This was a terrible idea, but really did Gwaine ever come up with any other kind?
“This won’t work” Merlin groaned as Gwaine helped him with his helmet.
“Of course, it will! You’re just a worry wart” Gwaine mumbled, trying to figure out how the heck the buckle worked.
“No Gwaine I am a reasonably anxious individual.”
Now to be fair, Merlin has all the right to be reasonably anxious. In fact if you were to ever find yourself being asked by Gwaine to do anything I would highly advise against it. You see, Gwaine is like a reluctant show pony: He sees the hurdle (a rule), he acknowledges the hurdle (the rule) and then goes around it. This point became evident to Merlin the first day he took up his job as stable boy at the Carleon estate. The man he’d replaced had been introducing him to the horses when they’d caught Gwaine in the haystack, playing his guitar and smoking cannabis. Whilst the man went off on Gwaine about how he shouldn't be smoking here, Gwaine proceeded to shrug and casually chuck the stick into the haystack. The old stable man had squeaked and jumped into the pile to prevent it from burning the stable down . Gwaine simply slug his guitar over his shoulder, chuckled and whispered to Merlin as he walked past “Its a vape pen. The only thing thats gonna burn is a hole in my allowance for the next 3 months once he tells my dad.”
The point being : Gwaine was a very strangely relaxed person in stressful situations , regardless of whether he’d inhaled drugs or not.
So yes, it was reasonable for Merlin to be anxious.
“Gwaine, I’m pretending to be you for a televised horse-riding competition so that you can go off and participate in a knock off real life version of Camp Rock. I have every right to be nervous I could go to jail for this!” Merlin huffed, slapping Gwaine’s hands away and buckling the helmet himself.
“Firstly, the battle of the bands is the biggest music event in all of the unprofessional musician circles and I am going to pretend you didn't compare it to Camp Rock.” Gwaine replied, shoving the saddle against Merlin’s chest (which promptly caused him to almost fall back).
“Secondly, impersonating to be someone else isn't illegal and there is no way in hell you will get caught. Nobody knows what I look like because I avoid all public events and all anyone knows about me is that Brigand, the old prat, is my step dad. And once he sees yea he won't be able to deny that you aren't his son!” Gwaine grinned as he practically dragged Merlin to the horses.
“Right because I look exactly like a mixed-race Pakistani-Hispanic 20-something Irish man” Merlin snorted, stumbling as Gwaine pulled him by the collar.
“No, Merlin.He won't be able to deny it because you are the best rider I have ever seen” Gwaine said, halting suddenly and causing Merlin to fall on his arse.
“Hardly” Merlin snorted, getting up and dusting himself off.
“Shut it, you know I am right. You have a way with those creatures! They listen to you, they trust you and more importantly they work with you.” Gwaine said earnestly. Merlin felt shy under his intense gaze. He’d never been good with compliments, and he was even worse with them when they were about things he actually cared about.
Sensing his discomfort, Gwaine put a hand on his shoulder.
“Look you can drop out whenever you want and even if you get caught it won't matter. The whole thing will blow up in Brigand’s face and I can finally step up to my position as disgraced heir and be the disappoint I’ve always been!” Gwaine grinned.
“Then why didn't you just drop out in the first place?” Merlin asked.
“You and my mum are the only ones who’ve encouraged me to pursue my dream. You cover for me when I am out at practice and pick me up after long gigs. You’ve always helped me chase my dreams. Now I have a chance to let you have a taste of what you have always wanted: to be a jockey.”
“Technically I want to train horses.” Merlin mumbled.
“But” he said quickly as Gwaine rolled his eyes. “I appreciate this, thank you” Merlin smiled, pulling him into a hug.
“Don’t mess up the hair” Gwaine hissed, easily breaking out of Merlin’s grasp and quickly touching it up.
“Relax Marilyn you look fine” Merlin chuckled.
Outside the stables, the overhead speakers screeched to life. “Attention all riders! Please report to the Rose Marquee to register. I repeat, all riders please report to the Rose Marquee for registration. The race shall begin at 1300.”
“Well then” Gwaine grinned devilishly, his eyes twinkling with the thrill of rebellion.
“I think it’s time you and Aithusa get on with it”
Aithusa was a white dappled mare that Brigand had been saddled with after he lost a bet. He’d given her to Gwaine’s mother as a gift but she truly had no need for a foal so she’d gifted it to Merlin’s mother. Hunith often joked that Aithusa was the only woman Merlin had ever loved, besides her of course. Ever since the first day Merlin had become acquainted with the mare he’d been fascinated by her. With the help of Will, they’d converted the old gardening shed into a makeshift stable and Merlin had convinced his uncle Gaius to let him use his fields to ride her. He’d trained her ever since she was a baby. He’d taught her to jump over hurdles made out of cut up logs and branches. He’d trained her to side step, canter, spaz jump and trot. As for racing, despite Gwaine’s reluctance to ride he was a fair rider and often raced Merlin in the summers. Every other time he would ride against Gwen who used her father’s work horse or against Will and Storm, his blue mare. With all her training, he was sure Aithusa was the fastest horse on the track.
He stepped into her stable and she whinnied in joy, shaking her head to welcome him.
“Hey there gorgeous” Merlin cooed, patting her back.
“You spoil her” Gwaine smirked, leaning against the stable door.
“She deserves to be spoiled. She’s the best horse in all of Ealdor.” Merlin grinned, feeding her the apple slices he always kept in his pockets.
“Aren’t there only 8 horses in your village?”
“Shut your mouth or I will get her to lick your hair” Merlin glared.
Gwaine laughed, stepping back to let Aithusa out. Merlin fixed on the the bridle, bits and the saddle. To pass the time, Merlin used to time himself to see just how fast he could work. His record was 10 seconds and he hoped to one day bring it to 8. He once told Gwaine this to which he replied that unless Merlin somehow used magic. Regardless, Merlin still tried.
“Alright girl. You ready?” he sighed. He clicked his tongue and lead her out of the stable.
“She is, are you?” Gwaine asked.
Merlin climbed onto Aithusa’s back, his boots sliding into the stirrups and clammy hands clutching the reins.
“Ready as I’ll ever be.” Merlin sighed.
Here’s another extreme flaw in Gwaine’s perfect plan: Merlin can’t lie to save his life. When Merlin was 6 and he stole a cookie from the kitchen he told his mum the dog ate it.When Hunith pointed out they didn’t have a dog he began to cry and beg for forgiveness. When Merlin was 17 and his friend Freya tried going to kiss whilst they sat on the edge of the bridge, Merlin pushed her into the water in panic. When Freya asked why he said he’d seen a scorpion on her even though scorpions were as uncommon in Ealdor as unicorns were.
The point is, Merlin can’t lie.
His face turns red and guilt is painted across his face the second someone sees through his terrible excuse. His hands get clammy and panic sets in and...
“Name?” the bored man behind the registration desk sighed.
“Me...Gwaine. Gwaine of the Carleon Estate” Merlin coughed out.
The man looked up, pulling his thin horn-rimmed glasses slightly down the bridge of his nose. He scanned Merlin up and down: from his too eager grin to his already dusty riding clothes.
“I picture you to be ...bigger” the man squinted.
“Ah well I have a big personality if that helps!” Merlin laughed nervously.
The man raised his eyebrow. “Indeed” he muttered, before looking back at the sign in sheet (much to Merlin’s relief for he was about to keel over).
“Name, gender, and breed of your horse?”
“Aithusa, mare, Andalusian” Merlin replied, grateful to finally be talking about things he was allowed to say.
“You ride lady Carleon’s horse?” The man asked in surprise.
“Sentimental reasons” Merlin replied quickly, which technically wasn't a lie.
“I see...:” the man replied skeptically. He glanced at the paperwork Merlin has handed him, flipping through the sheets and scanning the signatures.
“Will that be all?” Merlin asked as he practically ripped the newly sealed papers from the man.
“Yes. That is all…” the man replied, thoroughly confused by Merlin’s behavior.
“Alright. Thanks., have a good day!” Merlin replied. He quickly took hold of Aithusa’s bridle and lead her out of the Marquee. The sun glared angrily against the Earth, practically blinding everyone under its furious gaze. Merlin hoped it would simmer down in time for the race, otherwise he’d be guiding his horse blind. He led her to another refreshment tent not far away, where food and water had been kept for the horses. He nodded at the other riders who acknowledged as he stepped in. Finally, he found Aithusa’s designated area and stopped, filling her barrel with water and feeding her oats out of the palm of his hand.
“Well, that went well” he mumbled to her.
She neighed and Merlin could have sworn she was laughing.
“Oh, sod off.” he grumbled, ruffling her mane.
The laughter and cheeriness of the afternoon was cut through by the sound of a whip, cracking against. Merlin rushed to see what was happening. He saw a brown sturdy horse, tied to its pole and being whipped by a man who was presumably his jockey.
“Stay still Sinbad! One more sound and I’ll whip you to death” the man scoffed. He tossed the whip to the ground and continued to laugh with his peers on the side.
Anger filled Merlin’s chest. “Hey! You shouldn't treat your horse like that!” Merlin called, walking up to the crowd.
The man turned around and stared at Merlin with a gaze mixed with anger and confusion.
“What’s it to you lad?” he scoffed.
“What’s it to me? The poor things crying out! It’s probably whining because its uncomfortable in the sun. If you bring him into the tent and give him some water he should calm down, no reason to whip him.” Merlin replied, matching the man’s gaze.
The man walked up to him, his friends smirking at each other as if they knew what was going to happen.
“It’s my horse. I paid for him. I can do whatever I’d like to him. Now why don't you go off and braid your filly’s mane whilst I try and break my stallion in like a real man aye.” The man growled, now practically nose to nose with Merlin. Despite his polished shoes and clean-cut hair the man who stood before him looked nothing like the rich aristocrats Merlin was to be competing with. Unlike their more passive and cold natures this man was so violent, so angry.
Merlin stood his ground, not even flinching when the man spit on his shoes and walked away. He bent down to pick the whip again and raised his arm “Let’s teach this old cow who’s the boss eh?” he crowed to the crowd of onlookers. He arched his arm back to whip Sinbad but before it could fall onto the stallion broke loose. The man staggered back in fear as the creature bucked up, neighing loudly and galloping furiously away.
“What on Earth!” The man roared. He finally caught sight of Merlin, who was standing right by the post that Sinbad had been tied to.
“Guess he slipped away” Merlin shrugged.
“Why you little brat!” he roared, storming up to Merlin and pinning him against the pole.
“I’m gonna kill you,you stupid ignorant…”
“Calm yourself Oswald! Attacking a competitor could get you disqualified” someone called. The crowd made way for the owner of the voice. The man who walked up to them had straw blonde hair. His eyes the color of water and build stocky and manly.
“He humiliated me” Oswald roared, pushing Merlin even harder against the wood. Merlin could feel its splinters dig into his back. He winced slightly and began to squirm, an action that only encouraged Oswald to tighten his grip.
“Well it isn't hard” The blonde boy laughed. “All you ever do is bully that poor steed and laugh around with your mates. You have no respect for the event or for your animal. I’m surprised that shrimp showed you a thing or two before I had the chance”
That somehow made the blonde a more formidable target because Oswald Immediately dropped Merlin and walked up to Arthur.
“Oh, like you would get your royal hands dirty. You wouldn't know how to fight if you tried.” Oswald laughed.
“I don't need to fight you Oswald. You aren't worth getting kicked out for. Now why don't you go find your horse. The race starts in half an hour” The blonde boy replied, tone laced with taunt as if daring Oswald to challenge him.
Oswald glared angrily at him the boy but let Merlin go. He took a step back and turned his attention to the crowd, “What is this the fucking circus? Don't you lot have something better to do?” he snapped at them. Quickly they all dispersed and Borden turned to Merlin who was sprawled on the ground.
“If I ever catch you alone shrimp, you are going to pay.” Oswald growled, spitting on Merlin’s face before walking away.
Merlin grimaced, flicking the saliva off and groaning as he sat up. His back ached from being pinned against an iron nail.
“You alright?” the blonde asked, giving Merlin a hand up.
“Eh, I’m fine. Nothing a hot bath can't fix” Merlin smiled shyly, avoiding eye contact as he dusted himself off.
“You are an idiot. Of all the people here, you had to mess with Oswald the man is from rotten stuff and he wasn't kidding. If he does ever catch you, I’d recommend running and hiding” he chided him.
“I’m not really worried about that. I am however worried that Sinbad over there is going to be limping by the end of all of this.” Merlin muttered.
Arthur stared at him, a mix of confusion and fondness in his blue eyes.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Mer..Gwaine” Merlin stumbled, sticking his hand out for the boy to shake.
“Arthur. Nice to meet you, mer..Gwaine” he grinned, shaking Merlin’s hand.
“No, I’m Gwaine. Just Gwaine” Merlin corrected him.
“Can't take a joke can ya?” Arthur laughed.
“Sorry, I’m a bit nervous. This is my first race” Merlin replied sheepishly.
“Ah don't worry. Once you are on the track everything is a bit less overwhelming. You’ll be fine.” Arthur grinned, reaching over the squeeze Merlin’s shoulder.
Merlin could feel his neck and ears heat up from the contact and instantly placed his hand behind his neck to scratch it, a nervous tick he’d picked up over the ears.
“Thanks.” he mumbled softly.
Arthur opened his mouth to say more but his words were drowned out by the overhead speakers cut through with a sound that reminisced that of a cat giving birth (yes, Merlin was aware what a cat giving birth sounded like. He’s never been able to look at Babe and her kittens the same after that incident) causing Arthur and Merlin to both cover their ears and wince.
“Attention all riders. The race will begin in 20 minutes. Please make your way to the starting gate within the next 15 minutes. Thank you.”
The two boys uncovered their year and looked at each other for a good few seconds before cracking up into laughter.
“Well, see you on the track aye?” Arthur smirked, walking away from Merlin.
“Yeah see ya” Merlin replied, waving to him as Arthur chuckled and jogged off to his mates.
Fatal flaw number 3 of Gwaine’s terrible plan: Merlin was a thirsty gay. Now maybe thirsty was an over statement. Merlin didn't fall in head over heels with everyone. Just boys with shiny blue eyes that sparkled in the sunlight and mildly tanned skin and toned muscles. That description could fit any YA male interest, movie star, TV personality or general description of an attractive person. In the words of Guinevere when she found out that Merlin’s gay awakening was Zac Efron, Merlin was a basic bitch. A title he found quite offensive at the time, but if being a basic bitch meant falling for boys who looked like the very embodiment of prince charming then Merlin was guilty as charged and proud.
Why was this a problem?
When Merlin Emrys falls for someone, he is the nicest person on earth to them. Sure, in general Merlin’s nice: he holds doors open for ladies and the elderly, he gives up his seat on the bus to anyone who is standing, and always carried sweets in one pocket and apple slices in the other to feed all the little children who came to visit the estate and to treat the horses themselves. Merlin was a nice guy but when he liked someone he turned the niceness to 10000 percent and the awkwardness to 3 million. He stumbled over words, did almost everything the person asked and gave them everything they needed. Now to some, this is endearing. Others have mistaken Merlin’s gestures as either a) creepy or b) friendly, neither of which were good options. And now that Merlin was supposed to compete against someone he had a crush on?
Well, he might need to take a page out of Aithusa book and put his blinders on.
For the first time today, Merlin was actually calm. As he and Aithusa entered their stall, waiting for the shot to be fired so they might race he felt butterflies enter his stomach in excitement. The thought of his mother and friends watching him back home on the telly, being proud of him. The fact that he was here on a track with his horse, going to race across and leave everyone in his dust. This is why Merlin had agreed. Cause despite the fact that he was terrified of getting caught, he couldn't resist the chance to prove to everyone that he was good enough to make it.
“You ready girl?” he whispered to the mare with a shaky breath.
Aithusa snorted in reply and Merlin had no choice but to take that as a sign of agreement because the other riders began to step into their stalls.
The jockeys took their places, steeds and fillies at the ready. Merlin caught sight of Arthur from under his too big helmet and shot him a smile. Well a smile might be an understatement because judging by Arthur’s slightly puzzled reaction he’d probably given him that grin he does when he’s nervous, which according to Elyan made him look manic. Merlin quickly turned away in embarrassment but it only made matters worse cause his helmet slid over his eyes and he swore he heard Arthur chuckle two stalls down.
“Riders at the ready!!” The track announcer called.
In unplanned unison all the riders bent forward, gripping their reins tightly and locking their feet into the stirrups.
Three screeches of the siren and they were off.
Merlin often tried to describe what it was like to ride Aithusa but he could never quite put it into words. It felt like he and her melded into one. That they were one body and not two separate beings. His wrists could make the slightest movement and Aithusa would know exactly what to do. In their own way they were both underdogs: Merlin because of his social status and lack of professional training and Aithusa being the only mare in the race. She flew past her opponents like it was nothing, snorting with glee whenever she passed one. Merlin could feel her joy and she ran, pushing her legs against the tack and thrusting them forward. It was like magic : Time seemed to slow down, almost everyone seemed to dissolve into the background and the only thing he was conscious of was the presence of the people they rode past.
As they began the third and final lap, Merlin began to focus. This was when the riders got rougher and Merlin didn't want to get knocked off his horse. They raced past the thoroughbreds, Arabians and Palominos. All of which were in different shades of brown that seemed to cover an entire spectrum of color. Merlin felt the jockeys’ glance at him as he raced by but he didn't dare look their way, afraid he might lose focus. Once the figures beside him seemed to fade away again he gave Aithusa reins a gentle tug - the signal he gave he to speed through the end of the race. She charged forward. Merlin could feel her legs pound against the Earth, and it seemed to shake the whole world and disturb the gods below. He closed his eyes towards the end and felt the surge of wind push against him and Aithusa quickened her pace. It was only when he heard the gunshot that his head seemed to come out of water.
It was over. They had won.
Merlin opened his eyes and pulled AIthusa reins to a halt and the mare grunted in joy. Merlin glanced at the crowd. They were cheering, for him! Waving flags and clapping their hands. Merlin waved at the crowd, his usual shy nature discarded. His eyes searched for a camera and he waved vigorously at the screen, hoping his mother was watching. He prayed she could see in his smile and his eyes the gratitude he felt for her and that she was proud of him.
Merlin slid off Aithusa, stroked her mane.
“Good job girl!”, he whispered feeding her the last of the apple slices. He would need to get more.
You know, after he confronts the angry mob of officials stalking up to him.
Merlin was going to slaughter Gwaine.
He was going to tie that long haired sly conniving fox to Aithusa’s stirrups and have her drag him along the plains of Northern Ireland. He would cut that boy’s beautiful mane and best asset and ensure that he would never get laid again. He would….
“Do you have anything to say for yourself, Mr. Carleon? Or should I say Mr. Emrys” Killagarah asked in amusement, peering over his glasses.
“No sir” Merlin replied. He refused to look up at anyone. He kept his arms wrapped across his chest, head down and stood in the center of the room before Killgarah’s desk. Like hawks, the other officials surrounded him. He felt himself shrink under their piercing eyes and snotty noses.
“Of course, you don't! He’s done enough! Impersonating as someone else to compete. The very nerve! Did you really think we would be foolish enough to not notice?” One of the men roared. His eyes emotionless and voice filled with so much rage that Merlin felt his bones rattle from the sheer sound of his voice.
“Calm yourself Uther!” Killagarah warned.
“This is preposterous! He should be disqualified! He is unfit to race.” Uther demanded, slamming his hands on the desk.
“Tell that to the medal in my horse’s stable” Merlin muttered.
Killgarah and a few of the other board members chuckled, only further fueling Uther's rage.
“How dare you! Do you have any idea who you are talking to!” he yelled, stalking up to Merlin as if about to strangle him.
“Oh, enough Uther! The boy has done nothing wrong. Sir Gwaine, the real one, has so kindly informed us through an email about the whole affair. The lad was reluctant to complete so he gave up the opportunity to his stable boy who, as we have all seen, has talent. Nobody has been harmed, no violations breached and no rules broken.” Killgarah explained calmly.
“No rules broken! Have we all forgotten that only members of royal lineage are allowed to compete? That this race is a tradition carried out by generations of nobility to prove their skills?”
“Well maybe it's time that rule changed. There are no longer kings and knights and the royalty of the past no longer has the power it once did. Maybe it's a time the stable boy’s and peasants got a chance.” Killgarah replied calmly, and Merlin swore he’ given him a subtle wink.
“This is outrageous” Uther spit venomously.
“The boy is doing no one harm. He is merely racing. If you are afraid that a novice rider might beat your son you need not worry. The young Pendragon came in only seconds after the boy and there is still a chance for him to take the lead in the next two days.” Killgarah replied smoothly.
Uther turned an alarming shade of purple but said nothing. Merlin tried desperately to resist the urge to laugh.
The tension was cut by a knock on the door.
“Enter” Killgarah called.
And in walked in Mr. Carleon. To Merlin, he looked like what a fantasy author would describe as a posh version of father time. He had slicked back black hair and a goatee that had a perfect twirl at the end. He had almond eyes that were a glassy brown. Merlin had watched them turn cruel and angry once, as he stood over Gwaine with a riding crop. Merlin remembered hugging Gwaine that night as they both hid in the haystack, crying and eating shortbread that Merlin had stolen from the pantry. Merlin could feel his skin crawl at the memory and his hands ghost the side of his arm in the memory of how hard the man’s hand had gripped him in place whilst he whipped his hand for the stolen treats.
“Ah Mr Carleon! Now there is nothing to worry about! If you agree to sponsor Merlin for the race, he can continue to compete. The only condition would be that he receive the prize money. But if you choose not to, he will be disqualified.” Killgarah explained with a toothy grin.
Carleon looked directly at Merlin, their eyes locking from across the room. Merlin watched the dark brown of his pupils grow darker as he said “Yes”.
Merlin sighed in relief.
“Well it’s settled. Merlin Emrys will be competing for the remainder of the race. If that is all, you may leave Merlin. You are going to need a good night's rest before tomorrow's race” Killgarah smiled.
“Thank you” Merlin grinned.
“Thank you, Thank you Thank you” he said excitedly around the room to all the council members. When he finally got to Uther he stretched his hand out for him to shake but the man simply glared at him.
“Uh thanks to you too” Merlin mumbled awkwardly, saluting him with two fingers before running off behind Mr Carleon.
Merlin closed the door behind them as they left and turned to him.
“Sir thank you so much for…”
Within seconds Carleon’s cane was against Merlin’s throat, pressing him against the wall. The man’s cold gaze freezing Merlin into place.
“If you don’t win this race boy, I will make sure that if either you or your mother ever step onto my estate again I will have you shot. Is that clear?” he said, voice cool and unwavering.
“Yes sir” Merlin replied, staring defiantly at him.
Carleon let go and Merlin skid to the floor, breathe shaky and pulse racing. He would have felt angry had he not been consumed by such fear. He pressed the palms of his hands to his face and let out a shaky breath.
“Well, you seem to be in quite the pickle.”
Merlin uncovered his face and looked up at the man who was looking down at him. He had olive skin, 5 ‘o'clock shadow and brown eyes that resembles melted chocolate. Merlin didn't dare to respond.
The man stuck a hand out.
“The name’s Lancelot, nice to meet you.”
The last place Merlin should be at right now is a bar. But he really didn't know of any other way to show gratitude besides offering to buy someone a drink (blame Gwaine’s influence). This is how he ended up at the Rising Sun, huddled by the bar with his new-found friend who he was now spilling his guts to.
“So, let me get this straight...” Lancelot began.
“I am gay but sure go ahead” Merlin grinned. Lancelot rolled his eyes and continued.
“The real Gwaine offered you a chance to ride in the race, you took it, won the first leg and then almost got disqualified but you weren’t and now you have to win otherwise you and your mother might possibly be begging on the streets?”
“Last parts a bit more dramatic but yeah basically”
“Good god” Lancelot sighed, taking another sip of his beer.
“Yeah that's right. Drink away my pain for me” Merlin teased, rolling his eyes.
“It isn't funny. Tomorrow's showmanship and that relies on intensive training only done in equestrian circles.”
“Showmanship is fine.” Merlin sighed, eyeing Lancelot’s beer longingly. He was beginning to feel the anxiety set in and he’d been told that alcohol might calm the nerves (This is complete bullshit, once again we entirely blame Gwaine’s influence).
“Well, if you wow them in the first round you should be fine for the surprise. Besides its best out of three days so all you need to do is ace two and you will be great!” Lancelot said encouragingly, patting Merlin on the shoulder.
“You seem awfully relaxed for someone who is competing tomorrow” Merlin smirked, looking pointedly at the beer in Lancelot’s hand.
“Firstly, one beer didn't kill anyone…”
“Famous last words of every alcoholic.” Merlin piped in.
“Watch it. And secondly, I’m not competing for my livelihood. My sponsor has informed me that as long as I make sure to parade her stallion off tomorrow I still get my pay. And these events aren't really my thing. I prefer smaller races. Ones with less media coverage and more focus on the horses rather than the riders.”
“What is it you do for a living?” Merlin asked.
“I run an orphanage” Lancelot replied, smiling at the look of confusion on Merlin’s face.
“Then why are you racing horses??” Merlin asked.
“I grew up around them. My foster family owned a farm so I am a pretty decent rider. One of the orphanages biggest donors, Annis, said that if I could find someone to ride her horse for this race that she would host a charity ball to raise money for us and we really need funding so…”
“So, you are riding horses” Merlin finished.
“So, I am” Lancelot smiled.
Merlin was about to ask something else but he was distracted by the newest patron entering the bar. A sandy blonde-haired specimen with looks that could kill. Merlin tried his best to check Arthur out as subtle as possible, but as Gwen had mentioned multiple time Merlin was anything but. Lancelot followed Merlin’s wide eyed gaze to Arthur, who had just entered in with his friends: a curly blonde haired man and a man with shaved hair who looked like a tree.
“Didn’t your mother ever teach you that staring at strangers is rude yes?” Lancelot smirked.
Merlin blushed , instantly looking away from the group “ I wasn't staring.”
“Oh so then you won't mind me calling them over?”
“Are you crazy! His father hates me” Merlin hissed. It was only after Carleon’s threats that Merlin had processed the fact that the ‘young Pendragon’ Killagarah was referring to was none other than Arthur, who had come in a close second right behind Merlin. As far as hopeless crushes go, Merlin had won the lottery : a probably straight rich kid whose parents hated him.
“Plus, everyone probably knows I am a fraud now anyway.” Merlin muttered, avoiding Lancelot’s gaze by staring at the wooden table.
Lancelot, ever the romantic who has been dying to play Cupid ever since he was kid, saw an opportunity.
“Oye Percival!!” Lancelot yelled, waving at the human giraffe beside Arthur.
“What the fuck are you doing!!!” Merlin hissed, glancing behind him to see Arthur and his buds now staring at them.
“I am showing you that no one cares that you didn't go to private school and were fed with a silver spoon” Lancelot whispered as the giraffe and his mates walked towards them.
“I am going to kill you “Merlin grumbled, hiding behind his arm and quickly becoming very interested in his shoes.
“Hey Lance!” Percival grinned, giving him a high five.
“Hey! You killed it on the track mate” Lancelot laughed.
“Not as good as your friend here” Percival grinned, nodding at Merlin.
“Yea, I have never seen a mare run like that. And the control you had on those turns? Even Arthur struggles with that.” Leon gushed.
“Watchit Leon” Arthur warned, slightly glaring at his curly haired friend.
“Ah don't take him seriously, he’s a sore loser” Leon smirked.
“Yeah sorry about that” Merlin blushed
Arthur blinked at him for a good few seconds “Did you just apologize for winning?”
Merlin felt the blush seep into his ears “Uh...yes?”
Arthur laughed. Merlin could feel his heart thunder against his chest at the sound. He was turning into a bloody cliché: blushing at Arthur’s every action and having butterflies in his stomach when he laughed.
“What’s your name? Your real one that is” Arthur asked.
“Merlin” he mumbled shyly.
“Well Merlin you were incredible on that track. And I can't wait to see you eat my dust tomorrow” said Arthur
Merlin looked at the blonde boy defiantly.
“Dream on Prince Charming” Merlin smirked.
Leon, Percival and Lancelot roared in laughter at Arthur’s reddened face. Merlin felt a little bad for embarrassing him but relaxed when Arthur smirked at him.
Arthur opened his mouth to say something but was deafened by a long haired man who came bolting through the doors.
“MERLIN YOU AREN'T DEAD!!!!” Gwaine roared, running up behind him and giving him a hug.
“No but I will be if you don't stop hugging me” Merlin gasped.
“Sorry!” Gwaine replied letting go. “But you won mate!! One day you were mucking stables and hiding behind hale bales whenever you saw a rat and now you are a horse-riding star!!” Gwaine yelled, kissing Merlin’s forehead and clapping.
“How high are you exactly?” Merlin laughed.
“Not high enough!” Gwaine grinned.
Merlin turned to his new-found friends.
“Real Gwaine, meet my new friends: Lance, Percival, Leon and Arthur” Merlin said. The lads all grinned at Gwaine, except for Arthur who was clenching his jaw and glancing between both Gwaine and Merlin.
“Ah so you’re Gwaine.” Percival smirked.
“The one and only I know I know it’s a bit of a shock, my stunt double doesn’t do my rugged good looks justice” Gwaine grinned.
“I’ll say” Percival replied.
“Oh get a room” Leon scoffed.
“I wouldn't mind” Gwaine winked.
“Oh no you don’t! You have that fake Camp Rock event to get to” Merlin scolded, putting a hand to Gwaine’s stomach to prevent him from getting any closer to Percival.
“The Battle of the bands?’ Arthur echoed, face still contorted.
“See! Even he thinks its a knock off Camp rock thing!” Merlin said, shooting Arthur a look of approval which earned him a smile.
“Yes, you two uncultured swines, the battle of the bands. Which I passed my audition for and will be performing at The Hovel tomorrow” Gwaine announced proudly, hands on hips and chest puffed up.
“Well you’re in luck! We’ll be there as well; Arthur’s sister owns the place” Percival replied.
Merlin nearly spit his water out.
“Your...Morgana’s a Pendragon!?!!?” he coughed.
Arthur smirked “Oh you’d be surprised how alike my father she is. You know her?”
“One of my closest friends was her roommate in college. We have met a few times.” Merlin nodded.
Merlin recalled the first day he met the intimidating girl. It at a party She’d looked him up and down and told him he was a bottom and then proceeded to beat him at darts and then give Gwen a lap dance. Merlin had never been more fascinated by someone.
“Yeah Merlin was terrified of her” Gwaine teased.
“She made lie across the highway after I lost at darts and then almost ran me over. Of course, I was terrified! Merlin protested.
This revelation broke Arthur and the man was now laughing so hard he nearly keeled over.
“Oh, I am going to ask her about that one” Arthur laughed, wiping a tear out of his eye.
“I’m a prince I can do as I please” Arthur teased.
Merlin laughed and shook his head in response. During which Lancelot grinned wildly and made pointed looks to Gwaine and the others.
“Alright I am going to get some rest. See you on the track tomorrow!” Merlin said, getting up and quickly paying for Lancelot’s drink.
“You’re an old man Merlin! Always in bed by 10:00pm” Gwaine groaned.
“This old grandpa is saving your sorry ass” Merlin called, as he stepped away.
“That…that is true”
Merlin chuckled, ruffling Gwaine’s hair before nodding goodbye to the rest of the lads. As he headed out the door he turned back and caught Arthur’s gaze, waving goodbye to him. Arthur smiled softly and returned the gesture. Merlin then stepped out into the street and headed to his hotel.
Two-days Merlin, just two days. You can do it. What could possibly go wrong?
Famous last words of every protagonist ever.