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Invitation to a Beheading

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"I'm going to have you beheaded," Arthur announced one morning, raising his chin and staring at Merlin down the tip of his nose. That was the way his father always looked at the people he wanted beheaded (even though he never ended up beheading them), so Arthur knew the pose had to be important.

"You can't do that!" Merlin protested with a whine.

"Of course I can, I'm the prince! It's one of the things you get to do when you're the prince."

"Nuh uh!" Merlin was so upset that he dropped the syrupy pancake he'd only half finished. It fell into the excess pooled on his plate, splattering his best red shirt with sticky drops, but he didn't notice.

"But what if you've done something very bad and you deserve it?"

"I haven't, though! And I still don't think you're allowed to."

"Merlin, are you the prince?" Arthur asked with what he considered to be much more patience than Merlin deserved.

"...No," Merlin admitted, slumping in his chair and frowning sadly at his breakfast.

"So do you think you know what princes can do better than I do?"

Merlin frowned harder at the table.

"Merlin."

Merlin pushed his lower lip up in a pout and refused to answer.

"Merrrrrrliiiiiiiin."

"No," Merlin mumbled to his chest.

"No, what?"

Merlin's head snapped up so he could glare at Arthur. "No, I don't know better, but I bet I know just as much as you!"

"I don't think so," Arthur scoffed. "I'm a whole year older than you."

"Only four months! I'll be eight in November. And we've been in the same class forever!"

"Yeah, but I get lessons on princely stuff from Father. So I know, and I'm telling you that I can have you beheaded if I want. I'm the prince and you're not allowed to argue!"

"That's not fair!" Merlin yelled, jumping out of his chair and turning his back on Arthur.

"Here now, what's all this fuss?" Summoned by her son's complaint, Hunith bustled into the small dining room with another pitcher of orange juice. There were no bits in it, even though Arthur liked the little floaty things, because Merlin thought it felt like bugs crawling in his mouth and Gaius had just given Arthur a lesson about selflessness. Arthur had made sure Merlin knew how nice he was being, pointing out several times that the juice wasn't as good without the juicy bits but that he didn't blame Merlin for being dumb.

"Arthur said he's going to have me beheaded, and he said I can't argue because he's the prince!" Merlin tattled. He spun around to make the appeal to his mum, and when he saw the full pitcher, he eagerly grabbed his glass and held it out for her. Hunith had to hold back a laugh at the endearing puppy dog eyes doing double duty: begging for juice and for vindication.

"Is that true, Your Highness?" she asked Arthur.

"Merlin says I can't behead him, even though he deserves it!"

"Well, what has he done to deserve it?"

"Treason!" Arthur announced gleefully.

"I didn't!" Merlin shouted at the same time as Hunith exclaimed, "Oh, my, that is serious! What did he do?"

"In school yesterday, he was supposed to be guarding our base in capture the flag, but he let Freya take the flag without even trying to stop her!"

"Is that true, Merlin?"

"I didn't want to tag a girl!"

"You didn't want to tag a girl who gave you biscuits at lunch!" Arthur accused. Hunith raised an eyebrow at her son, who flushed sheepishly. Nearly hopping with righteous excitement, Arthur asked, "So that's treason, right?"

"Yes," Hunith said slowly, which Merlin thought was terribly unfair since she was his mum, but then she added, "but must you have him beheaded for it? Just, he's my only dearest son, and I'd miss him very much."

Arthur thought very seriously about her request, but finally shook his head. "I'm very sorry, Mrs. Emrys," he told her, "but we cannot allow our emotions to subdirt the cause of justice."

"Is that something your father told you?" Hunith brushed her fingers through Arthur's fringe tenderly. She'd never imagined, so many years ago, that a position in the royal kitchen would lead to the future King of England being like a second son to her, but she wouldn't trade it for all the world. The boys were inseparable, even with their silly arguments and power struggles, and she loved them both so much.

The prince nodded solemnly. "I can let him spend the rest of the day saying goodbye to everyone, but he's going to have to be beheaded at sundown. Will you please bring him to the courtyard after dinner?"

"Of course, Sire," she told him with a quick curtesy. "If you're finished with breakfast, I'll take you and the condemned over to the library so you can do your homework."

Merlin also thought it was unfair that he had to do homework if he was just getting beheaded anyway, but a look from his mum convinced him that fairness had nothing to do with it.