You are guided into the large tent. A curtain divides the space inside. You see him further in and you can't help but stare. He doesn't look straight at you. He is nearly bare. A cloth is wrapped around his waste. It is made with the finest fabric his village can produce. You imagine the cloth makers have been hard at work. You are stronger than him. It is easy to see. As you have been all along.
You have seen him once a year since you were old enough to ride a horse. First times while your father, the king, and his closest men were discussing with the Elders. You have seen him play with the children many times. Loudly, with big smiles on their faces. You do not play. You are a prince.
Talking to him has always been strange.
-I am a hunter, you boast, expecting him to be impressed like all others are.
-I know about herbs and plants, he replies while smiling, like it's just as useful.
-I am a fighter, I will be a knight, you say years later.
-I am a healer, I take care of people in need.
A headdress with antlers sits on top of his head. A wreathed crown hides how they are fastened and make them appear real. Where kings wear thick gold bands on their heads, around their neck and around their wrists and to show their wealth and superiority, he wears strands of oats weaved together. His emeralds and jewels are berries and herbs you cannot name. The hunter in you stirs. He looks like a meal.
The antlers are heavy on his head. You wonder if he has worn them before. His movements are steady, each one carried our with intent. The calf playing in the leaves have grown up.
You know what people expect will happen later. You have attended lectures of folklore and legends by the Druid elders. You have endured lectures about the human body by the court physician Gaius and read books from a very dark corner of Geoffrey's library. You have listened to tales told by tongues loosened by drink, of confessions and longings.
You are given a similar outfit as him. You feel exposed for a while as you shed your clothes in private, but are dressed by both women and men. You feel their eyes on you, appraising and approving of your body. You are spared from wearing the antlers. You are glad. You need no decorations to set you apart from the others. You hold yourself as proud as he did.
He looks at you from the other side of the blazing fire. His eyes grow gold as the elders chant and sing. He brings life to the words they say. The smoke bends and curls to obey him. Embers rise eagerly into the air to sparkle and die for him. The food is good and the drinks are spicy. You look at him, the Harvest king and the Druids' darling. Perhaps you will mount the horns on the wall of your castle chambers.
He is taller than you, you notice. The fire is lower and the people have left. The forest sings with distant voices. You feel a bit sorry for the man. A hunter should not walk away from an easy kill, but a knight shall act with honour.
He studies you as you do him. He still holds himself with pride. His steps are sure as he walks towards you. He dips his head slightly. It might have appeard submissant if not for the antlers aiming at you. He is a buck moving through the forest floor and you remember you are unarmed. He looks at you, curious and hungry. You realize now why he is wearing the antlers and why you do not. Your inner images changes, leaving you dizzy with want. A flush of shame wash over you as you think how they must have known all along. But you have been admired and envied today, and you have been for a long time.
-I am Arthur, you say. The need to impress is no longer important.
-I am Merlin, he says and he finally shows you the admiration you have craved for all these years.