Title: Flora for Fauna
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur, Gaius
Summary: “Once you’re old enough, which I suppose you must be even if you don’t act like it, you’re required to attend school. It’s the only way you can learn to be civilized. Clearly not a moment too soon, in your case.”
Warnings: Liberal maiming of folklore
Word Count: 999
Prompt: #205: First Day of School
“Merlin, get down from there at once!” Gaius bleated, hooves stamping a frustrated pattern into the dry dirt.
“You will, or your mother will hear about it!”
“I don’t care!” Merlin called back (though he certainly did), defiant in his upset. “I told her I didn’t even want to come here!”
“It doesn’t matter what you want,” the older boy standing next to Gaius drawled, his voice carrying up into the branches that cradled Merlin despite his disinterested tone. “Once you’re old enough, which I suppose you must be even if you don’t act like it, you’re required to attend school. It’s the only way you can learn to be civilized. Clearly not a moment too soon, in your case.”
“Arthur!” Gaius chastised, but Merlin’s indignant snort was louder.
“I’m the uncivilized one?”
“You are the one in the tree.”
“At least I don’t go around acting like I rule the forest!”
“That’s because you don’t rule the forest, idiot.”
"What, like you do?”
The look Arthur directed up at him made him feel like the idiot he’d been called, but he crashed on through his accusation.
“Even the Sidhe King himself has to be polite, that’s what my mum always said! And since you’re not him, you ‘specially shouldn’t be insulting folk!”
“I may not be the Sidhe King,” Arthur started, smug, but Gaius cut him off with an irritated huff.
“Indeed you aren't, so what’s this about insulting your classmates?”
“I didn’t insult anyone!” Arthur protested. “I just—”
“You said my horns could never be bigger than my ears!”
The scraggly eyebrow that Gaius raised at Arthur would, in the years that followed, become so familiar to Merlin that they’d cause nightmares at least once a fortnight. Arthur just stuck his chin out.
“I’ve never met a faun who was so sensitive about the relative size of his ears,” he defended, almost sounding sincere until he followed up with a mutter that was clearly meant for Merlin to hear: “Then again, I’ve never met a faun with ears that big and horns that small.”
“Arthur!” Gaius thundered, and that at least earned a sheepish flinch, even if Arthur still looked sullenly smug. The expression faded to dismay as Gaius lectured. “I told you last spring and the spring before that that I would not tolerate this sort of behaviour, but here it is, the first day after the vernal equinox, and you’re at it again!
“You’re a bully, Arthur Pendragon, and I’ve had quite enough of it. You’re going to go to the Peaceful Grotto—no, don’t give me that look, you are—and meditate on your actions and how to repay the debt of good faith you owe Merlin now. If you’re very lucky, the dryad might even reveal herself to offer advice.”
“I can’t owe him a faith debt, he’s not even part of the Court!” Arthur complained (really a whine, Merlin thought). “Plus, the dryad hates me, you know that. She’ll never help!”
“Then you’ll just have to come up with something on your own. Court or not, you’re bound to the codes of hospitality in the forest you seem to think you’re ready to rule. No more arguing, go!”
The boy (Prince of the Tuatha De Danann, Arthur Pendragon, heir to the enchanted Camelot Forest—Merlin should have known he wasn’t just a human child) grumbled and stormed away, kicking at moss and snapping twigs as he went. Merlin glared after him until a pointed throat clearing drew his attention back to Gaius and his terrible eyebrow.
“Your mother made a great sacrifice to get you enrolled here, Merlin. Don’t let it go to waste by getting in foolish arguments with the gentry. Now come down!”
Merlin clambered out of the tree, though he pouted the whole way. “I don’t know why she bothered,” he said bitterly. “They all hate me because I’m half human anyway.”
“Some of them might hold that against you,” Gaius agreed, his voice sad, “but your father was a great man and you have nothing to be ashamed of. And Arthur isn’t one of those who will. He’s a spoiled brat, but he’ll grow out of it and be a great leader... In time.”
Afternoon had just barely started fading into evening by the time Arthur returned. Gaius had spent the day discussing magical herbs and their more mundane medicinal properties, and the other students had spent the day excluding and whispering about Merlin.
The young prince caught Merlin as he was about to leave, blocking the path. He looked somehow taller, but his face held a new uncertainty to it.
Merlin was initially wary about the hand Arthur held behind himself, but forgot all about it when Arthur blurted, eyes focused on the distance past Merlin’s shoulder, “My mother was human.”
Merlin gaped at him.
“It’s not common knowledge, but it’s also not as much of a secret as my father would like. I’m only telling you because—well, you probably thought that’s why I was giving you a hard time. Which is clearly moronic. You just have ridiculous ears.”
“Is this... Are you trying to apologize? Because you’re awful at it.”
Scowling, Arthur thrust his hidden hand at Merlin. Merlin tentatively took the wreath, a beautifully woven ring of bluebells and purple hyacinth, crowned with a magnificent white orchid. The flowers were cool and vibrant under his fingertips, and he barely stopped himself from dropping it with a gasp.
“Are they... alive? How is that possible?”
Arthur gave him another withering look. “I’m the crown prince of the Camelot Sidhe, Merlin. If you’re going to be sticking around, you might as well stop acting like an idiot when I display the least bit of my majesty.”
Merlin laughed, settling the wreath over his brow. It fit perfectly. “You’re still a prat,” he told Arthur. “What makes you think I want to stick around?”
“Because,” Arthur said, slinging an arm around Merlin’s shoulders, “there’s just something about you, Merlin.”