Chapter 1: doll
The knights are playing a rowdy game of catch with what looks like a rag doll when Arthur gets to the training field, Morgana by his side. As they get closer, he gets a better look at it, and turns to Morgana to confirm that it's what he thinks it is. She nods and raises an eyebrow; Arthur turns pale, swallows, and hurries forward, grabbing it out of the air as Gwaine throws it to Leon.
He turns the dragon doll over to check its state - old, worn, but all the stitching's intact and it doesn't appear to have taken any damage from being tossed around by his knights. Arthur turns it over one last time, then asks "Where did you get this?", careful to keep his tone calm.
"Found it next to Merlin's armour, sire." Gwaine says. "Child must've dropped it."
"Word to the wise." Arthur states. "Never, ever touch Killy if you value your hide." he pauses. "I'll return this to where you found it." With that, he walks to the other side of the field where all the armour's piled.
Gwaine scratches his neck, bemused, as he watches Arthur stride off. "It has a name?"
Morgana smirks. "Ask Arthur where he got that scar under his chin some time and see if he tells the truth. My brother learnt a long time ago not to touch Merlin's favourite doll." The dawning looks of comprehension tinged with fear are just a tad gratifying. She's quite sure they're not going to be picking up any old toys any time soon.
Chapter 2: Beginning training
Lancelot begins his training as part of Camelot's knights. Some of them, it seems, are not like the others.
Lancelot takes a deep breath. He's been accepted into the training for the prospective knights of Camelot, having passed the first tests. Now he's got to show he can do this properly, not merely pass one fight and feat of strength. The Prince, who's exchanging blows with a bearded knight, spots him and holds up his hand with a gesture to stop, and assesses him. "Good to see you've come back for more."
"It's an honour I'm trying to prove myself worthy of, sire." Lancelot says.
As the training session goes on, he notes that one of the knights - tall, slim, long dark plait - is actually terrible with a sword. So terrible that the only explanation can be that he's got no training. They stop for a breather, the very bad at it knight stops, and turns enough that Lancelot can get a good look at his face. Ah. 'He' is a 'she'. She sits down next to him, dumping her sword on the ground and taking a swig from the waterskin being passed round. And crosses her arms, sighing noisily, kicking at her sword.
Lancelot takes the waterskin from her. "You... really don't like the training this entails, do you?"
She eyes him. "Let me guess, you're one of that lot who wanted to be a knight your entire life and then went to the effort of getting in on merit."
"Guilty as charged." Lancelot says, passing on the waterskin. "I wasn't aware the nobles were sending their daughters in lieu of sons."
She snorts. "I'm not noble. Prince Pratface and the King are making me do this. I'm the very definition of crap with a sword. You may've noticed."
Lancelot raises an eyebrow in surprise. "It's the first time I've heard of knights training being used as a punishment. It's a reward and coveted position."
"Trust me, Prince Pratface definitely did not have a reward in mind when he made me do this." She sighs. "But apparently I have to get to the point where I can be relied upon not to hit anyone else." She raises her voice as the owner of a head of very shiny blond hair looks in their direction. "Never mind that it's pointless!"
"Sorry, Merlin, couldn't hear you over the clanging of your inability to wield a sword." The Prince calls back. "And you can't get out of it, either. Pick it up and start again."
Everyone gets back to their feet, and Merlin stalks over to the Prince. "Look, I will wear the bloody chainmail, I will even carry a shield, of course I'm bloody carrying a dagger, but this is pointless! I can levitate the entire battlefield with a snap of my fingers, I do not need to learn how to use a sword!" She snaps her fingers for effect, and the entire training set of knights and squires find themselves two feet off the grass.
The servants and everyone else in the vicinity not wearing armour try very hard to stifle their grins. Lancelot stares down at his feet. It's a very... odd sensation, being suspended in mid-air and not falling but not feeling the pressure of whatever's holding you up, either.
The Prince, who's the only other mail-clad figure aside from Merlin still with his feet on the ground, rolls his eyes. "You've made your point, Merlin. However, you need to be prepared for those times when you can't use magic -"
"- Which completely negates the entire point of me being your bodyguard!" Merlin says, waving her hand negligently. The knights land back on the grass with a thump.
Lancelot doesn't kneel down and kiss the ground when he's back down. He might possibly be tempted, though.
"Merlin, the plain facts of the matter are that your King has made this a stipulation of the role." The Prince says. "Until it isn't, I hope that we can train you to at least be vaguely bad rather than utterly hopeless."
"I would quite happily go back to being a lady in waiting." Merlin offers.
"Didn't I mention? Morgana says she'd always wondered why she'd seen us in armour, fighting back to back." The Prince says. "You had a glowing sword."
Merlin crosses her arms, unimpressed. "Morgana has been known to state that she's foreseen you quacking like a duck if you eat broccoli. And you believed her for ages."
During the next breather, Lancelot makes his way over to Merlin. "So. You're the Prince's bodyguard."
She pushes a few tendrils of hair off her forehead. "Yeah, toffee-nosed spoilt brat that he is."
Lancelot coughs. "You realise the rest of us can't refer to him as that."
"Ask Leon sometime." she says, gesturing at the bearded knight who'd been sparring with Prince Arthur earlier. "He's put up with Arthur for long enough to earn the right."
Sir Leon coughs. "Some of us are politic enough not to make such comments in his hearing, Merlin."
Chapter 3: The Regrettable incident(s)
The regrettable incident(s) occur. Really, Merlin shouldn't have to deal with this kind of thing, she's got her hands full enough as it is being Morgana's lady in waiting.
"Honestly, Pratface, who did you piss off?" Merlin asks as the latest would-be Prince-killer gets carted off to the cells, with a stop along the way to Gaius and Alice's workshop to get bandaged up. The flashbang spell he was using got reflected when Merlin stopped it and his hands're in a bit of a sorry state. "It's bad enough you like playing with swords and jousting for fun."
"Jousting is a noble art." Arthur sniffs.
"It still looks like boys playing with sticks to me." Morgana says as she comes over, having finished reassuring the emissary that it's all under control. "I've told you two about flirting in public. leave my lady in waiting alone, Arthur."
Arthur stiffens. "As if I'd ever touch her with a bargepole. Anyway, she was denigrating jousting."
"That thing with sticks I have to sit through while minor nobles pledge their favour to me? Trust me Arthur, it's really not as interesting as you think it is. Even with the sheer amount of debilitating injuries and deaths it results in." Morgana sighs. "But really, brother, try to stop getting targeted so much, Merlin has better things to do."
Merlin frowns while they're watching the tourney. "His shield's - oh." She lashes her hand out, chanting a spell.
Arthur brings his shield up just as the snakes on Valiant's shield start to writhe, bursting into life and lunging at him, but freeze in place. Arthur cuts their heads off for good measure, then smashes Valiant to the floor. Looking up, he can see Merlin, hand still out and eyes glowing.
At the feast, uther's deep in talks with Balinor. Gwen looks at Morgana. "What do you suppose they're talking about?"
"Probably something to do with Kilgarrah." Merlin shrugs. "I bet he's been at the catnip again and frightened a bunch of sheep."
"Merlin, dragon catnip doesn't exist." Morgana says.
"It's the only explanation I can give for some of the stuff he's come out with over the years." Merlin says. "The giggles are very suspicious." Gwen nudges her. "What?"
"You've got an admirer." Gwen says, nodding her head in the direction of Arthur, who's heading this way.
"Very funny." Merlin says. "Morgana, try not to flay him alive this time."
"But you enjoy his confused expression when I cut his feet out from under him as much as I do." Morgana says, smiling sweetly.
"It's bad manners to do it right in front of the court, though." Gwen says.
Arthur actually stops in front of Merlin, looking faintly uncomfortable and nodding stiffly. "My lady, I understand I have you to thank for the snakes today."
"That makes it sound like you're accusing me of bringing the snakes to life." Merlin says dryly, then smiles sweetly. "Your highness."
"I could well believe it, but I'm sure you'd prefer me to meet my doom in a far more embarassing way." Arthur replies.
"Poison is just so messy." Merlin agrees.
Chapter 4: Priestess training
Or, another thing I'm not allowed to do, by Morgana Pendragon, aged 12.
Morgana storms in while Gwen's in the middle of making adjustments to one of Morgana's dresses. The seamstresses are saying that she's showing real talent in fittings and gets dragged off for design and drafting lessons. Meanwhile Merlin's stuck as the tailor's dummy.
"This is so unfair!" Morgana fumes, flinging herself on the bed.
"What is it this time?" Gwen asks around her mouthful of pins.
"Uther won't let me go to train with the priestesses." Morgana says. "Morgause was allowed to join, and I'm not even asking for that, his royal highness made that *very* clear ages ago, I just want to train, it would help so much with my seer abilities, Nimueh says I'd be brilliant -"
"What was the response, then?" Merlin asks, interrupting Morgana's flow. Best to get it over with.
Morgana huffs, and says "I'm a princess of Camelot, my normal magic lessons are fine, tutors will be brought in to supplement it, what's wrong with the druids, my time would be better spent learning statecraft and running a kingdom as befits my station -" She stops and makes a face. "Blah blah blah no you can't go. Signed Uther Pendragon."
"Did you try pointing out the intimidation bit of having a priestess as part of the royal family?" Merlin asks. "Nimueh said something about it last time."
"I said just that!" Morgana cries. "He said he'd only contemplate it if he had more than one daughter." She raises her head. "Merlin, are you sure you don't want to be adopted?"
Merlin glares in her direction. "That would mean I'd have to acknowledge Pratface as my brother. No way."
"I really do think that your best bet is the druids at the moment." Gwen says, shifting her attention to one of the sleeves. "Plus it's a lot closer than the Isle."
"And they have that whole thing with the crystal cave for prophecy stuff." Merlin adds.
"I don't see *you* trying for more druid things, you'd be fine." Morgana mumbles.
Merlin shudders. "Any time I go near them they treat me like I'm made of glass, expect me to provide all the answers, and talk prophecy. I get enough idiocy from Kilgarrah, thank you. Plus they refuse to even acknowledge that I'm not actually named Emrys."
"And it's a boy's name." Gwen says. "Last I looked, you're not a boy."
"What about the priestesses?" Morgana asks. "You'd have no problems from Uther."
"Disqualified due to bloodlines." Merlin says cheerfully. "Daughters of dragonlords can't be priestesses due to the fact that one day I'll be a dragonlord, so training me to be a priestess would be a waste of good training."
Morgana grumbles again from the bed. Sulking may start setting in soon.
"The way you two talk about prophecy is certainly eye-opening." Gwen muses as she starts on the other sleeve. "Oh, hold still, Merlin. I used to think it sounded so ominous and final, and now I find out it's fuzzy and strangely specific if it's soonish, but long term it's so vague that you only realise what it was referring to afterwards."
"Or 'utter bollocks' when you're not as nice as Gwen." Merlin says, then yelps. "Ow! Ow! Pins and cat fur shocks at once aren't fair!"
Chapter 5: Announcements
Uther makes an announcement in front of the court.
The day after the tourney and 'the thing with the snakes' as Merlin refers to it, Morgana as 'my idiot brother being forced to apologise in public, oh happy day' and Gwen as 'will you two stop gloating so obviously, it's unbecoming even if he did deserve it', Uther calls an audience.
"What do you suppose this is about?" Morgana asks Leon as they wait for Uther to finish sweeping in dramatically.
"I'd presume it's related to Valiant." Leon replies. "Although Uther and Balinor were discussing something for what looked like quite a long time last night."
"They did keep giving Merlin and Arthur some very considering looks, though." Morgana says. "They're planning something. I foresee some rather unexpected news that will almost certainly result in yelling."
Leon grins. "Who would we be to deny them yelling and providing entertainment for everyone else?"
"Shh, he's about to start." Gwen murmurs.
Uther gestures grandly. "As you are all aware, an attempt was made on the life of my son Arthur yesterday, using magic during the fight, as is expressly against the rules of the tourney. Magic has its place but this is a duel of arms and skill, not a way to cheat. Men had already died at the hands of this miscreant, and it is only by the swift actions of one woman that my son was not of their number. Rest assured he is being dealt with." He gestures again. "Merlin, daughter of Balinor Dragonlord, come forward."
"Me?" Merlin asks, swallowing.
"Go forward, Merlin!" Morgana hisses through her smile, Gwen and her shoving her discreetly out of place, so she has to stumble forward from where she's standing at Morgana's side to keep from flailing and falling in front of everyone. Once she's regained her balance, she gets into place in front of the king, aware of all eyes on her. Catching eyes with Arthur, he just shrugs.
Uther smiles graciously. As always, it looks that tiniest bit self-satisfied and.. oh fuck. That's his 'I have made a decision and I think it's a brilliant idea, and you're just going to have to put up with it because I'm King' face. Bugger, bugger, bugger. She darts her eyes frantically at Morgana, but Morgana can't see the expression from where she's standing, and it's not as though either of them really mastered mindspeech due to never having had to do it that much.
"Merlin, daughter of Balinor Dragonlord. Your exemplary service to the crown has not gone unnoticed, and in view of this I wish to reward you." Uther says.
"Thank you, sire." Merlin murmurs. she's not saying any more than that, because there's obviously more coming. Assenting noises are pretty much the only responses allowed until he's come to a stop. Morgana's raising a slightly quizzical eyebrow, and Gwen's got her trepidatious face on, biting her lip a little. It's best to wait it out.
"Your modesty commends you. In view of saving the life of your prince not just once, I wish to reward you with a role clearly suited to your talents; the position of bodyguard to the Prince."
Merlin gapes, but manages to get control enough to stammer "...Your majesty?" Merlin asks, exchanging horrified looks with Arthur. Gwen looks like she's been hit with her father's hammer, Morgana's wide-eyed, half the court is whispering furiously.
Arthur's the first to get anything really coherent out. "Father, a bodyguard?" he asks, sounding as offended as possible. Nearly as offended as the time Morgana beat him three times in a row with the sword. And then landed him on his bum with the quarterstaff.
Uther ignores the offended tone, and continues smiling. "Indeed. Assassination attempts have increased as you take on more responsibility, and as you are aware, steel cannot repel them all. Merlin has proved most resourceful."
Arthur grits his teeth. "I wouldn't want to deprive Morgana of such a loyal servant. And potential bodyguard."
"Your sister is quite capable of defending herself against magical attack and quite cognisant of the need for vigilance." Uther pauses. "And of the honour of this position for her lady in waiting."
"...There are other sorcerers." Arthur tries as his last public attempt.
"But none so firmly tested as effective and used to coping with your ... idiosyncracies." Uther replies. Merlin doesn't manage to restrain her smirk at that one. Nor does Morgana. They weren't aware Uther ever used polite language for Arthur's tendency to be a tosser and lack of patience with, oh, almost everything.
Chapter 6: reactions
Reactions from those who know.
Arthur leans against the wall by the training grounds, and tips his head back so that his head hits the stone. He closes his eyes and groans.
"So, how's it feel knowing your dad doesn't think you can defend yourself, head of his knights and all?" A voice says from nearby, and Arthur can hear the smirk. "Leader of Camelot's soldiers in battle, and he can't be trusted out of doors without someone attacking him and needs a *girl* to save him."
"Sod off, Gwaine." Arthur says, without opening his eyes.
"How'd you know it was me, Princess?" Gwaine says.
"Big bloody mouth is how. It's a bit distinctive." Arthur says, cracking an eye open. "And at least I know the harpies aren't around, thanks for that at least."
"Didn't know you'd developed a sixth sense." Gwaine says.
"No, I just know that you wouldn't dare say anything like that about girls if there was the slightest chance that Morgana or Merlin anywhere near." Arthur says.
"We're not the ones who court danger by calling your sister a harpy." Leon says. "Are you all right, sire?"
"Apparently I've been shackled to one of the banes of my existence by my loving father out of concern for my continued existence." Arthur says, shutting his eyes again. "Tell me how you'd feel, Leon."
"My manhood might feel possibly a little bruised, your highness." Leon concedes.
"But think of it this way, you can spend even more time squabbling." Gwaine grins.
"Wonderful." Arthur groans.
"Ah, come on, Princess, you love it really." Gwaine says, leaning against the wall next to him and nudging him. "The lads're laying bets already."
"Very funny." Arthur says.
"My sister and her husband used to go out of their way to squabble with each other and now they're expecting their third babe." Leon says contemplatively. "It really is a very good match."
"Leon, you forget I've met your sister and so has Gwen." Arthur says. "Your sister can pass for human."
"I'm going to die." Merlin groans. "Actually, no, I'll kill him first, and then my head'll be on the chopping block for killing the prince of Camelot."
"The miracle would be that you lasted so long without killing him." Morgana says soothingly. "Remember, accidents happen and you can't possibly be expected to be there all the time. He might be smothered in his sleep."
"You really can be smothered by your own bedsheets. Some really nasty accidents have been known to happen to people just trying to get out of bed, according to the older servants." Gwen provides, then adds hastily. "Not that I'd condone it, of course."
"Gwen, you're a true and lovely friend." Morgana says. Then frowns. "Merlin, why are you wincing?"
"Certain great scaly overgrown lizards are calling." Merlin says, rubbing her temples. "He's being particularly loud."
Gwen goes over to the window and leans out of it. In the distance she can see a shape that looks like a large bird, coming closer. She turns "I think you've got a visitor...?"
"Tell him to bugger off." Merlin says.
The light that was coming through the windows gets blocked out by the shape of the large dragon currently perching on top of one of the roofs above the courtyard. "I will not 'bugger off' as you so delicately put it, young witch." Kilgarrah booms.
"I said bugger off and I meant it." Merlin says, raising her voice. "Go and harass my father."
The dragon chuckles. Which reverberates a bit around the courtyard of Camelot, causing the animals and those of a nervous disposition who haven't already to scatter. Just because dragons are regular visitors to Camelot doesn't make them any less scary. It's the teeth and claws and propensity to breathe fire that does it, apparently. "Oh no, young witch, it's you that I wish to speak to. I hear you and young Pendragon are making steps closer towards your destiny." he pauses. "Although when I was younger, young witches did not swear nearly as much. They were far more gracious."
Merlin gives Gwen a look "And you didn't believe me about dragons being the worst gossips in the entire kingdom."
Gwen looks at her and then at the sight of Kilgarrah through the window. "To be fair, you don't really think of them doing human things."
There's a clatter from down below, and a yell. "Merlin, are you around here somewhere?"
Morgana leans out of the window. "She's up here, Arthur."
"Young Pendragon!" The dragon booms. "Did I not say that you would become two sides of the same coin?"
Arthur groans. "Oh no."
Morgana looks down at her brother, up at the dragon, then back into her room where Merlin's sitting on a chair and pouting. Finally she looks at Gwen. Gwen shrugs. "At least it's not dull, my lady."
Chapter 7: meet cute
Lancelot? This would be Gwen.
"Someone's distracted." Elyan says as he gets a hit in on Lancelot during sparring practice. He turns his head to check the direction of Lance's stare. Gwen and Morgana are sparring, and Merlin's fixing her chainmail. Mostly due to the sheer amount of bruises she's managed to get and Arthur grudgingly giving her a break. Elyan grins. "Which one's caught your fancy?"
Lance looks sheepish as he brings the end of his staff up. "The dark-skinned one. I believe she's Princess Morgana's maid?"
"Good choice." Elyan says, smirking. Lance isn't quite sure why he's smirking, but he's new here. There are always jokes at the new one's expense.
Morgana notices the attention, and points in their direction. Gwen waves cheerfully at Elyan, then suddenly looks embarassed as she spots Lance. Lance returns the wave.
Elyan grins. "Don't mind the shyness, she's not used to attention. Not with hanging around those two."
Lance tilts his head. "Maybe I can rectify that."
"Braver men than you have tried. You'll have to pass the inspection, too." Elyan says, trying for a low swipe to get them started again.
The sparring session's called to a halt. Merlin moved on from chainmail repairs to creating distractions around the field. Little bursts of fire from the ground, sharp winds, fog enveloping people. To keep them on their toes, she said.
Lancelot drifts very pointedly over to the girls and stopping in front of Gwen. "So how long have you been practicing? You're very good."
"Um. Since childhood?" Gwen says, biting her lip nervously. "My father's the best smith in Camelot, so I was always around weapons."
"Well, clearly it paid off." Lancelot says. "Although you somehow ended up with dandelions in your hair."
"Morgana fights dirty." Gwen says dryly.
"May I?" Lance asks. She ducks her head, and he pulls a couple out, presenting them to her.
Morgana swipes her arm across her forehead to get the sweat that's threatening to trickle into her eyes. "Well, at least you're polite." There's the sound of squabbling behind Elyan, and Morgana raises her voice. "Arthur, you only have yourself to blame, you know Merlin lashes out in petty ways when she's tired."
"I have donkey ears, Morgana!" Arthur yells.
"And he looks all the better for it!" Merlin yells back.
"Merlin, give him back his normal ears, he has to be at least vaguely presentable later." Gwen admonishes, then brushes a bit of hair behind her ear as she turns back to Lance. "We're not always like this."
"I'd be glad to be proved wrong." Lance says.
Morgana sheathes her sword and straightens her gloves. "Come on, Gwen, we'd better get Merlin into a bath before she gets onto frogs."
Gwen nods, going to pick up their things. "Yes, my lady." She pauses when she's got everything in her arms in a neat bundle. "Oh, Elyan, before I go, can you pick up some lamp oil for Father?"
"Lamp oil and the thick twining. Was there anything else?" Elyan asks.
"No, that's it. I'll see you later." She nods to Elyan, then smiles at Lance, turning away quickly to follow Morgana and Merlin.
"...Father?" Lancelot asks, swallowing.
Elyan grins. "My sister's quite capable of taking care of herself. And I can't threaten you half so well as Morgana can." He smirks. "Still interested?"
Chapter 8: new room
new job, new living quarters
Merlin bangs the door open to Arthur's room, where he's reading some documents. "Why are the servants moving all my things to the room next to yours?"
Arthur looks up and sighs. "Because you're my bodyguard. That means you're supposed to be near to protect me from attacks day and night, not just in public."
"There's also a door just here for access between the two rooms just in case." George, Arthur's scarily helpful manservant says, drawing aside a tapestry. He's been hovering in the corner. Just being alert in case Arthur needs him to run an errand.
"Um, thank you, George." Merlin says.
"I live to serve." he says glassily. Merlin and Arthur exchange glances. George is so devoted to his job that it can be a bit creepy. All the servants, no matter how high or low their status, agree on this. Uther has rejected 'being overly devoted to his role' as a reason for Arthur to get a new manservant. "Now, will you be wanting to breakfast with his highness each morning, my lady?"
"Depends. How good is the breakfast?" Merlin asks.
"The very best the kitchens can provide, my lady." George says, radiating helpfulness and pride in his job.
"We'll discuss it later, George." Arthur says. "Though I'm not sure Merlin counts as a lady."
"Good point. My father's not dead, so I'm not a dragonlord yet." Merlin says.
"Very well." George says. "Did you want me to bring your clothes in while you breakfast in the morning?"
Merlin sniffs. "I can dress myself, unlike some people." She says, not looking in Arthur's direction. Morgana's dresses tend to do up at the back, and she has her hair to do, so of course she needs help. Arthur, on the other hand - it's not as though a shirt and breeches require an extra pair of hands to get on.
George sniffs. "As you wish."
"Talking of dressing yourself, Merlin, I have something I need to show you." Arthur says, getting up and pushing her out the door.
Merlin glances over her shoulder at the door once they're out. "His not blinking an eye at any of this worries me."
"He never blinks." Arthur says.
"He does know that the hidden door is for the mistress to come and go discreetly, doesn't he?" Merlin asks.
"I try not to think that he knows anything about that kind of thing." Arthur shudders. "Even though it's not as though he hasn't caught me in bed with a woman before."
"Really? Thought you had one of the worst track records possible at court." Merlin smirks.
"That would have nothing to do with the influence of you or Morgana, of course." Arthur mutters.
Merlin looks innocent. "Are you saying that they don't swoon at your feet by the sheer force of your charming personality?"
"Funny, Merlin." Arthur says.
Chapter 9: red cloak
Gwaine pokes his head into the armoury on hearing the familiar sound of bickering.
"You're insane. You remember how after Morgana and Gwen started beating up the trainee knights it was decided very quickly that I should get on with learning healing spells from Alice?" Merlin says as Arthur tugs the chainmail shirt into place.
"If we can get Geraint to become a halfway decent swordsman, we can train you." Arthur says, handing her a belt.
"If I drop my sword on your foot, you're to blame." Merlin grumbles.
Gwaine steps forward with a cowl and gets that over her head, being careful to not trap her plait. "Looks about right." he says, stepping back and tilting his head to one side, examining her.
Merlin frowns, tugging at it. "How much do I have to wear this? It's bloody heavy."
Gwaine grins. "You get used to it. And same as the rest of us, when you're on duty." One of the squires comes in bearing a red bundle, and Gwaine takes it from them, shaking it out and putting it round her shoulders. "Good thing you're tall, otherwise we'd've had to call in the seamstress. Very dashing."
Merlin pokes at the badge on the shoulder. "I feel like I might as well have 'Property of Arthur Pendragon' tattooed on my arm."
"Nah, that's been tattooed on your forehead for years, just ask the court." Pause. "Mind you, it's not like he hasn't got yours on his forehead for all the world to see." Gwaine grins.
"Gwaine, one day, when you least expect it, I'm going to cut off all your hair." Merlin says pleasantly before Arthur can say anything.
The first few weeks of the red cloak are sort of fun when she's not having to follow Arthur around. Mostly for the whiplash reactions. They see the cloak first, then you see the moment when they realise the face isn't angular enough, and register her long plait. A girl in a knight's - oh, that's Merlin. Then they still look a bit disturbed.
Even Arthur does it for a bit if she's hurrying on her way somewhere. "Should've known, only you could sound that clumsy." And after those few weeks, court and Camelot people see her, and either they see just another knight, like a girl is of as little notice as Leon's beard or Elyan's dark skin, or they nod and say 'Merlin'. Everyone knows Arthur's guard's name, and a girl with a long plait dressed as a knight stands out more than a lady in waiting. If it's a girl in knight's armour it has to be Merlin. She does wonder if she put Morgana in her cloak and mail she'd be addressed as Merlin. And she really shouldn't've told Morgana that if the speculative look on the princess's face is anything to go by.
Chapter 10: ponds and strange women
Arthur rolls his wrist to get the ache out of it from where Lance parried, hard, and comments "Are you ever going to talk to that girl or are you just going to stare shyly at each other for eternity?"
Lance flushes. "Gwen is not staring at me."
Arthur squints, shading his eyes against the sun at where the girls are taking their turn at teaching Merlin to not get her legs tangled when avoiding a blow. "No, she's looking embarassed because Merlin's teasing her about you."
Merlin notices him looking, grins and waves. Gwen looks like she wants to disappear into the ground.
"My lady, you're glaring." Gwen murmurs as the father and daughter Arthur and Merlin rescued from bandits leave the court.
"I don't trust her." Morgana says. "I'm sure she's the same girl I dreamt was drowning Arthur."
"It could be a general warning." Gwen says thoughtfully. "Are you quite sure?"
"Quite sure about what?" Merlin asks as she comes to their side, formalities over.
"Arthur's doing his impression of hit in the face with a haddock. How long do you think this infatuation's going to last? Pellinore put in three days, and Elyan went for a whole week."
"Morgana says she dreamt the lady Sophia was drowning Prince Arthur." Gwen says, and pauses. "And that was a very specific way to describe his expression."
"There was an incident in the kitchens when we were little." Morgana says.
"It was a thing of beauty and you really need to repeat it at the next feast for the education of others." Merlin says. "Are you sure he wasn't definitely drowned?"
"Being drowned, Merlin." Morgana says. "There's something off about her and Aulfric, though. She just happens to get ambushed as the prince is walking by? And she's batting her eyes enough to get a convulsion."
"Girls have done stranger things to get attention." Gwen says.
"Precisely." Morgana says. "Keep your eyes open."
Merlin walks in pulling at her belt, and pauses at the sight of Arthur still in his shirtsleeves. "Do I want to know why you're not getting ready for this patrol with the king?" She turns to George, who's looking disgruntled and not a little pained. "George, why's he not dressed?"
"I'm going out for a walk with Sophia." Arthur says, grinning cheerfully. "Cover for me, would you Merlin?"
"Clearly you have a brain injury if you think I'm dodging the king." Merlin says. "And I would be remiss in my duty as your bodyguard if I wasn't protecting your virtue by preventing you from being alone with strange women. George, I'll hold him, you get his padding."
Merlin rubs the back of her head as they trudge back to the castle. "My head still hurts. Me getting hurt whilst trying to stop you getting kidnapped was not in the job description."
Arthur grimaces. Walking in wet clothing is not comfortable. "It's part of being a knight, Merlin. At least Morgana woke you up in time."
"And now we have some very nice new staffs." Morgana says brightly. "But getting kidnapped by fairies, Arthur? Really? This'll teach you to stop talking to strange women."
"I still don't see why you're dry and I'm wet if you went into the lake too." Arthur grumbles.
"The drying spell is limited to those I feel like drying." Merlin says, then probes the back of her head gingerly. "I'm going to see Alice as soon as I get back, my vision's still a bit fuzzy at the edges."
Chapter 11: swords
swords and flirtation that is incredibly polite.
Arthur insists that being attacked by full-grown knights who've had years of fighting experience is a wonderful way to learn to wield a sword. And builds character. Gwaine promptly put a hand over her mouth to prevent another yelling match about precisely how much character Merlin already had.
"Mostly it's the noise, if you must know." Gwaine apologised once Leon had pulled Arthur away for his own safety. "That and both of you're in a temper for a while, which means we get more bruises *and* there's more chance that you'll light something on fire or conjure up pixies to trip us up."
"I have never conjured pixies in my life." Merlin says, offended.
"No, but there's still the chance that one day you'll do it." Gwaine says. "Just because you're a pretty face doesn't mean you're not possessed of a mean streak."
"It's like you've never met Morgana." Merlin says.
Gwaine slings an arm round her shoulders. "Nah, Morgana's not pretty, Morgana's frightening. Besides, she's nearly got as good hair as me."
"A capital offence." Merlin grins, tugging on the hand draped over her shoulder.
Gwen appears to berate Elyan about something partway through practice, and Lance drifts over. Gwaine narrows his eyes as they pause to watch the incredibly shy and polite version of flirtation that's become a regular event. "Has he even tried to sneak a kiss with her yet?" He asks.
"Not that I know of." Merlin says.
"Bloody hell. There's being honourable and proper and there's being a monk." Gwaine shakes his head in disgust. "I think his honourableness doesn't know where his cock is."
"Unlike some people who mostly think with theirs." Merlin says, poking him in the side.
Arthur leans back in his seat, looking at the books spread out in front of them. In the background, Geoffrey's eyeing them suspiciously. Well, specifically Arthur. He just about approves of Merlin and Morgana, since they're regular visitors and know how to handle books with respect. "So let me get this straight. We need a pure sword - which apparently means unblooded - that's also a good sword. As soon as possible."
"And the chances of getting a decent sword on this short notice are..." Merlin says, rubbing her eye.
"Less than Pellinor's chances of getting anywhere with that barmaid after he upset her tray and the ale went down her bodice." Arthur says.
"In his defence, he did grovel quite a bit." Merlin says, then she winces. "Poor stupid sod."
Morgana closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. "There is a sword that's almost certainly ready." She pauses. "Made by Tom."
"Gwen's father Tom?" Merlin asks. "One of the best blacksmiths in Camelot Tom? How do you know that he'll have a sword at such short notice?"
"Because I commissioned it for his birthday present." Morgana says. "And before you ask, Arthur, if we use this, you're not getting a replacement."
Balinor gets in from his trip to find the castle in a very nervous state. He finds his daughter curled up on one of the battlements, out of the wind, fingers tracing light patterns in the air distractedly. "Merlin, do I want to know why Kilgarrah is calling you dangerously overambitious for a young witch?"
"I asked him to burnish a sword." Merlin says, not looking up. "We need it to try and kill a wraith. He's killed two of the knights already. Owain was young enough to challenge him out of pride, and Pellinore did it to avenge Owain, honourable twerp that he is - was -" she gulps.
Balinor sighs. "And let me guess, the Prince wouldn't stand by." As much as his daughter outwardly dislikes Prince Arthur and regularly rails against the knightly code of honour, she still doesn't necessarily like seeing him throw himself under carts.
"Got it. Pratface, as usual, has no sense of self-preservation. Hence why we need the sword."
"Did you try pointing out to Kilgarrah that it'll be a bit difficult to fulfil those prophecies he likes coming out with if you can't try to save his life?" Balinor asks.
"Yes. He started yammering on about it being a great risk creating an object of power." Merlin grumbles. "Wrong hands, disruption, blah blah."
"I'll persuade him."
"And this is why I like having a dragonlord for a father." Merlin says, finally looking up at him.
Balinor eyes her. "I distinctly remember you once saying that when you managed to get me to take you flying as a child. Your mother nearly killed me."
"It's not like I wouldn't have had a soft landing if I'd fallen off." Merlin shrugs, then grins that infectious grin of hers, same as her mother's, at the memory. "And it was a brilliant birthday present for a five year old."
Chapter 12: patrol & cold
"I hate having this many bruises." Merlin groans the night before she's due to go out on a patrol. In October. "And I'm being forced to sleep out in the open and it's freezing."
"There's no ice on the ponds just yet." Gwen says.
"That makes me feel so much better." Merlin grumbles. "I quit. I'm running away to join the Druids. I did not want to know what they're like when they forget I'm female and think there's no women around, and I would be so much happier if I still didn't. There are feet. Just for starters."
"I'm the one who grew up in a small house with a brother." Gwen points out.
"Well, at least Lance is being so gentlemanly that the rate you're going you'll never find out if he has any bad habits before you're old and gray." Merlin says. "Seriously, at this rate I think Gwaine may offer to trip Lance into your cleavage."
"At this rate, I'm thinking he has my permission." Gwen huffs, then flushes. "I. Um. I just meant because he's not even - um -"
"Gwen, I'm impressed." Morgana says admiringly.
"Do I want to know why the last bedroll spot is next to pratface?" Merlin says after coming back from the bushes.
"You're his bodyguard." Gwaine says cheerfully as he shakes out his own bedroll. "We feel this should extend to making sure he's protected even in his sleep."
"If he kicks, you're all getting nettle rash." Merlin grumbles.
Merlin gets woken in the middle of the night to find Arthur cuddled up to her side.
"Your turn for watch." Leon says. "You're lucky he doesn't snore."
"Never said you were a cuddler." Merlin says as Arthur opens his eyes as she gets up.
"You're warm. Must be the magic." Arthur mumbles, burrowing under his blanket.
Merlin won't settle after a long cold day of not finding very much. Which is seriously bloody annoying from your hot water bottle. Arthur sighs, clamping an arm around her waist. "Stop moving, Merlin, and go to sleep. Count little dragons." he pauses. "I didn't mean for little dragons to actually appear in front of you."
"Make up your mind." Merlin grumbles, making them breathe flame before they disappear.
Morning. "Arthur's cuddling is getting worse, I see." Lance says, raising a pointed eyebrow at the arm around her waist.
Merlin elbows Arthur gently. Ish. "Rise and shine, pratface." She says.
Arthur grumbles into the back of her hair, raises his head, freezes, then very slowly removes his arm from around her waist. Lance looks like he's trying to keep a straight face. "You can share both blankets if you're cold, you know."
"Funny, Lance." Arthur says.
The next night of the patrol, they wake up at the same time. Fortunately before the others. Arthur's got his arm around Merlin's waist, and Merlin's holding onto it.
"Again?" Arthur groans.
Merlin sighs. "Least we're warm." She pauses. "With that in mind, I'm leaving you for Percy. He gives off heat like a furnace."
"Rejected." Arthur groans. "Admit it, you just want someone to hide behind if your spells go wrong. Though it's nice to know I've got a backup hot water bottle."
Chapter 13: formal presentation
Merlin twitches her skirts so they fall right as Gwen circles her, critical expression on her face. "Stand up straight, you're not wearing a sword on your hip."
Merlin makes a face. "I think I've forgotten how to wear a nice dress or anything that's not designed to take wear and tear."
"Well, you have new muscles in your arms, I'm going to have to let your sleeves out for a start..." Gwen says thoughtfully, inserting a few pins in the appropriate places. "As long as you stand up straight, you shouldn't disgrace yourself."
"And remember, you're not allowed to get into shoving matches with the knights. This is a formal court event, and appearances matter." Morgana says, tweaking her hair. "Merlin, have you even brushed this properly in the last week? There's so much dirt in it I wouldn't be surprised to find twigs." She sighs. "There's nothing for it, we're going to have to wash it."
Merlin makes a face. "Really? It'll take forever to dry, and you remember what happened last time."
Gwen grins. "It was almost as bad as when we washed Morgana's. Don't worry, we'll put a bit of oil in it to compensate since you do need to look presentable."
Merlin facepalms. "I'm going to be a decorative accessory to Arthur. Kill me now."
"Think of it more as being in disguise." Gwen says. "And pretend you're Morgana's lady in waiting again. Unless, of course, there's a threat, in which case you go into bodyguard mode. Now hold still."
During the ceremony, Morgana and Gwen's admonitions fail spectacularly. Merlin and the knights can't keep a straight face during the solemn part of Arthur being declared Crown Prince, and before that, Merlin was shoving them, acting as though she was in armour, and at one point quite clearly put an itching spell in Percival's clothes, given how he was trying to keep a straight face.
Morgana winces. "It's as though she's forgotten half her lifetime's court training. Clearly those knights and my brother have been a worse influence than I could possibly have thought. I can't watch. What are they doing now?"
Leon rubs his beard. "Well, Merlin's gone over to talk to him... and she's poking at his circlet and Arthur's rolling his eyes, batting at her hand and now she's trying to fix it where it went askew?"
Gwen bites her lip. "It could be worse, she could... oh no."
"What?" Morgana asks, lowering her hand, then groans. "I didn't just see Arthur put his arm around her shoulders, did I?"
"You did." Leon says, shaking his head.
"Do they not realise that the gossip about the two of them had actually gone down?" Morgana asks. "Now all the ones who thought the squabbling stuff was silly, not cute, are going to start saying she's his mistress. Let alone what it's going to look like to the people who didn't know she's his bodyguard."
Leon tucks his thumbs into his belt, looking uncomfortable. "Now's not a good time to note that your father's looking thoughtful again, is it?"
Chapter 14: potential marriage candidates
Princess Elena is unbelievably clumsy and doesn't like shoes. Arthur catches Merlin's eye and gives her a slightly despairing look, and Merlin smirks back. "Could be worse as possible future marriage candidates go."
"Marriage?" Arthur hisses.
Merlin gives him a look. "You cannot possibly be this dense. Does potentially combining the kingdoms not mean anything to you?" Arthur swallows, and Merlin shakes her head. Hard to believe he's been raised at court sometimes. As it is, Merlin's getting a very odd feeling off Elena's nurse.
Two days go by. During which Arthur is a bit despairing and Morgana takes Elena under her wing. She's funny, sweet, really likes horse-riding and doesn't like being subtly shoved at Arthur either. However, her clumsiness and the faint residue leads to Merlin and Morgana booting the nurse out as she's a pixie, and getting the sidhe out of Elena. Who is a little less clumsy, and more boisterous when no longer possessed.
"You'd think she'd change, now that she's no longer possessed." Arthur says, watching Elena race Morgana.
"What, suddenly start liking wearing shoes?" Gwaine asks, following the race. "I think she's amazing."
"Since when do you like blondes?" Merlin asks. "And close your mouth, you're drooling."
Gwaine swings an arm around her shoulders. "Don't worry, you know that if you fancy a shag, I'll be happy and willing to oblige."
"Aww, you can be so sweet sometimes." Merlin says as Arthur makes a disgusted face. She flicks Gwaine's hair when his attention wanders Elena-wards again. "Princess, Gwaine. Unless she runs away or her father gets really desperate, not a chance."
"It's happened." He sighs.
"In ballads. Most of which are, not to put too fine a point on it and to quote Morgana, romantic tosh to get audiences to throw coins." Merlin says, then muses. "Unless you want to drop hints about being a more favoured son of Orkney than you actually are."
Gwaine kisses her on the cheek. "I love you to pieces and would quite happily marry you if you get sick of being the princess's bodyguard, but I'm only admitting to that if there're thumbscrews involved."
Chapter 15: squires
Arthur walks into the council chambers to see his father and Leon looking over some letters. Both of them look distinctly bemused. Uther leans back in his chair. "I have to admit this is one result of appointing a dragonlord as Arthur's bodyguard I hadn't planned for."
"It's certainly interesting, sire." Leon says. "Do you think it'll be workable?"
"It can't hurt, I suppose." Uther says. He looks up. "Ah, Arthur. Merlin. Your timing is impeccable."
"It's never been called that before." Merlin says.
"Funny, Merlin." Arthur says. "What looks possibly workable, Father?"
"Earl Haraldsen and Lord Tamesis are proposing to send their younger daughters to serve in the knights as part of their tribute as they have no sons." Uther says. "They both cite the fact that as I myself appointed a girl to the knights, they are grateful to be of use in this way."
"Are you seriously considering accepting it?" Arthur asks, taking a chair.
Leon put the letter he's reading down. "Lord Tamesis makes the very good point that his daughter is already well-versed in the sword and helped fight off the bandits that attacked our party when I accompanied her family on a trip to Bayard's kingdom."
"Oh?" Uther asks. "How did she fare?"
"She killed two, sire." Leon says.
The girls arrive with the next crop of nobles' sons, and immediately get adopted by Morgana.
Arthur folds his arms, glaring at his sister. "Morgana, I'm quite sure I'm the one in charge of the knights' training."
"Quite possibly, brother dearest, but you're unlikely to teach them how to use their hips and legs to their best advantage." she says, before whistling. "Angharad, weight on the back heel, not your toes, you'll have a better chance against taller opponents." she turns back to Arthur. "They're fast studies."
"Morgana, stop sounding so surprised, not everyone can be as terrible as me." Merlin says.
"True. I'm using you as a yardstick of the lowest point of competency."
Merlin shrugs. "It's fair. Have you taught them how to unnerve Gwaine yet?"
"Of course." Morgana says. "Maeve?"
"Stare at his hair with a slightly pained expression and then deny everything. Then look like you're trying not to wince." The taller of the girls says promptly.
"As I said, fast learners." Morgana says proudly.
Chapter 16: stew and sleep
Morgana's on patrol with the knights due to a vision. "So is this a bad thing or a good thing that's going to happen on this patrol?" Merlin asks as they're making camp and Percival is cooking... something. Some sort of stew.
"I'm not entirely sure. Someone was scared in it, but I don't know who." Morgana says.
"Hmm." Merlin replies, pulling her chainmail off, then her padded coat. "But definitely important."
"There was rather a lot of screaming as well. And a landslide." Morgan says dryly. "I'd call that an important vision." Merlin nods, shaking out a blanket.
Arthur comes back from relieving himself, and Merlin grabs his arm as he goes past. "Seriously, what took you? Were you having a wank or something?"
"I'm not about to tell you, am I?" He retorts, sitting down next to her and waiting for Percy to pass the stew out. He looks at it dubiously as something in Merlin's portion floats up to the surface. "You're my bodyguard, you should be testing my food for poison."
Merlin pokes it with a spoon. It looks like carrot. Well. It's purple. The other option is beetroot. "My magic can detect poisons, not bad cooking."
Arthur nudges her foot. "What use are you then?"
"No use whatsoever. I should be released from my duties so I don't have to regularly not sleep in a nice bed." Merlin says, poking him in the ankle with her toe.
"If I have to forego it, so do you." Arthur says, taking a tentative spoonful and blowing on it.
Lance nudges Morgana. "You're staring."
"They're actually worse than they are in Camelot." Morgana says. "I didn't think that was possible."
"It is. We try to keep it from you to lessen the headaches."
Morgana spoons up some of her stew. "The speed that Gwen is rubbing off on you is disturbingly fast."
Bedtime, and instead of Arthur setting out his own bedroll, he lies down next to Merlin, curling round her. Instead of objecting, Merlin grabs his arm, putting it round herself as she floats the blankets over them. "Merlin." Arthur says.
"Yes?" She asks, shifting a bit to get comfy.
"No dragons." Arthur says, closing his eyes.
"Spoilsport." Merlin huffs.
Morgan stares for a good minute. "Did I just see Merlin and Arthur -"
Leon coughs. "Yes. It's how they sleep on patrol."
"Are they actually...?"
Leon looks uncomfortable. "We're not sure. I don't think so. They just do this."
"And the dragons?"
Leon shrugs as he settles down into his own bedroll. "Merlin occasionally makes dragons dance an inch from his nose. They're quite cute."
Come morning, Merlin and Arthur are still asleep, still snuggled up. Morgana looks over at them as she bites off a piece of bread. "I'm not very experienced with the practicalities of being a bodyguard, but isn't the point of the role to be alert when there are things going on around them?"
Elyan grins, picking up an apple and tossing it from hand to hand, walking over. "Actually, she is. Sort of. Watch this." With that, he drops the apple on Arthur's head. Only it doesn't reach Arthur. An inch above Arthur, there's a golden shimmer in the air and the apple rolls harmlessly off to the side. Merlin grumbles a bit in her sleep but neither of them wakes up.
Morgana tilts her head to one side. "I'm almost impressed. I didn't know she had the ability to do magic in her sleep like that."
"Almost impressed isn't quite impressed." Elyan says.
"It's Merlin. I became resigned to impossible things at a young age."
Chapter 17: aftermath of a battle
Arthur winces as he tries to reach for the water and fails, due to the pain in his ribs. "Something to remember for the future: Letting Merlin near a battlefield is a bad idea."
Leon picks up the mug that Arthur can't quite reach and takes a sip himself before passing it over. "You mean the bit where she called down lightning and then berated you for a solid ten minutes once you turned up here to get patched up? Can't think what you're referring to, your highness."
Arthur stares at the roof of the tent. "I suppose we should give thanks dragons don't involve themselves in the battles of men. One field of men wetting themselves was enough for me."
"Would that include Cenred's battle mage?" Leon asks. "Word from observers says that he's looking a little charred around the edges."
Arthur and Leon give their report to Uther when they get back. Uther looks a little contemplative. "It seems the tendency to not let dragonlords near battlefields runs true, then. They're not emotionally suited for it."
"Especially given Merlin's sheer power, sire." Leon says. "The aftermath of battle on soldiers is bad enough without them flinching from the sparks of the farriers' stations."
"Well, it's certainly a different problem than the usual of allowing your mistress to accompany you to battle." Uther says, amused expression in place.
Arthur blinks. "My mistress? Father, I'm not bedding Merlin."
Uther raises an eyebrow. "Why on earth not? The position of bodyguard makes it perfectly respectable, I do have some consideration for Balinor."
Arthur swallows and turns an interesting shade of red. "Well. We're not."
Uther shakes his head. "And here I thought the fact that the two of you had gotten more possessive of each other was confirmation."
Leon looks a little long-suffering. "I think that's just prolonged exposure, sire."
Chapter 18: tracking down small things
A few years down the line.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Merlin folds her arms and taps her foot, doing her best unimpressed look at the small boy with gold eyes and hair so blond it's white. She may be turning into her mother. She's blaming Arthur. "Bran, get down from there. Percy is not a tree, no matter how much he resembles an oak."
Percy grins, reaching up to steady the giggling toddler. "It's fine, Merlin, Dragonbaby's not causing any trouble up here."
Merlin groans. "I'm going to kill Gwaine for coming up with that nickname. The things Kilgarrah calls him are bad enough."
"Dragonbaby's a cute name." Percy says. "Oh, advance warning - Gwaine's made noises about getting you drunk at Beltane again."
Merlin rolls her eyes. "Me and the Prat shagged when drunk *once*. Gwaine really needs to get this through his thick skull."
Percy shrugs, adjusting Bran's grip on his ears. "Between you and me, I think he's just broody. He was badgering Lance about it last week."
"Gwen has a weekly appointment with Alice until the twins are older, he's out of luck there." Merlin says. "Have you two considered adoption?"
"It's a thought." Percy says. "He's still pondering persuading Elena to elope, though. How're the marriage negotiations going?"
"Blah blah kingdoms unite blah blah Arthur has been proved fertile blah blah tame dragonlord sorceress blah blah how many castles and how much land blah blah." Merlin shrugs. "It's unbelievably boring. Arthur's trapped in there, I have an excuse to escape." She eyes Bran, who's inspecting Percy's ears seriously. "Though I'm pondering putting a leash on the sprog."
"It doesn't disturb you to know you're part of the negotiations?" Percy asks.
Merlin shrugs. "I grew up at court. I resigned myself to the fact that Pratface and me're a package deal a few years ago, and I escaped being married off. Doing better than most."
I deny any obvious crossover allusions. :cough: