This was the third time he had caught Arthur at it. Coincidentally, it had always been the same act with the same person.
The first time, as the day finally dawned after a very fitful night, Uther had gone to consult his physician while half the castle was yet to stir. Gaius’s main room was empty, but Uther could hear signs of life from the turret room just up the stairs, so he went to investigate. True, he was desperate for some kind of sleeping remedy or even just advice, but also he had to admit that he was curious. Uther had once or twice wondered if his old friend was buggering the young man now living with him; it would explain why Gaius was so much livelier these days, and to be honest Uther hoped that Gaius might have found some unexpected comfort in his twilit years. So Uther trod stealthily up the few steps and silently pushed the door further ajar with the expectation of being amused and gratified –
– only to find Arthur standing there by the narrow bed, with the dark head of his son’s servant bobbing busily away at his first task of the day. Merlin was half–curled, half–sitting, still under the bedclothes, as if he’d literally only just woken to find his master there waiting for him. And Arthur… Arthur was turned mostly away from the door, but he might not have noticed his father anyway, for as his head fell back and he groaned quietly, Uther saw that his eyes were closed tight. For a moment Uther watched that golden hair shift glinting in the cool early sunlight from the window; watched his son’s handsome face fire into beauty as he groaned again and almost succumbed. ‘Enough, Merlin,’ Arthur whispered. ‘Enough!’
Before he could be discovered, Uther retreated as carefully as he’d approached.
‘Yes, sire,’ Merlin was murmuring in reply. ‘Arthur, d’you want to…’
Uther didn’t hear the rest, but his imagination presented the likeliest scenario; he filled in the details from his own years–ago experiences. He grinned wryly, feeling amused and oddly proud and even a bit stirred. He liked that his son was man enough to demand the satisfaction of his needs, and wise enough to seek a way of doing so that could lead to few complications. No one was going to bother defending Merlin’s virtue, and there’d be no royal bastards to cause any future grief.
As Uther left the rooms and walked back down the corridor, he found the physician returning with a pail of water. ‘Gaius, my friend,’ Uther said, grasping the man’s shoulder so he couldn’t pass, ‘come to my rooms, would you? I need to consult with you.’
And of course Gaius immediately put down the water, and followed Uther with no quibbles. Let Arthur have his privacy, Uther thought.
Although privacy hadn’t seemed a concern for Arthur the second time Uther caught him. It was the first really warm spring day, and Uther had gone riding in the greenwood just beyond the castle. As he, his servant and his guard had watered their horses at a stream, Uther felt the urge to enjoy the peace of the day alone. So he’d withdrawn, letting the others think he didn’t want the indignity of company for an act that any man must perform, high born or low. Strictly speaking, they shouldn’t have let him out of their sight, of course, but Uther was armed and he was too hardened a warrior to really need constant protection. A king had so few chances for a moment’s freedom.
And he’d been glad he’d insisted when he reached the edge of a small clearing bathed in the afternoon sunshine. For the prince was there, leaning back against a tree, with his servant kneeling before him, dark head once again bobbing away. After a startled moment, Uther found himself smiling. Arthur certainly wasn’t stinting himself on the pleasures of life. Uther watched for a while, admiring that fall of shifting golden hair, that beautiful face, Arthur’s lips parting in a gasp… Merlin must have a natural talent or be well–tutored, for it was obvious Arthur wanted for nothing.
A quiet groan reached Uther’s ears, and Arthur’s head fell back in a certain way – and suddenly Uther was beset by memories. He had been wont to make Igraine groan like that, and she would arch back as she lay in his arms, her head falling just so, and her long golden hair spilling free…
Uther tried to smother his own groan at the vivid memories. God, he missed her so much, even twenty–one years later. There had been no one to compare to her, no one at all, except Arthur. Arthur was all that was left of her. An uncanny echo of her golden hair and her beauty, but translated to this most masculine figure – the finest knight, the champion of Camelot, Uther’s beloved son. Uther had been proud of his wife for her beauty and her character and her accomplishments, just as he was proud of his son. Uther had adored her.
‘Enough, Merlin. Enough.’ He heard or imagined Arthur’s whisper. Merlin rose to his feet, helped Arthur off with his shirt. Arthur pushed his own britches down to his thighs, so that he was quite exposed to his father’s gaze. He really was a man to be proud of, in every aspect.
Uther watched for another moment as the two of them sank down to lie together in the long grasses. And then he turned away. Let him have his privacy, he told himself. Strangely, he had to be quite stern with himself about it.
The third time was late one night when Uther happened to be walking past Arthur’s rooms. He’d wanted to speak with his son, but thought he might be asleep by now, so he’d quietly opened the door just far enough to see… to see Arthur with his rear propped on the table’s edge, and Merlin kneeling before him. Dark head busy, pale long–fingered hands spread on Arthur’s bare torso. Arthur’s hand shaped encouragingly rather than demandingly at Merlin’s nape.
This time there was no chance of a tactful withdrawal. This time Arthur was facing the door almost directly, and was barely a few feet away – and his eyes were opening as his head tilted down, as if he were about to look at Merlin, about to watch that mouth pleasuring him. There was no way Uther could leave before Arthur saw him, so instead he came into the room and shut the door behind him, being careful not to slam it but also not bothering to be silent.
A moment later, Merlin sensed they had company and also froze. This clumsy village boy was unexpectedly thoughtful and discreet. He didn’t back away but rose where he was, shielding his master from view – and, as Arthur regained his feet, Merlin rearranged Arthur’s britches, refastened them. And then he stood aside, and awaited further orders with his head tactfully lowered.
‘Father,’ Arthur said in greeting, his voice a little strained but admirably steady.
‘Arthur. I did not intend to disturb you.’
‘Of course not.’ Arthur took a moment, then offered, ‘I’m sorry I forgot to lock the door.’
‘I’m sure Merlin will remember from now on.’
‘Yes, father,’ Arthur replied for them both. ‘It won’t happen again.’
That would be a damned shame, Uther found himself thinking.
There was only one matter in which Merlin had failed his master: he had neglected to help Arthur back into his shirt, which had been left discarded on the floor. And it was too late now. Uther cast a searching look over his son’s strong chest, flat stomach and shapely arms; the warm buttermilk skin paler where it was usually covered, and the hair of darker gold scattered wild across his pectorals and breastbone: if there was an ideal of manhood, this would surely be it. Arthur’s embarrassment at Uther’s examination of him was betrayed by the merest lift of a hand, which fell again immediately after. Arthur would not stoop to cover himself, and presumably saw little need to protect himself from his own father.
Uther turned, and locked the door. Then he walked further into the room. Sat in Arthur’s chair where it waited askew towards the far end of the table. The two young men watched him warily, Arthur directly and Merlin from under his brows. Uther hardly knew himself what he intended. Only that it must be so. This was the third time he had witnessed his beautiful son being pleasured, and he found that… He found that he was deeply stirred by the sight.
‘I will watch,’ he announced.
Merlin lifted his head now, and the two of them stared at him, not moving.
Uther gestured encouragingly. Impatiently. ‘Continue with what you were doing. I will watch.’
They glanced at each other. Arthur murmured a protest: ‘Father, please…’
‘Believe me, this is nothing I haven’t seen before,’ Uther urbanely explained. He quirked a smile for himself alone: he wasn’t about to tell Arthur that he’d already seen rather more of Arthur himself than was currently displayed. This time, however, he was determined to see more of the action as well. ‘What difference can it possibly make to you whether I am here or not?’
Arthur grinned humourlessly and shook his head in disbelief. Opened his mouth as if he were actually going to dare to argue –
Merlin was smart enough to approach his master and hush him. He leaned in close to Arthur and whispered in his ear. They looked at each other for a long moment, apparently perfectly comfortable with each other if not the situation, and then Merlin whispered something more.
Eventually Arthur nodded. ‘All right,’ he said, with his head down. He didn’t seem very happy about it, but Uther trusted that Merlin’s clever mouth would soon have him smiling again.
‘This side of the table,’ Uther said. For Arthur hadn’t moved from where he stood at the narrow end of it, but Uther wasn’t about to be cheated into only seeing his back.
Arthur sighed, and reluctantly took a few steps. Propped his rear on the table, as far away from Uther as he could. Gripped the table’s thick wooden edge as his hands settled beside his hips.
Merlin knelt before him again, and unfastened his britches. Opened them just far enough for Arthur’s half–hearted cock to be momentarily revealed – and then promptly hidden again by Merlin’s enveloping mouth. Arthur hissed a breath through gritted teeth at the sudden contact, even as Uther shook his head, amused by Merlin’s continuing tact. There was far more to this village boy than Uther had expected: he was cleverer than he had any right to be, and he obviously took great care of the prince. Even so, he would soon find that his discretion would backfire, as the more he protected Arthur from his king, the more Uther wanted to see.
For now the sight of that dark head bobbing away between Arthur’s hips was splendid. After a few moments, Merlin’s hands reached up and spread across Arthur’s torso, where Arthur’s stomach muscles tensed. Arthur himself had hung his head, his beautiful face grimacing as he tried to forget the strangeness of having a witness, as he tried to lose himself in sensation once more. His hand curved around Merlin’s nape again, and then his other hand brushed across Merlin’s hair, down to his shoulder, back up Merlin’s arm to grip solidly, to unconsciously slide up and down a little in an echo of stroking a phallus.
Uther’s breathing hitched. He imagined himself in Arthur’s place, being pleasured by a willing mouth, being touched by worshipful hands. Wanting to lose himself.
A groan as Arthur’s head fell back at last, that hair a cascade of honey gold silk. Those beautiful lips parted, a flush building just below those cheekbones, Arthur catching fire inside and the beauty burning out of him, shining out… Within moments he would be racked with pleasure, pulsing ambrosia down Merlin’s throat. But Uther wanted more than that.
‘Enough, Merlin,’ Uther said. ‘Enough.’
They both stopped as if shot through by a lance.
Slowly Merlin lifted his head away, allowing Uther another glimpse of his son’s cock, before turning and pressing the side of his face firm against Arthur. One blue eye peered out at him from beyond dark gold curls. Another from under Arthur’s furrowed brow.
‘I want you both to undress.’
‘Father,’ came the instinctive protest. But only weakly. Arthur knew he had no choice. ‘I’m sorry, Merlin,’ he murmured to his servant. Even as Merlin stood and began disrobing himself in an efficient enough manner. Then Arthur heeled off his own boots, pushed down his britches and let them fall, stepped out of them. And both young men were reluctant, true, and yet their cocks were hard.
Uther looked them over as they stood there next together, both with their gazes on the floor. Arthur was beautiful, of course, so very beautiful. But Merlin was interesting enough, too, with his wiry strength and his milky white skin contrasting with his thick black hair and bright blue eyes. It would be well worth watching them both.
‘And now continue as you would. But not on the bed. Do it here on the table, so that I can see you.’
Arthur gestured in frustration. ‘But you just stopped us, father. That is all we were going to do.’
‘No, it isn’t,’ Uther contradicted him with perfect authority.
‘Father –’ A grimace. ‘Please. Let Merlin finish the task I set him, if you will. And then he can leave for the night.’
Perhaps this was the strategy that Merlin had whispered in Arthur’s ear, that they would do what they were caught doing, and no more. Well, it would not be enough.
‘I know you cannot intend to lie to your king,’ Uther said very evenly. ‘But I also know that there is more to this than I have yet seen. Do not try to cross me, Arthur.’
Nevertheless the prince asked once more, ‘Father, please don’t do this.’
Which only made Uther more determined than ever. ‘All right,’ he bit out. ‘If you will not continue, then you can follow my direction.’
Arthur turned away with an annoyed groan, but Merlin rested a hand on his arm, and looked to Uther for instructions.
‘Merlin will face the table. Bend over it, if you will. Arthur, you will take him from behind.’
Another groan from Arthur, which sounded perilously grief–stricken. And yet he was still hard. Uther wondered if he’d have mercy on them if they weren’t so obviously interested.
‘That’s all right,’ Merlin was murmuring to his master. ‘We can do that, sire. It’ll be all right.’ He went over to the drawers by the bed, came back with a small vial of oil. Deftly prepared Arthur’s cock with a swipe of the golden liquid, swiftly preparing himself as well. Then he stood by the table, as requested, and reached back for Arthur. ‘Come on. It’ll be fine.’
Arthur sullenly complied, moving to stand behind Merlin, who bent right over the table before reaching back to guide him in. ‘That’s it,’ Merlin was murmuring as Arthur tried to press home. ‘That’s it, dearheart.’ But Arthur was clumsy with uncertainty, nothing like what Uther had expected. He couldn’t seem to find the right stance, though the young men were of a height, and it should have been completely straightforward.
Finally Merlin had taken him inside, and Arthur managed a couple of long shaky thrusts. Merlin’s reassuring murmurs became encouraging now, and rather exaggerated in their expression of pleasure. ‘That’s it, dearheart, oh yes, that’s it!’ He tried standing a little taller, but bent down again when that threw out Arthur’s tentative rhythm. Merlin seemed to have no trouble at all in coping with being penetrated.
All the trouble seemed to be on Arthur’s part.
‘Stop,’ said Uther. His heart had sunk to his gut. ‘That’s enough.’
Arthur pulled away with obvious relief. Merlin stood, and gravitated towards his master, as if by instinct standing protectively between the prince and the king.
‘You’ve never done that before,’ Uther coldly observed to his son.
‘Uh… not… the table,’ Arthur tried. It was weak, and he knew it.
‘Do not lie, Arthur. I will not have it! You will not lie to me.’
‘All right,’ he finally agreed, stepping out to stand beside Merlin, with embarrassment colouring his cheeks red. ‘I’ve never fucked Merlin before.’
Uther stared at him. Questions rioted in his mind to which he suspected he didn’t want the answers. After a long moment, he gestured in frustration. ‘Then continue as you would normally. Or if you will not, I will teach you how to complete the act I requested.’
‘Father…’ Arthur said miserably.
Merlin was looking at his master with compassion. Then he came to kneel respectfully at Uther’s feet. It was the first time that night he’d addressed Uther directly. ‘Your majesty, please. I will comply. If you will promise to treat your son with kindness.’
Uther eyed him wrathfully. ‘You will comply, yes. So why should I make promises to you?’
‘Because you love Arthur, and you do not want to hurt him.’
‘Why is that a reason to promise anything to a servant?’
‘Because I will not do as you ask unless you promise to be kind.’
Uther shook his head in bemusement. There was far more to Merlin than he’d ever expected. Well, it would be churlish to argue when his son’s servant was only trying to protect his master. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘I will be kind.’
Those blue eyes stared into his for one long moment more to convey the fact that Merlin was absolutely serious. ‘Thank you, sire.’
And Merlin stood, and he went to Arthur, who was standing there looking completely drained. And yet he was still hard. ‘It’s all right,’ Merlin was murmuring to Arthur. ‘We can do this, dearheart. Just watch me. Don’t stop looking at me. We’re the only ones here.’
Arthur nodded miserably. Then he propped his rear on the table. And he lay down on his back, his hands again grasping the table edge at either side of his hips.
Uther watched in shock as Merlin prepared his own cock with the oil. Pressed impertinent fingers down between Arthur’s thighs. Arthur moaned, and turned his head away a little.
‘It’s all right, dearheart. Just look at me.’
Arthur’s legs hooking around Merlin’s waist. Merlin pressing home so very easily, and Arthur arching to take him in. Arthur gazing up at Merlin, fraught and flushed, biting his lower lip. Merlin crooning nonsense to him, thrusting steadily, watching carefully – shifting Arthur’s hips and adjusting his own angle, until suddenly Arthur gasped, and arched back further still, his golden hair spilling as he cried out – and he was coming, coming, without Merlin even touching his cock, a goodly amount of ambrosia splattering across Arthur’s own chest and stomach.
‘My beautiful,’ Merlin was saying as he saw Arthur through it. ‘My beautiful Arthur,’ as he himself shuddered to a finish, never once withdrawing his attentions from his prince. ‘Dearheart…’
Afterwards, Arthur curled away in humiliation, so Uther didn’t object when Merlin cleaned Arthur and walked him over to the bed, tenderly settled him in. After a long quiet moment of Merlin holding him, it sounded as if Arthur escaped into a deep slumber.
Then Merlin came back and knelt at Uther’s feet with his head bowed, awaiting further orders.
Uther contemplated him for a while. And then he asked ominously, ‘What am I to do with you, impertinent boy?’
‘Anything you like, sire,’ Merlin smoothly replied. He lifted his head to meet Uther’s gaze. ‘So long as you keep your promise to treat him kindly.’
Uther gestured dismissively. Promises to servants were worth nothing. But they were talking about Arthur. ‘Of course. He is my son.’
Merlin asked, ‘Then, how can I serve you, sire?’
A long moment stretched. Uther stared at the boy, imagining taking him on that very table. Achieving what Arthur had failed to manage. Doing to Merlin what Merlin had done to his son. Reducing him, as Arthur had been reduced. It wasn’t as if Uther wasn’t stirred. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t been achingly hard from the moment he walked into the room. And yet…
And yet… Merlin wasn’t what he wanted.
Uther stood. Merlin stared up at him, servile and yet insolent. Uther growled a warning – and when Merlin didn’t move, didn’t even blink, Uther swung a hard open–handed slap across that pale face. And then he strode from the room.
It was only afterwards that Uther realised the palms and finger–pads of his leather gloves were stuck about with splinters from where he’d grasped the wooden arms of Arthur’s chair and twisted his hands as he’d clung desperately to control.
Uther hardly slept that night, and when he did he was plagued with unwanted images. The flush of excitement on Arthur’s buttermilk skin. The golden spill of his hair. The perfectly sculpted body of the finest knight in Camelot. Then dream–memories of Igraine arching back in his arms, her blue eyes hot and loving, her mouth an oh of ecstasy, her head falling back – but then of course as she lay beneath him she transformed into their son, and Arthur cried out, ‘Father!’ as he came – and Uther woke with his heart galloping and his shirt soaked through.
He hauled himself out of bed to sit before the cold fireplace, and he brooded on a village boy who was insolent enough to fuck the crown prince of Camelot. In the small hours of a long night, such a thing felt very much like treason.
Uther was still sitting there when he heard a knock on the door early that morning. After a moment Arthur was bold enough to let himself in. ‘Good morning, father,’ he politely murmured. Then he waited there across the fireplace from Uther, standing tall and easy.
‘Well?’ Uther eventually prompted.
‘I must ask you not to punish Merlin,’ Arthur declared. But then he swallowed involuntarily, betraying the fact that it had taken courage to come here and confront the king.
‘Why should I not? He has humiliated you, and therefore he has humiliated me. Such a thing cannot be borne.’
‘Please, father, I must ask you to promise. You will not harm him.’
Uther stared at his son, mystified. ‘Do you honestly expect me to do nothing?’
‘Any embarrassment I felt was only because I knew we were watched.’
‘Don’t you try to blame this on me.’
‘Of course not, father.’ Arthur waited a moment until Uther had subsided again. ‘But it is only sex. In all else, I give way to no man other than you. And…’ A small huff of ironic humour. ‘And we both know I do not always obey even you, sire. You need not fear that my… desires indicate anything about who I am, nor what kind of prince I am. What kind of king I will be.’
Uther considered his son for a long moment. Arthur was concentrating unfocussed on the wall just beyond Uther’s shoulder. He was obviously feeling somewhat embarrassed, but then who did not when discussing sex with a parent?
‘Father, please promise me that you will let the matter rest as it is.’
The matter, he called it, quite coolly. Disgust rose in Uther once more. ‘The notion that this mere servant boy is –’
‘He is taking care of me, the best he knows how. That is not a bad thing, father.’
‘He was not even raised as part of the household, but in some Godforsaken village beyond our borders –’
‘Merlin’s loyalty to me is second to none, sire. You have nothing to fear from him.’
Uther already knew the answer, and therefore knew he was unwise to even ask, but he could not stop himself. ‘And if I forbid you to continue this liaison? If I banish him?’
Arthur shook his head. ‘I am sorry, but I could not obey you, sire. And if you banish him, then you banish me as well.’
‘He means that much to you…’ Uther muttered, turning away. But then he rounded on his son again. ‘You stand there so calm and collected while you give me a hostage to fortune. You have a lot to learn, Arthur.’
‘No one else knows, or if they suspect something they do not know the full extent of it. A few people within the household may assume, as you did, that I merely use Merlin. But I am trusting my father with the truth. I am trusting my king. Are you telling me I am wrong to do so?’
Uther struggled with himself. He did not want to have to live with this. But it seemed that Arthur would not accept any other result. Apparently the prince had indeed learned something about negotiation after all. The kingly art of getting what you wanted.
After a long silence, Uther became aware that his left hand was once more painfully grasping the arm of a chair. And he had discarded his gloves. He eased his cramped and twisted hand without wincing. And eventually he nodded. ‘Very well, then,’ Uther said distantly. ‘Have it your way for now. But the moment I find he has done you harm –’
‘That moment will never come, sire.’
‘Very well,’ he repeated. ‘Leave me now.’ And he nodded to confirm his dismissal.
‘Thank you, father.’ Arthur bowed low and respectfully, and he strode from the room.
The bothersome aching arousal did not leave Uther all that long day. Arthur tactfully made himself scarce, and there was no sight of Arthur’s servant even when Uther went to have vague, frustrated, angry words with Gaius.
There was a court gathering that evening. Uther was hardly in the mood for it, but he made a late appearance. Of course everyone was waiting on him; no one had dared to leave yet.
Arthur behaved with perfect correctness, though he would not meet Uther’s eyes. This did not prevent Uther’s gaze roving irritably, hungrily over his son’s fine form, with his strong thighs and the rounded curve of his buttocks clearly delineated by his snug tan britches. If anything, Arthur’s response of not shifting his body at all and not trying to hide, but merely turning his face away, could be interpreted as the most provocative offer of surrender for those who had a mind to read it thus. Uther stared at the exposed column of his son’s throat, and tried not to imagine mouthing and gnawing against the heartbeat just under the buttermilk skin, trailing a fingertip across the tender place just behind his earlobe and down under his strong jaw.
Merlin was there, as his absence would have been noted, but he remained in the shadows, on the edges. Arthur had apparently arranged for another of the household servants to tend to him in Merlin’s stead. There was a strange moment early in the evening in which Merlin glared at Uther from a dark corner, his blue eyes somehow catching a golden glow from the torches, and Uther had an eerie sense of almost palpable resentment aimed directly at him. The impression was lost, though, as one of the maids tripped over her own feet – and her tray of drinks would have landed in Uther’s lap if it wasn’t for Arthur’s quick reflexes. When Uther looked around afterwards, disgruntled, the boy was talking with Morgana’s maid, sharing in the telling of some kind of animated story. ‘Servants,’ Uther muttered to himself under his breath.
Meanwhile, Gaius also remained on the edges of the gathering, pondering darkly, no doubt having picked up on the fact that his young protégé was currently out of favour. Not much got past Gaius.
Morgana was there, too, of course. After a second goblet of wine, Uther began to feel more like conversing, and he turned to his ward. She was… Morgana was the most civilised creature at his court. Once she had turned fifteen she had taken on the role of the first lady of Camelot, and she had brought something of Igraine’s warmth back to the kingdom. She had brought all her own glamour. Tonight she wore Camelot’s colours of red and gold, in a few wisps and whirls of silk that would have been indecent on anyone else – but Morgana was so proud and so confident that she didn’t even need an air of defiance to carry this off.
She really was incredibly beautiful, Uther thought as he watched her talk, with her long dark hair and her ivory skin and her flawless features. And she was all woman. As she picked up on his sustained admiration of her, something within her caught fire, and she returned his gaze fearlessly. Uther had always known she had a passion that could answer his own. He had restrained himself from stoking it until now.
Eventually Uther stood from his throne, and he bowed to her. ‘My lady. Would you join me? Perhaps a stroll in the moonlight…’
‘Of course.’ She stood and took his hand, and he led her out of the hall. Arthur watched them go with a glowering frown.
Just before they reached the battlements, Morgana’s maid caught up with them, and arranged a red velvet cloak around her shoulders. ‘Thank you, Gwen,’ she murmured. ‘That will be all.’ The maid curtsied, and stayed inside as Uther and Morgana stepped out into the cold air.
‘Morgana,’ he began as they walked slowly along under the moon and the stars, her hand raised in his. ‘You have brought honour and grace to my court. You brought warmth and beauty to halls which had turned bleak and cold without a queen.’
‘Thank you, sire,’ she murmured.
‘You have performed your duties quite selflessly. You have become one of my most trusted advisors, and you have always sought to support and defend our people.’
‘I am honoured to serve Camelot. And I am glad to have pleased you, Uther.’
‘You have pleased me indeed. And we have honoured you in return, but not enough.’
She turned away slightly, as if she needed a moment’s thought. But then she looked at Uther directly again, and demurred, ‘I could not ask for more, sire.’
Uther lifted his other hand, and found himself trailing a fingertip across the tender place just behind her earlobe and down under her strong jaw. He shuddered for a moment, remembering Igraine, imagining Arthur, touching Morgana. ‘I thought perhaps,’ Uther said, somewhat harsher than he intended, ‘if the notion isn’t too unpleasant to you, perhaps it is time to make your role in my court more formal.’
‘I see,’ she said, watching him with a hint of wariness now.
He didn’t know where the wariness had come from. He knew – he knew that the notion of becoming Uther’s lover was not unpleasant to her. Not at all. His caveat had been mere words.
‘Are you asking me to become –’
‘– your queen?’
Ah. They stared at each other for a long moment, and then Uther dropped her hand and turned away in annoyance and chagrin. ‘Morgana –’
‘I understand,’ she said, cutting him off. Sparing him from making an apology. ‘You wouldn’t place anyone in the court above Arthur.’
‘That’s not so!’ he protested.
‘Of course it is.’ He could hear the wry smile in her voice. ‘Have you spoken to him about this?’
‘No. Why should I?’
‘You know very well why.’
Uther turned back to her, searching her cold, beautiful, intelligent face.
‘As a lady, I can only bestow myself once,’ she said, crystal clear. ‘It’s been understood for some while now – hasn’t it? – that Arthur has first right of refusal. You had your chances, Uther. He would have let you claim me, if you’d done it a few years ago.’
‘Morgana –’ he ground out. ‘It does not become you to talk this way.’
‘Does it not?’ she lightly replied.
‘And the kingdom does not revolve around Arthur…’
‘Does it not?’ she asked again, with a deep irony.
‘No.’ He paced away for a moment, and then came back to stand right up close to her. ‘You are a full–grown woman, Morgana,’ Uther said under his breath, ‘and my son is yet a boy. He would be of no earthly use to you.’
She stood her ground, looking up at him with her perfect confidence. ‘I think you’re wrong about him. In any case,’ she added, ‘I think I will wait. One day he may have need of me.’
‘You will find yourself disappointed.’
Looking up at him perfectly steadily. ‘I doubt it.’
They were standing close, so close that Uther could feel her warmth reaching towards him through the cool night air. Even now, the passion within her was answering his own. And this was how it should be, wasn’t it? Not boys playing around with pleasure, but a man and a woman, and an honest passion.
And yet she denied him. She needed to call on her defiance to do so, but she denied him.
Uther growled in fury, and strode away. Morgana’s maid dropped a startled curtsey as he crashed back through the door into the castle. He was going to return to the gathering, but at the last moment realised he could not bear it. He simply could not bear it. Uther headed alone up to his rooms.
Gaius unwittingly played right into his hands. The servant boy was to be sent back to his village for a month, ostensibly to visit his friends and take care of his mother. Uther did not quibble about giving permission. Late on the first night of Merlin’s absence, Uther sent for his son.
‘Lock the door,’ Uther said when Arthur arrived. ‘Then come over here.’ He was sitting by the fireplace, with a good blaze going.
Arthur stood a few feet away, at ease. ‘What can I do for you, father?’ He was dressed casually in a cream shirt, dark brown britches, and boots. Everything about him was strong and confident. He was beautiful.
‘I thought it time,’ Uther said evenly, ‘to remind you of exactly who the king of Camelot is.’
After a moment, Arthur responded, ‘Do you think I need reminding, father?’
And to Uther’s amazement, the young man immediately fell to his knees on the stone floor with his head bowed. ‘You are the king, father.’ He lifted his head and gazed up at Uther with the most fervent loyalty. ‘You are my liege lord.’
Uther found that his hands were trembling. He clutched the arms of the chair in order to still them. After a moment he managed to say with the requisite coolness, ‘Then I suppose you don’t need reminding of exactly who belongs to whom…’
‘No. I belong to you. We all belong to you, sire.’
It was too easy. Far too easy. He asked, ‘Are you mocking me?’
‘No, sire.’ That honest gaze, that earnest face, did not show the slightest crack in intent.
‘Are you attempting to manage me?’
‘Of course not, sire. I would not presume…’ And then Arthur declared, ‘I am yours to do with as you will, father.’
God… He knew exactly why Uther had sent for him that night. His own son. His own son!
After a while, Arthur prompted, ‘What would you have me do, sire?’
His hands still trembling, damn it, and his heart racing. ‘Stand up,’ Uther ordered, ‘and undress.’
Arthur did so, promptly and efficiently. And then he stood there tall, with his hands at his sides, and he let Uther gaze upon him, all gold and buttermilk, all sculpted strength, with his red–gold cock hanging heavy against his thighs.
‘Why?’ Uther asked. ‘Why are you letting me do this?’
‘Because I belong to you, and because you want it of me. Perhaps we both needed reminding…’ Arthur dared to muse, ‘that I would do anything you ask.’
‘You are not always so obedient,’ he complained.
‘Father, the only times I argue with you are when I fear harm will be done to those who don’t deserve it. I had hoped you’d think me principled.’
‘Well,’ Uther said, feeling somewhat rocked. ‘That is a discussion for another day.’
Arthur bowed his head. ‘I will obey you in this, father. I will obey you tonight, without question.’
‘You say your particular desires do not indicate anything about what kind of man you are. But I could wish you to be more assertive.’
‘I give way to no man other than you,’ Arthur declared. ‘I promise you that, father.’
‘We both know very well that is not so!’
‘When it comes to sex, I allow my servant to do the things that give me most pleasure. That is all. There is no one else who has done that for me. There is no one else who knows. In all else, I am the prince, and I have my way.’ Arthur took a breath. ‘But for you, father, tonight – I will do anything you ask of me. You may do anything you want.’
Uther stared at him for a long moment. He wondered if he shouldn’t dismiss Arthur now. If he shouldn’t show mercy, now that Arthur had so convincingly proved himself. Proved himself with words, the finest words and the most genuine gestures. But Uther still wanted actions, didn’t he? He wanted to have the most beautiful, the most precious creature in his kingdom, in all Albion. He wanted to own the one being in all Albion that anyone and everyone else would deny him. He wanted to repossess something that a servant boy had dared take from him. And, more than that, he wanted to…
‘There’s a manacle over there,’ Uther said, indicating it with a hand that he forced to be firm. The gold manacle was attached to a long chain, which fixed to the wall by the bed. It allowed a person to move about most of the room; the restraint was more a metaphor than a reality. ‘Fasten it to your ankle.’
‘Father!’ An instinctive protest. For the first time that night, Arthur’s confidence was thrown.
‘Anything I ask of you,’ Uther reminded him.
‘Yes. Yes, exactly. So why do you need to chain me?’
‘Because I wish it.’
Arthur took a breath. Closed his eyes and took another breath. Then he walked over to pick up the manacle from where it lay on the table next to the bed. There was a vial of oil waiting there, too. Arthur turned the manacle in his hands for a moment, considering something. Then he looked across at Uther. ‘I have only asked you to make me one promise, father, and I must insist that you keep it. I rely on you believing that a promise to a prince counts for something.’
‘You wish me not to harm that boy.’
‘That is so, father. Do I still have your word?’
Uther nodded. If that was the only price he would pay for this, then he would pay it. For as long as he must.
Arthur sat down on the edge of the bed, and reached down to fix the manacle around his right ankle. It closed with a gratifying click. And then Arthur sat up again, put both hands behind him and leaned back a little. That beautiful body displayed. Awaiting him. The slightest bit wary.
As well he might be. Uther stood and strode over there. Lifted his leather–gloved right hand, and swung a hard open–handed slap across his son’s face.
Arthur gasped in shock, but he didn’t lower his head. One hand came up a little, as if his instinct was to raise it to his split lower lip, but then he put his hand back down again. He stared defiantly up at Uther, those blue eyes hot with hurt and fury, and blood on his mouth.
Uther struck him again.
And then a third time.
Arthur did not move, did not even attempt to defend himself. But when Uther straightened again and took a step back, Arthur demanded, ‘Why? What do you want from me?’
And Uther hissed, ‘I want you to be a man.’
Those blue eyes wide as Arthur’s fighting instinct at last kicked in, and he began to understand.
‘I want you to assert yourself.’
‘Oh God,’ he groaned as the enormity of it came home.
‘I want you to take what belongs to you.’
‘Oh God…’ It wasn’t despair that made Arthur groan. It was need, and awe. They stared at each other for a long fraught while. And then Arthur commanded, ‘Undress yourself, then.’
For a while they lay on the sheets facing each other, with Arthur leaning up on an elbow, taking charge. For a while his son was warm in his arms, and so beautiful with his honey gold hair and warm buttermilk skin, so entrancing with flushes under his cheekbones and a smudge of blood on his chin. They kissed deeply, and they held each other close, as if they were simply any two people making love. Uther pushed the fingers of one hand into that thick sweep of hair, and let the other hand trail down that strong back to the delightfully rounded buttocks.
But then at last, once Uther had forgotten his fears enough to let the passion catch fire within him, Arthur pulled away. He scooped up that vial of oil, and he shifted so that he knelt on the bed by Uther’s hips. Gently pushed Uther over onto his back. ‘All right?’ he asked in a roughened tone.
And Arthur bent down and took Uther’s cock into his mouth.
Uther cried out. He hadn’t expected that. But it was divine, divine. So much pleasure heating him now that he almost didn’t realise when Arthur’s hand slid between his thighs and an oiled finger worked its way inside. He cried out again, pushing his hips up off the bed towards Arthur, wanting to find his way deeper into that warm mouth, discovering that the motion concentrated the sensations of penetration wonderfully well. Arthur wrapped a strong arm under the small of Uther’s back and held him there, sucking hard, thrusting that importunate finger. ‘Enough!’ Uther yelled, already on the edge. ‘Enough. Arthur!’
But it was too late, and he was coming, coming, pouring his very essence into his son, every last drop of who he was, gifting it to Arthur, who took him in and loved him, loved him, loved him.
And then Arthur let him down again and encouraged Uther up onto his side, and was moving behind him, stretching his length down Uther’s back, his strong thighs up against Uther’s, and he was pushing himself inside while Uther groaned. Breached. Possessed. Arthur a bit clumsy with need, but passionate, too. Absolutely certain of what he wanted, of what they both needed. And Uther was finally claimed by Arthur’s ambrosia pulsing deep within him. ‘Father…’ Arthur groaned lovingly. ‘Father…’
And they lay there together afterwards, tangled, mingled. The two Pendragon men, indivisible. Uther felt whole again for the first time in years. Decades.
The sound of the lock shunting open, and the door slamming wide. Arthur muttering panicked, ‘Oh God. Oh God!’ and clambering over Uther in a hurry, the chain clinking. The room was utterly dark.
Uther lifted his head from the pillow. ‘Arthur! What is it?’
A whole candelabra suddenly aflame, though no one was nearby.
‘For God’s sake, no, Merlin.’
Uther pushed himself up, and stared, struggling to comprehend.
Merlin stood there in the middle of the room, shaking with fury, glaring at Uther, one open hand raised towards him as if he were about to denounce his king.
Arthur naked, ordering his servant, pleading with him, trying to wrestle Merlin’s arm back down. ‘Stop it, Merlin – I’m telling you stop it, damn you.’
Uther rose from the bed, and flung on a robe. Picked up his sword and advanced, holding it low but firm towards the mad servant boy. ‘What the hell is going on?’ he demanded coldly. ‘I thought you’d been sent away.’
‘Father, please. Leave this to me.’
‘I came back.’ And Merlin said to Uther in an eerily calm fury: ‘You promised you’d be kind.’
‘He was kind, Merlin. He has been kind to me.’
Merlin’s gaze flickered away from Uther for a moment, and then roved over Arthur from head to toe. ‘Blood and bruising,’ he said. ‘Manacled and chained.’
‘You don’t understand –’
‘He is my son,’ Uther declared, ‘and I am your king. You will not question what I have done.’
‘I will if you’ve hurt him!’ Those strange blue eyes caught a golden glow from the candle light, and Uther felt almost physically buffeted by Merlin’s outrage. ‘You hit him, didn’t you? Like you hit me. Only worse. Three times. I felt it!’
‘Merlin,’ Arthur demanded. ‘Stand down! That’s an order.’ And he turned to Uther for a moment. ‘Please, father. Put the sword away. You will not need it, I promise.’
‘The boy is crazed.’
‘He is concerned for me,’ Arthur said through gritted teeth. ‘That is all.’
Uther stared at Merlin for long moments, and Merlin stared right back. He was standing tall there, insolent and furious, facing Uther as if they were equals. As if he fancied himself as good as Uther. Or, perhaps more to the point, as if he thought Uther was now as low as Merlin himself.
‘Merlin, please,’ Arthur begged, as if exhausted now. ‘Back off. You know this is a fight that the king must and will win. You know how much we have to lose.’
And eventually Merlin lowered his gaze, and looked at Arthur. Lowered his hand and let it fall by his side. ‘Arthur,’ he mumbled.
‘Yes, dearheart. Yes.’ Arthur’s forehead against Merlin’s, and his eyes closed as if in thanks.
The servant’s hands running up his master’s arms and then his torso, as if needing to check for himself. ‘You’re all right.’
‘Yes. I’m fine. I promise.’
And Merlin suddenly grabbed Arthur in both arms, and held him tight.
After returning the embrace for a moment, Arthur gently prised himself free, and turned towards Uther. ‘Father, please. The sword.’
Uther shrugged. He hardly needed steel to defend himself against this mad boy. He went to slide the sword back into its sheath, wrapped the robe close around himself, and sat down in the chair by the cold fireplace. ‘I don’t think I need to be told what’s going on,’ he announced. ‘This is all very tedious.’
‘I’m sorry, father. It won’t happen again.’
Arthur glanced back at Merlin, but then announced to Uther, ‘You can send for me whenever you want, father.’ He was standing there, still naked, but completely comfortable now. One hand resting reassuringly on Merlin’s arm, but the rest of him available to Uther.
‘I am glad to hear it,’ Uther responded with some irony.
‘Merlin will promise not to interrupt us again.’
‘I’m not the one who broke his promise,’ Merlin muttered from behind Arthur.
‘Yes, you did,’ Arthur insisted quite reasonably. ‘You weren’t the first, but you still broke the promise you made to me.’
The boy subsided.
Arthur sighed. Then he tentatively asked Uther, ‘Will you promise to be kind? Now that you and I are clearer on what we each want. It is up to you, of course, father. But it would solve the immediate problem.’
After a while, Uther offered a dignified gesture. ‘I certainly did not ask you here to be cruel.’
‘Of course, father. Thank you.’ Another sigh, and Arthur ran a hand back over his hair. ‘You are the most important person in my life, father. You know that. But Merlin is important to me, too. You both care for me. I am not asking you to care about each other, but I would appreciate knowing there is peace between you.’
Uther looked away. Arthur must be mad if he really thought Uther was going to make peace with an unruly servant boy.
But after a while, Merlin slipped out from behind Arthur, and he came over, carefully as if he trod a dangerous road, and he knelt at Uther’s feet. He knelt, and then he bent all the way forward so that his forehead was on the stone floor. ‘I’m sorry for the trouble I’ve caused, your majesty,’ Merlin offered.
And, well, really it would be beneath a king to ignore such a plea. Uther said, ‘All right.’ And when Merlin straightened up to a kneeling position again, Uther placed a beneficent hand on that head of thick dark hair.
‘The thing I care about most in the world is looking after Arthur.’
‘Then all is well,’ Uther decreed.
‘Thank you, father.’
Merlin got up, and went back to stand beside his master.
‘Father, will you excuse us now, or would you like me to stay?’
Uther let out an ironic laugh. ‘I really don’t think I could cope with much more tonight.’
‘The key for the manacle is in the top drawer.’
‘Thank you, father.’ And Arthur and Merlin between them had Arthur freed and dressed again within a disappointingly short time.
Uther sighed. Within another moment he would be alone again.
But then Arthur came over, and leaned down, and pressed a full kiss to Uther’s mouth. ‘Until next time,’ he murmured, resting his forehead against Uther’s as if to indicate that they were of one mind.
‘Yes,’ Uther said in reply.
And then Arthur took Merlin’s hand in his own, and was leading him out the door. At the very last moment, Uther caught a glance from those strange blue eyes of Merlin’s. The boy looked almost intrigued.
Well, thought Uther. Yes. Perhaps next time…