think about it though, because Merlin rushed on. "And I had to do that BEFORE I went to find the dawn-flower, since I have to get back to Camelot and then grind all of these up for Gaius before I can go and get Arthur his breakfast, so that just gives me a couple of hours."
"And Arthur's already told me that he has a long list of chores for me in the next few days since some Lord is visiting, so I won't have any time later."
"But Gaius has hurt his foot, so HE can't go out for it, and he needs it soon because he's really low on some of his potions for stomach ailments that people apparently get when they feast too much, which is sure to happen when that Lord visits, so that's what all this stuff is for," Merlin finished, and looked at Leon expectantly.
Leon shook his head, and wondered if Merlin had even taken a breath during that deluge of information. But something struck him, "Gaius? But are you not Arthur's manservant? Why are you running errands for Gaius?"
"Oh, well, I am Gaius' ward, actually," explained Merlin, "When I came to Camelot, Gaius expected that I would be his assistant, but then the King assigned me to be Arthur's manservant. And Gaius and I talked about it, and for now we are going to see if I can manage to do both. I mean, I can be Arthur's manservant, but I'd really like to still help out Gaius too, though maybe I won't have quite as much time as we thought initially."
Leon nodded his understanding. He had not known that the boy was Gaius' ward, so that explained the herb-collecting errand. He well remembered the attempt on Arthur's life a month or so ago though, which had resulted in Merlin being made the prince's manservant.
Leon remembered being amused that Uther would think of this as being a 'reward' for anybody, as the Prince was arrogant and inconsiderate even to his peers. Leon didn't want to think how he may treat a serving boy. In fact, Arthur had already had a run-in with Merlin even before he'd been made a servant. When Leon had heard about the confrontation, he had not been impressed and had wondered just what Arthur thought he was proving by besting an unarmed and untrained peasant boy.
"Fine then, Merlin," Leon said. "You may go ahead and get on with your grinding."
"Thank you, Sir Leon," answered Merlin with another smile, before hitching the lanterns a last time and squelching his way through the gates.
As he watched Merlin continue on into the city and towards the castle, Leon found himself surprised. From what he'd been able to see this morning, the boy was a hard worker, which was not what Leon had been taught to expect from a commoner. And though of course he'd lost that fight with Arthur, Leon had been told that Merlin hadn't backed down, even though he must have known he'd be far outmatched. Hmmm. Leon thought that Arthur may just have his hands full with this one.
Several hours later, Leon walked purposefully down the hall towards the armoury. He was sure he'd heard voices raised in laughter. They certainly sounded like his missing charges.
But what were Ewan and Alfred doing in the armoury? They were supposed to have been on the training field a half-hour ago for the drills Leon wanted to run his squires through before the arrival of the lord Aelrod of Cambria and his young heir.
Cambria was an important ally in the making, and Uther wanted to impress Aelrod enough to convince him to leave his son in Camelot as a squire.
Leon sighed. Alfred and Ewan were impressive enough with their weapons, or at least they were when they put forth an effort and took their training seriously. Unfortunately, this did not appear to be one of those times.
To make matters worse, Uther himself was currently on his way to the armoury for an inspection. Leon had happened to overhear the King's intentions as he spoke to his duty guards.
Leon had happened to walk by the council chamber in search of his truants just at that moment, and suspecting that the armoury was exactly where he'd find them, the knight had rushed ahead. He hoped he would arrive in time to ensure that his charges at least looked the part of serious knights-in-training, before the King arrived.
He sighed again as he rounded the corner and the door to the armoury came into view at the end of the hallway. There in plain sight through the open door, he could see his two laughing truants facing away from him and talking to someone in the room.
"Come on, Merlin, put some back into it," Ewan was saying.
"Maybe we should give him a hand" said Alfred reaching out and pulling, though Leon couldn't yet see what he was reaching for.
The pull brought Merlin into view, and Leon could see that the servant was trying to keep hold of the gauntlet that Alfred was trying to take from him.
"Can't you just leave me alone to get on with this?" said Merlin in exasperation. "I've got plenty to do this morning without you adding to my work." Merlin pleaded. Then Merlin noticed Leon beyond the door, and let go of the gauntlet in surprise.
"No, Merlin," answered Ewan, who had not yet spotted the senior knight. "In fact, we are not leaving until you finish polishing our boots. You may belong to Arthur, but you ARE a servant you know. WE are to be knights, and you must do what we tell you, without delay. It's our duty to make sure you are kept in chores suitable for your station, right Alfred?"
Alfred, wasn't listening to Ewan, though, as he was busy finding his own way to plague the dark-haired boy.
"Oy, look here Ewan. Merlin has missed a spot on Arthur's gauntlet," he said, giving a mock inspection of the glove. Then, being sure to soil it first by rubbing his dirty fingers across the gleaming metal, he began to raise the offending equipment above his head. "You'd better come and get this, and then polish it again, Merlin. Arthur would never wear his armour in this state."
Leon was about to raise his voice to tell the young men to stop their torment of the young servant, and get back to the training ground. Unfortunately, before he had the chance, Uther arrived behind him and just in time to see Merlin pull the gauntlet forcefully back out of Alfred's hand.
Alfred released it rather than holding on, and unfortunately the unexpected momentum caused the clumsy servant to back into the bench where the pile of Arthur's carefully polished armour was sitting, knocking the bench over and scattering the armour all over the room, where it landed with a resounding and impressive crash.
As the last of the clatter died away, there followed a moment of complete silence as everyone in the room was shocked to realize that the King was present. Uther, unaware that Merlin had been provoked, stormed through the door and shouted, "What's going on here. I came for an inspection of my armoury only to see my son's equipment being treated like this?"
Ewan, unaware that Leon had seen the whole exchange, offered, "Yes, sire. We noticed that this serving boy was not doing a proper job of the polishing, and when we helpfully pointed out some of his neglect, he became defensive and tried to deny it. You see the result."
Leon frowned at Ewan. They both knew that this was untrue, or at very least, was a large stretch of the facts. Leon could not believe that Ewan would lie to his king, though.
Merlin also stood, pale and open-mouthed at the lie. He retorted, "But Sire, that's not what happened..."
"Silence," shouted Uther, glaring at Merlin. "You will spend the morning in the stocks for this. Maybe that will teach you some respect for my son's possessions."
"But, Sire, he's lying, I wasn't disrespecting anyth..." Merlin started again, but he broke off with a cry as Uther dealt him backhanded blow across the face. The strike had been full-force, and Leon could see that a vicious and rapidly reddening welt was already blooming where Merlin cradled his cheek in shock.
"You dare to gainsay one of my nobles?" Uther said coldly, and Merlin turned his gaze to the floor mumbling, "No, Sire."
Uther then went to the door and motioned two nearby guards inside.
"You will take this boy and have him locked in the stocks for three hours," Uther started, and Leon saw Merlin hunch his shoulders in dejection.
Uther continued, "But first, you will bring him to the castle steward who is to administer five strokes of the cane. That will hopefully remind this fool to attend to his duties properly in the future."
Merlin's eyes shot up in horror at the added punishment. "But, Sire, I..."
Uther glared at the boy and silenced him by pointing a gloved finger. Without removing his penetrating stare from the boy's face, he added quietly, clearly and coldly to the guards, "And then the steward will add five additional strokes to punish him for his insolence."
Then he said to Merlin through gritted teeth, "Now, boy, do you want me to add ten more strokes, or will you hold your tongue?"
Merlin looked sadly back down at the floor, not daring to either nod or shake his head, lest the king take his answer to the ambiguous question as more insolence.
"Guards, take him away," Uther finished.
Leon watched as the boy was grabbed and roughly pushed from the room with his arms firmly grasped behind his back. He managed to give Leon a look of... what... disappointment? as he was brought past the knight.
But although Leon had a vague feeling of guilt while watching the boy being led away, he also had no doubt that even if the boy did not truly deserve punishment in this case, there were surely any number of transgressions that he'd gotten away with in the past. This would simply be setting some of that to rights.
After all, the boy was just a servant, and from what he remembered from Arthur's complaints, a country-born peasant at that. Leon had seen that the boy was a hard worker, but from all else he'd been led to believe, hard-working or not, that type of person had no concept of knightly ideals like honour, responsibility, duty and nobility, and they had neither the wit nor inclination to act on those values even if they could understand them.
No, Leon thought, this type of boy needed simple orders, and a strong hand to set him right when those orders were not followed immediately and to the letter, so once the boy was out of the room Leon thought no more about him.
However, Leon did ponder over what to do about his two squires. He was outraged at their behaviour, especially at lying to the King. But to make it worse, Leon had noticed the smirks of amusement that had passed between Ewan and Alfred as the King had decreed the servant's punishment, and at Merlin's feeble attempts to argue.
It was one thing to put a servant in his place, and punish him for failing in his assigned duties, but it was quite another thing to first cause and then enjoy an unjustified punishment.
This was not honour, it was abuse.
So, while the king carried out his inspection of the armoury, Leon had the young men stand to attention outside the door, in waiting. By the time Uther was getting ready to leave, Leon had decided what to do. He said to the king, "Sire, since Ewan and Alfred have such a vested concern for Prince Arthur's armour, they will stay here to collect and carefully polish each piece that has fallen to the floor. Then they will continue on and take care of every other piece of equipment that you have brought to my attention during your inspection. I expect it will take them until the midday meal in order to do this job properly, so they are excused from the morning arms practice."
Ewan and Alfred gaped at Leon, but said nothing. They had been looking forward to the arms practice – it was among the favourite training exercises of the squires of Camelot, since young ladies of the court often strolled nearby to admire the prowess of the knights-in-training.
Also, Ewan and Alfred were senior squires, just awaiting their final initiation ceremony as knights, so they had not had to polish armour for several years. They were not relishing the time-consuming and tedious task ahead of them now.
Uther nodded at Leon, and then turned to the squires saying "Thank you, men." Then he added, "I trust you will take suitable care of this equipment. I expect every piece to be gleaming before our Lord Cambria arrives."
Then he turned to Leon with another nod and a small knowing smile, before taking his leave. Although the King did not know exactly what the young men had done, he knew that Leon was angry with them and that this was clearly meant to be a punishment.