Chapter 1: Merlin's Bat
This is why Merlin never left Arthur's side. The minute he left Arthur's side, trouble struck Camelot. Why couldn't Camelot be peaceful and nice for once?
Merlin had gone to visit his mother in Ealdor and when he arrived to Camelot, he saw the guards who were guarding the palace, unconscious. He took the pulse of some of the guards and concluded that some were dead and some were unconscious for a long while. His thoughts immediately went to Arthur and his eyes glowed golden and scanned the castle from the outside, and he saw that Arthur and few of the Knights of the Round Table had been trapped and tied up in the Throne Room accompanied by a strange hooded figure. He scanned the castle for signs of life and saw that most of the people were dead but Gwen and Gaius were still breathing and alive but unconscious in the Physician's Chambers. Merlin felt a sense of dread and horror at the amount of lives that were lost and a sense of relief at the fact that his friends were still breathing and he knew that there was still time to save his friends.
He crept quietly into the castle using the secret tunnels that he had discovered and then entered the Physician's Chambers to find Gwen and Gaius, unconscious on the floor. He carried Gwen gently onto his little cot and smoothed her hair softly with the quiet promise of waking her up. Then he dragged Gaius to the old man's bed and put a blanket over him and tried to wake him up because Gaius was the only one who could help him. But Gaius didn't wake up and Merlin began to feel helpless. Then he took a deep breath and rushed over to Gaius' cupboard and stuffed a few bottles and herbs into his pockets that could be useful to him. Then before he left the Physician's chambers, he remembered that he needed a weapon to face the enemy. And he smiled when he remembered that he had the perfect weapon.
He rushed to his room and looked under his bed and took the perfect weapon that he had crafted with his own hands.
Then he readied himself and rushed out of the chambers to save the Knights in Distress.
Arthur and the Knights had put up a fight. Arthur could say that with pure certainty. They had put up a fight against this intruder.
But the intruder was too strong, with a snap of his fingers, he had killed Arthur's best men and knocked innocent people into a deep unconsciousness. And then the intruder had smirked as he had flicked his wrist and put Arthur, Gwaine, Leon, Elyan and Percival unconscious. And Arthur had woken up a few moments ago, dizzy and dazed, his head pounding loudly as he looked around and realized that he was in the Throne room and tightly tied along with his best knights.
At least Merlin wasn't here. Merlin was safe. Thank heavens, Arthur had insisted that Merlin should go and visit his mother.
"Sire." came Sir Leon's voice "Are you in good health? Are you wounded?"
Trust Sir Leon to care about the King before caring about himself and Arthur nodded "Yes, I'm fine. How are you? Is everyone alright?"
"Oh, we're marvelous." came Sir Gwaine's sarcastic and loud voice, from next to him, making Arthur wince a little "We're trapped and tied by an intruder we know nothing about and we're probably going to die."
"Knowing you, you like the odds of that." said Sir Percival gruffly with a chuckle.
"Guinevere, where is she?" asked Elyan who had just woken up, with a note of panic in his voice concerned about his sister.
No one said anything for a moment as they thought of the dead bodies that they had seen and Arthur tried to assure Elyan "I'm sure she is safe."
"And Merlin?" asked Gwaine, his voice filled with worry "He isn't back?"
"He's safe in Ealdor." said Arthur, his voice tightening because if this day was going to be his last, he was never going to see Merlin again.
"Good." breathed Gwaine in relief and Arthur agreed silently.
"Arthur Pendragon!" boomed a deep voice and a hooded figure came forward "It is time for you to die!"
"Oh boy, what have you done this time?" asked Gwaine in exasperation as he looked at Arthur.
"Nothing!" said Arthur honestly as he looked at Gwaine and then looked at the stranger "Show yourself!"
The figure removed his hood and revealed a man with a scarred face and snakelike eerie green eyes that narrowed at Arthur "You will pay for your sins!"
"Who are you?" barked Leon, ever so loyal to Arthur.
The man put a temporary silencing spell on Leon and looked at Arthur who tried to negotiate "By all means tell me how I have dishonored you and I will face the consequences."
"You have dishonored so many people in so many ways." hissed the man angrily as he looked at Arthur "Your father paid me a great insult once. He ruined my life."
"Well, there's a big surprise." remarked Gwaine as he sighed heavily.
Arthur gave Gwaine an exasperated 'please behave yourself' stare and then looked at the man who continued "I was happy once. I was an innocent magic user. I used my magic to heal and grow crops. I had a family of my own. I was so happy with my beautiful wife and my three lovely children. Now it seems so long ago."
The man smiled a wistful smile and Arthur's heart lurched painfully. But the man looked at Arthur hatefully "But my happiness did not last long. Your father's hatred of magic killed my wife and my children. He gave orders to burn the houses of every magic user. The day he did so, I was out of town. When I came back, my wife and children were nothing but ashes."
There was a heavy and painful silence where no one said anything because what could they say to bring back what this man lost? What could they say to make the pain of that this man suffered better?
The man blinked back his tears and looked at Arthur "Your father took my heart away. Now, I've come to repay him."
"Please!" said Arthur, speaking out as he looked at the scarred and suffering man "You don't have to do this. I am sorry for what my father did to you but I am not my father."
The man shook his head and took a knife from his pocket and raised it high to stab Arthur "Goodbye Arthur Pendragon!"
But before the man could stab Arthur, someone from behind had hit him hard on the head as the rescuer yelled "Stay away from him, you son of a bitch!"
The man fell onto the floor clutching his head in pain and Arthur and the knights looked to see it was Merlin clutching a bat with sharp looking nails as he glared dangerously at the man who had almost stabbed Arthur.
"MERLIN!" exclaimed Arthur, Gwaine, Elyan, Percival and Leon together in shock as they stared at Merlin who looked badass and Arthur's eyes widened "What are you doing here, you idiot?"
"Rescuing the Knights in Distress." said Merlin with a grin but then he saw that the sorcerer had gotten up.
"You will pay for that!" yelled the sorcerer angrily "I will teach you the meaning of pain!"
"You like pain?" asked Merlin not looking the least bit scared or frightened which surprised all the Knights as he swung his bat hitting the sorcerer square on the face "Try being a servant for Arthur Pendragon!"
"OI!" exclaimed Arthur in protest while Gwaine started laughing in amusement.
"You stupid boy." said the sorcerer as he looked at Merlin and spat out blood "You shouldn't mess with things you don't understand!"
"Oh, I understand." breathed Merlin heavily as he placed the bat on his shoulder and then the sorcerer began yelling out a loud incantation that transformed the gargoyle statues in the room into real, living breathing gargoyles who sprang towards Merlin.
Arthur struggled against his ropes as Merlin's eyes widened at the three dark and dangerous gargoyles and he shrugged "Oh, fuck, I am in such deep shit."
One gargoyle sprang towards Merlin and Merlin's eyes glowed golden giving him extra strength as he swung his bat at the gargoyle and hit it on the head and then the stomach, leaving it howling in pain. Another gargoyle sprang towards Merlin and Merlin hit the gargoyle on the chest, injuring it hard. Merlin then ran towards the center of the throne room as he whistled at the gargoyles swinging his bat, getting their attention "Here, here, good gargoyles! Come to Merlin!"
"He is absolutely mad!" exclaimed Arthur as he watched his manservant battle the gargoyles with powerful strength that he hadn't seen in him before.
"He is awesome!" chorused Gwaine, Percival, Leon and Elyan as they cheered for Merlin who swung his bat striking a gargoyle on the head, cracking its skull.
Merlin whistled at the gargoyles annoying them into coming near the window towards him while he was formulating his plan. Any moment now, any moment ... come on! Where was that stupid, riddle speaking -
And then he heard the heavy flapping of wings coming towards the palace and he grinned at the gargoyles as he rolled over the floor away from them avoiding the deadly flames of Kilgarrah who roasted the three gargoyles to their death, startling the sorcerer and making Arthur and the Knights scream in alarm.
Merlin grinned at the old, dark scaled dragon "For a moment there, I thought you weren't coming."
"When you called out to me with your mind, I had no choice but to obey your command." said Kilgarrah as he obediently bowed to Merlin.
The sorcerer, Arthur, Leon, Gwaine, Percival and Leon looked at Merlin with widened eyes filled with surprise and shock as they all asked together "Who are you?"
"Who is he?" asked Kilgarrah, highly offended that no one knew about Merlin "He is the greatest sorcerer to walk the earth. He is the young warlock who will help the Once and Future King to bring peace and unite Albion. He is the last dragonlord. He is none other than Emrys!"
"Thank you, Kilgarrah." said Merlin, his lips twitching in amusement at Kilgarrah's over protectiveness.
"You're Emrys!" exclaimed the sorcerer in shock and fright and suddenly he was kneeling down at Merlin's feet to puzzlement of the Knights and annoyance of Arthur "Forgive me, Oh Great One! I did not know that you were Emrys, My Lord! I beg your -"
"Yes, yes, very well." said Merlin waving his hand around casually as if this was something that happened to him everyday while the dragon snorted in amusement "Now, let my friends go."
"Arthur Pendragon is the Once and Future King. Arthur Pendragon and Camelot is under my protection." said Merlin, his eyes glittering fiercely "If you have any objec -"
"Of course not, Oh Mighty One!" said the sorcerer bowing again to Merlin who rolled his eyes and the sorcerer flicked his fingers and the ropes loosened, letting Arthur and the Knights go.
Then the sorcerer looked at Arthur "I did not know you were under the protection of the Great Emrys. Believe me if I had known, I would have never dared to attack -"
"Clearly." said Kilgarrah who was watching the whole thing in amusement "You were a fool to ever walk into Camelot with bad intentions." The dragon looked at Arthur and then Merlin "After all, Arthur Pendragon has his very own guardian angel."
"Yes, he does." said Merlin with a knowing smile and then swung his bat and struck the unsuspecting sorcerer knocking him unconscious, startling everyone. Merlin looked at the unconscious sorcerer "That was for trying to hurt my best friend."
"Wow, you are really handy with that bat." said Gwaine admiringly.
"What can I say?" said Merlin with a smirk "I'm a natural."
Merlin is quite the Prince Charming around ladies.
Arthur isn't sure how to feel about that.
It had all started with the Annual Camelot Spring Ball.
It had been a tradition in Camelot every year for the King of Camelot to host a grand ball, inviting all the Lords and Ladies, Kings and Queens, and Princes and Princesses to a week of dancing, drinking, jousting matches, hunting, games, banquets and entertainment of all kinds. It had been started by Uther Pendragon who believed that it was necessary to forge good alliances with every neighboring kingdom, just in case, Camelot ever needed their help. And one such way of forging alliances had been by inviting the daughters of the most eligible and powerful Kings and Lords for Arthur to acquaint himself with. But Arthur had remained polite enough to be friends but not give hope to the young impressionable ladies and princesses. But now with Uther gone, Arthur wanted to host this ball to celebrate and strengthen alliances with kingdoms because he believed that Camelot was strong with the support of the other kingdoms as well.
And so Arthur was dressed in his finest robes and wore his glittering golden crown as he received the royal visitors and gave them a warm welcome to Camelot while Merlin and the rest of the servants hauled the luggage to the well - cleaned, spotless rooms. And although Arthur internally disliked some of the guests, he was glad to see and welcome Princess Elena and Princess Mithian, two of the women who he had almost married in the past but since then had become his friends. Since they were his friends and had put up with a great deal of bullshit from him, he had ordered the best rooms in the castle to be given to them during their stay.
And so the merry making and laughter began. Arthur was quite content at how the festivities went but Merlin complained his ear off at some of the nobles with heavy luggage and rude manners, and the amount of work that was put in the ball that went underappreciated and underpaid and how the money that was spent on the ball could have been spent on better things. Arthur just rolled his eyes and listened to his servant prattle on about everything and nothing.
So everything was normal.
This ball was going to be a wonderful time with no stress or annoyance for him.
Or so Arthur thought.
Because Arthur wasn't aware that the Annual Camelot Spring Ball was going to prove to be an enlightening experience.
The first day of the festivity was a lovely garden party. It was filled with games for men and the ladies sat around sipping cool drinks and chatting with each other. Merlin wiped the sweat off his forehead as he served drinks to an ungrateful duchess who harrumphed at him and he tried his best not to turn her into a toad right there on the spot. Merlin spotted Mithian and Elena playing the games with men, getting shocked stares from the prim and proper ladies of the court and alarmed looks from the men and he smiled to himself in amusement. Mithian and Elena had never been ones for convention, in fact they were ladies who believed in breaking the social norms. He watched Elena beat Gwaine at arm wrestling and chuckled and then saw that Mithian had shot the crossbow perfectly as a confused and shocked Sir Leon stared at her in disbelief.
Arthur clapped for Elena and Mithian and greeted them "Good game!"
"Yes, we are better than your legendary knights of Camelot." said Mithian with a mischievous twinkle in her eye as Arthur led her and Elena into the shade of a tent.
"I remember challenging you to a horse race, Arthur." said Elena with a big smile "Are you still on for getting beat?"
"Hold on, if I remember correctly -" began Arthur defensively and Elena interrupted.
"You don't!" said Elena snorting in laughter.
"I let you win!" insisted Arthur flushing a dark red at Elena's and Mithian's laughter.
"Or is it because I got a steady headstart before you and you couldn't even catch up?" asked Elena looking mockingly at Arthur who rolled his eyes.
"A gentleman allows a lady to maintain her fictions." said Arthur puffing up his chest, ignoring Elena and Mithian's laughter and then saw the one person who could save him from his humiliation "Ah, Merlin! Over here!"
Merlin obediently walked over to where Arthur was standing with Elena and Mithian and held out the tray of cool drinks which Arthur, Elena and Mithian took because they were parched with thirst.
"Merlin, isn't it?" asked Elena looking at Merlin in fascination "Your reputation precedes you."
"I have a reputation?" asked Merlin cocking one eyebrow making Elena laugh and Mithian giggle.
"You're Arthur's manservant. Of course, you have a reputation!" said Elena as she punched Merlin in the arm in a friendly manner and suddenly realized it wasn't the princess thing to do.
But Merlin didn't seem to mind as he grinned at her "And I've heard only good things about you, my lady!"
"Likewise." said Elena, taking an instant liking to the big eared, blue eyed servant who seemed as weird and strange as her. "Tell me Merlin, are you on duty all day?"
"Oh yes. Serving every royal snob -" said Merlin finding it easy to talk to Elena but then Arthur smacked him over the head "OWWW! What did you do that for?"
"What have I told you about insulting nobles?" asked Arthur in exasperation and amusement.
"That I shouldn't." said Merlin with a shrug and a smirk. "But seriously, Lady Harrington could be a little more grateful. I served her like fifteen drinks and she glares at me like I'm the devil."
"She's the devil." supplied Elena helpfully, with a big grin.
Merlin looked at Elena as if he had finally found someone who understood "Right? A thank you would be nice. That ungrateful -"
"That's enough, Merlin!" said Arthur in exasperation while Mithian and Elena giggled.
Elena looked at Merlin with a smile "Merlin, come and feed the ducks in the pond with me."
"I can't - I'd love to but I'm working." said Merlin taken aback at the invitation.
Mithian took the tray of drinks from Merlin and smiled at him "I think the garden party will survive without you. Go and have fun."
Merlin smiled at her softly and then grinned at Elena "Alright, where are those cute ducks?"
Elena giggled as she put her arm in Merlin's arm and they both walked towards the direction of the pond as Mithian smiled and Arthur looked at them with his jaw dropped open in disbelief and surprise.
Mithian took a sip of her drink "Do close your mouth, Arthur. It is very unbecoming of you."
"What just happened?" asked Arthur who found his tongue at last.
"Elena and Merlin just became friends." said Mithian with a smile as she looked at Arthur "Come, let's do another round of shooting the crossbow."
"How did that happen?" asked Arthur who hadn't recovered from the newfound friendship between Elena and Merlin. "Merlin - Merlin is just Merlin!"
"Oh, Arthur, you naive boy." sighed Mithian, her eyes filled with something unreadable as she shook her head at Arthur "Merlin is a charming and delightful bastard."
Arthur was certain that Merlin was the worst manservant in the world. Because Arthur had been yelling Merlin's name for the last half and hour and there had been no response.
Merlin was supposed to help him get ready for the banquet tonight. How was he meant to look kingly without Merlin's help?
As Arthur walked through the corridor, he saw Princess Andrea walking towards him. Arthur smiled at her as she courtesied "Princess Andrea, how are you? I hope everything is to your satisfaction?"
"I am doing very well my Lord. Everything is wonderful." said Princess Andrea with a light blush "How are you doing?"
"I am very well, thank you." replied Arthur graciously "I am right now trying to find my manservant."
"Oh, Merlin!" exclaimed Princess Andrea with a delighted smile and Arthur was taken aback at the fact that Princess Andrea knew who Merlin was "Isn't he the loveliest boy in Camelot?"
"Well - " began Arthur not knowing whether to feel offended or surprised.
"He is such a sweet boy." said Princess Andrea, happily chattering as she walked along side Arthur "He isn't like other men. He is so polite and considerate. He doesn't treat us like objects. He is such a nice person."
Arthur did not know what to say to that because that sounded exactly like Merlin and so he asked the logical question from the Princess beside him "How do you know him?"
"Oh, everyone knows him! Merlin actually gives really good love advice, did you know that?" asked Princess Andrea as she looked at Arthur.
"I did not." said Arthur wondering what on earth Merlin had said to Princess Andrea.
"I was going to settle for some man who didn't care for me but Merlin told me that I shouldn't settle. That I deserve my own happy fairy tale." said Princess Andrea with a dreamy sigh.
Arthur resisted the temptation to roll his eyes because Merlin was such a girl and he said "Oh, did he?"
"Indeed he did." agreed Princess Andrea wholeheartedly, too wholeheartedly Arthur thought and then Princess Andrea looked at Arthur curiously "I know I am stepping out of line but we are friends, aren't we Arthur? So can I ask you something in confidence?"
"Of course, Your Highness." said Arthur seriously as he looked at the pretty Princess.
"Do you know if Merlin is betrothed to someone?" asked Princess Andrea seriously from Arthur.
Arthur almost choked on his own spit at that question as his eyes widened in disbelief "I beg your pardon, Your Highness?"
"Is he taken by someone? Does his heart belong to someone?" asked Princess Andrea and Arthur knew that this question would lead nowhere good.
Before he could answer that question, his eyes fell upon Merlin who was walking towards them in the corridor and he breathed in relief as he called out "MERLIN! Where have you been? I've been looking everywhere for you!"
Merlin waved one of Arthur's shirts that looked freshly cleaned and ironed as he said apologetically "Sorry, I was getting your shirt ready for the banquet." Then Merlin's eyes fell onto Princess Andrea who was standing next to Arthur and he bowed "Your Highness."
"Thank God, Merlin had a sense of propriety" thought Arthur in relief as he put his arm around Merlin and said loudly "Well, Your Highness, it is time we take our leave. I will see you at the banquet."
"Of course, My Lord." said Princess Andrea courtesying and then blushed as she looked at Merlin "And will you be there?"
"Why wouldn't I?" asked Merlin with a smile that made Princess Andrea blush redder than a strawberry.
Arthur wondered how everything had come to this as he smiled fakely at Princess Andrea "We really must get going. See you at the banquet, my Lady."
And as soon as they were at a safe distance from Princess Andrea, Arthur smacked Merlin's head in annoyance and Merlin looked at Arthur in disbelief as he yelled in pain "Why did you do that?"
"You have so much to explain, wizard of love." said Arthur with an amused grin and Merlin barked with laughter.
"What is happening?" asked Gwaine in disbelief as he smirked proudly at the sight before him and Arthur agreed with him because Gwaine summarized all of his thoughts perfectly into one sentence.
Because right now, Arthur and the Knights were watching Merlin dancing with Princess Bella as he took the lead in the dance. And it wasn't just the dance with Princess Bella that had bothered Arthur and the Knights, it was the fact that every Princess in the banquet hall had asked Merlin to dance with them. Princess Andrea had asked Merlin to dance with her twice, Elena had danced with Merlin thrice, Lady Viridian danced with Merlin once, Princess Daisy had danced with Merlin twice and the list went on and on and on. Every Princess and Lady in the room only had eyes for Merlin and Merlin had danced with them more than all the Knights and noblemen put together. The ladies and Princesses were clearly drawn and attracted to Merlin as they simpered over him and complimented him, making him smile as he graciously and politely accepted the compliments.
"I want to feel annoyed." began Sir Gwaine as he took a gulp of his mead and then grinned "But I'm just so proud of Merlin!"
"Proud? We have a problem, man!" exclaimed Arthur as he looked at Gwaine.
"What is the problem?" asked Sir Leon who was looking at Merlin in a way a proud father might look at his son who was getting married "Merlin is having a good time and so are our guests."
"I believe Arthur is just jealous that every lady in the room has eyes only for Merlin." said Elyan teasingly as he raised a glass to Arthur.
"I don't blame them." said Gwaine amidst the laughter of the Knights and the childish sulking of Arthur "Merlin is easy on the eyes."
"He has grown into a handsome young man." supplied Sir Lancelot unhelpfully to Arthur who rolled his eyes at all of them.
"AYE!" yelled a drunken Percival making everyone burst into laughter again.
"Merlin is wooing the Princesses and the ladies of every kingdom! And he doesn't even know it!" said Arthur waving his hands wildly "What if he gets corrupted?"
"Oh, please." snorted Gwaine in amusement "I believe our dear Merlin is perfectly capable of handling whatever these ladies throw at him."
"Why aren't you more worried?" asked Arthur in disbelief and turned to Lancelot "I don't expect the rest of them to be worried but you! You've always been his friend!"
"Hey, I take personal offense at that!" protested Gwaine frowning at Arthur.
Lancelot placed a reassuring hand on Arthur's shoulder "Arthur, there is no harm here. Merlin is just having a good time, where's the harm in that?"
Arthur harrumphed not liking that he couldn't argue with Lancelot's logic when he saw Mithian confidently approach Merlin who was standing on the side of the room. Arthur and the Knights watched as Mithian and Merlin exchanged a few words and Arthur noticed there was something very different about them. When other Princesses and Ladies had asked Merlin to dance, he had charmingly complied with a bright smile and confident stride.
But when Mithian approached him, Merlin's ears turned red, his cheeks flushed into a rosy pink, he stumbled over his words as he looked at her shyly and he pulled his scarf nervously.
Mithian seemed to find it endearing as she giggled at Merlin's clumsiness and nervous stammering and then Merlin nodded his head and extended his hand towards her which she gladly took and he led her onto the dance floor.
"Alright, isn't anyone else - I don't know - shocked at this? This is the fifth time Mithian asked Merlin to dance with her!" said Arthur running his hand through his hair as he faced the Knights of the Round Table who were gawping at Mithian and Merlin.
Lancelot was the first to come to a sensible conclusion "I think they're in love."
"Don't be ridiculous, Lancelot." scoffed Arthur, wondering if the man had, had too many drinks to drink tonight.
"Just imagine if Merlin marries Princess Mithian! He could be future King of Nemeth!" said Gwaine, his mind filled with possibilities for his best friend.
"Now hang on -" began Arthur not liking where this was going.
"They do seem rather close, Sire." offered Sir Leon as he looked at the couple who were dancing with each other and Arthur looked at Merlin and Mithian and saw that they only had eyes for each other. There was a certain soft tenderness in their eyes as they looked at each other and any blind fool could see that they adored each other.
Arthur sighed heavily. He was in such deep shit.
Arthur and the Knights were making their way from training when they heard loud squeals of delighted laughter in the courtyard. Curious as to what was going on, Arthur and the Knights made their way to the courtyard to see Merlin and Elena surrounded by laughing ladies and princesses who were cheering them on as they stuffed berries in their faces. As Arthur looked at the scene in fond exasperation and disbelieving amusement, he saw Gwen who was giggling and he made his way towards her.
"Guinevere." greeted Arthur regally and the maid courtesied.
"Arthur." smiled Gwen brightly "I see you've decided to join us."
"Yes, what is going on?" asked Arthur politely but he was confused and befuddled.
"Merlin and Elena are having a berry eating competition. They're competing to see who can fit the most berries in their mouth. So far, Elena is winning." replied Gwen with a grin.
"What in -" began Arthur but he was interrupted by the laughter of the Knights.
"I'm in love!" said Gwaine as he looked at Elena whose mouth was full of berries.
"Want to place your bets?" asked Gwen with a mischievous grin that Arthur had never seen her wear "Right now most of the bets are on Merlin but Merlin is failing."
"Not a surprise." muttered Arthur as he looked at his servant and best friend who was shoving berries into his mouth with surprising speed.
"I'll bet on Merlin." said Gwaine cheerfully as he handed over a few coins to Gwen who nodded at him.
"No, no one's betting on anyone!" said Arthur shaking his head at the two of them.
"Oh, don't be such a killjoy." came a voice from behind them and they turned to see Princess Mithian wearing an amused smile "All of us have placed money."
Arthur's eyes widened in shock at the thought of well behaved ladies of noble birth gambling and betting and Princess Mithian rolled her eyes at Arthur "Now, come, come, Arthur. Don't be so shocked."
"I am not shocked!" said Arthur trying to gather his dignity.
Before Mithian could respond, Gwen squealed out in joy "MERLIN WON! MERLIN WON!"
Everyone cheered loudly as Merlin chewed and swallowed the berries with great difficulty and shook hands with Elena who was laughing good naturedly, happy at her competitor winning. Merlin then bowed to the cheering ladies with a genuinely charming and brilliant smile that even Arthur found hard to resist.
Arthur handed over Merlin his sword as Merlin gave Arthur water to drink after another day filled with strenuous training "So what do you think? Is it good enough for me to beat everyone at the jousting match?"
"You're overworking yourself and the knights." said Merlin wisely "What you need is confidence in yourself."
"I am confident in myself, Merlin." said Arthur rolling his eyes at Merlin, and then his eyes caught something that he hadn't before. A new purple neckerchief which was obviously made of rich and fine fabric.
"Where did you get that?" asked Arthur nodding towards Merlin's neckerchief which was way above what Merlin could afford.
"Oh, this?" asked Merlin as he fondled the neckerchief and smiled brightly at Arthur "Lady Victoria gave it to me as a present."
"Lady Victoria?" asked Arthur taken aback because Lady Victoria was a prim, proper and stiff woman who didn't care about anyone else.
"Yes. Isn't it lovely of her?" asked Merlin, his eyes shining brightly and Arthur didn't want to dim that light "She really is very kind. She gave me a set of neckerchiefs that she specially made."
"What?" asked Arthur in disbelief because he couldn't picture Lady Victoria doing that.
"Yeah." said Merlin, oblivious to Arthur's inner turmoil "She's a very lovely lady although she seems a bit cranky and stuffy on the outside. But I guess you can't judge what people are by their cover, eh?"
"I guess not." said Arthur reflectively, making up his mind to be nicer to Lady Victoria the next time he encountered her.
Merlin continued chattering "Most of the nobles have been nice to me. Lady Valencia gave me this special perfume from Arabia that smells like oranges and parchment and lilies. It's really expensive and I refused at first but she insisted and I didn't want to hurt her so I accepted. It's so kind of her to give me that perfume."
"Well, you are such a girl, Merlin!" retorted Arthur annoyed wondering why he hadn't received any exotic and expensive perfumes.
Merlin rolled his eyes at Arthur "And of course, Queen Annis is teaching me this incredibly amazing game called chess. She's very clever and strategic, so she wins every time. But I'm getting the hang of it. She says once I learn to play chess properly, she will gift me with a custom made chess board."
"Yes, well that will be a long time, so let's hope that she doesn't keep her hopes up." said Arthur irritated by the fact that Queen Annis chose Merlin to teach chess - what was chess by the way? - and not him. Queen Annis thought that Merlin was a bumbling fool so why would she teach Merlin a strategic game?
"Don't be such a dollophead." said Merlin fondly with a smile that made Arthur feel bad for what he had been thinking "I'm sure she'd teach you too, if you asked her nicely."
"Don't be such an idiot, Merlin. I certainly don't want to waste my precious time with some stupid game." said Arthur as he huffed, not seeing Merlin smirking. At that very moment, Gwaine, Leon and Lancelot arrived to where Merlin and Arthur was.
"What are we talking about, lads?" asked Gwaine merrily as Merlin handed him some water.
Before Arthur could speak, a familiar and confident voice spoke behind him "Merlin?"
Merlin turned around to see Mithian standing behind him and he almost stumbled on his feet in surprise to the amusement of the Knights as he exclaimed "Mithi - I mean - Your Highness!"
Mithian smiled at Merlin in fond affection as she began speaking "I was looking for you."
"Oh. Why?" asked Merlin and when Arthur nudged him in the ribs, Merlin quickly panicked as he corrected himself "I mean, I thought you would be busy with the festivities, my lady!"
"Nice save." muttered Gwaine in amusement to Lancelot and Leon.
"I actually - well - I was looking for you because I have something to give you." said Mithian her cheeks flushing pink as she bought out a set of leather bound books "Last time I visited you mentioned your love for reading, and well here I am - with books for you!"
"Oh!" exclaimed Merlin softly as he took a step towards the books, staring at them in wonder and then at Mithian as he shook his head "I cannot possibly take it, Your Highness."
"Yes, you can." insisted Mithian stubbornly as she offered the books to Merlin. "It's a gift from me to you."
Merlin looked at Mithian with a soft smile and accepted the books "You are very kind, Your Highness. Thank you very much."
This exchange was way too much for Arthur who had never seen Merlin be polite to a royal in his entire life and Mithian smiled widely at Merlin "I had a dream about you last night."
Leon choked on his bottle of water and Lancelot looked elsewhere, not wanting to pry while Gwaine and Arthur looked at Merlin and Mithian in curiosity and surprise. Merlin's face bloomed into an unbecoming red as he stammered "About me?"
"Mithian, is it entirely proper -" began Arthur but Gwaine nudged him in the ribs causing Arthur to shut up.
"About the day we met." said Mithian with a sweet smile "Do you remember?"
"How can I forget, Your Highness?" asked Merlin softly and shyly, blushing like a school boy.
"How many times must I ask you to call me Mithian?" asked Mithian with a sigh as she smiled at Merlin.
Merlin felt his heart pound loudly as he said reverently "At least once more, Your Highness. As always."
Arthur had never seen Merlin like this and the only thought that was running through his head was "WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING?"
After a moment of silence, Mithian asked softly "Would you like to take a walk with me, Merlin?"
Arthur opened his mouth to object but this time Gwaine and Leon both nudged him in the ribs and Lancelot took the lead "Come on, lads. Let's go!"
Merlin looked at Mithian with a bright smile "I'd love to, Mithian."
Because to Merlin, everything she did was magic.
Merlin was rushing around, not having any time to breathe or even think as he prepared everything for the final banquet. His stomach was grumbling with hunger but he ignored it as he carried the heavy decorations in his arms as he nodded and gave quick, friendly and encouraging smile as the servants who passed by. He reached the hall where the final feast was to be held and dragged the ladder to hang the beautiful golden and red wreaths. As he continued hanging these wreaths, he saw that a bunch of Princesses including Mithian and Elena had entered the hall. Merlin smiled at the sight of Mithian, thinking that she looked incredibly and magically beautiful in her gorgeous rosy pink dress and a loud, familiar voice yelled at him, making him tear his eyes away from Mithian.
"MERLIN! STOP STARING AND START HANGING THE WREATHS!" yelled Arthur as he looked at Merlin who was on top of the ladder.
"Prat." muttered Merlin annoyed at Arthur.
"I heard that!" yelled Arthur rolling his eyes at Merlin wondering why he kept Merlin as his manservant.
"You were meant to!" yelled back Merlin, not caring who was watching.
As he hung the wreath and started climbing back down, his foot slipped and he fell down onto the hard floor and he groaned in pain. Suddenly he was surrounded by fussing ladies who were anxious and some started crying. He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to block out the crying and the screaming but when he opened his eyes, he saw Mithian's pale and worried face hovering over him.
"Urgghh." said Merlin, wanting to say something profound and real like how beautiful Mithian looked but his head was dizzy.
Arthur had seen Merlin fall down and his heart lurched in shock and time froze as he was unable to move. Then Arthur saw all the ladies and princesses running towards Merlin and surrounding Merlin as they fanned him and took his pulse and tried to see whether he was fine. Arthur also saw how pale Mithian had gone and in that moment realized how much Merlin meant to Mithian.
"Someone help!" screamed Lady Valencia dramatically "The poor boy!"
"Merlin! Merlin, wake up!" sobbed Princess Andrea as she clutched onto Merlin's jacket.
"Someone get the Physician, this boy needs medical attention!" yelled Lady Victoria viciously and protectively.
"Is he dead?" screamed Princess Bella wiping away tears and Princess Mithian and Princess Elena glared at her as they snapped at her together
"HE'S NOT DEAD!" then Mithian looked at Princess Bella as she began to rant "He's not dead, you blonde bimbo! He's unconscious!"
"Alright, move away please ladies!" said Arthur as he made his way through the sobbing and screaming ladies as Elena calmed Mithian down.
Arthur felt his own body crumble in anxiousness and worry as he took an unconscious Merlin in his arms and then addressed the ladies but his eyes were on Mithian comfortingly "Calm down ladies! Merlin is a survivor. He will live."
And true to Arthur's words, Merlin did live.
Merlin woke up after a few hours of sleep and even attended the final feast ignoring Gaius' protests.
He danced with every lady who had been worried for him but he had eyes only for Mithian as he danced with her more than five times that night.
And he laughed in happiness at how the Knights welcomed him in relief and he smiled in surprise when Arthur hugged him and advised him not to be a clumsy idiot ever again.
And the day after the feast, every guest departed, and Arthur had the tiring task of bidding them goodbye. After saying goodbye to every guest with Merlin and the Knights by his side, he turned to Merlin.
"Can I ask you something?" asked Arthur as they climbed up the stairs leading into the castle. "Why didn't you leave with Mithian?"
Merlin blushed brightly and Gwaine added "It's kind of obvious you two are a thing."
"We are courting. I like her very, very much." said Merlin with a huge smile, the tips of his ears burning brightly and then he looked at Arthur "But my destiny lies here in Camelot, as it always has since the day I met you."
Arthur felt gratitude and affection swell in his heart for Merlin and felt stupid for thinking that Merlin would leave him without a word or a warning. Arthur ruffled Merlin's head gently as he put his arm around Merlin "You're ridiculous."
"You're a dollophead."
"That's not a word."
"You need to spend some time around real people, Arthur."
"Shut up, Merlin."