1 - Despite him being the title character, I hadn't actually written anything with Merlin in yet.
2 - There isn't enough fic about Arthur and Merlin's growing friendship out there.
3 - Everything I've written recently has been rather angsty.
So I ended writing this as something a bit more fun, looking at the boys starting to become friends...
Title: Rescuing Arthur
Characters: Merlin, Arthur, Gwen, Morgana
Pairings: Mainly focusing on Merlin/Arthur friendship but with some Arthur/Morgana and Merlin/Gwen (basically just like the show! :D)
Spoilers: Very minor for 1x03
Summary: Merlin has found himself recuing Arthur many times since they met. This, however, is a little different...
Arthur had once rather sarcastically pointed out to Merlin what a cupboard was for and, to be honest, he’d probably had a point. As Merlin continued with the daily grind of tidying Arthur’s room however, he mused that the young prince didn't exactly seem to practice what he preached. Either that or Arthur was just extra careless in order to teach Merlin some kind of lesson.
Collecting up discarded clothes, Merlin found himself glaring in suspicion at the prince who sat, detached from all the work going on around him, at his impressive writing desk. He was responding to reports from local lords, passed on to him by his father, most of which were apparently petty complaints about what more Camelot could be doing for them. In Merlin's experience, this job always put Arthur in a bad mood and so he refrained from making any of the sarcastic comments that had sprung to mind regarding the prince's lack of tidiness.
The morning continued therefore in cool silence, Arthur barely acknowledging Merlin as he instead frowned at the parchments in front of him. For his part, Merlin was surprised that, letters or no, Arthur hadn't left hours ago to train with his knights or to visit the local villages, ensuring that his presence was felt. He wasn’t usually one to stay in so long when he could be doing something more active and Merlin wondered if there a particular reason for it today. He was soon given his answer when there was a knock at the door.
"Enter," Arthur commanded, sounding the slightest bit relieved as he rose to meet the new arrival. It was hard to tell though if that was because whoever he was waiting for had finally arrived or if he was just glad to get away from the reports.
Merlin knew he would never get to know all of the many inhabitants of Camelot by name but there were a fair few that he at least recognised by sight and reputation now. The visitor was one such person; he was a craftsman by trade, one of high renowned as a jeweller.
"Sire," the man said, bowing respectfully at Arthur before heading straight on to business, "I’ve brought a selection for your approval as you requested."
Merlin couldn't help his naturally curious nature. Having already picked up a broom and begun sweeping, he purposely made his way towards the craftsman, wanting to get a closer look. As he passed the other man he nodded at the box he was carrying, trying to make it look like a casual enquiry.
"A selection of what?" he asked.
Arthur frowned at him with annoyed disapproval. "None of your business," he intoned firmly. Getting the message, Merlin moved his sweeping away again.
Still, it didn't stop him from surreptitiously glancing over, nor from ensuring that he stayed close enough to remain within earshot. It wasn’t being nosy he told himself, just a healthy inquisitiveness.
"I think you’ll be pleased with them, sire," the craftsman said as he placed the box down and opened it. "I consider them some of my finest work."
“We’ll see,” Arthur said noncommittally. He never was one to give unnecessary praise.
Undeterred, the craftsman proceeded to pick out a dark velvet cushion and lay it on the table. On it was displayed a selection of jewelled necklaces. The man certainly had reason to be pleased with his work. Merlin didn’t exactly have much experience of jewellery, but to his mind they were very fine indeed.
He refrained from asking, knowing he’d probably be sent to muck out the stables if he did, but he assumed that Arthur intended upon purchasing one. Not that they’d suit him, his mind joked. That made him grin, however much he tried to repress it, earning him another glare from the prince who unfortunately just happened to be looking in his direction.
He hurriedly continued to sweep.
Returning his attention to the table, Arthur looked thoughtfully at the selection before him, picking up each one in turn, running it through his fingers and studying it carefully before moving on to the next. As the minutes passed in terse silence however, it became clear that he wasn't simply taking his time but was actually struggling to decide. The craftsman soon began to look nervous, perhaps wondering if the prince wasn't impressed after all.
"How about this one, sire?" he suggested anxiously, demonstrating an intricate silver and emerald design. "Surely a fine compliment to the lady's beauty?"
"Oh, they're for Morgana," Merlin blurted out in realisation, the scene suddenly making sense.
Again Arthur gave him that disapproving look that he seemed to have perfected just for regular use on his servant. "Yes, they're for lady Morgana," he pointedly corrected.
Merlin pointedly ignored him.
"Special occasion?" he asked instead.
Arthur sighed in apparent irritation and yet he answered all the same.
"If you must know it is a trinket for her birthday," he explained, making the matter sound inconsequential. But if it was then he wouldn't be taking such care over the choice, would he.
Merlin instantly grinned.
"It's just a token," Arthur insisted upon seeing the other man’s look, although he sounded most unconvincing.
"Pretty expensive token," Merlin pointed out, his smile as insistent as Arthur's protests. "I thought you didn't even like her.”
Arthur rolled his eyes as though Merlin was being ridiculous. "She is my father's ward,” he reasoned with weary pretention. “It would be rather remiss if I didn't buy her a gift, don’t you think?"
"Course," Merlin agreed but he clearly wasn't sincere in it. "Well, I'd go with the light blue one if I was you."
"I didn't solicit your opinion, thank you," Arthur said firmly.
Merlin shrugged, not offended, and returned to his sweeping once more.
Moments later however Arthur sighed, annoyed by defeat, and turned back to Merlin, arms grumpily folded across his chest.
"Why the blue?" he demanded, sounding distinctly as if he was consulting his servant very much against his will and yet saw no other choice.
It pleased Merlin a little to know that Arthur seemed to value his judgement over that of the craftsman. It wasn’t exactly the most important decision the prince would ever make, but if Merlin was somehow supposed to shape his destiny then it was nice to know the other man listened to him at least.
"It's a protection stone," the young wizard explained, "I think she'd appreciate that.”
Arthur frowned, likely wondering why his servant would know anything about precious stones. The tenuous link to magic probably hadn’t gone unnoticed either.
“Or so I heard,” Merlin quickly added, trying to dig himself out of a hole. “Besides, those stones match her eyes, don’t they?”
That only seemed to make Arthur even more curious.
“And since when have you taken note of her eyes?” he asked, sternly.
Was there a hint of possessive jealousy there?
“Well, it’s hard not to notice them,” Merlin reasoned with an instant grin, somewhat amused by Arthur’s reaction. “True, I haven’t studied them in as much detail as, say, you probably have, for instance...”
Arthur turned to the craftsman, suddenly uncomfortable. “That one will suffice,” he said dismissively. “You’ll have your payment tomorrow. “
The man nodded, gathered up his wares and hurriedly left.
As the door closed, Arthur returned to his desk, organising the papers he’d abandoned there.
“I would thank you to not pay so much attention to Morgana,” he warned, as though scolding his servant for a lack of etiquette. “She’s far beyond the likes of you.”
“I wouldn't dream of it,” Merlin replied, holding his hands up innocently before his grin returned. “Especially not when you're in love with her.”
“Don't be absurd,” Arthur denied far too adamantly.
Merlin gave him an unconvinced look.
“I'm not,” Arthur insisted, his protests of innocence sounding even less convincing the second time round. ”She's my father's ward, of course I'm going to buy her a gift.
“Yeah,” Merlin pointed out with a chuckle, “you said that already.”
Clearly deciding he didn’t want to further discuss the matter, Arthur’s slightly flustered demeanour turned to a cold smile.
“You know Merlin, you’ve done such a good job in here today, especially with that single piece floor you’ve been sweeping so diligently for the last several minutes.”
Merlin looked a little sheepish at that, totally caught out. He didn’t think that Arthur would have noticed but, then again, the young price hadn’t become such a fine warrior without being observant.
“So whilst you’re in such triumphant form,” Arthur continued, “why don’t you go and tackle the mess in my stables?”
Finally the grin fell from Merlin’s face.
Arthur sat back at his desk, seemingly pleased by his victory as Merlin grumbled about the injustice of it under his breath.
"And say what you like,” the prince pointed out dryly, “at least I don’t have a girl bringing me flowers.”
Merlin felt his face get a little hot then and he quickly left just in case Arthur caught him blushing.
Trudging from the stables, feeling both filthy and exhausted, Merlin instantly perked up as he spotted a familiar figure walking across the courtyard, freshly picked flowers in her hand.
The young woman in question paused and turned at the call of her name, smiling as he jogged up to meet her. He didn’t need to ask to know that the flowers were for Morgana’s room, having learnt that it was something Gwen attended to most days at this time. He did however completely deny that he’d been watching the courtyard, hoping she’d pass so that he could go and talk to her. That would just be silly after all.
As he bounded up to her side, she wrinkled her nose at him. Glancing down at his clothing, he realised that he probably smelled about as bad as he looked and so he moved a step away again and she smiled at him gratefully.
“Would you like one?” she asked, holding up the flowers. “They might make you a little more fragrant.”
Remembering Arthur’s jest from earlier he hurriedly shook his head. “Er...no...I’m not really a flowers sort of person.”
For the smallest moment he thought she looked a little crestfallen but she quickly covered it with an amused grin. “So what did you do wrong?” she asked, nodding at the state of him.
“Only dared to give Arthur some good advice,” Merlin replied with a roll of his eyes.
The look Gwen gave him was one of clear confusion.
“He was picking a necklace for Morgana’s birthday,” he went on to explain, “and he was having a problem choosing so I gave him a hand. Then I just happened to point out that he might be a tiny bit in love with her and got sent to the stables for my trouble.”
Despite his annoyance he was smiling a bit, knowing that by reacting in such a way Arthur had only confirmed that he’d developed more than a passing attachment to Uther’s ward. If he hadn’t, then he wouldn’t have been so bothered by what Merlin had said.
“Oh,” came Gwen’s taught response.
Merlin wondered how such a little word could seem to hide so many feelings.
“Oh?” he questioned, his turn to be curious now.
“Nothing...” she said brightly, shaking her head, although the whole thing was very unconvincing.
“Doesn’t really sound like nothing,” he pointed out with growing suspicion.
Coerced, but still obviously uncertain as to whether she really should say anything, Gwen sounded hesitant as she spoke.
“Well, it’s just...he’s getting her a necklace.”
Merlin frowned, not seeing the problem there. “And? It’s a really pretty one. And pretty expensive too.”
For some reason Gwen looked a little affronted by that, as though it was some kind of personal insult. “And you think that’s what she’s impressed by?” she asked with a bit of a snap to her voice. “The cost?”
He instantly shook his head, holding up his hands in innocence, not wanting her to get the wrong impression. “No. Not at all. It’s just...well girls like jewels. Don’t they?”
Suddenly he wasn’t so sure.
Gwen sighed, rolling her eyes as though he’d said something incredibly dense.
“Yes,” she explained, “but Morgana has plenty of jewellery. It’s hardly a gift that requires deep thought, is it?”
“I don’t know,” Merlin joked, “Arthur seemed to be thinking about it pretty carefully earlier. I think he might have strained himself.”
Gwen ignored that and continued.
“If it’s a girl’s birthday and the only thing you can think of to get her is jewellery then you’re not trying very hard, are you?” She spoke slowly, as though not sure if he was bright enough to understand the concept. “Especially if you’re a prince and you could get her basically anything.”
Merlin baulked a little. He hadn’t thought of it that way but, from the tone of Gwen’s voice, it apparently should have been totally obvious and he’d been a fool not to have realised it. But how on earth was he supposed to understand what a woman might want for her birthday if they didn’t stick to the rules? Women were supposed to like flowers and jewels. It was hardly his fault, he reasoned sulkily, that Morgana was fussy and clearly spoilt. It certainly didn’t warrant him being spoken to like a child.
“Okay then, if you’re so brilliant, what should he get her?” he demanded a little crossly in return. “What does she like?”
It was a challenge he didn’t expect Gwen could meet. She was quite happy to say that gift wasn’t the right one and yet he would have bet his left arm that she couldn’t come up with a good alternative. After all, it wasn’t as if Morgana, in her position, wanted for much.
Fortunately he didn’t make that bet because he would have lost it.
Gwen paused for a moment and, when she spoke, it was as though she was still mulling the matter over in her mind
“She does miss riding.”
And Merlin instantly forgot to be annoyed as he was instead suddenly intrigued.
“Yeah,” Gwen continued thoughtfully, “she mentions it every now and again. Apparently she had this beautiful white pony when she was a girl but she wasn’t able to bring it with her when she came to live in the castle.”
“So,” Merlin concluded, “if you were going to get her a gift...?”
“I’d get her a riding horse,” Gwen confirmed but it was with a slightly sad smile as she held up her flowers. “Unfortunately this sort of thing is all I can really afford.”
Merlin was too busy thinking to hear that though. He was considering the matter in his mind, running over the possibility.
“Do you think I should tell Arthur?” he questioned aloud, asking both himself and her.
Gwen looked at him but said nothing. Even though, that somehow seemed to be a confirmation.
“I should tell Arthur, shouldn’t I?””
“You might want to go and wash first,” she pointed out.
She was smiling at him then, shaking her head in fond bemusement.
“Why do you even care what Morgana thinks of him?”
Merlin shrugged, “Because I’m just so nice I guess and I don’t want to see him make a fool of himself.”
And with that he bounded off, leaving Gwen still smiling affectionately.
“I’ve finished,” Merlin announced, accosting Arthur in the corridor the moment he clapped eyes on him.
Arthur looked him up and down with a disbelievingly raised eyebrow.
“I washed afterwards,” Merlin explained when he realised what the prince was questioning.
Arthur nodded at that and simply carried on walking, apparently having no further use for his servant that day.
Undeterred, Merlin dogged at his heels.
“Whilst I was in the stable, I was thinking...”
“Sounds dangerous,” Arthur intoned dryly.
For the purpose of getting to his point, Merlin chose to ignore that.
If he was honest, and despite what he’d said to Gwen, he’s wasn’t entirely sure why he was troubling himself to help the prince with this. It wasn’t exactly a life or death matter and, at the end of the day, they were hardly best of friends. Really, it would be no skin off his nose if Morgana wasn’t at all impressed with whatever Arthur gave her. In fact, considering the way Arthur sometimes still treated people, it would probably serve him right.
Yet Merlin couldn’t help but notice that Arthur had been watching her more closely of late. The young prince’s eyes seemed to direct themselves to her when she wasn't looking, and Merlin suspected that it wasn’t only her beauty that was beginning to captivate him.
For a start, Merlin wasn’t so cruel as to let Arthur make a fool of himself if he truly liked the girl. Secondly, Arthur would have to marry eventually, a requirement if he was going to have legitimate heirs to his throne and, in Merlin’s opinion, Morgana would make a fine queen. He still remembered how she’d stood up for Gwen when the girl had been accused of witchcraft and someone who could care so much about their servant would surely steer Arthur on the right path. Especially considering she didn’t seem to care that Gwen had been apparently caught doing magic. She certainly appeared to be far more tolerant of the matter than Uther was and she obviously held a certain amount of sway over the prince. Maybe in a country with King Arthur and Queen Morgana ruling, good magic could return. And then Merlin wouldn’t have to hide who he was anymore. He could be someone, not just a servant. But if Arthur married someone else, someone who shared Uther’s views or didn’t have the spirit to argue them, then would anything ever change? Or would Arthur’s loyalty to his father override any chance at reform?
Did Merlin really want to hide for the rest of his life?
Besides, he reasoned, his motivations weren’t totally selfish. Arthur obviously liked her. He was just giving that a little helping hand.
“That necklace you chose earlier,” he continued, being careful to word things so as not to suggest Arthur had made a mistake – then he might not listen at all, “don’t get me wrong, it was great but...I think there might be something better you can get her.”
Arthur frowned at him in disbelief, “You have an idea about what a noble woman would want for her birthday?”
“A horse,” Merlin announced, deciding to answer that question straight out and hope Arthur saw sense.
“A horse?” He was still frowning as though the man talking to him was an imbecile.
“Yeah, a riding horse.”
“You think a woman prefers a horse to expensive jewellery?”
Okay, he realised, from your typical man’s point of view that probably didn’t sound too likely.
“I heard her and Gwen talking the other day,” he lied, wanting to give his idea credence without revealing that he’d purposely been discussing the prince’s affairs with another servant. “Morgana said she missed riding. That she’d had a white pony that she couldn’t bring with her when she came to Camelot.”
Arthur looked at him carefully for a moment and then he smiled, clapping him on the shoulder. Merlin wished he wouldn’t. He always did it hard enough to nearly make the young wizard’s knees buckle.
“Look, why don’t you let me worry about what Morgana wants for her birthday, yes? Then you can worry about taking my dogs for some exercise.”
Merlin frowned in annoyance. Okay, that really was the last time he’d try to help him out.
It wasn’t exactly a great surprise to Merlin that he found himself standing in the courtyard by the royal stables on Morgana’s birthday, holding the reins of a stunning white gelding. He’d rolled his eyes so often since Arthur had purchased her that they were probably in danger of falling out.
The prince may be arrogant but he wasn’t a fool. Just the day after Merlin had spoken to him, the necklace had gone back and he’d made his servant accompany him to a reputable horse breeder, insisting that he wanted a white animal and that it must have the perfect temperament for a lady rider. The breeder often supplied horses to noble families and had had just what Arthur required. The animal was an elegant thing who seemed unimpressed with Merlin. The feeling was sort of mutual. He really didn’t like horses.
Still he held the reins tightly, even though the horse tossed his head and pawed the ground in apparent annoyance. He could probably sense Merlin’s dislike of his kind, but the young wizard knew he’d never hear the end of it from Arthur if he and Morgana should come downstairs to see the animal running wild throughout the courtyard, and so he held his ground despite the horse’s best attempts to yank his arm from its socket.
After what seemed like an age of impatient waiting, one of the doors finally opened and Arthur carefully led Morgana out, a hand covering her eyes.
“This is ridiculous,” she was saying, footing a little uncertain on the cobbled ground.
“It’s necessary,” he intoned, using his free hand to lead her..
“I’m not a child, Arthur,” she reasoned, “I don’t need to be surprised.”
She sounded very firm about that and Merlin wondered if that’s what she thought of him; that he treated her like a child even though she wasn’t much younger than him.
Arthur just dismissed her protests however.
“Everyone needs surprises on their birthday,” he stated.
“Yes, well I’d rather it not be me breaking my neck,” she countered.
And clearly she did because she refrained from protesting any further.
Manoeuvring her to stand a few feet in front of the horse, Arthur seemed to be checking around, trying to ensure that everything was perfect.
“Would you hurry,” she complained when the silence went on a little too long for her liking. She was obviously wondering what on earth was happening and sounded almost nervous. “Or are you trying to kill me with suspense?”
“I certainly hope not,” he said dryly. “Not after the trouble I’ve been to anyway.”
She smiled a little at that.
Clearly having finally decided that all was as good as he could make it, he removed his hand from her eyes and motioned towards the horse.
“There,” he announced with the slightest hint of nervous anticipation.
Morgana blinked for a moment, her eyes getting used to the bright sunlight. Then she seemed to take a short intake of breath and quickly turned to Arthur with a cautious look on her face, almost as if she didn’t believe it.
“Is he for me?”
“Well I see no one else here whose birthday it is, do you?”
Shock still seemed to rule her for a moment longer before her face suddenly split into a delighted smile and she hurried over to the horse, running a hand down the animal’s soft nose. The gelding seemed to take an instant like to her, finding her clearly much more agreeable than Merlin at least.
The horse was a snob he decided and just liked people in pretty clothes.
“Oh he’s beautiful,” Morgana whispered, still beaming, before she turned her attention back to Arthur. She seemed genuinely surprised at such a thoughtful and intuitive gift. “Why?” she asked, shaking her head in bemusement.
He just shrugged easily. “I remembered you once saying you used to enjoy riding as a girl. I thought you might like to take it up again.”
Merlin rolled his eyes dramatically. What a creep.
Morgana didn’t seem to think so however as she hurried back over to Arthur and without hesitation kissed him on the cheek, leaving him with a slightly dumbfounded expression that Merlin thought was almost worth all the hassle alone.
“Thank you,” she said, most genuinely, seeming uncharacteristically coy at her own reaction. “Now, I’d better go and get changed into something a little more practical if I want to try him.”
“I should come with you,” Arthur intoned quite seriously. “You haven’t ridden in a while and I wouldn’t want you to get hurt.”
Merlin suspected that her safety wasn’t the only reason. Surprisingly she didn’t argue with the idea though, but nodded in assent and hurried inside.
“Merlin,” Arthur said distractedly, clearly not even noticing his servant already had his hands full, “saddle my horse.”
The young wizard was about to grumble his way into the stables when Arthur’s voice called him back.
“And thanks,” he said with an appreciative nod. “A good suggestion, after all.”
Merlin grinned ruefully. That was all the reward he ever seemed to get for rescuing Arthur. Yet somehow though, his gratitude always seemed to be enough.