Title:It Gets Better
Character/s:Merlin, Arthur, Gaius, Uther, Esmerelde (original)
Summary:Arthur...then and now...watching through his window.
Prompt: Child, Window, Spring
Author's Notes: Thanks to Devon for the last minute beta!
A golden-haired child stood at the window, his chin propped up on the high ledge. He no longer had the need to drag his footstool over to the window to look out. Now that he was seven years old, Arthur’s day was packed with lessons to help him master the skills required of a prince of Camelot: fencing, riding, reading and writing. He was often quite busy, but still terribly lonely. This brief hour before dinner was one of the few hours he was left to his own devices. And it was at this time that he often stood at the window, watching and waiting.
Through his sixth year Arthur’s care had largely been left to his nanny. In the last year or two he had had more and more freedom and frequently ran in and out of the physician’s quarters. Gaius loved him like a grandfather, bandaged his scraped knees, and always had a sweetmeat or interesting bauble for him. Arthur thrived on the fatherly affection and advice that his own father was much too busy to provide him.
After Gaius had patched Arthur back up he’d be off again, running around with the children of the cooks and shopkeepers. His father paid little note to his daily activities and had been raised in a similar manner himself. As the young prince grew into power, the fond memories and affections of his people would be an asset to him.
Uther was a hard man. Toughened at a young age, he knew no other way to raise his son. So, as so often happens, he passed on his own suppressed pain to his son. On the day of his seventh birthday, Arthur awoke happy and excited. He ran to his nanny’s room, but she was not there, nor were her belongings. A strange man was supervising the servants as they moved new items into the room.
“Who are you and where is Esmerelde?” demanded Arthur, hands on his hips.
The man bowed to him. “Your Highness, I do not know of Esmerelde or where she has gone, but I am to be your tutor.”
Arthur ran down the hall to his father’s chambers, pushed past the guards who didn’t dare to stop him, and burst in.
“ARTHUR!” his father bellowed. “What is the meaning of this?”
“Father, where is Esmerelde? Some strange man is in her room. Where is she? Did she die?”
“No, Arthur, Esmerelde has been reassigned. She will no longer be your nanny. Tonight there will be a feast in honor of your seventh birthday. You are too old for a nanny now. Instead you will have a tutor who will teach you all the things a young prince needs to learn.”
“I don’t want a tutor. I want my nanny.”
Uther was not heartless, but Arthur’s birthday was a very difficult day for him, and emotional sensitivity was not his strong suit, to say the least. “Arthur, you are being childish. It is time to put away these childish things. You will be spending your days with your tutor. He will instruct you in reading and writing and arrange your lessons in fencing, riding and other skills necessary for your station. After your daily lessons you will be expected to clean up, dress for dinner, and attend the evening meal with me in the main hall. You begin today.”
“But father, when will I see my friends? It’s my birthday. I was going to go with Spencer and Wulf to see the newborn spring bunnies.”
Uther shook his head, not a little sad. “I’m sorry, Arthur. There will be no more of that. You are a prince, and will one day be king. You will have subjects, not friends. It is no longer seemly for you to run around like a street urchin with those who you are to rule over.”
Arthur stood frozen and then dashed from the room to hide his tears from his father. He ran to Gaius, who comforted him, and gave him a special gift for his birthday. “Be strong, my prince. I promise it will be better one day. Esmerelde is going to take care of Leon’s baby sister now...and I know she will come and see you whenever she can.”
Arthur started crying once more, but he fought mightily to control it. “He said I can’t see my friends anymore.”
Gaius sighed heavily. “I’m so sorry, Arthur. I’m sure you will see them now and then. When I can I’ll send Wulf or Spencer to deliver messages to you. I know how hard this will be for you, but I promise, as you get older you will have more freedom and it will get better, my child...it will get better.”
There was a knock at the door, and Gaius opened it to find Esmerelde holding a package wrapped in bright cloth. When she saw Arthur she shoved the bundle into Gaius’ arms and ran to embrace the prince. Arthur snuggled close to the only mother he’d ever known, and they both cried. Finally, Esmerelde pulled away, dried her own eyes and then Arthur’s, and said, “There now. I’m sure that was quite a shock for you this morning. I would never have left without telling you, but you were already asleep when they told me. We’ll have no more crying on your birthday! I’m sure your tutor will be quite nice, and you’ll be learning all kinds of interesting things. C’mon over here, my boy...I have a something special for your birthday! Promise me you’ll try to have a good day and give your new tutor a chance...and I’ll come visit you whenever I can.”
She chucked Arthur under the chin, gave him one more brisk hug, and looked him right in the eye.
“You promise?” sniffled Arthur.
“Ok,” he said, “I’ll try.”
“That’s my good boy, Arthur. I’m so proud of you.” Esmerelde took the bundle from Gaius and put it into Arthur’s arms. "Tonight, before you go to bed, you can open this up, and remember that I’ll be thinking of you. Every morning and every night...and plenty of times in between...you’ll always be in my thoughts….Now go on. You’d best get to that tutor.”
Arthur took his parcels in his arms and stood as tall as his seven years would allow. “Thank you, Gaius. Thank you, Esmerelde. I shall return to my chambers now.”
Arthur returned to his room, and had barely dumped the gifts onto his bed when the tutor appeared and took him to what would now be the schoolroom. After some long boring hours Arthur at least got to have a fencing lesson. That was actually much more boring than he’d expected too. And the worst part was that when he was outside for the lesson he saw his friends watching from a distance and he could do nothing but wave at them surreptitiously.
A golden-haired man stands at the window, leaning his elbows on the ledge. For a moment he is overcome by memories...day after day watching from the window hoping for a glimpse of his friends. He remembers the moments of pleasure when Spencer or Wulf would caper below his window to make him laugh, or how delighted they’d be when he’d toss them a treat or make ridiculous faces at them from above, and how sad he was when they too were required to grow up, and take on responsibilities, and were no longer free to play below his window.
When the dinner bell chimes, he shakes his head to clear it, and peers out from his window, expectant and eager. Sure enough, the oaf is never late for a meal. Long-limbed and jaunty, Merlin is crossing the courtyard. He glances up at Arthur’s window, and grins widely when he sees his king, his love.
Arthur’s face nearly splits, his grin is so huge...but he quickly schools his features into a stern look and yells down, “Hurry it up you dolt, you’re late for dinner again!”
Now nearly directly below Arthur’s window, Merlin just smiles up at him. “I’ll be right up, my lord. Shall we dine in your rooms tonight?”
“Can’t!” huffed Arthur, “We have visitors. Do hurry up and change into your official robes! I can’t have my Court Sorcerer and consort seen in the grass-stained garments of an herb-picker.”
Arthur turned away from the window, and his stern demeanor vanished as the smile he’d been fighting won out once again. He remembered once again Gaius’ words of comfort from long ago. Arthur had held those words tight to his heart in times of darkness: “It will get better, my child...It will get better.”
Arthur raced out the door to get to Merlin’s chambers before Merlin made it up the stairs. They were already late for dinner...another little while wouldn’t make that much difference. And their visitors weren’t really all that important anyway. They could wait just a little while longer.