"What are you doing?"
Merlin looks up. A strange boy about a year older than him is standing beside the tree, frowning down at Merlin's cupped hands. "Playing," Merlin answers. "I'm practising this." He opens his hands, and a small blue flower on the ground reaches its petals out towards the tree Merlin's sitting under.
The strange boy wrinkles his nose. "Is that magic?"
Merlin scoffs. "Mum told me about magic. You have to do spells and know things to do magic. No, this is how the flowers grow. You go out in the woods, and you focus really really hard, and then they grow."
The boy looks incredulous. "Did your mother tell you that?"
"No, she doesn't have to. Here." Merlin half-stands and takes the boy's hand, pulling him into a sitting position. The boy shakes him off haughtily. "See that flower?" Merlin points to a daisy in front of the boy. "Put your hands over it and focus on it growing. Go on."
The boy glares at him for a moment, then cups his hands around the flower and closes his eyes. Merlin waits for a few breathless moments, and then the boy opens his eyes and his hands.
The flower hasn't moved. It only looks slightly squashed. "It must be a bad flower," the boy declares.
"No — you just didn't focus. Try again," Merlin says, leaning forward eagerly. The boy glares at him again, but shrugs and cups his hands around the daisy again. Almost twice as many seconds pass as last time, the boy opens his hands, and the daisy is no higher. It's slightly bent, in fact.
"But —" Merlin leans over and cups his hands over it, focuses on growth, and after a few seconds, opens his hands. The daisy has grown taller. "Maybe it's only people from our village. Where do you live?"
"Camelot," the boy says, importantly.
"Oh, well, that explains it." Merlin relaxes, satisfied by this obvious explanation. "It must be something only country folk can do."
"Hm." The boy looks strangely hurt. "Perhaps I should try again. A different flower, this time."
"All right —" Merlin's looking around for another flower when Hunith appears from around a tree. "Mum!" Merlin cries, running to her. "Mum, look, I made a friend, and he's from Camelot and he doesn't make the flowers grow."
"I bet I could," the boy draws himself up to his full height. "I bet I can make all the flowers in Camelot grow."
"Yeah!" Merlin cries, delighted at the idea of the great castle at Camelot, ivy growing up its walls, the tallest flowers in the kingdom. "I bet you could!"
The boy looks pleased. Hunith smiles. "That's lovely, dear. Are you hungry?" she says to the boy. "I have some bread and honey."
"Yes, please," the boy says importantly. "Thank you, humble subject."
A look passes across Hunith's face. "You're welcome, Your Highness." She curtseys.
The boy looks even more pleased. "Lead the way, good lady," he says. Merlin thinks he must be a noble's son, and skips alongside him as they make their way to a nearby clearing.
"It must be nice, living in Camelot," he says. "It's nice here, too."
"Yes," the boy nods solemnly. "The country air is refreshing."
Merlin isn't sure what 'refreshing' means. He'll ask his mum later. "Here," he says, reaching the food first and uncovering a hunk of bread, "you can have my share."
"How kind of you," the boy says, and sits next to Merlin on a hollow log Merlin has played in with Will a hundred times. He eats quietly, while Hunith silently hands Merlin some of her bread and then slips out of the clearing, and Merlin talks about the woods and which trees are best to climb. He's sticky by the end of it.
There's a crashing to their left, just as the boy is asking which birds nest nearby, and a woman accompanied by several men in chainmail and red cloaks, closely followed by Hunith, run into the clearing. "Arthur!" the woman cries, racing to him and snatching him up. "Where have you been, don't you dare run off like that again."
Hunith smiles at her. "Curiosity will get the best of any young boy. Don't be too hard on him, please, he only wanted to see the wood."
"Yes, and to be free of fussing for a while," the boy grumps from under the woman's arm.
"Now, Your Highness, you know how your father frets. Come now, and back to him."
Merlin is rather dismayed at losing his new friend, but waves cheerily. "It was nice meeting you!" he calls after them. Arthur shoots him a wistful look as he's being led away, and then he's gone.
Hunith cleans the honey from Merlin's face. "He was nice," Merlin says.
"Yes." Hunith smiles somewhat sadly at him. "Yes, he was."