Merlin has long since accepted his role in life as dogsbody to every prince, physician and mythical creature in the land. Still, spending his evening hand copying dozens of leaflets about healthy eating and the importance of a balanced diet by candlelight doesn't sound like part of any of his numerous jobs.
"My hand's cramping," he tells Gaius in a plea for mercy.
"Just a dozen or so more, Merlin."
"Gaius..." Merlin begins, but the physician only raises his eyebrow in that way that means he has already considered every point Merlin could possibly make about the unfairness of his lot and he has found himself moved by none of them. Instead, Merlin decides to engage with him about his leaflet in the hope that, duly distracted, Gaius will forget to order him to deliver the leaflets around the lower town. "Why five?"
"Pardon, my boy?"
"Why five portions of fruit and vegetables a day? I mean, it just seems like a bit of an arbitrary number."
Too late, Merlin realises his mistake. "No. I didn't mean arbitrary. I'm sure you arrived at that number using a process. A scientific process, with candles and test tubes and, er, poultices?"
"Tomorrow," says Gaius, "you can deliver those leaflets around the lower town for me."
Sulking, Merlin glares into his supper, a dish that is grey and either a very thick soup or a very thin porridge. "How many portions of fruit and vegetables in that?" he asks.
Pretending not to have heard him, Gaius says, "And after you've done that, you can tell Prince Arthur about Camelot's new dietary requirements."
It's not that Merlin's against people eating fruit and vegetables, the more that's eaten, the less there will be left over to hurl at Merlin the next time he's in the stocks. It's that Arthur can be like an especially stubborn four year old when it comes to his food, and he tends to regard anything green appearing on his plate as a personal affront.
On his way back to the castle he runs into Gwen. She's been a servant at the castle a lot longer than Merlin, and he's always looked on her as a sort of mentor in the art of coaxing stubborn nobles into doing things they might not want to do.
"Does Lady Morgana eat a lot of fruit?" he asks her.
"Morgana thinks the fruit bowls are purely ornamental, like the flower arrangements. Why do you ask, Merlin?"
Merlin hands her a leaflet. "Gaius is on another public health kick, he wants me to talk to Arthur about it."
"Sorry, can't help you. Morgana's still angry about that lecture he gave her on the importance of getting eight hours of sleep every night."
Merlin knows Gaius means well, but telling someone who's being treated for night terrors and chronic insomnia that they aren't getting enough sleep was probably not his finest moment.
When Merlin arrives in the prince's rooms, Arthur is tucking into a hearty lunch of chicken drumsticks (Merlin hasn't had his lunch yet and he had a second helping of that soup/porridge thing for breakfast) and the place looks like it has been set-about by angry monkeys. It always looks like that when Merlin stops cleaning for more than twelve minutes at a time. He's beginning to suspect that Arthur keeps a troupe of monkeys in a cupboard for just that purpose.
Merlin stoops to pick up some laundry and decides this is as good a time as any to bring up the fruit thing. "Arthur, you can't keep eating nothing but meat and bread."
Arthur takes a disgusting large bite out of a drumstick, just to prove that he can eat what he likes.
Merlin rolls his eyes and tries again. "You should eat more fruit." Merlin gestures to the bowls overflowing with apples and plums. Actually, now he comes to think about it, he doesn't know where any of it comes from. But that can be a mystery for another day. "Gaius says it's good for you."
"The last thing you should be concerned about is what I'm eating, Merlin."
Merlin plays his trump card. "Gaius says you'll get fat."
"Fat? Do you want your head cut off for treason?"
Honestly? There are days-- "No? But I still think you should eat more fruit."
"If you must know, Merlin, I don't like fruit. Anyway, as my manservant, your only concern should be bringing me all the food I desire."
"Fat," Merlin sing-songs, and that's when Arthur throws a goblet at his head.
So that went about as well as expected.
"Arthur doesn't want to eat fruit," Merlin tells Gaius.
"Well, you must make him."
"Why?" says Merlin, because frankly this is getting ridiculous.
"It's your job to protect Arthur, Merlin, even from his own weaknesses."
"Have you got Uther eating his five a day, then?"
(The king of Camelot is tucking into a huge plate of sprouts.
"You say these provide protection from enchantments, Gaius?"
"Oh, yes, sire. Eat up.")
After supper, Merlin goes to visit the Great Dragon in his cave.
"It's about my destiny."
"Yes, young warlock?"
"I have to protect Arthur from assassins and monsters so he can become the Once and Future King, right?"
"But if he were to, say, die of a heart attack the week after his coronation because he's eaten nothing but red mean since he was weaned? That wouldn't be my fault and the forces of destiny wouldn't come crashing down on my head?"
The Dragon, helpful as ever, says nothing.
"Gaius says you should eat more fruit," Merlin informs the Dragon before fleeing up the stairs.
"I told Morgana about Gaius's fruit theory," Gwen tells him.
"What does she think?"
"She said that fruit is symbolic of temptation and female sexuality."
Merlin blushes to the tips of his ears. "Where is she getting all this stuff from?"
"She's been sneaking out of the castle at night to meet that woman knight who challenged Arthur to the duel."
"Gwen! That's awful!"
"Oh, it's fine. She's terribly unsubtle about it. The guards tell me when she leaves so that I don't worry too much. I followed her once, they seem to spend most of their time holding hands and talking about female emancipation. It's quite sweet, really."
Oh. Well. Merlin supposes he ought to be concerned that Morgana is creeping off to meet Morgause, and he is. But right now, her thoughts on fruit with regards to temptation and sexuality have given him an idea.
It's a lot harder to peel a banana suggestively than you think it is.
"You look ridiculous," says Arthur, plucking the half eaten banana from Merlin's hands and tossing it on the floor. Merlin sighs, who does Arthur think does the clearing up around here?
Strawberries are a better idea. You get the red juices all over your fingers. That's sensual, isn't it?
"Ugh," says Arthur, making a face. "I can't stand strawberries. It's the texture, and the seeds, and the juices. Yuck."
Merlin gets the peach from Gwen. Apparently, a bag of them mysteriously arrived as a present for Morgana.
"Fine. You win," says Arthur with a sigh, plucking the peach from Merlin's hand.
Merlin watches as Arthur brings the peach up to his mouth. The peach was a gift for Morgana. From Morgause. It's probably an evil peach. Merlin can't let Arthur eat an evil peach.
He tackles Arthur, knocking the peach from his hand and landing them both in a jumble of limbs on the floor.
Arthur swallows, looking up at Merlin. "You could have said," he says gruffly and drags Merlin into a deep kiss.
Merlin pulls back with a grin. "I win."
Later, when Merlin's lying in a boneless puddle on Arthur's sheets, he muses on the fact that he still hasn't managed to convince Arthur to eat any fruit. Still, sex is probably very good for Arthur too. It will keep him limber for battle. Limber and very, er, bendy.
Anyway, Merlin has this brilliant idea for a strip tease game involving grapes that he's sure is going to get Arthur eating fruit.