Fic: Pear-shaped in Camelot

Things went pear-shaped when Arthur was in the bath one day.

It was dark outside, the coloured casement windows of Arthur’s chambers were twinkling in the candlelight, and Merlin had diligently drawn him this wonderful, wastefully enormous bath, picked up all the dirty clothes that he had outrageously thrown everywhere, and put a warm brick in his velvet-covered bed, even.  All in all, Arthur had everything in the world, as far as Merlin was concerned, that would delight any reasonable person.

Arthur also had mud, stinking rotten-leaf mud, sodden in the back of his hair, all down his neck and back.  He was twisting jerkily this way and that to get at it, swearing.

One particular reeking, soupy brown leaf, he reached over his left shoulder to swat at, but only managed to flip it onto the back of his right shoulder instead.

It was like he was being tormented by gnats, only they were very large as far as gnats go, very limp, and stuck to him.

Merlin was a helpful sort, and had started to offer coaching.  “It’s over there!  No, over there!  No, now you just pushed it along!”

Finally Arthur said, “Would you bloody well help?”

“You want me to bathe you?” Merlin spluttered.  “This isn’t… Ancient Greece! “

“Why not?” Arthur said, with some passion.  “It’s your fault!”

“I don’t see..!”

“Merlin, I know with your sheltered upbringing, you’ve never seen anyone with no clothes on before, but I can assure you it’s not dangerous.  Nudity is not contagious.”

“I didn’t…!” Merlin said.  And also, “How…!”

But that wasn’t where the story started.

*

The story started in the woods, which, when you thought about it, was where a lot of stories started that then went on to end badly for perfectly decent and nice people.

There was a boar.

Why was there always a boar?  Gosh, it’s dull to be the flower of the land’s knighthood – let’s get ourselves gored by a honking great pig with a tusk.

Anyway, it wasn’t Merlin’s fault he held his spear like an egg whisk.  And Arthur continuing to tell him about it in that tone didn’t help.  He wasn’t the sort of nutter who did things like this, he had never been, and it wasn’t like it was something you could just become because someone (Arthur) kept shouting at you.

The boar charged.

That’s what boars did!  And yet, somehow everyone was always surprised.

A lovely spring day in the dappled woods, sweet-smelling, everything spangled with little coins of filtered light.  They were all going to die.

It was hardly Merlin’s fault that Arthur was dodging around like a lunatic and totally forgot Merlin was there.  That he wilfully ran into Merlin and fell down, and made Merlin fall down as well.  And that Arthur fell down in a wet soup of rotten leaves in a dip in the ground, whereas Merlin had the good sense to fall down just a bit further uphill, where it was much drier.

And if the boar was almost on them, and Arthur grabbed Merlin’s spear and braced it into the ground, and the boar spitted itself spectacularly on the spear and absolutely exploded its arterial fount all over him – how was that Merlin’s fault?

Let us remember that it was Merlin who was about to die there – not just Arthur, who was clearly begging for a ridiculous death at the tusk of a crazed beast – but Merlin, who was entirely blameless.

*

But actually the story didn’t start in the woods either.

The story started when Merlin arrived in a strange new city called Camelot, and ran into some ridiculous prat in the street.  And Merlin took rightful and righteous issue with that prat.  And extremely regrettably that prat trounced Merlin and put him in the stocks for the first of what would be approximately two hundred and forty seven times, and by the way, if evidence were required that malevolent sorcery really was at work behind Camelot’s walls, the ageless, tireless children who kept coming back to pelt him over and over again – were it.

Then there was this dragon that kept waking him up in the night, till Merlin went to see him, and the dragon told him it was his destiny to protect the prat.

And then Merlin did not say, “You bloody what?”

Or actually he did say something like that.  But clearly, he did not say it with sufficient vigour, did he?

He did not say it with sufficient vigour that the dragon was inspired to go back to his notes (scratched in the cave wall with a claw), and then say, “Oh, Merlin.  I thought you said Melvin.”

With that failure, the story started.

*

Now Arthur was in the bath, and trying to get leaf-litter soup off himself.

“Because, Merlin,” he was saying, “if you hadn’t been a complete and utter idiot in every possible way…”

“Me!  Let me remind you that it was my spear…!”

“Oh, it was your spear that just magically aimed itself, thus saving both of us from a horrible death, was it?  Whereas I got hurt and dirty just rolling around on the ground for the sake of it.  Is that it?”

“You’ve obviously had a big day, and you’re getting a bit hysterical,” Merlin said.  “Just calm down.”

Arthur heaved a great and extremely put-upon sigh.  “Merlin, would you just help?  My shoulder’s hurt, I can’t reach.”

“Oh alright,” Merlin said.  “For heaven’s sake.”

He pulled up a stool and rolled up his sleeves.

He started by peeling all the leaves off Arthur’s back, and putting them on the side of the tub.  Then he fished all the floating ones out of the water.  “Give me the cloth,” he said.  “Lean forward.”

“I’m all sticky right down…”

“Yes, I can see.”

The mud had a particularly disagreeable consistency, that wouldn’t rinse off without a good wipe-over.

Merlin had to get Arthur to scrunch down up to his chin in water so he could scrub it out of the back of his hair.

Then he had to go up and down and all over Arthur’s back, and even around his side and onto his stomach a bit, where he hadn’t done it himself properly earlier.

There was a section of his spine where Merlin had to wash out the valley between every little bump one by one.

Arthur did as he was told, and let Merlin move his body around as he liked.  Had he just said “Mmm”?  Clearly he’d been ensorcelled, and his soul was trapped in a bottle somewhere.

Merlin had never touched anyone with so many muscles before.  It felt nicer than he’d thought it would.  There were these two big long planes up his back, especially, that were quite lovely to stroke.

“Oh!” Arthur said.  “Rub me there, will you?”

Merlin experimented a little.

“Yes, there!” Arthur said.

So then Merlin wasn’t washing Arthur anymore, he was rubbing his back.

It was almost ridiculous how much Arthur’s body was made exactly like a man’s body was supposed to be made.  How he was so big at the shoulder, but narrow and neat at the hip.  And how he was all hard and soft all over at the same time.  How did his skin get so nice?  He probably had slave girls anoint him with butter when Merlin wasn’t looking.

Merlin was struggling to get any quality annoyance up.  Arthur wasn’t so much being nice, as being quiet, which was actually better than nice.

Apparently Merlin was quite good at this.

“Mmm, harder,” Arthur was saying, in something rather like a groan.

Merlin went harder, but Arthur kept saying, “Harder!”   His voice was muffled – he’d dropped his face onto his raised knees.

“You do whine,” Merlin said.

“Shush, please, won’t you go harder?”

“I can’t, the angle’s wrong,” Merlin said.

“Get in with me, then,” Arthur said.  “That’ll be better, won’t it?”

“You’re not serious,” Merlin said.

Arthur sat up, splashing.  “Oh, go on, Merlin.  You probably need a bath yourself.  It wouldn’t be the first time.”

“You’re serious.”

“Yes, Merlin.”  Arthur sighed.  “This thing could bathe a cow.  Do come on.”

So Merlin took his clothes off.  “This has really crossed the Aegean into Ancient Greece proper, you know.”

“Stop complaining,” Arthur said.

I should stop complaining.”

Then Merlin came over into the light.  “Goodness,” Arthur said.  “You must frighten the girls with that.”

“Well, I don’t actually like to leap out of hedgerows and show it to any girls.  I leave that sort of caper to the aristocrats.”

“Ha,” Arthur said.

Merlin got into the water.  It was hot and bloody delightful.

“I do draw good bath water, don’t I.”

“Eventually, yes,” Arthur said.

“Well thank you very much.”

“Come on, then,” Arthur said.

He directed Merlin to sit behind him, with one leg on either side.

“The Aegean,” Merlin said, “is not even in sight anymore.  We are on the mainland.”

Then he started to rub Arthur’s back.

As predicted, the angle was much better.

“Oh,” Arthur said, sort of abjectly.  “I’m going to stop talking now.”

He was as good as his word.  All he said was Ah and Oh every so often.

Eventually it was enough.  Arthur stopped Merlin by sitting up and rolling his shoulders around.

“Oh, you are good, Merlin.”

“First time for everything,” Merlin said.

Arthur stretched his arms above his head.  All the muscles nosed up under the skin, like a person was rolling over sleepily under a blanket.

“Well, then,” Arthur said.  But he didn’t sound relaxed: he actually sounded tense.  “Do you want to give me a hand?  I mean, I’ll do the same for you.  If you want.  Doesn’t matter, if not.  We don’t need to discuss it again.”

“Whatever are you talking about?” Merlin said.

“Don’t be dense,” Arthur said, but not particularly rudely.  “The mutual problem we are having?  I wondered if you wanted to solve it together.  If you like.”

“I really,” Merlin said, “do not know what you are talking about.”

“Merlin.”  Arthur was starting to sound a bit more like himself, which was to say, rude and cross.  “You’ve nearly been poking a hole in me with that thing.”

Arthur got up to his knees and turned around.  His pelvis was out of the water, and alright, yes, there was no mistaking the problem he was referring to.

Arthur was made beautifully even down there.

He crouched over Merlin, a great golden arch of infuriatingly attractive man, and reached down into the water.  “This problem you have here, Merlin.”

“Oh, that problem,” Merlin said.  “Yes.”

*

It was the next day, and there was no denying it.  Things were pear-shaped.

“Would you fetch my breakfast please?” Arthur had asked.  Would you, and please.  He practically sounded constipated.

And then he’d eaten it looking straight at the table, like Merlin was chopped liver.

Merlin supposed that was no different to usual.  Actually: no, that wasn’t true – normally Arthur would be complaining.

Then Merlin had to help him on with his mail.

It seemed to have become difficult to judge how much space there should be between their bodies, and what shape it should have.

Merlin let the mail drop too soon before he had lifted it far enough over Arthur’s head, so that the bulk of it fell, not over, but behind Arthur, and the tails of it raked back over Arthur’s face on their way down to the ground.

“Bloody hell!” Arthur shouted.  Arthur clapped his panicked hands to his face, and Merlin also clapped his own panicked hands to Arthur’s face.

But he was alright, just a bit pink.

Merlin,” Arthur said, as if he could not devise a worse insult than Merlin’s own name.

“Sorry,” said Merlin.  He could hear how stupid he sounded.

Then he lifted the mail up again, and got it right this time.

But then he had to do up the ties that joined the thing to the thing, and the ties that joined the other thing to the thing, and he couldn’t get the edges to pull in flush.  Arthur said, “Oh, of course you can’t get it tight it enough from over there, Merlin, come on.”  He dragged Merlin in close.  And they were stuck in this ridiculous standing dance, and Merlin had to stay there until he’d finished tying the most absurd number of ties, and he couldn’t seem to keep from breathing all over Arthur.

Then, as if it could be any worse, Arthur had to go and say, “Look, don’t go getting any ideas, alright?”

“Is that what they’re calling them now?” Merlin said.  “In my day, we called them hand jobs.”

“Don’t be crass,” Arthur said – fully as if he were the injured party.

*

Arthur was conducting a search that day.  A thief was at large in the outer town, beyond the walls, and some merchants had petitioned Uther for help.

“Come along,” Arthur said.  He was finally dressed, and sheathing his sword.

“You want me to come?” Merlin said.

No, Merlin,” Arthur said, “that’s why I said come along.”  He waited a beat.  “You can carry things, if we find any of the stolen goods.  Yes?”

“Well, I’m glad I’m so uniquely useful in a way that couldn’t possibly be interchanged with anyone else,” Merlin said.

But Arthur was already taking the steps down from his chambers, two at a time, at a jog.

*

They went down to the outer town on foot – Arthur, magnificent and pompous in his cape and glittering mail, flanked by his knights – and Merlin, struggling with a number of excessively large, smelly sacks, which didn’t even have anything in them yet, but were already quite impossible.

The outer town, beyond the walls, was the poorest part of Camelot – any who could afford to live within the walls would have done so.  Underfoot was stamped earth, gouged with treacherously deep cart tracks wherever the drainage was poor.  The structures, such as they were, were shanties, poorly made from scavenged materials.  In places they were built in roughly straight lines, so that the spaces between them served as streets; at other points it was simply a maze, impassable to anything but foot traffic.

Uther did seem to have a terrible fondness for sending men to bash poor people’s doors down and frighten their chickens.  The knights went at it with a vengeance, overturning rickshaws and shredding mattresses.

In one house, before Merlin could get there, the knights had broken the door in, spilled half of what was probably the family’s only grain in the dirt, and had backed up a small boy, openly weeping, at sword-point in front of a curtained alcove.  Merlin grabbed Arthur’s arm at the door, before he could go in, and hissed, “Arthur, do you really need to terrorise these people like this?  This is all they have.  How are they going to fix this?”

Arthur tried to shake him off, but Merlin said, “Arthur, he’s a little boy – that sword is taller than he is!”

“Thank you, Merlin!” Arthur snapped, and shoved Merlin aside.

But blessedly, Arthur went into the shanty and said, “Stand down, there!”  And the knight withdrew his sword.

When they looked in the alcove, the contents were pitiable: three withered potatoes, going green; a small wedge of cheese wrapped in greyish muslin; a cup of dry beans, pock-marked.

At the next house, Arthur said swiftly, “Just lift the mattress, thank you!”

And then, “Leave the food alone, thank you.”

And, miracle of miracles: “That’ll do, now!”

The day wore on with nothing to show.  Merlin sweated and itched under his burden of empty sacks.

At one point, Arthur went so far as to say, “Please excuse me,” to a young woman whose house they were searching, whereupon she asked him in, and if a whole lot of sweaty knights hadn’t jostled in right after him, it looked for all the world as if she were about to offer him tea.  Merlin didn’t think anyone other than him had noticed that Arthur had gone quite pink.

Arthur was irritable again after that.  Still, at least he was only terrifying people with his ill temper now, instead of his abuse of their property.

*

At last, in one of the worst neighbourhoods, a long way from the main gate, there was a compound of shanties.  An oversized chimney in the centre streamed constant smoke.  All the structures around it were abandoned.

From the corner of his eye, Merlin saw Arthur stiffen and put his hand to his sword pommel.

They got the jump on two lazy guards armed with cudgels in an outer room.

Battle was joined in earnest in the central forge room, and the thieves were well-armed, with stolen weapons or those they had reforged themselves from stolen ones, to disguise their provenance.

There were too many bodies striving perilously together in a small space that contained a white-hot, blazing forge.  Merlin flinched back to avoid a pommel to the chin, and nearly toppled onto it himself.

Finally he retreated to an outer chamber.  He had barely been able to see Arthur in the melee, let alone help him.

A long and anxious time later, the noises from the forge room lessened.

Merlin returned within to find four thieves dead and the rest fled.  The knights were blowing like cattle in winter, but otherwise well.

Arthur had fallen in the forge’s slag pit, quite without any assistance from Merlin, and was covered in ash and filth all down one side.

*

Back in Arthur’s chambers that night, Merlin looked Arthur over.  “Right,” he said.  “Obviously it’s bath night again.”

“I think so, yes,” Arthur said.  “Do go and…”

“I’ll be right up with the water,” Merlin said.  He was sure he was getting better at this, because he barely sounded martyred at all.

But why wouldn’t he sound martyred, really: it was a bloody long way up and down those stairs with that much water, and with Arthur just standing there watching and waiting, he had to do it entirely the hard way.

Well – except that he could heat each bucketful up a little more just before he came back in the door each time.

When Merlin had finished getting the bathwater, he was about to leave.  But Arthur took him by the wrist, and wasn’t letting go.

“Look, are you coming in the bath?” Arthur said.

“Er,” Merlin said.  “Well, alright.”

Then things got very strange.  Arthur helped Merlin off with his clothes.  And only when he had entirely finished taking Merlin’s clothes off, down to the last stitch, did he let Merlin help him with his.

And then Merlin was on his knees, fidgeting with Arthur’s trouser lacings because he really had no idea how to proceed decently.

Arthur took Merlin’s face in his hands.

Merlin had to crane his face right up to look into Arthur’s face, if he wanted to say what are you doing?

Only actually he couldn’t bring himself to say anything, because this was the tableau he was in: he had no clothes on and he was kneeling in front of Arthur with his thumbs in Arthur’s trouser lacings, and Arthur was cradling his face as he stared up at him.

Arthur sounded so worried, when he spoke.  “Look, I’m sorry about what I said this morning.  About your getting ideas.  That was rude.”

“It’s fine, Arthur,” Merlin said.  His Adam’s Apple bumped into the heel of Arthur’s hand.

And Arthur then put his hands over Merlin’s and made Merlin help him loosen the lacings.  And under the lacings, Arthur had a full blown case of the problem in the trouser-department that he had had last night.  And then they took Arthur’s trousers off together, and Merlin had the problem too.

Arthur pulled Merlin over to the bath with his sword-hand locked around Merlin’s wrist, as if he thought Merlin might get away.

Then they got in the water, and gosh, it was hot, and Merlin got goosebumps all over his chest and arms.

Arthur was sloshing hot water on him with the washcloth, which was making it worse, but then it was making it better.

Then Arthur stopped sloshing him with the washcloth and started rubbing him firmly with it, all around his chest and stomach and then – goodness – between his legs, and the texture was so rough it almost hurt, and Arthur kept doing it and doing it.

Merlin was biting Arthur’s shoulder and clawing bluntly at Arthur’s back.

But then Arthur let the washcloth fall.  Instead he was running his hands all over Merlin’s thighs, and then up under Merlin’s backside, and Merlin was backed up against the side of the tub and Arthur’s fingers went somewhere very private, and Merlin flailed, and squawked, “I’m not going to…!”

They thrashed and floundered.  Arthur tried to back off, but in an exaggerated martyred way, and was actually hindered by the extravagant manner in which Merlin was trying to escape.

Finally, quite a lot of water had gotten on the floor, and they were sitting rigidly on opposite sides of the tub.

“Well, you can’t seriously expect..!” Arthur said, quite as if he were entitled to be outraged.  “I’m the prince!”

“And is that what you do?  Bloody rape the servants!”

“I don’t rape the servants!  They like it!”

“They like it?  How do you know?   You wouldn’t care anyway!”

“What do you mean I wouldn’t care?” Arthur said pompously.   “I would hardly want to do it with someone who didn’t want to.   I can’t think of anything more horrid, thank you very much Merlin.”

“So you say,” Merlin said sourly.

“Well, so, what do you mean, how do I know?  With a man, he either gets… into a certain state or he doesn’t.   And then when he’s been like that for a while, and things go well, then… the other thing happens.  You can’t very well fake that, you idiot.”  Arthur had gotten embarrassed during the course of this speech, and his voice had gotten quieter.

“Well, I know that,” Merlin said limply.

“So what on earth,” Arthur said, “do you think you’re implying?”

They sat there irritably for a while.

“I heard it hurts,” Merlin said.

“I understand it hurts at first,” Arthur said with infinite condescension.  “And you have to be gentle.  And then it’s nice later.”

“That’s what they tell you.”

“Yes.  But like I said, it’s not like you can pretend very well with one of these, can you?”

They sat there some more.

There was no escaping that they did both have one of those – the tips of them were sticking rudely out of the water.

Merlin’s was getting cold.

“Look, do you want to go on?” Arthur said finally.

“Yes,” Merlin said, although he did not sound quite as triumphant as he’d intended.

Then they were sitting close to each other again, and doing the thing again, each to each other.  And Merlin could feel that his ears and his neck had gone bright red, but he didn’t care.  Arthur’s hand made the most delicious little splashing sound in the water.

“Be quiet now,” Arthur said, seriously, although Merlin had not said anything.  He was urging Merlin into straddling his lap, and Merlin seemed to have lost the urge to resist being urged.

Then they were all close to each other and looking at each other and panting hot-cold air in each other’s faces, and it was sort of difficult to keep moving their hands on each other’s things but sort of lovely and oh God Arthur shot his seed everywhere, all through his blond chest hair, absolutely all over himself, and then Merlin did it right after, only he didn’t do it on himself, he did it on Arthur too, and he had never seen so much seed as was all over Arthur’s chest now.

Merlin would have laughed but clearly this time it was he whose soul had been stolen and put in a bottle: he rather wanted to lie down on Arthur’s seed-splattered chest, and wriggle a little, and go to sleep; the whole metaphysics of this situation was far too difficult.

*

Merlin held out heroically, he really did.  But at the end of the day: well.

There came a day that Merlin came up to Arthur’s chambers to see what he wanted to do for his dinner.  But Arthur was already sitting there, at a table laid for two.  And right away Arthur got up and locked the door behind Merlin.

They sat and ate the whole meal in silence, looking at each other.  When they had quite finished – Arthur wiped Merlin’s mouth – Arthur led Merlin over to the bed.

Then Arthur got to his knees.

At the end of the day: Merlin was not made of stone.

So then: Merlin was on his elbows and knees and Arthur was covering him.  It was half like a wrestling hold and half like the world’s longest cuddle, only Arthur was reaching around to give him a hand job, and kissing his ears and the back of his neck.  Merlin was getting a bit crazy, wriggling so that Arthur had to hold on to him tight.

And then Arthur started doing things to him with ointment and his fingers, which hurt a bit but was mostly just very strange, and Merlin gritted his teeth because he was determined to be a good sport.

But then it started to get rather nice, and then Arthur was asking “Yes?” all rather desperately, so Merlin said, Yes, alright.

Merlin panicked when Arthur tried to put it in the first time – he twisted away and squawked, “I need the pot!”

But he didn’t need the pot, he had gotten his wires crossed –all the hair had stood up on his arms.

“Shh,” Arthur was saying, and “It’s alright,” and rubbing Merlin’s back.

And Merlin said, “Stop it, I’m not a cat!”  But Arthur just kept saying hush and kissing his neck.

Then Arthur got Merlin to use his own hand instead of Arthur’s and that was a bit embarrassing but nice as well, and then they had another go and oh God it was actually happening, his body was actually making room.

“You’ve stopped with your hand,” Arthur scolded mildly.  Arthur’s hand helped Merlin’s hand.  They stayed like that for a while, just moving their hands.

“Is it nice now?” Arthur said, and his voice was all strange and craven and ridiculous, and Merlin couldn’t help but take pity on him and say, Yes .

And then Arthur was doing it to him, and it was half excruciating, half wonderful.  Merlin found he was saying Yes, and every time he said Yes, Arthur pushed it all the way in him again, so Merlin kept saying Yes Yes Yes Yes faster and faster.

And then Merlin couldn’t say Yes fast enough anymore for how fast Arthur was going, he was having to bite Arthur’s bloody ancestral bed coverlet: he had embroidery in his teeth.

Then Merlin had an enormous seizure and put the most embarrassingly copious pool of seed on the ancestral embroidery.

Arthur rode him like a bloody stallion after that, grunting like a beast, a hammer on an anvil, but Merlin was too limp to protest, and wasn’t sure he wanted to anyway.

Arthur was roaring, absolutely roaring: “Oh God!”

Merlin said faintly, “Actually, the name’s Merlin.”

*

There were bandits in the woods, two days northeast of Camelot along the Old Road.  They rode out at sunrise: Arthur, ten knights and Merlin.  In the afternoon of the second day, they reached the place on the road where a caravan had been attacked, and struck out into the trees on foot.

Behind a thick tree bole, they found a place where some stones had been made to form a rough fireplace.  In fact, Merlin found the fireplace, by tripping on it – but Arthur caught him before he could fall.

“Shush, Merlin,” Arthur said.

By this, Merlin deduced that Arthur thought bandits could be quite near.

There was a thin rivulet of stamped earth winding away through the trees.  They followed it.  Arthur’s body was tense.

The land was sloping gradually downwards in a series of ridges.  Approaching the crest of the next one, Arthur motioned the others to stay back.  He unsheathed his sword and crawled to the top to peer over.

“Clear,” Arthur called softly.

They all came over.  Beyond the next ridge, smoke was rising.

They all unsheathed their swords, and pressed on in silence.  At the next crest, three knights crawled to the top with Arthur, and they all looked over together.

One of them laughed, briefly, and they all stood up and shook the tension out of their limbs.  When Merlin came over the crest, he saw that the smoke was actually coming from beyond the next ridge again.

There was perhaps a small creek at the bottom of this dip, as the undergrowth was coming thicker and greener.  It overwhelmed the path, just before a denser stand of trees began.

The knights jogged down into the place where the undergrowth took over the path.

There was a sickening sound – a terrible click, or a snap.

One of the knights had fallen.  Several of his fellows circled wildly in attack stance, searching for a target.

“Get down!” Arthur shouted.

He threw Merlin down beneath him.  The knights froze in confusion for a second, before they obeyed.

A massive tree trunk, suspended horizontally by thick ropes, had just swung with obliterating momentum through the space in the air where their heads had just been.

“Is everyone alright?” Arthur called.  The knights called back raggedly.

They had been lucky.

“Stay down,” Arthur said.  “We’ll wait it out a bit.”

Merlin could smell horse.  It was Arthur’s glove – he had made sure to insert it between Merlin’s face and the ground, when he threw him down.

The arc of the pendulum had lessened now.

“Keep well down, and let’s cut around it,” Arthur ordered.  “A trap like that isn’t left unattended.  They can’t be far away.”

They cut a wide circle around the ground of the tree trunk’s trajectory, and rejoined the path just before the denser stand of trees.

This time it was Arthur’s foot that sprung the trap.

There was a snap.  Arthur stumbled.

A grating sprang up from beneath some leaf litter.  A sheaf of spears was launched.

Merlin stopped time.

It was a beautiful magic, really – an arc of violet light slicing the afternoon shade clean in half.  It was fatally visible.

Arthur and the knights were stopped in absurd poses of surprise.  A spear hung wickedly in mid-air, a foot from Arthur’s heart.

Merlin stood for a moment.  Everything had come down to now.

He went to Arthur and took him by the upper arms.  Arthur fell out of the magic: he stumbled; said, “What?”

“Arthur, come away,” Merlin said.

“What did you do?” Arthur said frantically.

“Come away,” Merlin said, and tugged at Arthur.  But Arthur was much stronger than Merlin.

“Merlin, did you do this?”

“Yes, Arthur,” Merlin said. “Please come away, Arthur.”  He pulled harder, but he might as well have been a child trying to move its father’s ankle.

“But what did you do?” Arthur said.

“I stopped time, Arthur,” Merlin said.  “It was magic.  Please come away – the spear, it’ll kill you, I don’t know how long it’ll hold – please.”

And then Arthur did let Merlin take him away.  Merlin took him right away, diagonally away from the path, up the hill.  And then Merlin could breathe again.

But Arthur was breathing like a galloped horse.  “Do you do this all the time?”

“Yes,” Merlin said.  “I mean, not this spell.  But I do magic to protect you all the time.  The Great Dragon called to me when I first came here, and it told me it was my destiny to protect you, and see you ascend the throne.”

Now Arthur looked incredulous.

“Hey, talk to the dragon,” Merlin said.  “It wasn’t my idea.”

Arthur shook his head, and stared at the ground.  Then he paced a bit.

“Was it you, with that whirlwind in Ealdor?”   There was almost a sob in Arthur’s voice.

“Yes, of course.”

“What about the beast in the woods?”

“Yes.  I mean, whichever one you mean, most likely yes.  Arthur…”

“What about…”

“Arthur, please, I need to empty their memories, or their testimony will see me hanged.  The dragon says if I die, you will never ascend.  So I can’t die.”

“You can do that?” Arthur said.  “You can just go into people’s heads and just do things?  Just take them over.”

“Sometimes,” Merlin said.  “With some things.”

“Are you going to do it to me?” Arthur said.

Arthur was looking him in the eye.  He was so frightened, and brave, and fierce, Merlin could have wept.

“No – never,” Merlin said.  “Never.”

*

A day and a half later, at sundown, they had reached the last league of woods before the parks of Camelot began.   Arthur sent the knights on without them.  He and Merlin stayed the night together in the forest.

Arthur shot a rabbit, and they had a bag of pulses, and a cook pot.  Merlin lit the fire with magic.

After they had eaten, they lay around the fire and watched the dark come in.

“Did you enchant me?” Arthur asked at last.

“Don’t you think I’d do a better job?” Merlin said.  “I mean, wouldn’t I make you be – actually nice to me?”

Arthur laughed.  “Yes, I suppose so.”

Then Arthur said, “Why are you all the way over there?”

“Me?  Why are you all the way over there?”

“You realise I am now constitutionally incapable of coming over there.”

“Well,” Merlin said, “so am I.”

They lay quiet.  The last of the dusk insects were singing.

Arthur got up and came around to lie down next to Merlin.

They smiled foolishly at each other.  Arthur ran his hand up and down Merlin’s shirt front.

Eventually, Arthur took Merlin’s face in his hand.  “I hardly know you at all,” he said.

“I suppose not,” Merlin said.  “But you do know quite a lot of things, really.” He ruffled Arthur’s hair.  He felt as though this were a dream, so it would be alright to do that – and indeed, Arthur did not seem to mind.  “A lot of the time, for instance,” Merlin said, “I do magic about as well as I clean armour.”

Arthur snorted.  “That’s a bit of a worry.”

“Yes, well,” Merlin said.

“Why don’t you just use magic to clean the armour?”

“Well, I tried that.  And let me tell you: there were some issues.”

“Oh dear,” Arthur said.

Then he said, “Merlin, I won’t let anything happen to you.”

“That’s my gig,” Merlin said.  “Get your own.”

“Oh, shush,” Arthur said.

They kissed, wetly, and for a long time.

4 comments

4 Comments so far

  1. Eyebrow of Doom November 4th, 2009 3:36 am
  2. Michelle March 18th, 2012 10:33 am

    This was so funny and brilliant and in-character! I want a podfic of this, I really want to hear this story read out loud – I’m sure it would be a blast! If it hasn’t been done, someone should absolutely do it:)

  3. Eyebrow of Doom April 5th, 2012 6:06 pm

    Thanks so much as always!

    The only one of mine that’s been podficced – that I know of — is this Gwaine/Percival Merlin one. It’s pretty awesome, especially as it contains a real French person fake-pronouncing fake-anglophone French: http://eyebrowofdoom.oscillating.net/fan-fiction/fic-gwaine%E2%80%99s-masterful-brilliant-and-fool-proof-plan/

  4. b September 30th, 2012 12:41 pm

    OMG this was completely ADORABLE.

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