[personal profile] ravenclawwit
Title: The World's Worst Manservant 1/2 (Complete)
Author: [livejournal.com profile] ravenclawwit
Pairings/characters: Arthur/Merlin
Rating: NC-17
Word Count: ~12,900 for the whole fic
Genre: Fluff, AU, Slash, Humor
Warnings: Spoilers for season one and AU for everything after that. Porn.
Summary: Merlin is a pretty rubbish manservant on the best of days, but some clumsy mishaps on Arthur's birthday leads to some revelations about his servant for Arthur.
A/N: I wrote this a looong time ago, at the end of season one, before season two even started, so it's only canon up to that point. Basically if you pretend S2 and S3 never happened, everything will make sense. As such, it's an AU. This is only my second fic ever, so I wrote this, had an internal crisis about actually posting it, and then forgot about it for nearly three years. So I'm not sure how relevant it is at this point, but oh well. :P In two parts, both already complete and posted. Link to Part 2 is at the bottom.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.


PART ONE


On his 22nd birthday, Arthur awoke with a start to an unbelievable amount of noise. It consisted of a thump, a yelp, a quick series of deafening thuds, followed by a much heavier thud, and finished off with a confused “Ow”. Arthur bolted upright in the bed, ready to see that the entire castle had collapsed around him, but all he saw was Merlin, sitting on the floor in the middle of a pile of firewood, rubbing his shin. Catching the Prince's baleful eye, Merlin froze.

“Oops?” was all Merlin managed under Arthur's look of disgust.

Merlin,” said Arthur between clenched teeth, “Do you think it's possible that you could enter my chambers with any less noise than an advancing army? Idiot!” Arthur grabbed one of his pillows and flung it at his manservant, hitting him square in the face.

Merlin winced. “Sorry sire. I was just coming in with some logs for your fireplace, but I tripped and fell.” Merlin gave Arthur a small smile.

For some reason, and Arthur told himself it was way too early in the morning to even think about sussing it out, Merlin's smile made Arthur's heart give a tiny flutter, and his lips twitched with the desire to smile back.

This only served to increase Arthur's mental irritation and he quickly ground out any traitorous feelings of humor over the situation. Arthur sneered at Merlin and said in his most cutting tone, “Only you could end up arse over tea kettle while walking across a room you've been in a thousand times. Get this mess cleaned up, and then fetch my breakfast. And don't dawdle around flirting with the kitchen maids either.”

Arthur wasn't sure why he tacked on this last sentence, as he knew full well that Merlin wouldn't know how to flirt with a woman if his life depended on it. Arthur had noted to his extreme annoyance that it was rather the other way around; the damned wenches couldn't seem to leave his manservant alone, always batting their eyelashes at him, giggling at every fool thing that came out of his mouth, finding excuses to touch him even. On one occasion Merlin was so late with Arthur's breakfast that the Prince had stalked down to the kitchens himself to see what was keeping his servant. He had found Merlin in the middle of a group of maids, looking very red and uncomfortable. They were all trying to coax him into dancing with them, as practice for that night's feast, during which the servants had evidently planned their own party to be held in the kitchens. An attractive yet blowsy girl with red hair had sauntered forward and taken Merlin's hands. Pressing her ample bosom into his chest, she looked up at him and lisped, "Please Merlin, you must help me practice. I can never get the steps right and I'll be hopeless if you don't take me in hand". Then she had reached up and traced the shell of Merlin's ear with her finger. At this Arthur cleared his throat from the doorway and all eyes had turned to him. The maids quickly curtsied to their master and scattered. Arthur had given the red haired wench such a glare of open hostility that her hands flew to her throat as if she thought the Prince might behead her on the spot. She bowed nervously and hurried away. Merlin looked at Arthur with a ridiculously grateful expression on his face, as if Arthur had saved him from a dragon instead of a bunch of women. It made Arthur's head feel funny and he had barked at Merlin to fetch his food and come upstairs.

Arthur returned from these recollections with a start. Merlin scrambled up from the floor of Arthur's chambers, sending the fallen logs rolling every which way. He picked up the pillow that Arthur had thrown at him and set it gingerly at the end of the bed. He chuckled. "Jealous, sire?"

Arthur's eyes snapped up. "What?" I am NOT jealous of the maids flirting with Merlin, thought Arthur, that would be ridiculous.

Merlin smiled. "I said, you're jealous. Jealous that the maids prefer me to you. I saw your face that day in the kitchens. You were put out because the maids were paying attention to a lowly manservant instead of fawning over their Prince."

Arthur looked relieved. "Yes, well, I suppose there's no accounting for taste among the help."

Merlin laughed.

Arthur rolled his eyes and swung his legs over the side of the bed. While Merlin scurried around the room picking up the firewood, Arthur padded into the antechamber to relieve himself. He came back just in time to see Merlin dump an armful of logs into the fireplace. A cloud of ashes and soot whooshed out of the hearth covering both Merlin and the floor. Merlin coughed and spluttered. He slowly turned to find Arthur staring at him in open-mouthed incredulity.

Arthur flapped his arms in frustration. "Wonderful," he said, recovering his powers of speech. "Are you capable of doing anything correctly? Never mind, I don't think I want an answer to that."

"I'm sorry. I'll get it cleaned up, I promise," Merlin said.

"Yes, you will, only that's not the point is it Merlin? Because now, instead of fetching my breakfast, you'll have to stop and wash up first. Which means I'll be eating late, getting dressed late, and then I'll be late for patrol with my father. If you could manage to do anything right in the first place, maybe you wouldn't have to spend so much time, my time, cleaning up your own messes!" Arthur was shouting now, and he saw the hurt in Merlin's eyes before Merlin dropped his gaze to the floor. Arthur knew he was being unnecessarily harsh, but for some reason everything about Merlin had him on edge today.

"I'm sorry Arth- my lord, " said Merlin quietly, still looking at the floor. "I'll be quick washing up and then I'll get your breakfast. I'll clean up the rest of the ashes while you're on patrol. You won't be late, I swear."

Arthur nodded. "Get on with it then."

Merlin bowed and hurried from the room.

Half an hour later, Merlin was back with Arthur's food, and completely clean as well. Arthur privately thought that this was really amazingly quick (unaware that Merlin had spelled himself clean of the ashes while going downstairs), but to Merlin he just said, “About time. Set the tray down and then ready my clothes. You'll need to lay out two sets today, one plain for patrol with my father and then something more festive. There's a feast tonight.”

“Yes sire. Will you want a bath before the feast?”

“No. I'd thought I'd go to the feast smelling like the stables. The ladies of the court appreciate it so much.”

Merlin rolled his eyes at Arthur's sarcasm. “Yes on the bath then, right.”

Arthur sighed and then stalked to the table, sitting down heavily in his chair. He watched Merlin lay out his breakfast. He was rather annoyed that Merlin hadn't mentioned the feast himself, indeed had not mentioned Arthur's birthday at all since he'd woken him up this morning. Had he forgotten? Not that Arthur cared. Why should it bother him if some stupid manservant didn't remember his birthday? If it did bother him, it was only because as Arthur's servant it was really Merlin's duty to remember everything concerning his master. It showed a startling lack of care about his job, that was all. Was it really so ridiculous for Arthur to expect his servant to at least acknowledge his birthday, the birthday of the man who employed him, put clothes on his back and kept him fed? Was not paying such a respect as much a part of Merlin's job as mucking out his stables? But, a voice in Arthur's head whispered, you wouldn't want Merlin to wish you a happy birthday because it was his duty. You'd want him to do it because he wanted to. Arthur frowned at this unbelievably stupid and categorically untrue idea, turning his attention to breakfast instead.

Merlin poured cider into a goblet and uncovered Arthur's plate. Oatcakes with fresh honey. Salted salmon. Arthur's favorites. Merlin then reached into his pocket and produced two plums, another food much favored by the Prince, setting them by Arthur's plate. Arthur smiled in satisfaction. “The kitchens have outdone themselves today”, he said appreciatively.

It was actually Merlin who asked the kitchen cooks to prepare Arthur's favorite foods for his birthday, and it was also Merlin who had risen at dawn and crept into the palace orchards to pick the two ripest plums he could find. But Merlin only nodded. “Yes sire.”

While Arthur tucked in to his food, Merlin lit a fire in the hearth, warming up the room for dressing. Then he went about readying Arthur's clothes. He chose Arthur's brown deerskin shirt for patrol. Outside it was sunny but cool and windy. The deerskin would keep the Prince warm on the long patrol around Camelot's walls. Merlin paired the shirt with Arthur's soft brown trousers. For the feast, he laid out Arthur's red tunic with the gold embroidery on the sleeves and his cream colored breeches. Next to this he put Arthur's red mantle and the gold brooches used to fasten it. The inside of the mantle was lined with ermine and Merlin stroked the soft fur absently.

A smile played about Merlin's lips as he thought about how good Arthur looked when dressed in his finery. Every inch the hero of the court, young and handsome and healthy. Merlin loved feasts, because his job during them was to keep a constant eye on Arthur, in case he needed or wanted for anything. In this way, Merlin was able to stare at his Prince as much as he liked, a luxury that he wasn't afforded at other times.

Merlin sighed, disgusted with himself over the besotted nature of these thoughts. Not that he could help it. Merlin had stopped lying to himself last year, during Arthur's final test at the Labyrinth of Gedref. In that awful moment when Arthur lifted the poisoned goblet to his lips, Merlin knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he was in love with Arthur. When Anhora revealed that it was not poison after all, merely a sleeping draught, Merlin's relief was so strong that he was unable to draw breath for nearly half a minute.

After that day, Merlin had been unable to go back to deceiving himself about his true feelings for the Prince. Merlin wished that he could go back. He found that knowing that you loved someone was only a torment when they didn't love you in return. Merlin didn't know how Arthur felt about him. Sometimes it felt like Arthur was his friend. There were even times when Merlin thought he might be Arthur's closest friend. Then there were days like today when Arthur was all hard edges and harsh words and Merlin felt that at best he was barely tolerated. Not that Merlin blamed Arthur. He really was a rubbish servant sometimes, too clumsy, too slow, too forgetful. Merlin wouldn't be surprised at all if Arthur wished for a different servant.

These somber musings were broken when Arthur scraped his chair back from the table and stood up. “I'm finished. Are my clothes ready?” Arthur asked.

“Yes sire.”

Arthur walked over to the basin that sat on the low table near his bed, intending to wash his face and clean his teeth. Merlin realized his mistake before Arthur even spoke.

“Merlin, you need to fetch water for my basin. You could have done it while I was eating, but you were too busy daydreaming, as usual.” While Merlin ran off to fetch water, Arthur wondered if Merlin had been thinking of a certain red haired kitchen maid. The thought annoyed him in the extreme, so that by the time Merlin returned Arthur was in an unusual state of peevishness, even for him.

All in all, by the time Arthur was dressed and in his armor for patrol, Merlin thought that the Prince might just be ready to kill him. He had mislaced Arthur's shirt, accidentally smacked Arthur in the chin with the hauberk and stepped on his foot. Arthur was glaring at him in irritation.

“I'm sor-”, Merlin began.

“Just shut up, Merlin! My patience with you this morning is at an end! So help me, if you don't get the cobwebs out of your brain by this afternoon, you'll be in the stocks and I will personally supply the citizens of Camelot with as many potatoes as their arms can throw. Do I make myself clear?”

Merlin was too upset to do anything but nod. The last time Arthur had been this angry at him had been the night before his challenge against the Black Knight, when Arthur had almost struck him with his sword. Merlin swallowed hard over the lump in his throat and bowed his head. Merlin missed the sudden look of regret that shadowed the Prince's face.

Arthur, torn between his pique over Merlin's clumsy ways and guilt over speaking so harshly to him, merely stomped from the room.

................................

Arthur returned from patrol in the late afternoon. He spent as long as possible unsaddling his horse and wandering aimlessly around the stables before he returned to the castle. Avoiding Merlin?, a voice in his head asked mockingly, and Arthur answered it back, No. Shut up. Arthur was aware that when you started having arguments with your own brain, something might be seriously amiss, so he handled it the way a true Pendragon dealt with any sort of mental disquiet. He ignored it.

As Arthur passed by Morgana's chambers on the way to his own she called out to him. He entered her rooms, expecting as always for her to launch into some diatribe about his father, a demand that he somehow intervene in the latest injustice perpetrated by the King. But today she was standing by her window with a contemplative look on her face, as if she were trying to figure out the answer to some complex problem. She turned to Arthur and smiled. Arthur smiled back, but cautiously. Being in a room with Morgana was like being in a room with a human thunderstorm. You never knew when she was going to strike, flashing out in anger, lightning quick and just as dangerous. Even when she was calm, it was an uneasy peace, like the tense minutes before a gale. Still, he loved her. Not as he always thought he should, beautiful as she was, but he loved her nonetheless.

Morgana curtsied. “Happy Birthday, my lord. I hope the day is to your liking.” Then she came close and kissed his cheek. When she pulled back, she wrinkled her nose. Then a sly smile curved her lips and she said, “You smell like a horse.”

Arthur rolled his eyes. She always did that. Reeled him in by pretending to be friendly and obliging, only to say something in the next breath that made him feel like an absolute fool. “Yes, I was just on my way to have a bath, so if you'll excu-”

“With Merlin?” Morgana interrupted.

Arthur unaccountably blushed. “Um...what?”

Morgana put on her most innocent look, but there was a gleam in her eyes. “I meant, will it be Merlin, who draws your bath?”

Arthur, still flushing, replied, “Well yes, I suppose. I mean he always does. I mean, it's his job...isn't it?” In his confusion over this odd line of questioning, Arthur wasn't really sure.

Morgana smiled, the predatory humor in her eyes now more than blatant. “Why Arthur, is something the matter? You sound like Gwen when she gets embarrassed. Usually when she talks to boys. Or about boys. She gets flustered. But that can't be it. You wouldn't go all red in the face just because we're talking about Merlin.”

“Look,” Arthur said, frustration growing by the second, “I don't know what you're on about today, but I really don't have time to stand around while you amuse yourself at my expense or whatever it is that you're doing.”

“Poor Merlin,” Morgana said suddenly. “He's got such a difficult job. It can't be easy having to wait on such a colossal, pigheaded, spoiled rotten prat,” Morgana said viciously, eyes flashing with anger.

Arthur's jaw dropped. “What is your problem, Morgana? I haven't done anything to you!”

“It's what you've done to Merlin that I speak of, Arthur Pendragon!” Morgana was looking at him, disapproval stamped on every feature of her lovely face.

“I have no idea what you're talking about,” Arthur said stonily, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Oh yes you do. I saw Merlin this morning after you went out on patrol with Uther. He practically ran into me. He couldn't see where he was going for the tears in his eyes! He was so upset, he said you were angry with him and had yelled and snapped at him all morning!”

“Well, I'll try to coddle him a bit more next time, especially since I now know that he'll run off and tattle about it to you!” Arthur said angrily.

Morgana shook her head. “It wasn't like that at all. You should have heard Merlin. All he could speak of was what a terrible servant he is, how clumsy and stupid he is, and that he was sure you hated him! I guessed at your behavior from how distressed he was. Usually Merlin is quite able to hold his own against your regular brand of royal pratness, but it was obvious from his despair this morning that you had been quite harsh with him. And yet he took your part all along! Said he didn't blame you for threatening to put him in the stocks, after all the mistakes he made. Arthur, how could you? You know how humiliating the stocks are for Merlin, and Uther puts him there far too often as it is!”

Arthur felt the sting of this. Merlin did hate the stocks, although he often made light of it. But Arthur could see the shame and degradation in Merlin's eyes after a day spent in the stocks. It was for that reason that Arthur had never used them to punish Merlin himself, even though it was Uther's preferred penalty for small infractions. Arthur knew all this, yet he was unwilling for Morgana to know of this accommodation he had made for Merlin's sake. So he replied, “I lost my temper. I couldn't help it! If you'd been witness to his utter uselessness this morning even you would have given him a combing down.”

“Merlin was not raised to be a servant, Arthur. He grew up in a small village, never knowing anybody who was not his equal. He never had to wait on anyone but himself. And now here he is, not by choice, expected to serve and wait on you, to show deference in everything to you, learn what it is to have a master, when he's had none before! And so he has done, cheerfully for the most part. You ought to recognize what a struggle that has been for him and not seek to make his job harder by being unreasonable!”

Arthur snorted. “He is free born, Morgana. If Merlin finds his job so odious, he may leave whenever he wants,” Arthur said with stunning nonchalance. In truth, the thought of Merlin leaving made him feel an anxious dread in the pit of his stomach. It was the same feeling he always got when the warning bell rang in Camelot.

Morgana huffed in exasperation. “You really don't get it, do you Arthur? Merlin will never willingly leave your side. He loves you, you idiot! He's in love with you.”

Arthur looked at Morgana in shock. Then recovering, he laughed and said, “You talk nonsense, Morgana. You'd better stop listening to the bards when they sing their romances. I fear you take it all too seriously.”

Morgana drew closer to Arthur, looking him directly in the eyes. “I speak the truth, you know I do, despite your mockery. And what's more, I know that you love Merlin too. That is why I do not understand how you could mistreat one who is so devoted to you and whom you love more than I've ever known you to love anyone.”

Arthur tried again to laugh off Morgana's words. “Really, Morgana, you are too sentimental-”

“You will not deny it!” Morgana said impatiently. “Not to me, Arthur, who has known you since childhood.”

“Alright, I'm really not having this conversation with you, so-”

“Tell Merlin how you feel! I know he feels the same way.”

Arthur looked incredulous. “Have you gone mad? I think Gaius should increase the dosage of your sleeping draughts. The lack of rest has unhinged you, clearly.”

“Of course you're worried about what people will think,” Morgana went on, completely ignoring Arthur's protests. “You shouldn't. Everyone knows that Sir Balen and Sir Evrain are lovers, even Uther. He doesn't care. Balen is one of his most trusted advisors. And you know your father has as little use for the new religion as he does for the old.”

“Somehow I think my father might care just a smidge if I started having an affair with my manservant,” Arthur said, hardly believing that he was dignifying Morgana's nonsense with a response.

“Well, nobody's saying you shouldn't be discreet about the matter, obviously. No need to upset the nobles and their daughters. It's not like you won't marry one of them eventually.”

Arthur just stared at her.

Morgana rolled her eyes and said, “Really, Arthur. You're so naïve. Any marriage you enter will be arranged, it will not be a matter of love. This is how it is with almost all marriages among the nobility. You marry for duty, to make alliances or to make an heir but that doesn't take long. You will have a lover, Merlin, of course, and so will your queen, no doubt. She might even have several, depending on her...appetites.” Morgana grinned wickedly.

Arthur was dumbfounded. While everything Morgana said was technically true, and Arthur had known it to be so since he was twelve and his training for court life had begun, he couldn't believe he was hearing it put so plainly, from Morgana of all people. It was true that the nobility enjoyed a certain level of sexual freedom. Arthur himself had taken advantage of this freedom more than a few times with the attractive wife of a Knight or a visiting Baroness. Indeed, truth be told, sometimes even with a fellow Knight himself, married or unmarried. And a few sons of nobles who had caught his eye. Many, many times with various stable boys. To be honest, Arthur was pretty sure he had plowed half the women in Camelot and twice as many of the young men. Whatever. Discretion was still valued. To hear these things spoken of so matter of factly by Morgana, a maiden no less, was quite disconcerting. Maidens were just about the only members of the court one wasn't allowed to debauch with impunity. At least so it was said. Arthur began to wonder just what Morgana did with all of her free time. He'd always assumed that she sat around and brushed her hair and embroidered and did girly things with Gwen, but now he was not so sure.

“But all this is nothing, things that lie in a distant future,” Morgana said suddenly, flushing as if she were privy to Arthur's thoughts. “We were speaking of the present, of Merlin, of love.”

Arthur had hoped she'd forgotten that topic, but he should have known better. Once Morgana had a hold on something she was like a dog with a bone. “If Merlin loves me so much, why did he forget my birthday?” Arthur replied sulkily.

Morgana let out a breath. “That's what this is about? That's why you were so awful to him this morning?” Morgana smiled in sudden understanding and said, “Of course. Your feelings were hurt. Why didn't you just say something?”

Arthur scowled. “I'm not going to beg Merlin to remember my birthday, either he does or he doesn't. Obviously, it didn't strike him as something that was worth recalling.”

“Arthur, I'm almost completely positive that Merlin did not forget your birthday. He remembered my birthday, for heaven's sake. He brought me those wild strawberries he found in the forest, remember?”

Arthur did remember. At the time, he thought the gesture might have indicated that Merlin held some sort of partiality for Morgana. Arthur had questioned Merlin closely on this point, under the pretense that Morgana was a noblewoman of his own household, and therefore it was his duty to make sure that nothing improper was afoot. Merlin had assured him in earnest tones that he felt only friendly affection for Morgana. Arthur had seen that he was telling the truth, as Merlin was a terrible liar, and Arthur could always tell when Merlin was being deceptive. Arthur found this rather amusing, since Merlin lied constantly. Honestly, you'd think that someone who lies so often might at least take the trouble to become good at it, Arthur thought. But evidently, that was beyond Merlin's abilities.

“If he remembered my birthday, then why didn't he say something?” Arthur asked, returning from his thoughts.

“I don't know,” Morgana said, idly rearranging some flowers in a vase, “How soon after he entered your chambers this morning did you start yelling at him?”

Arthur was silent.

Morgana sighed. “So basically, he didn't have a chance to wish you a happy birthday, because you were too busy berating him.”

“It wasn't my fault! You should have asked him how soon after he entered my chambers did he start mucking things up! I wasn't even awake yet, that's how soon.”

Morgana smiled indulgently. “I think you two just got off wrong footed this morning. You're always a huge prat on your birthday.”

“What? I am not,” Arthur said indignantly.

“Yes you are. You expect everything to be perfect on your birthday, because after all, you are Prince Arthur the Great, and when it isn't, you throw a royal temper tantrum.”

Arthur spluttered. “I-, you-, I do not!”

Morgana gave him a falsely sympathetic look. “It's not your fault Arthur. You were raised to be arrogant and spoiled. You can no more help it than you can help having crooked teeth.”

“I don't have to listen to this!” Arthur spat, glaring at Morgana.

“That's right! You don't!” cried Morgana, rushing forward suddenly and propelling him out the door. “In fact, you should leave right now and go and have your bath. With Merlin.” And before Arthur could find his voice to retort, she grinned at him, winked impudently, and slammed the door in his face.

For a moment, Arthur was too stunned to do anything. Then his hands curled into fists. He shook them at Morgana's door while letting out an inarticulate growl of rage, even stamping his foot for good measure. A passing maid gave him an extremely frightened look, and quickened her steps as she walked by him. Oh my god, Arthur thought, Morgana is right. I really do throw royal temper tantrums.

Muttering curses under his breath, Arthur stalked down the hall to his own rooms. He flung open the door but stopped short when he caught sight of Merlin, who was kneeling by the hearth, tending to Arthur's fire. Behind him was Arthur's tub, filled with steaming water.

Merlin looked up at him when the door opened, but Arthur, suddenly embarrassed and blushing as he recalled his conversation with Morgana concerning his servant, looked away quickly. Merlin took this to mean that Arthur was still furious with him from this morning. Merlin wanted to sink through the floor. He hated being at odds with Arthur. All he wanted to do was fix it somehow so that they could go back to normal. He resolved to be especially careful not to do anything stupid for the remainder of the day.

“Your bath is ready. And I've brought you some food in case you're hungry,” Merlin said as he stood up. He motioned to the bread and cheese and grapes on the table.

“I'm not hungry. I expect there'll be more food than can be imagined at the feast tonight,” Arthur said, and then not wanting to sound ungrateful, “But thank you for bringing it all the same, and for the bath.”

Merlin nodded and smiled tentatively at Arthur. Arthur again dropped his gaze. There was a tense few moments of silence, and then Arthur walked across the room. He stood next to the tub and put his arms out, waiting for Merlin to undress him.

Merlin, wondering what had gone wrong, began removing the Prince's armor.

Arthur had never been more uncomfortable. Merlin had dressed and undressed him hundreds of times, and there had never been anything the least bit awkward in it. Before it had always been a simple act of duty and routine, almost clinical. But today Arthur was more aware than ever of Merlin's proximity to his own body. Every touch seemed heightened. Merlin's fingers brushed against his neck as he unfastened the hauberk, and Arthur jerked away as if burned.

“Sorry.” Merlin said, drawing his hand away quickly. Arthur grabbed his wrist.

Merlin looked at him, eyebrows raised. “Sire?”

Arthur realized he was holding on for just a little too long, and released Merlin's wrist. “It's nothing,” Arthur said, “Your hands are just cold.”

“Sorry,” Merlin apologized again.

“Don't be silly. It's not your fault,” Arthur said shortly. There were another few moments of silence and then Merlin resumed his task.

Arthur cursed Morgana inwardly as Merlin continued. It was as if her words had lifted a veil from Arthur's eyes, and he could not regain it. It wasn't Merlin's physical attributes that were suddenly new to him. Even Arthur could be honest enough with himself to admit that he'd always found Merlin attractive. Well, more than attractive, Arthur owned. Downright shaggable was more like it. But Arthur had always dismissed it as idle lust, and knowing the pitfalls of dallying with one's own servant, Arthur had thought it a lust just as easily slaked by someone less dangerous, someone less close. A lonely noblewoman, or a handy stable boy.

What was new to Arthur was his consciousness of his feelings about his manservant. He now understood with perfect clarity that his annoyance over Merlin's popularity with the kitchen maids was jealousy, and that his heart fluttering when Merlin smiled or the weird restless feeling he often had when Merlin wasn't around, that was love. This sudden inner revelation made Arthur feel dizzy. It was rather like how he'd felt as a child when he and Morgana used to amuse themselves by spinning from a rope they'd tied to a tree branch. When you stopped, you had to wait a minute before trying to walk, until the ground caught up with your eyes.

Arthur looked at Merlin, who had finished removing the armor and was now working at a knot in the laces of Arthur's shirt. Merlin bit his lip as he worked and Arthur found himself wondering if Merlin had ever been kissed. Would Merlin like being kissed by Arthur? Would he be horrified? Arthur knew that some had bought strongly into the Roman religion of the Christ, which frowned upon their older Celtic traditions of men lying with men.

Merlin finished with the shirt, and then stepped back as Arthur lifted it over his head and handed it to him. Merlin then reached down to untie the laces on Arthur's trousers, as he always did, but Arthur suddenly realized that if Merlin got anywhere near there today, the outcome might be embarrassing to both of them. In a panic, he actually swatted Merlin's hands away. Merlin flinched and Arthur felt sorry, but he couldn't think of anything to say except, “Never mind, I'll do that. In fact, you can go.”

Merlin frowned. “Don't you want me to help you dress for the feast, after your bath?”

Arthur shook his head. “No, I'll manage.” And then realizing how short he sounded, he added in a milder tone, “I expect the feast to run very late and I may need you after. You should go now and get some rest. I'll see you in the hall for the feast.”

Merlin looked at him for a moment, puzzlement in his expression, but then he nodded and bowed. Arthur turned his back and began to undo his trousers. He didn't see Merlin remove something from his jacket and place it on Arthur's table. A moment later Arthur heard the door close.

Arthur skinned off his trousers and then stepped into the bath. It was still steaming hot. Baths drawn by Merlin the wonder, Arthur thought to himself. Always hot and always right on time. Merlin must think I'm an idiot. Either that or he doesn't trust me at all.

Arthur sighed and sunk deeper into the water. He had a sudden image of Merlin in the bath with him and he was instantly hard. He imagined Merlin leaning back against him, arse brushing against Arthur's cock. Arthur stifled a moan and wrapped his hand around his prick. He found his rhythm, each stroke accompanied by flashes of Merlin. Merlin's lips parted and swollen with kisses, Merlin with his hair tousled and sweaty, Merlin arching his back as Arthur thrust into him again and again. Arthur felt his climax building and gathering speed and then he was biting his lip and gasping Merlin's name as he spilled over his hand into the soapy water. Arthur came back to earth slowly, head lolling back on the edge of the tub. He sighed. Sometimes Arthur felt guilty about wanking to lewd thoughts about his manservant, especially since it happened so often. It felt like he was keeping some awful and dangerous secret from Merlin, which Arthur knew was ridiculous. The things Merlin kept from Arthur were far worse, weren't they?

When Arthur finished his bath he got out and donned his nightshirt while he waited for his hair to dry. He was pouring himself a drink when he noticed a parcel of sorts on the table. Arthur picked it up. Whatever it was, it was wrapped in rough undyed woolen fabric and tied with a thin piece of twine. Arthur untied it. Inside was a leather scabbard, sized for a dagger. There was a small piece of parchment on top of it. Arthur picked it up and read:



Arthur picked up the scabbard. It was made of a single piece of leather, folded over and stitched up the bottom and side with leather cord, with a loop for attaching it to a sword belt at the top. The leather had been carved front and back with intricate designs. In the center of the front side was a large outline of the Pendragon crest, the great dragon with its wings spread upwards. Inside the dragon were Arthur's initials, AP. Both the crest and the initials had been rubbed with dye to make them darker than the background. The inside of the scabbard was lined with lamb's wool, to protect the blade of a dagger and keep it from rusting.

Arthur owned many scabbards, some made of pure silver, but this one, even with it's simple construction, was to Arthur's eyes the most exquisitely beautiful thing he'd ever seen. And Arthur knew that every bit of it had been made by Merlin.

Arthur was aware that Merlin was somewhat skilled in leatherwork. A few months ago he had gone to Gaius' chambers to fetch Merlin and seen him fashioning himself a pair of low shoes from coarse leather. He sewed them with waxed thread and a metal awl, the stitches neat and precise. Arthur had been surprised that Merlin possessed this skill. Merlin told him that he had learned from his mother, who had learned it apparently from her father, for such was his trade.

As for the carving of the leather, Arthur had not known that Merlin knew such an art, but Merlin must have done it himself. He was simply too poor to afford to pay a craftsman for such work. However, the leather and lamb's wool must have cost Merlin at least a day's wages, probably more. Arthur could plainly see that even for a person of Merlin's talents, it would have taken hours, no, days, of painstaking work to carve the complex designs on the leather with a wooden awl, which needed to be continually sharpened.

Arthur put the scabbard down with shaking hands. His sharp words of that morning now rose up before him. Idiot. Can't do anything right. Shut up, Merlin. Arthur recalled the wounded look in Merlin's eyes. He couldn't believe he'd been so cruel to a person who obviously cared so greatly for him. And that I care about, Arthur thought, that I...love.

Arthur set his jaw. There was only one thing to do. He had to somehow apologize to Merlin and hope that he'd forgive him.

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ravenclawwit

September 2012

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