Arthur woke up to a stiff neck and a cold bed. Sunlight was streaming in through the cracks in the canopy and he mused that he must have gotten up quite late if Merlin had already slipped out. At that moment, the servant bounded in with a breakfast tray of apples and honey glazed bread and tea.
“Good morning sire,” Merlin said with the door open, yet when he closed and locked it, he strode over and kissed Arthur’s forehead murmuring “missed you.”
Arthur curled his hand around his neck and brought him in for a real kiss, then turned to the food in front of him. Taking an apple slice and biting into it, he asked “What do I have today?”
“Meeting with council first thing, lunch with Gwen and the knights and then,” Merlin’s voice grew quiet, “petitions in the afternoon.”
Arthur sighed, thinking of his kingdom in crisis. After Cenred’s last threat of attack Camelot had to be on high alert. Still, he knew it was much less than his father had to deal with: an endless ten year war with Essetirian controlled Mercia that caused riots and anger at home, and a King of Essetir keeping his people hostage withholding food and supplies.
Merlin pulled Arthur up out of bed and began dressing him, warm hands skimming over Arthur’s chest and stomach, and Arthur leaned into the touch for a moment. Merlin kissed him again, warm and gentle until he pushed away, saying “That’s enough for now sire, you can’t be late.”
Arthur grumbled and continued pulling on his soft jacket, taking a piece of the honeyed toast. He looked to Merlin, “Eat. I’ll be back soon.”
“Thank you” Merlin replied softly as he poured the tea into two chalices, looking at Arthur. “You’re okay right? With everything that’s going on I…”
Arthur considered the table where the breakfast tray lay for a moment. “I’m… alright. I’m just worried, there’s talk of riots from lords raising cost of rent around the kingdom, especially the outlying villages. And this damn virus…” he trailed off and Merlin saw the hurt in his eyes, hurt that he still was not able to do anything to help his people.
Merlin covered his hands with his own, “You’re doing everything you can, Arthur. Your people love and support you.”
Arthur nodded and whispered his thanks and straightened his back, and his old self reappeared. “Clean this room while I’m gone and ask Morgana if Queen Mithian has responded yet, I’ll be back soon.” Quickly, he kissed Merlin again and strode out the door.
The Council was the same as it always was, old rich men that had been doing the same thing for the past half century. They wanted lower taxes and a large military, and many were still wary of magic in court, even with the late king’s ward as Court Sorcerer and the new king’s manservant as unofficial Court Sorcerer-plus-physician’s-apprentice. Arthur disagreed with them on most issues because he thought them old and out of touch, while they thought he was young and naive. Sirs Bors and Bedivere suggested again to keep troops ready if Cenred was to attack after the hostage situation in the year previous but Arthur dismissed that, saying the last thing he wanted was another war.
Council seemed to drag on even farther after that, with reports of unemployment and low grain stores. They again demanded Morgana marry, mentioning Bayard’s sons and Arthur wanted nothing less than to marry his sister off to a stranger whose kingdom they had just made peace with.
Finally, Merlin appeared at his right to say lunch was served in the private dining hall and Arthur gratefully exited the audience room to eat with his wife and the knights. He sat down at the head of the table next to Merlin and Guinevere along with Morgana, Lancelot, Leon, Elyan and Percival. There were no servants attending them so they poured their own wine and were able to talk as friends without fear of being overheard. Lancelot spoke freely to Guinevere as lovers should and Merlin at Arthur’s right was engaged in a detailed conversation about healing charms with Morgana while sending Arthur reassuring smiles. Leon and Elyan joked and bantered, and the King noticed they even got Percival to smile and talk. After Gwaine passed away from the virus during the winter, Percival became secluded and silent, only seen at training. Percival drank the remedy for the virus Gaius prescribed: alpine zebrawood tea along with Arthur and Merlin and half of Camelot. Merlin always said he was “living with, not dying from disease” and Arthur always liked the sentiment. Still, he had named Sir Leon to take his place if he ever was taken, by sickness or battle. Arthur was pulled from his musings by Morgana who said Nemeth has pledged to help Camelot with grain and that Mithian would be staying in Camelot for a few weeks soon; Arthur smiled, happy that Morgana would get to see Mithian soon, they’ve been miserable so far apart. Then lunch was ending, and Merlin pulled Arthur toward his chambers to change for petitions, so Arthur bade the hall goodbye and walked out the door to his rooms. There, Merlin took off his tunic and replaced it and added his chain mail, shoulder plate and Camelot robe. Merlin kissed his forehead again that day and wished him luck.
Arthur walked out and headed to the audience room and met with an endless list of lords, merchants and serfs.
Lord Alfred, whose fiefdom was in the southwestern part of Camelot began, “Sire, please there has been an outbreak of virus within my troops. It affects opium users and men who engage in intimacy with men, and please I would not ask this of you if I wasn't desperate.”
“I know this virus you speak of. What do you need from me?”
“I ask to borrow some coin to fund research your majesty, research for a cure.”
Arthur fleetingly thought of the Council and how they said those running risk of infection should just cease their ‘risky behavior’ but pushed it out of his mind immediately. “Consider it done. And I will send some remedy with you.”
Lord Alfred's face flooded with relief. “Thank you sire! You have truly proven your greatness to help in these trying times.”
Arthur nodded “I just hope it will help. And please, ask if you need anything else.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
Dinner that night was a small affair, just Merlin and Arthur in his rooms. The rain battered the windows and the fireplace crackled to the side. The two sat on the bench in front of the table, Arthur’s left hand on Merlin’s thigh.
“How was Gaius today, Merlin?”
Merlin considered it a moment. “Better today. There weren’t any opium poisonings and only a few outbreaks of that twenty four hour sickness that’s going around.”
Arthur smiled thankfully and drank some wine. “Good. I’ve given Lord Alfred money to research the virus. Perhaps his physicians can come up with something.”
Merlin lay his head on Arthur’s shoulder, “I hope that helps. I wish there was anything I could do with my magic, other than relieving the symptoms. And after Gwaine…” he took a deep breath and curled more into Arthur and Arthur ran his arm around him.
“Come,” Arthur said and brought the wine and Merlin over to the seat covered in rich furs by the fireplace. Merlin sat on Arthur’s lap with his head on his chest and Arthur passed him the glass of wine. Arthur also took a cigarette out of the cannister on the side table and lit it, breathing in and feeling the smoke in his system. He smoked again, passing it to Merlin who breathed in and out then leaned his head back and relaxed against Arthur’s chest.
“Did you see Percival today? He seemed better.”
“Yeah I did. I’m glad he’s talking again.” Arthur smoked, breathing in and out, and Merlin tipped his head to capture Arthur’s lips, who tasted of wine and smoke.
“Take me to bed” Merlin mumbled, and Arthur carried him to their bed. Arthur smoked one last time before crushing it in the dish on nightstand. He then pulled off his boots, trousers and curled up next to his lover, an arm thrown around Merlin’s side.
“Hey,” Arthur whispered, “Would you stay the whole night tonight? Tell Gaius I needed you in the antechamber or something,” he said, thinking of Gwaine and Percival and Percival’s grief. Arthur kissed Merlin’s shoulder.
Merlin nodded, thinking of his most recent session with Gaius who told him his T cells were low. “Yes of course. I’ll stay as long as I can.”