Prompt: Thinking about Merlin being taught by Morgana, Gwen and Gwaine how to fight with a sword, because they are all worried about him going off with Arthur and the knights without knowing how to protect himself, and he ends up combining all three fighting styles and ends up being better than Arthur. And they discovered this because one day he is mocking the knight during training, but especially Arthur, so he tells him to grab a sword since he is so happy to mock them.
Arthur realises his mistakes pretty quickly once he sees Merlin fight, and if he got a boner from watching Lancelot, then he has double now that he is seeing Merlin fight. The fight ends with Merlin pointing both his and Arthur's swords at his neck and the sexual tension can be felt by anyone. The knights who had yet to question as to why he went with them, are now afraid of Merlin.
It all began when a random drunkard #4 in The Rising Sun made a particular passing comment, just as Sir Gwaine, rouge-extraordinaire and charming knight in shining armour, was nursing his tenth tankard of ale across the room.
"....aye that pretty boy servant--follows the prince everywhere, ain't he?..."
That slowly sobered the knight up. He discreetly leaned forward to hear better, a hand on the hilt of his dagger, ready to start a bar fight if necessary to defend his friend's honour.
"...skinny little thing ain't he? Toss me three coins, would ya? Bet he'll fall over in two summers."
"Got a bet on the reason, mate?"
"That boy's got no armour, some gust of wind lookin at him wrong and he's a goner."
There was laughter from the man's half-drunk companions, and Gwaine, now almost fully sober, started to get up from his seat, fists clenched.
"Shame.. He's got a real pretty face. Killer combination of blue eyes and dark hair. Must've been why the prince keeps him."
"If the prince wants to keep his little fuck thing, he shouldn't bring 'im to the knights' patrols."
"Hah! Maybe he offers 'em quite a rockin' after-battle services," the man chortled lewdly. "Wonder if the prince wants to share, I certainly wouldn--"
There was a crash as Gwaine successfully slammed the man's greasy head to the tabletop. "Finish that fuckin sentence and I will fucking kill you!"
For one long second, the rest of the tavern fell silent--before a rascal on the back shouted, "Ten coins for the big fella!" and the rest of tavern erupted in cheers.
"FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!"
A brute grabbed his head in a chokehold before the knight was able to headbutt him and flipped him over the shoulder. He landed with a great crash, bringing the whole table down with him.
Gwaine spun around, barely avoiding a chair that is thrown at him, but he drunkenly staggered straight into the chest of another muscled bloke.
"Who....the fuck are you?"
"Sir Gwaine," he said with a mocking grin, "I'd say t'was a pleasure but I'd be lying. I'll see your asses in the dungeon, boys." He grabbed a bottle of ale and unceremoniously swung it to the bloke's head.....and missed.
In hindsight, getting into fights with alcohol truly messed up your accuracy.
"A knight of Camelot, eh? Come to defend the servant boy?" He laughed mockingly. "Folks! The rumours are true!"
Gwaine immediately saw red, and threw a punch to the man's head. This time he did not miss. Cheers and boos were heard from the crowd.
"FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! FINISH HIM!"
Standing over the fallen man, only swaying slightly due to the alcohol, Gwaine smirked down at him and put his boot on his opponent's chest.
"You take back what you said about Merlin."
".....that Merlin," he slurred, "...pretty name..."
"Wrong fucking answer."
Then Gwaine started kicking the fallen man. However, he failed to notice someone creeping behind him, until the very last second when a chair connected to the back of his head, and he fell over.
The crowd whooping rambunctiously was the last thing the knight heard before darkness took over.
"Really, Gwaine.. really."
Gwaine blinked himself awake. Merlin's amused, yet exasperated face slowly came into focus. He blinked again and tried to move his head, then the world spun around him.
"Stay still. You've got a bump the size of Arthur's ego on the back of your head."
Despite himself, Gwaine snorted - an action that rewarded him with a sudden flash of pain from the aforementioned part of his head. He groaned.
Merlin tut-tutted again, before getting up to fetch the boiling water from the fireplace. Gwaine silently debated telling the other raven how he very much resembled a mother hen when he was in his physician mode, but nah... he'd rather have his bits intact. Merlin could be a vicious little thing when his buttons were pushed, if one drunken escapade with a certain prince was to be trusted - although, it wasn't as if Arthur could talk about anything else without somehow circling back to his manservant when sober. He got it bad. So bad. Gods, that reminded him, he would soon have to give the prince the talk for his rather uncouth intention toward his innocent best mate. Yes, yes.. preferably with ale. A copious amount of ale... because that shit was bound to be awkward and he'd rather let loose all he got before the royal princess got his grubby hands on unsuspecting, defenseless Merlin...
"-Gwaine-are you with me? Gwaine?"
The knight blinked again, bringing himself to the present where Merlin's wide blue eyes were staring at him worriedly, a foul-smelling concoction of some sort in hand while his other hand was checking Gwaine's forehead temperature.
Gwaine hurriedly opened his mouth to answer but the jumbled word that came out sounded like "Hmfht?"
Merlin rolled his eyes. "Here. Drink."
Nose suddenly turning up at the smell of the liquid, the knight tried to turn pleading eyes to the raven-haired younger man, who continued looking at him sternly and undeterred. Merlin's firm hands forced his mouth to drink - and miraculously, the pounding on his head did abate. Ah, the wonders of medieval medicines. He cringed when Merlin suddenly slapped a wet towel on his forehead. See? Vicious.
"...yet another bar fight. Who, for goodness sake, would say knights should have an ounce of common sense? Hah! Certainly not his royal pratness. I asked him to cancel today's hunt since you've obviously got a hell of a concussion and what did he say? 'Reschedule it to tomorrow, Merlin, we can't have Camelot knights lazing around like what you're doing right now. Go muck the stables.' That ass of a dollophead," muttered Merlin irritably. "I've had it with him. Already mucked the stables three times and I've got to ensure you're on your feet by tomorrow because Gaius is away and Arthur's too much of an ass to allow either of us some well-deserved rest. Oh--and of course the prat wouldn't know a thing about preparing for supplies so I've got to do it for him again and then follow you lot along early tomorrow while he hunts those poor animals. Clotpole."
Great, Gwaine inwardly groaned. Merlin was in a mood, and Arthur was apparently still ordering them to hunt with the rest of the knights tomorrow. Faintly, he lamented how he somehow got into this awkward position - because between Arthur's moody moments when Merlin wasn't around and Merlin's private bursts of frustration, that was what he felt like becoming: a goddamn relationship counsellor. Also, speaking of the hunt...
"You-you...ah-much better Merls," he threw a grin to Merlin who had provided him with another goblet, thankfully water this time. "You're coming with us for the hunt tomorrow?"
The raven-haired servant frowned in confusion. "Of course. Why shouldn't I be?"
"Did Princess order you to come?"
At the mention of the prince, Merlin rolled his eyes again and grinned wryly. "He can't even dress himself without me, Gwaine. What makes you think he'll survive a hunt without me coming?"
Gwaine almost gaped. Okay, that was quite...extreme, although there was some truth to it as they had never went on a single expedition without Merlin tagging along. He and his fellow knights had never thought much about it for without the manservant, Arthur could be quite insufferable, especially in council meetings where it often happened. Who were they to look a gift horse in the mouth? But now that he thought of it, and focusing on Merlin's best interests at heart, coming along to patrols, hunts and battles...that certainly wasn't something a servant usually did, was it? His knowledge of noble customs might be buried deep in a place of his mind where he'd rather forgotten it altogether, but he still remembered that servants were supposed to be safe inside their lord's estate, not gallivanting around with the knights.
Especially weaponless, and clothed in a flimsy, simple peasant garb where he could be easily cut down like a knife cut through a butter...
Gwaine took a trembling breath. How could he fail to notice that until after some jerkasses in a bar beat it up on him? What kind of best mate was he when he didn't even consider the great risk to Merlin's mortality every time they went out merrily with him?
"Merlin," he said seriously, "You can refuse his orders to come, you know that."
"I know, I know," Merlin waved airily, giving Gwaine a once-over before nodding in approval, then he got up to check on the rosemary solution he was making. "But why would I miss all the fun?"
"Merlin, I'm serious."
Merlin turned to look at him, a bit of a surprise and worry in his face. "Hold on for a second. You? Serious? Are...you feeling yourself, Gwaine? That blow didn't muddle your mind, did it?"
"Merls..." Gwaine certainly did not whine, thank you very much. Alright, time to take a direct approach. "Have you ever thought about just staying in the castle when we - err, the knights - hunt? I've been thinking-"
"-ah, not a good omen."
"Shut up, darlin'," grinned Gwaine, before turning serious again. "It's not safe for you to be with us."
Silence, and then..
"Gwaine," Merlin groaned. "Look, I appreciate your concerns, I really do, but it's better saved for some helpless maidens - or lads, whatever caught your fancy. You can't stop me from coming with you guys."
There was a defiant tilt to Merlin's voice and Gwaine knew he would get nowhere convincing someone who stubbornly called the crown prince of the realm a prat to his face on daily basis. He would have to try a different approach.
And he supposed he could relent on this one, for when they embarked on the hunt the next morning - with Merlin grumbling to Arthur along the way for "needlessly endangering my concussed patient and hunting innocent animals who're just lounging in their habitats, you prat" and Arthur shooting back "well, at least that will teach him not to be a bad influence to you going to tavern all day and lazing around so shut up Mer-lin" and the pair continuing to bicker oblivious to the knights' growing amusement - some bandits did attack their group, but were quickly defeated by their skills and the unexplained concurrences of branches falling at the right moments. Most importantly, Merlin was unharmed.
Gwaine immediately regretted his action as Merlin, bless his soul, caught the practice sword he had thrown by its blade.
"Ouch!" Merlin dropped the sword and sucked his bleeding finger. Thankfully, the cut was small for the blade of a practice sword was quite dull. He still gave the knight a wounded puppy-dog look though. "Gwaine, why."
"Aww, Merls...sorry. I'm sorry," said Gwaine in panic, immediately running to Merlin's side and grabbed his elbow. "I didn't hurt you too bad, did I? Gods, I'm sorry I wasn't thinking-"
"...'m fine, Gwaine!" said Merlin with a chuckle. "Look! Already healing. Why are you throwing me a sword anyway?"
After seeing his friend not in immediate danger of bleeding out because of his careless mistake, Gwaine relaxed. They were in a courtyard where the knights usually did their training, but since Arthur was called away by his father for an urgent council meeting, the knights had a free session where they were supposed to practice their own assigned routines. Gwaine thought it was time to execute his plan. So, he called the servant from Arthur's side to help him with some random stuff - much to the befuddlement of the raven and the irritation of the crown prince. He smirked daringly at Arthur, who was almost huffing like a spoiled princess who didn't get his favourite toy, before the prince had to reluctantly heed the call of his impatient father and council lords.
Good, he got Merls to himself.
"You see, my friend," said the knight joyfully, twirling his own sword expertly, "I'm going to train you in sword fighting so you can protect yourself better when bandits attack!"
"Oh hell no, no, no.."
"C'mon, mate!" Gwaine grinned. Merlin looked at him disbelievingly like a spooked kitten, practically hissing at his sword like it was poison. Merlin could be such a dramatic ass sometimes. "Elbows up! Bend your knees. Get into position!"
"Nope! I completely refuse! Gwaine, I'm doing fine without a sword!"
"Only by luck! Seriously, Merls, you can't expect to rely on falling trees and branches all the time, do you?"
Merlin might have muttered something rude under his breath, Gwaine was too far to hear. But then the dark-haired young man started to adjust the grip on his sword to follow Gwaine's and his eyes glinted with determination and ... amusement?
"...fine," said Merlin with a dark glare, promising retribution to the knight. "I'll show you my luck. I'll take out the salt on your soup the next time we go to patrols for this, friend."
Gwaine mock-sniffed. "See the sacrifice I have to make for my best mate's wellbeing? Also, mate, work on your threat. You can't look fearsome holding a sword after threatening someone's soup-"
"-You'll be regretting those words in a few weeks, Gwaine."
The knight barked a laugh. "Sure. Point is, Merls, you can't kill bandits by being adorable."
Chuckling at Merlin's indignant sounds of protests, Gwaine shook his fabulous hair out of his face and dropped into a fighting stance, drawing an alarmed look from the servant. "Oh Merlin, we'll start with practical parrying. Try to redirect my attacks--don't worry I'll go slow--you see, blocking needs more strength than redirecting, so we'll see if you can do a good redirect first. I'll attack. You will redirect-oh, don't be too tense with that grip, mate, and move your left foot a bit to the right-that's it. Ready? On your left!"
Merlin yelped as he barely parried the knight's thrust.
"Almost good. Again. Ready, mate? On your right! Right! Left! Left! Right! Left!"
The servant quickly got overwhelmed after that and ended up tripping over his own feet, falling to the ground with an "oof!"
"Don't worry, Merlin!" exclaimed Gwaine cheerfully, his hand extended to help the raven haired youth. "'Tis is only your first fall. You'll thank me after your thousandth fall! Up again!"
He slapped the young man in the back before taking position again, joyfully ignoring the horror on his best mate's face.
This was a bloody torture.
Somehow, Gwaine and Merlin's sword fighting sessions did not reach the ears of Prince Arthur himself. Some part of it was because Merlin himself was too embarrassed by how the sessions went (usually ended up with him falling far more times than he could count) and by how he was unwittingly roped into agreeing to said training by that scoundrel Gwaine. Thankfully, Merlin was bloody good at keeping secrets, and sadly, Merlin was too much of a people-pleaser to let Gwaine down.
So he settled into removing salt from Gwaine's soup whenever he was in charge of the knights' food as they were travelling (which was, all the time).
Gwaine did come to regret not taking Merlin's threat seriously though. The knight kept shooting the servant with his best puppy-dog eyes during a dinner while they were camping in the woods. The soup bowl in his hand looked looked deceptively normal, yet unsalted. Merlin made sure of that. He even persuaded the Cook to work with him against Gwaine.
'Serves him right', thought Merlin, triumphantly ignoring the longing looks Gwaine sent at the salted pot of soup in his arms.
Unbeknownst to the two, Arthur was observing them in confusion and in no small amount of irritation. He did notice that Gwaine and Merlin were spending more time than usual, and judging by the looks that his knight was sending to his servant.... Arthur clenched his jaw.
In the next training session, all the knights watched confusedly as Sir Gwaine was singled out as Arthur's sparing partner, and the royal spent all the morning session beating up the poor knight.
That was why Gwaine, once again, ended up in the physician's chambers.
"Hell hath no fury," he groaned. "..like a man so far up in his ass he can't see he's a bloody hormonal jealous lovesick fool."
Merlin was carefully dabbing a fabric soaked with nightshade tincture to the knight's bruises. "There," he smiled. "D'you want me to tell him to go easy on you next time? "
Gwaine immediately shook his head. "No, no--Merlin! That's about the worst thing you can possibly do."
The younger man opened his mouth and closed it again. "But.. why?"
There were several long seconds of Gwaine just staring at his best mate's confused, obliviously innocent face before closing his eyes in defeat. He nearly whimpered. "Gods, please take me away. Far far away from here. Away from these oblivious lovesick fools-"
"-So, I heard my dear brother was being a lot more of a hotheaded fool in the field today. Was it you, Sir Gwaine, his latest victim?"
Lady Morgana sauntered elegantly into the room, an amused smirk graced her beautiful face.
"Oh hey, Morgana," smiled Merlin, warmly. Their friendship had grown a lot stronger since Merlin decided to defy the Great Dragon's order and trusted Morgana with the knowledge of his magic. As a result, they were able to control Morgana's powerful gift as a seer, and practiced their magic together from time to time.
"..Arthur's probably just stressed out. The king isn't doing too well these days," defended Merlin, eyebrows creasing in worry.
Morgana just looked at the secret warlock with an amused smile that was somehow pitying him too - and if the smile could speak, it would have tsked at Merlin and cooed, 'oh you sweet summer child'.
"Do you see what I'm dealing with, my lady? Do you see?" Gwaine gestured wildly, before putting his hands on his face and shouted a muffled "argh!"
"My deepest sympathies, Sir Gwaine. I know it can be very frustrating watching at the front row," said Morgana with a chuckle.
"What are you both talking about?" Merlin exclaimed in frustration.
"Nothing so concerning, Merlin, so relax," interjected Morgana smoothly. "I also came here because a little birdie told me you are teaching our dear Merlin here how to fight with a sword."
"Yep," answered Gwaine easily, popping up the "P", while Merlin had a more anxious reaction.
"You won't tell Arthur about it, will you?"
"Why should you shy away from that? I think it's a marvelous endeavour. Sometimes...," Morgana gave Merlin a meaningful glance, "... our luck may run out."
Merlin groaned. "I'm horrible at it."
"No, you're getting good, Merls!" Gwaine said encouragingly, like an excited puppy. Merlin couldn't help but smile at him. No matter what misgivings he may have about sword-fighting, it was hard not to see that Gwaine only wanted Merlin to be able to protect himself better. He had debated on telling on telling the knight about his magic, but... he sighed, as long as Uther was still alive, anyone who had knowledge of his magic would be in danger as conspirators. He'd put Morgana and Gaius at enough risk.
The lady hummed and looked at Merlin appraisingly. "...maybe, you could use a few more pointers. I have bested Arthur at sword fighting, you know?"
Gwaine and Merlin glanced at each other - Gwaine, excitedly and Merlin, in resignation.
It turned out that Morgana was as excited as Gwaine in making Merlin a pupil to her expertise - something about their roles being reversed when Merlin was teaching her magic.
Gwaine was all brute force, coming at him with jabs and thrusts as fast as they were strong, not giving him time to breathe but forcing him to be quick at his feet. Merlin understood more clearly than ever now why Grettir called him "Strength". He was relentless, forcing Merlin to parry and redirect hits after hits because his own strength was pitifully abysmal against the rogue knight. But on the bright side, Gwaine's method taught him to endure hits while redirecting all he could while looking for any opening in order for him to strike quickly - usually he only got one chance. He had to be sneaky and made use of certain stances or positions to push his advantage and bolster his muscle strength.
It was the opposite of his magic, interestingly. Merlin's magic was capable of pure raw force, more than anyone on Earth, passing the need of any limiting spells or magical arithmancy, while normal sorcerers made use of incantations, artifacts, and careful calculations to bolster their natural magic.
Morgana's teaching was.... interesting, to say the least.
"The key is to intimidate and dazzle your opponent before you strike to guarantee a win."
Merlin stared blankly at her.
"...and how do I do that?"
"Oh," Morgana smirked, with a knowing smile. "I'm quite certain you'll do well dazzling a certain knight, Merlin."
"What? Why would I fight a Camelot knight?" asked Merlin, tilting his head in confusion.
The king's ward rolled her eyes and sighed. "For goodness sake, Merlin, you just made me lost a gamble to Gwen."
"Whoa, you two are gambling?" the warlock gaped in surprise, before the rest of Morgana's statement registered. "Wait, you two are gambling about me? Hey!"
With precise movements, the other magic user firmly corrected Merlin's posture while shaking her head in disappointment at Merlin's failure to maintain a proper position while being distracted by their talk.
"Shush. Now stay there and stop fidgeting." Morgana stopped and smiled as she appraised Merlin's struggling, but thankfully acceptable form. "Now, relating to what we were talking about previously, here's the most important tip to win a swordfight, you break their mental resistance."
Morgana's smile was almost feral as she continued to explain the intricacies of psychological warfare to the young man whose blue eyes were becoming wider and wider, both in fear and fascination.
Under Gwaine and Morgana's tutelages, Merlin was truly getting better at using a sword. Yet, true to Merlin's insistence, there was not really any opportunity for him to use it in action; for the raven-haired servant kept using his usual approach during battles - which was, hiding behind a tree (Of course, Gwaine did not realise that it was the most effective place for Merlin to help without anyone finding out. His magic was always needed to pull his friends out of impossible situations the way a sword could not.) However, those sword lessons seemed to give Gwaine a measure of peace so Merlin just went along with it.
It was not until Merlin, during one of their usual patrols, suddenly threw his body at Arthur and pushed the crown prince down in the split-second after he detected an incoming arrow - but not fast enough to avoid it entirely - that Sir Gwaine belatedly realised one rather obvious fact.
Merlin's armour, or the lack thereof.
The arrow hit Merlin's shoulder instead of Arthur's head, and those ratty coat and tunic did nothing to hinder the arrow's progression, cutting through skin and flesh like a hot knife through butter. It went right through.
And then there was blood, too much blood.
Cursing, Gwaine hurriedly knelt down beside an uncharacteristically frantic Arthur, who was the only thing keeping Merlin from hitting the ground and injuring his head, while the rest of the knights quickly dispersed to search for the assassin. The prince was uselessly calling Merlin's name over and over, but the servant seemed too dazed to answer - though, at least he was still conscious.
"Get your wits together, Princess and help me staunch the bleeding," said Gwaine as he unclasped his cloak and pushed down the open wound with it.
Merlin groaned in pain when Gwaine firmly applied pressure while Arthur accidentally jostled his head to make their positions more comfortable.
"Shit, what do I do?" asked Arthur helplessly, one hand hovering around uselessly while the other was stroking Merlin's hair absentmindedly. He made quite a sight with his front armour smeared with bright red blood as a result of Merlin falling on top of him as the arrow hit.
"This is why," grunted out Gwaine, still focused on applying pressure, "..you need to equip him with a fucking armour."
"Don't you think I haven't tried?" Arthur shot back. "I'm not the-the clot-pole who refused to wear an armour. Do you hear that, Merlin? I'm making it an order now because you're a colossal idiot who can't keep away from getting shot by arrows!"
"It was-" Merlin suddenly gasped weakly, "....aimed-for...your big head."
"-so you decided it was better to be shot at your non-armoured little bottom? Gods! Merlin, why are you such an idiot!"
"Guys!" bellowed Gwaine exasperatedly as he saw Merlin flinched almost imperceptibly, "Can you please not do this? At least not right now?"
Merlin then let out a quiet whimper and Arthur's face immediately crumpled.
"....clotpole," the servant said in a tired whisper. "He's....my...clotpole, Gwaine....my word first...my decision." Then he drifted off to unconsciousness.
It was a blur after that with the other knights coming back shouting that they caught the assassin - it was a rogue archer who wanted revenge on Uther by taking his son's life. Merlin was carefully loaded to Gwaine's horse with some reluctance from Arthur. They were only a half-day ride away from the citadel so Arthur had firmly instructed the knight to go as quick as possible so that unconscious servant would receive treatment from Gaius.
"You are good for him," the prince said quietly just before they rode off, his face facing away from Gwaine as he said the words. "Don't think I haven't noticed how often you two spend time together these days. Even my sister approved."
"What the hell are you talking about, Princess?"
Arthur gritted his teeth. "You. and Merlin."
Gwaine gaped. He made a choking sound, and then started to laugh a bit hysterically.
Arthur's sad expression turned into a scowl.
"Very well. I take that back. You don't deserve him."
The long-haired knight took a moment to get his breathing under control, his eyes dancing with mirth and mischief despite their current situation. "And you think you do, eh, your highness?"
Arthur only scowled darker at him in response.
"We can't dally here. Get him to Gaius as quick as possible. We're following behind. Go."
All things considered, it was a quick road to recovery for Merlin. Flesh wounds always bled more and the blood loss had left him woozy, but Merlin was lucky that the arrow's trajectory did not hit any bone. Although, Gaius had instructed him to keep his left arm in a sling for the rest of the week.
With the help of Gwen, Morgana, his knight friends and the servants of the castle, he quickly adapted into his daily routine once more, much to everyone's delight because no one could handle the crown prince quite like Merlin.
And Prince Arthur had not been in a good mood since the party went back from that ill-fated patrol.
His mood was, in fact, downright foul.
And Sir Gwaine seemed to bear the brunt of it, particularly in trainings.
Of course, Arthur's more-brutal-than-usual methods directed at Gwaine led to said knight spending more and more time after those harsh trainings in the physician's chambers, where Merlin resided. This made the prince's mood became even fouler.
But Merlin wasn't aware of all that.
He also wasn't aware of the fact that both Gwaine and Arthur were not about to forget how close he came to losing his life due to not wearing armour any time soon.
"There you are, Merlin!"
Gwen bounced in with a wide open smile, which was at odds with the fact that she was struggling to lug a heavy bundle behind her. Merlin immediately helped her with the burden using his right arm.
"Gwen! Not that I'm not excited to see you, but what is this heavy stuff?" Between both of them, they managed to wrangle the bundle on the only empty surface on one of Gaius's tables. "I didn't realise Gaius is in need of this much supplies?"
"Oh!" said Gwen a bit breathlessly, "They're not supplies, silly. Look," she started to undo the string holding the covering, "It's for you, see?"
"Gwen," he said slowly, "Did Arthur ask you to drag his heavy armour here? That prat. I told him I'd finish polishing those later."
"Oh my, it's not that," Gwen laughed, "They're not Arthur's. See, they're brand new! My father was commissioned by...uh...several very enthusiastic parties-which may or may not include a member of the royal family and some very forceful knights-so! Here we go, a set of new armour just for you! After all, Sir Gwaine has been blabbering around about that previous patrol's incident so we're all worried about you. I mean," she backtracked a bit, "not worried as in we think you're weak, no! You know, just worried-worried, 'cause I think it's about time you start wearing some kind of protection like the rest of the knights, you know."
She bit her lips awkwardly after that and Merlin turned his grimace into a genuine smile.
"Gwen, I...," he laughed, "It's not that I don't appreciate them, they're really good, honestly - but I don't think armours are meant for me. I might follow Arthur and the knights around but I'm just a servant."
Gwen snorted. "You might be a servant but the crown prince himself and many of his knights want you to wear an armour. I'm sure you'll find more use with this armour than even some of Camelot's longest-serving knights, Merlin. Oh, 'Gana told me about your sword training by the way."
"Did she?" Merlin made a face that made Gwen giggle and rolled his eyes. "Ugh, no wonder everyone thinks I'm a wimp if words of how horrible I am with swords have spread."
"Aw, don't be like that. Morgana's singing your praises so you must be doing something good." Gwen said brightly. "Now that you've got an armour, you can start training wearing it."
The secret warlock groaned and plopped down to a seat dramatically. "Please don't tell me you said that to Morgana."
"Whoops! Too late."
"She's going to insist me wearing that bulky thing the next time we train."
"I know, that's why I told her!"
"You're as evil as she is, you know that Gwen."
"Don't be overdramatic, Merlin." Gwen giggled. "Besides, these skills can be useful one day, even if you're not fighting on the front line-hey, who knows? Maybe you'll be one of those rough, tough save-the-world types of men-Arthur will like that I'm sure.. not that Arthur needs any more reason to like you, but.."
"Alright, that's it, Gwen. You're spending too much time with Morgana," interrupted Merlin with a reddening face.
"But it's true," Gwen protested cheerfully. "Oh, I've been thinking. I'm a blacksmith's daughter so I know some tricks about swords and armours. Would you mind me coming when Morgana trains you?"
"You want to use me to spend more time with Morgana, don't you?"
With Gwen smiling expectantly at him, Merlin really did not have any heart to refuse her. Also, he'd come to appreciate the armour later - it wasn't as bulky as it looked. It could be useful, Merlin pondered, if he ever needed to confront some powerful enemies alone. He had no intention of being on the receiving end of Nimueh's lightning or a sekret's bite again, thank you very much. Those scars still hurt, occasionally.
So, much to both women's delight, Gwen also joined in their little sessions. Merlin knew Gwen was good with a sword, and together with Morgana, he thought they were unstoppable. Their styles complimented each other. Morgana's quick strike-first-and-overwhelm was complimented well by Gwen's expertise in defensive parries. Gwen was steady; she preferred to wait until the opponent strikes first before parrying - and for that, good armour and defensive skills are needed.
Merlin also wondered whether he could research more defensive magic so that he could aid Arthur's defense somehow. Maybe, enchanting his armours would do - he could do that to the knights' as well. Oh yes, he could definitely do that, if only Arthur would stop making him polish his armour's back side for the umpteenth time that day. Seriously, it was already so shiny Merlin could see his reflection clearly. But the grumpy cabbagehead was still not satisfied.
What the hell was up with his clotpole of a prince?
He was about to get his answer when he passed by a commotion at the courtyard.
Struggling to drag the polished armour with some difficulties, Merlin made his way to the centre of the crowd where Arthur was training his knights.
"What's going on...?" Merlin trailed off as he saw the sight in front of him.
Arthur and Gwaine were sparing - no, not exactly sparing. The manservant gaped and dropped his cargo in surprise. He might not completely understand how the knights train - he'd like to think he wasn't thick enough for that - but he was pretty sure the much vaulted knight's code of chivalry would not approve of aggressively beating up a downed opponent.
Arthur was a strict follower of the noble code; it was one of the things Merlin loved so much about him after all. Something must be very wrong.
"Sire!" the servant raised his voice, perhaps foolishly, and to his surprise, Arthur stopped angrily pummeling Gwaine and the attention of half of the crowd in the yard was on him.
Deja vu to the time when they first met. It seemed like a lifetime ago.
"That seems a bit too excessive, doesn't it?" said Merlin with his jaw set stubbornly. "What the hell did Gwaine do to warrant this treatment?"
"Merlin," Arthur gritted out. "Stay away from matters that do not concern you."
"Well, forgive me for caring about my friend," exclaimed Merlin incredulously. "If training goes like this all the time, it's a wonder that not all of your knights end up in Gaius' care! Oh no, actually," Merlin frowned heavily as he realised something, "Are these trainings the reason why Gwaine often comes by injured? Gwaine, you told me he's stopped and they were from tavern brawls!" he said to Gwaine disbelievingly.
Gwaine chose the moment to look up and grin, showing bloody teeth that belied his cheeky demeanour. "Oh hey, Merls! Don't worry! Princess here's got it special only for me. Would you like to know why?" The knight smirked victoriously at the fuming prince. "Should I tell him why or are you too.... cowardly to say it?"
Swiftly, Arthur grabbed Gwaine's collar. "You are this close to crossing a line that should not be crossed by a worthy knight of Camelot, Sir Gwaine. Your lack of respect prompts this disciplinary action."
"Yeah, blah blah blah respect the crown princess bullshit yes." Gwaine's sheer audacity made the people gasp and Merlin's eyebrows going up in surprise. "See, I'm not about to give my bloody respect to someone who'd turn a spar into a fucking dishonourable brawl each time I say I spend time with my best friend."
"That is a lie!" Arthur thundered, his face reddening.
"What?" said Merlin, more confused than ever now.
"Ohh yes, my lord," goaded the fearless knight with a shit-eating grin, "I spend my time with Merlin all the time now. The more you act like a bloody jealous fool, the more chance I've got--"
And Merlin watched, in a sort of horrified fascination, as Arthur rammed into Gwaine and they both proceeded to literally brawl like two scoundrels in public view, utterly unbefitting of their status as the crown prince and a noble knight respectively. He caught the resigned eyes of Sir Leon, who mouthed 'do something' to him. Honestly, why did everyone expect him to be the one taking action when something weird happened in Camelot? And this definitely counted as weird because both Arthur and Gwaine were acting very nonsensically, Merlin thought.
"Sire! Gwaine! Both of you! Stop it!" Merlin tried.
He was ignored.
By now, the prince had overwhelmed Gwaine due to his superior training, but Gwaine showed no sign of stopping. Merlin sighed. This was about to get ugly very soon.
"Arthur, you damn turniphead of a royal ass!" he called exasperatedly, abandoning all honourifics. "And you too, Gwaine! What the hell are you both on? Pull out your head out of your asses and stop behaving like two dumbass dollophead knights who can't even follow your stupid code!"
Alright, maybe he used a little bit of magic to make his point reverberate through their thick skulls - carefully of course. And maybe, he went a little bit too far with calling their code stupid.
But it worked.
Arthur gaped at the idiot that was his manservant for a moment, completely forgetting a snickering Gwaine, and scowled at Merlin.
"You can't call the knight's code of camelot stupid, Merlin!"
"Well, I just did." Merlin glared back in a display of his usual impudence that would usually get him sent to the stocks later. "I see you as the example and you're quite the thick dollophead, aren't you?"
In the background, several people snorted.
Arthur spluttered. "You..." He took a moment to get his princely bearing. "What the hell does a dollop-head mean anyway?"
"I've told you," Merlin said mock-patiently, like talking to small child, "It's Prince Arthur."
"Shut up." Arthur glared. "I wouldn't expect a girl's petticoat like you to know about the knights' code, so don't speak of things you don't understand."
Gwaine snorted loudly. "Princess, I bet you my bloody savings that dear Merlin here is more of an exemplary knight than all of us combined."
Arthur turned angrily. "Oh, I see how it goes. Dear Merlin," he spat resentfully, "Of course you would know, wouldn't you?"
"Oh both of you, sit down!" Merlin interjected again seeing another possible escalation.
"Merlin! You don't get to order me around."
"Yeah, Merls, kick his stupid ass for me, would ya? Show him who's the bloody girl's petticoat with a jealous streak."
"For the last damn time, Gwaine, stop calling me jealous!" Arthur threw his arms up, infuriated. "And Merlin can't even kick a kitten's ass if he tries. He's a wimp."
"Why would you even kick an innocent kitten's ass?" asked Merlin, affronted - on behalf of the kitten.
"The point is, Merlin," Arthur drawled while rolling his eyes, "You are not a knight. Therefore, you don't insult the knights' code. Are we completely clear? Now off you go to the stocks."
"This is where you're completely wrong, Princess," Gwaine interrupted with a glint in his eyes. "Show him, Merlin. I've got my entire savings riding on you so make sure to completely own his fucking ass." He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively. "If you get what I mean."
Merlin threw him a wide-eyed scandalised look, while Arthur couldn't help but guffawed. "Are you telling me you are serious about betting on Merlin against me - might I remind you I've beaten your damn ass, Sir Gwaine, more times that we could count now-"
"-only because we're in a fucking training environment, your majesty."
"I'm the best fighter in all five kingdoms!"
"And yet my bet is on Merls."
"Alright-alright, Gwaine," Merlin hissed, "Stop provoking him, and Arthur sire, stop being a hotheaded cabbagehead-can't you see he's baiting you, you prat? Oh yes, I might be a wimp but I'm definitely winning and owning your ass in the brain department," he deadpanned. "Much better than all the knightly sword swishing and butting egos anyway."
The moment he finished his words he saw a challenging glint in Arthur's eyes that made him instantly regret saying that.
"Oh really, Merlin? Much better you say? Let's grab a sword then. Fight me," said Arthur with a wide confident grin.
Gwaine looked elated.
Merlin, though, was thrown into a panic.
"What, no!" he looked around quickly, only seeing faces full of anticipation, including Gwaine's.
"Aw, come on, Merlin. Don't be shy," Arthur taunted, now completely immersed in his favourite personal past time - pulling Merlin's figurative pigtails. "Don't want your dear Gwaine to lose all of his meagre savings, don't we?"
"Dear? Arthur, you're an ass," said Merlin with a glare. "Gwaine-for gods sake, Gwaine's goading you-and I don't know why so we'll talk later, okay?" he said with a glower to a chuckling Gwaine.
"Eager to spend time with him again, are you?"
The secret warlock gaped at the honest-to-god sulking prince, shock colouring his face as something finally clicked on his head. But, Arthur couldn't be....
That bloody cabbagehead.
Oh, Merlin could play this game too, while at the same time testing his newfound realisation.
"Fine!" he said - maybe a little bit too confidently for his supposed wimpy servant persona, for he heard gasps from the people watching, but to hell with it, Merlin was feeling bold and quite determined now. He wrenched a sword and a shield from the weapon rack near them.
"Let's do it then, Sire."
Arthur looked taken aback for a moment by Merlin's sheer recklessness, but still, he had never backed down from a challenge before. He raised his eyebrows at his servant's uncharacteristically confident posture, but it was belied by the familiar uncertainty he could still see in Merlin's blue eyes.
"Don't worry, Merlin," smirked Arthur smugly. "I'll go easy on you."
The warrior prince twirled his sword confidently while everyone scrambled to the sides to give the two space. Gwaine clapped an increasingly-uncertain Merlin on the shoulder and winked at him.
"Show him what we've taught you."
"But I'm fighting Arthur," Merlin hurriedly whispered back in agitation.
"So?" Gwaine shrugged. "You know how to push his buttons. Use it to your advantage. Don't make me lose all my money, okay?" When Merlin looked at him with terrified wide eyes, burdened with weight of the world - or maybe just Gwaine's savings this time - Gwaine chuckled easily and whispered, "I never save my money anyway, so he loses either way. If all else fails, just throw your sword away and kiss him, Merls."
And the insufferable knight quickly dashed away before a very embarrassed Merlin could open his mouth in an angry protest.
Everyone apparently had decided to treat this as a spectacle, for suddenly, someone started beating the ceremonial drum, spooking Merlin in the process - though luckily he managed to keep himself from jumping up in surprise. The knights cheered as Arthur basked under the attention. Some servants and peasants who just joined the crowd smiled at Merlin hesitantly, barring Gwaine who unabashedly cheered loudly for his best friend.
The young servant grimaced.
"I'll give you a chance to strike first, Merlin," said Arthur with a playful smile. "Do you know how to strike? Careful there, don't want to take your own head off, do we?"
The knights laughed at the prince's lame joke, and Merlin narrowed his eyes. That prat.
In a move nobody expected, Merlin swiftly closed in on Arthur and thrust his sword to the right, clanging against Arthur's hurriedly raised shield. Strike first, gather momentum, Morgana's voice rang in his head. Without pausing, he redirected the forward motion to an arc over Arthur's shield and the tip of his sword grazed Arthur's upper arm, forcing the prince to jump back. Redirect and find an opening. The memories of his sparring with Gwaine danced in his mind's eye.
A hushed silence fell over the crowd. The graze would be considered first blood if it wasn't for the dulled training swords they were using.
Arthur paused in surprise, now considering Merlin carefully.
"What the hell was that?"
The manservant's lips quirked upwards. "Using a sword, sire," he said, putting as much cheek as he could to his words. "Don't you know how?"
There was an oooh from the crowd.
"I'll show you how to use a sword properly," growled Arthur in return. Amongst the audience, you could hear Gwaine bursting out in laughter.
This time, the prince struck first, a heavy-handed swing that was powerful enough to stagger the slender manservant as he raised his own sword to block. Arthur was relentless - but Gwaine had trained Merlin how to endure. He parried Arthur's vigorous strokes - Gwen's fervent defensive tips came in handy - while looking for his chance to thrust home. Thanks to Gwen, he knew all the weak points in Camelot's standard armours - one of those was currently worn by Arthur. He needed to target those weaknesses. Nevertheless, Arthur was a glorious whirlwind, a ferocious fighter living up to his reputation, and it took all Merlin had to keep up.
It really, really did not help that the sunlight haloed the prince's golden hair, and the warlock had to forcefully shut down a part of him that yearned before he lost focus.
While Merlin was deep concentrating, he did not notice how Arthur was also panting hard trying to get more leverage. Shock tore at his mind.
Merlin was good.
Merlin was more than good.
And it was the hottest thing Arthur had ever seen.
He was agile in the way that Arthur was sturdy. He was quick and determined in the way that Arthur was strong and experienced. Bright blue eyes narrowed in stubbornness and defiance, and that slender body apparently hid more strength than it let on.
Arthur found himself not exactly holding back, but giving his all to this strange dance that they both found themselves in - and his blood sang like he had found the perfect partner who was completely his opposite but also his compliment in all the ways.
When did Merlin get this good?
A stray ray of sun hit Merlin at just the right angle, and in Arthur's sight, it made the blues of Merlin's irises shine a beautiful gold - and the prince was mesmerised for a split second.
A split second was all that was needed for his sword to fly off his hand as Merlin twisted his blade and disarmed him, while at the same time, the slight young man unexpectedly threw his whole weight on top of Arthur, knocking off both of their shields. They tumbled down to the grass together.
Time seemed to froze as Arthur felt the tip of Merlin's training sword pointing at his neck. He looked up and saw Merlin's wide eyes staring back.
"Do you yield?" huffed the servant breathlessly.
Arthur couldn't help it. He laughed.
His laugh rang across the field where everyone was silent in shock, flabbergasted at the turn of events.
Merlin pouted, and Arthur's eyes were inadvertently drawn to his lips, laughter dying out.
His very pink, kissable lips.
And his own lips dried up as awareness of their compromising position crept to his mind, especially when he was already hard, and he could feel himself pressing on Merlin's thigh.
"Merlin...," he whispered.
Merlin's usual blue eyes darkened above him, and the young man licked his own lips. Arthur swallowed.
"So, did I win?" Merlin murmured, his voice rough.
"Yes...," The prince mustered his much-praised bravery and lifted a hand to trace the sharp contour of those cheekbones above him.
He could feel Merlin's breathless gasp.
He took the plunge.
"I really want to kiss you now."
"Funny," replied Merlin, his face broke into a blinding smile that took Arthur's whole breath away. "That's what I really want to do too, clotpole."
It wasn't clear who did it first, but neither of them cared. Arthur's fingers were buried in Merlin's mop of dark hair, pulling him down - and Merlin had, rather eagerly, abandoned the sword and started kissing his prince. It was incredibly soft and beautiful in its simplicity - everything that Arthur could possibly ever want and more. At the moment, the whole world ceased to exist. He wasn't the crown prince, and Merlin wasn't the servant he'd been harbouring forbidden feelings for.
They were simply, Arthur and Merlin.
Arthur gently flipped their bodies so he was on top of Merlin, and they broke the kiss, both breathless and exhilarated. And the world slowly came around in the form of cheers and whooping from the crowd around them.
Under him, Merlin looked so happy - Arthur wanted to keep that happiness forever on that beloved's face. His blue eyes sparkled beautifully as he regarded Arthur with his loving gaze.
Arthur had one more trick to pull, however.
Playfully, he traced the pale skin of Merlin's long neck with his fingers - that darn neckerchief still obscuring most of it, though.
"Do you yield?"
Merlin's laugh, he decided, was one of the most beautiful things he ever heard in his whole life.
Gwaine was the first person to offer his congratulations, and cheerfully demanded his betting wins from a grumbling prince. However, once it was cleared up how Gwaine had been purposefully trying to incite Arthur's repressed jealousy, as well as his whole motivation of training Merlin to fight with a sword in the first place - Arthur thanked the knight profusely.
They were besties now. Really.
(Gwaine still reserved the right to call Arthur "Princess" and gave the "if you hurt my best friend" relationship talk, though.)
Gwen and Morgana also offered Merlin their congratulations, much to Arthur's mock-disgruntlement, as well as support for his and Arthur's new relationship. Much to her brother's embarrassment, Morgana winked at a red-faced Merlin and loudly complimented him for making Arthur yield and kiss him first.
The duel between the prince and the servant, as everyone had started to call it, became the talk of the town. The good thing was that Merlin had now gained the respect - and even fear - of the knights under Uther's service. All of his friends in the servants quarters looked at him differently now - and that was the bad news. He could no longer be the unseen servant under Arthur's shadow.
Much to Merlin's consternation, there were even talks of recruiting him as a knight.
And then, there was the matter of his magic not being revealed yet. It would be much harder to hide and save the kingdom from the shadows now.
But that was a story for another day.
A gif of Merlin fighting with a sword for illustration :)