When night fell Arthur was wet with blood, barely his.
When he came back to the camp, his skin still feverous, the blood had dried.
When he entered the royal tent, his eyes tired and dull, the blood has turned into a disgusting brownish mud.
Merlin didn’t like to see his king in such a state; capsizing under the weight of his armor, bending under the weight of the killings, nearly breaking.
Merlin could have relieved his king with a single word, a magical word but he knew Arthur wouldn’t be grateful, wouldn’t feel better.
So, slowly, carefully, he took off the bloody armor, piece by piece, hating each stain because they were one more rotting spot on Arthur’s heart.
Gently, Merlin stripped his king, no emotion showing on his face. He would love his king whatever happens, whatever he’d have to do. Arthur is the one hating himself for such a blood bath, for not being able to establish the peace by word but by the sword.
“Come here” gently whispered Merlin leading Arthur to his bath.
“The privilege of being the king” has complained Arthur the first time.
“The privilege of having me as you manservant” has answered Merlin.
They never talked about it again.
Now, Merlin was gently but efficiently washing Arthur’s hair, Arthur’s skin, Arthur’s very own being. When the blood will be washed away, Merlin will have to stand on the battlefield of Arthur’s mind and conscience.
Arthur was still lying in his bath, immobile, silent, and stern.
“It’s time for bed” said Merlin when Arthur was clean once again.
Arthur sighed when rising “You do like ordering me around, don’t you Merlin?”
A little smile was back on the king’s face.
Merlin knew he would be able to fight night and day, to kill day after day, and to risk his life again and again, all for this man.
Nothing that could happen would make him love Arthur less.
Later Arthur was laying in his makeshift bed his head full of battle cries, full of clashing swords his heart still beating fast.
Merlin was gently combing his hair and Arthur never knew before that first night how comforting it could be, nor would he admit it but Merlin knew and Merlin was still here.
He never asked Merlin to sleep next to him, never asked him to hold him tight but he would never give up what his friend had offered him, his warmth, his kindness, his trust.
“Soon we’ll see the day when men of good will live in peace” whispered Merlin against his forehead.
“How can you be so sure?” answered Arthur his eyelashes thankfully growing heavy.
“Because you’ll be king of Albion”
In the morning the glorious king will rise again, proud and strong, his knights believing and fighting for him but for now, just for tonight, he held Merlin a little closer daring to hope.