Title: Changing of the Guard
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur,
Summary: Arthur has a new way to inspect the guards
Word Count: 1000
Author's Notes: Nothing like leaving it until last minute to see how far I can get. Thought it was about time I kicked the muse into action.
“You know this is a terrible idea, right?”
“Shut up, Merlin. It’s a brilliant idea.”
“Really?” Merlin jostled the helm in his hand, lifting his arm to glare at the red uniform draped over it. “How is this going to help you inspect the guards?”
Arthur snatched the helmet, a satisfied smirk on his face as he shoved it on his head.
“Simple. They won’t know it’s me.”
“I don’t get it.” Merlin dumped the uniforms on the bed. He did get it: the prince could see for himself how his men reacted when they didn’t know he was among them. If they knew they were being inspected, they’d do everything by the book regardless of their normal approach.
What Merlin didn’t understand was why he had to come along as well.
“You’re not supposed to get it,” Arthur said, “just get dressed. The watch changes in an hour and we need to be there.”
Nothing Merlin said changed Arthur’s mind.
Which was how, nearly an hour later, he found himself sweltering in a guard’s uniform, trailing behind Arthur as they made their way across the ramparts. They’d already witnessed two guards change shift and Merlin saw the smile on Arthur’s face. It had gone perfectly – and the guards had no idea they were being monitored by the prince himself.
They reached their designated spot.
“Halt.” A spear suddenly crossed their path. “State your business.”
“We’re here to relieve you,” Merlin said. He tried to make his voice deeper but had no idea if it worked. Arthur had declared Merlin should do the talking, adamant his men would know his voice. Merlin wasn’t sure: guards weren’t knights and they weren’t used to being addressed by the prince.
Merlin was impressed. He always thought the guards just sauntered up, switched positions and that was that. He didn’t realise they were prepared for enemies impersonating them. He wondered if they ever thought their own prince might impersonate them.
Arthur stood on his foot sharply. The guard was watching him, his grip tightening on his spear.
The man nodded, satisfied, gesturing to his partner. The man stepped forward and gave them a run down of everything that had happened for the past two hours: who had gone where, who stated business and who avoided eye-contact, who acted suspiciously and who already appeared to be drunk despite the time of day.
Arthur nodded seriously until the information had been given and the two men left. Then he lent against the wall, arms folded. He didn’t remove his helmet, but Merlin could sense his satisfaction.
“See,” he said, “they’re experts at their job.”
Merlin pulled at the neck of his tunic. “Now what do we do?”
“We stand guard for an hour, obviously,” Arthur said.
Merlin stared at him. “Just stand here? Watching the walkway?”
“Got something better to do?”
“But that’s…” He looked around. “Boring.”
“The defence of the kingdom is not boring, Merlin. Make sure you’re taking notes.”
“You saw how much information the guards retain. We’ll need to pass that on to our replacements.”
“Why can’t you do it?”
“I’m the prince.”
Merlin smirked, convinced the helmet was concealing his expression. “Not in that uniform, you’re not. Besides, the defence of the kingdom is your responsibility, not mine. You take notes.”
Arthur stiffened but a man with a cart came trundling through before he could retort and the prince stepped forward, barring his way as he demanded to know his business. The poor farmer looked flustered, his words tripping as he tried to explain he was going to the market. He didn’t look he was used to being challenged and they all heard his audible sigh of relief when Arthur let him pass.
“That was harsh.”
“You do the next one, then.”
As soon as the next cart came into view, Merlin stepped into its path. He’d show Arthur he could do this.
“State your business.”
“Are you blind?” the man scoffed. “What does it look like?”
His entire cart was filled with potatoes. Merlin tried to set his shoulders.
“You are going to the market?”
“To sell your produce?”
“No, to throw them at idiotic guards,” the man sneered. Arthur stiffened. No farmer would dare talk to a knight like that, but guards were held in different esteem. Merlin glanced at his master and stepped aside.
“On your way then.”
Arthur – thankfully – waited until the man was out of earshot before turning on his servant.
“Are you a complete idiot? You let him in when he was threatening violence against the guards?”
“Oh come on, you don’t think he meant it, did you?” Merlin understood the man’s tone all too well – nothing was more irritating than someone in a position of authority getting in the way when there were things to do.
Arthur, however, didn’t seem to share his opinion.
“It’s a guard’s duty to take every threat seriously.”
“You’re joking? The only person in danger is whoever is in the stocks.”
“Be thankful we’ve still got this watch to finish or it will be you!”
They were still arguing about it an hour later when they demanded the password from the new pair and stalked away, forgetting to give them a run-down of activity and heading straight into the castle rather than the barracks.
The new guards looked at each other.
“Think we got away with it?”
“Definitely,” his friend agreed. They shared satisfied grins, taking off their helmets and resting their spears against the wall as they made themselves comfortable, pulling out a pack of cards and only occasionally glancing into the crowd.
A couple of borrowed uniforms didn’t work to conceal their Crown Prince and his hapless servant. A message had been passed among the guards as soon as they realised Arthur’s intention, reminding them of the (never used) password for the day and what was expected of them.
They may not be the most observant guards, but they knew how to survive.