SILENCE CUTS LOUDEST THROUGH THE CHAOS
So I know I missed the Merlin boat by about ten years or so, but I recently discovered this series and all I can say is that I’m in love and obsessed and can’t help wanting to play in the sandbox a bit. Not sure there is anyone out there who is still into the fandom enough to want to read this, but I’m having fun writing it anyway.
The story is completely planned out and I know where it’s going, but I’m a slow writer who has to fight real life for fun time, so I can’t promise updates on a certain day like some authors do. That said, I do promise this will be finished.
This is set during the interlude between Seasons 2 and 3, when Morgana is still “missing.” My own personal headcanon has Merlin arriving in Camelot when he’s seventeen, which puts him at nineteen for this story. The same headcanon says Arthur is four years older than Merlin, so he’s twenty-three for this tale.
Now here’s hoping at least someone will enjoy this story.
1. Stormy Weather and Words
The sharpest sword is a word spoken in wrath.
- Gautama Buddha
The rotten apple hit the wood directly above his head and disintegrated, showering Merlin in a sticky rain of nasty-smelling gunk. He grimaced, but before he could so much as shake out his hair, another over-ripe projectile soared toward him, this one close enough to graze his cheek with a painful sting. He jerked his head to the side as far as the solid frame would allow and glared at the smirking group of youths who were already clutching more ammunition.
In the past, when Merlin had been forced to endure this particular punishment, he’d tried to do so in good humor, laughing and joking and not letting it get to him.
But not this time.
This time Merlin was in a foul mood.
It was cold and windy with the threat of imminent rain hanging heavy in the air – which meant that the usual bunch of harmless kids were tucked warmly away by their mothers and occupied with rainy-day chores. That left only the rowdy, cruel gangs of older boys – the ones who took pleasure in pain and torment – lobbing rotten fruit at him with much stronger force and much better aim than was normal as he stood trapped in the very immobile wooden frame.
A half-decomposed something hit him right in the eye and he gave up, hanging his head in defeat and knowing it was useless to try and avoid the humiliation and pain.
He was cold and hurting, embarrassed and stiff, but more than anything, he was angry. Angry at Arthur.
It had been months since the prat of a prince had restored to his knee-jerk, catch-all punishment for Merlin. The servant had thought maybe their trust and relationship – dare he call it a friendship – had progressed beyond that. Obviously, he’d been wrong.
Two full years of service, devotion, and unwavering loyalty, and the first time something goes missing it’s a fit of temper and a stabbing accusation of thievery.
Merlin didn’t know what hurt more – that Arthur had refused to even listen to his attempts to show his innocence, or that the prince actually thought he would steal from him in the first place!
Either way it was like a knife blade between the ribs, and it hurt so much more than his aching back and numb hands, or the rock-hard potatoes the miscreants had moved on to lobbing at his face.
Arthur was furious, to the point where everyone knew it. He could tell by the way his knights kept a wide berth around him and rode in silence as they completed yet another extra patrol. No one wanted to say the wrong thing and draw the ire of the fuming prince down on themselves next.
Which was fine with him. Silence gave him room to sort through the angry tumult of thoughts battering around inside his head.
He was hurt by the betrayal of broken trust and all that implied. The image of someone he thought he’d known crumbling before his eyes.
Of course the theft bothered him as well. The cloak-pin hadn’t been very valuable, but it was his favorite and Merlin knew that. Knew it and took it anyway. Still, he could almost understand the act on one level. His servant was too skinny and wore clothes that were old and ridiculously threadbare. Maybe there was trouble in Ealdor? His mother was ill? Maybe he desperately needed the money?
But if that were true, why hadn’t Merlin just come to him? Was the boy’s pride such that he’d rather steal than ask his master for a little help? Was he too embarrassed to come to Arthur with his problems?
That’s what stung the most about all of this – knowing that Merlin thought so little of him, believed he wouldn’t care about his servant’s wellbeing, that he felt becoming a thief was his only option.
What made Arthur move from hurt to anger, however, was that when confronted outright Merlin had denied everything. The theft and reasons behind it the prince could forgive, but the denial, when they both knew there was no other answer? No one besides Merlin was allowed unsupervised in Arthur’s chambers. No one else knew where the precious pin was kept. No one else would have known his schedule…
It was damning, and yet his servant had still chosen to lie. Rather than confess and beg forgiveness and then let Arthur offer help, Merlin had become angry and defensive, causing the prince’s blood to boil.
Now Arthur was still fuming and wondering what on earth he was going to do with the boy he’d left shivering in the stocks when he finally returned to Camelot.
Send him back to Ealdor?
Turn him over to the king?
The heavy clouds above parted for a moment allowing a little sunlight to fight its way through, but rather than raise his mood it just served to darken it further, reminding him that even the weather was conspiring to make him as miserable as possible.
It was going to rain before they could get back, turning the road to churned mud.
Merlin would be drenched and chilled to the bone, condemned to the pillory until Arthur returned. He’d probably take sick…
And it would serve him right, Arthur reminded himself with clenched teeth. The little lying thief should have –
Arthur jerked out of his thoughts, turning at the sound of Leon’s call as the older knight rode up next to him. He didn’t answer, just cocked an annoyed eyebrow at the man and waited impatiently for him to go on.
“Look,” the knight said, grabbing the back of Arthur’s warm traveling cloak and pulling it around to show him the hem.
Something gold glinted in the weak sunlight, mostly hidden in the cloak’s folds. Arthur grabbed it with his fingers and disentangled it, pulling it away.
His missing cloak-pin lay gleaming on the palm of his gloved hand.
Leon – the only one who’d been with him when the argument with Merlin had erupted, who’d born the angry manservant off to his punishment with obvious displeasure – gave him a meaningful look.
Then Arthur remembered.
Remembered the last time it had rained and he’d worn his warm cloak, months ago. How Merlin had slipped on the stones of his chambers and hit his head just as Arthur was pulling it off. How he’d tossed the cloak without care onto his bed before grabbing his clumsy and unresponsive idiot up and rushing him to Gaius. How he’d returned several hours later to a room that had been tidied and given it no thought, content in the knowledge that Merlin and his incredibly hard head would be fine.
The prince heaved a sigh, a weary, long-suffering sigh that seemed to start at his toes and travel all the way up to his chest.
And just at that moment, the skies opened up and it started to pour.
Merlin didn’t bother to wipe away the water that was running in rivers down his hair and face as Leon released him from the wooden frame and helped him to straighten for the first time in over eight hours. What was the point? He was already wetter than a drowned dog and just as cold.
“Thanks,” he mumbled quietly to the knight, grimacing as abused muscles screamed at him.
Leon took his wrists and quickly removed the manacles, before looking at him with a strange mixture of pity and anger, though it seemed to Merlin the anger was oddly not directed at him.
“Your face is bruised,” the senior knight said with a frown.
“Big kids, good aim. They found the stash of rotten potatoes,” Merlin answered wearily.
Leon’s expression darkened, but to Merlin’s relief he made no further comment on it.
“Go home and get warm,” he said kindly. “The prince has ordered you to meet him in the stables at dawn, ready for a hunt.”
He must want to pass judgment in private, then, Merlin thought bitterly. Heaven forbid the prat suffer a moment of embarrassment.
Out loud he said nothing, however. Just nodded and slogged wearily toward Gaius’ tower, the small logical part of him that remained untouched by hurt and anger grateful that at least he wasn’t also spending the night in the dungeons.