“Can you hear me now?” Merlin asks, voice loud and clear; Arthur can hear him before he even opens the door. When he does open it, it’s to see Merlin hunched over the table, peering into a broad, shallow bowl. “Mum?”
“Merlin, what on earth are you doing?” Arthur demands.
Merlin startles and turns around, grinning when he sees Arthur. “Come closer and see,” he beckons, turning back before he’s even finished talking. “Mum, I can see you… There’s no need to wave your hands in front of it, just speak.”
Arthur comes closer and peers over Merlin’s shoulder. The bowl is full of water, surface silvery and unnaturally calm. Hunith’s face peers up at him. “Your Majesty, so delightful to see you,” she says cheerfully. “Merlin, move over, I can’t see the King properly.”
Merlin huffs and shuffles his arse over on the bench a little, barely making any more room than there was before. “No, really,” Arthur begins, already feeling himself become awkward. Hunith always has that effect on him; he suspects that if Merlin weren’t so intent on competing with him for the attention, he’d make much more fun of Arthur for it. “I can see you’re—I shouldn’t.”
“Merlin, can you make it so I’m not staring directly up your noses?” Hunith asks blithely, and Arthur grimaces and backs off. He moves away into the room, rustling around with his things needlessly to give the impression of being otherwise occupied. When Merlin finally indicates he’s finished with a, “Love you! Byeee!” Arthur turns again, arms crossed over his chest, already frowning.
“Just what was that?”
“Isn’t it fantastic?” Merlin fails to answer, bounding to his feet. “It’s Scryping.”
Arthur can feel himself make a face. “Which is what, exactly?”
“It’s like scrying, but anyone can do it—even if you don’t have magic! Well, you need a magic user to set it up, but after that…” Merlin beams, glancing proudly back down at the bowl again, water now dark. “This way I can see Mum without having to go all the way to Ealdor. Or send letters.” He frowns absently. “Gaius has some odd ideas about what constitutes an effective messenger service.”
Arthur rubs his eyes. “Scryping?”
“Well, it’s not quite scrying, see. So I thought—Scryping!”
“So what you’re saying is, you can communicate over long distances instantaneously… with people who don’t even have magic?”
Merlin nods excitedly, looking very pleased with himself.
“And it didn’t occur to you that I might find such a thing useful as well?”
And that’s how it begins.
“I’m calling it: The Book of Faces,” Merlin declares proudly, dropping the book on the desk, directly on top of Arthur’s chicken-scratched accounts.
Arthur sighs and lifts it cautiously off the wet ink, shuffling aside his papers before settling it down again. The book is bound in a dark blue canvas, coarse but hardy under Arthur’s fingertips. When he opens it, it’s to see Merlin’s face grinning stupidly back at him, from a small, unbelievably real-looking portrait in the top left corner of the first page.
“I just wanted to send messages quickly,” Arthur begins gruffly, feeling reluctant in the face of Merlin’s good mood to criticise… whatever this is.
Merlin is unperturbed, though. “I know, but this is better. Look.” And he flips the page to the next.
Gwaine’s likeness smirks up at Arthur from a similarly-sized portrait, and as Arthur watches, words rise to the surface of the pale parchment in dark ink. Heading to the tavern, it says.
“I told him to write something,” Merlin says proudly. “He’s got a book too! And look, here’s the next bit…” He takes the book from Arthur, flicking through pages and pages of portraits, and then cracks the spine open on one about half-way through, setting it back in front of him.
Summer Tourney is scripted ornately along the top of the page. Camelot, Midsummer is below it, and then, in smaller writing: Are you attending?
Yes / No / Maybe appears below that, and Merlin has circled Yes.
“I made one for each of the participants,” Merlin says, practically bouncing on his toes. “They’re on their way to them right now. See, from now on you don’t need to send out criers and messengers to every corner of Albion; you can just write in the Book of Faces, and they’ll all see it!”
Arthur blinks. “That’s…”
“Fantastic, I know!” Merlin says.
Arthur thumbs more slowly back through the pages, seeing a multitude of faces, some familiar, some not so much. “So if anyone writes in their book…”
“Then everyone can see it! See, I told you it was fantastic.”
“I see,” Arthur lies.
“The only one left I have to make is yours.”
“Er,” Arthur baulks. “I’m not sure I really have time. Can’t you just tell me what’s in yours?”
Merlin frowns in confusion, retrieving the book from Arthur’s grasp without dropping his almost-suspicious gaze from Arthur’s eyes. “Very well,” he says, reserved. “If you remind me. I do have a few other things on my plate, you know.”
Aside from Merlin’s occasional update on the increasing number of knights attending the tourney, Arthur largely forgets about just what might be on Merlin’s plate. At least until he’s holding court one morning, and upon a particularly controversial ruling, there’s a rustling from the assembled nobles, and then a flock of sparrows arise from the gathered crowd, chirruping sharply as they flutter desperately upward.
Arthur stares at them in shock as they circle around the great hall twice, then Merlin surreptitiously waves his hand and a window opens; on the next round they rush out of it and are gone.
Arthur glares at the court, ready for at least Geoffrey to leap forward, incensed, at such a blatant show of ridiculous sorcery amidst such a strictly-mannered setting.
The crowd stares back at him blankly. After a few silent moments, another sparrow rises, chirping ardently, and makes for the window. Someone coughs.
“Right, then,” Arthur says. “The next matter…”
When they get back to Arthur’s chambers, Merlin makes straight for the window himself, throwing it open.
“Just what the hell was that?” Arthur fumes, pulling with deliberate obtuseness on the fastenings of his court garb, a vestigial behaviour that tends to manifest whenever he’s feeling particularly annoyed that Merlin’s no longer his servant. “Merlin, are you even listening?”
“What?” Merlin’s leaning dangerously out of the window, and Arthur stalks over to him. He hauls Merlin back by the scruff of the neck, and when he peers over the lintel himself it’s to see that there is a row of sparrows perched along the stone ledge, tweeting cheerily in what sounds suspiciously like high-pitched words as they peck at a scattering of breadcrumbs.
Arthur rears back into the room and gives Merlin an incredulous look, which Merlin doesn’t even see, staring at the mess of breadcrumbs on the rug. “You spilled my Tweeter feed,” he says sadly.
Apparently not everyone trusts in Merlin’s finite calculations of the airspeed velocity of a laden sparrow—even if it is only laden by a very short message—and Merlin discovers this when a cat wanders into Gaius’ rooms and slumps to the floor at his feet, lolling onto its back immediately.
“I CAN HAS HANGOVER CURE?” it asks plaintively.
Merlin blinks at it, then narrows his eyes suspiciously. “Did Gwaine send you?”
The cat just stares up at him, longing, and Merlin reaches down to scratch its belly, unable to resist.
“Merlin?” Gaius peers over his balcony from above. “Is someone there?”
The cat tilts its head back to look up at Gaius. “I CAN HAS HANGOVER CURE?”
“Did it just speak?”
“Yes,” Merlin grumbles. “Though apparently it can’t stand upright and talk at the same time.”
“It’s not one of yours, is it?”
“No!” Merlin exclaims before Gaius has even stopped talking.
“Well you can’t blame me for asking, what with the bird messengers…”
“At least my birds can form proper sentences.” The cat rises leisurely, rubbing itself against Merlin’s ankles before strutting out of the door without a backward glance.
Gaius sighs heavily and struggles back down the ladder again, movements stiff as if the sound of the old wood creaking is actually his bones. “Well,” he says when he gets to the ground again. “Arthur unbanning magic was always going to give you a bit of competition.”
“There is no competition,” Merlin sniffs, pulling over his Book of Faces. He flicks to Gwaine’s page and lifts Gaius’ quill. Stop sending me cats or I’ll block you, he writes quickly.
Moments later, another cat wanders in, lolling immediately onto Merlin’s feet, batting at a buckle on his boot. “INVISIBLE FLOWERS,” it says.
“I’m serious,” Merlin tells Gwaine later, slapping the vial of Gaius’ bitterest hangover cure into his hand. “I will block you.”
“You’d never,” Gwaine squints, apparently attempting his usual charming grin and failing miserably. He downs the hangover cure in one gulp, then falls back against his ruined bed again, groaning.
Merlin nudges his sprawled legs over and sits. “Just what’s got you so wrecked today?”
Gwaine grins from under the covering of his forearm, chuckling huskily. “I met up with a fellow from Sir Craig’s List.”
Merlin raises an eyebrow. “Who’s Sir Craig?”
“An enterprising man. Inspired by the principles of your Book of Faces, I believe. Ask Percival, someone gave him a copy and he gave one to me.”
“It’s a list?”
Gwaine lifts his arm a little to peer at Merlin, waggling his eyebrows. “Something like that.”
“Of what?” Merlin asks, though he already suspects.
“Nothing to worry your delicate sensibilities about,” Gwaine sighs, rolling over onto his belly and relaxing a little more as the hangover cure kicks in.
“Delicate—! You’re the one who keeps sending me cats!”
“So tweet about it,” Gwaine dismisses, muffled by his yawn and his pillow.
While Merlin does actually appreciate healthy competition, when the proposal comes across Arthur’s desk to dig a tunnel below the outer wall in order to convey commentary from the countryside via sheep, he has to draw a line.
“As if we’d want to listen to that kind of senseless bleating,” he rails, stomping away from Arthur’s desk and back again. “And what kind of name do they think that is anyway? It’s just getting worse and worse.”
Arthur raises his eyebrow, infuriatingly unmoved by Merlin’s display. “Scryping,” he points out dryly.
“That is the pinnacle of wit,” Merlin says. “In fact—” He strides over to the boy sitting by the door and fishes in the sack he’s holding for a Tweeter, releasing it a moment later; the sparrow sweeps dangerously low to Arthur’s head on its way to the window. “There.”
Arthur appears unimpressed. “What is he doing here, anyway?” he hisses, tilting his head surreptitiously toward the boy.
“He’s my server,” Merlin says. “I can’t exactly carry all those sparrows around myself. I did tell you this.”
“Carrying your sparrows? Just how many have you got?” Arthur eyes the sack with some trepidation.
“Don’t worry about him,” Merlin waves his hand. “He’s quite robust. And anyway, don’t change the subject. We are not building a Ewe Tube.”
“I am still the king, you know,” Arthur points out.
Before Merlin can respond, a cat wanders into the room—one with a sleeker look to it than most of the tabbies that Gwaine sends his way, and elegantly tufted ears—and it cuts a direct path to Merlin, sprawling at his feet with abandon.
“OH MY GOD, MERLIN! YOU’LL NEVER GUESS WHAT LANCELOT JUST DID, OH MY GOD! YOU HAVE TO CHECK THIS OUT!”
“What—” Arthur begins.
Merlin grimaces, rubbing his hand over his brow. “Hyperlynx,” he says shortly.
“Merlin, are you sure this isn’t getting out of hand?” Gaius asks when Merlin gets back to his chambers, Hyperlynx still chattering excitedly at his heels.
Merlin throws his hands in the air, finally startling the cat away. “What’s getting out of hand? A new era of communication? Being connected to every corner of the kingdom, always knowing what’s going on?”
“But it’s not just that, is it,” Gaius says, tone taking on an edge of condescension. “I think you may be becoming too invested.”
“At least it’s better than your snail mail,” Merlin retorts.
Gaius draws himself up, mouth tightening. “I’ll have you know that that snail is at least half-way to your mother by now!”
“Good! Maybe I’ll Scrype her to tell her to expect it before next summer!”
Another cat wanders into the room, falling onto its back within a few paces. “IMPATIENT CAT IS IMPATIENT.”
“Gwaine,” Merlin growls, and stomps out of the room.
“I don’t know why you’re making such a fuss about it,” Lancelot says, though he won’t meet Gwaine’s eyes as he says it.
“Lancelot, you posted on her wall,” Gwaine stresses.
“Yes,” Lancelot says shiftily. “And? It is how the lower classes do it. Not everyone can afford tweets and servers, and only knights have pages in the Book of Faces.”
“You do know that everyone can see it.”
Over Lancelot’s shoulder, Gwaine sees Merlin stalk into the tavern, finally. He beckons Merlin over frantically.
“This had better be good,” Merlin says as he sits, taking a long draft from Gwaine’s tankard.
Gwaine smiles at the dull-looking server hauling Merlin’s Tweeters after him, before turning back to Merlin and leaning in close. “Lancelot posted on Gwen’s wall!”
“Oh, Lancelot,” Merlin says, visibly softening, which seems to make Lancelot all the more on edge. “I’m sure everything will be fine; Arthur doesn’t even read anybody’s wall.”
“His own people?” Gwaine asks, affronted.
Merlin rolls his eyes. “Last time we rode through the lower town he commented on the latest trends in thatching.”
“I don’t care if it’s public, anyway,” Lancelot blurts, puffing up a little. “I’ve been reading the anonymous logs. They’re all about the unfair demands placed upon women by the chivalric system.”
Gwaine had seen them too—big wooden posts appearing overnight, planted around the town with veritable essays branded into them, the older ones still around but with long fringes of tapestry threads tied to them, scraps of parchment holding readers’ comments.
“And what’s that got to do with Gwen?” Gwaine asks incredulously.
Lancelot lifts his chin up. “It’s just given me the courage to do something about it,” he says stiffly. Moments later he wilts again, and Gwaine follows his gaze to the door. Lancelot’s server enters, struggling under what seems to be an immense weight, sack hauled over his shoulder.
“Your server seems to be a bit overloaded,” Merlin says, alarmed.
“It’s all this chain mail I keep receiving,” Lancelot says, sounding miserable. “I don’t know why, but it’s this one fellow, since that night, you know, from Sir Craig’s List…”
Gwaine feels a surge of sympathy for Lancelot, downtrodden as he seems; though only a little guilty over provoking him on the Gwen issue. “I could block him for you?” Gwaine suggests.
Lancelot shakes his head. “No need to resort to violence. I’ll just leave a polite message on his page in the Book of Faces.”
Gwaine meets Merlin’s eyes, and they share a look.
Lancelot takes out his blue book and begins flicking through it, and then his determined expression folds into confusion. “Percival— What?”
“What is it?”
“He’s left a message on my page: ‘Far 2 many stiff dads. Tangerines orgasm.’”
Merlin knocks his forehead against the tabletop, groaning. As if signalled, a barmaid sweeps by, leaving a full tankard by his elbow. “I knew that not all the knights in Albion were necessarily good with their letters,” he says, lifting his head so he’s just half-slumped on the table. “So I enchanted in some help… It corrects things that are misspelled to their most likely words.”
“So… what is he trying to tell me?” Lancelot sounds a little desperate.
Merlin shakes his head. “I have no idea.”
When the last evening bell rings, Gwen fires up her forge, assembling the little metal letters onto the steel plate and soldering them on painstakingly. By the witching hour, the streets outside are deserted. She steps into the comparatively cool night, and even though her head and body are swathed in black cloth, the night air is still refreshing.
With her brand hot from the fire, she’d made her post at the forge, and under the cover of darkness she plants it, hurrying away as soon as she knows it’s stable. On her way back to her house, she detours via her earlier posts—during the day she can take her time and read each comment thread, as do many who pass, but this time she just combs her fingers lovingly through them.
As Midsummer approaches, so too do hundreds of visitors to Camelot, filling the streets of the city with chatter and the skies above it with the constant flit of sparrows. Arthur’s riding through the lower town (always good to be visible with this many visitors around and feeling entitled to his city) with Merlin (who manages to keep the disturbingly frequent shower of sparrow shit from Arthur’s shoulders with some kind of magical canopy). Although, as a bird somewhat bigger than a sparrow is propelled through the air—squawking angrily as it barely misses Arthur’s head—he reconsiders the wisdom of such visits.
“Smile and wave,” Merlin mutters from the corner of his mouth, as Arthur looks incredulously toward where the bird has landed in a explosion of feathers amidst a pig sty. “It’s the latest thing to occupy the lower classes. Better that than gambling while the tourney’s on, unless you fancy a few more brawls and murders as well?”
Arthur grimaces, nodding and waving toward the peasants with the catapult, another grumbling bird already loaded.
Merlin doesn’t take his own advice of unruffled regard as they begin their patrol of the tourney grounds, stiffening in the saddle and clenching his jaw as someone calls out, “Your Majesty!”
Arthur turns to see who’s spoken; it’s a man in travelling clothes of a reasonably fine make and fashion, smirking back at Arthur from beneath a greasy-looking moustache.
“Might I know who is addressing me?” Arthur says, somewhat acerbically, after the man just stares at him expectantly for a few moments.
The man sweeps into a low bow. “Naught but a humble traveller, here to enjoy the spectacle of the tourney. Though I can only hope that this year's competitors are up to standard.”
Arthur bristles. “I can't imagine what you might mean by that,” he says dangerously.
“Just that, Sire,” the man says, unrepentant, and bows low again. Arthur gets the impression that he doesn't entirely mean it. A foul scent wafts on the air.
“Arthur,” Merlin mutters. Arthur reins his horse around without a farewell, riding on with Merlin. He feels thoroughly rubbed the wrong way without any specifics to pin it on.
“He’s a troll,” Merlin tells him when they're back in the citadel again, with a little more privacy.
“What!? Why didn't you do something then?”
Merlin grimaces. “Technically, he wasn't causing any trouble. And why should he have less of a right to be here than I do, or any other magical being not out to cause us harm?” Even he doesn't look convinced by that argument, though Arthur can see his point, even before he continues, “You’ve set a precedent of allowing magic, now, you can't undermine yourself by banning him arbitrarily from attending the tourney.”
“Very well. But the instant he causes trouble…”
Merlin nods firmly. “We don’t want a repeat of last time. I’m on to it.”
“I HAS A THIRSTY.”
Arthur looks down in surprise at the unexpected voice, and Merlin sighs and bends to scoop up the tabby lolling at his feet. “Sorry, Sire,” he says, long-suffering, and carries the cat out of the room.
“Why are we up here, again?” Gwen asks in a lull in the conversation, and Merlin sighs, handing her the wineskin.
“I was supposed to lure you up here with some excuse, I assume for some big surprise. It’s a mystery to me, as well.”
“At whose behest?”
Merlin smiles wryly, taking a rather larger swig from the wineskin than Gwen had done. “Lancelot.”
“Oh, gods.” Gwen takes the skin back off him and takes another drink.
“It’s not that bad, is it?”
“No,” she capitulates, shoulders curving in a rare slump out of her perfect maidservant’s posture. “It’s just that he—”
“OH MY GOD GWEN LOOK OVER THERE!”
Merlin chases the Hyperlynx back off the battlements and into the tower, hissing and clapping his hands behind it, and when he returns to Gwen’s side, she’s looking out through a gap into the stone wall and onto the fields of the farming villages dotted around Camelot.
“Oh, Lancelot,” Merlin says, upon seeing the field Gwen has her gaze fixed upon. The crop is luscious green, but in the middle of it the planting of a yellower flower makes the shape of an enormous heart motif.
Gwen does not seem as smitten by the gesture as Merlin suspects Lancelot was hoping; her mouth is turned down glumly at the corners.
“He posted on my wall as well, you know,” she says at length.
“I was aware of that, yes.”
Gwen huffs and shakes her head. “It’s not that I don’t…” she begins, and trails off. “But why does he have to make our relationship status so public?”
Merlin’s ears prick up. “You have a relationship status?”
Gwen waves her hand, frowning. “It’s complicated.”
Merlin leans on the top of the wall beside her. She smiles a little when he knocks shoulders with her, and they enjoy the slow encroachment of the mild twilight, watching the red-cloaked figure near the heart-patterned crop mount his horse and begin the ride back to the citadel. Merlin scatters breadcrumbs on the stone idly, and a handful of sparrows flit in immediately, tweeting shrilly.
“Ugh,” Merlin makes a noise of irritation. “Morgana!”
“What? Morgana?” Gwen turns to him. “What about her?”
Merlin pulls a face, shooing the birds away again. “She keeps tweeting spoilers.”
“For the tourney.”
“Ah.” After a few moments of consideration, Gwen says, “Can’t you just stop listening to them?”
Merlin shakes his head. “Can’t. Need to know what she’s up to.”
After a few more minutes of peaceable silence as they watch the darkening sky, Merlin feels the warm coil of a cat around his ankles. At length he looks down, sighing.
“I HAD A MESSAGE,” the cat says, flopping down. “BUT I EATED IT.”
“Aren’t you sick of them yet?” Gwen asks, amused.
“That moment came some time ago,” Merlin says ruefully. “I’ve actually become quite accustomed to them now.” The cat purrs happily as Merlin scratches between its ears.
The first day of the tourney dawns hot and clear, though the sky above the combat field is crowded with the flit of sparrows back and forth. Servers struggle amidst the stands between bouts, a few becoming overloaded and crashing down the stairs with the weight of their sacks.
Merlin is irritable the entire day, but Arthur doesn’t really care because his seat is covered by a canopy providing the royal viewers some shade, simultaneously protecting those sitting under it from bird shit. It seems a bit ridiculous, though, that he’s spending most of the day imperiously up in his throne and a single hour on the field in his bout for the day, but until he makes some more royals to watch on, he supposes it’s unavoidable.
Merlin sits to the side flipping through his blue book and muttering to himself, being irritatingly distracting. Not that the combat itself is doing much to hold Arthur’s attention; after weeks of hearing Merlin update him on the status of each one of the knights attending on a daily basis, Arthur feels thoroughly sick of them—and vindicated in his reluctance to have Merlin make him a book of his own, given the unnecessarily intimate details of these men’s lives he’s become privy to, thanks to it.
The current bout finishes with a move that makes Arthur want to wince, and he shifts his gaze to the trundle of the poor servers throughout the stands as squires help the knights limp off the field.
“My Lord,” he hears, and looks over to see Sir Leon standing by Merlin, looking unhappy and flushed with heat under his heavy cloak. He meets Arthur’s gaze briefly and Arthur nods; Merlin doesn’t even look up. Leon clears his throat and tries again. “My Lord?”
“Merlin!” Arthur barks.
Merlin jerks his head up. “What?!” He catches sight of Leon, and colours a little. “Oh, hello Leon. Sorry, still not used to that. A bit preoccupied.” He waggles the book.
“Quite,” Leon says. “Only, it’s Sir Lancelot.”
“Oh no.” Merlin slumps. “What now?”
“I’m afraid he’s got himself caught up in the Perilous LANs,” Leon says gravely.
“Oh, no,” Merlin says with a little more intensity.
“The what?” The feeling that Merlin’s actually managed to take over the order of knighthood without Arthur noticing increases.
“You don’t want to know,” Merlin waves him off, and follows Sir Leon off the podium and away.
He doesn’t come back in time to accompany Arthur to his tent in preparation for his bout, and seeing as Arthur hasn’t got around to employing a new manservant yet, there’s no one to stop strange people wandering into his tent.
Arthur whips around. There’s a young man peering in through the tent flap, his hands twisting together nervously.
“Yes?” Arthur bites out shortly, not recognising him and not appreciating the sloppy manners.
“I understand you are to fight soon, Sire, and wish to express my concerns as to whether such behaviour is truly wise. You are, after all, only newly crowned and yet to name an heir; surely undertaking such a risky activity ought to be—”
The young man suddenly disappears from the flap—which is a good thing, as Arthur was about to throw a banhammer at him. Just what a banhammer is is another source of irritation entirely; despite the fact that Arthur had repeatedly told him that it was not a legitimate weapon of combat, Merlin insisted on bringing his newest invention everywhere.
A moment later, Merlin appears in the gap where the young man had been, dusting off his hands and scowling. “Troll,” Merlin says shortly as he walks into the tent, fastening the flap behind him with a wave of his hand.
“Another one? Can’t we get rid of them somehow?”
Merlin shakes his head grimly, walking past Arthur and over to where Arthur’s armour is laid out, along with a fresh shirt and surcoat, and even clean smalls. He’s always been embarrassingly thorough, though rarely about his own affairs—even now his adventures off with Leon have left him with a fine dusting of mysterious orangey powder over the breast of his jacket.
“Not without causing more trouble. Although…”
Merlin turns around again, and he’s got one of Arthur’s socks on his hand. “How about a decoy?”
Arthur eyes the sock incredulously. “A decoy,” he says shortly, and Merlin nods, making the sock nod as well. “Are you suggesting that the trolls would believe that… that a sock puppet was me?”
“Would you believe that a sock puppet was me?” the sock parrots in Arthur’s haughty, incredulous voice, Merlin’s fingers moving it like a mouth.
Arthur rips the sock off and flings it away. “Get me dressed,” he orders.
After a handful of minutes of Merlin working in silence, Arthur offers an olive branch of conversation. “Where are the druids in all of this—” He waves his hand about expressively. “—Flourishing of magic, then?”
Merlin hmphs. “They don’t fancy this kind of use for it,” he says, a little sullenly. “They’ve spelled their own new tool—Druidwithe or something.”
“And I thought your names were terrible,” Arthur comments dryly.
Merlin snorts. “It makes sense, I suppose—withe; flexible, and also of use to switch us with. And they’re not as snobbish about it as it all sounds; they’re starting some ‘open sorcery’ movement with it.” He tightens the buckles of Arthur’s breastplate with a tight jerk that always makes Arthur feel a bit like he’s being put into a corset—the first time he witnessed such a gesture being as he peered through the crack in Morgana’s wardrobe, long before his first suit of armour.
“Get on with it,” Arthur says stiffly, self-conscious.
A cat wriggles in under the heavy canvas of the tent wall and saunters over. “CHIVALRY CAT IS WATCHING YOU UNDRESS,” it informs them.
From the stands, Gwen watches as Arthur emerges from his tent, armour flashing brilliantly in the sunlight. The sky above darkens in an omen of his victory; a heavy cloud of tweets clustering above the combat field. Gwen’s heart soars, her next post composing itself already.
She doesn’t notice at first when the darkness above gains a heaviness that’s more ominous than omen, at least not until the people in the stands around her start screaming.
“See, it’s quite funny, really,” Merlin says later, far too pleased with himself for Arthur’s liking, considering half of Camelot’s populace nearly got squashed under a giant sea creature. “Because everything worked exactly as it was supposed to.”
Because apparently when they’d argued about this at the start, Merlin had decided that so unlikely was it that the Tweeter magic would fail, that this impossible event would be signalled by the arrival of a mystical creature. A creature that Merlin had only ever seen in one of Gaius’ ancient bestiaries. Arriving from the sky.
“And whale rhymes with fail, so it’s the perfect name for it!” Merlin tells him cheerily.
Arthur has to admit, watching the Fail Whale being borne away by a flock of sparrows carrying it with strings held in their beaks was a cheerful sight.
But he and Merlin are standing right by the ruins of the stands, so it’s easy enough for Arthur to snatch up a piece of wood and soundly block him.