The rain, almost sleet, was still coming down late in the afternoon as Gaius stood just inside the castle looking out through the huge doors at the top of the steps leading to the courtyard. Waiting.
He'd been told by a knight who had ridden in ahead of the contingent that had been on patrol to ready himself to treat an injured man. The young knight had not said who, before he'd rushed off, in a hurry to have a hot meal and a hotter bath. At least the man had been able to tell Gaius that the injury did not appear to be life-threatening. All the same, the physician was anxious to know what he would be dealing with, especially since Merlin was among those on patrol, as was the Prince, as Arthur had wanted to personally see the state of the roads given the number of Yule travellers who would be using them this week.
Gaius did not have long to wait, for within moments of taking up his position he could see the men coming in through the gate. All but four of the riders peeled off from the main group, heading towards the stables to care for their horses, but the Prince and his manservant, along with Gwaine and Leon continued on towards the castle. Arthur was leading the group, and Gaius could see that Merlin and Gwaine, riding to either side of Sir Leon, were keeping a close eye on the blond knight who sat hunched over on his horse; obviously he was the injured man.
As they neared the castle, Gaius made his way down the steps to greet them. "So what seems to be the problem?" asked the physician.
"It's really nothing," answered Leon, before any of the others could say differently. "I was not paying attention, and I fell off of my horse when she jumped a fallen branch; a childish mistake. Hurt my arm a bit, but I'll live," he added in disgust.
Merlin frowned at the knight and dismounted to join Gaius. "There is quite a bit of localized swelling in both his wrist and his elbow, although nothing seems out of alignment. He also has what may be a fracture in one rib, nothing out of alignment there either, though," Merlin advised the physician, pausing to cough into his hand.
Gaius looked at his ward in concern for a moment, hoping Merlin was not becoming ill. He seemed a bit pale, though it was hard to tell through the grime from their ride. Unfortunately, the physician had no time to worry about the boy with an injured knight to tend to.
"I've splinted the arm as best I could, and bound his ribs," the young warlock said once he'd caught his breath. Turning to Leon he gave a glare and added, "But he also neglected to tell you that he landed hard enough to lose consciousness for at least two minutes. He says he was just winded, but I think he may have hit his head when he fell. There's a bump."
"Hmm," said Gaius thoughtfully, taking a look to confirm Merlin's findings before nodding to Gwaine and Arthur to help the man down from his horse. "Did you do anything for that?" the physician asked his ward.
Merlin nodded, "Well, his eyes seem to be reacting to the light properly – I stopped to check a few times on the way back, but he was mumbling a bit for a few minutes right after he woke. He wanted to keep on with the patrol, but Arthur actually listened to me this time, and cut it short. I just thought with the rain and cold and all, that he'd better come back straight away so you could take a look at him."
"That was wise, my boy," said Gaius approvingly. "You may have a concussion, Leon. Merlin was right to insist on returning. But let's get you to my chambers so I can take a closer look."
A short time later saw Leon sitting on the patient bed with his arm and ribs newly wrapped, and a bottle of pain relieving draft in his hands.
"Now I want you to take that, and then lie back and rest," said the physician. "You should sleep if you can, although I will be waking you each hour until I am satisfied that you've taken no ill effects from that hit to your head."
Leon sighed. "But Gaius, I know you've got many patients to see to, and you may need the patient bed for people who are more ill than I am. Could I not return to my own chambers?" he asked hopefully. "I would be more comfortable there."
Gaius hesitated for a moment, reluctant to let the knight out of his sight. But what Leon had said was true, not to mention that the infirmary was quite cold since Merlin had not had a chance to pick up any firewood for the last two days. "I will only permit it if you have someone that can look in on you, Leon. Head injuries are not to be taken lightly," said the physician finally.
"Merlin could do it," said Arthur looking over at his servant who was busy putting away the bandaging materials. "And with his medical training, he would be able to tell if there was anything to be concerned about."
Gaius nodded. It seemed like a good plan.
The Prince crossed his arms across his chest and studied his senior knight for a moment. "With you bound up like that, you are going to need some help with housework for a few days," he concluded. At Leon's scowl, Arthur smiled and raised his voice to address Merlin, who was just coming over to join them. "So, it's settled. In between your chores for me, you can look in on Sir Leon, and you can also bring his dinner and clean up his room if it needs it."
Merlin frowned for a moment. He wanted to help, but Arthur seemed to have forgotten that his servant had already taken on a lot of extra work. Besides his normal duties, all of the servants were busy preparing the castle for Yule and the visiting Lords who had arrived to join the festivities. Merlin also had to organize a special private feast that Arthur was holding for his Round Table.
The Prince seemed to remember at least some of that, for he added, "Oh, and since I know I've been keeping you busy, I'll understand if you are not able to bring my meals on time. You may bring them around once you've seen to Leon."
Merlin sighed. Arthur meant well, but permission to bring meals late would barely make a dent in the young servant being able to keep up with all of the extra work this time of year entailed. And if truth be told, Merlin was not feeling all that well. Besides the congestion that had taken hold in his chest while he'd been out on patrol, now his nose was beginning to run, and his head was starting to feel like balls of wool had been stuffed inside it.
He had hoped to tell Gaius about it, and maybe get some sympathy along with some sort of remedy to clear his cold; possibly even a command to go to his bed. But one look at the relief in the three men's faces at finding a solution to their problem, and he knew he couldn't let them down.
"Thank you, Sire. Of course I'd be happy to help," Merlin said with a smile. "If you'll just let me change out of my wet clothes, I'll bring Leon up to his chambers now, and get him settled."
Merlin was propped up against the wall by the Prince's door. He'd just finished depositing Leon's and Arthur's dinner dishes in the kitchen, and had carried back two buckets of hot water so he could start filling the Prince's bath. The task had seemed much more difficult than usual due to Merlin's cold. Actually, the warlock was beginning to wonder if it may be more serious than he'd originally thought, as his legs were aching as was his head. He wouldn't be surprised if he was starting to run a fever too, given how chilled and trembly he felt.
Well, there was no help for it tonight, there was just too much to do. Pushing himself away from the wall and taking a deep breath, then pausing to cough when his lungs rebelled at the intake of air, he picked up his bucket again with a sigh. With all of the visitors in the castle for Yule, there were no kitchen boys free to help him carry the bathwater, so he would need to do twice as many trips as usual.
At last the bath was full, and while Arthur was happily relaxing, Merlin did his usual picking up of the laundry, closing of the curtains and turning down of the bedsheets.
"So, how is Sir Leon?" Arthur asked, not even opening his eyes as he leaned back against the rim of his tub.
"He's doing well," came the answer. "Anxious to be up and out of his bed, though Gaius wants him to stay there until the morning. I think he will be fine, though I will go to check on him a few more times tonight."
"Well, that's a relief," murmured Arthur, the comfort of his bath bringing him close to sleep. "He had me worried when he ended up on the ground, out of his senses like that."
"Mmm," agreed Merlin, as he brought the Prince's towel over and hung it to warm near the fire. He was annoyed at himself for not having done so earlier, but it seemed there were just too many other things running through his mind and vying for attention. Once by the fire, Merlin paused for a moment, closing his eyes and letting the flames warm his aching body.
Unfortunately, he did not get very long to enjoy it.
"Gods I'm tired," groaned Arthur, drawing Merlin's attention to him as he started to stir. "I wish I could just stay in here and rest for a year, but there seem to be a million things to do to get everything ready for Yule."
"You can say that again," said Merlin, grabbing the Prince's towel and sighing with regret at having to leave his warm spot by the fire.
"I have a few reports to finish up before calling it a night," Arthur said, as he allowed himself to be dried off.
Merlin paused nervously, hoping that the Prince did not want his help. Usually the servant enjoyed the challenge of doing calculations and helping to assess what the results meant for the kingdom, but tonight his head was feeling so muzzy that he doubted the numbers would make any sense.
"And since I know you've got to go back and help out Leon, you don't need to wait here while I do it. I'll get myself to bed," Arthur finished, easing Merlin's fears.
"Thank you, Sire," said Merlin as he pulled his master's nightshirt over his head. He hoped that he may be able to get to his own bed early.
"But don't forget that I need my mail coat brought up here by first thing tomorrow morning," Arthur added. "I'm eating breakfast with the Lords from the Eastern border region to discuss repairing the damage caused by the wind storm there a month ago, and I find such discussions go more smoothly when I look like a prince."
Merlin's hopes for an early night were immediately dashed. The armour was filthy and pitted, having last been worn during a quarterstave demonstration on a muddy field two days earlier. Arthur no doubt assumed that he'd cleaned it already, but he had never had a chance to get to it. Well, there was no point in bemoaning that now, he'd simply have to do it once he'd seen to Leon, but it promised to be a LONG night.
"I'll bring it bright and early," Merlin promised. He did not notice Arthur's brief frown of concern at the lack of a witty comeback to his line about looking like a prince.
"See that you do, Merlin," said Arthur, "and … get some rest, you look about to fall over," the Prince added, trusting that an early night and a little bit of sleep would set his servant to rights.
Merlin's eyes widened in surprise that Arthur had noticed anything wrong. "I will," he said with a tired smile, and picking up the basket of dirty laundry, he took his leave.