It began, as many things do, with an offensively attired sorcerer trying to assassinate King Arthur.
Somewhere in the middle of things, a ceiling had collapsed, and Merlin had found out that the sorcerer had a really unpleasant laugh -- why did they always have to cackle? -- and decided that seriously, five sorcerers in two months was annoying.
Thus, when the sorcerer collapsed yet another ceiling, Merlin snapped.
In other words: Merlin had raised one hand and halted the large chunks of rock as they hung glowing and suspended above the knight’s heads, and with a mildly disapproving expression, lifted his other hand and swatted the terrified sorcerer into a wall.
But still. That was no excuse for Arthur to be shocked into silence. Merlin practically had to hold his hand throughout the entire conversation that followed. Although ‘conversation’ was a bit of a misnomer, because after Merlin had fixed the ceiling Arthur was still incapable of speech, and most of the knights were looking at each other and trying to figure out if they should pretend they hadn’t known all along.
Merlin had stood very seriously in front of Arthur, who was still not talking, and said, “Arthur, I have magic. I’m not going to kill you and you probably don’t know what to do with me, so I’m going to save you the trouble and lock myself into a cell until you’re ready to talk, alright?”
Maybe he shouldn’t have patted Arthur reassuringly, but Arthur shouldn’t have been gaping like a fish and looking like a kicked puppy. There really wasn’t much of his dignity left that he could salvage from that. Especially because Merlin nodded cheerfully to the knights as he left the room and walked calmly to the dungeons, picking up a couple of apples along the way.
It was all part of the plan.
The plan went a bit awry sometimes, admitted Merlin privately, as Arthur stomped into the dungeons with enough force to send his guards scattering.
“Merlin,” he growled.
“Arthur,” replied Merlin cheerily. “Are you alright?”
Arthur shook the bars of Merlin’s cell to no great effect. “No, I am not alright. My castle was trashed by a mad sorcerer, and my manservant turned out to be a mad sorcerer! I am most definitely not alright.”
“Oh,” said Merlin. “Well. About that.”
Arthur took a deep breath and visibly calmed himself down. “Merlin. You’re a sorcerer.”
“Yes,” said Merlin clearly. “I was born with my magic.”
“You’ve been lying to me.”
Merlin looked away from Arthur’s wounded stare. “I had to.”
“I wouldn’t- I’m not going to execute you,” said Arthur, trying to keep the hurt from his voice, and not succeeding very well.
Merlin interrupted, “You can’t let me go. Not yet. I mean it, Arthur. People saw me using magic. People will know, and magic is illegal.”
“I know,” said Arthur irritatedly. “All the same, I’m not going to let you be executed.”
Merlin smiled, and chose not to point out that there was no way he would be executed if he didn’t want to be. “Aww, thanks.”
“Shut up,” said Arthur, “I still don’t know what to do with you.”
Merlin leant back and closed his eyes. “Figure something out,” he said, and waited for Arthur to leave. “I’m not going anywhere.”
When Gwaine came to visit, he found Merlin lying on what looked like an extremely comfortable duvet.
“Where did you get that?” he said in surprise.
Merlin stirred and sat up. “Gwaine?” He prodded the duvet and it rolled up neatly in the corner, his eyes fading from gold as he looked at Gwaine speculatively. “How do you think?”
Gwaine thought about it for a while. “Did you make it out of thin air, or did you teleport into someone’s chambers, or did someone sneak it in to you?”
A smile broke across Merlin’s face. “The first, actually.”
“Ah,” said Gwaine, nodding sagely. “I brought mead.”
Merlin stuck his hand through the bars and wiggled, and the bottle flew into his palm. “I knew there was a reason you were my favourite,” he said happily, and conjured mugs from the wall.
“Gwen!” said Merlin nervously, as the queen approached his cell. “Er. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, I really should have, but I didn’t want to put you in that position, you know? I have never hurt Arthur, I swear, except for the times that I did on accident and maybe when I needed to knock him out so that I could do magic in secret, but I have never deliberately permanently hurt him. Gwen?”
Gwen stood in front of Merlin’s cell, hands on hips, her dress flared and regal and completely incompatible with the dungeon around her. Merlin faltered.
“Merlin,” she began, and then she smiled. “Arthur’s sulking, and it seems like he may take a while. Do you need anything?”
Merlin perked up hopefully. “Could you get me any banned books?”
When the cry of “Sorcerer!” went about the castle, Arthur had a moment of brief panic before he firmly told himself that he was king and he had the best knights around and there was absolutely no need to panic, Merlin-less or not.
Until the sorcerer (dressed in pink robes this time, honestly) locked him and his best knights in a cellar and set it on fire, cackling evilly. Arthur spared a moment to think I never, ever want to hear Merlin’s version of an evil laugh before he tried to run the sorcerer through with his sword.
‘Tried’ being the operative word -- he was flung back before he could reach the sorcerer, and was about to despair when the magically locked door was flung open and someone very familiar stalked into the room and extinguished the flames with an impatient wave, and tossed the sorcerer out of the window.
Arthur pointed a finger at the newcomer accusingly. "Merlin!"
"Who, me?" said the person in surprise. “I can’t be Merlin. I don’t look like Merlin.”
"Yes, you do," Arthur gritted out. "You're wearing a mask. I can actually see your neckerchief."
"Oh," said Merlin, and with a crackle the neckerchief disappeared. "You were saying?" he said brightly.
Arthur put his head in his hands and sighed.
Merlin said, "Anyway, I couldn't possibly be Merlin. Merlin's been imprisoned for two weeks, surely he must be rotting in the dungeons while he waits for the king to get over himself and visit him so they could actually talk. My lord."
Arthur glared. "Merlin," he complained eloquently, waving his sword about. “Stop that.”
"I'm not Merlin," said Merlin. "I'm just another benevolent sorcerer, because we're so common around these parts - by which I mean of course you'll find plenty of sorcerers willing to save your sorry royal arse in Camelot, so of course you shouldn't at all be feeling slightly guilty about leaving one such benevolent sorcerer locked in a cell for, I repeat, two weeks, you prat."
Arthur frowned. Merlin amended, "I mean, my lord."
There was a laugh from one of the knights, who turned it into a smothered cough. Arthur looked around suspiciously.
Merlin cleared his throat. “On behalf of this benevolent sorcerer, I do humbly beseech your highness to cease, as it were, ‘moping around’, and walk the very few flights of stairs in between here and the dungeons, and thereupon hold a mature conversation with the sorcerer, as exemplified in this very conversation. Sire.”
Arthur glowered. “A mature conversation indeed.”
“I haven’t thrown you out of the window,” said Merlin pointedly. “Yet.”
“Fine,” said Arthur, holding up his head in a dignified manner, smiling tightly at Merlin. “I shall make my way to the dungeons right this instant and converse with this imprisoned sorcerer, shall I?”
Merlin took a step back. “Right this instant?”
Arthur smiled. “Right this instant. Oh, and as a fellow ‘benevolent sorcerer’, maybe you would like to keep me company on the way?”
“Surely there’s no need,” said Merlin, adjusting his mask hurriedly. “Merlin is most assuredly in his cell. Where he most definitely did not escape from. In fact, I’ll go check right now-” and then he disappeared in a puff of acrid smoke.
Arthur punched the wall, scowling, and coughed. Bloody sorcerers.
“Why are you still here?”
Merlin looked up from his book and sighed. “Ah, Gwaine. I was hoping it’d be Arthur, but tough luck, eh?”
Gwaine grinned. "His highness is still sulking, I'm afraid. Why haven't you - you know, disappeared yet? Since you can do the poofing thing and all?" He waved his arms around to demonstrate.
Merlin looked wide-eyed and innocent. It was very disarming. "I don't know what you mean. I've been in my cell for two weeks. It's very comfortable. Why would I need to disappear?"
"Oh, I'm serious though!" said Merlin, laughing. "I do like my cell. Here, I'll show you around. Come in," he beamed, and with a small look the lock clicked open.
Gwaine took a step back and looked around at the guards, who were pointedly not looking in their direction.
Merlin whispered conspiratorially, "I sneak them food from Arthur's cook."
"Ah," Gwaine nodded understandingly. He bid the remnants of his sanity farewell and stepped into Merlin's cell.
"Oh, hell," he said. It was bigger on the inside.
Merlin grinned at him. "I know!"
The next time a sorcerer invaded the castle, it was a sorceress, and she poisoned Arthur’s food. She was also defenestrated.
“Idiot,” said Merlin lowly, as he watched Arthur toss and turn on Gaius’s bed. The knights crowded round worriedly.
Merlin sighed. “Get out.”
More than one knight looked disappointed. Merlin crossed his hands over his chest firmly. “Get out, and I was never here.”
Percival said earnestly, “But we just want to see the golden... thing. Do you want a mask?”
“Oh for-” Merlin took a mask from his extended hand and resolutely did not think about how or why it was there. “Shut up and let me concentrate.”
As the knights shuffled in obedience, he said clearly and powerfully, “Gestepe hole! Þurhhæle!”
After the space of two heartbeats, Arthur breathed cleanly, and Merlin’s eyes faded from gold.
“Well,” said Gaius loudly, and all the knights jumped. “Time for all of you to get out.”
“What,” said Arthur.
Merlin jerked his head up and looked distinctly guilty. Possibly because he was reading a banned book while lying on a feather duvet in a cell.
Were those paintings hanging on the wall?
“Arthur!” said Merlin, obviously trying for joviality. “Nice of you to finally visit.”
“What,” repeated Arthur, for lack of sufficiently expressive words. “Are those paintings from my chambers?”
Merlin shrugged. “You never seemed to notice them before. And I wanted a change of scenery. It gets kind of boring, stuck here, down in the dungeons, waiting for three weeks. Not that you should feel terrible about that, or anything.”
“Yes,” said Arthur slowly. “I shouldn’t, especially because you have magical books and a feather duvet and my paintings to keep you company. But most definitely because you routinely sneak out of your cell to obtain contraband items and to defeat rogue sorcerers assaulting the castle.”
“Who, me?” said Merlin, the very picture of innocence.
Arthur threw up his hands in frustration. “Arghh! Yes, you! I don’t understand you at all! Why would you come to Camelot if you knew the penalty for magic is death? And why would you save me! So many times! And then not tell me about it!”
Merlin looked at Arthur seriously. “Destiny makes you do sucky things. And I think you know why. So figure out what you’re going to do about it. And about Camelot.”
Arthur groaned. “This conversation is not over,” he warned, and stalked away.
Then he turned. “By the way, have you seen my knights? I can’t seem to find them anywhere.”
If anything, Merlin looked more shifty than before. “No, not at all.”
Arthur narrowed his eyes and left.
Then there was another sorcerer, and more defenestration, and then there was the night after.
“I cannot believe you,” hissed Arthur, prodding Merlin’s back through the bars. “You’re throwing a party in honour of yourself, in your cell.”
“What?” said Merlin, turning around and looking for all the world like the very idea of throwing a party in his cell was mortally offensive. Arthur would be more fooled by the expression if he hadn’t seen Merlin wear it when he was trying to get out of being punished for not cleaning his socks.
“Don’t lie to me!” Arthur glared. “I saw Sir Leon disappear into your cell. Literally! He disappeared when he walked in. With mead.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” scoffed Merlin, eyes bright with laughter. “Gwaine brought mead. Sir Leon brought wine.”
Arthur looked around despairingly. “How are you doing this? Where did your guards go?”
Merlin’s eyes flickered towards a completely empty corner in his cell. Arthur caught the movement. “What.”
“Nowhere!” protested Merlin quickly. “They’re just.. on a break.”
“A break,” said Arthur flatly.
“Yes,” agreed Merlin. “A well deserved break.”
“In your cell.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Not specifically,” said Arthur. “But I did, and I’m the king.”
Merlin sighed. “Kings should not follow their knights into their own dungeons. It’s unbecoming.”
“Knights should not keep secrets from their king!”
Merlin stifled a laugh. “Oh, Arthur. You’re not actually mad that I’m having a magical party in my cell, you’re mad that you weren’t invited!”
Arthur pulled back, stung. Merlin stretched out a hand. “I didn’t mean it like that. Of course you’re welcome, but I didn’t think you’d actually want to be anywhere near this place for a few more weeks at least, given your track record. I figured you’d need at least another two or three sorcerers trying to destroy Camelot before you gave in,” said Merlin, eyes twinkling.
Arthur gaped. “Have you been sending the sorcerers?”
Merlin’s voice immediately grew hard. “No, of course not. Did you miss the part where I threw them out of the window?”
Arthur shut his mouth, wincing. “I didn’t mean it like that, either.”
Merlin said, “I know. Do you want to come in?”
He grinned, and with a flash of gold, the door to his cell creaked open. Arthur stared. “Do I want to come in to your magical party, in your cell.”
“Yeah,” nodded Merlin. “Sounds about right.”
Arthur thought about it. “Wine, you say?”
“I should have done this ages ago,” said Merlin, patting Arthur’s back fondly.
“What?” said Arthur sleepily. He vaguely recalled making an announcement of some sort, and then getting terribly sloshed. Perhaps that was why he was lying with his head against the table.
“Got you drunk in a magical party inside the dungeons. I can’t wait for the official announcement,” beamed Merlin. “It really boosts your decision making skills. I’m so proud of you.”
“Hmm?” asked Arthur.
“For deciding to repeal the ban on magic, of course.”
Oh. That sounds right, Arthur thought fuzzily, and smiled, and slept.