Weeks had passed since the celebration, Merlin has begun to adjust to waking before dawn to fetch Arthur’s breakfast, however, Arthur had not gotten used to Merlin waking him up, blushing every time Merlin saw him shirtless.
This morning was just like every other, Merlin wake before the roosters to the bustling castle. The kitchen was hot and full of smoke as he grabbed Arthur’s breakfast. Arthur groaned and grumbled as he got out of bed, hiding behind his sheets, but that’s when everything changed.
An arrow shot through Arthur’s window, missing everything but his bedpost. Arthur dropped his sheet and called for the guards. Merlin closed the window and covered the curtains. Armor-clad knights raced into the room,
“Your Highness is everything okay?” the first man asked, placing his sword back in his sheath.
“No, everything is not okay. Someone shot out my window,” Arthur whined and pulled the arrow out of his bedpost, throwing it at the feet of the knights, “find out who did it and have him hanged” the knights bowed and scurried out of the room.
Merlin kept the window closed, but went about his normal duties, cleaning Arthur’s room, changing the bed sheets, and washing Arthur, that’s when he noticed all the scars running along Arthur’s back. They were old and healed, but they showed the warrior Arthur was. Merlin touched the largest one, running down the middle of his back,
“I was trampled by a horse when I was younger. I was almost paralyzed, Enide saved me” his voice was soft, as though he was ashamed of what happened, Merlin took his hand away and continued on his duties
“Then why do you treat her so poorly? She only wants what’s best”
“I don’t actually feel that way. She’s saved my life more times than I can count. But I have to keep the facade up with the nobles, else they think I’m weak. Bowing to a woman.”
“Your father doesn’t have that problem”
“My father is the king, they insult him and they hang. Insult me and it's a day in the stocks” Arthur’s eyes lowered as he talked about his father.
The door burst open, Gwen tumbled in, tears staining her cheeks. Arthur jumped to hide himself, as Merlin jumped up and moved the screen in front of the tub.
“Gwen, what’s the matter” Merlin cupped her cheek, wiping the tears away.
“It’s the princess. Princess Vivian. She’s collapsed and asking for Arthur” Arthur grabbed his towel, adjusting it as he pushed the screen out of the way,
“Wait in the hall” Arthur pointed towards his door as Merlin started collecting Arthur’s clothes. Gwen bowed and headed into the hall.
Arthur burst into Vivian’s room, Uther was by her bedside with Enide,
“What’s wrong with her?” Arthur grabbed Vivian’s hand as she gave him a weak smile. Enide grabbed Merlin’s sleeve and pulled him away,
“The princess suffers from a fatal birth defect, it’s become inflamed. Worse than ever before. She’s not going to make it passed the week” Enide’s eyes flickered from the Vivian to Merlin, who had lowered his head. Arthur looked to Enide,
“Our engagement was to be announced tomorrow. Will she be able to attend?” Enide looked to the ground and the room went silent. Vivian grabbed Arthur’s hand,
“Arthur, I can’t attend tomorrow. I believe it would be best to cancel the announcement -”
“No, we’ll postpone it. We’ll announce it next month. When you’re better.” Arthur looked around the room in a panic, “she’ll get better right?” Merlin put his hand on Arthur’s shoulder, but Arthur pushed it off. Enide bowed and left the room, Uther close behind her.
Merlin stood by the door while Arthur and Vivian talked. Tears streaming down Arthur’s cheeks, while Vivian tried to make him feel better. Merlin swayed back and force on the balls of his feet as he waited for Arthur to dismiss him, picking at his fingernails. The door to the servant's entrance opened and Gwen crept in, joining Merlin in the corner,
“How is she?” Merlin’s eyes were sullen as he looked at the dying princess
“Stronger than Arthur is right now”
“Does he know?” Merlin shook his head as Gwen fell silent.
Hours past and Vivian fell asleep, Arthur finally let go of her hand and retreated to his chamber.
“How could this happen?” Arthur threw his cup across the room, spilling the wine across the floor, “she was healthy, happy! Why would God curse us like this?” Arthur covered his face as he cried while Merlin cleaned up the spilled wine.
“Apologise for speaking out of turn sire, but Enide said it was an underlying condition. From her birth.” Merlin placed the cup on the table and refilled it. Arthur sighed and retired to his bed.
“I wish to sleep. You’re dismissed” His voice was sullen, but not tired. Still, Merlin bowed and left the room, retreating to his own quarters.
Merlin threw himself on his bed, disrupting Gareth and Igerna’s naps. Though they curled up around him and went back to sleep,
“The poor princess. Poor Arthur. He really loved her, didn’t he? He may never get over it” Merlin covered his eyes with his forearm and sighed, relaxing deeper into the bed.
Merlin woke to the great bells chiming. Signifying a death of royalty,
“Is it too much to ask that it’s a false alarm?” Merlin rubbed the sleep from his eyes and rolled out of bed, making an audible thump on the floor startling Gareth and Igerna.
He got ready and headed towards Arthur’s chambers. Guards were stationed outside the door, blocking Merlin’s way,
“Excuse me gentlemen, but Prince Arthur needs his breakfast” they didn’t budge
“The prince has requested that no one disturb him. He is in mourning” Merlin shifted his weight onto his right hip, giving him a sassy look,
“So you’re going to let the crown prince of Camelot, the man you have taken an oath to protect, starve?” Merlin spoke loud and clear as to draw the attention of people walking by. The knights grumbled and shifted, opening the door.
Merlin strutted into Arthur’s chamber, where the prince was buried beneath piles of blankets,
“I said, no visitors” Arthur threw a pillow at the door, but Merlin dodged, putting the tray on the table,
“Well, you have to eat at some point. Camelot needs their prince and you can’t be that if you’re laying about starving” Merlin pulled the blankets down from Arthur’s face, revealing the tear-stained, red-eyed, golden hair boy, “Now come on, you’ve got to get out of bed at some point today. Your father will need you when he welcomes King Olaf to Camelot. If only it could be happier occasions”
“It was supposed to be. We were going to announce our engagement today. The ball was planned and everything. She made sure everyone was welcome, it was to be a masquerade to make sure no discrimination happened to the peasants and servants attending” Arthur pulled the blanket back over his face and curled up in a ball. Merlin sighed and sat down on the other side of him,
“I know it’s hard, Arthur, but it won’t make it any better sitting here. Wallowing in your sorrow”
“How would you know?” Arthur’s curiosity peaked out from his faux bitterness.
“When I was younger, I had fallen love. Her name was Laurelie. We lived next door to each other, but when her father found out, he beat Laurel and took her away. I haven’t seen her since” Merlin started fiddling with the loose threads of his shirt.
“I’m sorry, you had to face that, but I can’t see the comparison. Laurel is still alive, Vivian is not. Vivian and I grew up together, we’ve been together for 20 years. She came on hunts with my father and me, she was the better shot. She was caring, oh so caring -” Arthur’s speech broke with a sob, mumbled from beneath his blanket fort. Merlin got off the bed and began to pick up Arthur’s chamber, cleaning up the broken bits of cabinet and wooden splinters,
“Did a tornado come through here? Your wardrobe has been chopped to bits, and your sword looks like it’s been chewed on by your dog's” Arthur grumbled from beneath his blankets before throwing them off and getting out of bed
“You’re not going to leave me alone are you?”
“Not until we get you dressed and ready for King Olaf’s arrival”
“Fine, in the back of the wardrobe I have a black shirt. Fetch it for me will you?” Merlin hummed and scrounged the wardrobe finding only a dirty, moth-eaten thin black shirt.
“You can’t wear this. Seriously, it’s full of holes”
“It’s proper to wear black when in mourning. Just give me the shirt” Merlin balled the shirt up and threw it in the hamper, before going back to rifling through the wardrobe. Merlin searched the wardrobe up and down, before pulling out a black shirt, with only a tiny rip in the seam,
“Here, let be fix this and you can wear it” Arthur groaned and Merlin sat down at the table and began hemming.
Merlin finished and got Arthur ready, though he was being stubborn. Arthur was dressed and there were still hours to prepare before King Olaf’s arrival in Camelot.
Uther was sitting in the throne room when Arthur came in. His black clothes a stark contrast to the reds of the Pendragon crest, strone about the room. Uther dismissed the servant to his right and stood to greet his son,
“My boy. How are you? I haven’t seen you since Princess Vivian’s funeral” Arthur brushed past him and sat at his throne, awaiting the announcement of Olaf’s arrival. Uther grimaced and joined his son on the throne, Morgana was sitting to Uther’s right while an empty throne sat to Arthur’s left.
Oalf burst into the throne room, his body dressed in furs died black. Uther stood to greet their guest as the guards of both kingdoms flooded into the room,
“King Olaf, Camelot greets you and grieves with you” Olaf hugged Uther, his long bone necklace banged against Uther’s chainmail. Uther grimaced but hugged back nonetheless. When Olaf pulled away, Arthur stood up from his throne, gaining the room’s attention,
“The ball should go one as planned, in honor of Princess Vivian and King Olaf’s arrival”
“Yes. Yes! The ball shall go on. Just as Vivian planned. But Olaf, you must be tired, allow Merlin to escort you to your chambers” Merlin perked up from his corner and entered the hall fully, bowing before the kings. Gwen escorted Morgana out of the room as the men talked amongst themselves.
Merlin opened the door for Olaf, the king looked soulful and saddened by the passing of his daughter. Olaf threw his fur coat on the bed,
“I forgot how hot it was in Camelot, different to my snow-ridden country. Vivian must’ve loved it here. Did you know her well, boy?” Merlin looked to the ground with sad eyes.
“I have to admit I only met her once, my first week in Camelot. She was kind, treated me well even though I am just a servant. Prince Arthur must’ve really loved her. He has been mourning her lose for days, barely moving from his bed, never leaving his chamber. Until today.” Olaf wiped a tear from his eye and pulled a picture of a young girl out of his shirt pocket,
“I haven’t seen my Vivian since she was a young girl. Do you know if she hunted? She loved to hunt when she was young”
“Arthur spoke highly of her archery skills, said she was a better shot than he” Olaf laughed, a deep sorrowful laugh mixed with tears. Merlin bowed and left the room, allowing the old man to grieve on his own.
Gwen was outside the door when Merlin shut it,
“Follow me. Morgana is in Arthur’s chambers. Alone” Merlin raised his eyebrow, but before he could question anything, Gwen dragged him towards Arthur's chambers through the servant's corridor.
Merlin could hear Morgana and Arthur talking,
“Arthur, I can trust you right”
“Of course Morgana. I am a knight of Camelot” Gwen and Merlin rolled their eyes,
“Arthur I need you to be more than that right now. I need you to be my brother” Gwen and Merlin’s eyes widen,
“What?” Merlin whispered, but Gwen just shrugged her shoulders
“Of course Morgana, what is it?”
“I - I think I’m in love” a sob escaped Morgana and chairs scraped across the floor,
“Love is nothing to cry about my dear Morgana. It should be celebrated. Now, who is this lucky man?”
“It’s not a man per se. Rather a servant” Gwen gasped and Merlin’s eyes widened even more.
“Well a servant is still a man isn’t he?” Arthur laughed, but Morgana remained silent.
“But it is not a man Arthur! It is a woman! It’s - it’s Guinevere. I’m in love with my maid” Gwen gasped once more, but Merlin covered her mouth as to not be heard. Arthur and Morgana shuffled around the room,
“Oh, my dear sister. I know your pain” Morgana sob, but they were muffled by more than the door.
“How could you know my pain?” Morgana raised her voice, but not loud enough for it to be heard past Merlin and Gwen
“Because I too have loved someone father would’ve disowned me for. Once, long ago. He was a blacksmith, but I haven’t seen him in years. He was far older than me, with a daughter and a widow. Father would have him hanged if I ever spoke a word about this” Merlin let out a small gasp before they heard the door to Arthur’s chamber open from the front and heels clicking against the stone floor as Morgana left.
Merlin leaned against the wall, the revelations hitting him hard. Gwen stood up and dusted her dress off,
“Well that was unexpected, but we must return to our duties” Her voice was absent of all emotions, an unusual thing for the normally very emotional Gwen. Merlin stood up as well and dusted his pants off, trying to rid the evidence of their eavesdropping, then they went their separate ways. Merlin heading towards the kitchens for Arthur’s dinner and Gwen heading towards Morgana’s room to get her ready for bed.
Arthur was eating dinner, while Merlin cleaned up around the room,
“Arthur, how do you always get it so messy in here? You’ve barely been in here today”
“Well perhaps if you were better at your job, it wouldn’t be so messy”
“Prat” Merlin mumbled under his breath as he continued to clean.
“What was that?” Arthur stood up from his table to face Merlin, but his shirt got caught on the chair, causing it to pull up and show his tanned and muscled stomach. Merlin’s face burned red and he quickly looked to the ground,
“A prat sire” Merlin fiddled with his fingers and hem of his shirt. Arthur furrowed his eyebrows, grabbing Merlin’s chin to force him to meet his gaze, their breaths mingling
“A prat? I could have you thrown in the stocks for that” Merlin’s face burned even darker. Merlin took a step back, regaining his personal space,
“But you wouldn’t, because then no one would be around to clean your room and get you out of bed” Arthur laughed and returned to his meal, leaving Merlin flushed and breathing heavy.