Character/s: Merlin, Arthur, OFC
Summary: Merlin talks. A lot. Sometimes, Arthur listens.
Word Count: 1000w
Prompt: 320 Eavesdrop
Author's Notes: I ain't been dropping no eaves, sir, honest.
Arthur didn’t make a habit of listening at doors; he was the Crown Prince, and such behaviour was unbecoming in a man of royal birth, as his father had impressed upon him from a young age. As a boy, Arthur had chafed at Uther’s restrictive rules and insistence on keeping secrets ‘for his own good,’ and had occasionally been forced to acquire knowledge secondhand, hoarding whatever interesting morsels the courtiers let drop like a mouse scouting for cheese. These days, however, he had Merlin, who despite being an idiot and completely incompetent had ears large enough for the both of them when it came to castle gossip.
“…and then he said, she’s a sour-faced wench anyway, and I’ll not take her for less than twice the price,” Merlin quoted as he folded Arthur’s laundry in preparation for putting it away. He was so indignant about Sir Bleoberis’ comments that he had crushed one of Arthur’s shirts in both his fists without noticing. “Which I think was quite unfair of him, don’t you? Lady Elaine is quite polite, I’ve always thought, and she takes very good care of her servants.”
Arthur smothered a smile. Of course that would be Merlin’s criteria for finding someone attractive. And he wasn’t entirely wrong—Elaine was pretty, if a little too blonde and wispy for Arthur’s tastes, which tended to swing towards brunettes. One brunet in particular, not that Merlin had ever had any idea. He half listened as his manservant prattled on, repeating some story about Elaine’s handmaid, Anna, that he must have had from Guinevere, and tried to mentally work out just how much Lady Elaine’s dowry was likely to be. Her father, Lord Aethelfric, wasn’t the poorest of Camelot’s courtiers by any means, but an unmarried daughter could be a drain on anyone’s coffers if she remained at home long enough—and Lady Elaine was nearly nineteen.
“Lady Morgana said she found Lady Elaine crying about it in the solar the next day,” Merlin went on. “Of course, she thinks Lady Elaine is actually in love with someone else, but that her father won’t allow it, and that’s why he’s so desperate to marry her off…”
It was possible, of course—a woman of Lady Elaine’s standing seldom reached her age without having at least one suitor, never mind how pretty she was, and it would make sense for Aethelfric to want to see her safely married off if the man was someone unsuitable. He had noticed that Elaine looked even paler than usual of late, and that she had taken to drifting around the castle and sighing deeply, her blue gaze dreamy and more unfocused than ever. Morgana had taken him to task for startling her once, which Arthur thought was deeply unfair considering he hadn’t even noticed she was in the room.
On the other hand, it was like Morgana to infer a love affair where none existed, and Arthur knew for a fact that Lord Aethelfric doted on his only child; he would no doubt have been easy to talk around to her choice, even if the man in question were nothing but a peasant farmer. No, more likely it was a question of land—specifically, Aethelfric’s lands, which were located right on the border between Camelot and Escetir. Although prosperous enough in theory, the demesne was bedevilled by regular border raids and spent most of its considerable income on maintaining its defences. It was hardly an attractive seat for a young nobleman, especially with the threat of renewed hostilities imminent.
“Arthur.” It took a moment for Arthur to realise he was being addressed, and he glanced up from his papers to find Merlin glaring at him from across the room, his hands on his hips. “Have you heard a word I’ve said?”
“I’m sorry, were you talking?” Arthur opened his eyes wide, grinning when Merlin let out an indignant huff. “I thought you were still putting away my things. It’s a two minute job, you know, Merlin, but somehow you've managed to make it last half the afternoon.”
“I like to be thorough,” Merlin retorted, throwing a balled-up tunic at him. Arthur caught it effortlessly and shook it out—fortunately, it wasn’t one he would be needing later that day, but even so. Merlin was lucky Arthur liked him so much. Anyone else would have been flogged for mishandling his wardrobe so blatantly.
“You really are a hopeless servant,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s tragic, really.”
“So you’ve said.” Merlin stomped past, plucking the tunic from Arthur’s grasp and performing an odd little flicking motion with his hands that somehow smoothed all but the most stubborn of wrinkles from the shirt. He was also lucky that Arthur had so much practice in pretending to be oblivious. “But I happen to have other gifts. Such as intelligence. Compassion. Empathy.” He shot a look at Arthur over his shoulder. “All qualities you lack.”
Arthur rolled his eyes. “I’ll ask Lady Elaine to dance at the feast tonight, shall I,” he said, since it was about time someone did something about the situation, anyway. Lord Aethelfric was getting on in years, and regardless of what Morgana might believe, there was no way Elaine could run her father’s house alone. “Will that satisfy you?”
The expression of surprised pleasure on Merlin’s face nearly undid him, and he was forced to leave the room shortly afterwards, so as to keep from giving things away. He wasn’t sure whether Merlin understood the value of the information he let slip sometimes—what was to him a simple kindness was to Arthur a means of securing political alliances, and thus a wholly different thing—but he was certain that Merlin had no inkling of his own importance, or the lengths Arthur would go to sometimes just to make him smile.
Perhaps, one day, Arthur would tell him. For now, however, he had a lady to marry off, and it wouldn’t do to keep her waiting.