Sometimes, a stone has an indented center which fits your thumb perfectly. This is a worry stone.
Being a friend to Arthur Pendragon was no frolic in the field. It was like braving a forest filled with hostile magical creatures armed with nothing but a basket of mushrooms and bluebells. After all, Merlin could hardly expect to be rescued by a dashing knight wannabe more than once.
A season had barely passed since his arrival at Camelot, and he had already foiled six magical attacks and one poisoning attempt on the crown prince. Frankly, he didn't understand how Arthur could have survived all these years without him by his side. If this was how his Mum felt whenever she worried about him, he owed her a huge apology. And a good round of cheese for the rest of her life.
Merlin had found the worry stone in the courtyard at his second week at Camelot. A week later, Sir Ewan was poisoned by Valiant's snakes. Merlin practiced the animation spell over and over with the magic book open on his lap and the worry stone weighing down his pocket.
Shortly after, the people in the castle suddenly started dying from magical plague. The stone hardly left Merlin's grip the entire time as they raced to save Gwen from imminent execution.
He reserved his furious rubbings for when Arthur was being stupidly noble, which usually translated to Arthur disregarding his life. If the stone could talk, it would say, "I'm Merlin the Sorcerer's worry stone. I have a hole worn out in my center because Prince Arthur Pratdragon insists on being stupidly noble." By the time Merlin is old and grey, there would be a dozen worry stones sitting in a row at his window sill, reminiscing about the stupidly noble acts of King Arthur Pendragon.
This was not what Merlin had in mind when the dragon said he and Arthur were two sides of the same coin.
When Arthur announced this morning that he and his knights were going on a hunting trip, Merlin took his worry stone out of his pocket and left it in his room. Let Arthur's knights worry about their prince's life for once.
Sometimes, you pick up a stone near the water, and it is flat, smooth and rounded. This is a skipping stone.
The first day of the hunting trip ended without any murderous griffins or gigantic spiders. Maybe I should leave the worry stone behind more often, Merlin mused.
Around the fire the talk inevitably turned to sexual conquests, past and future. Merlin slipped away in a hurry, ears burning, when one of the knights started extolling the virtues—or lack thereof—of the baker's daughter. He just knew he was going to blush whenever he bought bread now.
Bedivere saw him leaving the campground and shot him a wink. Merlin grinned back.
It was a mild spring night; there was no cloud to conceal the full moon and myriad of stars in the sky. Merlin took a deep breath, smelling wet leaves, damp earth and the cool breeze.
Reaching the lake shore, he bent down and idly examined the stones strewn along the water's edge. He picked up three that looked promising and straightened up.
He could've used magic to keep the stone skipping until it reached the other side of the lake, but what was the fun in that? When Will had discovered that Merlin was magic, he had promptly accused him of cheating at skipping stones, something Merlin had vehemently denied. He had only conceded the point when he had broken Merlin's record at twelve skips the following week.
Merlin was months out of practice, so his first two stones only skipped five and six times. He shifted his angle slightly, and the third stone skipped nine times before sinking. He grinned, lifting his arms in quiet triumph.
"I finally found something you're good at."
Merlin spun around, almost tripping over his own feet.
"Arthur! Do you need me for something?"
Arthur snorted. He walked down the shore to stand next to him.
"Teach me how to do that," he said imperiously.
Merlin opened his mouth to ask You mean you don't know how?, but caught himself in time. "All right."
He bent down to examine the stones at their feet. Arthur watched him for a moment before crouching next to him.
"The perfect skipping stone is flat, smooth and rounded. It shouldn't be too heavy, although that's hard to judge."
To his surprise, Arthur listened and didn't say something snide like I question your judgment, Merlin or I've always known you have rocks for brain. The moonlight softened Arthur's features and gave him a serene appearance.
They quietly picked several stones and discarded others.
"How's this one?" Arthur held one up for Merlin's inspection.
Merlin held his own stone and stood in an exaggerated stance. "Hold your stone with the flat side facing down. Flick your wrist and..." The stone sailed across the water, as if drawn along the path of reflected moonlight. "...send it across the surface."
Arthur nodded to himself. "Get the right angle, I understand."
He arranged himself in an impressive-looking stance. If the lake was an enemy of Camelot, it was about to be vanquished. Merlin held his breath, and Arthur propelled his stone across the lake.
It plopped and immediately sank underneath the surface.
Merlin bit his lips, valiantly trying not to laugh.
"What did I do wrong?" Arthur furrowed his forehead.
"Nothing, just keep trying," Merlin said. "You'll get the knack of it, you'll see."
After dozens of stones skipping across—or plopping down—the lake, Arthur began to relax and stopped approaching the exercise like sword practice. One of his stones skipped smoothly across the surface five times before disappearing in a little glowing pool.
"I knew you could do it!" Merlin whooped. He moved around in an enthusiastic, undignified dance while Arthur stood by the water's edge, grinning.
"I'm aiming for seven for my next one," Arthur said with a bright smile.
Merlin smiled at Arthur's eagerness. Times like this he remembered that Arthur, with his numerous responsibilities, was only a few years older than him.
By silent agreement, they both bent down to search for more skipping stones. Merlin found a perfect one on the side and reached for it. Arthur's callused hand closed over his.
Arthur lifted his head to look at him. Neither of them released their grasp. This should be the moment for Merlin to argue that he had found the stone first, and for Arthur to wrestle the stone out of his grip.
He found himself gazing at Arthur's soft mouth instead.
Arthur straightened up slowly, pulling Merlin along with him.
Watching Arthur's face closely for his reaction, Merlin lifted his free hand and caressed his face. It was as soft as his hands were rough. Merlin's fingers curved, cupping his strong jaw, and Arthur drew in a deep, juddering breath.
Merlin made a small, helpless sound and dived for Arthur's mouth.
Arthur's lips were as plump and soft as they looked. Merlin had a split second where he was self-conscious about his own chapped lips, but then Arthur licked his bottom lip and he forgot everything but this kiss, this moment, this shared breath.
As their bodies pressed closer together, he could feel the night breeze cooling their heated skin, and see the moonlight softly enveloping them in her glow. It was as if the forest and everything in it were holding their breath, witnessing a new dawn.
Arthur's left hand touched his side lightly, as if unsure of its welcome. Merlin slid his hand down Arthur's neck and clutched at his nape. He pressed his lips harder against Arthur's, wanting to possess his mouth, his body, his soul.
With a jolt, he realized that he had been pushing his magic into the earth. There were grass tickling at his ankles and flower buds threatening to unfurl.
He gentled their kiss and slowly pulled away. Arthur leaned forward, prolonging their kiss just a moment more, and then reluctantly stepped back. Their hands unclasped, the perfect stone forgotten.
Merlin looked at him, heartbeat thrumming under his skin. Arthur's eyes were shining and his cheeks were flushed. If they could only see you now, my prince.
Arthur cleared his throat, uncomfortable with Merlin's uncharacteristic silence.
"Imagine that. I found a second thing you're good at."
Arthur slid his hand up Merlin's jaw, thumb rubbing one sharp cheekbone. His gaze caressed Merlin's features with fond familiarity.
"I found something precious tonight," he whispered, almost to himself.
He dropped his hand and turned around without waiting for Merlin's reaction.
"Come on." He walked toward the campground, gesturing for Merlin to follow him. "The knights are no doubt thinking that I've been kidnapped by vagabonds."
Merlin blinked out of his haze. "Of course, sire." He walked faster, following Arthur's wake.
"Everyone knows these vagabonds are a menace to defenseless princes, sire."
Merlin kept up a stream of chatter all the way to the campground. Every now and then his fingertips would brush across the stone in his pocket. Held in their hands and surrounded with his magic, it had captured the memory of their first kiss.
Sometimes, you find a stone that is not for worrying or climbing or throwing or carving. It might be big or small, smooth or jagged, black or white.
This stone remembers.