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You Keep On Grinning

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Merlin was enjoying a rare day off. He got them about once every other month, when Arthur decided he was tired of Merlin's complaints and ordered him away, with orders not to come back until dinner. Gaius hadn't had any chores for him to do, either, so Merlin wandered the marketplace, quietly chatting with Tinnig as they admired the wares.

"Do you think an afanc could beat a griffin in a fight?"

Tinnig scoffed. "Absolutely not."

"Why not? Sure, the griffin was big, but the afanc was fast."

"The griffin was fast, too, remember? Plus it's got a sharp beak and claws. It's practically a living weapon."

"None of that matters if the afanc can dodge its attacks," Merlin argued. "And it had sharp teeth."

"Merlin. Take it from some'un who's actually been a griffin. The afanc would lose in a 'eartbeat."

Merlin couldn't think of anything to counter that. "What about the dragon, then? Could it win against a griffin?"

"Oh yeah, definitely."

Merlin passed a stall selling cloth. The group of girls standing there smiled and waved, giggling. Merlin smiled back.

"They're flirting wit' you," Tinnig grinned.

"No, they're just being friendly."

She slapped his cheek. "Dipshit."


"You never notice when people flirt wit' you. You coulda been courting someone long before now if you jus' paid attention."

"I'm not interested in courting anyone." Merlin shook his head. "I've got enough to worry about as it is."

"Hm. Yeah, I s'pose you do."

They stopped at a stall selling trinkets. There was a few toys, some lockets, and a strange bronze item consisting of multiple pieces. Tinnig jumped down to the counter for a closer look. It was a small globe of nine intersected circular rings, attached to a stand. A small golden ball rested in the center of the rings. Tinnig touched one of the outer rings, and it moved slightly.

The man behind the stall noticed them looking. He grinned. "You like it?"

"What is it?" Merlin asked.

"S'called an armillary sphere. Came all the way from Rome, it did."

"Rome?" Merlin echoed.

"Oh, I never been there myself, got it off a Roman merchant."

Merlin turned back to the object. Tinnig was gently moving the rings, absolutely entranced. She looked at him pleadingly.

"No, Tin," he said gently. "I know you like shiny things, but we have no use for it."

"You could give it to Gaius," she suggested.

"What would he do with it? Besides, I don't have any money."

"Liar." Tinnig frowned. "I saw you grab your coin purse before we left."

Merlin sighed. "What are you even going to do with it?"

Tinnig shrugged and turned back to her staring.

Grumbling, Merlin dug his purse out of his pocket. "How much is it?"

The man hummed. "I'll give it to you cheap. Three gold pieces."

"That's cheap?" Merlin muttered, but handed them over. He had a small amount saved up, he could afford to spoil Tinnig this time. He just couldn't spend anymore money today.

Tinnig cheered. She climbed back up on Merlin's shoulder and he grabbed the sphere, stuffing it in his pocket. It barely fit, but he ignored the awkward bulge it created.

"Just so we're clear," he said sternly as he reentered the crowded street. "This is for Gaius, not you. You can't touch it unless he says."

Tinnig was too happy to care about his tone. "Thankyouthankyouthankyou!" She spun in place, nearly knocking herself off balance.

Merlin grabbed her before she could fall, wincing at her volume. A few people gave them odd looks, and he tried to avoid their gazes. They made their way out of the market down to the lower town.

Children played in the streets, and women hung out laundry on their stoops. Smells of cooking food drifted out of open windows and doors. Teenagers stood gossiping in groups.

Merlin passed by them all, headed towards the city gates. The guards let him walk through with a nod. They recognized him as Arthur's servant, so didn't feel the need to search him.

He entered the woods. He walked through the trees for what was probably an hour, listening to birdsong and animals scuttling through the undergrowth.

The sun was high overhead when they reached the Lake of Avalon. The lake was still and blue, the surface shining under the sun. He thought he saw a glint of silver somewhere under the water. The mountains behind it seemed to glow in the afternoon light.

Merlin sat on the grassy shore and closed his eyes. He could feel the gentle wind coming from the water and brushing through the trees. Tinnig crawled down beside him. She pawed at his pocket, and he pulled out the sphere, setting it on the grass in front of her. She immediately began fiddling with it again, turning it this way and that to find the angle that reflected the sun best.

Merlin tipped his head back, feeling the suns warmth on his face. He smiled blissfully. He laid down, stretched out comfortably, and basked in the magic radiating from the lake and the suns rays.

At some point he fell asleep. When he woke, the sun was just beginning to fall below the horizon. It was much colder now, the shadow of the mountains having grown to engulf him, and he shivered. He glanced at Tinnig, who was just beginning to stir. She was wrapped around the armillary sphere, as if protecting it from thieves. Merlin smiled.

"That was a lovely nap," Tinnig yawned. She looked around. "Oh, but the sun's gone."

Merlin nodded. "And we still have to walk back. Hopefully, if we hurry, we'll reach Camelot before it's gone completely."

Tinnig stretched, then crawled up to his shoulder. "Let's go, then!"

Merlin pocketed the sphere once more and pushed himself to his feet. He made his way back into the forest and down the familiar path.

The sun had set by the time he reached the gates, and he had tripped over multiple roots in the darkness. He reached the gates just before they closed. The guards grumbled good-naturedly, but let him through without any questions.

Merlin wandered more leisurely back through the lower town. The streets were empty now, and candlelight glowed in the windows. Quiet conversations echoed from each house. He passed through the marketplace again. Everyone was gone and each stall was closed down. The wares were gone, to return tomorrow morning. Merlin continued through the upper town and into the castle. He climbed the stairs in the Eastern tower, arriving at Gaius' chambers at the top.

The old man was moving about the room, alternately mixing a potion and gathering ingredients.

"Ah, Merlin, you're back."

"Hi Gaius." Merlin grinned.

"You were gone longer than I thought you'd be." Gaius raised an eyebrow.

"Er, yeah. I fell asleep." Merlin rubbed the back of his neck. "But! I got you something."

Gaius looked at him curiously, stepping closer.

Merlin reached into his pocket, and Tinnig, who had been dozing on his shoulder, immediately became alert. He pulled out the sphere and placed it on the table beside Cadya.

She hissed excitedly.

"An armillary sphere!" Gaius gasped, picking it up. "I've never seen one in person."

"You like it then?" Merlin said smugly.

"Oh, very much. Where did you get it?" Gaius spun one of the rings.

"Merchant in the marketplace. To be honest, I actually bought it for Tin, but she's only allowed to play with it if you say so."

Gaius glanced at Tinnig, who was staring fixedly at the sphere. "Of course." He looked back at Merlin. "Thank you."

Merlin grinned. "I have to go, Arthur'll be cross if I'm late with his dinner." He headed to the door. "I'll be back in a bit."

He left Gaius fiddling with the sphere, muttering to Cadya about planetary alignment. Tinnig watched them until they turned the corner. Merlin hurried down the stairs and back out of the tower, and into the castle proper. He darted down to the kitchens to collect the tray set out for him, then climbed another flight of stairs to Arthur's chambers. He entered without knocking, as usual.

Arthur was sitting at his desk, hunched over a pile of paperwork. He looked up when Merlin entered. "About time!"

Merlin rolled his eyes. "It's barely dark out! Do you know the meaning of patience?"

"I'm the Prince, I don't have to be patient." Arthur moved to his table, looking happy to leave his work behind. Mala followed him to rest silently at his feet. Merlin set the tray down - dropped it, more like - and Arthur began stuffing his face.

Merlin wrinkled his nose and looked around the room. It was littered with clothes, armor, and parchment. Evidently, Arthur had had training before getting frustrated with the speech he was supposed to be writing. Something else Merlin would have to do for him later. He began picking up the things scattered around the floor.

When he had finished organizing the armor, tossing dirty clothes in the laundry basket, and gathering the drafts of the speech, Arthur had finished eating. He leaned back in his chair contentedly, watching Merlin move around the room.

"How was your day off?" Arthur asked, surprisingly genuine.

Merlin grinned. "It was great. Got a nice nap in."

Arthur snorted. "You slept? And I thought you couldn't get any lazier."

Merlin shook his head and collected Arthur's sleep clothes, tossing them over the screen in the corner of the room. "Just get changed, Arthur. I want to go to bed."

"Haven't you slept enough?" But Arthur moved behind the screen and changed. When he was done he moved over to the bed, pulling back the sheets and crawling in.

Merlin tossed Arthur's dirty clothes in the basket and closed the curtains. "Goodnight, Sire." He blew out the candle and grabbed the basket.

As he left the room, he heard Arthur call out, "Goodnight, Merlin."

Merlin smiled and shut the door. He headed to the laundry room to drop off the basket, then made his way back to Gaius' chambers. It had been a nice, relaxing day, but he couldn't wait to go to bed.

He'd write Arthur's speech tomorrow.