Title: Curiouser and Curiouser
Character/s: Arthur, OFC, Merlin
Summary: Arthur investigates a magical brothel.
Word Count: ~1070
Prompt: #76 Nervous
Author's Notes: This is the beginning, or possibly an outtake, of what will be a longer story. I was just testing it out here because the prompt worked for the scenario.
Arthur glances up at the tavern sign: a blue rooster and “The Rooster’s Rest.” This is where he's supposed to turn. He squares his shoulders, pulls the hood of his blue cape over his face and slips down the alley. The narrow passageway smells of piss and cabbage; high walls on either side shroud it in darkness. His shoulders tense and he feels for the sword he left at home. He hopes this isn’t a fool’s errand, but he has to find out if the stories are true. So far everything is exactly as Gwaine told him. Sure enough, three doors down is a green door emblazoned with a strange, curling symbol, just as Gwaine had described. His heart kicks up a notch and he knocks on the door in the pattern Gwaine had demonstrated: short, long, long, short.
For a few nerve-wracking moments, there’s silence. Arthur’s about to knock again when the door is wrenched open and a wisened face peers out.
Arthur utters the password and the old woman lets him in. She’s wrapped in a moldering black cloak and her eyes are a strange piercing blue. As he steps inside, sweat breaks out on his forehead. Everything feels different. The air is redolent of herbs and incense and there’s almost a shimmer that he senses out of the corner of his eye but he can’t pin it down. The room is sparsely furnished, but rich, colourful fabrics are draped on the furniture and paintings of semi-clad men and women with odd masks and costumes adorn the walls. Candles alleviate the doom. The old woman stares at him for a moment and the back of his neck prickles.
“Hello, Prince Arthur. We’ve been expecting you.” Her voice creaks like the forest at night.
The bottom drops out of his stomach. “How do you know my name?”
She gestures to a sideboard. “Would you like some refreshment?” She pours him a goblet of purple wine. “Drink. It will relax you.”
Arthur swallows, his throat dry as dust. Perhaps this was a mistake. The room seems smaller, the walls closer.
Abruptly, the woman’s face creases into a smile, eyes crinkling at the corners. Arthur sees the nurse that cared for him as a small child. The memories soothe his tense muscles. He reaches for the goblet. “Maybe I will have that drink.”
“Sit for a moment, please.” She gestures to one of the two chairs arranged near the fireplace and sits in the other one.
Arthur sits on the edge of the chair and sniffs at the wine. It’s merely pleasantly fruity, so he takes a sip and it goes down like heated honey. Gwaine had warned him this wasn’t like a normal brothel. He gulps some more wine and tries to relax.
“So...ah…,” he says.
The woman, apparently the proprietress, stands up with far more agility than one would expect for someone of her age, and in an instant she hovers over Arthur and holds his hand in hers, examining his palm. Her skin feels waxy and strange and a strong scent rises from her, of a lake and wet moss, smoke and old leaves. He resists the temptation to snatch his hand away.
“Ah,” she says without elaboration. “I see.” She pins him with eyes that seem to flash with another colour, although it happens so quickly he can’t be sure. Part of him wants to bolt out of the chair and sprint back to the castle, but another part of him wants to know what goes on here, what she sees, if what Gwaine said is true or just another of his tall tales.
She drops his hand and says with finality, “It’s Merlin you’ll be wanting.” She turns on her heel and heads for a door that must lead further into the house.
Arthur hesitates. “Merlin? That’s an unusual name for a woman.”
The woman turns to look at him with a raised eyebrow. “Indeed. That’s because Merlin’s not a woman.”
“What?” For a second he can’t think what she could possibly mean. The surroundings make him feel off-kilter and confused. “But I came here for…”
“Oh, I know what you came here for. Probably better than you do.”
“What do you mean?”
“Come.” She waves him toward the door. “You’ll see.”
Arthur doesn’t move. Merlin. Not a woman. The words reverberate through him and his body stirs with a desire he didn’t even know he had. It’s disconcerting, yet intriguing. Why do her words have this effect on him? He must find out, even if it’s some kind of trap. He makes himself move towards the woman with a peculiar mix of dread and excitement, like the night before his first hunt. As she leads him through the door, he feels like he’s plunging headfirst down a waterfall.
“Here we are.” She opens the door to one of the inner rooms. He almost doesn’t dare look inside. He’s having trouble breathing. “Come on then, he’s waiting.”
Arthur steps inside, his heart doing a sprint around the room, and the old woman closes the door. A young man lounges on the bed. Arthur gets a swift impression of inky curls and slim, pallid langour, lavish lips and brazen cheekbones before alighting on the most amazing blue eyes he’s ever seen. They stare back at him unabashedly and the air vibrates like a bell.
“You must be Arthur,” Merlin says, not budging from his relaxed position.
“Prince Arthur,” Arthur says automatically. His skin feels tight and his pulse throbs. Has he seen Merlin before?
Merlin chuckles. “You’re just Arthur here.”
Normally Arthur would already have the man in a chokehold at such effrontery, but there’s something about Merlin, the certainty in the old woman’s words, the way Arthur can’t take his eyes off him, that holds him in place.
“And you’re Merlin.”
“I’m Merlin.” A cheeky grin. Merlin slowly sits up, eyes not moving from Arthur’s. He wears a long blue tunic that opens in the front and is closed with a sash. Just one flick of the wrist and the thing would come off. He sidles over to Arthur, still standing paralysed at the door. He moves like a dancer, almost gliding. Arthur’s breath quickens.
Merlin stops in front of him. A few dark chest hairs peek out of the low top of the tunic. “Prince Arthur of Camelot. I’ve been waiting a long time for you.”