Title: It's Harvest
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur, Hunith
Summary: Merlin is called back home to play a part in the harvest festival. Arthur goes with him.
Word Count: 987
Prompt: #260, Harvest Festival (Artist Appreciation)
Author's Notes: I just loved all the art this month!
“Arthur, I need some time off.”
The Prince looked up from where he sat at his desk, into Merlin’s earnest blue eyes. “And what, pray tell, do you need time off for?”
Merlin pulled his hands in from behind his back. One held a piece of parchment. “I’ve had a letter from my mum. Ealdor’s annual harvest festival is coming up and they’d like me to take part in it.”
“Even though you are here, in Camelot?”
“Well that’s just fantastic.”
Merlin frowned. “So are you allowing me to go, or . . .?”
Arthur stood and walked over to his servant. “Why, of course, Merlin. As long as I can come with you.”
“You want to come with me? Why?”
“I’ve never seen an actual harvest festival. All the festivals here are watered-down versions of themselves. Father will never let them be celebrated right.”
“Oh, I see.” Merlin’s frown cleared away. “Well all right then! I guess we just need to pack.”
“How long does this festival last?”
“Oh, three days. I hope you’ll find a good excuse for your father to let you go.”
“Hunting always works. Now, begin packing my things.”
As soon as Merlin had pack for both men and Arthur had made his excuse to his father, they met up with their horses in the courtyard. They mounted and were soon on their way. Shortly after they’d left the gates of Camelot behind, Arthur turned to Merlin. “Tell me all about this harvest festival.”
“The harvest festival is a time of year when we give thanks for what the earth has given us. It’s a time to look back on the year and make plans for the future. We rest and celebrate after the hard work of gathering the crops.”
“Okay, what kinds of things do you do to celebrate?”
“We make wine, sing, dance, and feast. Lots of feasting.”
Arthur grinned. “Now that’s something I can enjoy!”
For the rest of the day, Merlin explained all about the goddess and the horned god, and how the ritual went concerning them. By the time night fell, Arthur’s mind was abuzz with all sorts of ideas about what he’d be getting himself into.
In the morning, they set out for the half-day’s ride to Ealdor. Both Merlin and Arthur were lost in their own thoughts for most of the way. Merlin was reluctant to tell Arthur the part he’d be playing in the festival, fearing it would be too much like magic. He didn’t want to face Arthur’s disdain or worse. Arthur was curious about the part Merlin had been called home to play, but didn’t want to force the other man to tell him. Merlin seemed uncomfortable enough.
That night they enjoyed Hunith’s hospitality. She further explained what they’d be experiencing over the next few days. The next day the villager would begin the preparations and the ritual would be performed. Merlin seemed nervous about this part, so Arthur began to tease him about it.
“It’s not like you’ll have a major part in it or something,” Arthur joked.
That wiped the smile off of Merlin’s face. “Actually, I do.”
“What do you mean?”
Hunith stepped in. “Merlin will be playing the role of the horned god.”
“Whoa,” Arthur breathed.
“That will happen tomorrow night,” she said.
“So that’s something I’ll get to see right off.”
“That’s right,” Merlin replied.
“Well, we’d better get our rest then.”
“Good thinking, Arthur.” Merlin smirked. The three of them got ready for bed.
The next morning, they rose early to help with the preparations. All over the village, people decorated with leaves, berries, gourds and other vegetables. Arthur enjoyed making wine and even joined in some of the singing. Later in the evening, he helped set the table for the first feast. Merlin had already disappeared to get ready for the ritual. After a while, Arthur got curious and went to find him.
Inside an old tent, he found Hunith standing with a bowl of paint. “Shh,” she said, “You’re not supposed to be here.”
“Sorry,” Arthur whispered.
But Hunith didn’t show him out. Instead, she let him watch as Merlin was dressed. He was bare, save for cloth draped over his hips. Belts of berries and grass hung there. On his arms, more grass and leaves were wrapped. Around his neck was a rather intricate collar of leaves, wheat stalks and berries. And on his head, oh my. A crown of braided plants held up two antlers. Arthur had to stifle a giggle, but he was supposed to be the horned god, after all. He watched Hunith draw lines on Merlin’s face with the paint, then held his breath as everyone backed away. Merlin looked vastly different from the goofy servant he knew. He was ready to take part in an important ritual that Arthur would get to see.
Hunith led him out then, and they took seats at the massive table. Soon the girl representing the goddess came out of another tent. She spoke the time honored words of growth and change. Merlin came out a little later and spoke the words of the horned god to his mate, before he went off to die. It was quite beautiful, but sad. Arthur loved every minute of it.
At the end, the two representing the gods returned to their tents, presumably to change back into regular clothes. A few minutes later, Merlin came out and sat in the chair next to Arthur’s. “Good work,” Arthur whispered to him.
“Thank you,” Merlin whispered back.
At that point, the village elder said a few words about the ritual and the harvest, then declared the feast open. Everyone dug into the dishes and wine laid before them. Arthur felt himself being slowly stuffed. He turned to look at Merlin. He’d never seen his friend so happy and carefree as he was now.