Arthur awoke a few hours later, Merlin curled up around him, with a sinking feeling in his stomach.
What on Earth had he done?
He had given in to his desires and carnal lust.
A part of him felt disgusted with himself for being so weak. But the other part wondered, was it really so terrible to like another man? To sleep with one? He couldn’t help but think perhaps it was not. After all, were we all not all made in God’s image? If so, perhaps God had these urges too? He thought back to all the bible verses he had learned, read and been taught about over the years and couldn’t remember there ever being anything explicitly mentioned about Uranian relationships. They we alluded to perhaps. But mostly they were heavily preached against from the pulpit, along with abstinence and how the sin of masturbation would cause you to become ill (If that were the case, Arthur would have been long dead before he had ever come of age).
Despite these thoughts, Arthur knew that it would be a mistake to get caught, so he gently slid out from Merlin’s arms and started to dress. He was missing gloves and his neck-tie. But no matter, those could be replaced. He would go and ask John, the Orkney’s stable hand, for the loan of a horse so that he could avoid taking breakfast with Gwaine and his mother. Then he would send George later with a note of apology.
The important thing was to leave, as soon as possible. The longer he was awake, the more desperate he was to leave, as he recalled all the cases in the papers he’d read about men being imprisoned for sodomy in recent years.
Finally dressed and reasonably presentable, Arthur set off to the stables, leaving Merlin behind with a heavy heart. He daren’t wake him, lest Merlin managed to change his mind, nor did he dare leave a note in case Merlin did not destroy it.
Merlin woke late in the morning, his hand caressed the dip in the bed beside him and he stretched. He noticed with a start that the space next to him was empty. He sat up, bleary-eyed and looked around the darkened room, to confirm that yes, Arthur was really gone.
He should have known, he supposed. A rich, handsome, gorgeous man like Arthur was probably only after one thing. After all, he hadn’t promised Merlin anything. In fact, he had insisted that they couldn’t work. But Merlin had still hoped for more. There had just been something about Arthur and his standoffish, stiff-laced demeanour which had appealed to Merlin. Knowing that Arthur had taken that barrier down and let him in, let him kiss, caress and tup him...
Merlin sighed. He should have known better than to expect that this would end any other way. He would have to be satisfied with having had this one unexpected night with Arthur, and prepare himself for the inevitable snubbing from him if they should meet again. Finally resigned to the fact, Merlin dressed and took himself off to the kitchen to see if he could wheedle a late breakfast out of Mary the cook.
As Arthur rinsed his face in the sink in his room and dried it with the towel around his neck, the door opened and a set of clicking heels came waltzing into the room. Arthur rolled his eyes. He had not had enough rest this morning to be dealing with Morgana.
“What is it, Morgana?” he asked. “Nice of you to knock.”
“Now, now. Is that anyway to greet your dearly beloved sister?” she called.
He turned around and saw her settling down into a plush leather armchair by the fireplace. He schooled his face and suppressed a sigh. Over the years he had learned not to give Morgana any more ammunition than she already came to the table with.
He snorted in response to her and strode to his wardrobe, selecting a shirt.
“Not that one,” said Morgana. “Wear the red one, it suits you better.”
Arthur rolled his eyes and proceeded to pull on the shirt that he planned, smoothing it around the back of his neck before buttoning it. He crossed to his bureau to put on a pair of cufflinks, waiting for Morgana to show her hand.
“A good one last night?” she asked a little too innocently.
“It was a perfectly adequate night, yes.” he replied smoothly, tucking in his shirt and then fastening on his collar. He pulled on a comfortable jacket and then took the chair opposite Morgana, just as George came bustling in with tea on a tray. Ever the dutiful valet.
“Tea, Sir, Ma’am.”
He poured the tea and passed a cup first to Morgana and then to Arthur, who then dismissed him with a wave of his hand. George slipped away seamlessly.
“Cut to it, Morgana,” said Arthur once they had finished their tea.
Morgana smiled predatorily at him. “I’m just wondering what kept you from coming home last night. I was worried about you. A sister is allowed to worry about her brother isn’t she?”
Arthur laughed. “Most sisters, yes. But I hardly doubt you were worried. If you were, perhaps you should participate in society as Father has requested.”
Morgana’s face became fierce. “Over my dead body. I will not be a pawn for Uther’s games. Even if you gladly allow yourself to be.”
Arthur smiled to himself, congratulating himself on distracting his sister from her mission.
“Anyway,” Morgana flipped her hair, “why were you gone all night?”
Crossing his legs casually, Arthur gave her a smile. “The Earl is to be engaged to Elena Gawant. I felt it only appropriate to celebrate. By the time we were done it was late and given the awful weather, as a good host, he impressed upon me to stay. As simple as that Morgana, despite what you might think.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “If that were true, you would have been home before the noon meal and with a carriage, not tearing in on one of Gwaine’s prize stallions.”
Rising from his seat, Arthur went to take a seat at his writing desk near the window and appeared to busy himself with a quill and ink. “The Earl can afford the loan of a horse, Morgana. I’ll send Tyr back with him later.”
“That’s not what I’m on about. Just tell me what happened, Arthur,” she insisted.
“Morgana. I just needed to get home.”
Morgana finally played her trump card. “I won’t tell Father about that boy you kissed.”
Arthur’s head shot up as he looked at her with shock.
“Oh Arthur, I know you all too well. And you should know by now, I have spies everywhere...” and with that she swanned out of his rooms.