As the door closed behind him, Merlin glanced around the room with a sigh. That was it, he was finally moved into the Pendragon mansion. A day he had been fearing, and yet anticipating for weeks now. He took in the room around him with amazement once more. Despite the fact that it was not the most glamorous room in the house, it was still rather luxurious in his eyes. It was big enough to be considered spacious, but not so big that anyone would be under the impression that Merlin was a particularly prestigious guest. It was, however, much more than Merlin could ever hope for, or that he deserved, and much more than he should have been given, given his social status as a commoner, despite his talent for the arts.
It made sense though, that a family such as the Pendragon’s, whom were concerned with their image within society were not going to be viewed as giving poor accommodation to anyone who stayed within their home, nor were they going to be seen taking in someone so common as to be poor. That was why Gwaine had made sure that Merlin’s meager wardrobe had been replaced with something more suitable—much to Merlin’s chagrin—before he had left his home. The new clothes were certainly well-made, and Merlin was sure that even Arthur’s father, the notorious Uther Pendragon, would not be able to find fault in them, but they were stiff and uncomfortable. The collar was so starched that it chaffed as it rubbed against his neck. And the waistcoat and jacket were tight and neat, as was the current style. Merlin felt as though he had been pressed and ironed and crimped within an inch of his life. He would much rather be in his own clothes. But so long as he was going to be meeting with Arthur’s father he could not.
The fact that he was being housed in one of the less grandiose of the Pendragon’s guest rooms did not bother Merlin in the slightest. And if Arthur hadn’t said so, Merlin would never have known. He had grown up in an old, run-down cottage in the Welsh valleys, sharing the single-roomed dwelling with his mother. In comparison, this room with its woolen carpet, velvet drapes, hardwood furniture, four-poster bed and fire crackling merrily in the ornate fireplace, was a thing of fantasy. Merlin felt as though he were living in some kind of dream, upon where he had awoken to find himself some long forgotten royalty, such was the level of luxury and privilege in the world he had found himself so suddenly thrust into. All thanks to Gwaine of course and their chance encounter at the inn a scant two months previously.
Taking a deep breath, Merlin peered at himself in the mirror. He ran a hand through his hair in a vain effort to tame the mess of waves and curls upon his head. But as usual, it was not particularly successful attempt. He messed with it for a few more moments, before abandoning it as a lost cause. Instead, he cleared his throat and straightened his tie.
He had a meeting shortly with Arthur—no, Mr. Pendragon, as he had now been told him to call him—to introduce him to both the elder Mr. Pendragon and Ar—Mr. Pendragon’s sister, Miss. Morgana Pendragon. Of whom he would be painting. Merlin had heard that she was quite the beauty. He was rather looking forward to meeting with her. Then once that was all over he would be able to slip away, get out of these god-awful clothes, and resist the urge to drink himself unconscious.
This afternoon had already been pure torture, Merlin almost felt as though he should have a drink now, in order to steady his nerves and deal with the rest of his day. He had come to Arthur’s home today and been treated essentially as a stranger, when Merlin was willing to bet that he knew Arthur better than probably anyone else here under his father’s roof. It was enough to make him want to cry.
Although, Merlin contemplated, perhaps there was a reason for Arthur’s coldness and the way that he had so vehemently pushed him away. Perhaps Arthur was a cad and had a man—or a woman, for that matter—whom he carried on with here amongst the staff. Or a special friend whom often visited and Arthur did not want to upset the apple cart by bringing a former lover—Merlin, in this case—into his home.
Merlin shook his head. No, he was being silly. He could not believe that Arthur would be like that. Much like he could not bring himself to refer to Arthur as ‘Mr. Pendragon’ within his own head. Not after they had shared such intimacy. He also could not rid himself of the damned feelings that he had for the man, all of whom had come rushing back tenfold since he had arrived here at the Pendragon’s mansion. Coming here had been a bad choice. He should have found a way to escape from the trap that Gwaine had sprung upon them. But Gwaine had thwarted his every attempt and now here he was. Stuck in Arthur’s home for many weeks whilst he painted. Merlin resolved that he would do his best to keep his head down and work hard, both to produce a magnificent piece of art, and to keep himself busy and his thoughts distracted from Arthur. If Arthur wanted to pretend that they had a purely professional relationship and were barely even acquaintances instead? Well then, so be it. Merlin could pretend—outwardly at least—along with the best of them.
Speaking of Arthur, he had better get going and head down to the dining room before he got an earful from Arthur. He had been extremely explicit that Merlin not be late.
With a final glance in the mirror, Merlin tugged his waistcoat straight and went to open the door.
Standing there, with an annoyed look on his face, was Arthur.
“There you are! I thought we said that you’d been downstairs on time, Mr Emrys. Come on. Follow me.”
“Yes, my Lord,” replied Merlin, rolling his eyes at him. Trust Arthur to kick up a fuss for Merlin taking a few minutes to himself before dinner.