“Gwaine!” Leon yelled, “Stop preening your hair and go check everyone's packs."
Gwaine didn't respond to Leon's shout other than flipping his hair dramatically. He looked his reflection over in a puddle at his feet, grinning and winking at it.
“You can flirt with yourself later. Get to work!” Leon urged again, but Gwaine continued gazing at himself lovingly. Just when Leon was about to walk over and smack him upside the head, Gwaine sent him another grin and a wink, turned around, and sauntered off down the line of horses as if checking everyone's gear had been his idea.
Before Leon could shout any choice words at Gwaine, he was distracted by the clopping of hooves and someone’s angry muttering behind him. A rather peeved looking Arthur was stomping out of the stables, leading Hengeron behind him. The horse’s dark coat gleamed where the sun glanced off of it.
“Sire? Is anything wrong?” questioned Leon.
“Why would anything be wrong, Sir Leon?” Arthur replied, surprisingly calm. Leon thought he had misread him until Arthur turned his gaze on Leon. It was the look of calm that Leon knew could turn into rage with one misspoken word.
“Uh- well. . .” Leon started, wishing he hadn’t asked. As much as he admired Arthur, the man also had a tendency to get mad at people for no reason when he was really upset about something else.
“Uh, well- what Leon?” parroted Arthur.
Think of something! Leon’s desperate attention caught on Hengeron’s standing behind Arthur. “Well, I only wondered if something was wrong with Llamrei, My Lord? You usually prefer to ride her on our longer expeditions, I thought perhaps something had happened to her.”
“Nothing is wrong with Llamrei, I simply don’t feel like working with the little traitor,” Arthur muttered.
“The. . . traitor? Your horse?” Leon’s fear turned into confusion. Arthur seemed to take pity on his clearly befuddled Lieutenant, his shoulders relaxing as some of his rage fizzled out of him.
“Yes, my horse Leon,” he sighed. He seemed to refocus, the angry line of his shoulders relaxing. “Are all the trainees ready to go yet?”
Leon opened his mouth to respond when Gwaine popped up out of seemingly nowhere, wrapping his arms around Arthur from behind.
“Princess!” he crowed, ”Why the long face? You should be ecstatic, you get to spend four whole weeks with yours truly!” Arthur flailed at the sudden attack, trying to free his arms from Gwaine’s bear hug. But Gwaine wasn’t called one of the best knights of Camelot for nothing, and he maintained his hold on the wriggling Prince. The two stumbled back a few paces, Arthur tried to dislodge Gwaine by pushing him back into the side of the stables.
“Unhand me or I’ll put you in the stocks you- hmmpff,” He grunted as Gwaine squeezed him even tighter, grinning like a loon.
“Not until you tell me what’s wrong, my love!” Gwaine somehow managed to say through his shit-eating grin.
“Leon! Get him off of me!” Arthur commanded. His face was turning a somewhat alarming shade of red. But Leon didn’t fancy getting in between Arthur and Gwaine when they were having a spat. He stayed where he was, doing his best to look apologetic. Judging by Arthur’s increased cursing, he hadn’t done a very good job of hiding his laughter. As much as Leon had to yell at Gwaine to keep him in line, he had to admit that he had a soft spot for him.
Before the tussle evolved into an actual brawl, Leon figured he should do something.
“Apparently his horse has wronged him in some way. He seemed rather upset about it.” Leon informed Gwaine, ignoring the death glare Arthur sent his way.
“Awwwwwwwww, Princey” Gwaine crooned, ”did your innocent little mare do something to upset you?” He spun Arthur around so they were face to face, “Don’t you worry, Sir Gwaine is here to save you from the big, bad horsey.”
Turning Arthur to face him was Gwaine’s fatal mistake, and Arthur wasted no time in twisting his arms backwards, which had Gwaine yelping in pain. Arthur sent him falling to the ground with one well-placed kick. He stepped out of reach of Gwaine, who had started laughing when he hit the cobblestones.
Leon sighed again. “Really, Gwaine?”
“Oh, a little horseplay is good for the Princess,” Gwaine laughed from where he laid on the ground. “Now he’ll forget all about whatever he had in underpants in a twist about before.” Leon wasn’t about to admit he kind of agreed with Gwaine’s logic. Now Arthur would be too busy being pissed at Gwaine to think about other things.
“Get on your horse, Gwaine. You get to babysit the newbies this trip,” Arthur grinned ferally down at him.
Groaning, Gwaine got back on his feet. “Fine. If I’m with the greenhorns, I want Merlin with me,” he bartered. Gwaine loved nothing more than stealing Merlin from Arthur at every opportunity. He also loved goading Arthur, and there was no better way to do that than by trying to steal Merlin.
“You can have him.” said Arthur, some of his petulance from before returning.
Leon and Gwaine both blinked at Arthur. He had never let Gwaine steal Merlin away so easily.
“What- really?” Gwaine replied, looking as surprised as Leon felt. “Where has he got off to, anyway? I haven’t seen him glued to your side today.” Gwine teased, getting some of his swagger back.
Instead of answering, Arthur pointed angrily back at the stables. He turned and stalked to the open doors. Exchanging a glance, Leon and Gwaine followed him over to bay doors and stuck their heads in, looking for what Arthur was so peeved about.
His eyes took a second to adjust to the darkness, and once they did, Leon saw what had so angered their dear sovereign. Laying on his back in the hay, dead asleep, was Merlin. He had balled up his jacket and was using it as a pillow. Standing over him was Arthur’s mare Llamrei.
“Look!” growled Arthur, “My own horse, for God’s sake!”
When Gwaine tried to approach Merlin to wake him up, Llamrei angrily shoved him back with her nose, snorting. Trying to get to Merlin again produced the same result, this time with some indignant-sounding whinnying. Gwaine started laughing again at the sight of Arthur glaring at his horse as if she had deeply wounded him. Leon couldn’t fight the chuckling coming out of him.
“She won’t even let me get close. Me!” he yelled, turning away from his horse as if he couldn’t stand to look at her. The sound of Leon and Gwaine’s laughter and Arthur’s yelling seemed to be enough to wake Merlin, who shifted about in the hay. After a few seconds, his eyes opened and he blinked up at them groggily.
“What happened?” he mumbled.
“You’re fired, that's what’s happened,”Arthur told him, turning back to glare down at Merlin this time. Threat of unemployment didn’t seem to rouse Merlin any faster. Then again, Arthur did threaten to sack him at least once a week.
Merlin pet Llamrei’s snout where she had bent down to nibble at his shirt. “Hey.” he said quietly.
Gwaine guffawed, “Oh Merlin. Never change, my friend.” Merlin grinned up at Gwaine, his sleepiness evaporating.
“Of course not.” he replied, “You’d get bored, wouldn’t you Arthur?” Merlin’s shit- eating grin and Gwaine’s were remarkably similar, Leon noticed. Arthur’s only response to his manservant was to flash a rather rude hand gesture in Merlin's direction.
Gwaine extended his hand to pull Merlin up, staying a safe distance away from Llamrei’s teeth, “Come on, mate, it’s time to wake up.”
Merlin reached up and grabbed Gwaine’s hand, letting the knight pull him to a standing position. Llamrei seemed to have no issue with them now that Merlin had woken up. Bits of hay stuck out of Merlin’s hair as he got to his feet, which she plucked out of his hair like a human mother would do.
“Are we leaving soon?” he questioned.
“Yes Merlin, if you could get off your ass we’d all like to leave now.” Arthur growled at him.
Uncaring about the murderous Prince in front of him, Merlin brushed his clothes off as if he had intended to pass out so close to horse dung.
“I need my horse first,” he said.
“Well since you seem to love each other so much why don’t you take Llamrei, I’m sure she’d be ecstatic to have you.” Arthur spat at him.
“Why thank you my Lord, I will,” Merlin grinned at him, purposely taking his sarcasm seriously.
Arthur only sputtered at him as Merlin turned around to ready Llamrei. Leon figured he should divert Arthur before he committed murder. “Shall we get everyone mounted and ready to go, My Lord?” he asked.
“ Yes, Sir Leon. Thank you.” The prince replied through gritted teeth. He took the still grinning Gwaine by the arm and marched him out of the stables, not trusting him on his own. Probably a wise decision, Leon thought.
Merlin saddled Llamrei in record time, and joined everyone in the courtyard before Leon had even gotten on his own horse. He looked towards the front of the group at Arthur, but seemed to think better of riding alongside him. He pulled Llamrei up alongside Gwaine instead.
After they had set out, Arthur’s rage at Merlin and his horse didn’t last long. Both men pretended to be upset with each other, but by the time they made camp for the night, Merlin had abandoned Gwaine with the newbies and resumed his place at Arthur’s right side.
Over the next four weeks of travelling, Leon couldn’t help his smile at the sight of Merlin and Arthur riding side by side, both on royal steeds. The two made quite the sight for anyone who knew anything about horses. The mounts Arthur had were the cream of the crop, typically ridden only by members of the court or royal family. Or as Gwaine liked to point out repeatedly, and always within earshot of Arthur, a lover of the prince would have ridden.