“...And then they got turned into kittens.”
Merlin was trying not to laugh, but it was a battle he was losing as the four tiny balls of fur wriggled and meowed in Percival’s huge arms.
“Kittens?” Lancelot asked, despite the evidence in front of him. He glanced at Merlin, possibly for confirmation that he was seeing the same thing, and then turned his attention back to Percival and his fluffy cargo. “You tried to attack the witch in her own tower, and she turned everyone except you into kittens?”
A pale coloured kitten gave a particularly annoyed sounding yowl, and with a titanic wriggling effort launched itself out of Percival’s arms and landed on the ground. It then arched its back, shook itself a little, and set off back towards the witch’s stronghold.
“Woah! Where do you think you’re going?” Merlin pounced on the kitten and gathered it up into his arms. It hissed and wriggled, and then dug its claws into Merlin’s sleeve, stopping short of breaking the skin.
Merlin held it up and looked it in the eye.
“Hello, Arthur. You are Arthur, aren’t you? I’d recognise that annoyed glare anywhere. Even on a fluffy little kitten.”
Arthur!kitten meowed loudly, and reminded Merlin that he had claws.
Another of the kittens started wriggling, and Percival admitted defeat and crouched to let them all escape his arms. The remaining three kittens gathered between Merlin, Lancelot and Percival, the ginger one and the dark one looking expectantly up at Arthur!kitten, while the brown kitten sat down and began to wash its paws.
“So if that one is Arthur, then I’m guessing the big ginger one is Leon?” Lancelot said.
“And the small black kitten is Elyan,” Percival deduced.
“Which means the brown one with the unfeasibly long and silky fur is obviously Gwaine.”
Gwaine!kitten glanced up at him, and Merlin could have sworn he gave them the cat equivalent of a smirk.
“We should go back to Camelot. Gaius might know a cure,” Percival said.
Arthur!kitten meowed and struggled so hard Merlin almost dropped him.
“Okay, okay! We won’t go back to Camelot!”
Arthur!kitten calmed down again, but continued to glare at everyone.
“We have to find a way to turn them back,” Percival insisted.
Lancelot glanced at Merlin, a question in his eyes. Merlin gave him a tiny nod.
“Let’s find somewhere to make a proper camp first, then we can work out what to do next.”
They found a clearing in the woods a few miles away from the witch’s tower, and Merlin reluctantly put Arthur!kitten down on the ground. Arthur!kitten had made himself quite comfortable in Merlin’s arms, and didn’t seem inclined to walk very far in his current form. While Merlin had made a show of complaining about Arthur being lazy and needing to be carried, he had to admit he had rather enjoyed holding the small bundle of fluff. Although he also occasionally had to remind himself that this was Prince Arthur Pendragon, and as such should not be cuddled, no matter how soft and fuzzy he was.
While Percival set up camp, Lancelot stepped away from the campsite under the guise of keeping watch, and Merlin joined him moments later, under the guise of collecting firewood.
“Can you fix them?” Lancelot got straight to the point.
“I think so. I’ve only done an animal transformation spell once before, but in theory yes, I can turn them back.”
Lancelot raised his eyebrows.
“I’m not sure I want to know what you were doing with an animal transformation spell.”
Merlin shrugged. “The usual; saving Arthur’s life.”
“Well, all we need now is a cover story. I could pretend to return to the witch’s tower and confront her, you do the spell, and I’ll just say she had a change of heart.”
Merlin frowned. “I doubt they’d believe that.” He pondered for a moment. “Okay, you pretend to return to the tower, and when you come back, say that you killed the witch. I’ll spin a story that Gaius has told me about all enchantments ending at midnight when the caster is killed. And then I do the spell and fix them at midnight.”
Lancelot nodded. “That should work. But why midnight? Why not just do it while I’m away, and then we can pretend it happened at the point when the witch died.”
“Because Arthur is a kitten! I want to enjoy it for as long as possible!”
Lancelot rolled his eyes, but he also didn’t argue, and they were both trying not to smile too much as they returned to camp.
With a great deal of fast-talking and bluffing, they managed to persuade Percival to let Lancelot go alone, and managed to prevent Arthur!kitten and Leon!kitten and Elyan!kitten from following him. Merlin really had no idea what they were possibly hoping to achieve, other than perhaps give the witch a bad case of furballs, but after another encounter with Arthur!kitten’s claws he decided to keep that thought to himself.
Early evening found them all sitting in camp, waiting for Lancelot to return. Merlin, of course, knew that Lancelot hadn’t gone anywhere near the witch’s tower, and was probably just hiding in the woods not too far away from camp. The others, though, were obviously worried.
Percival sat at the edge of the camp keeping watch, his normally cheerful demeanour now tense and anxious. Before long, Leon!kitten had joined him, and Merlin noticed Percival occasionally petting his fuzzy friend, his huge hand almost engulfing the kitten’s head.
Elyan!kitten had taken up another guard point on the opposite side of the camp, while Gwaine!kitten had simply made himself comfortable close to the fire, curled up, and gone to sleep.
Arthur!kitten, surprisingly, had stayed close to Merlin. Possibly because Merlin was carrying the food, and because it was warm by the fire, but Merlin liked to think that wasn’t the only reason.
“So, what’s it like being a cat?” Merlin asked, more for something to do than because he expected a real conversation, of course. “Had any urges to chase balls of wool?”
Arthur!kitten gave him a look that probably translated as, “Shut up, Merlin.”
“I had a cat once when I was very little. It was a stray, and it was injured, and it wandered into the village so I adopted it until it was better. It liked to sleep a lot. And hog all the warmest spots close to the fireplace. And steal all the tastiest food.” He paused and grinned. “So, not much different to how you are normally, then.”
Arthur!kitten glared and turned his back to Merlin and stalked away.
Merlin felt an unexpected pang of regret. It wasn’t actually as much fun as he had expected being able to taunt Arthur without him being able to give as good as he got.
He searched the bag until he found some dried meat.
“Hey, are you hungry?”
Arthur!kitten paused, and from the rigid way he was holding his body, Merlin suspected he was fighting an internal battle between this annoyance, and his stomach. About ten seconds later his stomach won, and he came back and snatched the meat from Merlin’s fingers and it was gone almost instantly. He looked expectantly at Merlin, and meowed.
“This is supposed to go in the stew when Lancelot gets back and you lot are all yourselves again.”
Arthur!kitten raised his fuzzy little eyebrows and continued to wait. Merlin gave in and let him have some more.
“You’re taking this all a lot more calmly that I would have expected, I have to say,” Merlin commented, as Arthur!kitten chased his fingers for the last scraps of meat. “Or are you saving it up for one huge great big strop when you can shout again?”
Arthur!kitten seemed to frown, and then he turned around and sat down, looking out over the camp. His gaze tracked across from Gwaine!kitten to Elyan!kitten, and then to Percival and Leon!kitten, and finally out into the darkness beyond the camp, in the direction Lancelot had gone.
Merlin tentatively put his hand on Arthur!kitten’s head, and stroked the soft fur.
“I know you’re worried about them. I’m sure Lancelot will be fine, and soon you’ll all be back to yourselves again.”
Arthur!kitten shook himself, and Merlin wondered if he had gone too far and made to move his hand. Arthur!kitten suddenly looked up and meowed, and nudged Merlin’s hand with his little pink nose. Merlin smiled, and resumed his gentle stroking.
He started to talk, rambling mostly, about home, about his stray kitten when he was a boy, about inconsequential things. Arthur!kitten kept his steadfast watch over his knights, but as darkness fell and the night became colder, Merlin realised his small furry companion was gradually edging closer, until he was nestled right up against Merlin’s leg.
“Go to sleep. I promise I’ll wake you when Lancelot returns. Or if anything happens.”
Arthur!kitten meowed, a very definite protest, but then rather spoiled his resolve with a huge yawn.
“Honestly, go to sleep. I’ll keep watch for a while.”
Arthur!kitten stood up, arched his back and stretched, and then turned around on the spot a few times, before settling down against Merlin’s leg again and curling up into a fluffy ball. Merlin waited for him to get comfortable, and then let his hand rest lightly on Arthur!kitten’s back.
He hoped Lancelot returned soon. He was worried for his friend, and was beginning to wish he had not concocted the ‘midnight’ part of the plan. Funny as it was, Merlin at least knew that this could be fixed relatively easily. Arthur himself had no such certainty, and Merlin could sense his fear, however well controlled it might be.
“It’ll be okay,” he whispered. “I promise. You’ll be back to your usual annoying, arrogant, and noisy self soon.”
Arthur!kitten twitched under his hand, and settled again. Gradually, Merlin became aware of a soft vibration under his fingers, and low sound right on the edge of his hearing.
He smiled, and continued to pet the purring prince at his side.