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Another Man's Shoes

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Arthur rolled over in bed uneasily. It seemed his bed had developed lumps and cavities overnight, and somebody had apparently replaced his sheets with canvas bags.

He shifted in bed again and landed in a tangle of sheets on the floor.

Arthur opened his eyes. In the dim light leaking into the room from the window he could just make out that the bed was a lot smaller than usual and the walls of the room a lot closer. In fact, it looked an awful lot like another room entirely.

He wriggled out of the sheets and grabbed a heavy cloak from the foot of the bed. He thought he must cut an impressive figure as he stalked through the halls of the castle to his own room. Or, at least, he would if he didn't keep walking into things and almost tripping over his own feet.

There was the lump of a sleeping figure in his bed and gentle snores filled the room. Arthur scowled. "Merlin, if this is your idea of a joke, it isn't funny." His voice sounded strange.

The snores died off, but the figure in the bed didn't say anything.

Arthur groaned, and walked over to yank the curtains on the window open. "I'll have you put in the stocks for this," he promised, and then he got a good look at the person in the bed.

His own face stared back at him with an expression of abject horror.

Arthur sat down on his bed heavily.

"A-Arthur?" said Arthur's body.

Arthur took a moment in which he absolutely did not shriek, yell or collapse into hysteria. He closed his eyes tightly and recovered his dignity.

When he opened them again, the figure on the body was hiding under the covers.

"Merlin, what on earth are you doing?"

"This is just a bad dream, isn't it? I thought maybe if I hid under the covers it would all go away." His voice didn't sound quite like Arthur's, but it didn't sound like Merlin's either. Arthur would never sound that desperate.

Arthur groaned loudly and pulled the sheets away. "Get up, Merlin. We're going to see my father."

He was bowled over backwards on the bed by a heavy weight landing on his chest. "You can't!"

Arthur opened his eyes to see his own face peering desperately down at him, and closed them again tightly. "Why not? It's clear that sorcery is afoot."

"He'll start a witch hunt," said Merlin. Arthur was about to query the problem with this when Merlin continued, "more innocents will die."

Arthur opened his eyes again. His face was creased and lined with worry and desperation. "Oh, stop making that face, Merlin, you're making me look ridiculous."

"Arthur, please. I don't want it to end up like... like Gwen's father."

Arthur's father had raised him too well for Arthur to give in to blatant emotional pleas. "I think the situation here is a little different, Merlin. My father is perfectly capable of conducting a thorough investigation."

"Your father has a tendency to execute first and then apologise afterwards," Merlin snapped.

"With sufficient evidence--" Arthur began.

"Do you really believe that?"

Arthur hesitated. If Merlin's tone had been angry, he would have snapped out a 'yes' without any further thought. But it sounded like Merlin was disappointed in him.

"Fine," said Arthur. "You have one day to sort this out before I tell my father."

Merlin let out an extremely obvious and completely unbecoming sigh of relief.

"And I suppose this means we can't tell Gaius, either."

Merlin hesitated, then nodded firmly.

"So what, exactly, do you propose we do about this?"

"Maybe it will wear off overnight?" said Merlin.

Arthur sighed heavily. "What, you think this is just some kind of practical joke?"

"Perhaps somebody finally noticed the appalling way you treat me," said Merlin, grinning. "It could be divine humour."

Arthur snorted. "I treat you far better than you deserve for being so insolent."

Merlin rolled his eyes. "Have you spurned any beautiful young ladies recently?"

Arthur pursed his lips. "No?"

"Killed any innocent mythical creatures?"

"No!" Arthur folded his arms and glared at Merlin. "At any rate, I..." His gaze fell on his hunting gear, all ready and laid out to be worn. "I'm supposed to be hunting with Lord Benson this morning." He couldn't say that he wasn't pleased to be relieved of the responsibility, pain that Lord Benson was (and his son that much worse).

Merlin's eyes widened. "Arthur, I--"

"Don't be ridiculous, Merlin, you can barely even ride," said Arthur, dismissively. "You can't even remember to call me by my title; you'd be an absolute disaster trying to remember the titles of Lord Benson's entourage." Arthur stood up. "I'll tell him that you ruined my hunting leathers while trying to clean them. It should be easy enough to convince him."

--

"You're saying you destroyed his best hunting leathers to the point that they are unusable?" said his father, incredulously.

"Yes, f-- your majesty."

"And his second-best set?"

Arthur thought quickly. "Moths, your majesty."

"Moths," said his father.

"They got into, into, the lining, utterly destroyed it."

His father waved a hand at his guards, which was apparently a signal for them to pick up Arthur bodily and escort him to the stocks.

The smell of rotten fruit alone almost made him retch, and that was before they started pelting him with it.

Arthur tried closing his eyes as tightly as he could and bearing it stoically, but it seemed that not knowing when the attacks were coming made it even worse.

After some kind of revolting overripe fruit hit him square in the nose, Arthur opened his eyes again. His attackers seemed to be enjoying this assault upon his dignity. Some of them were laughing at him. Arthur fumed and struggled in the wooden frame, splinters biting at his wrists.

A tomato exploded to the left of him, splattering him with its overripe innards. He spat to the side, utterly revolted.

The crowd jeered and cat-called and tried to get his attention. He refused to give his attackers the satisfaction and shifted his glare to a basket of fruit, willing it to fall over.

Arthur was astonished when it actually did, tipping onto its side and skittering away, fruit rolling out and under the feet of his attackers.

He ducked as he saw another incoming attack.

When his attackers grew tired of their fun, the guards let Arthur down without even a single word of apology or sympathy. He wiped himself off at the communal fountain as best he could, then stalked back to his chambers.

The doors appeared to be locked. Arthur knocked, to no response. "Merlin!" he snapped, imperiously, then winced and checked to see if anybody was around. He coughed. "I mean, your highness Prince Arthur, are you in there? It's Merlin, your obedient servant."

He heard the key turning in the lock and the door opened.

"You didn't sound anything like me," said Merlin.

Arthur levelled his best death glare at him.

"Wow," said Merlin. "Can you teach me that? I might actually have a chance of gaining some respect if I could glare like that."

"You do not deserve respect," snapped Arthur. "And apparently I can do a good enough impersonation of you to be thrown into the stocks for it."

"Oh," said Merlin. "I'm sorry."

Arthur peered at him suspiciously. Merlin didn't look sorry, but Arthur didn't have much experience at trying to read his own expressions. He sniffed, and walked over the washbasin, which was empty. "Merlin, why haven't you seen to this?"

"Er," said Merlin.

Arthur caught a glimpse of his own reflection in the polished metal. "Never mind." He started to untie Merlin's neckerchief. "Help me get out of these clothes."

Between the two of them they managed to find an outfit from Arthur's wardrobe that fit Merlin's skinny frame. Arthur brushed the creases out of his tunic and looked himself up and down in the mirror. "You don't scrub up too badly with decent clothes on," he said. "Pity about the ears."

Merlin made a strangled noise.

Arthur turned and raised an eyebrow at him. "Why are you still in my nightclothes?"

"I've been a bit preoccupied," said Merlin.

"Preoccupied with what? Hiding in my bedroom?" Merlin hesitated. "No, don't bother answering that, Merlin. Get changed. There's a feast this evening and I am not covering for you again, so I'm going to have to teach you how to behave like a prince."

"A real prince, or like you?" said Merlin.

Arthur threw a shirt and trousers at him. "Hurry up, we'll need as much time for this as possible."

Merlin took the clothing without a word and disappeared behind the screen.

As soon as Merlin was seated in front of him, Arthur started talking. "The first thing to keep in mind is how to address my peers. Getting a title wrong could cause great offence." He listed nobles and their titles until he was reasonably certain that Merlin was no longer paying attention. "Repeat the last five names and titles I gave you," he said, smiling sweetly.

The glare Arthur received in return was not half so effective as Arthur knew the expression was when he used it.

"How are you at dancing, Merlin?"

--

The terrible irony of the situation was that Arthur made a far better manservant than Merlin did, at least when it came to dressing him for formal dinners. The whole affair went entirely smoothly. He only hoped Merlin was learning from the experience.

Once Arthur was satisfied with his appearance, he nodded and took a step back. "There. You look almost respectable. Stop slouching!"

Merlin clutched at Arthur's sleeve. "You're going to be there, right?"

Arthur blinked at him.

"You have to make certain my cup doesn't run dry," Merlin insisted.

"Of course I'm going to be there," said Arthur, rolling his eyes. "I'll even spill wine down your front to get you out of the room if you start stuffing things up."

Merlin nodded sharply. "Well, you'd better get changed, then."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Ceremonial robes, remember?" said Merlin. "And the hat." His expression was verging on amused.

"Oh," said Arthur. "Yes. Of course. Fetch them for me, will you, they should be in the closet somewhere."

"You never help me into this getup," muttered Merlin, as he dressed Arthur.

Arthur rolled his eyes and didn't dignify it with an answer.

They entered the banquet hall together, Arthur following at a respectful distance.

Once he had Merlin seated, with a kick in the shins for good measure, he went to lurk by the wall and watch for disaster.

Merlin kept glancing back at Arthur and assuming an expression of glee that Arthur found most unbecoming. Arthur certainly never took pleasure in other people's discomfort.

He shifted uneasily and readjusted the hat. The feathers kept getting in his face and blocking his vision.

"Merlin, are you feeling quite all right there?" asked Gwen, in a concerned tone of voice.

"I'm fine, thank you," said Arthur, keeping his attention focussed on the banquet table.

"Has Arthur been bullying you again? Not that I think you can't handle it or that I'm disparaging our prince in any way, I just... I mean... You seem out of sorts."

Arthur spluttered. "I don't-- I mean, he doesn't--"

Gwen nodded at him encouragingly.

"I have to go fill his highness' glass now," said Arthur, with dignity.

Merlin stumbled his way through the small talk without too much trouble, but Lord Benson's youngest son, Farley, was watching him like a hawk the entire time.

When the food was served, Arthur wanted to kick himself for not walking Merlin through table manners. Merlin regarded the quail eggs with dubious horror, but Arthur caught him sneaking looks at the people around him before he ate.

He was grudgingly forced to admit that Merlin wasn't making a bad show of it.

He brought another pitcher of wine to the table and began filling Merlin's glass.

"Are you trying to get me drunk?" muttered Merlin.

"Don't drink so quickly, then," Arthur snapped.

Lord Farley Benson addressed a question to Merlin, who snatched the goblet back from Arthur and gulped from it before answering him.

Arthur retrieved the goblet and tuned into the conversation just in time to hear Merlin address Lord Benson's son as "sir".

He held his breath.

Lord Farley Benson slammed both hands flat on the table, making the dishes jump and drawing all eyes his way. "I challenge Prince Arthur Pendragon to a duel!"

Arthur spilled the rest of the wine down Merlin's front while Merlin gaped like a fish.

"I'm so sorry," said Arthur, through clenched teeth. "How clumsy of me. Let me take you out of here to clean you off, your highness."

"Wait!" said Lord Benson. "What say you to my son's challenge?"

"Well, I--"

Arthur stepped on Merlin's toe.

"I don't--"

Arthur leaned harder on Merlin's toe.

"I accept?" said Merlin.

Arthur released the pressure on Merlin's toe.

"I mean, of course I accept," said Merlin. "I am honoured by your challenge."

Arthur managed to get Merlin out of the banquet hall before he could insert his foot any deeper into his mouth.

"What was all that about?" said Merlin, as Arthur shoved him into a secluded alcove. "I can't fight a duel!"

Arthur spluttered in rage. "I can't just refuse a duel! They'll think I'm a coward."

"They'll think you dead if I have to fight for you," said Merlin.

"You're not going to fight for me because we are going to fix this," said Arthur. "Even if I have to go to my father."

Merlin blanched. "Arthur, I have to tell you something."

Someone behind them cleared his throat. "His majesty asks if you are planning on returning to the banquet, Prince Arthur," said his father's manservant.

Arthur glanced at Merlin, who was still deathly white. "I think the wine had turned," said Arthur. He ran a hand over Merlin's brow while Merlin swallowed convulsively. "I think I'll just take him back to his room. Please apologise to the king for me."

"Very well," said his father's manservant, retreating as silently as he had arrived. Arthur approved strongly.

Arthur looked back at Merlin. "My father is going to have me slaughtered," he muttered. "Come on then, make a show of it."

They stumbled back to Arthur's chambers, Merlin hanging off Arthur like his life depended on it. Arthur dumped him unceremoniously on the floor as soon as the door closed behind them.

"Well, go on then," said Arthur. "What do you need to tell me?"

"I'm-a-sorcerer-I'm-sorry," said Merlin.

Arthur blinked. The words took a moment to sink in.

"Arthur?" said Merlin, after a moment.

Arthur put a hand over his eyes, a thousand things suddenly making a lot more sense. He watched Merlin out of the corner of his eye. Merlin was clearly expecting Arthur to react badly and Arthur would be damned before he gave Merlin the satisfaction. "I take it back. You're not too stupid to be a sorcerer, you're too stupid to live," said Arthur. He rubbed at his temples gingerly. "Are you telling me this is your fault?"

"No!" said Merlin. "At least, I don't think so. Why would I do this?"

"I've always suspected you of taking any possible opportunity to completely humiliate me," snapped Arthur.

"I haven't made you do anything today that you haven't made me do in the past," Merlin protested.

Arthur put a hand over his eyes and took several deep, calming breaths. "All right. You're a sorcerer. Why did you suddenly feel the need to tell me this now?"

"There's a book of magic," said Merlin. "It's in my room. I think it will be able to help us."

"And you didn't think to mention this earlier* because...?*"

"Because it's a book of magic?" said Merlin. "I tried to summon it while you were away this morning but it seems I can't do magic while I'm you."

"I should think not!" said Arthur, horrified.

Merlin's expression seemed to pass through disappointment and disgust before finally settling on a glare.

Arthur folded his arms. "Where do I find this magic book?" he said, with distaste.

"It's in my room," said Merlin. "Under a loose floorboard."

"Of course it is," said Arthur. "Nobody would ever think of looking there."

"Arthur, please just get the book for me. For your own sake, if mine isn't enough."

"Fine," said Arthur. "If I'm gone for a long time, for heaven's sake don't come looking for me, I don't want the entire court gossiping about me tomorrow."

The halls of the castle were still almost empty as Arthur made his way to Gaius' chambers. Everyone must still be at the feast.

There was a little voice screaming at him, over and over. Merlin is a sorcerer, you should tell your father. Arthur willed it to silence, but it whispered about betrayal, keeping deadly secrets.

Just one night, he thought. He could tell his father tomorrow, if it came to that. One night.

He had tucked the book under his arm and was carefully navigating his way through the workroom when the door burst open and Gaius entered. "Merlin!" he said.

Arthur froze.

"Merlin, what are you-- is that the magic book?"

Arthur looked down at the book in confusion. Gaius knew?

"Merlin, please tell me you weren't going outside with that."

Arthur tried to speak, but the words just stuck in his throat.

"How many times do I have to tell you to keep it a secret, Merlin? You know what will happen if the king finds out."

"I," Arthur began.

"I gave you that book to teach you," said Gaius. "Not to get you killed. How do you think your mother is going to feel if you get burned at the stake, hm?"

Arthur swallowed several times. "I'm not Merlin," he said, hesitantly. "I'm Arthur."

Gaius stared at him. "Tell me everything."

Arthur explained, as succinctly as he could. "And then told me about m-- about being a s-- he told me the book would be able to help."

Gaius frowned. "Do you have any idea what could have caused it?"

Arthur shook his head, trying not to let his irritation show.

"Have you killed any monsters recently?" asked Gaius, thoughtfully.

"Oh, for heaven's sake," said Arthur. "No, I have not!" Honestly, did nobody here think he was capable of learning from his mistakes?

Gaius raised an eyebrow at him. "It was only a thought. At any rate, you are not taking that book out of this room."

"But--"

"Give it to me, and I'll see what I can find."

Half an hour later, Arthur was standing over a pot of bubbling liquid. It smelled utterly foul.

"Now, Arthur, I'm going to need you to memorise this spell. You'll need to say it after you and Merlin drink the potion. I've copied it out for you; you can read it while you stir."

"What? Why me?"

"This is very powerful magic, Arthur, I don't stand any chance of being able to cast it successfully myself."

"You mean Merlin is actually a powerful sorcerer?" said Arthur, aghast.

"Oh, yes. He'd probably be one of the most powerful in the world if he ever stopped to think."

Arthur swallowed. His father's words echoed in his head. Magic was made of pure evil. Magic could do no good. Magic was the blight on this land that must be purged.

It was hard to reconcile that knowledge with Merlin.

"I'm not going to tell my father," said Arthur, slowly.

Gaius paused while chopping up herbs on the workbench.

"You're planning on making me forget, aren't you?" said Arthur. "Like you did with Sophia."

"Technically, that wasn't my doing," said Gaius, picking up his knife again. "Nor was it Merlin's.".

"I knew it!" said Arthur, thumping the table with the flat of his hand. "I knew it was utterly ridiculous that Merlin could have overpowered me."

"He did save your life," said Gaius, conversationally. "You could show some gratitude."

"Merlin did?" said Arthur, incredulously.

Gaius fixed him with a steely eye. "I've known you since you were born, Arthur, you don't need to talk yourself up to me."

Arthur felt his ears grow hot. "Isn't this potion ready yet?" he said, lifting the spoon into the air and watching the mixture drip off it in soft plops.

"Let me see," said Gaius. He peered into the bowl and sniffed cautiously. "That's fine, now add some candlewort and take it off the heat."

"You're going to make me drink this, aren't you," said Arthur.

"It localises the spell," said Gaius. "How did you go memorising that?"

Arthur glanced at the sheet of parchment Gaius was tapping.

"Hide the book again and we'll go back to your rooms," said Gaius. "Bring the parchment with you, but for goodness sake don't let anybody see it."

Arthur rolled up the spell and stuffed it down his shirt before hurrying after Gaius.

Gaius knocked on the door firmly. "Sire? It's Gaius. Merlin and I have something that will make you feel better."

The door opened and Merlin stared at them in confusion. "Gaius? What...?"

"'Merlin' here told me everything," said Gaius, bustling them both into the room and closing the door. "Showing that he has far more sense than you, I must say."

"I was going to tell you!" protested Merlin. "But then Arthur--"

"I'm right here," said Arthur.

"I didn't think you'd want Arthur to know," said Merlin, helplessly.

"Well, it's a little late for that now," said Gaius. "Both of you have to drink this, and then Arthur has an incantation to perform."

Merlin glanced askance at Arthur.

The potion tasted remarkably pleasant. It was light and flavourful, sort of earthy and green. Arthur wiped his mouth on his sleeve and pulled the incantation out of his shirt.

He read off the first line slowly before Merlin cleared his throat. "You pronounced that wrong."

"I beg your pardon?" said Arthur.

"It's cahn, not can," said Merlin. "And try to put more feeling into it. Magic is like poetry."

Arthur drew himself up in offence at the criticism.

"You can ignore me if you like," said Merlin, looking at the ceiling. "But don't blame me if you turn yourself into a frog."

Arthur exhaled noisily. "Fine. How would you say this?"

Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw Gaius start to smile.

It took so many tries that Arthur lost count, but finally he was able to pronounce the incantation in a way Merlin was happy with. Then he just had to get the correct intonation.

By the end of it, Arthur's throat was hoarse. "How do I know if it worked?" said Arthur, not whining, thank you very much.

"You'll feel it," said Gaius.

Arthur repeated the spell again, this time with the emphasis on the second syllable of the third word.

A wave of cold washed over him, making him shiver.

"I felt something that time," said Merlin.

Arthur nodded in agreement. "But I'm still you," he pointed out.

"You say it took place overnight the first time," said Gaius. "I imagine this one will happen while you're sleeping as well."

Arthur groaned.

There was a knock on the door and the distinct and horrifyingly familiar sound of Arthur's father clearing his throat. "Arthur?"

Arthur looked around the room in panic.

"Get in the bed, Merlin," murmured Gaius. Merlin jumped to obey.

Gaius picked up the spell and crumpled it into his robes. "Sire," he said, opening the door with a little bow.

"Gaius," said Uther. "How is my son?"

"I've given him something to help him sleep," said Gaius, calmly. "I'll come by in the morning to see if there's any change to his condition." Gaius gathered up the remains of the potion, nodded to the king and left the room quickly.

"You could have told me you were ill," said Uther. "There was no need to send your manservant up with that ridiculous excuse."

Arthur felt his cheeks flaming. In the bed, Merlin just looked terrified.

"Have I really made you so afraid to admit weakness?" mused Uther. "If you're ill, you can't fight in the duel tomorrow. You're too important to lose to a petty minor nobleman."

Merlin swallowed. "Thank you, s-- father."

"But," Arthur interrupted, "but I'm sure he'll be much better tomorrow."

Uther glanced at him dismissively. "Arthur, send your manservant out, please."

Arthur left the room without waiting for Merlin to speak, fuming. He waited in the corridor, pacing and trying not to mutter under his breath.

His father left a short time later, looking troubled.

"Thank you for coming, father," called Merlin after him.

Arthur stalked back into the room and glared at Merlin. "What did he say?" he demanded.

"He just... apologised again and told me how proud he was and how I -- well, you, really -- shouldn't put yourself at risk for the sake of your pride. Well, he said 'the kingdom', not you specifically, but he meant you."

Arthur stared at Merlin in disbelief. "He's never that nice to me when I'm me."

Merlin looked at Arthur thoughtfully.

Arthur didn't like what that look implied at all. "Shove over," he snapped. "I'm not sleeping in your bed again," he added firmly.

"I sleep in that bed every night," said Merlin. He seemed affronted.

"And you will be more than welcome to return to it tomorrow," said Arthur, changing into his nightclothes, which hung large on Merlin's skinny frame. "Good night."

--

Waking up with someone else in bed with him was an unexpected pleasure. Arthur shuffled up to the warm body beside him and buried his face in the crook of the neck before he felt the body stiffen and memory took hold.

Arthur tried not to betray his own shock, since that would prove he was actually awake.

Merlin extricated himself from Arthur and rolled him onto his back. "Arthur," said Merlin, shaking Arthur's shoulders. "Arthur, wake up."

Arthur opened his eyes to find Merlin's worried face hovering in his vision. He had a far greater appreciation for it on Merlin.

"I'm me," said Merlin, triumphantly.

"Words cannot express my relief," said Arthur. He sat up and took stock of his own bodyparts. All seemed to be in place.

Merlin grinned at him. It was infectious.

"Hey," said Merlin. "Did you know you're a snuggler?" His expression was one of unholy glee.

"I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about," said Arthur.

Merlin smirked.

Arthur surged out of the bedclothes to wrestle Merlin beneath him. "What were you saying?"

"Don't worry," said Merlin. "I won't tell anybody." He bit his lip as if something had just occurred to him and gave Arthur a worried look.

Oh, of course. The magic thing. Arthur rolled over and landed on his feet on the floor next to the bed. "Merlin," he said slowly. Because, really, Merlin was an idiot, but he wasn't that much of an idiot, and risking his life daily doing a job he hated bordered on insanity. "Why do you put up with that every day? It doesn't make any sense."

"Because I'm the only one who can?" said Merlin hesitantly.

Arthur wanted to point out that there were a thousand other people who would not only kill for Merlin's job, but probably be much better at it. He stopped before the words formed. "You're not talking about being my manservant, are you."

Merlin shook his head.

Merlin, Merlin of all people, thought that Arthur needed protecting. And that he, Merlin, was the only one who could do it. It was completely insane, incomprehensible, and yet... "Gaius said you saved my life."

"Oh," said Merlin. He looked a little sheepish. "A couple of times, yes." His lips twitched in what Arthur was seriously hoping was not another smirk.

"But why?" Arthur insisted.

"Because sometimes you actually show signs of being a decent human being?" said Merlin, casually. Arthur stiffened, then started to smile. Merlin hurriedly continued. "Just occasionally. A tiny bit."

"I'm pleased to see that you finally admit my superiority," said Arthur.

Merlin snorted.

"So," said Arthur. He swallowed. "How long have you been a sorcerer?"

Merlin chewed on his lip thoughtfully. "Well, I've been able to do things like this all my life." His eyes flashed gold, and Arthur's boots rolled themselves over to fly into Merlin's hand. "But if you mean actual spells, only since I came to Camelot."

Arthur was staring at his boots so hard that it took a moment for the words to penetrate. "You're learning magic in Camelot?"

"Um," said Merlin. "No. Not at all. I'm not learning magic from anyone."

"I have no words," said Arthur. "Now get dressed, we have a duel to fight. Which, I might add, is entirely your fault."

"You'll do fine," Merlin placated.

"Do fine?" said Arthur. "I'm going to trounce that inbred imbecile. And then I'm going to make him apologise for picking a fight over a minor slip of the tongue."

"You realise that's going to make you look like a giant prat?"

"He was completely out of line," Arthur muttered defensively. "Anyway, you'll know the truth."

Merlin was looking at him askance. "So you're... defending my honour?"

"Merlin," said Arthur. "Get. Dressed."

Merlin rolled his eyes and shifted to obey at roughly the pace of a snail. Clearly Arthur's sterling example of proper manservant behaviour the previous day had gone unnoticed.

Arthur drew a breath to snap at Merlin again, then let it out slowly. Maybe he'd give Merlin a break.

Just for today.