remy

Merlin fic: Four Things One Should Know About Merlin (and One Thing Nobody Knows About Arthur)

Hi, friends! Have more Merlin fic. It's good for the soul. (This particular fic, however, may well rot your teeth. There is fluff. To the extreme!)


Title: Four Things One Should Know About Merlin (and One Thing Nobody Knows About Arthur) 
Characters: Merlin/Arthur, pre-slash
Rating: PG
Warnings: None
Word Count: ~3,100
Notes: Thank you to the marvellous [info]humbuggirl for all her help and feedback. 

 

Four Things One Should Know About Merlin (and One Thing Nobody Knows About Arthur)


I.

Merlin lacks basic coordination skills.

A visiting noble and his retinue are in Camelot, and they are duly feted with a welcome banquet that both pays respects to the nobleman's station and tastefully flaunts Camelot's wealth. A renowned bard has been commissioned specially for the evening, and he weaves a tale of heroic intrigue and romance that seems to capture even the roaring fire's imagination, which leaps and ebbs to the pulse of the story.

Arthur has heard this story before, but it's clear that Merlin hasn't, the way his eyes shine; his lips are just slightly agape in wonder, and he practically vibrates with that joyful, childish air he hasn't yet shed.

Arthur makes to leave the Great Hall as soon as it is deemed acceptable; he's had a long day playing the part of the perfect, attentive prince, and the entertainment is no match for the restorative powers of a good night's sleep. Noticing the look of dismay that crosses Merlin's face, Arthur lets magnanimity win out against weariness, and dismisses Merlin for the night so he can stay to hear the end of the tale.

The wide smile he receives in return assures Arthur he's done the right thing.

He's forced to review the decision about ten minutes later, up in his chambers and not even undressed for bed yet, when he is informed that Merlin's been chucked in the dungeons.

"Why is it that I can't leave you alone for one second without something going horribly wrong?" Arthur asks through the cell bars.

Merlin, seated upon a heap of old straw, pouts.

"What happened?" Arthur asks, with the kind of great patience that only comes from experience.

"It wasn't my fault," Merlin says. "I swear, this table leg appeared out of nowhere --"

"From the beginning, Merlin."

Merlin makes a short noise that falls somewhere between a grunt and a whine. "I was told to go and fetch more wine for the guests, so I did, and then I tripped," he says darkly, narrowing his eyes at what Arthur assumes is a mental picture of a very dastardly, mobile table leg, "and spilled wine all down Lady Leticia's front. She got really upset. Apparently, her silks were very difficult to obtain and wine stains are impossible to get out, of course, so she said I ought to be flogged, but then Lady Morgana managed to talk everyone down to just this." He gestures to his cell with a wide flail.

"That sounds... reasonable. People have been flogged for much smaller infractions, you know," says Arthur, though he feels the tiniest grudge against the noblewoman begin to build. The rich colours and tight cut of her gown had made her look splotchy anyway, and no one ever said that Arthur's innermost thoughts had to be impartial.

"Yeah," Merlin concedes, and draws his knees to his chest.

"Right. So all this sulking is in aid of...?"

Merlin turns baleful eyes on him, and then goes pink. "I wanted to know what happens. In the story," he says, his voice muffled slightly where he's wrapped his arms around himself.

Arthur nearly laughs. Instead, he fishes from his pocket a rosy apple he'd filched from the kitchens on his way down, knowing that Merlin hadn't eaten much that night, openly agog as he'd been during the bard's performance, and tosses the fruit through the bars. Merlin flinches from it, so it bounces off his head, and Arthur rolls his eyes.

He leans against the cell door. "Well, you see, once upon a time, there was this scraggy-looking maiden called Merlin who was awful at everything," Arthur begins. At Merlin's arch look, he adds, "Oh, was that not the story you meant?"

But he stays anyway to tell Merlin the end of the bard's tale, and if his abridged version lacks fluency and is less exciting than the bard's, Merlin's riveted expression doesn't show it.

II.

Merlin is not really what one would consider an exemplary manservant.

There is something fundamentally wrong with his chambers, Arthur notices at once. He has been gone a few days, settling a dispute in one of the outlying villages, and the room that greets him in welcome is quite different to the way he left it.

It's clean.

By normal castle standards, this is fairly insignificant. By Merlin's standards, however -- Arthur considers throwing a festival in its honour.

Feeling like a stranger in his own extremely tidy room, Arthur, on a suspicious hunch, throws open his wardrobe doors and stares at its contents, which have been folded precisely and arranged by season, function and colour. Layered in among the linens are dried flowers and herbs, and Arthur concludes that Merlin either has had absolutely nothing to do with this, or has entirely lost his mind.

Which assumes that he had one to lose in the first place, and Arthur silently bemoans the fact that Merlin is not present to hear this jibe about his mental capacity.

A maidservant shuffles in from the adjoining room, carrying an empty pitcher that the servants use to bring in water for the baths and basins, and dips into a bow with an easy grace that suggests she has been in this line for a long time. Arthur vaguely recognises her ruddy features; he's seen Merlin chat with her on occasion.

"You did this, I suppose," Arthur says, gesturing with a sweep of his hand to the pristine, ordered condition of his chambers, and if his tone is rather accusatory, it's because he's the prince and he can sound like whatever he wants.

She looks hesitant, for it is probably not often that she is taken to task for doing her job well. "Yes, sire," she says, lowering her head. "Is it not to your satisfaction?"

"It's fine," Arthur says with a slight frown, though why the cleanliness rankles him he has no idea. "Where's Merlin?"

"He's taken ill, sire, with a cold."

Arthur remembers Merlin had been sniffly just before he'd left, and there had ensued an epic battle of wits in which Arthur gaily accused him of weeping at the thought of being separated from his dear prince, and, by way of rebuttal, Merlin had snorted most eloquently. In the end, wiser heads (Arthur's) had prevailed, and all parties (Arthur) had come to the agreement that Merlin was a complete and utter girl.

"The seneschal sent me in Merlin's place to attend to you," the maidservant says to Arthur's feet, and then just stands there, hands clasped and eyes trained on the floor.

Arthur looks at the maid for a moment, her curly head bowed in deference, and realises that she is waiting for Arthur to tell her what to do. It's a marked difference from what he's used to with Merlin, who rarely bothers with court culture and always looks him in the eye and often intuits what Arthur needs done before being told (though the meanings of Arthur's perfectly intelligible hand signals continue to elude him still).

"Well, get on with it, then," Arthur instructs, indicating his armour and mail.

The maidservant moves forward hurriedly and quietly, and works her hands around the armour in fits and starts. She isn't trained specifically to do this kind of thing, so it would be unfair for Arthur to find fault with the way she's going about it, especially since she appears to be quite a quick study, but the slow build of irritation is there, nonetheless.

It is the silence in which she works, perhaps, that is discomfitting, with every creak and ping of his armour reverberating in his ears when it should be Merlin's voice there, making Arthur laugh with the weird things Gaius says in his sleep sometimes or good-naturedly complaining that he's sure Arthur deliberately gets himself filthy just to give him more work to do.

When his hauberk comes off, it should be Merlin's fingers, roughened at the pads from a bucolic youth, that brush his skin.

And when one vambrace accidentally clatters to the floor, it should be Merlin who apologises profusely.

Except when it comes to Merlin and Arthur, 'apologise' and 'profusely' are not words that generally play well together, and besides, Merlin doesn't really apologise anymore, not for what's become a running joke in their private moments.

It is as if they have perfected an intricate dance, the way they meet and fit and complement each other's movements in the mundanity of their every day, though the thought of Merlin dancing is laughable since Merlin is the only person Arthur knows who can trip over air.

Arthur dismisses the servant girl after a quick wash of his face and hands (for which she had so helpfully supplied scented water) and pulls on a clean shirt before setting off towards the kitchens to order a bowl of broth to be delivered to Gaius' rooms. He then heads there himself to give Merlin a hard time about making him suffer through a bout of somebody else's perfect servile competence.

The boy could probably do with a bit of cheering up, and anyway, if Merlin can't find his way to Arthur, then Arthur will just have to do it for him.

III.

Merlin is a sorcerer, and not a very bright one, at that.

"Merlin," says Arthur as he pushes open the door to Merlin's room, and stops short because pieces of his armour and his sword are floating merrily in mid-air, being polished to a high shine by invisible hands.

Every bit of metalwork plummets to the floor, clanging like a carillon. From the bed, Merlin stares at him, so stunned and wide-eyed that he might as well have embroidered the word 'guilty' across his forehead.

"I saw nothing," Arthur says briskly, pointedly ignoring the spaulder that still hasn't finished clattering to a halt near his feet. Then, re-assessing his claim with a mild frown in Merlin's direction, "Though if I find you've dented my armour with that spectacular display of idiocy, I shall have you put in the stocks."

Merlin's mouth falls open, while his body remains rooted to the bed.

Arthur forges on in a one-sided conversation, shutting the door behind him and moving into the room as though there isn't a maze of metal in his way. "I forgot to tell you earlier that my horse wants re-shoeing, so you'll need to take her to the farrier this afternoon, and make sure he uses -- Are you listening at all to anything I'm saying?"

"What?" Merlin manages finally in a high voice.

"My horse, Merlin. Needs to be re-shod," he says with laboured enunciation and mimes the process of horseshoeing, which seems to bewilder Merlin to an even greater degree. If Arthur rolls his eyes any harder, they're likely to fall out of his head. "For god's sake, wipe that look off your face. Of course I know about your magic. Do you think me blind and deaf, as well as incredibly stupid?"

"No!" Merlin says vehemently, leaping to his feet. He swallows nervously. "I -- Aren't you angry with me?"

Arthur gives the question its due consideration. "Well, now that you mention it," he says.

Merlin shrinks backwards a little, wariness and apprehension clouding his face, and Arthur lays a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

He inhales deeply, and lets it out in a slow breath, holding Merlin's stare. "No, Merlin. I'm not angry. At least, not anymore, because lucky for you, I'm extremely kind and understanding. And generous. Not to mention just and fair. Righteous. Benevolent. Pure of heart," he says, going on and on until the corners of Merlin's lips tug into a small smile. And because he's on a roll, Arthur airily appends, "Also, I'm given to understand that I am very handsome."

This earns him an outright laugh, and though the sound is a little strained, it breaks the tension in Merlin's face, and everything is all right again.

"Now. My horse," says Arthur bracingly.

"Right. Yeah. Re-shoeing. This afternoon," Merlin says in a rush of breath.

Arthur claps him on the shoulder, and very briefly curls his hand around the back of Merlin's neck. "Be careful," he says softly, and they both know he's not talking about the horse.

"You -- You forgive me, then, sire?" Merlin asks hesitantly.

Arthur looks at him, eyebrows knotted together, like Merlin's just inquired whether the sky is, indeed, blue. "I did. Ages ago. Do try to keep up, Merlin."

IV.

Merlin is extraordinarily good to his friends.

About a month before Arthur's birthday, Merlin starts showing up in the mornings looking dead tired, with dark circles under his eyes and yawning so hard Arthur thinks he might dislodge his jaw. But Merlin goes about his duties with much of the same grumbly cheer as before, so Arthur doesn't think there's any real cause for worry. It's clear Merlin's been keeping late nights, but what Merlin does in private during his off hours is none of Arthur's business, unless he really wants it to be his business, and he's not sure he should pursue that line of thought.

Two weeks before Arthur's birthday, Merlin has a bit of trouble dressing Arthur because one hand is bandaged and he grimaces all over the place until Arthur finally waves him away and dresses himself.

Upon inquiry, Merlin says, "Oh, I was cutting up some stuff for Gaius. Roots and things. I got careless." He shrugs and smiles like this is an everyday occurrence, and it sort of is.

"He lets you handle sharp objects?" Arthur asks with a rueful shake of his head, and then lets Merlin get away with being even more useless than usual.

The day of Arthur's birthday, the Great Hall is decorated to the hilt for the feast held in his honour. Merlin shouts the loudest during the communal toast to Arthur's health.

The day after Arthur's birthday, his midday meal is served later than usual, with Merlin sidling up to the table crab-wise, his head carefully held straight. By now, he should know better than to try to keep things from Arthur, because Arthur is far more observant than anyone gives him credit for, and even if he wasn't, anyone can tell that Merlin is exhibiting this inane behaviour to keep from looking Arthur in the eye. Which is why Arthur immediately gets up from his chair and begins a slow circuit around Merlin, who pretends this isn't happening and turns his head away like he's ardently admiring all the furnishings and stonework in Arthur's chambers and lopes hurriedly to the window when his neck won't stretch any further.

"Beautiful day," Merlin announces to the wall. "Perfect for a ride, don't you think?"

Undeterred by pleasant weather, Arthur traces Merlin's footsteps slowly, his mouth downturned at the corners in patient appraisal, waiting for his manservant to just give it up, whatever he's hiding. Arthur isn't one of the kingdom's best hunters for nothing, and Merlin is -- Merlin.

Sensing Arthur's approach, Merlin executes a complicated twirl to escape scrutiny, and Arthur makes a scoffing noise. He doesn't want to be patient after all, so he says, "Look at me, and that's an order."

To his credit, Merlin only takes a few seconds before obeying. He grins at Arthur, and then bites his lip to stop grinning. It's not at all successful.

"What is wrong with you?" Arthur asks, peering at him suspiciously.

"Nothing! I mean, not more than usual," he says, sparing Arthur the burden of commenting upon his degenerative mental health.

Arthur makes a noise of dissatisfaction, though he lets the matter rest and sits down to eat.

Merlin seems inordinately interested in Arthur's consumption of the meal, but weird behaviour from Merlin isn't exactly anything to write home about, so Arthur tries to pay him no mind. It isn't until he breaks the crust of the fruit pie at the side of the tray that he realises why Merlin's been practically bouncing on his feet the whole time.

His tastebuds singing with the flavour of wild berries, Arthur looks at Merlin, who is obviously trying not to burst with anticipation. "You made this," Arthur says.

He knows this because the castle cooks have an extraordinarily liberal hand with sugar and spices, and this particular pie, warm and pure and simple, fills his head with memories of the short surprise visit he and Merlin had made months ago to Ealdor, laden with gifts for the village, but mostly for Hunith. Tears had sprung to her eyes then, which had made Arthur's heart seize in terror while Merlin had stood by, shuffling his feet and smiling with something like pride on his face. After the moment passed, Hunith had told Merlin to go and gather berries from the woods so she could "make something special for her boys," and it had been the nicest and happiest pie Arthur'd had in a long time.

He'd been trying to get Camelot's cooks to recreate it ever since, but to no avail.

"Yeah," Merlin says, suddenly flushed. "I was going to make one yesterday, you know, for your birthday, but they wouldn't let me in the kitchens because of all the preparations for the feast."

"You made this," Arthur says again. At best, Merlin can make nearly decent tinctures and draughts under Gaius' close guidance, and Arthur suddenly understands the past month of baggy eyes and little injuries.

Merlin's face creases with anxiety. "Erm, you said you liked it, and I know the cooks don't make it like that here, so I wrote my mother for the recipe. Is it not -- I thought I'd done everything -- I can take it away," he says, crestfallen, and reaches for the pie. His hands are slapped at for their troubles.

"Merlin. It's good," Arthur says sincerely, and that's all Merlin needs, judging by the smile that spreads across his face like the dawn of a new day.

V.

Arthur is just a little bit in love with Merlin.

Arthur makes Merlin sit down and share the pie with him because that's the way it started and that's the way it should be. And it's the least Arthur can do at the moment for the man who understands the nature of Arthur's happiness and strives to keep it alive, even in the smallest of ways, though it is in these small moments that Merlin shines the brightest.

"Mm," says Merlin, obviously enamoured with his own culinary creation, and passes the spoon back to Arthur.

It's like they are in Ealdor again, with no rank and no responsibility, so Arthur asks, "Reminds you of home?"

"Reminds me of you, actually," Merlin says absently, licking the corner of his mouth. "So I suppose, yes."

And if Arthur says little else for the rest of the meal, it's only because he's too busy trying to tamp down the swell of his heart. 


 

i almost cried with happiness at #4. it was like somebody squeezed my heart and i couldn't breath. it touched me soothingly that brought tears to my eyes unexpectedly especially the part when arthur said the pie is good.
Oh, wow, thank you so much. I worried the fic was too fluffy, but I'm glad to hear it has some emotional resonance after all!
Awww, so cute, with clumsy Merlin and dungeons and magic and pie!
Oh, lovely!

I absolutely adore this! From the first to the last. Arthur telling Merlin stories, and Merlin's pie, so cute!

I love this!
This is so lovely! ♥ Just - all the little details, and pie, and Arthur already knowing about Merlin's magic - such a happy, gorgeous fic.

Wonderful ♥
Hee, the pie seems to be getting a good response. (Not least from Arthur himself!) Thank you for taking the time to read and review! &hearts
Oh oh oh oh ohhhh ;___;

if Arthur says little else for the rest of the meal, it's only because he's too busy trying to tamp down the swell of his heart.

should read: "if itachitachi says little else for the rest of this comment, it's only because she's too busy trying to tamp down the swell of her heart." Because that's exactly what this fic did to me, and it feels marvelous. ;__; ♥
Aww, thank you! I worried that the ending was a bit too much, so I'm really pleased that it worked so well for you! ♥
Oh dear! *hands you tissues* Here, have a happy Colin Morgan icon face to cheer you up. :)

Thank you for taking the time to read and review!
Heee. OH BOYS is pretty much my reaction to everything they do in the series, so I'm really tickled that my fic gets this response too. :)

Thank you so much for reading and commenting; I'm really glad you enjoyed it! ♥
Oh, oh, oh! This was absolutely beautiful and sweet and "AWWW"-inducing. :'D You honestly got me all teary by the end and the fact that you kept them so in character (your Merlin, especially was A+++) means that I'm going to be upset if something like this doesn't happen in season 2. ;D

Thank you for this absolute gem! ♥
Thank you so much! I'm really pleased the characterisations worked for you (particularly Merlin's, as it's a little more difficult for me to write him for some reason) and that the fic got such a great reaction! ♥
It's lovely. I really like Arthur in the fic, although Merlin is absolutely irresitible.
How so awesome? Oh, Arthur. I honestly do think that he's known about Merlin's magic for a while now, but just hasn't said anything. He really isn't that observant - nobody can be.

And Merlin, bless him. With his pie and his uncertainty and his damned earnestness.

Much, much love to you.
Yes, it's not like Merlin goes out of his way to be discreet about it (srsly, Merlin, be stealthier). At least he makes up for it with pie. :)

Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment; I'm so thrilled that you liked it! ♥