Arthur's face says very clearly, I am not marrying a goblin.
Merlin looks around them at the army of little goblins. That is, the goblins are little; the army is decidedly not. Nor are their swords. They all have them raised, sharp tips pointing at Arthur, except for the goblin princess who is waiting for his response to her marriage proposal - or rather, marriage demand - with her hands on her hips.
She’s about two and a half feet tall, extremely smelly, and has so far demonstrated she has the temperament of an angry toddler. Also, this whole situation is Arthur’s fault: he’s the one who insisted on exploring this part of the woods, and then demanded “Don’t you know who I am?” when faced with an army of angry goblins. The goblins had not known who he was, and he should’ve left it that way, because when they found out he was a king, they promptly produced their leader - a goblin princess who’s apparently been looking for a suitably royal husband - who promptly made said marriage demand. So, Merlin returns Arthur's look with a huge smirk that says equally clearly, I rather think you are marrying a goblin, and also it serves you right.
Arthur glares at him.
“Look,” Arthur says to the goblin. “I’m very honoured by your offer, but the thing is…”
Merlin and the goblins lean in to hear what the thing is. Merlin hopes it’s a very good, convincing thing, because otherwise they’re probably going to be skewered by furious goblins.
“The thing is,” Arthur repeats, “I’m already betrothed.”
The goblin princess crosses her arms and does not look convinced. “To whom?”
Merlin is also very interested in hearing the answer to this question, because Arthur is very much not betrothed. When Arthur looks to him for help, Merlin just sarcastically raises his eyebrows to tell Arthur he’s on his own here, actually.
He immediately regrets that, because Arthur raises his eyebrows right back at him in a way that tells Merlin exactly what he’s going to say next. And it is not good.
“To Merlin,” Arthur says, nodding over at Merlin, because it wouldn’t do to not make it really clear to the angry goblin princess just who her rival in love is. “I’m betrothed to Merlin.”
The goblin princess turns to stare at Merlin like he’s a piece of dung. She looks extremely unimpressed. In fact, her expression is very similar to the one Arthur has when looking at her. Merlin's starting to think they could be perfect for each other.
“He’s better than me?” she demands indignantly.
“I’m sure you’d be a much more advantageous match,” Arthur says, with a bit of a sneer at Merlin. Then he puts on a besotted expression and continues dramatically, “But we cannot control our hearts.”
That makes all the goblins drop their swords and say “Oooohhhhh,” simultaneously. Some of them break out into beaming smiles directed at Merlin and Arthur. It’s more than a little creepy, even if Merlin’s relieved they’ve lowered their swords.
“Oh, well, it’s different if it’s a love match,” the goblin princess says, but she doesn’t look nearly as happy as her countrymen.
“I’m glad you understand,” Arthur says.
"Of course. We goblins greatly value true love," the princess says.
Merlin can see that from the other goblins' reactions, but he doesn't think the princess really means it.
"It's just so wonderful that you have each other,” the princess continues. “Please allow me to give you a gift to celebrate your love.”
She smiles at them. It's a very a crafty smile. Merlin is not reassured in the slightest.
"Oh, well, that's very kind, but not necessary," Arthur says.
The goblin princess ignores him and roots around in her bag. She comes up holding a necklace. All the other goblins go "Oooohhhhh" again and start whispering excitedly.
"That's really not necessary," Arthur says, more emphatically this time, because the necklace is a big gaudy thing, with one huge red stone in the shape of a heart.
"It's the proper way to celebrate your love," the goblin princess insists. "When your true love puts it around your neck, it will glow."
The other goblins nod enthusiastically.
Uh oh. Now Merlin gets why she's giving them a present even though she's pissed off. It’s not actually a present - it's a test. She can tell Arthur's lying and she's going to prove it.
Arthur's gone a bit pale, and he sends Merlin a worried look. Merlin would be delighted Arthur's vindictive lies were catching up with him, if it didn't mean they were both about to get stabbed.
The goblin princess is holding the necklace out to Merlin expectantly. Arthur nods to it.
"Go on, then," he says, his voice weird in a way Merlin can't identify.
Merlin cannot believe his ears. He catches Arthur’s gaze and then darts a pointed look at the massed goblins. They're peaceful now, because they apparently swoon over the least hint of romance, but they're going to be right back with the pointy swords as soon as they realize Arthur's lying.
Arthur shakes his head, like that's somehow not a concern, and gestures for Merlin to get on with it.
Merlin takes the necklace - exchanging hateful looks with the goblin princess as he does so - and goes up to Arthur with it.
"You have some sort of plan, right?" he demands under his breath.
"Yes," Arthur says, but he still looks weird about it in some way Merlin can't identify.
“These goblins are going to kill us,” Merlin hisses.
“I’m insulted. You think I couldn’t take on a hundred goblins?” Arthur whispers, his tone not really managing to hit light or joking.
If that’s Arthur’s plan, they’re doomed. There might be another way out of this without getting stabbed, though. If the necklace glows when you’re in love with the person who put it on you, then it won’t glow if Merlin puts it on Arthur… but it would glow if Arthur put it on Merlin.
Because Merlin’s been in love with him for years.
He wasn’t planning on ever telling Arthur. He doesn’t want to risk their friendship with his unrequited feelings. But, if the other choice is both of them getting skewered on goblin swords…
“Here,” he mutters, shoving the necklace at Arthur. “Put it on me.”
Arthur’s silent for a moment, and Merlin doesn’t dare look up at him. Then, “Merlin. Are you in love with me?”
“You’re not allowed to make fun,” Merlin snaps, because he can see out of the corner of his eye that Arthur’s starting to smile, and Merlin couldn’t stand it if he turned this into a joke.
“I’m not!” Arthur says, even though he’s beaming. He’s practically laughing. “No, don’t be so suspicious, Merlin. I’m not a complete arse. Look.”
He takes Merlin by the wrists and makes Merlin put the necklace on him.
“You’re in love with me?” Merlin breathes.
“Yes,” Arthur says. “Completely, entirely in love with you. And you’re not allowed to make fun of me, either.”
“Why would I make fun of you?” Merlin asks.
“My extremely poor taste,” Arthur says, grinning hugely at Merlin walking into his joke, because he is a complete arse.
Merlin stomps on his foot. And then, since that put his face right near Arthur’s, he kisses him.
It might’ve been a romantic moment if not for all the clapping goblins.
Merlin and Arthur draw back from each other at the reminder that they have an (overly invested) audience. They’re still holding on to each other, and for a moment they just look into each other’s eyes. Arthur’s are filled with so much warmth and happiness and affection that Merlin really, really wishes the goblins weren’t here right now.
The goblin princess clears her throat. They turn to look at her; she’s crossed her arms, apparently tired of being ignored, but she has stopped glaring and looks a little softer in the light of the glowing necklace.
“Thanks very much for the present,” Arthur tells her cheerfully. “We’d love it if you came to the wedding.”
A few months later, Merlin’s helping Arthur dress in his fanciest clothes. He looks splendid in his best cloak and polished armour and crown. He’s almost breathtakingly majestic.
Merlin's going to completely spoil it.
"I think you’re forgetting something," he says, and gleefully pulls out the necklace from the drawer where Arthur has been trying to hide it.
Arthur groans. "No. That thing is hideous.”
Objectively, Arthur is right. And yet Merlin is extremely fond of making Arthur wear it. It glows brighter whenever he looks at Merlin, and especially bright when Merlin smiles at him or touches him or makes fun of him. (Arthur denies that last one, but Merlin insists it’s true.)
"Too bad," Merlin says. "You have to wear it. Otherwise, it will deeply offend our cherished goblin allies. They’ll be horrified that you didn’t wear this beautiful symbol of our love at our wedding."
“It’s a safety hazard. It could blind people,” Arthur tries, backing away.
“I’m willing to take that chance,” Merlin says, following him.
Arthur narrows his eyes at him, but when Merlin corners him, he bows his head to let Merlin put the necklace on.
It glows brighter than ever against Arthur's chest. Merlin beams smugly at it. Even after a couple months of making Arthur wear it, Merlin hasn’t gotten tired of seeing the necklace glow and being reminded that Arthur loves him.
Arthur smiles too, in spite of all his complaining. “Come on,” he says. “Let’s go get married.”