The Prince tore through vines like wool, thorn like thread, and when he reached the keep, where a candle flicked once before it died within the only gap along the stone, he halted for the first time since he realised that nothing but forest stood between him and the fort. The guards behind him, loyal as always to the point of madness, stopped too one by one. The Prince took a breath and he held it, and then the party continued forwards.
There was only one thought inside his mind; two syllables that impressed along his footprints. Arthur was coming to rescue him, but he was also coming to show him. That the wound was red and black and bloody but it was healing; that the joints he walked on were weary but he walked all the same, and he had fought. And nor would the fighting be over unless the guard who’d been ordered to give Merlin his lashings, the Camelot mole, had kept by his sworn oath not to lay a single finger.
On the other side of the wall, behind the bars Merlin slept. He’d cried the first two days, until he realised the tears did little but puff his eyes, and eased nothing of the knots inside his throat. He was silent after that, silent save for the involuntary little moan he released on his first bites of the breakfast gruel, after long and lasting empty nights.
‘My god,’ Arthur whispered when reached the right door, exhaling, ‘how long have they kept him in there?’
‘A week, Sire.’
Arthur clenched his jaw. He nodded and surveyed the pale curled body – it should not have gotten so thin after only a week on a prisoner’s diet – and he shivered.
‘Well?!’ Came his snap, eyeing the standby guard with one wide eye while the other he kept on Merlin, ‘What are you waiting for? Hand me the keys.’
The guard startled and reached around his belt awkwardly, his fingers clumsier after the Prince twitched and touched his sword.
‘Leave them!’ Called Arthur when the guard dropped the key, shoving past him to pick it up, and the last quick fading footstep sounded by the time the Prince had stuck the iron in the lock.
He left the gate to swing open behind him, and it seemed the lattice had done well to keep the coldness out because a chill seeped in and circled the straw and the little space. He watched the figure on the bed become more lit the closer he crept, and creep was all he had energy to do.
‘Merlin’ spoken on a long breath; said on a soft sigh or perhaps instead of a tear.
The body stiffened, as if it hadn’t really been sleeping, and then after a moment released and made no more movement. Until Arthur called again, and this time it abruptly turned; became two wild eyes and after far too long, a wary smile.
- Current Mood: chipper
Arthur turned for the twentieth time in the space of a minute and finally decided to give up on sleep altogether. The moon was shining too brightly through the lattice of his window and the creak of late-working footsteps made too much noise to ignore. When he shifted to his front the mattress brushed against a particularly uncomfortable spot and oh yeah... there was that too. Too alert; too uncomfortable; too hard. On every previous night before this one he would have been able to solve that particular problem easily. There was a reason that three of the most nubile maids in the castle occupied rooms on the Prince’s floor; the arrangements were nothing if not conveniently discreet. And if all else failed, if perhaps the maids seemed a little...disinclined (never anything to do with Arthur, of course) or if the prince sometimes preferred not to bother them, he always had his trusty right hand to fall back on. But tonight, things were different.
He shivered. He threw the blankets off and huffed a sigh into the broken quiet. There was no real need to stand and check underneath the bed (for the third time) because he was certain he’d imagined the voice again, but he did it anyway. All was clear, obviously.
Settling back between the sheets, he closed his eyes and tried to breathe deeply. He used some of the restless energy to wish away the question “what is wrong with me!?” because he knew that if he dwelt on it he’d have to kiss sleep goodbye for a long, long time. It was creepy, that was the safest way to label last night’s encounter. Not curious, not amusing, not... arousing. Eugh.
“What is wrong with me!?”
There, he said it. And there he held his breath, waiting for someone to answer him back, waiting for a voice, or a cough, or even a shuffle, but nothing came; the room remained the creaks and the light and the silence in between. He pictured clearly Merlin’s face, the smile that prompted the relief he never thought he’d feel, where was the irritation? And then the answers that prompted the embarrassment: “I never left,” dear god! But why had Arthur cared? What did it matter if Merlin had listened to it all... his anguish over his father (there had been no tears, none whatsoever! And if Merlin had heard something that sounded like tears, well, that was his own misunderstanding) his awkward conversation with Gwen, his later frustration into his fist and the pillow beneath his nails. There he stopped his trail of thought, because the hardness was really uncomfortable enough already, he needn’t make it worse.
“Dear god, Merlin,” he groaned, clutching at his face and smothering the noise into his mattress.
“What are you doing here?!” The prince jumped, trying to stand but tangling his feet so fast that the linen fell from the bed and pulled him with it.
Thankfully Merlin didn’t come any closer; the insensitive clot-pole (yes, Arthur had become rather fond of the word) was doubled over laughing where he stood.
“Er,” he croaked, grinning, “you called for me, sire?”
“I did no such thing.” It was difficult to appear intimidating with a self-made bump on your forehead. Arthur straightened and brushed himself off; trying not to think about how easily the boy had heard him.
Merlin looked around the room.
“What’s the matter, did you have a nightmare?”
That grin, Arthur’s hand itched to smack it right off.
“Just get out, Merlin.”
“You sure? You don’t need me to stay and hold your hand?”
Arthur advanced at that, and Merlin took a step back.
“Oh, I’ve got better use for your hand,” said the prince, still stepping forwards when abruptly Merlin stopped and raised his eyebrows.
Boy had that come out wrong. He coughed and rephrased, trying to use the words “muck out the stables”, but it somehow must have come out worse because Merlin actually reddened and looked away.
How had this happened? A year ago the prince had been fine; every night he went to bed thinking about slaying dragons and laying busty damsels, and then a few months ago he had started to bed alone, and then a few weeks ago he had had to decidedly not think about Merlin. But now, all it took was a couple of nights of being rudely awoken by said manservant and quicker than you can say clot-pole he’s hovering above the boy half-naked, making innuendos.
“Um,” Merlin spoke; sliding swiftly to the side, “so is there nothing you need me for, then?”
Was Arthur seeing things or was that a twinkle in the boy’s eye? Whatever it had been, the moonlight swallowed it up all too quickly.
“No,” the prince sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose, “nothing. Just leave.”
This time, when he climbed between the sheets, his hardness worse than ever, he made a resolution. Tomorrow this would stop, he had clearly been bedding alone for too long. It was time to visit Maria. And if she happened to be the tallest maid with the blackest hair and gangliest limbs, well, who was to question the prince’s taste? Only himself, and on that thought he groaned again, realising finally what was wrong with him.
- Current Mood: cold
The next morning...
Arthur was very cranky. He awoke with a stiff neck, arms, back, stiff everything, in fact, and there being the problem; there was a mess in his trousers, which he hadn’t taken off last night, and his bed, though rumpled, neckerchief garnished, was un-slept in. And then he remembered the reason for waking up this morning in his chair, and he groaned.
He had been pacing his floor-space last night, though it was late and it did him no good at all, only serving to disturb the few royal rats asleep under the floorboards. He had been chewing on the thought that hadn’t left him since he’d dismissed the escort from his chambers, not even bothering that time to check that nobody was lurking in the hallway as the boy made his escape.
He had been tricked.
He repeated the idea; his mind dusty with sleepy cobwebs, just to re-iterate. He had been tricked. What was he going to do? So many worries flitted through his head, just flying in a circle like they had last night, and the same headache again overtook him so he sat back down. Words like, “Somebody else knows. Who can it be? Is it somebody I see every day? Could it be...Merlin?” paraded to the tune of a very annoying song Arthur had once heard and never forgotten. But that last thought, that last little niggling really shook the energy out of him. Of course, that was the moment Merlin chose to knock on his door.
“Enter,” Arthur called, before he could pause to consider that his manservant might have actually learnt to knock and would cross the threshold before Arthur was ready to see him.
Merlin stood still in the open doorway, holding his arms rigidly by his sides, compelled by the idea of needing to face his punishment or he wouldn’t have been standing there at all; instead cowering under his blanket, waiting for the prince to send for him.
“Sire,” he offered.
The prince shifted uncomfortably, and his face grew hot. He dealt with the emotion the only way he knew how, and it had been working for him ever since the first signs of his current problem arose.
“I’m glad you’ve finally discovered how to knock, Merlin, but you’ve forgotten my breakfast, and I’m very, very hungry,” he snapped.
Merlin twitched as though somebody had jammed a red-hot poker into his rear end, and stood straight, relieved at being given an excuse to leave so soon.
“Sorry sire, I’ll go to get it right now.”
He scrambled off down the hall, forgetting to close the door, and Arthur remained motionless for a moment, perplexity shadowing his features, but then he happened to glance down and notice the sticky patch around the groin of his trousers.
Oh god, he thought. He’s seen it and he’s freaking out.
Little did he know that Merlin was far too preoccupied to have noticed if even King Uther had been in the room, sitting on the bed, playing with a puppy. But Arthur blushed all the same, and if Merlin had been able to see it, with the open, unguarded face which it coloured, he would have immediately returned to his resolution of last night and told Arthur exactly how he felt. It was a pity that Merlin was half-way to the kitchens, stumbling on every second step.
By the time he returned Arthur was in a far better condition, on the outside at least. He had changed himself; he wouldn’t have been able to bear it if Merlin had tried to dress him this morning, and his face was plastered with a cool mask of indifference.
Merlin, however, could only understand this to be the calm before the storm, and he almost wished he could “forget” to tell Arthur his next instruction. But it slipped out anyway.
“Um, Sir Gawain told me to tell you that your morning training has been cancelled, due to half of the knights coming down with food-poisoning, and that you’re free until dinner tonight.”
Of course this meant that nothing stood in the way of Merlin’s punishment. He only hoped tricking the prince into sex didn’t carry the same weight as being suspected of sorcery. And he only had to think that thought once to realise how ridiculous the statement was, and that he was doomed.
He placed the tray of food down on the prince’s table, and stood to attention. Arthur turned to face him then, and what he saw made him stare. Merlin was the face of perfection in serving. His stance, his expression, everything about him screamed attentive manservant, at the ready!
And it was the funniest thing Arthur had ever seen. Despite the situation, despite his anxiety about what had happened last night, forgetting everything, the prince burst into laughter.
Merlin, not knowing what to do, stood awkwardly for a few seconds before realising that this turn of events could do nothing but bode well for him now, and his face cracked a little in spite of his nerves. After all, there were few sounds which brought a smile to his face surer than the voice of Arthur’s joy.
“Oh Merlin,” Arthur spoke through smiles, “though I appreciate your trying to ‘turn over a new leaf’ and everything, it really doesn’t suit you.”
Merlin raised his eyebrows.
“Come on... standing to attention, knocking, addressing me as sire? Really. Who are you trying to impress? Because it certainly isn’t me.”
“Erm,” he spoke, voice cracking with nervous laughter, “it isn’t?”
Arthur had recovered from his hysterics, and was standing in a much more comfortable pose, holding himself more easily, and for the second time that morning, really stared at Merlin.
“No, you know I don’t expect you to do that stuff,” he said, softly, then looking at the floor, “I mean deep down.”
Merlin swallowed. His mind, which followed only its own tracks, forced him to remember a part of last night.
“Something wrong, sire?”
“Don’t address me like that... I... call me Arthur.”
And he shivered.
“Cold?” Arthur asked. His eyes were back on Merlin.
“No, no, just, erm... tired.”
“Well close the window anyway, it doesn’t need to get any cooler in here,” said Arthur.
Merlin walked over to where the prince was nodding, but as he moved the window-frame and shut the breeze outside, he knocked some candles to the ground. Without thinking, he bent down to pick them up, and as he did so the muscles around his ass stretched in a way they hadn’t done since two nights ago. He couldn’t hold back the groan that left his lips.
Merlin lifted himself steadily, biting his mouth to stop any more sounds escaping, and feeling a little like the stag the prince had hunted a week ago; it hadn’t stood a chance, could do nothing but await the arrows.
“In pain, Merlin?” the question was said concernedly, but Merlin, through paranoia or simply knowledge, detected a definite confidence in its sound. He cleared his throat.
“A little. I think I pulled a muscle, or something.”
Arthur was at that moment indeed thinking the exact things Merlin feared the worst, but the trail of his thoughts didn’t follow the same path at all.
He looked at his servant now, more nervous than angry, more careful than resentful, and with thoughts of faint hope rather than revenge. But Merlin, who could read only the suspicion in the look he was being given, had already drawn the conclusion that he’d betrayed himself.
Arthur walked slowly around his bed, fingering something in his hands that Merlin realised much too late was a blade. The object had been unfortunately placed, because the prince would have fiddled with no matter what lay in his grasp, just for want of a distraction, but Merlin misunderstood entirely.
He lost all his hope, and decided in a stunning moment of clarity that it was now or never.
“Arthur I’m in love with you,” he blurted out.
He’d said it so quickly and slurred the words so much that he felt the need to repeat. Arthur’s face couldn’t have been that blank out of surprise; he must not have heard properly.
“I’m in love with you.”
The sentence had come out clear that time, and there could have been no mistaking it. At least now, Arthur would know that the con hadn’t been vindictive; hadn’t been meant in anything other than hopeless, helpless infatuation. But Arthur’s expression did not change. He blinked, though. That was all.
Merlin stood dumbly, his heart racing faster that it had ever done in his life, including the time he’d been chased by a rabid dog. But the consequence of being caught here he feared even more.
He waited a few further moments, in suspended silence, but then he couldn’t carry on any longer.
The prince still hadn’t moved, but his stare was starting to shift, and he began to look emptily at the space to the right of Merlin.
“Arthur?” he tried again.
This time, it got him a reaction. Arthur shifted in his stand, and opened his mouth as if to speak. No sound came out and he closed it again a second later, but at least Merlin now knew he hadn’t somehow magically fossilised the prince. He breathed a small sigh of relief: one issue sorted, a million more to go...
“Look,” Merlin finally ventured, sighing heavily, “I... you can send me to the dungeons - I’ll happily go; you can order me whipped - I’ll take it, but please, just say something.”
On the mention of the word “dungeons” Arthur snapped entirely out of his reverie. It took Merlin by surprise and instantly silenced his next words.
Arthur stared at him fiercely. His hands clenched in and out of fists and his gaze, so incredulous, so very dangerous, knocked all the air from Merlin’s lungs; made him seriously consider for a moment whether the crown prince too had magical powers. Arthur shook his head, slowly, stiffly.
There were really only two things that stare could mean, Merlin realised, and one was too foolish to even think about, so that only left one other option. Arthur was going to kill him right there. This was why he flinched as the prince suddenly broke into motion; moving towards him in large, sure strides, stopping momentarily at the effect of Merlin’s movement. Then, tentatively, Arthur stepped again until he stood so close to the warlock that thoughts of the first possible intention flickered through Merlin’s mind, and only that stopped him flinching a second time. Then all remaining thoughts left his head.
Arthur brought his nose down to slide across Merlin’s, and their lips met in an action far less angry, but no less needy than Merlin might have expected. He opened his lips in a gasp, and that seemed to be the final catalyst, because when Arthur found that he could lick into Merlin’s mouth, he couldn’t hold himself back any longer. It was as if a dam had exploded, and all the water was cascading through in waves of hot fury.
It was violent after that. Merlin groaned more in pain than pleasure when Arthur crushed his back into the wall, but he didn’t care because the prince’s lips left his own only to suck and bite their way along his neck, and all the pleasure which that caused would have been enough to alleviate death. He desperately scrabbled to do something back; grab that golden hair, kiss the skin in front of him, thrust his hips forwards, but he couldn’t, Arthur was too strong and right now he was using that strength to overpower, and to stun. Merlin was honey in his hands, and he could do nothing but gasp and moan and let himself be ravaged.
Arthur’s own hands were busy, eager but gentle despite, and he caressed a line down Merlin’s torso, reaching the waistband of the warlock’s trousers.
“Tell me you want this,” he panted roughly into Merlin’s neck.
Merlin couldn’t speak. He could only concentrate on the hotness of those fingers so close to... dear god, how had he gotten so hard so quickly? Arthur left his torturous hand motionless while he adjusted his hips so that a thigh spread Merlin’s legs, and rubbed against his cock. Merlin moaned loudly.
“Yes,” he cried, “god yes.”
That and the evidence throbbing against his leg was all the confirmation that the prince needed. He pulled Merlin quickly off the wall.
“Bed,” he grunted, and threw them both on the mattress, his body quickly closing the tiny bit of space that had found its way between them.
Neither boy noticed when their clothes had been shed, not stopping to remark upon the record time it had taken. Merlin groaned loudly, throwing caution and everything else to the wind. Arthur’s kisses were everywhere; no longer simply satisfied with his mouth now that his whole body was exposed, he plundered the pale skin, leaving his own red and raw marks. Merlin would wear them forever, they were burned by magic into his body, though he didn’t realise he was doing it, couldn’t even notice the pain.
“Merlin,” Arthur groaned whenever his mouth was free, repeating that name liberally now he knew its owner lay beneath him.
“You’re so...” he spoke, breathing heavily, seeing stars in front of his eyes wherever he couldn’t see the warlock’s body, “you’re so...” he broke off with a moan when Merlin thrust his hips up, their stomachs both wet and their cocks neglected for too long. He wrapped a hand around both and rubbed them hard till they both arched and panted into each other’s mouths.
Merlin was coming undone. He couldn’t believe it was finally happening, he couldn’t believe the prince had forgiven him his con so easily, and that he was willing to...
“Ugh Fuck... Arthur,” he moaned. He ran a hand down the prince’s chest when Arthur released his mouth from Merlin’s shaft, and traced that route faintly, then harshly.
This was suddenly, hauntingly, all too familiar. Arthur froze.
“Don’t... don’t stop, please,” Merlin murmured.
It was far too familiar. It took Arthur an entire minute to figure it out, and would have been quicker had his brain not been lowered all the way down to his leaking cock, which screamed at him to “carry on, you idiot!”
The only reason he didn’t die from shock right there was that his suspicions had been growing more and more until Merlin had said those six disabling words to him.
The feelings that memory brought back instantly knocked from his head any embarrassment or resentment he might have felt otherwise. His hand, as if under a different command to the rest of his body, moved to take their lengths again, and soon he felt the pleasure of the contact as if a phantom limb was doing it all.
Merlin was in love with him. Whatever Merlin had done before had been out of love. Absolutely nothing else mattered.
Two quiet aching words then came from Merlin which silenced all the debates that raged quietly in the back of the prince’s mind, and confirmed the very worst...or, as he preferred to look at it, the very best.
There was no doubt about it. The sounds, the words, the hands that traced his body; it couldn’t have been coincidence. Being blindfolded that last time had heightened his other senses, and when he closed his eyes he felt their tryst from before bursting through his skin.
“No,” Arthur panted. Merlin, despite the writhing, frantic position he was in, stilled a little and opened his eyes to stare questioningly.
“This time,” Arthur continued, lowering his voice and eyelids in a suggestiveness that managed to be predatory and coy at once, “this time you can fuck me.”
Merlin could do nothing but hiss as Arthur moved to fish his hand into the drawer beside his bed, and the delicious heat the friction of the move brought the boys made each gasp loudly. Merlin’s curiosity got the better of his lust and he glanced at Arthur’s hands. A small blue vial and a red neckerchief sat now on his stomach and the prince stared at him with a dangerous smile.
“Lift your hands up,” said Arthur, biting his tongue then licking his lips.
Merlin knew exactly what he was doing. He obeyed without another thought. The rest of his body was completely numb.
The prince thrust his hips more than necessary when he tied Merlin’s hands to the headboard, but neither boy could complain. He uncapped the vial instantly and poured a generous amount onto his fingers. Using one hand he then stroked Merlin’s cock with the oil, and reached the other behind himself as Merlin’s eyes went impossibly wide.
“I think it’s better if the person bound to his bed can see who he’s fucking, don’t you?”
Merlin mumbled something but it was incomprehensible, though whether it was from a sudden irrational fear or from Arthur’s teeth nibbling hotly at his ear, he didn’t know.
And then Arthur lowered himself onto Merlin. And, just like the last time, the boy on the bed arched up so violently that they both forgot themselves.
From there Arthur pumped and Merlin lay tightly, groaning the prince’s name, hearing his own worshipped by the lips he reared up to kiss, and then Arthur’s vision exploded into stars, tearing Merlin’s with it.
They lay spent for the second time, Arthur’s body on his manservant’s, Merlin’s on his prince.
It took only a few moments, while they rested, boneless, both trying to get their breath back, neither wanting to break contact yet, for Arthur to decide he would give voice to what he’d been wanting to say for as long as he’d been wanting to do what they’d done.
He brought his hand gently to Merlin’s jaw, and lightly touched the bitten, rosy bottom lip.
“Merlin,” he said with an intake of breath that he knew he didn’t really need.
“I’m in love with you too.”
- Current Mood: chipper
Merlin sighed. Everything else about that night had been wrong; the con, the lie, circumstance, the role reversal; when was Arthur ever submissive? When would the prince he dreamt about have ever lain still and bound while somebody else took control? It had been wrong entirely, too generous, Merlin had had his cake and eaten it too, and the next morning he spent entirely in wait of the backlash. Of course, he knew it wouldn’t come; it had all been too easy.
One of the thoughts which had coaxed Merlin into going through with the deed whispered that the prince would find him out and he would be punished horribly; that would have made the pleasure more bearable afterwards. Instead he now felt like he’d just carried out the perfect murder and the only justice that found him was guilt.
He completely repressed the fact that Arthur had indeed called out Merlin’s name, had moaned it, making obvious whose face was burned into his eyelids as he rode out the pulses; as he writhed. That wasn’t helpful though, it just created more problems. If, for some reason, the prince had envisaged Merlin doing those things to him that night; if the prince had wanted him, then that was a secret the prince had obviously wanted to keep hidden, hence the escort. Merlin had no right to take that from him. He ignored the searing heat which tightened his stomach when he remembered the way his name had sounded; ignored it in favour of the guilt.
There was but one release. Merlin hadn’t fucked Arthur. He liked to think it was because his mind had considered the aftermath, that though the entire situation had been wrong, there was one thing that wouldn’t be touched; their place, their niche. Merlin belonged to Arthur, not only being his manservant, his friend, but he had already given mind, soul, and magic to the man; it only made sense that he should give body too. He liked to think it was because his conscience wouldn’t let him take Arthur. But in reality, he knew that the dull throbbing, the faint burn inside his body, was the only physical thing that would be left with him of the night, once he closed the chamber door. And this was why, even though the pain was definite, he hobbled blissfully through the castle the next day because of it.
And that was why Morgana stopped when she spotted Merlin in the hallway outside Arthur’s room.
“Merlin,” she said to catch his attention, and “I wouldn’t open that door if I were you,” to hold it.
His eyes widened.
“Not if you’re planning on limping inside like that,” she continued, waltzing in her fashion towards him. Her hand soon covered his on Arthur’s door-handle, stilling all movement.
“I... um,” he stuttered, blush immediately covering the span of all skin exposed.
Morgana raised her eyebrows.
“Come,” she said, simply. She tugged on his hand and motioned him to turn with her.
“But I... Arthur needs...”
“Yes,” she interrupted, “I’m sure you’ve taken good care of Arthur’s needs.”
He dropped his chin at once and concentrated hard on the ripples of the wooden floor, wondering how many he’d have to count before she left him alone. His struggle was in vain.
“Merlin, you don’t need to look so frightened,” she said lightly, lifting his chin up so that he looked into her eyes, “Arthur doesn’t know a thing.”
He saw that she was being sincere, and blushed at how his guilt had instantly tried to make her the enemy. He let out a breath, smiled as much as he could manage, and followed her down the hall to her own chambers.
He could have guessed, really, what she would want to speak of when they sat down behind closed doors. He knew that she knew he’d gone through with the plan, there was no way she could still be in doubt, and though a small part of Merlin gulped in fear at the prospect of her asking for details, he knew that it wasn’t why she had invited him to her chambers. So when her first words were:
“How was it? As good as you’d hoped?”
He choked a little on his tongue.
“Erm... I...” she didn’t let him get any further that this, though, before she started laughing.
“I’m teasing you Merlin. Believe me, the details you can keep all to yourself.”
He cringed, feeling the heat flush the shell of his ears.
“No, I asked you here today because I didn’t manage to sleep a wink all night long,” she said, leaning forwards in her chair opposite Merlin, until her knees nearly touched his, and he shuffled back; his chair creaking loudly on the floor.
“Do you know why I couldn’t sleep all night?”
“Erm,” Merlin blinked, momentarily considering the option that Morgana hadn’t wanted to discuss him and Arthur at all, “do you need me to fetch you something from Gaius?”
Morgana smirked, staring hard into his eyes.
“No,” she said, “No that’s not what I mean. The reason why I didn’t sleep is because I felt excruciatingly guilty and simply couldn’t close my eyes without thinking about it.”
Merlin took in a sharp breath. He allowed himself a moment of panic in which his prime thoughts consisted of: Oh god, here it is, she wants to confess everything to Arthur. The game is up, before he realised that that was exactly what he wanted; the only way to heal some of his own torn insides. Unfortunately, Morgana carried on along a different thread.
“You see, Merlin, I wasn’t entirely truthful to you when I came bearing my proposition.”
He swallowed the thick saliva in his raw throat.
“When a person who has all the information, and both points of view, decides to give only a limited amount of that away, addressing only one of those points, then that person somehow becomes like a puppet-master and the situation her play. Do you see what I’m saying?”
Merlin was listening to her, he really was, but the sudden itchiness of his skin was unbearable and the room temperature must have lifted easily ten degrees.
“And while that person may have in the past been completely satisfied with the position of puppet-master; remaining behind the scenes but manipulating the action, there have been times... such as now, when the subject matter has been a little too... delicate... to be treated as mere entertainment.”
“Um, I see.”
“You do see, don’t you?”
“What I’m trying to say, Merlin,” Morgana sighed, realising that the boy’s nerves were making him about as responsive as a deer caught in candle-light, “is that I’ve been watching you and Arthur for a while now, and when I offered you the chance to do... what you did...”
Here Merlin bit his lip, looking away from Morgana’s eyes, until she clutched his chin and returned his stare forwards.
“While I offered you that chance,” she repeated, emphasising whose fault she deemed the situation to lie with, “I did so without telling you why.”
Merlin stared at her for a long time. His ears buzzed faintly, and for a second he thought he could hear every single sound within the room defined perfectly.
“What haven’t you told me?”
Morgana sighed, rubbing her temples with her fingers, and scrunching her eyes tight in a manner that channelled Arthur exactly. It helped to focus Merlin on the face which would hang about his eyes long after Morgana’s next sentence.
“Arthur wants you.”
He heard it. He did hear it, and he knew it to be true, deep down in the pit of his memory, but he still asked:
“Arthur wants me.... where?”
Morgana stood up then, shaking her head and throwing her arms up into the air; the conversation having apparently taken its toll.
“I don’t know... on his bed; against the wall; bent over his desk! How did you do it last night?”
Merlin opened his mouth. And then shut it. And then he opened it again.
“Because Arthur was, in his mind, doing whatever you boys did with you. Merlin. And that’s the truth. ”
Merlin took a deep, cleansing breath, and shut his eyes. Morgana sat down again, her voice returning to its gentleness, and she rubbed her hand tenderly on his knee.
“I’ve seen the way he watches you, and you must already know what you mean to him.”
Merlin looked up at her, seeming so helpless then that Morgana almost reached forward to hug him.
“I think you should tell him how you feel.”
Merlin stared so genuinely, but with a small something of relief on his face.
“You think I should confess...”
“No!” Morgana interrupted.
Merlin opened his mouth to ask why but she continued before he could.
“He... I don’t think he’d appreciate it,” she finished.
“Just,” Morgana said, putting on a smile, “just forget what you did; what Arthur doesn’t know can’t hurt him... and start afresh. Tell him how you feel, and all will be righted.”
And that’s just what Merlin intended to do, that night, when he walked to the prince’s chamber. He had avoided Arthur all day, but had not been sent for either, until a servant came to inform him that he had the evening off too. He spared no thought for why the prince hadn’t missed his presence, realising that dwelling on that fact was counter-productive, and he couldn’t waste his best opportunity; if he told the prince how he felt tonight, he could just leave if somehow Morgana had been wrong and Arthur didn’t return his sentiments. And even with all the assurance, all the blatant proof, Merlin still considered this a possibility.
Unfortunately, fate had its own part to play.
Merlin knew the prince used an escort. He knew the last scheduled “appointment” had been last night, and he should have guessed that the next one should have been some time soon. But nothing could have prepared him for the realisation that prince had booked an impromptu visit.
He stopped still outside Arthur’s door, could hear the quiet noises from within, could imagine the bodies and match their movements perfectly to the sounds, and he suddenly, violently couldn’t bear it. He used his magic to open the door a sliver silently, and then he peered through.
The light from the hallway was fainter than the flickering candle inside, so the ray cast across the bed, along Arthur’s body with the escort sitting on top, didn’t disturb either man. Merlin almost clenched his jaw as he looked over the back of the prince’s bed warmer, but a stinging sense of familiarity stopped him. It took a few seconds, but after the realisation hit, he relaxed. The escort, at least from behind, and in proportions, looked almost exactly like himself. A heat pooled low between his legs.
“Mm,” Arthur moaned, less eagerly than he had with him, Merlin noted with a sick sense of satisfaction. He shifted his neckerchief and briefly considered leaving, but then Arthur groaned again and he couldn’t think of anything else.
“Could we do it like we did last time?”
Merlin’s heart had been beating at double speed, and he only noticed this because now it had completely stopped altogether.
“This is very different from last time,” murmured a voice, coming from the escort, as he licked a landing route down Arthur’s taught stomach.
Arthur choked back a small laugh, lifting his hips and trembling as the tongue on his abs moved lower slowly. Merlin winced as the prince moaned, his throat drying quickly.
“You’ve forgotten already? It was only last night.”
“I don’t think anybody could forget the sight of you like this, sire.”
If Merlin could think of anything else except for the dangerous direction the conversation was headed in, he would have mentally applauded the escort. He was very good. The prince bristled slightly, only for a brief moment, but the boy above him noticed.
“Something wrong, sire?”
“Don’t address me like that... I... call me Arthur.”
The escort then suddenly sat up fully upright. His muscles tightened; his movements froze. Arthur quickly caught onto the fact that something was wrong. He too drew himself up, as much as the neckerchief would allow, and paused to think. The escort had never addressed him as Arthur before, and yet the prince was sure he could remember his name being moaned reverently the last time they’d done this.
“Sire?” the boy asked with more than a little confusion in his tone.
“When do you last remember... meeting me?”
“Four nights ago, like I’d said earlier.”
“Four! Are you sure?”
“I’m certain. I counted every hour until I could come to you again. Until I could do this,” he traced a fingernail from Arthur’s jaw, down his neck, along his torso, until it reached his groin, “again.”
The prince shuddered, but this time it wasn’t in pleasure. The escort pulled his hand back immediately.
“Did I... am I doing something wrong?” he asked, eyes questioningly wide, “Is that why you cancelled our last meeting?”
Arthur’s spine went completely rigid. The atmosphere of the room tightened so quickly that it could be plucked like a string.
The escort took the cue in the tone of the prince’s voice, and shifted his body down as Arthur shook his hands free from the neckerchief violently, bringing one to the blindfold and tearing it from his eyes. The boy watched on, growing more and more curious and slightly fearful by each second. He locked eyes with Arthur, whose intimidating stare was lessened by the furious blush on his cheeks.
“I’ve been tricked.”
Merlin turned and fled as quickly and quietly as he could from the hallway.
- Current Mood: chipper
“The coins are on the table,” said the prince once he found his voice, cracked, low, and weak.
The man above him drew up off Arthur’s body, allowed himself no more than a glance at the blindfolded face which dropped to a taught shoulder, one stare to commit the laziness of those lips to memory, and then he finally stood, feeling as though he’d found a stray kitten and after only one day of play was forced to return it to its owner. This was, he realised far too late, both the most tempting opportunity he’d ever been offered and a very, very dangerous game.
It had begun with a stare, in the wrong place, at the wrong moment, in front of the right person.
A week earlier...
“I absolutely refuse to go into this again with you!”
“Well you should have your guards escort me out then, because I’m not leaving until you listen.”
“You know how much she means to me,” the lady spoke so earnestly that Merlin stopped right where he stood outside the prince’s chamber, not wanting to interrupt, but ashamed to listen, so he hovered awkwardly with a hand above the door-handle. The conversation from inside continued.
“...bother me with this, you could just as easily flutter those eyes of yours at any of the men at court and they’d be happy to...”
“I’ve already tried that, Arthur. Do you think I’d be coming to you with this if I hadn’t?”
There was a pause, and a soft, petulant noise which sounded very much like Arthur mumbling in protest. Merlin had heard enough of that to be able to understand it immediately. He rolled his eyes, but remained on his side of the door.
“Yes, well,” Morgana replied, “maybe you’ve changed since a year ago. Maybe you’ve turned into the kind of person who somebody can actually come to when they need help.”
That, if Merlin knew the prince at all, was certain to get to him, and whatever Morgana was asking for, it was only a matter of time. There was another pause. And then he could hear clearly Arthur’s sigh.
“The allowance has to come from Uther directly,” Morgana spoke again, “or she won’t be granted paid leave.”
Another pause, and then...
“Why does she need the entire month free?”
“Because her brother-in-law is away for a month, fighting for your father’s army! Because her sister has been left to care for the week-old baby, and is too poor to arrange a nanny for the child! And she needs to carry on working to pay her taxes, which have doubled this year because of your father’s whim! And because...”
“Alright! Alright,” Arthur’s voice interrupted, “that’s quite enough reason.”
Merlin beamed from his place. Things were as good as sorted, if the prince’s tone was anything to go by. He put his hand firmly down onto the handle, thinking this was as good a time as any to enter the chamber, and just as he felt the tremor of the door opening under his fingers, Morgana finished her sentence, very quietly.
“And because I remember when a certain servant of yours needed the time off work, to help his family; how good you were to him, how just you were, and I hoped to work a similar sort of magic.”
Arthur mumbled something again, but this time Merlin didn’t catch any of it, as he was caught standing in the now open archway, wishing he hadn’t been quite so hasty with his entrance, fighting a blush and trying not to catch either of the royals’ eyes. And if it hadn’t been for the last word Morgana uttered, he at least might not have been wincing.
“Merlin,” Morgana called, brightly, with a winner smirk on her face, “we were just talking about you.”
“You’re late,” Arthur quickly spoke, before the lady could continue; a sore expression held his features but Merlin could see through the facade.
“Your laundry,” he jostled the large wicker basket in his hands at Arthur, by way of explanation.
The blush along his neck cleared a little then, but not completely, and he could see Morgana staring at him out of the corner of his eye, so he rushed to busy himself with folding the linens, clumsily, dropping more than half of them and dusting these off before the prince could order a re-wash.
He heard the room go silent, and the hairs on his skin rose, heated, and warned him that something unusual was taking place. But his back was turned to the other two people within the chamber, and he could only hear the rush of air leave a pair of lips which may have been holding back breath before. Then he heard the sound of a stifled laugh.
“My dear Arthur,” Morgana spoke, and Merlin knew the laugh had come from her because she spoke with an audible smile on her words. It wasn’t a kind smile though; Merlin turned his head around enough to be able to see that. She continued though he sensed that Arthur was probably glaring at her, by the way Morgana’s lips turned up even more.
“I didn’t realise you were quite so far gone.”
“I think it’s time you retired to your rooms, don’t you?” There was no mistaking the tone in Arthur’s voice. Morgana chuckled, lightly, teasingly.
“Not just yet. I still haven’t got a promise from you about Gwen.”
“I’ll think about it,” Arthur said, jumping off the table he was perched on, and ushering Morgana towards the door.
“What’s the rush, Arthur dear, am I spoiling your plans for the evening?” As she said it, she glanced at Merlin, who quickly snapped his head back to the clothes in front of him, chiding himself for listening to what he was sure was private.
“Morgana...” Arthur spoke through gritted teeth.
“Will you speak to your father tonight?” Morgana asked, her voice suddenly very low, demanding. There was a pause, some shuffling, and then he heard Arthur speak.
“You have my word.”
“Good,” Morgana’s tone returned to its lightness, “I’ll leave you to it. Goodnight Merlin.”
Merlin turned again, waved, caught a sly wink, and the final, hushed part of the conversation.
“You play dirty,” whispered Arthur.
“Of course, darling, it’s the only way to win.”
And that had been the first push to the cog that turned in Morgana’s brain; the way Arthur’s unguarded stare had wandered that night, the way not even the presence of a third party could stop the prince’s lips from parting at the sight of Merlin bent over the linens, his hands working deftly, his fingers stroking the material.
She had already known of the manservant’s affections towards his master, the entire castle knew; she didn’t have to listen to gossip to discover that. But this was the very first indication she had that the feelings were mutual, and she certainly liked what she’d seen. Morgana loved matchmaking, but more than anything, Morgana loved making mischief. And as she was about to lose her only sensible influence, as Gwen was going to be on leave for a month, what better time would there be to execute this mischief, and as the hunters put it, kill two birds with one stone?
This was a woman who knew a lot of secrets. For example: Berta, the cook whose famous recipe for roasted duck in thyme sauce had won her the position of royal chef, had actually stolen that recipe from an old relative in Mercia. And Lady Joceline, the French woman who had married Lord Auldric, was having an affair with John the stable-boy... who in turn was hopelessly infatuated with Lord Auldric’s brother, George. Now, these were silly snippets of castle gossip which most people knew and failed to keep hushed, and neither one would cause more than a week of hassle should they be revealed. But...there was one secret, so scandalous, so clandestine, that it would mean great punishment if revealed by the soul three people who knew about it. And, as one of these people was the subject of the secret itself, that left only two who were in the position to tell, and one of these was Morgana.
The secret was that the crown prince, despite his looks, his money, effortless charm, and limitless power, wasn’t prone to seducing any of the castle staff or visiting royals. Instead, the prince hired a lover from a brothel on the outskirts of Camelot. A male lover, always the same one, and always would he wait for this man, this boy-on-the-brink-of-manhood, on the royal bed, blindfolded. Not once during any of their sessions would he ever rid of the blindfold. And it was this little fact, which Morgana intended to abuse wonderfully.
She discovered this tryst one fateful night while wandering the castle after a bad dream, and then again two nights later, and then again two nights after that. The meetings between the prince and his “hired-help” were so regular, in fact, that she could pin-point when the next one would be accurately. She never stopped to consider why Arthur wore a blindfold, or chose the same boy every time, or even why he felt the need to hire somebody at all. But after she had caught the stare that day that had displayed so plainly the lust Arthur felt for his manservant, all became very clear.
6 days later...
“Merlin,” Morgana purred, firmly from inside Gaius’ empty workroom, emerging when the boy in question walked over the threshold.
“Morgana! You scared me,” he spluttered, dropping the herbs he was carrying in a colourful pattern on the wood. Morgana grinned, sliding snake-like behind him to shut the door. She didn’t stop there, though, and Merlin heard the turning of the lock just as she widened her grin twice-fold.
“Erm,” he began, picking up the scattered leaves and piling them onto the table, “where’s Gaius?”
“He’s been summoned by the king,” she smiled, waltzing over to where Merlin stood, but at his expression she realised she’d need to clarify, “it’s nothing too important, Uther has been having some trouble sleeping, and he wished to speak of remedies.”
“Ah,” Merlin visibly relaxed.
Bad move, Morgana thought, wickedly.
“So,” Merlin said, “is there something I can help you with?”
“Mm,” Morgana shook her head, all the time moving towards Merlin, in the most curious way across the floor, in motions like a cat which was closing in on its prey, “no, but there is something I’d like to help you with Merlin.”
He gulped. He couldn’t help the reaction, it was pure reflex. When a person with that expression on their face walks over to you with that swagger, and stands as close as she did, he felt he had no choice in the matter. Morgana licked her lips. Merlin gulped again.
Brace yourself darling, Morgana thought. She was going to come right out with it, shock him, stun him into silence, and then she’d make her proposition.
“I know how you feel about Arthur.”
His reaction couldn’t have been more perfect if he’d been enchanted to imitate petrified wood.
After a long pause he finally collected himself.
“Erm... I feel that he’s a prat, more often than not? But generally I suppose I could have a worse man for a master.”
Morgana touched the tip of her finger to Merlin’s lips, and she was standing so close to him that she didn’t have to reach far to do so.
“No, no, that’s not what I’m talking about,” she smiled, almost pitying the boy, “I know that your feelings surpass that of a servant’s for his prince.”
Merlin began to protest, but she silenced him again.
“Your secret is safe with me Merlin, don’t you worry.”
And really, given their proximity, and the tease that shone though her smile and her eyes, Merlin felt completely helpless, and utterly trapped. Sure, he could protest some more, he could vehemently deny it, but with all the mocking that he was sure to receive from Morgana, he was at least certain she’d never betray him. So what was the point?
He gulped in answer.
“Excellent, now that we’re on the same page... and we have been, Merlin, for quite some time, I’ve known all about your pining...” here she paused to lap up the delightfully mortified expression on his face, “I’d like to offer you a release.”
“Oh Merlin, you’re so very proper when you’re nervous.”
“I don’t understand...”
“Well let me explain,” Morgana coaxed. She placed her hands onto Merlin’s slumped shoulders, manoeuvred him around to an empty chair, and then sat him on top of it.
She’d arrived that day at Gaius’ workshop after lunch, and didn’t leave it until sundown, making sure that her intention, that every single detail regarding the proposition, including the oath to secrecy, was understood. She was, after all, more fond of Arthur than of making mischief, and would never have thrown away his secret unless she knew the person who caught it could be trusted. And this was certainly a most needed intervention.
The summary of what she’d told Merlin was this: Arthur will be in his chamber tomorrow night, blindfolded, and expecting a paid lover who will not arrive. You should go in his place; Arthur will not remove his blindfold, and as the escort has the same build as yourself, you will not be discovered. You can satisfy your prince this one night, and sate your own lust.
Merlin, now, left alone in the dark of his bedroom, was writhing with the torture of this offer. He didn’t doubt Morgana, he knew she wouldn’t have lied to him, but the rest... the temptation... the consequence... he buried his head into his pillow and took a few deep breaths.
If Morgana had told him everything, then things would have run more smoothly for him. If she had given her theory as to why the body of the male escort matched Merlin’s so perfectly, or why the prince didn’t wish to see the escort’s face, and if she had mentioned the lust for Merlin that she’d seen in Arthur’s stares, then his decision would have been more easily reached. As it happened, he arrived at the same end without her help, but he didn’t do so until the final few seconds.
No sooner did Merlin open the door, shutting it immediately behind him, that he almost ran back out again, through cowardice. The prince was, indeed, waiting on his bed, and like Morgana had said, he was wearing a blindfold. What Morgana had failed to mention, however, was that he’d be waiting on his bed wearing only the blindfold. Now, Merlin knew that agreeing to the twisted, taunting mess that was tonight meant that he’d have to see the prince’s... crown jewels... eventually, but at least if he undressed Arthur himself, he’d be able to prepare for the sight.
Unfortunately, when he looked closer, he realised that there was one more surprise he hadn’t been warned of. Arthur was on his back, against the deep purple satin bed sheets, his skin looking more sumptuous than even the richest fabric, and his hands were lifted above his head, tied together and to the wooden headboard by a piece of material he’d definitely seen before. He was hard, too; the sight of it was blinding, and Merlin felt his own cock throbbing to catch up. The crown prince was tied to his bed, naked, slowly writhing, and glistening in the candle-light. Fuck. Merlin couldn’t even think about making an exit, he was glued to the spot.
“Hello?” Arthur called, when Merlin let out a rush of air. He couldn’t speak without breaking the one rule Morgana had given him, so he cleared his throat.
“Ah,” Arthur nodded, “You’re late. I was beginning to think you wouldn’t come.”
Not likely... Merlin thought, and then bit his lip to stop any nervous laughter. He cleared his throat again, unknowingly following all the signals Arthur had pre-planned with the escort. He lifted his legs to step forwards, and each felt like a dead-weight, pulsing heavily. He couldn’t tell how long it took for him to reach the end of the bed, but Arthur didn’t bid him hurry so it couldn’t have been as long as he’d thought.
“Erm,” the prince spoke again, softly. It was too soft, timid, and almost helpless. He shuffled around on the sheets and cleared his throat; his wrists gently rubbing together above his head.
“I know this isn’t how we usually do it, but I wanted to try something new.”
That sentence, with the flick of the tongue to line the lips, should have had Merlin undressing at lightning speed, but he sensed something else in the tone, something which had the opposite effect. Arthur was raw, now. He was totally unguarded; he was literally laid out in all his glory, shed of all the armour and completely at Merlin’s mercy. This, while incredibly hot, also made Merlin’s head swirl with guilt, at seeing the prince so... naked, without his permission. He very nearly turned and ran from the chamber, intending to find a magic potion to erase this moment from both his and Arthur’s memories, when something small caught his eye.
Above Arthur’s head, his hands were squirming, his hands which were tied together with a worn, red, neckerchief. Merlin’s neckerchief.
The warlock went from half-mast to totally hard in the space of a second, and all his guilt was immediately clouded over by red.
“Tonight I want you to take control,” Arthur said, huskily, “I’m at your mercy.”
Merlin almost came right then. His hands, after a stunned stillness, quickly found their energy, and made fast work of his boots, his trousers, and eventually, though not soon enough, all his clothing.
He was standing at the edge of the bed, staring at the prince, who must have sensed the striptease because he seemed almost harder now, and his hips struggled to remain on the mattress, arching every so often impatiently. Merlin kneeled on the bed, legs either side of Arthur’s ankles, and he inched forwards until his cock hovered tantalisingly above the prince’s own. He paused and stopped to just stare. It was surreal; he was about to act out his most vivid fantasy, in its exact details, the one which had him wanking into the early hours of the morning, biting his lip so hard that it bled and panting loudly into a pillow. It didn’t seem real, it was too perfect, and it was this thought above all others which spurred Merlin to keep going; the idea that this could be a dream he might wake from at any moment.
Arthur could feel the body heat over him. He keened into it, eagerly, deliciously. He’d been early to prepare for the escort, he’d been waiting for a long time before he heard the boy arrive, imagining all the sensations he was about to feel, getting himself hard with the thought that maybe... just maybe, his manservant might walk in before the escort did. There was a reason he never locked the door during these visits, after all. But this trail of thoughts he had to stop before he deflated; he knew that if Merlin walked in, he would run straight back out again, and probably flee Camelot.
Merlin had no such intentions.
“Erm, I put some oil on the table, to your left,” said Arthur, turning his blind stare to a small blue vial. Merlin gulped, blinking twice, then shook himself. It was the last moment of hesitation he would have, because his body decided to close the space between his and Arthur’s hips, and both boys hissed violently at the contact, at the heat. After that, the next movements were blurred.
Merlin put his fingers to Arthur’s chest, tracing the muscles tentatively, then harshly, Arthur gasping and rippling under him. Merlin put his tongue to the same route, tasting salt and tang, Arthur’s skin, and leaking as his cock dragged with his body down the prince’s leg, friction, unbearable, he forced himself to lift off Arthur’s body in case he came too soon.
The prince was moaning, twisting in his trap, his wrists rubbed raw by the knots on the neckerchief. Merlin watched him, only for a moment, power swelling through his shoulders as the muscles tightened, before he gave up with the teasing and reached straight down to circle Arthur’s cock with his hand. The prince suddenly released a loud growl at the touch, not able to help himself from arching, pumping into it. Merlin allowed him this, for a few thrusts, until he composed himself to the sight. Then he grabbed Arthur’s hips, forced them still on the sheets, and kneeled down to hungrily lick the shaft, ignoring Arthur’s guttural groans; the sounds were too much, he was already dangerously close; and he sucked the head into his mouth.
“Ugh Fuck... Merlin,” Arthur moaned.
He lifted his head, his mouth dribbling, and his face as white as the pillow the prince was biting. Fuck. He’d been found out, the game was up. What would he do now? Would it still technically be called execution if he hung himself? The seconds ticked by and nothing apart from the expression on Merlin’s face changed; Arthur was still thrusting wildly upwards, cursing and calling the name that had stopped it all.
“Don’t... don’t stop, please,” Arthur murmured, breathlessly. Merlin cleared his throat. It was all he could do. The only comforting thought he had was the one that knew this was definitely a dream.
Merlin cleared his throat again. He was torn. His cock throbbed impatiently between his legs, and the prince was still pumping into the air. And then two quiet, aching words from Arthur made up his mind completely.
He moaned, loudly, forgetting to silence the sound. He reached for the vial, nearly dropped it in his haste, and uncapping it poured the oil messily onto his fingers. The excess spilled on Arthur’s stomach, and two drops landed on the head of his cock. This made Merlin pause, thinking, and then his intention changed. He reached two slicked fingers behind himself, and with the image of the prince replacing them soon, slid himself immediately onto them, stretching his entrance, moaning, and pumping. Arthur’s brow contracted in confusion; he’d obviously been expecting to bottom, but then he heard the sounds the boy was making, and the pictures that came up in his mind ironed out the doubt on his forehead.
It didn’t take long for Merlin to prepare, and soon his hand was oiling Arthur’s cock, and then immediately, with the finesse of somebody who waited for far too long, he descended on the prince’s lap. When Arthur felt the tightness around him, he arched up so harshly that Merlin forgot himself for one, brief, second.
“Arthur!” he groaned.
If Arthur had heard it; if in some small part of his mind he’d registered the vital mistake, he certainly didn’t show it, and was quick to ignore. Once Merlin was buried to the hilt, he dropped his hands on either side of Arthur’s head, and drew himself up, and down again, pumping quickly, met in speed by the prince’s thrusts, both panting heavily.
“Arthur,” Merlin repeated like a mantra, while Arthur called over and over the only name that ever left his lips like this. It took only a few thrusts after Arthur hit Merlin’s prostate and the entire room went up in mind-flames, and then they were both spent, both fallen from their high, Merlin’s body on his prince, Arthur’s chin on his manservant’s head. They lay like that until dry.
“The coins are on the table,” said the prince once he found his voice, cracked, low, and weak.
- Current Location:My bedroom
- Current Mood: bouncy
The bed had been prepared; the armour had been stripped and laid onto a table, leaving Arthur in just his linens when Merlin finally got the chance to see his own room.
He didn’t expect much; he was a servant and this was not Camelot, but when he opened the door, the first and definitely the most alarming detail of his quarters for the night hit him like a battering ram. There was no bed.
“Um,” he blurted out, before he could stop himself. Tiredness made him do it; he blamed that and he blamed his being used to a bed in Camelot.
“What is it?” The hope that Arthur hadn’t heard his noise of protest was dashed when the prince stood himself behind Merlin and peered over the wizard’s shoulders into the second bedroom.
“There’s no bed,” Arthur sniffed, with an air far less concerned than the one Merlin had taken.
“Clearly,” Merlin snapped, forgetting himself again. But really, tiredness could be blamed for a lot of things.
“It’s fine, I’m used to the floor,” oh how those words ebbed away a little part of his soul, and not just because he was hoping to sleep comfortably, but because of what he hoped those words would prompt from the prince; something he shouldn’t hope for... an offer.
Arthur didn’t reply instantly; he looked to his own bed and pondered silently for a moment or two. Then it came.
“Don’t be an idiot, you’ve been travelling just as long as I have; you can’t sleep on the floor tonight.”
“I’ll sort something out.”
Arthur then turned and walked to the door of his chamber. Merlin watched the back; the broad shouldered beauty that walked away from him, and he sighed, admitting now that there was no material dark enough to veil this forbidden attraction. In so many ways forbidden, reasons reaching numbers he faltered when trying to count, and all the time angry at himself for even resolving to reason. There was no rationalising it, Arthur was the Crown Prince; Arthur was a man. Merlin was a servant; Merlin was a man. It should have ended there.
But it hadn’t.
“In the mean time,” the prince said, spinning on his heel to face Merlin and opening the door, gesturing into the hallway, “bring us up some ale, will you?”
The wizard nodded. He passed Arthur, stepping out onto the landing and catching a smile before Arthur closed his door. Merlin sighed again.
After creeping downstairs as quietly as could be done with uncertain footing in darkness, Merlin reached what he hoped was the kitchen, then fumbling for a few moments he entered it and at once the moon’s faint light faded around him from an open window. It was here that he paused, suddenly hesitant.
Back in Camelot he had had no qualms about fetching Arthur food or drink, no matter how late the hour, but here, in an unknown place, he suddenly felt unsure. Arthur was still the Crown Prince, but did the same rules which had applied in Camelot apply here too?
He thought only for a second more, remembering the respect shown to Arthur upon their arrival at the Inn, and the fact that his usual room was permanently reserved, and he decided that it was fine to proceed.
No sooner had this decision come; no sooner had Merlin, aided by moonlight, found the pantry and a barrel of ale, than he heard a loud noise behind him and turned to find Kathy hovering wildly in the doorway, armed with a mallet.
“Who’s there?” She cried, apparently not recognising Merlin in the dim light, and she took a half-blind swing at him, fortunately so poorly aimed that it was easy to dodge.
“Woah! It’s Arthur’s manservant!” He stuttered, side-stepping.
Immediately she stopped, dropping the mallet to the ground.
“Oh, I am so sorry!”
Merlin could see that her eyes were wide as she stood awkwardly, looking at him with a different expression, but one no less unsettling than the first.
“I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
And she looked so comical then, so naively unaware of her own fragility, that Merlin couldn’t hold back a smile.
“I’m fine, you missed me,” he assured, grin widening, “I’m sorry to have woken you; it’s just, Arthur wanted some ale...”
“Yes,” Kathy interrupted, suddenly, and with a curious crease between her brows.
She stepped past Merlin, more familiar with the room than the wizard had been, and brought down two cups from a cupboard Merlin hadn’t before noticed. She placed one of the cups underneath the barrel, dislodged the cork and a liquid poured freely whose essence filled the whole room within seconds.
Merlin took a long, deep, thirsty breath. It smelt like ale, and yet it smelt purer, healthier, almost heavenly, and at that last thought Merlin decided he must have been tired. Or drunk on the vapours; he couldn’t be sure.
“Mmm,” he let the appreciation slip, and his tongue lined his lips.
Kathy smiled in a very patriotic sort of way.
“Best ale in all of Albion, this is,” she paused, and then almost shyly added, “Merlin.”
“I know,” he smiled genuinely, “Arthur mentioned so.”
He hoped that this comment would have put a larger smile on Kathy’s face; knowing that the prince approved of their famed drink (knowing the prince approved of something distinctly Merlin’s would certainly have made Merlin smile) but instead that same curious creased expression from before hit the Inn keeper. She was wincing.
“Did I say something... wrong?”
She looked at him sharply, and then widened her eyes again.
“No, no!” she spluttered.
“Are you... sure?”
“Of course,” she tried her best to smile, but the agitation could not be hidden, and Merlin was suddenly reminded of Gwen at her most flustered moments.
“Right,” he said, “then I’ll just get these to Arthur and...”
She bit her lip. He caught the gesture and pointed.
“There! You did it again!”
“I’m so sorry, Merlin,” Kathy began, “I have not been to Camelot in such a long while, the customs are unfamiliar to me.”
Merlin stared, but his confusion only rose. He quirked an eyebrow.
“It’s just,” she continued, “something I have to get used to, I’m sorry.”
She reddened, and a small, scary thought which asked “does she know about how I feel?” flickered through Merlin’s mind before he extinguished it. But it grew from the ashes again when Kathy made an obvious attempt to avoid the wizard’s eye.
“It’s not important; obviously somebody in your position has privileges, allowances, which we here in Asidore would not even dream of.”
“I’m not sure I understand,” Merlin faltered, his ears growing hot. The line of conversation wasn’t even making sense, but the less he comprehended, the more his paranoia made him believe that she was onto him.
“Well, your refusal of his orders, for one thing...”
“And the way you address him as...” she took a sharp intake of breath, “Arthur.”
“Yes?” Go on, he thought, just say it; say it so the ground can swallow me up.
“Well, obviously the position of the prince’s manservant has taken a different meaning over the years.”
She bowed low and handed the two full cups of ale to Merlin before he could ask anything else.
“For the prince and for yourself, and don’t hesitate to rouse me if there is anything else you require.”
And just as slyly as she had arrived, she left again.
- Current Location:Living room
- Current Mood:awake
“What possible reason could there be for nearly ripping my arm right off?”
“Hush, Merlin! Somebody might hear you!”
The wizard obeyed, tightening his lips and holding back the scowl which hovered while Arthur’s arm rested firmly on his own.
It had all started when he walked into the prince’s chamber that night, to face a thoughtful smirk which had Merlin gulping before he could even shut the door behind him. Arthur had been left alone with his wicked mind for far too long while the wizard had been seeing to some of Gaius’ requests, and all the free time had put an idea in his mind which Merlin wasn’t sure he wanted to discover.
But, as always, those delicious, curling lips, and the memories of their feel on his skin forced a question from Merlin’s mouth before his brain could register what he was doing.
“What...?” he had asked. The prince had stood and with a grip on the wizard’s arm had pulled him swiftly out of the chamber, along the hallway, through the castle until they finally reached the underground rooms.
Now they stood side by side under a dim archway, panting from the rush and so close that the spark skipping between their bodies was physically felt. Arthur released the wizard’s arm, giving one quick glance around the area before turning fully with an expression that sent the blood flow straight to Merlin’s groin. He looked positively dangerous.
“Now,” he began, advancing forwards.
Merlin caught the way the prince’s eyes travelled along his torso and he cursed under his breath at his hardening so quickly. How could one man have this much effect on him? He was paralysed under that gaze, totally and utterly defenceless. The candlelight touched Arthur’s hair, his shoulders, his neck... and then the light was blocked by Arthur’s body as it crushed him into the wall.
“How would you feel about playing a game with me, Merlin?”
Any hope the wizard had of answering the question was lost when Arthur’s mouth landed on his jaw, nipping teasingly until he reached Merlin’s earlobe, and then sucking the skin underneath with forceful promise.
“Ohhh,” was the breathy reply.
“Should I take that as a yes?” the smirk was back but Arthur continued to suckle at Merlin’s neck, murmuring words into his flesh so that Merlin could feel his pulse vibrating.
“Mmm, I trust you’ve played hide and seek before?” Arthur asked, not removing his torturous lips, biting down so hard onto Merlin’s collar bone that the wizard couldn’t hold back a gasp. He flinched, hitting his head against the wall behind, fingers tangling in Arthur’s hair. The prince looked up and Merlin was pleased to see that his mouth had swollen, large and wet and blood-red, and oh it would feel so good on his...
“Mmm? Oh yes, hide and seek...” he focused his stare elsewhere and contemplated the question. And then he raised his eyebrows when it finally registered.
“Erm, yes, I played it once or twice, when I was younger...?” he trailed off and Arthur simply smiled, but there was a definite twinkle in his eye. A twinkle Merlin was familiar with; it signalled trouble.
“Well, I thought maybe we could play our own version of hide and seek tonight.”
“What, now??” Merlin asked incredulously.
“Mhmm, why... Is there a problem?” Arthur taunted.
Arthur tortured. Arthur’s knee parted Merlin’s legs and rubbed against the hardness until Merlin began to throb. He couldn’t stand it; lacing his fingers around the prince’s neck he pressed their lips together urgently, and for a few blinding minutes only tongues and hands and noises were in control.
And then when Arthur’s fingers came down to brush almost accidentally against Merlin’s cock, the wizard let out a moan so loud that Arthur cupped his hand over Merlin’s mouth. Like this the prince continued, massaging through fabric heating up from the friction, and kissing his favourite place on Merlin’s neck. The wizard writhed against the wall, pinned and silenced, and so close to the edge that his hips arched violently off the stone and rocked into Arthur’s hand.
That was when Arthur chose to stop.
A gasp from Merlin at the anticlimax put a sinful grin on the prince’s face as he brought his lips to Merlin’s ear and whispered,
“Play with me.”
Momentarily forgetting that they had been discussing hide-and-seek, Merlin gave Arthur a smirk of his own and sank to his knees. He fingered the fastening of Arthur’s trousers, revelling in the low moan which tore from the prince then, and got as far as undoing the strings before Arthur stayed him with a hand on hand.
“Not, what I meant.”
Merlin could tell how much it was costing Arthur to stop the act by the way his swollen cock was twitching. After taking a deep breath, the prince pulled Merlin to his feet, and after another long breath, re-knotted the pulls of his trousers.
“Now that I have your undivided attention...” with strong hands restraining the wizard (who could do nothing but yield under that voice) Arthur spoke, “my cousins, Hansel and Gretel, were once travelling through Germanic woodland without the aid of a map for navigation.”
Merlin, here, interrupted.
“You’re not trying to impress me with one of your heroic tales of rescue are you? Because I’m not some naive maiden desperate for...”
“Merlin,” the prince cooed then, slurring the word and pressing his whole body into Merlin’s, “will you just listen?”
The wizard fell silent.
“As I was saying... They decided to leave behind a trail so that they could find their way back no matter how far they strayed.”
Arthur waited for a reaction but Merlin remained silent and offered no acknowledgement.
“Can I speak now?” the wizard asked, grinning as Arthur rolled his eyes.
“No,” he replied. Suddenly his head was low to Merlin’s once again, and his grip on Merlin’s hands tightened like a vice, “no, now you can hide.”
The wizard’s eyes went wide when Arthur bit the shell of his ear, and a shudder ran down his body like a thunderbolt.
“But before you do so, you’re going to leave me a little trail to find. You’re going to shed your garments, one by one, until the only thing left on you is that neckerchief.”
Between every few words the prince placed kisses onto Merlin, lower and lower until he reached his stomach. He lifted the hem of Merlin’s shirt and started lapping at the skin of his sides, feeling muscle tighten beneath his tongue.
“And when I stop counting I’m going to follow that trail, and you can sit in your hiding place thinking about all the dirty things I’m going to do to you when I find that last piece of clothing...”
The quiet, throaty groan then must have come from Merlin, though all he could hear was the blood pulsing hard inside his head. And down below.
But Arthur was waiting for acknowledgement, so Merlin managed a slight nod.
Then the prince stood again to face the wizard, and whispered when he was nose to nose,
And Merlin took off, tripping over his own feet, while Arthur’s eyes fixated on him until he left the room, dropping one shoe to mark the start of the trail. The prince turned after that and began to count aloud.
“One, two, three...”
- Current Location:In my freeeeezing room!
- Current Mood: cold
When Arthur knocked on the door of the Inn it took all of 3 seconds for scuffling to be heard from inside. The sounds of a large bolt being drawn overpowered the waves of the sea for one moment, and then the door creaked open very slightly.
“Yes... what is it that you want at this time of the night?” A woman snapped, peering around the edge of the door with eyes half shut by sleep. Arthur cleared his throat.
“We would like to take two of your rooms, Kathy.”
As soon as he spoke, the tired eyes of the woman popped open with the most alarming speed. Merlin wondered at Arthur’s knowledge of her name, but then remembered that Asidore was a favoured holiday destination for the Pendragons.
Kathy stared at Arthur, blinking rapidly, and then wrenched the door open until it smacked against something on the hidden wall.
“Prince Arthur! Could it be?!”
Merlin’s curious stare at the prince then was rewarded with a genuine, if tight-lipped, smile, which caused another exclamation to fall from Kathy’s lips.
“Oh your highness, do come in! Step right in!”
She moved aside to allow Arthur entrance, and with a glance at Merlin he crossed the threshold, the wizard tentatively tailing behind.
“I am so sorry, your highness, for my rudeness earlier, if I’d known who I was speaking to...”
“Think nothing of it, Kathy,” Arthur interrupted the woman’s apologies, and Merlin stood expectantly while the door was shut and barred and the lamps inside the hallway lit.
It was in candlelight that Merlin properly saw the appearance of the woman whose face could not help but break with smiles. She was far younger than he’d first thought, no older than twenty, he realised, and that was what shocked him the most; the way she had spoken to Arthur, he would have supposed her to have been his holiday wet-nurse. It was now more likely that she would have been his playmate.
“Have you travelled alone here, sire?”
She eyed Merlin with raised eyebrows and a quick assessment of his apparel. When she looked back to the prince she kept the corner of her sight on the wizard, and while this could have been unnerving, her easy manner allowed Merlin to relax.
She was pretty, too. Oh she was not dressed as a noblewoman, (nor was she dressed like a servant, so her station was difficult to judge) but it was very clear that beauty had been kind to her. Merlin wondered then at just what kind of a playmate she might have been, but he stopped himself before anything resembling jealousy could surface in his stomach.
“Yes,” Arthur replied, but after hearing the wizard grumble he added, “Well... with my manservant, Merlin.”
Kathy bobbed her pleasantry to Merlin, and he smiled at the lady who, unlike many others in Arthur’s presence, took care to notice his companion.
“And have you had a pleasant journey?”
Arthur nodded, paused, and then replied with,
“Yes, although tiring...”
Kathy started as though she had been burnt by an iron, and then instantly went to a table upon which was sitting a leather-bound book.
“Of course,” she spoke, hurriedly, now making eye contact with both Arthur and Merlin equally, “you must be exhausted, I will get you your rooms immediately.”
“We’re in no rush,” the prince amended, sensing Kathy’s anxiety and eager to quell it, but he could not help rubbing the back of his neck to straighten the kinks. A low and quiet moan trickled from his lips then, and Merlin’s skin began to tingle as though it had been stung.
The wizard shifted from foot to foot and tried not to look at what the prince was doing. I thought I’d escaped this...
His eyes could see the golden skin underneath Arthur’s shirt, and the tight muscles kneaded by strong knuckles, but his brain refused to register the sight. Still Arthur carried on, moving the shirt further down, exposing more flesh and allowing more sounds to escape.
“Merlin,” he breathed mid-moan, and the wizard choked on his own saliva.
“Merlin, come here.”
The wizard took one step forward, with locked knees, and hoped that the movement wasn’t all he could manage. He somehow crossed the space to Arthur’s side, Arthur who was still massaging himself. Taunting was all it was, taunting because Merlin was beginning to realise the full extent of his attraction to the prince, and was running out of excuses.
“Yes, Arthur?” Did he just squeak?
“Rub my shoulders for me, will you? It’s a difficult angle, I cannot do it myself.”
Oh dear God...
His fingers twitched, but he brought them up to the offending article anyway, surprised, no, completely and utterly shocked at how steady he managed to keep them. The heat from Arthur’s shoulder was intense, and as soon as skin touched skin both boys gasped, but both were too focused on their own reactions to notice each other’s.
“Mmm,” Arthur mumbled when Merlin began to rub his fingers in hard circles along the muscle.
Suddenly very aware that they were not alone, the wizard looked towards Kathy’s direction, but she was writing something in a book and had not glanced up at all. A small voice inside Merlin’s mind suggested that Kathy was probably used to hearing Arthur elicit such sounds, but he quickly silenced the thought when Arthur yelped at his tightened grasp.
“That feels so good,” the prince flexed his head back while uttering those delicious words; his hair touching Merlin’s knuckles. He stepped backwards subconsciously, and the wizard did not realise this until his thigh grazed Arthur’s leg. The movement burned him, instantly. Arthur’s moans intensified.
“Mmm, right there, yes! Rub me hard.”
And it was at this point that the wizard felt the need to stop. Otherwise he would no doubt have done something very inappropriate, like, rub the prince hard, for example.
“Why have you stopped?” Arthur demanded, turning to face a Merlin who would not allow his eyes to be seen.
“I... my hands got tired,” he spoke quickly, pretending to sooth his aching fingers, but really he was rubbing the electricity away. Kathy unknowingly came to his aid.
“Right, I’ve got your rooms, if you’ll come with me, sire.”
Not removing his eyebrow-quirked gaze at Merlin, Arthur followed Kathy’s lead as if he knew the route himself. Upon reflection Merlin guessed he probably did know the route; the Inn most likely reserved a particular room for the prince of Camelot.
They walked along the hallway and up a flight of stairs, passing along a dark and narrow landing lit by a single candle carried by Kathy, until they reached a large arched door made of solid oak. It stood out from the others which were far smaller and far less grand.
“Your usual room, your highness,” Kathy handed a key to Arthur, with a curtsy. She then looked at Merlin.
“Your room is through this one, there is another door inside,” she said softly. Could Merlin detect a slight colour in her cheeks as she spoke? Was she embarrassed?
She cleared her throat and nodded to the wizard, not once looking him in the eye, and then she curtseyed again to Arthur.
“If there is anything you require, sire, I sleep in my father’s old room.”
Arthur nodded; he seemed to know what she was talking of. She curtseyed for what must have been the third time, Merlin watching Arthur intently all the while she did so, and then made her way back along the landing; the light disappearing with her. Arthur quickly turned the key in the lock while there was light enough to see, and he grabbed a candle from somewhere inside, striking it in one motion and ushering Merlin through.
“Well go on in, and don’t be slow about it! We’ve had a long day.”
Merlin looked at the newly lit bedroom in all its majesty, exactly what he would expect for a prince. He saw the door which lead through to his own room, and turned to Arthur in time to catch a gaze which was obviously meant to be hidden, because Arthur turned away immediately and began to fumble with the candlestick. Merlin knew that gaze.
“We have had a long day,” he agreed with Arthur, knowing that he was about to have a very long night.
- Current Location:In my room
- Current Mood: bouncy
The horses tread carefully into the quiet around Asidore. It was past midnight and the villagers who lived on the outskirts were sleeping, leaving only cricket-song to disrupt the boys’ thoughts, until they rode further and singing men poured out of a Free House ahead of them.
The chants were similar to those of drunken Camelot after a hard day fighting, and Arthur knew the spirit all too well. And so did Merlin, though his prince was unaware of this fact.
As the boys drew nearer, faces replaced the voices of the villagers, and upon seeing two people on horseback, the singing men started shouting.
“Loooooooooook! Look, look! Visitorrrrrrrrrrs!”
Arthur rolled his eyes at Merlin, and shot a stare which demanded “ignore them.”
Merlin complied, but the men began to surround the horses in their cheerful way, light on their feet but loud on their tongues.
“What you twos guys doooing on here now?” one man drawled, holding onto Arthur’s horse to stop himself from swaying to the floor.
The prince immediately jerked the animal away and the man fell onto his back while his friends fell laughing.
“Tha’s not ver’ nice!” The man on the floor pointed a finger at Arthur, who simply raised an eyebrow.
“Come on Merlin,” he called to the wizard in a low voice, and moved to lead the horse forward, but the men would not stand back.
“Look look! This one’s got himself a crown!!!! Do yee think yerself a princ...ess then?” he hiccupped.
At this Arthur narrowed his eyes.
Merlin couldn’t help then the smile that found its way to his mouth, but he bit his lip and no sound escaped. Glancing at Arthur’s expression, he saw in it that very first meeting between himself and the prince, but this time, no hint of a smirk tugged at Arthur’s features. Instead the prince was smouldering. Very, very hot. And then Merlin realised that he was biting his lip so hard he tasted blood.
Arthur lifted one leg, almost knocking Merlin flat, and swung it over his horse, landing with a thud and a hand on his sword.
“Arthur!” Merlin whispered harshly when he realised what the prince was intending, “they’re drunk, they don’t know what they’re saying.”
Arthur pretended not to hear, stepping forwards a footprint a second, each one bringing him closer to the stale smell of ale and sweat. The man who had spoken hiccupped again, then swayed.
“Arthur! We’re guests here!” Merlin tried again, this time leaping off his own horse and stepping as closely behind the prince as he dared.
“Woa, this one’s lookin’ for a fight!” the man roared with laughter, mirrored by his fellows, and he took a swaggering stand, fingering the hilt of his sword.
“Looking for a fight?” the prince repeated, the smirk flashing through his features. He took out his sword in one quick manoeuvre and swung it in his hand half-heartedly; it was a waste to show off when your opponent was too drunk to take notice.
Arthur looked so menacing then, even in jest, even with his sword pointed at the ground, so powerful... and so very something-Merlin-shouldn’t-think-about, that the wizard felt the need to step between the prince and the drunken fool.
“Actually... we were looking for a room,” Merlin didn’t stop to think about what he was saying, nor how suggestive his tone had sounded, because he was now standing in the middle of a sword sandwich.
The laughter bellowed again. He heard Arthur sigh angrily behind him, and only then did Merlin realise what he had implied.
“Aww, look he’s protecting his boooooyfriend!”
At this Arthur’s sword went up again. It was Merlin’s turn to sigh, but his was exasperated.
“No, you idiot,” he mumbled to the drunkard, “I was protecting you.”
He stood aside. All it took was one blow... and Merlin had known that Arthur would never harm a helpless man; he just wanted to spare the man the bruises. But now the man was floored, and neither sword had even been used.
“Get yourself home!” Arthur ordered, disgust dripping from his words. This, this was somehow more familiar to the fallen man than the crown had been, and a change occurred in his face so instantly and violently that Merlin did a double take. It was in the light of the moon and in his steady stance that the crown prince was recognised, and each man standing landed on his knees.
“Forgive us, sire,” their chant was different now, their heads bowed. The disgust on Arthur’s face vanished, but something similar took its place, to Merlin’s surprise.
“Get up, and get home,” the prince said, but his voice was softer, and he climbed onto his horse again.
The men scattered, the breeze and the royal encounter sobering them quickly, and then they were lost to the wind.
Merlin took to his horse and took a glance at Arthur. They met each other’s eyes and Merlin felt his cheeks burn immediately, cursing under his tongue for the stupidity of the reaction. They stared at each other for a few more seconds, and then the prince burst into laughter.
“Merlin,” he shook his head, “I never want to see you become that inebriated.”
The wizard raised his eyebrow at this.
“No, I mean it,” continued Arthur, “you’re insolent enough when you’re sober; I’d hate to think of what trouble you’d land yourself into when drunk.”
Merlin flushed, thinking back to the last time he’d had alcohol. One sip was all he needed. One sniff was all he needed, come to think of it.
“Don’t worry,” Merlin cleared his throat “you don’t need to warn me.”
Arthur smirked again.
“You’ve not been to Asidore before, Merlin... its beach isn’t all it’s famous for.”
He looked pointedly at his friend, and then at the Free House. Merlin followed his stare to a sign outside the building which had been engraved. The message read: “Asidore, home to the best Ale in all of Albion.”
“Well then,” Arthur nodded his head towards the Inn next door, “Onward.”
Merlin blinked. An Inn?
“Um...” he began, but was at a loss with words.
“Well go on! Unless you want to camp out here tonight?”
“But... I thought that was the plan?” Merlin’s confusion found a home in his creased forehead.
Arthur sighed, moving his horse beside Merlin’s, then taking the reigns from the wizard’s horse out of his hands, and leading both animals towards the Inn. After dropping to the ground and tying off the reigns, he explained.
“I didn’t realise you were going to bring along a map... so... I took sleeping provisions just in case we had to stay in the forest.”
Merlin could see the effort required for the prince to admit to predicting he would get lost, it was evident in the way he rubbed his neck and looked at each spot but the wizard’s face.
“Right...” the wizard grinned.
“We’ll take two rooms, and leave Asidore after greeting the village leader in the morning,” said Arthur.
Perfect. The prince would be staying in one room and Merlin in the other. All would be well.
And he absolutely did not feel anything other than total relief at this moment. Nothing at all. He felt no disappointment whatsoever. And neither did Merlin. What.So.Ever.
Five feeble and almost silent hours had past and three times had the same tree stood in front of the boys on their horses. Merlin, who had remained silent until the third sighting, out of awareness of the prince’s temper, could not hold back his comment now.
“We’re lost, aren’t we?”
The prince answered with a scowl, jerking his horse to a stop, and landing himself onto ground with a heavy thump and harsh footprints in the forest floor. The darkness had settled in far more quickly than either of the boys expected, and what began as a twilight journey familiar to Arthur’s memory was now a battle in his mind between pride and duty... would the crown prince of Camelot ever admit to being lost? Of course not.
“My horse needs a rest,” said Arthur with a tone which almost dared Merlin to raise an eyebrow and retort, but no such action came; Merlin simply sighed... quietly.
He might have answered back, in fact, he would have enjoyed the opportunity but his mind was, and for the entire journey had been, otherwise occupied; the night was enclosing them and Merlin still hadn’t any idea how he was going to escape sleeping next to the prince.
It would be far easier if their plans included staying in the village – Arthur would certainly be given a large, comfortable bed and Merlin... well, one night on a hard floor wouldn’t make any difference, it wasn’t like he hadn’t started off that way. Forget the floor - he would even consent to sleeping with the livestock if it meant that his dreams would not be heard. Crazy, stupid, meaningless dreams...
“Merlin, come here,” the voice broke the memory, and the darkness hiding his burning cheeks allowed his body to work.
Arthur had seated himself on the bank of a stream which tree branches had hidden from Merlin until now. The wizard dropped from his horse, rubbing her flanks gently before walking through the moonlit leaves on the floor to stand in front of the prince. He stood apart, a comfortable distance.
“What?” he asked, and it seemed like the word was multisyllabic; his tongue tripped over every letter.
“Here,” the prince removed something from the satchel around his shoulders, and threw it to Merlin. The wizard watched the light hit the sphere before reaching forth a hand and catching the smooth red apple. He cleared his throat,
But his voice cracked anyway.
Arthur nodded and sighed, leaning back onto a rock and closing his eyes. Merlin remained standing, and many minutes passed with a slight breeze dancing between the boys.
Then the prince flicked open his eyes, and snapped up his head, with a flush on his features. Merlin knew that gesture... he had done that gesture. It was as if the prince had stumbled on an inappropriate thought. He registered the boy standing above him, and immediately looked away, rubbing his forehead harshly.
“What is it?” Merlin asked, knitting his eyebrows.
“Nothing,” but the prince continued to rub his head, “go and fetch me some water from the stream.”
“Just do it, Merlin!”
Merlin bit away the questions, and stepped past him to the water’s edge. He looked back at Arthur, who was wiping his brow now with his sleeve, then lifting the bottom of his shirt to wipe his cheeks and jaw. Could he have been sweating? The night wasn’t typical for winter but it wasn’t warm... it certainly wasn’t hot. Merlin was sweating, of course, but with problems still unsolved, he had every reason to be.
He took a flask from around his waist and dipped it low beneath the cold, wet, ripples. The liquid was merciful to his hot flesh, and he submerged both his hands up to his elbows, then removed one to flick drops on his face.
He took a deep breath of the night and he exhaled just as thoroughly, shaking the stress from his body and flexing his neck. He smacked his lips together; they had been pursed in thought for so long they were beginning to feel numb. The flask was filled, so he stood, slowly, and he turned to find Arthur standing directly behind him.
“Eroooah,” he croaked. And in his head it really had sounded like a word.
The prince took the flask, and looked away before downing the content. But his body was still too close so the wizard stepped past him to sit on the rock.
“Stop smacking your lips, you know it annoys me,” Arthur said after wiping his mouth. Merlin obeyed.
“And stop...” the prince gestured with his hands in small circles, features screwed together until he found his word, “...flexing.” Merlin raised his eyebrows. Arthur continued,
“I know your muscles hurt, so do mine, did you think it would be easy to ride for hours in the night?!”
“No... I knew it wouldn’t be... which is why I’m flexing.”
Merlin could only connect the temper to the fact that they were lost. He made up his mind, and stalked to his horse, reaching it in four large strides. He removed from a sack a folded map. He turned to face the prince and waved the paper in the air. Four angry strides followed.
“You. Brought. A. Map??” He spat, snatching it from Merlin, and taking it back to the stream where the moonlight was brightest.
“For God’s sake Merlin, we’ve been travelling for five hours when we could have reached this point in one!”
“Well you were leading the way!”
“Well you had a map!”
“Well you wouldn’t say we were lost!” Merlin almost shouted, but all the while the smirk on his lips grew.
“On your horse,” Arthur’s demand was diluted with relief, “now!”
Merlin obeyed. The prince followed suit, and the horses’ hooves hit the ground hard, a fast paced gallop with the bark from the trees and flying leaves in their wake.
Arthur’s lips still mumbled in anger about the map, but his fingers clutched the paper and reigns in a renewed vigour, and Merlin knew the temper was dissolving.
It took five further hours to reach Asidore, but the sight from the highest hill to the dip and the village below was worth the journey to be seen. Merlin, who had never visited the place before, was second to reach the hilltop, but Arthur waited until he was joined by his friend, to witness the reaction. And it was spectacular. All previous irritation forgotten, by both parties.
The firelight from the roads and the windows of the houses was reflected back in gold by Merlin’s eyes. His pupils danced with the flames and his stare followed the curve of the village’s main road until... the coast.
“The... the sea!” Merlin gasped, smiling so genuinely that Arthur couldn’t help but mirror the action, “I’ve never seen the sea before!”
“Mmm,” Arthur mused, “Asidore is one of the most luckily situated villages in the kingdom; I’ve spent many summers here.”
The crescent of coast on which the village was built was ragged, pointed where the river split the land in half to open to the sea. Surrounded by the raised earth, the plateau of sand and soil sat without a castle, but the wooden houses seemed to belong to the ground like the trees of the forests the boys had crossed.
“It’s amazing! It’s like the mountains have been tamed by the ocean.”
“Well,” Arthur matched the stare, “in a way they have.”
Merlin beamed. For once since the start of the journey he didn’t have to force his mind to ignore the sleeping problem. He didn’t have to force his eyes to look away from Arthur’s stares, and he certainly wasn’t noticing the stare now. Though it was more intense than usual.
“The Earth,” the prince continued, “is very powerful. Strong, set, stubborn. It can’t be moved by man, but the sea... the sea has its own powers.”
The great ocean swells, visible in even the moonlight, rolled to crash on the sandy coast beneath the boys.
“When the sea speaks, the Earth listens,” Merlin grinned.
“Mmm,” Arthur nodded, “...as if by magic.”