Title: Merlin's place
Rating: PG (for now)
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin, George
Summary: A jealous Merlin makes a scene in the courtyard. Has Arthur given up on him, or is the King more perceptive than Merlin gives him credit for?
Word Count: 1497
Prompt: #92 Reconciliation
Author's Notes: So what happened was that I completely forgot that I had signed up this week, which means I ended up writing this half-blind with sleep at 01:30 in the morning.
There will be a second part to this story.
(I'm stuck on Frozen Stars. Working on it.)
In the fourth year of his reign, Arthur invites the rulers of the five kingdoms to Camelot to renew their alliance. Some kings have gone, others come to, and many things great and small have befallen Albion since the last time they gathered, so it is an important occasion.
Preparing to receive three Kings and a Queen is no simple job, and so June turns into an extremely busy month in Camelot. Especially for Merlin. Although Alined is no longer around, Merlin is constantly on guard for trouble, knowing as he does that Morgana is lurking somewhere out there in the wild, and that so much royalty gathered in one place makes for a rather irresistible target. And that's not even counting the internal power-struggles between the rulers themselves. With potential threats both outside and inside the castle, Merlin really ought to be glad that Arthur has brought George in to help Merlin with his chores.
But Merlin is not happy about having George back at all, and worst of all, he can't blame it on George. No, George is the perfect manservant, and just because he is a bit pompous and a little condescending does not mean Merlin can take his own feelings of jealousy out on him. So when Arthur slaps Merlin over the back of the head and tells him to at least try to emulate George, all Merlin can do is bury his hurt and nod, and bend down to pick up the armour he has dropped all over the floor. It doesn't help that he is practically asleep on his feet after being up all night keeping Arthur safe. But Arthur doesn't know that and can never know that.
It becomes too much for Merlin to hide three days into the royal visit.
Arthur sighs and rubs a hand over his eyes. "You had one simple task, Merlin! Just the one! Bring my gloves from my chambers, that was all I asked of you. George has prepared everything else to perfection, and you can't even get that right?"
They are in the courtyard, preparing to ride out on a hunt. King Olaf, King Ban and his son Bruin are already mounted with their retainers, and waiting impatiently for Arthur to join them. George is holding Arthur's horse. Merlin got distracted on his way to get the gloves and has no excuse for why he forgot them.
He keeps his eyes on Arthur's crossed arms, can't seem to look up. "I ... I just ..."
Arthur leans forward, trying to catch his eyes. "You just ... What? You didn't think it was important? You figured George would have brought an extra pair anyway?"
A subtle cough from George is all Merlin needs to hear to know that he has, damn him.
"I was on my way to get them," Merlin says quickly, the green-eyed monster coiling through his guts.
"Spare me," Arthur says, shaking his head and turning to take the reins from George, easily mounting his horse. "This past week has more than proven to me that you are not up to even simple tasks."
That is so unfair. It's so unfair that Merlin sees red. "Maybe if you weren't such a lazy ass, you could have gotten your own damn gloves for once!"
He knows he has gone too far immediately, and his stomach clenches, head spinning with regret.
Arthur is completely stone-faced, but his arm shoots out, a damning finger pointing towards the town square. "Stocks, Merlin. Now."
Merlin is shocked. He hasn't been to the stocks for ages. Not because he hasn't given Arthur reasons to send him there, but because Arthur has seemed to prefer to make his reprimands in private. Merlin had taken it as a sign of increased respect, had thought it meant that Arthur understood how Merlin feels, that the public punishment is no longer a mere nuisance, something to be laughed off, but a painful exposure of Merlin's incompetence. He was born to serve Arthur, and every spell in the stocks is a loud proclamation of his failure to do so.
The mounted Kings and their servants are watching, people gathered to see the party off are watching, and Merlin feels the indignity of it from the roots of his hair to the tips of his toes.
As Merlin hesitates, Arthur's eyebrows climb up on his forehead. "Are you deaf, you half-witted-"
Merlin goes before Arthur can finish the sentence. He hears laughter as he goes, and feels tears pricking in his eyes. He wishes fiercely that he could show them all what he can really do. Then Arthur would have to eat his words. Now George is riding out with Arthur instead of Merlin, while Merlin is facing a day of not dodging vegetables, and being laughed at behind his back.
He had forgotten how uncomfortable the stocks are; how the shackles irritate the sensitive skin of his wrists, and how quickly his back and legs begin to ache as he stands there, minute after crawling minute.
There are children with vegetables, and knights who wonder with amusement what Merlin has done to upset the King this time, and all the time Merlin thinks of George riding behind Arthur in Merlin's place. George probably never scares away the game, or fumbles with the crossbow, or stumbles over his own feet. No doubt they will all have a perfect day out and come back satisfied and singing.
The green-eyed monster grows and grows.
The sun begins to sink, and still Merlin has not been released. There came a guard by only a minute after Merlin was locked in, and he had said something to the stockmaster that Merlin had not caught, but the stockmaster is not sociable, and by now he has gone off somewhere, so Merlin can't ask him about it.
He is almost beginning to contemplate using magic to let himself out when a voice startles him.
"I suppose even you can't get this wrong, Merlin."
Merlin jerks in his bonds, a sound of distress escaping him before he can rein it in, but then Arthur's hand is warm on his neck, soothing him.
"Calm down. I'm here to set you free. I'm sorry it took so long."
There is a jingle of keys, and then the stocks are lifted off him, and Merlin stands up with a bitten-off groan, the ache in his limbs growing sharp as he moves. He keeps his eyes lowered: can't bear to look at Arthur at all. Arthur takes Merlin's chained wrists and unlocks the shackles. His hand lingers on the second wrist, thumb smoothing over the band of red, sore skin, but Merlin pulls away quickly and tugs his sleeves down.
Arthur sighs. "Come along, then."
Merlin startles and looks up despite himself. "To where?"
Arthur looks impossibly handsome; red-cheeked from a day of wind and sun, strong in his own authority. He smiles crookedly, teasingly, at Merlin. "Let's keep it simple for now, shall we? All you have to do is follow me until I stop."
Merlin's face heats up with shame and the old feeling of unfairness, and he ducks his head again.
Arthur steers them towards the castle. Merlin shuffles after him up the steps and through the corridors. He realises quickly that they are going towards the royal chambers, and he hopes fervently that George will not be there.
He wants to run ahead and hold the door open for Arthur, but he can't bear to draw attention to himself, would rather melt away into the shadows and disappear, and so he knots his fingers together and drags his feet over the doorstep after Arthur has opened the door himself.
The room is empty, but it is clear that George has been here. Candles have been lit though it is barely twilight, and the bed has been turned down. There is a large plate of food on the table, and a tub of steaming hot water by the hearth, strewn with flower petals. The food smells amazing, and Merlin stomach rumbles loudly, reminding him that it is several hours since he last ate.
Arthur does not seem to be in any hurry, discarding his jacket and undoing his belt without asking for Merlin's help. Merlin just wants to get out of here, so after a bit of moving from foot to foot, he finally asks. "Did you need me for anything, Sire?"
"Yes, Merlin. Don't worry; Gaius knows not to expect you."
That confuses Merlin. He looks at Arthur, trying to interpret his words, but Arthur seems calm and somehow self-satisfied, and is keeping his cards close to his chest, not even looking at Merlin as he unbuckles his boots and puts them aside.
"Then ... Then how may I serve you, Sire?"
Finally, Arthur looks at him, and it is a look full of warmth that makes Merlin's scalp tingle. It's a look that makes promises.
"Come here," Arthur says.