Characters: Arthur, Morgana, Merlin, Gaius, Gwen, Uther
Pairing: Arthur/Merlin friendship, Arthur/Morgana, some Merlin/Gwen (so basically like the show)
Warnings: Jousting could be a bit nasty at times, that’s all I’m saying.
Spoilers: Minor for 1x02
Summary: Arthur simply cannot resist a chance to prove his mettle. Unfortunately, in the joust, arrogance can become a dangerous failing.
The rest of the tournament was abandoned, no one really having the stomach for it in the face of the prince’s injury. Tomorrow, the temporary arena would be dismantled, but for tonight the time would be used to say prayers for Arthur’s swift recovery.
As Morgana looked out of her chamber windows onto the courtyard below she noticed an unhealthy stillness, as though people were choosing to stay in their homes that evening and not go about their normal business. It disturbed her to see Camelot so unsettled, not really having appreciated before how much its peace seemed to rely on Arthur’s strong presence. She already knew that a fearful muttering had sprung up amongst the people, wondering what would happen to the kingdom if the prince died. Uther had but one son and no obvious other heir. Would the succession pass through his ward? To her future husband and children?
Morgana tried not to take any heed of such prattling gossip. Arthur was unwell but not yet knocking at death’s door. Gaius expected him to remain ill for several days as his body fought infection and tried to heal the injury, but the prince was young and strong and well equipped to regain his full health.
She’d tried to stay away for most of the afternoon, knowing that he needed rest, not fretting visitors. Merlin had been left as a sentinel to keep guard over him, his job to take note of the prince’s wellbeing and fetch help at any sign of weakening. And it wasn’t, she reasoned, as if she didn’t trust Merlin. Quite the opposite in fact. It was simply a matter of her preferring action to waiting and so if she wanted to find out how Arthur was doing, she’d much rather do it herself.
Before she left her room, she picked up some bread and fruit still remaining from her barely touched supper and put it on a plate. Upon entering Arthur’s chambers she found Merlin stoking up the fire, obviously fussing over it going out. She smiled at the young man, holding out the food she’d brought with her.
“I thought you might be hungry.”
He looked a little taken aback, perhaps surprised that she’d think of his wellbeing at all, but he managed to smile gratefully all the same as he took it.
“How is he?” she asked, crossing to Arthur’s bedside and looking down at the sleeping man. He looked restless and in discomfort rather than peaceful as she’d hoped.
“He has a fever,” Merlin replied, hurriedly swallowing down the bite of apple he’d taken. “But that’s not really a surprise. Gaius has got me waking him up and pouring this concoction down his neck every couple of hours to help.” He grinned a little, nodding at Arthur. “Not that he’s grateful, of course. I think his mumbles were some sort of threat to punch me in the nose last time.”
Morgana smiled too at that. “He’s still his usual charming self then.”
Merlin laughed in return.
He wasn’t so merry when she arrived back early the next morning. In fact, he looked like he hadn’t slept a wink.
“His fever’s getting worse,” the young servant explained at her troubled look.
Making her way again to Arthur’s bedside, she barely needed to lay the back of her hand on his forehead to feel the heat rising from his skin. He felt like he was burning, his whole body shivering and sweat running across his flesh.
“What does Gaius say?” she asked, unable to mask her concern.
“That there’s nothing we can do that we aren’t already. It’s up to him now.”
She nodded in acceptance, having known that deep down. Still, she hated to feel so useless.
“Why don’t you go and get some rest?” she offered, the only thing she really could do. “You look exhausted. I’ll stay with him.”
He seemed reluctant to leave and she suspected there was an admirable sense of duty behind that. But he also wasn’t stupid and likely realised that he was no use to Arthur if he could barely stand himself.
“I’ll just go and lie down in the next room for a while,” he hesitantly agreed after a moment. “He’ll need some more of Gaius’s mixture in an hour. You can come and wake me if I’m not already here.”
She didn’t. In an hour’s time Merlin was still fast asleep and she didn’t have the heart to wake him. So instead she hauled Arthur into a sitting position herself, cursing his weight under her breath before finally propping him up against his pillows. She held the cup to his lips and encouraged him to drink. At first he refused, moaning in protest, just wanting to be left alone.
“Come on, Arthur,” she whispered in soft desperation. “Please. For me.”
His eyes opened then, for the first time in over a day, a sudden clarity there.
“Morgana?” he asked hoarsely.
She smiled gently, heartened by that. “Yes. Now drink this. It’ll help you get better.”
She pressed the cup to his lips and this time he did as he was asked, collapsing exhaustedly back against his pillows afterwards before quickly drifting into a fitful sleep once more. She was so busy ensuring that he was lying comfortably, arranging the blankets around him and placing a cool cloth on his brow that she never saw Uther standing in the doorway.
The king smiled a little at the sight of her caring for his son and then slipped away again, unnoticed.
The servant entered Arthur’s chambers and bowed quickly, addressing Morgana directly. He had the nervous disposition of a man who knew that the message he carried wasn’t going to be welcome.
“My lady,” he said hurriedly. “The king wishes you to come and dine with him.”
Merlin, who had become her constant companion in vigil, flinched at that, likely knowing well enough what her response would be. She hadn’t exactly hidden her feelings regarding Uther in the last few days.
“You may tell the king,” she said sharply, “that I don’t feel like eating this evening.”
“Forgive me, my lady,” the servant said, eyes still rooted to the floor, “but the king told me to say that he will not accept ‘no’ as an answer.”
Morgana drew an angry breath.
“Fine,” she snapped, rising from her chair. He could have her company at dinner if he so wished and a piece of her mind to go with it.
Three days. Three days his son had lain in his sick bed and not once had Uther come to visit him. He took reports from Gaius and asked to be kept constantly informed of any develops but he made no effort to come and see Arthur for himself. How could a man be so heartless about his own son? What was he afraid of? Losing face? Did he think it would be some injury to his pride to show concern for his own flesh and blood?
Working herself into a fury, she marched into the king’s dining hall, skirts swishing about her feet like angry whips. He greeted her with a slight smile which she didn’t return.
To her surprise his face seemed to fall a little at that, as if he’d been hoping for a better reception, but he quickly recovered his composure all the same.
“Sit,” he encouraged, indicating the chair opposite his.
“I’m not hungry,” she replied sullenly.
“Sit down!” His voice was so loud and sudden that it made her flinch. It was an order this time and was given in a tone she knew there was no arguing with.
So she did as she was told, but somehow kept an air of defiance on her face, refusing to touch any food.
“I trust you left Arthur well,” he said after a long moment of uncomfortable silence.
“No,” she replied tartly, “he’s very ill. But you would know that if you came and saw him for yourself.”
An angry tension seemed to pass through Uther at that. He clearly didn’t like the barely disguised accusation there. “I have a kingdom to run,” he explained tightly, “I cannot sit by his bedside all day and night.”
“Or it seems at all,” she muttered bitterly.
He looked up at her, a mixture of sadness and anger on his face. Whatever reason he’d summoned her for, whatever he’d wanted of her, he clearly hadn’t got it. It seemed as if he was about to say something further, perhaps to offer an explanation or plea for understanding but instead he let out a heavy, defeated sounding sigh.
“You may go,” he said, waving her dismissively away.
That was it? All this charade for a few moments in his presence before he sent her off again? Well, she supposed, the least she could do was say her piece now she was here.
“Won’t you even come and see him?” she asked, having sensed a hint of weakness in his hard front and hoping to get through to him.
“I said you may go,” he repeated firmly.
“He’s your son!” she said desperately, a hint of pleading there this time.
“He’s not lucid,” Uther reasoned with something like resent in his tone. “He wouldn’t even know I was there.”
“That didn’t stop you visiting me when I was ill,” she said, pointing out the flaw in that argument.
She prepared herself for his fury but it didn’t come. He wasn’t angry as she suspected, just more distant, shutting her out completely, refusing to even look at her. It was as though he’d given up.
“Just...go...” he said quietly.
And she did, knowing her pleas fell on deaf ears. She stood, turning angrily on her heels and stormed from the room. Gaius was in the corridor outside, no doubt waiting to talk to the king, and he called to her as she passed.
“Morgana,” he said softly. “You have to forgive him.”
“No,” she said, turning to face the physician, “I don’t.”
Her words were harsh but she held her temper, understanding it would be unfair to take it out on Gaius.
“He’s just afraid,” Gaius explained with sympathetic understanding. “He’s scared of losing his son. People react very differently in these circumstances.”
And part of her could perhaps empathize with that. It hardly gave her great pleasure or comfort to see Arthur in such a state and she could only imagine that it would be worse for his father. But still that gave him no excuse for being so cold.
“Yes,” she said tightly, “most act like they have a heart.”
And she turned again, walking away.
Gaius sighed sadly but made no attempt to call her back.
Merlin didn’t like sitting alone he decided. Morgana had only been gone a few minutes at most but already he’d had time to think of too many things, none them very comforting.
On the outside he probably could be considered an optimist. He kept telling everyone who would listen that Arthur was absolutely going to be all right. Of course he would. Princes didn’t die from little fevers, not when they had someone of Gaius’s talent looking after them.
Except it wasn’t a little fever, a dark part of his mind argued. It was a raging, burning one that had had left Arthur either asleep or unconscious for three days. They’d been pouring water down his throat when they could, but he certainly wasn’t able to eat and if he didn’t wake up soon then he was only going to get weaker.
But Merlin shook his head, forcibly pushing that thought aside. He was being melodramatic, he tried to tell himself. Arthur was well fed and as strong as an ox. He wasn’t going to die of hunger after just three days.
And yet somehow, being too hopeful and too assured felt like a mistake also, as if he was jinxing it almost. A part of him argued that if he said everything was going to be fine then something was bound to go wrong just to spite him. At the same time though, thinking the worst felt like giving in and that was something he didn’t believe in doing either.
Then, in the darkest moments of all, doubts would begin to take him and he’d start to contemplate what a failure he’d been and how this had somehow been all his fault.
His stomach clenching with uneasy, he was actually grateful for the sound of the soft thump coming from Arthur’s bed chamber, giving him a distraction. He moved in there quickly, a little worried, but only found that in a restless moment the prince had managed to push his blankets onto the floor again.
Sighing, Merlin bent down and picked them up, covering the other young man over once more. He rested his palm on Arthur’s head for a moment as he’d done so dozens of times over the last few days. He wasn’t sure if it was his wishful thinking optimistic side again, but he could almost swear that Arthur’s skin felt a little cooler than it had before. And he did seem to be sleeping far more comfortably too.
Merlin decided not to dare hope though in case he was wrong. Instead he just looked down at the other man, folding his arms across his chest as he contemplated him for a moment.
“You really can be a prat sometimes, you know?” he eventually declared, with a sigh, taking the opportunity to talk to Arthur when he couldn’t answer back. “And you’re arrogant, way too impressed with yourself, you can be really rude, a totally snob...”
He trailed off, laughing a little at himself, realising how dreadful that all sounded.
“But you’re also honourable. And you’re one of the bravest people I ever met,” he said quietly, knowing deep down that the goodness in Arthur outweighed the bad. “Camelot needs you. So you remember that and don’t die, all right?”
Arthur grumbled a little in his sleep and Merlin decided to take that as an agreement.