A tomato hit Merlin in the eye, and he made a list of all the ways this was Arthur's fault. Arthur was the one who'd ordered Merlin put in the stocks, and Arthur was the one who'd shown Camelot's children how to throw vegetables in a straight line from twenty paces.
A leek smacked Merlin in the ear.
And it had been Arthur's latest attempt to charm Gwen that had led to Merlin being put in the stocks for ravishing the Lady Morgana in a wardrobe...
"I've given Guinevere a few days off," Arthur said, and then paused the way he always did when he thought he'd done something especially noble and wonderful and he wanted Merlin to comment on it.
Merlin continued to brush bits of lint from Arthur's jacket in silence. He wasn't about to say anything until he'd had a chance to gauge exactly how mad Arthur's latest effort to impress Gwen was.
"Morgana wasn't happy, of course. But I offered her a replacement maidservant, and that seemed to mollify her."
Merlin wondered if he'd suddenly developed the ability to see into the future, because he knew what was coming before Arthur turned with a big grin on his face and said, "How's your flower arranging coming along?"
The main thing, Merlin decided, was to find out what a maidservant actually did. And to that end he sought out Gwen, who was in no mood to be giving advice.
"I hear Arthur has given you a holiday."
"He said that I looked tired," said Gwen with a sad frown.
It was a matter of constant amazement to Merlin that Arthur - who was heir to an entire kingdom and was, Merlin had to admit, quite handsome if you liked that sort of thing - was so utterly rubbish at talking to women.
"I'm sure he just meant that--" Merlin gave up; Arthur would have to salvage his own love life.
Merlin assumed that being Morgana's servant would be much like being Arthur's, only with less death-defying adventure and more flowers.
He ignored the herbs he was meant to be collecting for Gaius in order to pick a bunch of I-apologise-in-advance-for-being-a-rubbish-servant flowers for Morgana.
"Somebody ring for a maidservant?" he asked when Morgana opened her door.
"Arthur wasn't kidding?" Morgana sounded appalled, but to her credit she didn't slam the door in Merlin's face.
"When it comes to humiliating me," said Merlin, slipping into the room, "Arthur's never kidding."
"Well," said Morgana, obviously deciding to make the best of it, "I assume you know what Gwen's duties entail?"
It was difficult to make the sound "er" seem confident and knowledgeable, but Merlin gave it his best shot.
"There's the usual amount of cleaning, helping me manage the castle, dressing and undressing me--"
Morgana turned away and continued to talk. Merlin whacked himself in the side of the head hoping to get his brain working again; Morgana saying "undressing" seemed to have broken it. He was still holding the bouquet of flowers, and a shower of petals landed in his hair.
"Nghuh. I mean, yes?"
"I'm kidding. You can't be my maidservant."
"No," Merlin tried not to sound disappointed. "I mean, obviously. For one thing, I'm not a maid." He puffed out his chest and tried to look as un-maidenly as possible.
"I can get one of the castle maids to take over Gwen's duties. As much as it pains me to admit that Arthur may be right about anything, Gwen works hard and she deserves a holiday."
"Right, well. I'll just be getting back to Arthur, then."
"Merlin, wait. It occurs to me that if Arthur can deprive me of my servant then I can deprive him of his. If Arthur asks you for anything, tell him you're too busy seeing to my needs. Gwen's not the only one who works hard."
Merlin grinned at Morgana. "I know it's not destiny or anything, but you don't want to be king of Camelot, do you? Because I could probably swing it your way."
"Oh, and Merlin, you do know that you've got petals in your hair, don't you?"
"Oh," said Merlin, offering her the now fairly bedraggled bunch of flowers. "I brought you these."
"Thank you, Merlin. Could you put them in a vase of water for me?"
Merlin looked around rather aimlessly. In his defence, the only thing Arthur was ever likely to need a vase of water for was target practice.
"Merlin!" Arthur bellowed.
"Sorry!" Merlin called over his shoulder, "I'm on my way to fetch Morgana's lunch."
"Sorry, can't." Merlin dodged his way round Gaius. "I've got to do a-- thing for Morgana."
Merlin, the dragon spoke directly into Merlin's mind.
"Sorry. Very busy and important today."
Having dodged his various responsibilities, Merlin enjoyed his first morning off since arriving in Camelot.
He strolled through the woods, dozed in the shade of a tree and by lunchtime was painfully bored, and also quite hungry. He headed back to the castle to see if any mythical beasts had attacked in his absence, and to make himself a sandwich.
"Hello," he said, reappearing at Morgana's door. "It turns out that I'm not really cut out for this lounging around lark, any jobs for me?"
Morgana frowned thoughtfully. "Actually, yes. You can keep me company."
The important thing, thought Merlin, was not to look afraid.
"I meant," clarified Morgana, "talk to me. I usually have Gwen with me, and I find myself at something of a loss without her."
"Gwen's lovely," said Merlin. That exhausted the subject of Gwen, then. He tried to think of something to say - what interests could he possibly share with the King's ward?
"Do you want to hear about the time that Arthur nearly got drowned by a girl?" he asked.
In light of the knowledge that Arthur hadn't actually been drowned or sacrificed to the tiny twinkly fairies, the Sophia incident was now hilarious.
Morgana was sprawled on the bed in a most unladylike manner. If she didn't stop laughing soon she was probably going to hurt herself.
"And then-" Merlin stopped, because he'd reached the bit of the story where he'd killed Sophia with his incredibly powerful and top secret magic "-I asked Sophia nicely to leave him alone and she did."
Morgana stopped laughing, sat up and looked Merlin straight in the eye. "Merlin." She smoothed down her skirt and tossed her hair over her shoulder. Merlin gulped audibly. "Merlin, I know that you're a sorcerer."
"A-- What, me? I'm not a sorcerer."
Morgana arched an eyebrow at him. That eyebrow worked better than a week in a dungeon with the finest witchfinders in the realm. Better men than Merlin had been crushed by that eyebrow.
"Yeah, okay, I'm a sorcerer. You're not angry?"
"Why would I be angry?"
"Because I didn't tell you before? Because I let you think you were going crazy? Because I let you believe that you were the only... Er, I should stop talking now, shouldn't I?"
"Before I get angry, yes." Morgana walked over and sat next to Merlin on the windowsill. "Look, Merlin, it took me a long while to come to terms with what I am, and in time you will too." She patted his knee affectionately. "There's nothing wrong with being a sorcerer."
"Er, yes, that's why I didn't tell you. Also, Gaius told me not to."
"And look at it this way," said Morgana cheerfully, "neither of us can tell the King or we'll both be executed."
Merlin couldn't quite fit Mutually Assured Destruction into his head as a good thing, but that might have been because his higher brain functions had been shut down by Morgana's hand still being on his knee.
However the threat of execution wasn't imminent and Merlin had so rarely in life been blessed with the opportunity to impress a pretty girl. "Hey, want to see what I can do?"
"Where are you taking that?" Gaius demanded, as Merlin dashed through the room clutching the magic book.
"I'm, uh, hiding it. Somewhere else. Outside."
"That's a good idea," agreed Gaius. "If Uther's going to have guards, knights and witchfinders in here every other week, then under your bed is no place for a book of magic."
"We'll have to hide it," Merlin told Morgana solemnly, once they were both looking at the book.
Morgana nodded. "We can hide it under my bed."
"Can you do anything else?" Merlin and Morgana were kneeling on the stone floor of Morgana's room, magic book open between them. "Apart from the visions, I mean."
"This." Morgana stared at a candle on the table. Squinted, really. Merlin was about to ask if she was quite all right when the flame spluttered to life.
"That's-" Merlin had been able to do the candle trick since he was two, and even then he hadn't had to make that silly scrunched up face, but when Morgana turned to look at him it was with such an expression of pride that Merlin meant it when he said "-good. That's brilliant. That's really, really brilliant, Morgana."
The door to Morgana's room banged open. "Morgana..." began Arthur. Merlin waved his hand and the magic book shot away under the bed. "What are you both doing on the floor?"
"I lost something," said Morgana. "Merlin was helping me find it."
"Your mind, obviously," said Arthur.
Once the prince had departed, Morgana looked at Merlin with shining eyes. "The way you moved that book, I want to learn how to do that."
They started small: leaves, ribbons, feathers. Within a few days Morgana could move items with her mind, provided they weren't too heavy and nobody interrupted her concentration. They had shut themselves up in Morgana's chambers. Merlin's hair was sticking up in tufts, tied with ribbons that Morgana had knotted there with magic. Morgana was concentrating on making a feather Merlin had given her float around the room.
There were footsteps in the corridor, followed by, "Merlin, are you in there?"
Morgana looked at Merlin with a wide-eyed expression of panic. Merlin leapt from his seat and snatched the feather from mid-air. So when Arthur entered the room Merlin had ribbons in his hair and was executing an acrobatic leap.
Arthur turned to Morgana and said, "At least when Merlin worked for me he kept the interpretive dance to himself."
It was a beautiful afternoon, so Merlin and Morgana went for a stroll before Merlin could be accused of being a sorcerer, or worse, an interpretive dancer. It was nicer than strolling with Arthur because they didn't have to pretend to be hunting and Merlin didn't have to carry the crossbow until his arm ached.
"I've never had a dream," said Merlin, and Morgana looked at him strangely. "I mean, I've had dreams, of course. There's this one where Arthur's armour chases me all over the castle demanding to be polished. But never like you, never ones that come true. Are they all..?"
"Awful? Yes. No. In some of them Arthur's a great king, and you're at his right hand. He makes you wear a silly hat."
"Not the one with the feather?"
"No," Morgana smiled reassuringly. "A sillier hat."
They decided to take a rest in a meadow, and Morgana mocked Merlin thoroughly when his hands automatically reached out for something to do.
"And where exactly did you learn to make daisy crowns, Merlin?"
"In Ealdor," Merlin said, without shame. "Will and I used to give them to girls we liked."
Morgana cocked her head, and looked at him as though seeing him for the first time. "You've led a very different life from me, haven't you, Merlin?"
"You'd have been a terrible farmer," Merlin said with a smile.
"I never got to make daisy crowns for girls I liked, either." Morgana looked away. "Gwen's very beautiful."
"Er, okay." Merlin didn't really know where to go with that.
"In my dream, I mean. Arthur's king, you have a silly hat and Gwen is beautiful."
"What about you?" Merlin asked.
"I'm beautiful too," Morgana said with a small, sad smile.
"You're the prettiest girl I've ever seen," said Merlin, using his magic to flick the daisy crown onto Morgana's head. Then, because it was getting all inappropriate, he pulled some grass from the ground and deposited it in Morgana's hair, before high-tailing it for the other side of the meadow.
Morgana's laughter followed him, her magic snagging at his ankles trying to trip him.
"It was disgusting," said Arthur from where he was sprawled at Gwen's kitchen table. "I think they were actually frolicking!"
Gwen frowned at the prince. She didn't remember actually inviting him in. She also very much doubted that Merlin and Morgana had been frolicking, but it was probably for the best that Arthur didn't find out about whatever it was they were doing together.
"You don't care for frolicking, Arthur?"
"No. I mean, in its proper place, and with the correct person-- do you like frolicking?"
"Oh, thank God for that."
Merlin grinned at Morgana as she cupped the free-floating flame in her palm, she moved her hand and the little flame flickered over her fingers without touching her skin.
"You're getting much better at that."
"I may never have to use a candle again," said Morgana, but her sarcastic tone was undermined by the look of wonder on her face. "I am getting good at it, aren't I?"
There was a knock at the door, and Morgana clenched her fist around the flame and winced.
"My lady," said the guardsman, "the King requires your presence."
"Of course," said Morgana through gritted teeth.
"Here, let me see," said Merlin, as soon as the hapless guard had departed. The flame had gone out and the skin of Morgana's palm was already red and blistering.
Merlin took Morgana's hand and sent a sprinkling of frost from his skin to hers.
Later, when Uther asked why Morgana's hand was bandaged, she blushed and said she'd had an accident with a sword.
Merlin sat up suddenly and looked blearily around him. It took him a moment to realise that Gaius's raised voice was what had woken him. It was followed by Morgana's voice, and the word "maidservant."
Merlin stumbled from his room, wearing only his nightshirt.
"Merlin is serving as my maidservant," Morgana told Gaius, "and I require him immediately."
"Merlin," said Gaius, as Merlin made to follow Morgana out of the room. "Shouldn't you put on some trousers?"
"Er," said Merlin, quailing under Morgana's glare. "I think it's an emergency."
Out in the corridor he realised that Morgana was also wearing her sleep attire. "Oh good," he muttered under his breath, "this isn't going to start any uncontrollable rumours."
Morgana pulled him into an alcove off the main hallway; it was a tight squeeze and they were pressed against each other. Merlin tried to think about things other than how flimsy Morgana's nightgown was: the stocks, Uther finding out he was a sorcerer, the fact that Morgana could now reliably start fires with her magic.
"I had a dream about Arthur," said Morgana, all business. "Someone is going to poison him tomorrow."
"Did you see who it was?" asked Merlin.
"Not in any detail. They were wearing a blue cloak."
"Merlin, can you see the future at all?" Morgana said, crossly.
"Okay, yes, sorry. Look, whoever it is I'll stop them. I'll save Arthur."
"We'll save Arthur," said Morgana, grimly.
With that, Merlin and Morgana squeezed out of the alcove and came face to face with Sir Leon, who looked them both up and down. Merlin had never been quite so aware of his knees before.
Sir Leon checked that the physician was nowhere to be seen and raised an eyebrow at Merlin.
"What Merlin means is that I was having another sleepless night and went to see Gaius for a draught. Merlin-" Morgana took Merlin's arm, he didn't think it was necessary for her to dig her fingernails in quite so much "-was kind enough to offer to escort me back to my chambers."
"I'll show you the rest of the way, my lady," offered Sir Leon. "Goodnight, Merlin."
"I thought you were Morgana's devoted servant these days," Arthur said, when Merlin arrived in the morning with his breakfast tray.
"I'm your servant too," said Merlin. "Not that I'm devoted to you. Not that I'm not devoted to you."
"Give me my breakfast."
"Yes, Arthur," said Merlin, taking a step back and holding firmly onto the tray. Arthur took a step forward, and Merlin backed up again.
"Give it to me." Arthur made a grab for the tray, which Merlin lifted above his head.
"Are you sure you want such a large breakfast? I mean, you have to go and train with the knights in a bit. And as my mother always said 'never hack straw men to bits on a full stomach.' Or was that swimming?"
Arthur tried to snatch the tray, and Merlin dropped it.
"Whoops?" he dead-panned.
"Oh, get out. Go and deprive Morgana of her breakfast."
Arthur hadn't eaten all day and was looking forward to his midday meal. The chicken leg was halfway to his mouth when Morgana said, "Are you getting fat?"
"I am in peak physical condition."
"Oh," said Morgana, ignoring her own meal in favour of examining her fingernails. "It was just something Gwen said."
Arthur dropped the chicken leg.
Merlin was staking out the kitchen. One of the cook's assistants had told him that a mysterious stranger had come to the kitchen door earlier offering to sell them a sack of shiny red apples. He was expected back later that afternoon.
Merlin spied him. A tall thin man in a blue cloak, hood obscuring his features, striding across the yard. He was intercepted by Morgana. What was she doing?
Morgana produced a small purse, offered the man some coins and accepted the sack of apples in exchange.
Just buying the apples, why hadn't Merlin thought of that? Other than the fact that he had no money, obviously.
Merlin and Morgana stood on the shore of the lake, the sack of apples between them.
"Apple?" Merlin offered.
"You know what's really odd," said Morgana, "is that apples aren't even in season."
"The main thing is to get rid of them before anyone asks what we're doing with a sack of poisoned apples." Merlin hurled the apple he was holding towards the middle of the lake.
"You throw like a girl, Merlin."
"I suppose you could do better?"
Morgana threw an apple out into the water. It went quite a bit farther than Merlin's.
Merlin pulled open the wardrobe door, pushed Morgana in, squeezed in next to her and pulled the door closed.
"That's my arm."
"You're standing on my toes."
It was mostly Morgana's fault. Summoning spells were still a little beyond her, and the magic book was all in Welsh, and her pronunciation had been just a little off. The important thing, as she'd later tell Merlin, was that she hadn't actually meant to summon a mystical creature from an unspeakable dimension of dark magic.
The thing was only the size of a dog. But it did have two heads and lots of teeth.
It was partly Merlin's fault, too. He hadn't known that magical attacks only made the creature bigger when he'd tried to blow it to smithereens.
"What do we do?" hissed Morgana.
"If we attack it with magic again it'll end up the size of a horse. You don't have a sword, do you?"
"Merlin, where would I keep a sword in this dress?"
Yes, well. Perhaps that thought would keep for another time. "Is the door to your chambers locked?"
"So it can't get out. And the book said that unless it feasts on magic it would fade back to its own dimension."
"So we stay here and hope this thing's too stupid to notice that two sorcerers are hiding in a wardrobe five feet away?"
Morgana tried to flip her hair back. It caught Merlin in the eye. "And how will we know when it's gone?"
They knew it was gone when Prince Arthur opened the wardrobe door and said, "Honestly, have you two no shame?"
"Arthur!" Morgana somehow managed to sound indignant. "How did you get in here? That door was locked."
"I have a key, for emergencies."
"What sort of emergency?"
"Something like the King's ward being ravished by a manservant in wardrobe, I imagine."
Which was how Merlin came to be thrown in the stocks. Again.
Arthur and Morgana were conducting their argument between Merlin and the vegetable-wielding children, and for this at least he was grateful.
"You're jealous," said Morgana with a smirk. "The only question is who are you jealous of, Merlin or me?"
"I have no desire to be ravished by Merlin!" Arthur said, loudly enough that he drew stares from passers-by.
"Well, there's nothing to upset yourself over, because he certainly wasn't ravishing me."
"I wasn't, honest." said Merlin, twisting his neck trying to look up at Arthur. "And can we all stop saying ravished, please?"
"Well, he wants to," said Arthur, sulkily.
"Just because you're getting nowhere with--"
"Yes, Arthur," said Morgana, "we all know about--"
"No," Arthur hissed. "I meant, hello, Guinevere."
"Oh, hello, Gwen." Morgana smiled at the approaching maid, and Merlin gave her a little wave from his position in the stocks.
"What's going on here?" Gwen asked.
Both Arthur and Merlin opened their mouths to speak, but Morgana beat them to it. "Arthur was just explaining that he has no desire to ravish either myself or Merlin. And Merlin is in the stocks for despoiling me in a wardrobe, even though he didn't and we both had our clothes on the whole time."
"If one of you could go to Ealdor," mumbled Merlin, "and collect my mother, then this conversation could actually get more mortifying."
"If you'd just tell me what you were doing in there?" Arthur sounded ready to start tearing his hair out.
"Fine, Arthur," said Morgana with a sigh. "Merlin and I are both sorcerers--"
"Morgana!" Merlin squeaked.
"--and he's been secretly giving me lessons in magic."
Gwen had once confided in Merlin that she had a secret plan should Morgana ever inadvertently reveal her magic: she was going to lead Morgana quietly away then tell everyone that she'd gone mad. She looked about ready to implement the secret plan when Arthur tossed back his head and laughed.
"If you expect me to believe that then you're stupider than you look."
Eventually Arthur relented and let Merlin out.
He was alone in Gaius's workshop picking fruit from his hair when he heard a delicate cough behind him. He turned to find Morgana standing behind him.
She reached up and plucked a bit of tomato from behind his ear. "I see you're a free man."
"They ran out of vegetables."
"I am sorry, truly," she flicked the tomato away distastefully.
"Don't worry about it. I think I'm actually starting to enjoy the stocks, I think there's something wrong with me. And you know that Arthur doesn't really believe there's anything untoward going on between us?"
"Oh, I know that. He's just projecting his own Gwen-related issues onto everyone around him."
Merlin grinned. "As if you'd so much as look at me."
Morgana reached up again, but instead of plucking foodstuffs from his hair she slid her hand around to the back of his neck, and tugged him down into a kiss.
She was soft and warm and magic danced on her tongue.
She pulled back and regarded Merlin with cool, calculating eyes. "Before this goes any further I want to make it absolutely clear that there will be no ravishing of anybody in a wardrobe."