Merlin loved the market from the first time his mother had brought him there. The bright colors, the loud noise, and last but not least, the people. Merlin loved the people most of all. When he was younger, he used the time to play with Gwen, her brother Elyan, Percival, and Gwaine. Now that they were grown up, Gwen had become one of his best customers and Elyan ran his favorite seafood stall. Percival had taken over his uncle’s vegetable stall a few years ago, and Gwaine ran a small but very, very good liquor store on the edge of the market. Merlin made sure that he visited with all three men whenever he went to the market.
Merlin wasn’t feeling very cheery today. He had been sad ever since he broke the news about Ealdor closing to Gwen, Lance, Will, and Freya. Now he was going to have to tell three more of his friends. It was going to break his heart.
Merlin wanted to stop at Percival’s stall first. Percival was always so kind and gentle that Merlin knew he would feel terribly but try to spin it in a positive light for his friend. And right now Merlin needed something positive. But Percival was busy dealing with a group of men in kitchen whites whose leader appeared to be wearing a suit and tie. Kitchen whites had been seen around the market before, so the main group didn’t stand out from the crowd. However, no one ever dressed up to come there. It was unpractical: the man was bound to get dirt or fish goop all over his clean lines. Still Merlin had to admit that the man was good-looking, with blond hair slightly disrupted and blue eyes that seemed to pierce through him.
Merlin was still looking at him when he walked over to Elyan’s stall.
“Ah, Merlin,” Elyan said, “I see that you’ve spotted the latest addition to Albion’s nightlife: the manager and kitchen crew of Camelot . “
“ Camelot?” Merlin asked, “How come I haven’t heard about them before?”
“Well, I heard that the owner is Uther Pendragon, and he doesn’t want people to know that he is starting up yet another restaurant, so he’s letting his son Arthur run this one,” Elyan said, his voice starting to sound like an old woman gossiping across the fence.
“Whose Uther Pendragon? Should I know him?” Merlin said.
Elyan shook his head and began to arrange the ice around his fish. “I swear Merlin, for someone who has been working in a restaurant for his entire life, you sure can be dense sometimes. Uther Pendragon only owns Avalon and the Castle , two of the most expensive and high-class establishments around.”
“Oh,” said Merlin, “My biggest competitio0n.”
“Unfortunately, yes,” Elyan said.
“That’s okay. I’m not going to be competition much longer,” Merlin said.
“What do you mean?”
“The landlord raised our rent again. We can’t afford it this time. Ealdor is closing its doors for good at the end of the month,” Merlin said.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Elyan said.
“It’s okay. I can’t cook like my mother. I just don’t have the touch. I’ll find some place where I can be a line cook or something,” Merlin said.
“Well, until then, I’ll make sure you have the best of my fish. At least you can go out with a bang,” Elyan said.
Merlin smiled. “I would like that. What’s good today?”
“I would recommend the tilapia,” Elyan said, sweeping his arm over it as if he were presenting it on a game show.
“Great, then I’ll take it all,” came a posh voice from beside Merlin.
He turned and looked at the person next to him. It was the man in the suit, Arthur Pendragon. Up close, he looked even better. Merlin could tell, in as much detail as he could get from someone wearing their clothes, that he was very fit. His front teeth were even a little crooked, which actually enhanced his good looks instead of ruining them.
Still, he was being rude.
“I was actually offering the fish to Merlin,” Elyan said.
“But I am offering to take the entire lot off of your hands, “ Arthur looked over at Merlin. His eyes raked him up and down. “I can’t imagine this fellow would be willing to buy that much fish from you.”
Merlin felt his cheeks heat up. He knew that he looked scruffy, with his torn jeans, blue t-shirt, and red scarf around his neck, but he was far from the most tattered person there.
“Just because I choose to not wear a suit to the market doesn’t mean I can’t afford to buy a lot of fish,” Merlin said.
“Then I’ll pay you double, Arthur said.
“What?” asked Elyan.
“I’ll pay twice as much as you are charging for them. You can’t say no to a profit like that.”
Elyan turned and looked at Merlin, pleading with his eyes to give him the okay to do this. Merlin sighed and nodded at him. He couldn’t let his friend say no to that much money, especially as Elyan never posted the price and could charge however much he wanted.
Elyan turned and named a number at the man. He didn’t even hesitate to reach into his pocket and pull out a stack of bills. He counted them neatly off and handed them to Elyan. As he gestured to the group of chefs, Elyan turned and smiled at Merlin.
“Thanks for being such a good sport about that. And to thank you, I have something special for you,” Elyan said. He turned around and began to dig underneath the table.
Merlin silently groaned. Elyan’s version of something special usually meant a lot of work for Merlin.
“Here we are,” Elyan said as he brought up a basket, “I got these crabs for a really good deal from this new fisherman down at the harbor. I’ll give them to you for next to nothing.”
They bargained a bit before settling on a price. As Merlin handed over a messy wad of cash to Elyan, Arthur, apparently done with making sure others carried the fish, finally noticed what was happening beside him.
“Crabs? You’re going to sell him crabs?” he said incredulously.
“Yes, he’s selling me crabs. What of it?” Merlin said as he grabbed the basket. It was heavy and would probably be horrible on the way home, but it was something new for him to cook.
“What can you make with crabs?”
“I will make…” Merlin quickly glanced around the market. He spotted the street performer dressed as an old time sailor and sudden had a bit of inspiration, “I am going to make Crab Napoleon,” he said.
Arthur snorted. “I’m sure it will be delicious.”
“It will be the best Crab Napoleon ever,” Merlin said, “It’s going to draw crowds to Ealdor.”
“What’s Ealdor ?”
“My restaurant, not that someone whose father owns both Avalon and the Castle would know of a such a small, hole-in-the-wall place,” Merlin said.
Arthur’s face turned red. “Sometime soon I will stop in there and try your Crab Napoleon, Merlin,” Arthur said.
“You should do that. It will knock your socks off,” Merlin said.
“I will,” Arthur said. He smirked as he walked away.
“Why did you say that? You can’t cook, Merlin, and you challenged the son of the biggest restaurant owner around to come taste your cooking?” Elyan said.
“I don’t know. He was just so infuriating and snobby,” Merlin said.
“Well then, you better learn how to make Crab Napoleon,” Elyan said.
“Yeah, I guess I better,” Merlin said. He had a feeling that his day was just going to get longer and longer.