It was May, the first of Arthur's reign, and world danced on the edge between spring and summer: the sunlight was bright and clear, and the colonnades remained cool even as the courtyards warmed under the kiss of the sun. Swallows, bringers of consolation, were darting around the stable eaves, and the air resounded with the sound of birdsong.
This dawn, Arthur had been watching from the top of the tallest tower of Camelot, as he often did, and had seen the land lie green and bright before him, the road west shining like a river between hedges white with blossom. From above, he could see where the maypole still stood in the town square, its many-coloured ribbons dancing in the breeze.
Now he sat in the hall to hear petitions, sunlight streaming through open windows to shine around his throne. It was a dull task, and once he would have complained about it, but he had long since learned to look beyond his own concerns (though both of those who had taught him that lesson were long lost to him, gone into the misty hills of the west, and living without complaint was easy when there was no one left with the courage to laugh at you).
The seat of the throne was hard, and he shifted as discreetly as he could whilst maintaining the appearance of interest in the meandering tale of a straying goat, an uprooted mangelwurzel patch and, through some twist he hadn't quite followed, newborn twins who hiccuped flowers every time they cried.
The banners which marked his father's victories, and more than a few of his own, stirred under the breath of the wind. Outside, he could hear an old horse neighing, made young again by the season.
A falcon flew through the open doors, blue-grey wings flashing between the pillars of the hall with a swift, impossible grace. It circled twice and then swooped down towards Arthur, its eyes bright and golden as the petitioners scattered.
Arthur was on his feet without thinking about it, throwing up his arm in welcome. The falcon alighted, claws barely piercing the folds of Arthur's sleeve, and turned its head to look at him.
Then it said, voice clear and silvery, with a hint of a hawk's cry, "I bring you greetings, Arthur, Once and Future King, from the Owl of Cwm Cowlwyd, the Eagle of Gwernabwy, and the Blackbird of Celli Gadaran, who are the elders of the world." Then it fluffed up its wings, looking ridiculously proud of itself for remembering all that, and added, "Is this the same jacket you were wearing when I left? Honestly, can you not afford a new one?"
"Well, I'm going to need a new one now you've shredded it, you idiot," Arthur retorted before he remembered where he was. His heart was clenching in his chest, though he could barely recognise the emotion surging through him.
A hastily smothered cough of amusement from one of the knights behind the throne recalled him to his place and he said, "Well, was there a message, beyond the greetings? Or shall I send you straight back with my reply?"
"Oh, just that they welcome you to the throne and hope you will continue to match the clarity of youth with the wisdom of age. And they don't want me back. I think they were getting a bit fed up with me, actually."
"I can't imagine why," Arthur said, turning the sudden surge of feeling into sarcasm. "Well, change back, then."
"Er," the falcon said, looking embarrassed.
Arthur lifted him closer and lowered his voice. "Look, now you've made your entrance, change back. So I can finally introduce my Court Sorcerer, I mean."
"Your what?" Merlin squeaked, flailing backwards with spread wings.
Arthur, with the benefit of years spent on falconry, tilted his arm to keep him balanced. "Months ago. Do keep up, Merlin."
"But I wasn't here!"
"Well, it wasn't as if I expected you to be any better at this job."
"What if I don't want-" Merlin started, and then faltered at Arthur's incredulous stare. "All right, fine, job offer accepted. Thank you so very much for the courtesy of, y'know, asking."
"Good," Arthur said, and he hadn't felt this sort of affectionate impatience in years. "Now change back, before everyone decides I'm the sort of the king who appoints his pets as councillors."
"Er," Merlin said. "About that."
"The transformation spell is - that is - I'm - er, I haven't figured out how to get my clothes back when I turn human again. Not yet."
It took a moment, and then a few more to imagine the chaos that would result from a bare and pale sorceror in the middle of the hall, but then Arthur hissed, "Merlin. Are you naked?"
There was another muffled cough from behind the throne, and Arthur took a moment to glare at the culprit. Ah, Gawain, unsurprisingly.
"Well, birds don't usually wear clothes, my lord," Merlin tried. "So, it isn't really as if I'm doing something completely inappropriate, at least not until-"
Another, rather hiccuping, noise from Gawain, and Arthur had had enough.
"Sir Gawain," he said icily. "Take over here, will you. I need to consult with my new advisor."
Gawain, at least, had the grace to obey an order promptly, but Arthur hadn't quite forgiven that second laugh, let alone the third. He waited until he had reached the door of the hall before turning back to add, "Oh, and, Gawain, I expect a full report on all cases. Do make sure to take notes."
"That wasn't very nice," Merlin said, swivelling his head to glare.
"I don't have to be nice to the knights."
"Still a prat, then."
"You still can't talk to me like that."
"Can, too. Prat."
A passing servant gave them a strange look and scurried onwards. Probably the sight of the king trading insults with talking falcon wasn't even the strangest thing she'd seen in the last few months. Magic seemed to oozing out of the woodwork these days.
"Given up?" Merlin asked.
"I'm not wasting my dignity on this," Arthur said. "Dizzard."
"Clotpole," Merlin crowed happily and pecked his ear.
Luckily, they were at Arthur's chambers by then, so he ignored that in favour of walking inside. Even as the door thudded shut behind him, he kept going, heading towards the window because he didn't know what else to do.
He wasn't ready for it when Merlin changed, the weight of the falcon falling off his arm in a sigh of golden light and rushing air. Arthur turned into the light, blinking as Merlin appeared.
He looked the same as ever, all stupid hair and ridiculous ears and a grin so wide it made Arthur want to laugh in response. Then he fell over his own feet, arms flapping, and knocked Arthur into the wall.
Arthur narrowly avoided hitting his head on the wall. He opened his mouth to complain, but Merlin was there, pressed warmly along his front, warm skin bare under Arthur's hands. Arthur pulled him even closer, turning his head to press his mouth against Merlin's.
Merlin made a startled sound into the kiss, but then his hands curled into Arthur's jacket and his mouth opened eagerly under Arthur's, and all Arthur could do was kiss him and kiss him and kiss him, with the sun-warmed stones of the wall at his back and the first light of summer washing over them.