Prince Edmund of Stafford was one of the most obnoxious, self-righteous, patronizing, condescending, narcissistic royals that Arthur Pendragon had ever met. And, as the crown prince of Camelot, he had met more than his share of noblemen, kings, and princes. Camelot was a prosperous nation and many of his father's noble allies would visit on occasion, often bringing their families and what seemed like half their household and servants with them. There had been Lord Bayard of Mercia, although some rather unpleasant memories involving a certain poison-drinking servant caused the memory of that particular visit to be a bit tainted for Arthur. At one point, four kings from four different kingdoms had arrived to sign a peace treaty. Lord Godwin, one of his father's oldest friends, had brought his daughter, a rather unorthodox princess, with the intention of marrying her off to Arthur. Thankfully (though Elena was a wonderful girl and would someday make a fine bride to… someone else), the plan had fallen through.
Before all of these royal visitors, however, there had been Edmund. His father was the king over a small but prosperous kingdom past Cenred's lands and before the flimsy treaty had fallen out between Estecia – Cenred's kingdom – and Camelot, King Herbert and his son, along with many of their servants and knights, had travelled through Estecia every year to visit with King Uther and his household. Uther and Herbert had been the strongest of allies and greatest of friends for more years than either cared to remember. Arthur had always counted himself lucky that King Herbert didn't have a daughter – because if he did, she and Arthur would almost certainly have been married by now to further strengthen the treaty and good will between Herbert and his father's kingdom.
He had met Prince Edmund when they were both seven years old, the first time King Herbert had opted to bring his son along with him on his annual pilgrimage to Camelot. Edmund hadn't been too bad at first, although his idea of "fun" had more to do with flaunting his power and ordering servants around. Looking back, Arthur wondered if the other prince had been a bit of a negative influence on him as a child.
The last time Arthur had seen Prince Edmund was seven years ago, when the tensions between Camelot and Estecia grew tenfold and it was no longer deemed safe for an ally of Camelot to travel through Cenred's land. Now, however, it seemed that Cenred had been killed sometime during the time the immortal army was attacking Camelot. His kingdom had then been surged upon by several different kingdoms wanting to take control, but King Herbert and his surprisingly powerful army – with the help of Camelot's army, granted – had seized control and now Estecia was a colony of the royal Stafford family. And so Uther had arranged for King Herbert and his heir to come to Camelot as soon as it was deemed safe.
Arthur hadn't been thrilled with the prospect of seeing Edmund again – while they had been a sort of "friends" when they were younger, he had never really cared for the prince – but hoped that the presence of an old friend might help soothe his father's fragile mind and health after Morgana's betrayal. The king just hadn't been the same since Morgana had tried to take over although he had recovered his wits and a new fervor against magic fairly quickly. Arthur was growing a bit concerned because the arrest and execution rates had been rising since the attack on Camelot. Maybe seeing Herbert, his old friend, would help calm his father's nerves.
Now Arthur sat at the table in his room, a barely touched breakfast in front of him, as Merlin ambled about, making his bed, an amused grin on his lean face. Arthur frowned, picking at his buttered bread, watching as Merlin pretended he actually knew how to be a decent servant. Merlin, noticing his gaze, stopped what he was doing and demanded, "What is it?"
"Why are you so happy?" Arthur shot back in return, eyes narrowed. If Merlin was up to something, with that smile of his, it probably wasn't good. "What are you up to?"
Merlin's eyes were wide and innocent, although Arthur knew better. His suspicions were confirmed when Merlin smirked, "I was just thinking."
"Heaven help me," Arthur interrupted, eyes rolling upwards.
Merlin shook off the jibe and said, "Aren't you going to ask me what about?"
Arthur groaned. "I'd rather not." Merlin raised his eyebrows expectantly and the prince sighed. "You're just going to tell me, anyway, aren't you?"
Merlin chuckled and that was enough of an answer for Arthur.
"What is it that's got you so amused, Merlin?" the prince asked irritably and he would die before he actually admitted that he was enjoying this conversation.
"Well, you're finally going to have a prat your own age to pal around with, aren't you?"
Arthur's eyes snapped up and met Merlin's. "Merlin, it's not funny," he said sternly. "Prince Edmund is a guest of my father and will be treated with respect." Arthur's impressive words were belittled as he found himself laughing at Merlin's words. How true it was – at least it had been true five years ago. Who knew, though? Perhaps Edmund had grown up since the last time they'd seen each other. Arthur knew that he had definitely grown as a prince, leader, and person and he also knew that he owed a lot of his change of perspective to the servant that was currently chortling along with him – but that was another thing Arthur was prepared to die before admitting.
"Wow," Merlin grinned. "Edmund must really be a prat if the Royal Dollop Head thinks he is!"
Arthur acted instinctively, lobbing the first item his hand touched at his servant. Luckily for Merlin, Arthur had found a buttered roll so it didn't do any damage, other than to the roll. Arthur glared. "See what you made me do?"
Merlin gaped. "What I—? Now, that's not fair."
Arthur glared and Merlin grumbled something unintelligible about princes and mood swings but Arthur wasn't paying attention. Instead, he was thinking back to the last time he had seen Edmund, this "prat" that he and his servant were joking so flippantly about. It had been seven years ago, when they were both teenagers.
Arthur had taken part in some things he regretted, and the fact that he had done them because Edmund had pressured him to made it that much worse.
"Come on, Arthur, he's just a servant – a nobody! It's not like if he gets hurt it'll really matter!"
Arthur frowned, his dagger in one hand, the other clenched into a fist. His manservant, a fourteen year old boy named Christopher who spooked like a horse if you so much as looked at him the wrong way, was holding a wooden target. Arthur had been practicing (or rather, showing off) his dagger-throwing, hitting the center of the target Christopher held every time, which could not be said for Edmund, who had been rather sulky about losing until he had come up with this new idea.
Edmund tossed the shiny red apple from one hand to the other, grinning. Christopher was standing off to the side of the training field, apparently trying to make himself as small as possible. Arthur could clearly see the fear in his eyes but shrugged off the small amount of guilt at what Edmund wanted to do. Hadn't Christopher always driven him up the wall, anyway? He was way too jumpy; he needed to learn how to man up, not be so scared all the time.
Besides, Arthur tried to convince himself, it wasn't like he was going to miss. Arthur had hit the bulls eye on the target every time. An apple on his servant's head shouldn't make much of a difference.
Arthur allowed a small smile to creep over his face, the overwhelming idea of the power he held as prince bubbling to the surface like it always did when Edmund was around. It washis right to do what he wanted with his servant, anyway. He was the prince, not Christopher.
Snickering, Edmund strode over to Christopher, who bowed his head and looked as if he was trying to disappear. "Put the apple on your head," Edmund ordered sternly, before leering in the servant's face, "and don't move… if you value your life."
Arthur felt the tendril of uncertainty knife through him at Christopher's terrified squeak but ignored it when Edmund shot him a look. Arthur would do this; he would prove to Edmund that he was strong and in control enough to do this.
He lifted his dagger, balanced it in his hand, and threw it just as he had the others, but a little higher. The knife whizzed through the air, thudding quietly into the meat of the apple, sending it toppling off his servant's head – a servant, who at this point looked like he was going to pass out from the fright. Arthur smirked and said two words that he would regret for a long time to come. "Beat that."
Arthur almost winced at the memory of Christopher with blood running down his hair. The knife had grazed his scalp but had done no lasting damage – Gaius had managed to treat him on time. Arthur had wanted to check up on the servant, guilt-ridden because of what Edmund's terrible aim had caused the already skittish servant to go through, but Edmund had laughed at him and Arthur, regrettably, had changed his mind so as not to look like he actually cared for 'nobodies.' He never should have challenged Edmund… and more than once after the incident, Arthur had found himself wondering if Edmund really had simply missed the apple because of bad aim, because he hadn't seem disgruntled at all at the results of his wild throw. Instead, he had laughed – laughed! – as Sir Leon, who had just been knighted, along with a few other kind men on the training field, rushed the bleeding and semi-conscious servant to the physician's chambers.
Merlin must have seen the thoughtful look on the prince's face because his own expression became serious and he took a step forward. "Everything okay, sire?"
Arthur didn't answer right away. The memory of Edmund's triumphant face when Christopher had been hit had sent a wave of uncertainty through Arthur. Perhaps the other prince had changed, but what if he hadn't? Arthur mentally blanched at the idea of Merlin in Christopher's place. Despite the fact that Arthur complained about his servant on a daily basis, the loyal idiot had wormed his way into Arthur's life as his closest and most trusted friend. This was yet another item on the "Do Not Admit" list that had been forming in the prince's guarded mind for quite some time now. In fact, the fact that he really considered Merlin as a friend was something he wasn't even willing to admit to himself, but the idea of Merlin hurt because of one of Edmund's stupid pranks did not set well with Arthur, even if he was relatively harmless.
Sure, Edmund wasn't good to servants, but that didn't mean that he was dangerous. The incident with Christopher had been an accident – and besides, he reminded himself, Edmund had had seven years to change and mature. Arthur had.
Then again, Edmund hadn't had Merlin to annoyingly nudge him in the right direction with his smart-ass comments, endless prattle, and too-wise-for-such-an-insufferable-idiot advice at the most opportune moments.
Sighing, Arthur thought about warning Merlin to stay away from Edmund, just in case. Then he shrugged off the idea, sure that he was just being paranoid. He was wayoverthinking this. Besides, it wasn't Arthur's place to worry about his servant. He pointedly, stubbornly ignored the little part of his mind that insisted that it was his place to be concerned about his friend. It was fine. There was nothing to worry about; besides, he couldn't very well order Merlin to stay away from the man that would more than likely be spending more than his fair share of time hanging around Arthur. They would both just have to deal with Edmund's lofty behavior until he left, and then get on with their lives.
Merlin was still waiting but Arthur waved him off, disregarding the foreboding feeling swirling in his gut that said he shouldn't be taking this so lightly. "Nothing."
"Really?" Merlin said airily, a teasing lilt back in his voice. "'Cause it sure looked like something." He sniggered. "Was the act of thinking becoming too strenuous for you, sire?"
"Get out," Arthur snapped moodily, still caught up in his mental debate of whether or not to warn Merlin about how Edmund used to be.
Merlin blinked, looking a bit hurt, and Arthur grinned half-heartedly and chucked the other piece of bread (he didn't feel up to eating anymore and didn't exactly want it to go to waste) at Merlin's head to lighten the mood.
Merlin, still looking a little confused, smiled and said, "Prat."
"Idiot," Arthur countered without a beat of hesitation. This teasing, verbal exchange was all but instinct now. "Go get my formal jacket cleaned; we have to be in the throne room to meet King Herbert and Prince Edmund in an hour."
Merlin gave Arthur a long look as if trying to figure out what was on his mind before shrugging slightly and walking out of the room. Arthur huffed, his mind reeling. He reallyneeded to stop getting worked up over nothing. Edmund was nothing to worry about. It had been seven years. There was no way that Edmund couldn't have changed in that time.
Arthur was right – Edmund had changed, as he would soon find out. Unfortunately, though, just because he had changed didn't necessarily mean it was for the better.