Title: Early Frost
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur, Hunith
Summary: Arthur and Merlin make plans to assist Hunith.
Word Count: 1170 (sorry)
Author's Notes: Canon AU with Merlin as royal sorceror and established Arthur/Merlin. This fic takes place about ten years after Dulcinea, but it can be read on its own.
There was a chill in the air, although it was barely autumn, and Arthur missed Merlin, who had failed to appear for dinner yet again. It had been their custom for nearly ten years to share meals together privately whenever possible, feeding each other the tastiest morsels like a couple newly in love. But somehow, although Merlin's solo missions had stopped long ago, he still managed to get distracted with a new obligation at least once a week.
The tasks the people of Camelot gave Merlin were many and varied: the farrier needed Merlin's magic to soothe an elderly horse; the laundress couldn't get a wine stain out of a white tunic; one of the kennel master's favourite hounds had a thorn in its paw. None of these duties were befitting for a royal sorcerer, but Merlin's easy smiles and common origins made him approachable to everyone. Arthur couldn't complain; Merlin served him and Camelot with great honour. Arthur did miss him, though.
Tonight, Arthur was studying a book at his desk, but the words were beginning to swim in front of his eyes. As he considered the sad prospect of falling asleep in a cold and empty bed, he heard the door open.
"Ah, there you are," Arthur said. He tapped a finger on the page in front of him. "This passage dealing with the sharing of magical information is rather confusing, and I was hoping you could help me make sense of it before tomorrow. Sit down."
Merlin cleared his throat and remained standing. "I've come to ask if you'll accompany me away from Camelot in the morning."
Arthur scoffed and continued looking at the book. "As you well know, Mercia's diplomatic delegation is about to arrive. Our absence would be the gravest insult, in this time of peace."
That was a slight exaggeration, but sometimes, keeping Merlin at his official duties felt as impossible to Arthur as using his bare hands to grab a tiny fish from a rushing stream, over and over again. Not even the many years of stability Camelot had enjoyed had completely settled Merlin. Arthur certainly shared his inclination to help, but at the moment, they really couldn't wander off on an adventure.
"I'm sorry, but perhaps the meeting can be rescheduled," Merlin said. "It's my mother."
Arthur gasped at that, finally looking up. When Arthur saw Merlin's ashen face and worry-creased brow, fear clutched at his heart. Merlin had always been close to his mother. Arthur was very fond of the kind woman himself, and he would be forever grateful to her for having gifted the world with her son.
Arthur swallowed. "Is she unwell?" he asked. Perhaps Merlin wanted to use his magic to heal her of an illness. If that were the case, they would go together; if Merlin couldn't spare his magic for animal transformation, they would travel on Arthur's swiftest steeds.
"She's fine, for now, but she needs me," Merlin said, his voice trembling. He handed a letter to Arthur.
My dearest son,
I hesitate to interfere with your duties to Camelot by requesting aid, but the situation is dire. The village elders believe there will be an early frost in Ealdor this year. I can feel it in my bones, too—a certain ache that only befalls me when the winter winds begin to blow. We have very few villagers who are young and strong enough to harvest crops with haste. I know that the king is a fair master, and that there is a deep friendship between you. Please ask him if you may have a week's leave in order to assist us.
Your loving mother,
Merlin was wringing his hands and biting his wobbling lower lip, trying not to cry. The sight overwhelmed Arthur with the desire to protect him and all he held dear; fortunately, Ealdor's problem was one that Arthur could solve easily. He swiftly stood up and pulled Merlin into his arms.
"Hush, it's alright," he said. He didn't comment when Merlin let out a sob against his shoulder, just patted him gently. "We can fix this. We'll ride out at dawn."
"Thank you, Arthur," Merlin said, holding Arthur tight. "Are you sure we can miss the meeting?"
"Of course. You were right. It can be rescheduled," Arthur said. "We'll take some of the royal household's private grain stores for the village, as well as enough young hands to bring in their harvest."
Merlin's bony chin dug into Arthur's shoulder as he nodded, but Arthur didn't mind.
"I wonder, though...." Arthur began.
Merlin pulled away and wiped at his eyes. "What is it?"
"Perhaps your mother could be convinced to return with us to Camelot. Now that Gaius has nearly retired and your own duties have expanded so greatly, you could use someone to assist you. Your mother knows herb lore, does she not?"
Merlin smiled ruefully. "Yes, she's very knowledgeable. I've offered to rent her a place in the Lower City, but she's rather stubborn, I fear. Perhaps she might listen to the king, though," he said.
"Stubbornness is a bit of a family trait, isn't it? And my orders have never changed your mind," Arthur said, ignoring Merlin's unimpressed expression of raised eyebrows and pursed lips. "No, I'm not going to order her as the king. But I can suggest it, as the man who loves her son. Her safety is important to me, too."
"Thank you," Merlin said again, his voice thick with emotion.
Arthur pressed a kiss to his cheek, then moved to the other side of the room in order to get ready for bed. He preferred it when Merlin took the time to undress him, but they had different priorities tonight.
"Your dinner is cold, but it's still there." Arthur nodded at the table. "Eat it, will you? I dread to imagine the looks Hunith will give me when she sees how skinny you are."
"She knows you feed me well, don't worry about that," Merlin said, with a small laugh. But when Arthur had finished changing into his nightshirt, he was glad to notice that Merlin had started on his stew.
"When you're done, come keep me warm," Arthur said. "Early start tomorrow."
He lay on their bed, listening to the quiet sounds of Merlin's cutlery against the plates. He thought about the extra fur-lined cloak he'd had commissioned for himself last winter and wondered if it would be too large on Hunith's tiny frame. Probably so, and anyway, she was very likely to object to wearing such an ostentatious garment, just as her son always did.
Whether she agreed to come back to Camelot with them right now or not, he vowed to have a seamstress make her an entirely new winter wardrobe of simple, warm clothing, things that wouldn't set her apart from her neighbours. Yes. He would do this without consulting either Hunith or Merlin; he knew they would both protest, but sometimes a king had to act alone.