Title: Game, set and match
Summary: Arthur was up to all kinds of challenges, even cooking
Word Count: 580
Author's Notes: None
It had to be a trick. Much as he'd deny it, it would seem that Merlin was adept at cooking, could gather those mangy weeds of his, and with some bits and bobs of meat, turn out a delicious stew that had Arthur sneaking back for more. In the wild no less. No rich foodstuffs from the storeroom, no collection of fine spices or exotic herbs bubbling away in the pot. Just green leaves Merlin had found lying in the dirt and if Arthur didn't know better, actual skill.
When he insulted Merlin about the food – and how could he not because to acknowledge competence would let the idiot know that they were friends and princes couldn't be friends with peasants, no matter how much he wanted it, said peasant had just laughed. Then Merlin proceeded to make snide remarks about belts and letting out seams and Arthur couldn't let him get away with it.
Of course, he couldn't. So Arthur said he'd cook next time.
That made the git laugh more. And after he'd cuffed Merlin about the head for the insult, he'd stomped away and planned his revenge. He'd learn to cook if it killed him.
It nearly did.
The first attempts were bitter beyond reckoning and even the latrine stunk for days afterwards. But little by little, he'd learned to make at least one stew that wouldn't have people running away from the stench.
So next time they'd gone hunting together and he'd offered to cook, Merlin just looked at him as if he'd grown two heads. "You don't have to prove anything, Arthur. Princes aren't expected to be perfect at everything, you know."
"Of course they are, Merlin." Rolling his eyes, Arthur shoved him away. "Go get firewood. We'll need more water and see if you can gather some mushrooms down by the river or wild onion, and I'll do the rest."
"Should I put everything in the pot, and stir it for you, too?"
"You think you are funny but you are not." He gave him another little shove, nodded toward the river. "Go on."
By the time Merlin came back, Arthur had the pot bubbling away and it smelled not bad. Even good, if truth be told.
But the best part wasn't when Merlin had taken a cautious bite and then dug in; it was the satiated smile on his face when the pot was empty and they both hadn't died from food poisoning.
"So prats are good for more than just whacking away at things with their swords." The grin on Merlin's face belied any hint of mockery. "Does this mean you are cooking from now on and letting your poor overworked servant have a much needed rest?"
Arthur raised his eyebrows in a manner worthy of Gaius. "Princes don't cook, Merlin."
"Was just a way of showing you that anyone can cook, even you." Arthur leaned back, resting against his bedroll. Knowing that he'd proved an important point, knowing that he'd had the last word – as he should. After all, he was the prince.
Merlin seemed to think about it a moment and then nodded. "Of course, Arthur. Stews are pretty easy to make. Anyone can cook those, after all." He sat down, stretched his legs out before him, stirring the fire a bit. "But herb-encrusted chicken, roasted potatoes and that berry pie I made last week?" He smiled over at Arthur, a challenge in his eyes. "That takes real skill."