Title: The Price Of Pride (5/5)
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.
Just as Arthur wished, no big fuss was made about his recovery. The first night he was able to leave his room for dinner, he ate privately with his father, the older man seeming pleased that Arthur was on his feet even if he was limping and needed a cane to help him.
He ditched that particular aid as soon as he was able, taking long walks around the castle and grounds to strengthen his injured leg. Merlin went with him more often than not, saying that he didn’t want Arthur tripping and falling over a battlement or anything, not when he’d put so much effort into making sure the prince recovered. Arthur joked that with Merlin’s skinny frame, he’d probably just end up pulling the both of them over to which Merlin had replied, a little offended, that he was stronger than he looked. Appreciating that his servant had taken prodigious care of him during his illness, Arthur was gracious enough to let that go.
Just once, Morgana walked with him. He’d told Merlin to meet him in the courtyard and was surprised, but not unpleasantly so, to see her waiting for him instead. She explained that Merlin was needed elsewhere and that she’d offered to accompany the prince in the other man’s place. Arthur didn’t quite believe that, suspecting that Merlin’s absence was more her idea than anything, but he decided not to embarrass her by pointing that out.
He’d spent no time alone with her at all since their small kiss and he’d been beginning to wonder if she was avoiding him through awkwardness or embarrassment. Perhaps she hadn’t been so taken with him as he’d first thought and was struggling to think of a way to tell him that. But the way she smiled when she saw him seemed to wipe those doubts away and he confidently held out his arm for her to take, accepting her company most willingly. It was never quite clear whether he was her escort or she his support but it felt agreeable all the same.
They chatted pleasantly, something they only seemed to do when others weren’t watching, but no mention was made of their kiss. Somehow, when he wasn’t deathly tired and feeling weak, the subject was an awful lot harder to bring up.
From the peak of the highest battlement it seemed like they could see half the kingdom and they both stood, surveying the magnificent spectacle of the land he would someday rule. It was amazing to him that with all that was spread below she could still catch his eye, but she did. He watched the way strands of her raven hair danced in gusts of wind. He studied the expression on her face as blue eyes looked out across the world, wondering what she saw and what she thought of it all. Did it intimidate her? Make her feel sad that she barely saw beyond the castle walls? Or did she feel like he did, awed by the grandness of it yet apprehensive of the responsibility they all held for it?
Reaching out, suddenly needing the reassurance, his fingers entwined with hers. She didn’t look at him, but she gripped his hand all the same.
He continued to resist the temptation of her lips, uncertainty still hindering him. He wanted to kiss her, that much he was sure of, but once he did so then expectations would begin to surface regarding his intentions towards her. It wasn’t as if those intentions were dishonourable but he wasn’t sure he was ready for anything so formal quite yet. He had other responsibilities that held his time, things he was expected to do. Besides, if he was going to court Morgana he should do it in a proper and chaste manner, setting an example to others like he was always expected to do. He certainly shouldn’t be stealing kisses from her whilst they stood out of sight of the rest of the kingdom.
Of course, he reasoned, even if he did intend upon courting her, he could hardly dedicate deeds of valour in her honour if he couldn’t achieve them. Nor could he command the respect of anyone, least of all his knights, whilst he remained so out of practice. Therefore it had become his first priority to reassert himself as a warrior, leaving doubt in no man as to his skill and superiority. As soon as he could persuade Gaius to agree to it, he was out in the training yard once more, strengthening his sword arm, feeling infinitely better when he could follow his familiar drills and routines.
It took a further week before he commenced training with his knights, the pain in his leg finally gone but him wanting to be certain that it wouldn’t flare up and cause him to suddenly wince. The men seemed to be gossiping somewhat when he arrived but he soon put a stop to that with a fierce selection of drills and practices. He barked out his orders and strode with confidence through the men, observing their work. Not one of them dared question him of course but he still felt as if there was some slight doubt in them and, whether that was imaginary or not, it had to be quashed.
He got his chance within days when one of the men came to the end of his training, ready to take the final test. Merlin stood watching as did Morgana. She never usually took interest in the trials and he suspected that it was not the potential knight she had come to see.
He couldn’t be sure if her presence made him feel more nervous or more confident.
“Morgana,” he greeted politely as he went to fetch his shield from his man servant. “Don’t tell me one of my knights has caught your eye.”
“My interest lies beyond knights,” she said, leaving him no time to ponder the true meaning of that statement before she continued. “I was out walking when I saw all this. You boast so proudly about your training, I thought I might come and see what all the fuss was about.”
He still didn’t believe her but he nodded at that all the same.
If Arthur was honest with himself, doubts remained in his own head right up until the moment when the other man swung a sword at him. Then years of well honed instinct kicked in like a long forgotten friend. He ducked the first attack, blocked the second with his shield and then side stepped the next, using the opening to grab the other man’s wrist. With a sharp twist he’d disarmed him and fiercely brought a punch up under the man’s chin, sending him sprawling onto his backside.
“Sloppy,” Arthur announced, haughtily. “Come back when your defence is not so weak.”
He tried not to smile as cries of ‘well done, my lord!’ and ‘good work, sire!’ drifted across from the other knights watching. As he replaced his sword in the rack, he glanced up to look at Merlin and Morgana, him grinning like a buffoon and her clapping, looking pleased for him.
And for some reason, the fact that they were proud of him meant more than all other praise put together. Their belief in him, above all others, made him feel ready and able to defend Camelot once more.