“Hey, come on. That’s enough.”
Arthur pauses before throwing the dagger at the servant holding the shield long enough to look in the direction of the voice. It’s a scrawny, pale lad - with awkward looking cheekbones and black bangs sticking out from beneath a brown cap. Arthur stares, because no one tells him ‘that’s enough’. He’s the prince of Camelot, for fuck’s sake.
“What?” He says, disbelief evident in his tone.
The scrawny, pale lad just gestures at the servant, who’s currently looking at the both of them with confused fear, “You’ve had your fun, my friend.” He’s got a small, patient smile on his face - as if Arthur’s a simpleton he has to be gentle with. This just makes Arthur even redder, his annoyance with this random peasant fueled by the watching stares of the people present.
“Do I know you?” Arthur asks, strutting forward. The boy just tilts his head to the side, and gives Arthur a small laugh. He extends his hand to Arthur, which Arthur pointedly does not take.
“Ah, no. I’m - “
“So I don’t know you.” Arthur interrupts, “Yet you call me... friend.”
The boy sucks on his lower lip, before looking Arthur over once with a small, dismissive shrug, “Yeah. That was my mistake - “
Arthur nods his head, prepared to give this peasant a good talking down before going back to his previous activities, “Yes, I think so - “
“ - I could never have a friend that could be such an ass.” And with that, the boy starts to walk towards the castle. Arthur follows after, steps languid and stance challenging.
“Or I one that could be so stupid.” Arthur scoffs, about two words from ordering this boy to the stocks or something equally amusing. The words seem to have an effect, because the boy stops and slowly turns around to stare at Arthur.
“Tell me, do you know how to walk on your knees?” Arthur asks as he gets up into the boy’s space, and is surprised to see him stand his ground. A small smidgen of respect blooms in his chest for this obviously stupid boy. Eyebrows cinched together, the boy actually has the gall to look insulted by the very notion of walking on his knees for Arthur.
“No, and even if I did, I wouldn’t be on them for someone like you.” He crosses his arms, clearly unimpressed, and Arthur wants to shove him. Which would be incredibly dumb, because he hasn't gotten into a shoving match since he learned how to properly fight with a sword.
“I’m the prince. You sort of have to,” Arthur says, one hand reaching up between them to poke the boy right in the chest. The boy’s expression flashes from irritation to indignation to embarrassment - and he reaches up to poke Arthur right back, if not harder.
“I know who you are. I don’t care. You’re a complete prat. Immature, arrogant. I’ve only just met you and I want to run for the hills - ”
Arthur reels a bit from the continuous insults, because this boy knows who he is and keeps acting like this? He must suffer from a mental affliction or something. It’s the only explanation. He almost growls under his breath, but instead laughs.
“If you’re asking for a fight, then you’ve got one,” he says, holding his hands out, “I’ll even let you have the first hit. Come on.” He grins, and a few of the people in the background seem to urge him on. The boy just watches him, as if unsure if Arthur’s worth it.
“Come on,” he goads, croons, warbles - whatever you’d like to call it.
The boy looks disappointed (for reasons Arthur doesn’t understand) as well as irritated.
His fists are clenching at their sides. And Arthur thinks that the boy might just walk away - but then he swings a fist. It’s a flimsy punch, and Arthur has seen better punches from Morgana. Arthur catches the thin - like a girl’s - wrist easily, yanking and twisting the arm behind the boy’s back. And then two things happen at once.
The cap falls off his head, and long black hair tumbles out over the boy’s shoulder. An unidentified woman strides out into the yard, Leon following right after her.
“Sire!” Leon yells, and at the same time, the woman nearly shrieks, “My lady!”
He looks down at the boy - girl? - in his grip. But she has already wrenched herself out of Arthur’s grip, and he’s momentarily stunned long enough to not block the rough slap across his face. It makes a loud crack in the suddenly quiet courtyard. He staggers back, more out of surprise than pain - and he’s a bit too confused to be angry.
The woman immediately goes to her, instantly ushering the girl inside the castle walls and away from Arthur and Sir Leon. The girl glares at Arthur over her shoulder all the while, and though Arthur feels remorse for probably bruising her wrist, he can’t help but glare back a little. It’s the principle of the matter.
Really - today is just not a good day for Arthur. If anything, it’s one of his worst.
It’s mostly just a bunch of little things, like the bad crick in his neck he’d had when he woke up. Or the way his left arm is sore from yesterday's practice. Or maybe servant bringing him his breakfast late.
But off the top of his head, there are two big sources of Arthur’s bad mood.
The first reason is more of a slow burn - and Arthur has known about this for a while, but it doesn’t make him any happier about it. A few months ago, a betrothal was announced - Arthur Pendragon, prince of Camelot, and Merlin Emrys, princess of Ealdor. Arthur has never been to Ealdor, but from the reports and his father, he knows they’re more or less as strong and distinguished as Camelot, if not a bit smaller.
In light of the recent possible threats from Cenred’s kingdom, the alliance of Camelot and Ealdor is supposed to bring about one of the strongest unifications ever recorded. And all of it is good and well, he supposes. But he has little interest in girls right now - and would rather spend his time training with his knights than entertaining some simpering princess. Fifteen years old - almost sixteen, and it’s not like he doesn’t like girls. He likes them fine, for the most part. But Morgana is seventeen and an utter nightmare - and he’s grown to assume that deep down, all women are probably evil like her.
And this Merlin and a small entourage of people are apparently supposed to arrive today. Arthur thinks they’ve already arrived, which is probably why his father will be summoning him soon. He's assuming that's why Leon is here. God. He isn’t excited about this at all.
And the second reason is - well, the girl that he just got into a really pathetic pseudo-fight with, is probably some lord’s daughter that will demand compensation for Arthur’s impetuousness. He really just needed to blow off some steam, why can’t anyone understand that? The servant was just there and sort of willing, if not unsuspecting at first. But then suddenly she was there and ugh. Uther will give Arthur his strongest look of disapproval and make him kiss that girl’s hand or something.
He’s not looking forward to that at all. Sir Leon just looks at him uneasily, and tells him that his father is requesting his presence in the audience hall as soon as he cleans up and dresses into his best clothes.
He strides into the audience chamber a while later, looking around the room at the Ealdorian visitors. He sees the girl, standing next to the woman who’d ushered her away. Arthur almost doesn’t recognize her without the cap and men’s clothing. She’s wearing a dark blue dress that looks strange and big on her, and though her hair is pinned up, it’s rather obvious she looks uncomfortable with everything.
Arthur finds her unattractiveness amusing.
He tries his best to look interested, wondering when this Merlin will step forward and introduce herself. Uther ends up doing that for him, his voice echoing around the chamber.
“Arthur, come forward and meet your betrothed.”
And when she steps forward, Arthur feels his heart drop into his stomach and he can’t help the incredulous, “You’re kidding.”
A few gasps circulate the small group of people present in the room, and Uther stands, “Arthur!”
Arthur recoils a little, looking at Merlin who doesn’t look any happier about this than he does. So under Uther’s intense gaze, Arthur forces himself to step forward and bow. He mumbles a little, but Uther shoots him another look and he coughs.
“Forgive me - my lady,” he reaches forward and takes her hand, which she looks reluctant to give. Arthur presses a chaste, quick kiss to the back of it. Merlin seems to be successfuly (if not barely) resisting the urge to yank her hand back in disgust, “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“I wish I could say the same,” she snorts - but a hushed ‘Merlin!’ from the servant woman he’d seen earlier makes her sigh and bows her head back, “I mean, uh, same.” Arthur is pretty sure the woman would be banging her head against a table at Merlin’s awkward response if she could. He releases her hand, trying to hide the way he wants to wipe his mouth on his sleeve, just like Merlin looks like she wants wipe her hand on her dress. And then most likely burn the dress.
God damn it.