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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