Twin!AU Part 2:
Gwaine is ecstatic to find that he’s technically dating Royalty (Arthur still isn’t best pleased), and Merlin begins to recover his true heritage.
Gwaine stares at the two of them open-mouthed from where he sits on the edge of the bed.
Re-telling the story had re-ignited Merlin and Arthur’s anger, but they do a good job of keeping it in as Gwaine tries to process that his partner and The Prince of Camelot are... twins. Gods this sounds like something out of one of Leon’s ridiculous fiction books: long lost royal twins and insane Kings and emotional reunions with long-dead, ghostly relatives. But to be fair, Gwaine has found that in all of his travels, Camelot has definitely been the weirdest place he’s ever been. Or perhaps it’s just the people.
He finally shuts his mouth, nodding slowly as he takes a deep breath and stands. He wipes his sweaty hands down his trousers briefly before stepping forward and pulling Merlin into a hug, making pointed eye-contact with Arthur over his shoulder. The only thing that Gwaine and Arthur had ever agreed on was that Merlin’s safety was of the upmost importance; this whole ordeal had just strengthened that agreement:
“That’s... you guys have had one hell of a day, huh? You said Gaius, and your mo- Hunith, and that bloody Dragon knew?”
Merlin tenses in his arms before pulling away, and Arthur’s expression turns stormy once more as he nods. Gwaine frowns, keeping one hand on Merlin’s shoulder as the servant (Prince?) responds bitterly:
“Hmm. We haven’t spoken to Kilgharrah or Hunith yet, but they’ll be getting a bloody mouthful from me, when we get time.”
Gwaine nods sympathetically, muttering his reply more to himself than the others:
Arthur nods, but takes a deep breath as he puts his own hand on Merlin’s other shoulder:
“Agreed, but we’ve been gone too long; Leon’s been dealing with the council for at least half an hour and we need to go explain things sooner rather than later. News of my- The King’s arrest will spread like wildfire once it gets out.”
Merlin sighs, sagging slightly where he stands, and Gwaine steps even closer to him, moving his arm to be over his shoulder in a side-hug:
“Hey, I’m sure Arthur and Leon can deal with this if you’d rather hide out in here for a little peace. We could always set Morgana loose on the council, she’s bound to whip them into shape.”
(Yes, this fic is ignoring the timeline both in terms of the knights AND Morgana. She knows about Merlin’s magic, and Merlin, Arthur, and Gwaine (and Lance) know about hers.)
Merlin lets out a quiet huff of laughter, leaning into Gwaine’s side slightly as he looks up:
“No, I can’t. Arthur’s right, we need to sort this out sooner rather than later. I’d be perfectly content to not tell anyone about who I really am-”
Gwaine raises an eyebrow and Arthur narrows his eyes, ready to protest, but is interrupted by Merlin’s loud continuation before he can say anything:
“-but I know neither of you will let me get away with that so... here we are.”
Arthur nods decisively and Gwaine hides a grin, clearly thinking about how he’s technically courting a Prince. Arthur rolls his eyes at Gwaine’s expression, a small part of him cursing himself for letting the drunkard stay in Camelot, but the rest of him is grateful, knowing that Merlin needed more than Arthur on his side, especially now he had lost, or partially lost, Gaius, Kilgharrah, and Hunith.
The blonde Prince lets out a deep sigh, looking towards the door despondently as he decides that they really can’t leave Leon to fend for himself any longer. The three of them make their way from the room wordlessly, but Arthur halts the group again at the end of the corridor, turning to Gwaine with a thoughtful frown:
“Go find Elyan, Percival, Lancelot, Morgana, and Gwen. Gaius is a member of the council so he should already be there but double check he isn’t in his chambers, and Leon may have fetched Morgana himself, but I don’t know.”
Gwaine turns to look at Merlin and speaks quietly:
“What should I tell them?”
Merlin’s frown deepens and he glances at Arthur, but he just shrugs slightly, giving the choice to Merlin:
“They’ll all find out in the meeting anyway, so it might be best to pre-warn them so they aren’t blind-sided. Tell them the truth, I was born with magic, and am Arthur’s long lost twin brother, confirmed by Igraine’s ghost and then Gaius.”
He looks bewildered as he says it, almost as though he doesn’t fully believe it quite yet; Arthur nods in agreement and continues his instructions to Gwaine:
“Have everyone meet us there as soon as possible, I want to get this sorted now and I’m going to need as many people on my side as I can get.”
Gwaine nods seriously, pressing a brief kiss against Merlin’s forehead before rushing off in the other direction, hurriedly knocking on the knights’ doors down the corridor as Merlin and Arthur turn the corner.
They make quick work of the journey back through the castle, stopping just outside the doors to the Throne Room with sweaty palms and shivering lungs. The two of them listen to the annoyed sounding murmurs coming from inside for a few moments and the guards try not to give them odd looks as Arthur glances to Merlin—stood at his side instead of behind him—with a fond, though nervous smile. He puts his hand on the other man’s shoulder:
“We’re about to cause one hell of an argument, you ready?”
Merlin takes a deep, calming breath, smiling briefly as he hears Leon pleading with the council to be patient for just a little longer, looking to Arthur with anxious eyes and pale cheeks:
“Yeah. Come on, I think Leon might hurl himself from the window if we make him wait much longer.”
Arthur chuckles quietly, and the guards quickly divert their gazes when he looks back to the doors, taking one last fortifying lungful before walking forward and pushing them open with a bang, Merlin at his side.
The room goes suddenly quiet and Leon visibly relaxes when they walk in, bowing briefly before stepping aside and allowing Arthur to take his place in front of the thrones. There is no table in the Throne Room, so the council stand gathered in the middle, staring up at Arthur incredulously as he runs a hand down the arm of The King’s throne absent-mindedly. He was grateful to see Gaius present, despite not being in any sort of mood to talk to the man; he holds a smirk in when he sees several of the councilmen raise eyebrows at Merlin, still stood at his side when he technically shouldn’t even be in the room. There was even further incredulity as Sir Leon moves to stand guard behind him, as opposed to The Prince.
One of the Lords nearer the front of the small crowd finally breaks the tense silence:
“My Lord, what is the meaning of this? We were told it was an emergency, that we were meeting in the Throne Room as opposed to the council room, and were then made to wait for almost a candle-mark. The King has yet to arrive, what is going on?
Arthur turns to look at them with a raised eyebrow, back straight and face impassive:
“Patience, Lord Angar, The King will not be joining us, though we are waiting for a few more-”
The doors open before he finishes and every head turns to see the remaining knights, Gwen, and Lady Morgana enter, led by a serious looking Gwaine. All of them give Merlin a small smile and a bewildered nod, bar Morgana, who looks nothing short of furious as she moves to stand protectively at his side, glaring at any councilman who dares to look their way. The knights spread out, standing to attention with hands on their swords around the edge of the room, whilst Gwen moves to stand against the wall behind Morgana, Merlin, and Leon. Only Gwaine, Leon, and Lancelot are in full armour, but all the knights are armed and angry looking.
The councilmen, looking more confused and annoyed, look back to a still impassive Arthur. He fixes a short glare on each and every one of them before turning to face them properly and speaking confidently, his tone inviting no argument:
“The King has been arrested and confined to his chambers for the murder of the late Queen, and gross crimes against the Kingdom.-”
The room immediately explodes into angry and incredulous yelling, and Merlin flinches away from the sudden noise. Morgana squeezes his wrist comfortingly, knowing that it was only going to get worse when the rest of the truth is revealed, and Leon steps out from behind him, moving to be at his side with his sword halfway out of it’s sheath.
The other knights and Gwen all tense in place and Gwaine has to resist the urge to run to Merlin, knowing that the council’s disdain for both him personally and his courtship with Merlin would just make things worse. Arthur rolls his eyes at the cacophony of noise and slams the metal part of his gauntlet against the arm of the throne with a bang:
“ENOUGH! You’ll find, gentlemen, that remaining calm and quiet will make this conversation much easier.-”
He glowers at everyone until the hall is drowning in another tense silence before taking a deep breath, forcing himself to keep his hands from fidgeting as he continues:
“-It has come to my attention, through the Witch Morgause-”
A few murmurs of dissent go around the room, but they quickly cease when even the ever-calm Sir Leon begins to glare at people:
“-and further confirmation by The Court Physician, that King Uther used sorcery, against The late Queen’s wishes, in order to conceive a child. He was warned of the dangers, and went ahead with his plan anyway, which resulted in not only the birth of twins, one of whom was magical, but the death of the Queen.-”
At the mention of Gaius, the elderly Physician gets a few confused glances, and even more glares; no one likes being kept out of the loop, especially when everyone there is a Lord except Gaius. At the mention of twins, everyone’s attention is abruptly back on Arthur, and the knights have to resist the urge to look at Merlin, in fear of giving anything away too early.
Before he can continue, Arthur is interrupted by Lord Angar again:
“My Lord, I very much doubt the validity of anything you have just said, but either way, is this really the sort of meeting to be had with servants, a Lady, and your peasant knights present? I know you’re oddly fond of them but-”
Arthur, Leon, and Morgana have to resist the urge to punch the Lord in the face at his words. Gwen, Percival, Lancelot, and Elyan manage to keep their faces neutral, though Gwaine glowers openly. The knight does however hold in his smirk when he notices the fury on Arthur’s face. The Prince takes a threatening step forward but doesn’t lower himself from the dais as he speaks, his tone cold:
“Lady Morgana, Guinevere, and Merlin have proven to be better advisors to me than you ever have Lord Angar; Sirs Percival, Elyan, Lancelot, and Gwaine are amongst the best knights this Kingdom has ever seen, and you will show every one of them the respect they deserve, or you will excuse yourself from this room, and this council. Am I understood?”
The red of Angar’s face gets more severe as he splutters:
“My Lord you can not be-”
“Am I understood?!-”
Arthur’s voice cuts through everyone in the room, despite it’s low volume, and where Leon hides his proud smirk, Morgana doesn’t hold back at all, especially when Angar takes a deep breath and nods his purple head in embarrassment. The rest of the council seems to finally have grasped the seriousness and severity of the situation and play close attention to Arthur as he continues, no one daring to interrupt again:
“-This information changes everything we know about sorcery; my father started a genocide against an innocent group of people because he was too much of a coward to admit his mistakes and refused to take the rightful blame for killing his wife. I will not stand for this, and things will change very soon. If you are not outraged at the unjustness of his actions, at the death and suffering he has caused our people, the people we are meant to serve and protect, then you are more than welcome to leave. Meetings to organise and begin the process of legalising magic will start early tomorrow, and I will be accepting no excuses, this is non-negotiable. As for the matter of my twin brother...-”
Arthur glances back to Merlin, and at his slight nod, Arthur shoots him a small smile and holds his hand out to him. Merlin walks slowly forward to the sound of the council gasping and muttering to themselves, Leon stays barely a hair’s breadth behind him with his sword fully drawn:
“-may I present Prince Myrddin Pendragon.-”
Lord Angar, among others, looks seconds away from bursting once more, so Arthur hurries to continue, though still manages to keep his voice forceful and confident:
“-This information was unconfirmed for both of us until around a candle-mark ago; I have never believed in fate before now, though I think we can all be grateful that The Prince managed to return to Camelot all on his own.-”
He settles his hand on Merlin’s shoulder, but doesn’t pull him forward too much, understanding that his serv- his brother, probably wants to be as far away from the centre of attention as he can get.
“-I want him presented to The Kingdom and crowned before the month is out, this matter is also non-negotiable. Any questions?”
Lord Angar looks desperate to start yelling, but he also seems to have finally accepted that his influence over this room, and now the council in general, was tenuous at best. One of the newer councilmen, a young Lord who Arthur has a slowly growing respect for, steps forward slightly, bowing his head before meeting Arthur’s gaze and quietly asking:
“And The King, My Lord? Should we plan for your coronation as well?”
It was clear that the question was unexpected and Arthur frowns at the realisation that he had... arrested The King. Uther may have deserved it, but Arthur couldn’t bring himself to order his execution, and knowing Merlin he’d argue against it endlessly anyway.
Morgana senses Arthur’s hesitation after a second or two, thankfully before the council becomes restless and annoyed:
“You could always take over as Regent whilst we sort all of this out; that way we can revisit the issue of actually crowning you King later. Though we can’t confine Uther to his chambers forever, we’ll have to deal with him at some point.”
Arthur hums and nods, giving her a thankful smile before looking back to the young Lord:
“Lady Morgana’s suggestion is sound. I’ll take over as Regent,-”
He nods at Geoffrey of Monmouth, who takes a note down in the giant leather tome he perpetually has under his arm. If Arthur thinks about it for too long, he might come to the conclusion that the older man looks proud:
“-and we can revisit the issue when the dust has settled.-”
He rubs his eyes tiredly, as though the last day or so of drama had finally landed with it’s full weight upon his shoulders:
“-I think it goes without saying that, for now, none of this is to leave the room. I trust only Sir Leon with assigning who is to guard The King,-”
He glances to Leon, who nods seriously at his words:
“-keep it discreet Leon. I want to keep as much of this under wraps for as long as possible to avoid public panic; this is going to be a lot of hard work gentlemen, but I mean to see it through with or without your support, the choice is yours. The first meeting will take place in the normal council room tomorrow, two candle-marks after dawn. You’re all dismissed.”
The councilmen—including Gaius, after he sends a forlorn look Merlin’s way—slowly trickle out of the room, some looking angry, most looking resigned, but a few looking rather content, happy even (Arthur and Morgana take mental notes of who is who). The door shuts quietly behind the last man, leaving only Arthur, Merlin, Morgana, Gwen, and the knights left, all of whom understanding that the dismissal did not include them. Arthur lets out a deep sigh when the room quietens, looking back up to Merlin with a tired smile and even more tired eyes:
He quirks an amused, but hugely pleased eyebrow as he says it and Merlin grins, rolling his eyes fondly:
“Not even close, but that’s never stopped me before.”
Arthur chuckles as the others all move closer, an odd mix of exasperated, because Merlin turning out to be Arthur’s long lost magical twin is exactly the sort of insanely dramatic thing that’s likely to happen in Camelot, and hesitant, because... how do they even deal with that? Other than with a great deal of confusion?
Gwen is the first to reach him, pulling Merlin into a tight hug that is very well received:
“I’m sorry Merlin, I can’t imagine how difficult this must be, and I’m so terribly sorry for all the horrible things I’ve said about magic.-”
She pulls back but doesn’t let go of his shoulders, staring up at him with tears in her eyes and a desperate look on her face:
“-You know that we all love, and trust you, don’t you??”
Merlin rolls his eyes fondly and pulls her back into a hug with a wide smile on his face:
“Of course I know that, I love you too Gwen. And don’t worry about it, you believed what you were taught, it’s not your fault.”
She looks like she wants to argue again when she pulls back, but Merlin just pats her cheek softly and gives her a warning glare. She huffs but dutifully steps back, allowing Gwaine to take her place as the rest of the knights pat his shoulders and run soft hands through his hair as way of apology and comfort.
Merlin smiles at them, but sobers quickly when a particularly horrible thought re-occurs to him. Gwaine squeezes his shoulder in question and Arthur furrows his brows:
Merlin just sighs and leans into Gwaine’s side slightly:
“I need to talk to my... Hunith. And Kilgharrah, but I really don’t have the energy for him right now.”
Arthur nods in understanding, thinking for a moment before looking up to the huddle of knights (most of whom look marginally confused at the mention of whoever the hell Kilgharrah is):
“Percival, Lancelot, you know where Ealdor is?-”
The two of them nod, remembering the route from visiting with Merlin a few months ago:
“-Leave at dawn, take an extra horse and bring Hunith back with you. With all that’s going on, me and Merlin can’t afford to be gone for even a day and it’s a four days’ journey there and back.”
They nod, but Lancelot quickly responds with a quiet:
“We can leave now if you like, it’s not like the journey will take much prep. What should we tell her?”
He looks to Merlin, who frowns slightly as he replies, his words slow:
“Don’t tell her anything, Arthur and I need to have that conversation with her. She’ll panic when you turn up without me so feel free to tell her that we’re all alive and uninjured and not in any danger but... just don’t tell her the real reason.”
Their smiles are understanding, and just a little pitying, but they turn and march off the moment Arthur nods at them in approval, determined to do everything they can to make things go smoothly and easily.
It’s Elyan that breaks the now slightly uncomfortable silence a few moments later:
“So... do we still call you Merlin? Or is it Prince Myrddin, My Lord?”
Merlin grimaces the moment Elyan mentions what would soon be his official title, and the others grin at his reaction, chuckling as he runs a hand through his hair:
“No one’s called me Myrddin since I was about five, and I think it would be a little odd if that changed now, so Merlin is just fine.”
The others nod in agreement, though Arthur sighs as he responds, faux annoyance in his tone:
“Paperwork’s going to be bloody confusing.”
It takes Merlin all of three hours to figure out that Arthur had subtly assigned him a constant guard. The guard consists of Sirs Leon and Gwaine, so he isn’t... complaining, per se, but it's annoying, to escape company for a quick piss to find his partner and friend casually hovering right outside the door.
But to be fair, Merlin only notices when his brain registers that Gwaine isn’t there, and how odd that is. Whilst Merlin is interrogating Leon, Arthur is cornering Gwaine in a seldom used corridor, though the rambunctious knight beats Arthur to the punch:
“I think we’ve been here before, Princess.”
Arthur raises an amused eyebrow at Gwaine’s teasing grin, before sagging slightly in place and sighing. Gwaine sobers immediately, putting a hand on the blonde’s shoulder and trying to meet his gaze:
Arthur sighs again, looking up to him with tired eyes:
“This goes without saying, but Merlin.... he is everything to me. As far as I’m concerned he and Morgana are my only family, though I suppose I believed that before all of... this; but that’s besides the point. I know you won’t ever mean to hurt him, and I do trust you, as... difficult as that is to admit, but I need to you understand, Gwaine,-”
Gwaine nods in understanding and agreement:
“I do understand, Arthur. He’s everything to me as well.”
Arthur shakes his head and steps back, bringing himself to his full height:
“No, you don’t. He is my brother, and he was taken from me. He has suffered, more than I think either of us will ever know, and that stops, this Kingdom is now being built for him. But I would burn it all down if it would make him happy. Everything is for him, for Morgana, for my family. Do you understand?”
Gwaine nods, only once, before holding his hand out. Neither his hand nor his voice shakes as he responds:
“I’ll pour the oil, you light the match.”
Arthur pauses for a moment, as if trying to gauge his own trust in the other man, before clasping Gwaine’s hand strongly.
The seriousness of the moment ends when Gwaine lifts his other hand to tug sharply at Arthur’s hair before ducking under his arm and skipping down the corridor towards where they’d left Merlin and Leon. Arthur just huffs and follows him, definitely not sulking.
Merlin turns to them both with a scowl when they enter, immediately taking note of the residual gravity in the tightness of Gwaine’s shoulders:
“And what have you two been doing all of sudden?”
Leon bites his lip to stop himself from snorting in amusement, but fails miserably the moment Gwaine shrugs and opens his mouth:
“I don’t know, some sort of mutual arson pact I think.”
Arthur rolls his eyes first at Gwaine subtly, then at Merlin, far more obviously:
“Honestly Merlin, we’ve spent practically every second with you all day, you can’t go a few minutes without us?”
Merlin huffs noisily and turns around to grab Leon’s wrist, dragging him from the room and not looking over his shoulder as he snarks:
“Leon’s always been my favourite knight anyway.”
Gwaine and Arthur just look outraged, both speaking at the same time:
“Hang on, what about me?!”
They fix each other with narrow-eyed glares before shoving each other childishly, fighting over who could shoulder their way through the door first.
The next conversation, a few days later, is... a lot harder.
With Kilgharrah’s odd ability to seemingly know about everything that happens in Camelot, Merlin couldn’t get away with putting off speaking to him for long, especially with how The Warlock could feel the way he was angrily clomping about in his cave.
The short journey down through the dungeons, made by Arthur, Merlin, and Gwaine, was made mostly in silence. The oppressive feeling of Kilgharrah’s mishmash of emotions bouncing around in Merlin’s head made focusing on any other strain of thought impossible, and Gwaine and Arthur were too busy stewing in their own anger and worry to want to disturb him.
They pause momentarily outside the large iron gates leading to Kilgharrah’s lair, none of them looking to each other as they take deep breaths in an attempt to gather some bravery. Arthur and Gwaine have never said anything, but Kilgharrah terrifies the shit out of both of them; Merlin normally takes these trips alone—Arthur and Gwaine’s fear wasn’t difficult to pick up on and he never wanted to make them uncomfortable—allowing the other two their blissfully ignorant beauty sleep as he sneaks away to argue with a Dragon. But that’s obviously not in the cards today; no way either of them would let him face this alone.
Kilgharrah is waiting for them when they push open the gate and stalk out onto the ledge, and he raises himself to his full height, sparing barely a glance in Arthur’s direction and sparing Gwaine even less as he stares at Merlin with aloof, golden eyes:
“You have discovered who you are, Young Warlock, at long-”
Merlin interrupts him with a scowl and a held up hand:
“You had no right,-”
His voice is echoingly deadly, and the two knights find themselves being reminded of Merlin’s seemingly endless power. Merlin being angry at Gaius was... was like a child being heartbroken at a parent’s betrayal, which it was in some ways. But Merlin being angry at Kilgharrah... that was much more; like a God being angry at a creature of His own design. Merlin stands before The Great Beast, centuries old, full of unimaginable knowledge, and he stands tall, and proud, and angry.
“-no right, to keep this from me. You claim that no one can know their destiny, and then proceed to prattle on about mine in riddles. In my search for answers, you gave me more questions. In my search for comfort, you gave me fear. In my begging for help, you gave me nothing but pain. I’m done, you’re just as bad as Uther.”
Kilgharrah bristles, flaring his arched nostrils as his furious reaction ripples across his hardened scales:
“How dare you compare me to-”
Merlin interrupts him with a yell, his voice growling in it’s reverberation, a hidden power more ancient than the mountains themselves echoing in his words:
“You separated my brother from me and you had no right! You whine about how Uther took your kin from you, but you took my kin from me! You suffered so you made it your greatest goal to make everyone else suffer just as much. You are cruel, and cowardly, and I am done. You will not manipulate me anymore, you will not lie to me, or mislead me. You tried to get me to kill the boy, but I didn’t, and I forgave you. You tried to get me to kill Morgana, but I didn’t, and I forgave you. You keep trying to get me to free you, but I won’t. You will rot in here until you can tell me the truth, a truth I deem worthy, on why you kept my heritage from me.”
He doesn’t wait for a response, turning on his heel and marching out of the gate without another word, Gwaine following closely behind. Arthur stays, just for a few moments, though with Merlin’s sudden display of power over the beast before him he finds himself significantly less frightened:
“He’s right, you know. Every one of my brother’s successes has come to pass because he ignored you. You have haunted him every step of the way, causing nothing but grief; you should be grateful, Merlin has offered you a chance of redemption that I would not have.”
Arthur doesn’t wait for a response either, jogging up the steps to catch up with the other two just exiting the dungeons.
Merlin doesn’t ask what was said, though Gwaine does raise an eyebrow in The Prince Regent’s direction; Arthur gives him a short nod, acknowledging Gwaine’s need to know, need to keep a tight hold on everything so he could keep Merlin safe and happy. Or as happy as he can keep him in this situation. Gwaine relaxes when he understands Arthur’s promise to tell him later, trusting the blonde to have Merlin’s best interests at heart.
The slight relaxation doesn’t last long however; Merlin heads up through the castle towards the large doors leading into the courtyard. The other two follow him, knowing that the younger man likely needs some fresh air to recover from the pressing darkness and power and heaviness of Kilgharrah’s presence, but they quickly tense when he suddenly halts on the steps just outside the doors.
When they peer over his shoulder, they are abruptly reminded of the amount of time that had passed since Percival and Lancelot had left. And apparently returned.
Hunith dismounts her horse quickly, her mouth stretching into a relieved smile as she runs towards him. Merlin doesn’t move, just stares at her with blank eyes, and Gwaine’s eyes shift nervously between the two of them. Hunith’s relief is quickly dropped when she notices Merlin’s non-reaction, and she slows just before she ascends the steps, looking up at Merlin with her brow creased in worry:
Merlin’s expression hardens; his hands clench and his eyes and tone turn icy as he responds:
“I’m not your son.”
END of part 2!!!
Sorry to be a teeeaaasssee :))))) (Not really)
I’ve recently got a BUNCH more hours at work (which is like... good for me personally but not so great for my social life or hobbies lol) so things might take a little longer to come out from now, but I promise this blog is still ultra active and going!! I’ll just only have time to write in the evenings nowadays.
I’m not sure when part 3 will be, but it’s in the works and won’t be too long!! Two weeks at absolute MOST I imagine :D
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A new servant desperately struggles to understand what exactly Merlin is:
A cryptid? Arthur's boyfriend? Simply a dude? The court jester? Something else entirely? Who knows, certainly not the new guy.
The first time the new kitchen-hand, Tristan, saw The King’s dark-haired servant sprinting down the corridor, he couldn’t tell if the man was laughing or crying.
He was fast, faster than Tristan thought possible for someone whose arms were so full of laundry, but he politely steps out of the way, coming to the conclusion that he must’ve been late for something. At least... he did think that, until he turns the next corner to see three of The king’s most trusted knights peering out of windows and into random doors. Tristan freezes in the corridor, he’d heard that servants were treated extremely well here, but he’d only been employed for a few days and he didn’t want to risk anything by pushing past or addressing his betters.
One of the knights, Sir Leon, his brain helpfully supplies, spots him stood there, and his annoyed frown quickly morphs into a friendly smile:
“Pardon me, sorry, I don’t suppose you’ve seen Merlin around anywhere, have you?”
Tristan’s eyes go wide and the grip he has on his tray tightens, but he forces himself to take a breath and answer, trying his best to keep his voice even:
“Merlin is... The King’s manservant? Tall, with dark hair?”
Another knight pushes forward, he looks to be the oldest, with dark hair falling in an almost deliberately tousled way around his bearded jawline. His charming grin seems just a little too wide to be genuine, but Tristan isn’t quite sure if that’s because he’s about to take pleasure in punishing someone, or if he’s just being polite to a stranger:
“Yeah, yeah that’s him, seen him? Arsehole turned our shirts pink in the wash, and something tells me it was deliberate.”
Tristan gulps at the accusation and he takes a shaky step back, but before he can even think of defending the stranger that he now thinks must’ve been crying, the last of the three knights, a giant, if Tristan believed in such things, steps forward:
“Don’t worry, we won’t beat him too much.”
He says it with a grin and a quirk of his eyebrows, but once again the kitchen-hand can’t tell if it was cruel or genuine, if he was being sarcastic or not.
“Uh... yeah, he turned left at the end of this corridor, but I didn’t see where he went after that, I apologise.”
Sir Leon waves away his apology with a smile, looking to the long-haired knight with a raised eyebrow:
The man grins widely, nodding his agreement as he turns his grin to the giant. Sir Leon offers Tristan another soft smile, murmuring his thanks before moving past him, elbowing the other two to prompt them in to thanking him as well. The three of them march down the corridor with almost vindictive smiles on their faces, and Tristan prepares himself to see a vacancy note, or possibly a funeral invite, posted on the notice board by the next morning.
When he passes a window that evening to see the King’s manservant being carried on the giant’s shoulders as five other knights pelt them with gloves, a grin on every face, he decides that... well... it’s probably best to just not to ask.
The next time he sees Merlin, a few days later, The King is also there.
This is the first time Tristan has been in Arthur Pendragon’s presence, and though the other servant’s all rave on about how awkwardly kind he is, he’s a bundle of nerves. Not even Cook’s stories about how often she whacks The King’s knuckles with a wooden spoon when she catches him about to pilfer something stops Tristan’s heart from racing.
The King was overseeing a few of the servants decorate the main hall for a feast, and whilst Tristan is certain that that’s not something The King normally does, he doesn’t question it, just thinks that maybe the other servants had been telling the truth, and he was a genuinely nice, but normal man.
Merlin stands at his side, and though Tristan can’t hear their conversation, the two of them are clearly bickering over something. The servant can’t help his curiosity, wanting desperately to move closer to find out what sort of things The King allows his servant to bicker with him about; luckily, the table right next to them has yet to be laid, so he moves towards it quickly. He doesn’t even glance at them, terrified of being caught out, but perhaps Merlin surviving the knights non-wrath the other day is encouraging him, and his steps don’t falter. Their words come in to focus, and he has to stop the confused, and slightly horrified, frown from spreading across his face:
“Arthur, I swear to the Gods, if you make me wear that hat again, I’ll piss in your wine and serve it to you in front of a crowd.”
The King scoffs just as Tristan shakily begins laying down the cutlery:
“That’s treason, Merlin.”
“Do I look like I care? Not only will I piss in your wine, I will not hesitate to push you over a balcony at the first opportunity. This hall is high up and it’s a long way down to the gardens. He drank toxic wine and turned loopy and tipped himself off a balcony and went splat! That’s what people will say. I’m not wearing the Godamn hat.”
Tristan has to focus extra carefully to stop himself from gasping; Merlin just threatened to kill The King... that’s got to be a death sentence. Pissing off some knights that he’s obviously friendly with is one thing, but threatening to kill The-
“Ha ha. Very funny. If you can’t tell, Merlin, I’m being sarcastic, I know you struggle with complex concepts like that.”
Merlin just rolls his eyes, crossing his arms as he says with no hesitation:
“My mind is more than capable of coping, My Lord, it’s your belt I worry about being able to cope nowadays.”
Tristan bites his tongue to stop himself from yelping and turns away so neither of them can see his horrified face. The King just makes an outraged noise in the back of his throat, and Tristan can hear Merlin snort in laughter at whatever expression Arthur was wearing to match such a noise:
“Go to the stocks. I want you there for three hours.”
Tristan lets out a confused breath; Merlin threatens to kill The King, and gets playful sarcasm, but he implies The King might be a tad overweight, and gets sent to the stocks for three hours? How is that-
“Yeah... no. Not happening. The feast starts in less than two hours and I still have to help Guinevere organise some stuff in the courtyard, do Gaius’ rounds for him, then put an extra hole in your belt and help you get dressed because, despite being a grown man, you’re still an idiot who’s incapable of putting clothes on in any sort of decent manner.”
Tristan finds himself relaxing a little. This seems to be the norm for them, but surely... surely The King had a line somewhere, and a servant just flat out refusing to be disciplined must be where it lies?
Arthur just scoffs, and Tristan angles his head in such a way that he can see him roll his eyes:
Merlin grins, seeming to cast a suspicious gaze over the room to make sure no one was watching and somehow completely missing Tristan stood just there, before saying quietly:
“You love me really, you prat.”
With that, Merlin reaches up to yank at a lock of The King’s hair before hurrying off in the direction of the courtyard before Arthur can react. The King jumps slightly, clearly caught by surprise as an annoyed flush rises on his face, but Tristan just frowns in confusion when his shock gives way to a softly amused smile.
The next few times Tristan saw Merlin made him fear for the servant’s safety. He was being taken on hunts by The King and his knights, that’s meant to be for squires, to learn the ropes and gain experience in tracking and riding.
He supposes it isn’t entirely unheard of for a servant to follow their master on a hunt, but with the way Merlin complains without pause, and The King in turn complains about his complaining, he thinks it would better for everyone if Merlin just... didn’t go. When he brings it up to another servant, a lovely woman named Guinevere who had helped him get unlost at least three times in his first week, she just laughs and smiles at him pityingly:
“I wouldn’t worry, those two have been like that forever, they’re practically inseparable.”
Tristan responds with a rather intelligent sounding:
Gwen laughs softly again, shaking her head and patting his shoulder consolingly:
“You’ll get used to it, they’re just... like that.”
She gives him one more smile before turning to wave the boys out of the gates and walking back to the castle as if this were the most normal thing in the world. Tristan supposes that it probably is.
The next time Tristan sees Merlin leave the city gates with the knights, Sir Elyan, Sir Mordred, and Sir Lancelot this time, it’s distinctly worse. Because he’d caught sight of the patrol rota last time he ran food down to the training ground, and he was certain that those three had a city patrol right about now.
Before he even has time to gape in shock, he hears Merlin’s pleading voice as he trails Sir Elyan like a lost puppy:
“Please, El, I promise to stay out of the way, I will do anything, but I swear to the Gods if I have to spend one more minute around that prat, I’ll hurl myself from the battlements.”
Swearing to the Gods and threating to hurl various people, including himself, from significant heights seems to be some sort of theme for The King’s manservant. Before Tristan can consider the implications of that, Sir Elyan turns to Merlin with a wide, teasing grin on his face:
“You know, I would’ve let you tag along for free, Merlin, but now that you’ve promised me something I feel the need to take advantage.”
Tristan tenses at that, a shot of ice spiking down his spine. He has keen eyes and sharp ears, he knows that Sir Elyan is the lovely Gwen’s brother, Sir Mordred seems to have an... odd worship for the servant, and he’s definitely picked up on the close bond between Merlin and Sir Lancelot, but is this where Camelot’s image comes crashing down in Tristan’s head? He knew that it was better here for servant’s than other Kingdoms, but there are always people who’ll take advantage of their position, no matter where you are. Merlin’s shoulders just drop and he asks in a sulking voice:
“What do you want?”
Tristan grits his teeth, moving his gaze so no one would catch him glaring at the knight as he tries to figure out a way to help, a way to get this virtual stranger out of being... abused, in such a manner. If he’d carried on glaring, he would’ve noticed Elyan’s soft smile and amused raised eyebrow:
“Next time you gather herbs for Gaius, bring back some more of those flowers that you got for Gwen. She said they added vibrancy to the house, whatever that means, but they make her happy, so...-”
Merlin just giggles and nods and Tristan relaxes, looking back to them with a confused smile on his face. That was... actually kind of sweet, he can definitely see the resemblance between the knight and his sister:
“-AND I want whatever Arthur’s having for dinner tonight, his food always looks way nicer than ours.”
Merlin lets out a faux annoyed groan, but then rolls his eyes and grins, nodding:
“Consider it done. Can we go now? I really don’t want to risk him seeing me and giving me some stupid chore to do.”
Elyan laughs and nods, and the four of them begin making their way out of the courtyard and into the city. Sir Lancelot finally joins the conversation, clearly amused as he says:
“You know it’s literally your job to do chores, right?”
Merlin turns to glare at him as Sir Mordred and Sir Elyan laugh, and Tristan only just hears his reply as the castle gates shut behind them:
Tristan decides it would be pointless to bring this up to anyone again, he figures he’ll probably just get the same answer as last time.
The next confusing incident happens only a few days later. But Tristan supposes that at this point... it really shouldn’t be confusing. Gwen was right, he did just... get used to it.
He heard the steps pounding down the corridor before he saw him, but they were coming fast and hard, so he presses himself against the wall, holding the tray to his side to protect it as best he could as Merlin comes skidding round the corner.
He stops just long enough for Tristan to calm himself by spying the wide grin on his face, but he’s quickly sprinting down the hall again, laughing as he waves whatever it is he’s got clutched in his hands. The second set of loud, rapid footsteps stops Tristan from stepping away from the wall quite yet. Just a moment later, Sir Gwaine follows Merlin’s skidded path around the corner, though the heavier man overshoots slightly and he runs into the wall opposite Tristan with a crash and a deep groan.
The rebellious knight gives a wide-eyed Tristan an awkward nod before pushing himself off the wall and following Merlin’s blazing trail, screaming down the corridor:
“I warned you Merlin!! Don’t come between a man and his ale, now give that back you bastard!”
Tristan hears Merlin’s laughter grow louder, even from the two corridors away that the other servant had managed to race to.
He shrugs to himself, waiting for a moment to see if anyone else was going to come barrelling around the corner before sighing, and continuing his journey up to the visiting Lord’s chambers.
It was unusual, he thought, how quickly he’d come to terms with the fact that a servant was sassing The King and pranking the knights and inviting himself on various hunts and patrols that he really had no business on. Unusual indeed.
He’d learnt to ignore it. Or at least brush it off.
In the two weeks since Merlin had (presumably) stolen Sir Gwaine’s skin of ale, he’d seen the servant call The King a long list of imaginative insults (what the hell is a dollop head?), walk around with Sir Leon’s cloak on because he was a little chilly, accuse someone of treason (and somehow been right about it), and threaten to kill at least seven people; including, but not limited to: The King himself, The King’s already dead father, some stuck up Noble (though that was under his breath, Tristan just happened to be stood next to him), and Sir Percival.
And Gwen was... absolutely right. He's just... like that. He's Merlin, and that’s what Merlin does.
So when he turns a corner in a rarely used to corridor to see him pressing The King against a wall, snogging the life out of him, Tristan simply turns around and walks back the other way. Both of them look fairly happy with the arrangement, and they’d probably chosen this corridor for the exact same reason Tristan had: it was out of everyone’s way, and was unlikely to be inhabited.
He thinks it’s odd, how... un-odd he finds it. He absent-mindedly thinks that, with the way they acted around each other, he really should’ve seen this coming. A sudden thought occurs to him, and he ducks into a storage cupboard, laying his tray down carefully as he rummages through the boxes. He lets out a quiet “Yay” when he finds what he’s looking for, carefully picking up his tray with only one hand and nudging the door open again with his hip.
He walks back towards the corner he had just turned (and turned again) making a conscious effort to keep his steps quiet; he places the danger sign, usually used where walls had collapsed or windows had been smashed, in the middle of the corridor, a clear indication of “Do Not Enter”.
He nods smugly at his quick thinking and easy handy work before mentally planning the quickest route to the kitchens and following it hurriedly.
He casually wonders if he has time to circle around to the other end of the corridor so he could put another sign down before Cook gets angry at him for being late. Probably not. At least, not before they... finish up and move on. Hmm. He suddenly panics about the thought of them seeing the sign and knowing that someone had spotted them but... well. Hopefully they would just appreciate it and move on.
Yet again, he decides not to bring this up to anyone. He may or may not have overheard a few of the knights making some sort of bet, and he may or may not want to watch on with amusement as they fail to realise that all of them have already lost.
Tristan smiles to himself; working here had turned out to be rather entertaining, in the end.
I know it’s short, but I really didn’t know what else to add without it sounding like I was just repeating myself over and over😅
I hope y’all enjoyed it!!
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