Pairing: Merlin/Arthur (a little Merlin/Guy but it’s for plot purposes only, I swear)
Genre: Action/Adventure, Romance, Mystery, Humor, Drama(, The Kitchen Sink)
Rating: mild NC-17 (oh, no!)
Summary: Merlin and Arthur do battle with a fabled beast… and each other. Everyone wins.
Disclaimer: I do not own Merlin or any characters/locations from Robin Hood (BBC). Please don’t hurt me.
Spoilers/Warnings: Assumes knowledge of the series, although there are no specific spoilers. No warnings (except that this story probably only makes sense in my head).
Author’s Notes: Yeah, I kidnapped Guy from Robin Hood (BBC) (for the name and the sexy) and completely changed his character’s back story so that he’s all but an OC… Because I’m gangsta’ like that.
Comments/critiques will make me sing and dance for you.
In the winter of Merlin’s second year in Camelot, Arthur accepts a suicide mission on their behalf.
In the kingdom of Gisborne, many days north of Albion, the hulking shadow of a beast of immense power and invulnerability spreads unthreatened over the cowering land.
Uther briefs the knights that the people of Gisborne are simple and barbaric, but their castle is built on land under which exists a convoluted cave system with the rarest gemstones this side of the world embedded into its uneven ridges.
Arthur has his orders: bring glory to Camelot and its Knights as the only kingdom with a defense skilled enough to conquer the infamous Beast of Gisborne and humbly accept the rare rocks that are being offered as reward.
Merlin has his orders: be a good fetch-it boy and try not to muck things up.
Beyond the fact that he has no choice in the matter (one of the many privileges of being Arthur’s manservant), Merlin is more than willing to embark on the dangerous journey.
Gisborne is one of several kingdoms in the far north that openly embraces magic. It even boasts having one of the most talented sorcerers alive serving its court.
Knowing there is a chance for him to interact with one such as himself (especially one with much more experience and wisdom in the art of sorcery), Merlin almost feels like a child going to meet his hero.
As expected, Gisborne holds a feast in honor of the guests from Camelot, who they feverishly hope (but secretly doubt) will be able to finally heal the city of its blight.
At the back of the dining hall, Merlin stands with the other servants who obediently await commands from their masters.
Instead of making an effort to predict Arthur’s needs before he himself knows them (only good servants have this skill), Merlin obsessively divides his attention between the empty chair to the queen’s right and the entranceway of the hall.
He is impatient for the arrival of Gisborne’s Court Magician.
From his fanciful imaginings during the ride there, he anticipates seeing a tall, white-bearded elder, dressed in blue robes with celestial print and matching pointy hat. (He has no idea where this expectation comes from, but it seems to fit).
When those at the table begin to earnestly discuss the matter of the beast and the warlock hasn’t magically appeared from thin air (oooh, wouldn’t that have been impressive), Merlin has to forcefully drag his focus to their conversation.
As he will probably be the one who has to save the day in the end, he knows he had better listen to any intelligence shared between the nobles on the beast’s tracks and vulnerabilities.
(Of which there are none, he soon finds out.)
“In the beginning,” King Demetrius of Gisborne begins with a grim countenance, “The beast would only attack near the one above-ground entrance to the caves when thieves attempted to ply their trade or unfortunate wanderers strayed too close.”
“However, in the last few months,” he continues, “There has ceased to be any pattern to its hunting.”
“It attacks at random in terms of place and persons?” Arthur asks, already preparing the formation of combat strategies in his head with each new detail.
“Yes. And the survival of a few has only been made possible by the beast’s arbitrary and baffling grace. From what our own people have experienced and from those, like yourself, who have traveled far to help us, the beast appears to be invincible.”
“What does your… in-house sorcerer offer in the way of solutions?”
Arthur plays his diplomatic part seamlessly and it is only Merlin who can detect the thin underlining of derision in his words. He cringes inwardly.
“Nothing,” Queen Epiphania speaks quietly for the first time that evening and all eyes predictably shift to her.
“He is dead.”
The back of Merlin’s head hits the wall hard and his long-suffering sigh immediately breaks off into a pained groan.
The other servants look at him and then each other, silently communicating that this attendant from Camelot seems to be a few lambs short of a flock.
Sensing the respectfully unspoken question from the guests, the Queen graciously chooses to continue.
“Last month, he was stabbed with the broken glass from his enchanted mirror.”
Arthur tries to disguise his snort with a well-placed cough, but his amused surprise is hard to mask.
“Surely a wizard, with all his supernatural resources, would have been able to ward off a melee attack from a piece of glass?”
“Everyone has a weakness,” the queen’s gaze lowers, “Even the immortals.”
Merlin almost forgets his place and asks what she means by this. He has even taken a few unconscious steps towards the table so he can take the empty seat beside her.
His hide is saved by a young servant girl who grabs the back of his shirt and tugs, giving him an incredulous look that says, “Really?”
“And what secret weapon has the great Camelot brought with it to vanquish this monster and save our fair city?”
The prince of Gisborne’s goblet blocks his nasty sneer, but his eyes are explicitly challenging.
“You’re looking at it,” Arthur asserts boldly as if they are all already enjoying a bowl of beast stew.
Merlin rolls his eyes and half expects Camelot’s knights to start pounding the table with their fists in support of their prince’s blustering arrogance.
Weren’t they supposed to be the more civilized kingdom?
While he was daydreaming about the Court Magician (R.I.P), Merlin must have missed some critical event that brought the two princes to this stubborn impasse of mutual hostility.
Obviously, being a prat was a prerequisite to princehood.
“The skill of Camelot’s knights is incomparable,” Arthur boasts and his insinuation falls like a boulder on the dining table in front of Prince Guy.
“Do not think the inability of Gisborne’s knights to defeat this beast is a reflection of our skill,” Guy seethes, unable to resist rising to the bait, “The thing is damn near impossible to kill.”
“I believe it is as your queen says,” Arthur tilts chin up slightly, refusing to give, “Everyone has a weakness.”
“And what is yours?”
“What Prince Guy means,” the king interjects wisely when Arthur’s face hardens, “Is that you have to be keenly aware of your troop’s strengths and limitations so that you know the best tactic to take when facing an unknown enemy.”
The princes continue staring so hard at each other, it is as if, with the slightest shift in tension, they are either going to fight or fuck.
Merlin looks on with renewed interest.
“I want this campaign to be successful,” Demetrius gazes evenly at them both as if mediating a conflict between his two sons, “And I want to prepare you with as much information as we know.”
Arthur holds the heated look with Guy one moment longer before he turns his attention back to the head of the table.
“The entrance to our gem caves lies in a great, precipitous mountain on the other side of our forests. It is a treacherous climb and it is because of this natural protection that we had no trouble with thieves in the past. Only our skilled mountaineers and late magician, Marius, knew how to get inside.”
“However, six months ago, someone managed to infiltrate the fortress and steal several of our most precious stones. Word traveled quickly that the cave was penetrable and many came to take what was ours. Before we could even formulate a plan of defense, the beast appointed itself guardian of the caves. Anyone who tried to steal from it was found mangled beyond recognition or disappeared entirely. It was quite an effective deterrent.”
Demetrius smiles sadly and immediately looks even older.
“We had thought it was the solution we were looking for. We had thought the beast a blessing. But, then the random killings started.”
“We’ve launched many an attack against it and warriors from all over have come to try their hand. No one has been able to heel the beast.”
“Until now,” Arthur promises and most of Gisborne wants to believe him.
That night in his guest chambers, Arthur peruses the maps of Gisborne and the plotting of the beast’s latest appearances, supplied from the few who were allowed to live.
It’s not terribly late, but Merlin is drained from the forced hard pace that brought them to the kingdom before nightfall.
The second time his face smacks into the table with a thud and a confused yelp, Arthur has had enough.
“You are released for the night,” he says wearily, “But bring me a few more candles.”
Merlin rubs his tingling nose and studies Arthur’s strong profile in the amber light as meticulously as the prince studies the maps.
Dead tiredness aside, this is the first time they have had a chance to be alone for the past week and he doesn’t want this to be another missed opportunity.
Merlin is not as foolish as Arthur sometimes accuses, but he cannot help that his heart is persistent in hope over experience.
So when he can calm the nervous flutter in his stomach enough to place his (only slightly trembling) hand over Arthur’s where it rests on the table, he does so with a hesitant optimism.
“I could stay…”
Arthur’s gaze slants from the parchments to where their hands are joined. He doesn’t react any further.
Merlin’s breathing deepens and he desperately wishes he had someone to pray to.
“We’re thousands of kilometers from Camelot and we’re alone here,” Merlin willfully ignores the risk that he is headed into dangerous territory. “You can let me get close again.”
“The candles, Merlin.”
Arthur is rock, but Merlin is the constant force of the current.
“I can’t help but remember how it was that time-”
It’s Arthur’s last warning, but reason cannot touch a fool in love.
“When you kissed me-”
“Candles, Merlin,” Arthur bites out and wrenches his hand from beneath the sorcerer’s, refusing to look at the hurt expression trained on him. Because if he looks…
Stunned tears threaten to embarrass Merlin and that only serves to make him furious.
Good. He needs Anger.
Let it get Adoration in a chokehold. He doesn’t care.
“Fine!” Merlin snaps and Arthur is shocked into briefly glancing at him, “I’ll get your blasted candles.”
He shoves back from the table and kicks the chair out of his way.
Arthur’s jaw tightens, but he will not respond.
Inappropriately satisfied with his juvenile display, Merlin stalks towards the door purposefully, but stops short right as he reaches it. His hands curl into fists and he grudgingly turns back.
“Where am I supposed to get candles?”
“You’re the servant,” Arthur mutters tonelessly, back to oh-so-intently studying his precious maps, “Figure it out.”
Merlin narrows his eyes at a pot of ink on the table and it spontaneously combusts.
“What the-?” Arthur bursts, staring in bewilderment at the black splatters decorating the table and his tunic.
Merlin hurriedly gets on the other side of the door.
He stays there a few moments, mentally (and then physically for good measure) slapping himself around a bit.
If Arthur wants to pretend those stolen kisses on the battlement walkway never happened, then so be it.
Merlin can play along, but Arthur is not going to like his version of this game.
It’s late enough for the chances of finding other servants in this part of the castle to be slim and Merlin wonders how he’s going to locate one so he can finally go to bed and have sweet dreams of strangling Arthur.
He thinks about going all the way out of the main part of the castle to the servants' quarters and then having to come all the way back to the noble guestrooms and then go all…
Bollocks to that. I’ll just nick some out of those wall sconces I passed on the way up here.
Merlin is standing in an ornately decorated foyer at the top of the main staircase, snapping off pieces of slender wax from the silver candleholders fixed to the wall, when he hears several voices coming up quickly from below.
Merlin stuffs the candles in his pocket and tries to look innocent, but the maid- and man- servants that join him on the landing menacingly surround him.
“I didn’t think you’d be interested,” one sneers at him cattily, “What with you having your own high-and-mighty princeling to take care of.”
Merlin wonders if there has been some kind of disruption in the time-space continuum, causing him to miss the plot entirely.
“Interested?” he lets his confusion show in a (probably futile) bid for compassion, “In what?”
They giggle meanly and Merlin wishes for perhaps the millionth time in his life that his blushing didn’t stand out so mortifyingly on his pale face.
He’s thinking about hexing the lot of them (hey, magic is not forbidden here), but the arrival of Prince Guy from the same staircase the mob recently ascended halts the curse on his lips.
He lowers his eyes like a good lil’ servant and that is why when the prince speaks, he doesn’t realize he is talking to him until it’s too late.
“You, boy,” the voice is (somehow) even more harsh and demanding than before, “The one who has come to help his master rid Gisborne of its nasty beastie.”
When Merlin reluctantly forces himself to meet the prince’s iron glare, he wishes he had told Arthur to boil his head and get his own candles.
“Wait in my chambers.”
Never for one moment believing his commands could ever be denied (especially not by a servant), Prince Guy starts back the way he came.
With their stunned silence and disquieted shuffling, the servant mob tattletales that someone isn’t playing by the rules.
Prince Guy abruptly halts his steps and turns back to Merlin, who is still standing in the same spot, with that same (aggravatingly) puzzled expression.
“Did you hear me?”
The mob moves as one unit, slightly off to the side to allow the prince’s rage full access to the guest from Camelot, but still keeping their front-row seats to the show.
They’re enjoying this. They want to see him punished.
Merlin would be disgusted by their collectively greedy eyes feasting on his predicament, but he hasn’t let the dark prince out of his sight.
The prince who is steadily drawing nearer.
“Leave us,” he says quietly as he passes the servants.
They are suddenly alone.
Merlin presses against the wall when Guy gives him no other choice and looks up at the taller man from under his lashes.
He sometimes forgets that he is just a servant, but he can do the submissive act just a good as anyone.
“I’m not sure I understand what’s going on,” he says softly, not resisting when Guy slides both hands up the back of his shirt, not even when the icy touch of the prince’s rings makes his shiver.
“I told you to wait in my chambers.”
This is said in a reasonable tone as if they are equals having a conversation about where the dialogue broke down.
(Merlin realizes Uther was wrong. These people may be brutish and crude… but they are not simple.)
“I understood that-”
“Then why are you standing here?”
“Well…” Merlin shifts uncomfortably in Guy's steadily bruising embrace, wincing when the front seam of the other man's trousers drags maddeningly deliberate across his.
“I am Arthur’s personal attendant and where we-”
“This is Gisborne.”
“I know, but-”
Guy is not interested in what the servant has to say and promptly shuts him up.
He violently assaults Merlin’s mouth, the burn from his stubble rubbing soft skin raw.
Just when the sorcerer thinks he cannot endure another second of this, the prince backs off, using the softest of kisses to coax swollen lips to beg for more abuse.
Merlin had planned on going with passive resistance, but Guy’s mouth melting against his is like strumming a direct line to his cock and he cannot pretend it is only the movement of the prince’s hips that causes the friction between them.
Somehow, this is all Arthur’s fault.
The stupid tease has turned him into a big ball of lust.
It is entirely against his will when he strokes his tongue along Guy’s and greedily swallows saliva that is not his own.
Their lips part with an obscenely wet sound and both men turn to the new player.
Arthur is briefly conflicted.
He doesn’t know who deserve the worst of his death glare.
“I told you to bring me candles.”
He finally decides that it is Merlin and tries to pierce him with eyes that are like chips of ice.
Merlin untangles himself from an unexpectedly less-grabby Guy and approaches Arthur, handing him a few broken stalks of wax from his pocket.
Arthur looks at them, but the candles offer nothing.
Then he looks at Merlin, who offers the same.
“Are all your servants as insolent as this?”
Guy startles them both when he speaks. The other prince’s obvious lack of control over his servant amuses him to no end.
“No. Just this one.”
Arthur crushes the wax in his hand.
“Why don’t you return to my rooms now?” he directs at Merlin who looks like he’s enjoying this as much as Guy.
“I thought I was released for the night after I brought you candles,” he answers coolly and the laughter in his eyes makes Arthur’s pimp-hand twitch.
“Well, now…” the prince hesitates, searching for a plausible excuse, “I want you to stoke my fire.”
“Funny,” Guy grins in a way that would be considered public indecency if there were such a law, “That’s what he was about to do for me.”
Arthur rounds on the Gisborne prince at this candidly mocking comment, looking as if he has just stepped on the battlefield.
If his sword had been within reach, Merlin is sure he would already be pointing it under Guy’s throat.
“I admit to not being fully read in your customs, but if you think-”
“I will be there shortly, your Highness,” Merlin interrupts before he can finish his threat, bowing slightly to Guy and pulling Arthur back down the hall, “I just have to put my prince to bed.”
Shocked into temporary compliance, Arthur allows himself to be dragged almost to the door of his guest room before he jerks out of Merlin’s grasp.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
Merlin continues to the room and lets himself in, knowing Arthur will follow.
“Diplomacy,” he says simply and waits until the prince is in the room to step back out of it.
“You’re going to his chambers… for the sake of diplomacy?”
Arthur clearly cannot suspend his disbelief enough to accept this.
“We wouldn’t want to upset the royals,” Merlin says with an infuriating parody of reasonability, “Then how ever would Camelot’s praises be sung throughout Gisborne and the surrounding lands?”
“I know why you’re really doing this,” Arthur says darkly, holding his arms stiffly by his sides so he doesn’t forget himself and reach for Merlin.
“Sleep well,” the sorcerer grins sharkishly and shuts the door in the prince’s face.
Merlin saunters jauntily down the hallway, giggling and patting himself on the back for a performance well done.
But, then he remembers something that makes him stumble in his victory stroll.
Prince Guy is not in on the joke.
When Merlin arrives in Arthur’s rooms early the next morning, the sullen prince is already dressed for combat.
Arthur shoves his gear in Merlin’s arms and leaves the room without acknowledging him further, but not before the sorcerer gets a peek at heavily shadowed eyes and a mouth that is not more than a tense line.
Merlin takes the mistreatment without reaction and follows his prince dutifully.
They have a bigger beast to battle.
Although its recent attacks have been sporadic, the one guaranteed way to make the beast show its ugly face is to approach the entrance to Gisborne’s underground caves. As King Demetrius informed them, this entryway is located in the mercilessly sharp crags of a mountain on the fringes of a forest a few hundred meters from the castle.
In the still, frigid air under a weak sun, the Camelot troop rides out.
Although impressed as always with the knights’ indomitable courage, Merlin cannot help but think it may be misplaced in this situation.
From every account of the beast and the confrontations with it thus far, the undeniable indication is that defeating it is not a simple matter of thrusting steel through flesh and watching the life drain out with every spurt of dark blood.
Thus, Merlin’s mission is slightly different from the rest. His hope is to collect enough information as to what may be the monster’s fatal flaw, while simultaneously trying to protect the knights from an untimely demise.
They have barely cleared the forest and approached the base of the mountain when they realize the Beast of Gisborne is already upon them.
It does not roar or shake the ground with its thunderous steps, but it cannot silence the beating of its giant wings as it hovers in the trees above them.
While Arthur orders the knights to take a defensive position, Merlin slips off his horse and quickly moves to find a vantage point to work his magic without being seen.
When the beast finally lands, it does so on top of a knight and his faithful steed. (Merlin cannot bring himself to try and figure out who it is.)
The beast is an unholy fusion of several recognizable creatures whose genes should never be crossed.
It is as if its creator melded the foulest features of a bat, antelope, lizard, and scorpion to make one ugly son of a bitch.
Making a quick mental apology to the fallen knight’s spirit, Merlin transforms the corpse into a weapon (he would have wanted it this way) by liquefying the flesh and bone into a thick, syrupy concoction that acts almost like quicksand under the heavy beast.
It howls while it tries to shake off the clinging goo from its swollen paws and the knights strike hard and fast when they see their open.
With widely held eyes, Merlin witnesses the knights’ swords connect fiercely with the animal’s hide, but barely a scratch or drop of blood mars it.
The beast manages to shake off the trap to start advancing, forcing the knights to retreat. Merlin waits until they are at a reasonably safe distance and then magics one of the thicker trees to collapse on the beast’s furry head.
When the monster reaches up to tear at the tangle of braches and leaves smothering it, Merlin makes them come alive and wrap around its arms to twist bitingly into its flesh.
And although the thick vines do not rip bloody jags into the hairy skin as they would with any ordinary foe, Merlin does see them cause slightly raw abrasions.
The beast is not invincible.
Before Merlin can celebrate this fact, it destroys what is left of the tree and lunges for the knights again.
The sorcerer can only find so many creative ways to try to use the natural environment to disguise his magic (and how fair is this life that he is actually in a place that accepts it, but still cannot use it freely?).
He is inordinately grateful when the beast backs the knights deep into the forests, further and further away from the mountain, and then finally takes flight, leaving them battered and bruised, but alive.
Merlin makes note that before the battle ends that day, the beast does sustain a few lacerations from their efforts, never mind how small and superficial they are.
During their briefing with Gisborne’s Court (in which the king expresses his fascination that they only lost one man and Prince Guy perfects his imitation of a wall), Arthur reports that their attacks are not completely ineffective, but extremely blunted.
“The monster is fatigable,” he says with confidence, “My theory is that, if we can drive it to the point of exhaustion, it will be more susceptible to our attacks. We’ll need some of your men.”
King Demetrius eagerly obliges this and his hope finally begins to outweigh his reservations.
In the guest chambers that night, Arthur is excitably talking about how things with this campaign are looking up and Merlin is gushing about how deftly he fought the beast when they both suddenly remember that they’re still mad at each other.
The happy energy in the room slowly goes stale and Merlin looks down at his hands.
“If there’s nothing else, I will retire to the servants’ quarters.”
He tries to look bored, but being alone with Arthur has always heightened his senses to the point of distraction.
When the prince does not respond, Merlin takes the hint.
He actually gets the door open before Arthur’s voice stops him.
“What happened last night?”
The “with Prince Guy” is implied in the dangerously fine edge of his words.
Merlin knew this was coming, so he had prepared a suitably bitchy answer.
“Oh, Arthur. Uther was supposed to have this talk with you when you started growing hair down there.”
“I’m serious,” Arthur says and it is so very clear how much he is.
“You want the dirty details, is that it? It must get pretty lonely in that big, cold bed all by yourself.”
Arthur stalks over and rips the door out of Merlin’s hand, slamming it closed.
Merlin flinches and his lips unconsciously part.
Despite the violence of his actions, Arthur is perfectly controlled and quiet.
“Why are you doing this?”
His eyes are almost black in the low light.
“Why do you care so much?” Merlin asks instead of answering.
Arthur only stares at him.
“That’s what I tho-”
“Stay here tonight. With me.”
The night before, Merlin would have given up his magic to hear these words. But, the way Arthur says them now… they’re all wrong.
“Is that an order, sire?” he asks simply, keeping his face neutral.
Merlin waits, not allowing himself to be prematurely hopeful.
When Arthur offers nothing more, the sorcerer reaches for the door again.
His wrist is seized in a painfully firm grip.
Merlin just stares at Arthur’s restraining hand.
With a sigh of defeat, the prince lets him go.
That wasn’t the right answer, either.
Merlin is on his belly under Guy, pushing against the iron bars of the bed post with one hand so he doesn’t strike his head with every hard movement of the prince’s body into his.
His other hand is trapped between him and the bed, already losing feeling as he furiously rubs himself against his palm.
Guy’s arm is parallel to his, using the same bar as leverage to put as much bruising force into fucking the squirming boy as possible.
He grunts into the sweaty hair behind Merlin’s ear and enjoys the mewling his pounding elicits.
Merlin chokes out a sob that is mostly pained surprise as his fingers are briefly crushed between the wall and the post when Guy drives the whole bed forward with a particularly deep thrust.
Merlin is not even thinking when he grabs Guy’s wrist and bites down in retribution for his throbbing fingers.
It’s a vicious bite (if the prince’s broken hiss is anything to go by), but not enough to split skin.
Which is why it’s an unpleasant shock when Merlin gags on a surge of warm blood filling his mouth.
Despite the fact that he is wounded and the boy under him is struggling to breathe, Guy’s hard, unrelenting pace doesn’t falter. If anything, the snap of his hips is more focused and punishing.
When he achieves his satisfaction, Guy pulls out of Merlin carelessly, trailing cum on the back of his thighs. He gives the sorcerer a sharp slap on the ass in an unsubtle hint to get out of the way.
Merlin watches (no longer with indignant outrage since the night before) as Guy settles down on his stomach in the middle of the bed, ruffles the pillow a bit, and promptly falls asleep.
He doesn’t even seem to mind the wet spot.
Merlin spitefully uses the sheet to wipe away the bright red smear staining his mouth and gets a good look at the prince’s injury.
Fresh scars decorate his entire forearm in strange patterns as if they are a rite of passage in the culture of some faraway land.
Merlin dresses slowly, stalling for as long as possible his walk of shame to the servants’ quarters.
He has feverish dreams that night: visions of steel arching gracefully in the air, the feel of freshly ground dirt between his toes, the smell of fear-spiked blood.
His uncomfortably pounding heart wakes him in his bunk just after dawn.
Peeling back the sheets that have been sealed against his flesh by bitter sweat, Merlin sits up on the side of the bed and tries to pull in enough air to feel like the immediate threat of his nightmares has abated.
Later that morning, when they return to the mountainside with twenty-five more men, Merlin is eager to see if Arthur’s theory is correct.
When the beast appears this time, everything changes.
Merlin knows he is probably the only one who notices since the knights of both Camelot and Gisborne struggle to keep their entrails on the inside of their bodies and cannot spare any focus from this task.
The beast is as unscathed as the first time it crashed through the treetops over their heads.
Of course, the people thought it was invincible.
Back at the castle, the weary fighters sit down in the dining hall to drink strong spirits and share their tale of woe to the court.
Prince Guy raises his goblet high and toasts their impressive ability to do exactly what hundreds of men before them have done: succumb to being the beast’s bitch.
Merlin doesn’t get a chance to enjoy Arthur’s comically enraged expression since he cannot tear his gaze away from Guy’s exposed forearm.
His perfectly smooth, scar-free forearm.
Merlin actually gasps aloud and openly gapes at the sight.
(He doesn’t have to worry that his dramatic reaction will be noticed by most of the people in the room because he’s only a servant and basically invisible.)
Of course, when Arthur sees him staring intently and slack-jawed at the dark prince, he misinterprets the look and his scowl deepens so hard, his facial muscles twitch from fatigue.
“I’m not ready to admit defeat,” he tells the other prince who just stares at him with cold, gray eyes, “The fact is, the monster does tire. If we can trap it and hold it still before it flies off, we have a chance to keep battering at it until our blows can finally count for something.”
As this is their only plan, the other knights agree to attempt this… the day after tomorrow, that is.
Merlin barely manages to suppress his restlessness until they can return to Arthur’s chambers.
“I just realized something… awful.”
His obvious agitation makes Arthur momentarily hold his irritation and take Merlin’s declaration seriously.
“What is it?”
“The night before, when I was with Guy-”
Arthur shuts down and he goes over to the table to pour more of the wine he brought up from the dining hall.
“No, you don’t understand-”
“We can argue about our non-relationship later,” Merlin dismisses his bull-headed insistence, “Right now, there are lives at stake.”
Arthur drops into the chair and takes a healthy swallow from his goblet.
“You saw what happened today,” Merlin persists, “Your plan is a long shot. We need to figure out a better way.”
The prince still doesn’t respond. Pours more wine.
“Arthur, please,” Merlin touches his shoulder, ignoring the way the muscles tense, “This is dangerous. There’s something strange going on-”
“Yeah, there is,” Arthur shakes off his hand and stands, getting into Merlin’s face, “My manservant thinks he’s here to do any more than fetch me things and whore himself out to the prince of Gisborne.”
Merlin doesn’t hide his pain at hearing this, but he doesn’t hide his other emotions either.
Arthur would have to be blind not to see.
“No matter what you say or do to hurt me, I will never stop trying to save you.”
Merlin leaves with these words, his mind already tripping over itself to make sense of the facts both assaulting and eluding it: the beast first appearing after the caves had been raided, its magical healing ability, the Court Magician’s murder.
It cannot be coincidence.
He has to find the sorcerer’s workshop. Maybe there is some clue as to how these pieces fit together.
Merlin returns to the servants’ quarters to find the maid girl who had stopped him from sitting at the noble’s table the first night they arrived.
She would be his best chance at getting any information. Since he has been (inaccurately) viewed as thinking himself better and as Guy’s current new favorite playmate, most of the other servants have it out for him.
Domnica is found making a tray of warm milk and biscuits to bring to one of the queen’s nieces.
Merlin begs her to tell him the location of the late Marius’ quarters and she wonders aloud if she even wants to know.
He gives her his best innocent woodland-creature expression and who could say no to a face like that?
“You owe me, Camelot.”
She gets a big, sloppy kiss on the cheek for her faith in mankind.
When he lets himself into the stale room, Merlin expects to see walls of tattered magic tomes, fantastic objects from faraway lands and possessions that have never even been conceived of before.
Instead, it looks like every other noble’s room.
Plush bed, heavy curtains, sturdy furniture.
And like that, Merlin’s lead slams to a dead end.
He is cradling his head in his hands and thinking how frustrating it is to be back at square one when he hears it.
A sound like a hummingbird trapped in a glass dome.
Now that it registers, he’s amazed he didn’t hear it before.
Merlin crawls around on his hands and knees, tilting and ducking his head this way and that, trying to locate the noise (and valiantly ignoring how moronic he must look).
His satellite ears lead him to a clothes chest in the corner of the room.
It’s unsurprisingly free of clothes, but also conspicuously free of humming-thingies.
He pulls the chest away from the wall and finds the missing piece.
A mirror shard still flaked with dried blood.
He doesn’t hesitate in picking it up.
And the mirror doesn’t hesitate in slicing his hand.
Merlin drops the glass and it clinks innocently to the ground.
He’s glaring at it angrily and licking his stinging palm when he sees an image flash in the mirror.
Merlin tenses and squeezes down the urge to flee with every bit of courage he has. The thought that this may be the answer to keeping Arthur safe helps him stay put.
He forces himself to look at the glass once more.
A shadow flits across the jagged piece again. And again.
Merlin holds his hand over the glass and when the shadow passes again, he freezes it still.
An image of the queen stares back at him.
The men spend the next day tending to their wounds and resting up to face the beast for a third time.
Merlin has until morning to solve the mystery of its invincibility.
Once again, he pleads with Domnica to blindly trust a (strange) stranger and give him details of the queen’s routine and whereabouts. He even gets on his knees.
Life for a maidservant in Gisborne is not the most exciting (especially if you’re not interested in taking your turn in Prince Guy’s bed) and there’s something about Merlin that is… special.
But no matter how much she enjoys a good mystery, she refuses to oblige the request until he reveals what he’s up to. For all she knows, she could be embroiled in a treasonous plot and on her way to being hanged.
Merlin is not lying when he tells her the queen has nothing to fear from him and he only wants to speak to her about the beast. In private.
This time, she gets two sloppy kisses and a big hug.
While Domnica distracts the queen’s mistress, Merlin slips unnoticed into Epiphania’s rooms.
He finds her sitting unmoving at her vanity table, staring at him through the reflection from the mirror.
She looks as if she’s been waiting for this.
“My queen, forgive me,” he bows for good measure, “But, I must speak with you.”
She turns to face him and indicates with the slightest tilt of her head that he may continue.
“I know about Prince Guy.”
“And I know about you.”
Her eyes are gray like her son's, yet disturbingly expressionless. Merlin knows she alludes to his magic, but he cannot decipher what she plans to do with that information.
“My lady, I did not mean my words as a threat.”
“Nor did I.”
Merlin shuffles a little, trying not to feel like a little boy awaiting his punishment.
“I need your help,” he strives forward, “I cannot let Arthur think there is a chance for victory when Guy is protected by magic wards.”
“As King Demetrius has told you, thieves made off with several of our most precious stones six months ago,” Epiphania begins her tale, “Ones that have never been seen on this side of the world before. That is why Guy had Marius turn him… into what he is.”
The barest hint of emotion passes across her face at this, but her mask stays in place.
“He swore him to secrecy, but I could tell something was wrong. A mother’s intuition, if you will. The king still doesn’t know.”
“He is magically tied to the cave and has protected it well, but… the spell changed him. And he started killing people at random. Innocent people.”
“That’s when the king sent out the request and reward for the beast’s head,” Merlin prompts, knowing he is on the cusp of understanding how these improbable events had come to be.
“Yes. And I could not let that happen… I had Marius put blood-magic wards on him so that no one would ever succeed in bringing him down.”
“Why did you not just have Marius reverse the spell?”
“It is not as simple as that,” she defends, “Marius went to great lengths to make the transformation spell permanent. It will always be a part of the prince. But, as the creator of the protection wards, Marius was the only one who had any chance at all of breaking them. And, last month… he figured out how.”
“And that’s why Guy killed him.”
“No. That’s why I killed him.”
Merlin eyes her uneasily, never once imagining he could be in any danger with this pale shadow of a woman.
He is, of course, a perfect reflection of the expired wizard, another magical being attempting to find the source of the beast’s power and put an end to its reign.
“I can no longer live with what he is doing,” Epiphania assures, reading Merlin all too easily, “There have been elderly victims, children. If there is a way to stop him, I must play my part in it.”
“My lady, you never should have… interfered with Marius’ work. Do you know how many lives could have been saved?”
“He’s my son.”
“He’s a murderer.”
“No,” she says with calm firmness, “He does not know he is the beast. After the first time he was transformed, he stopped having any memory of ever asking to be the cave’s guardian and Marius and I wanted to protect him from the knowledge. When people started actively trying to hunt him, his tracks were already random and there was no way to make the connection that the beast never appeared in the prince’s presence.”
Merlin manages to identify some feeling in the queen when she says this: she regrets nothing she has done in the name of defending Guy.
Let that be her concern.
Merlin has to focus on how he’s going to protect his prince.
“Did Marius tell you anything about how to remove the wards?”
“No. I know nothing of magic.”
Epiphania turns back towards her vanity and takes a key out of a large jewelry box. She stands quietly to approach Merlin and press the cold metal into his hand.
“I had all of Marius’ things transported to a small storage room near the servants’ quarters. Any of them there will be able to tell you where it is.”
Merlin’s fingers curl around the key and he nods at her in understanding
“Whatever you do,” she adds, pinning him with her severe gaze, “Don’t hurt him.”
“If the spell is irreversible, the only way to stop him is to remove the wards and… Put him to rest.”
“There has to be another way!”
The queen’s stoic composure finally shows its hairline cracks and Merlin takes an unconscious step back.
“I cannot lose my only son. Please, Merlin.”
He is visibly shocked that she knows his name.
“I want things to end well as much as you. But, right now, our options appear limited.”
“There’s always a way, young sorcerer. Marius was sure he could never break his own wards, but he did. There must be a way to affect the transformation spell, also.”
“I promise, I will try… And, I need a promise from you. Arthur doesn’t know I’m a sorcerer.”
“Are you sure?” the queen says cryptically and returns to her vanity.
Merlin touches his head.
It’s still attached to his body.
“I will say nothing,” Epiphania promises and waits to hear the question that is obviously holding him there.
He has to know.
“How did you kill Marius?”
“He would have done anything for me, given me any power I desired,” Epiphania says softly after a moment, “Love was his weakness.”
No, Merlin thinks, leaving her chambers, Love is never a weakness.
In the storage room, Merlin finds most of the things he had expected to be in the sorcerer’s chambers.
What initially tracks his attention are the dozens of thick spell books crowded into several long shelves.
Oh, the wonders that must lie between those pages.
Merlin studies the spines of the books, mesmerized by the magical knowledge at his fingertips.
He knows what he has been instinctively looking for the moment he sees it.
A spell book about enchanted mirrors.
He pulls it out and then searches the rest of the room.
Under a dusty blanket, he finds what’s left of the broken mirror. There is a spider crack dead in the center and several missing pieces at the top, but a small clear spot near the bottom’s edge has been preserved.
Merlin stares at his fragmented image, takes a deep breath, and goes down on his knees before the mirror with the open book.
He concentrates his magic on the idea that he has to convince the mirror to accept him as its new master and heed his commands. He watches as the pages of the book flip by themselves to stop at the one he needs.
He intones the spell and crosses his fingers.
Staring hard at the ordinary-looking mirror, Merlin speaks to it loudly (trying not to feel too foolish).
“Show me the last spell Marius created.”
Strange symbols instantly appear in the glass; somehow Merlin recognizes it as the ward-breaking spell.
That was easy enough.
“Show me how to reverse Prince Guy of Gisborne’s transformation spell.”
His own face stares back at him.
Well, it was worth it a try.
Maybe if he studies the mechanisms of the spell itself, he can discern some breakdown in its formation.
“Show me how the transformation spell was developed.”
Just as he’d suspected, the beast is a compilation of several animals. Even more than he’d originally thought.
He is surprised to see a rabbit is part of the depraved blend.
It seemed like such a harmless creature…
And, as if by some divine intervention, it all comes together.
There is absolutely no physical indication that the protection wards have been removed.
There’s no flash of light. No tell-tale whooshing sound.
Guy doesn’t even flinch when Merlin speaks the incantation softly from where he hides under the main staircase as he listens to the prince descend the steps.
From here, Merlin goes straight to Arthur’s rooms.
His prince is getting ready to retire to bed and Merlin has to consciously resist the distraction of Arthur massaging salve into the scratches on his chest.
“You have to go to the gem caves. Tonight.”
Arthur hesitates only a moment and then starts to undo his trousers to attend to the wounds on his legs.
“I haven’t seen you all day and this is the first thing you have to say to me?”
“The beast is vulnerable now,” Merlin continues, forcing his eyes to stay above waist-level, “But I have a plan to stop it without any more bloodshed.”
Arthur leaves his pants half undone and approaches the sorcerer with unknown intentions.
“How about, ‘I missed you, Arthur.’ Or, ‘Every moment without you was an agony I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.’”
For the moment, all thoughts of Gisborne beasts and magic plans go poof from the sorcerer’s head.
“You weren’t too interested in hearing all that before,” Merlin recalls, silently willing his pulse to stay even.
“I can be a bit thick sometimes. This can’t be news to you.”
“And what was the cause of this great epiphany?”
“Not being with you today. I missed you, Merlin. Every moment without you was an agony I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.”
Before Merlin can give the appropriate reaction (he will never know what that was going to be), Arthur grabs his face and crushes their lips together.
“We don’t have time for this,” Merlin sighs when he can breathe, jumping on the prince and winding his legs around his waist.
Arthur spins them around and deposits the sorcerer roughly on the table. He tries to get the slighter boy’s trousers unfastened and his own down his hips at the same time, but his hands won’t cooperate.
Merlin cannot stop stroking the prince’s shiny chest and shoulders long enough to help.
With a frustrated growl, Arthur pushes Merlin on his back and rips the pants off, ignoring the pop-pop-pop of stressed threads snapping.
He grabs Merlin’s parted thighs and pulls him to the edge of the table where his flushed cock is waiting.
Coated with the salve for his wounds, his fingers play around Merlin’s tight hole before sinking into silky heat.
He knows he should prepare Merlin more thoroughly, but the boy is writhing around so prettily and Arthur's throbbing prick is starting to get jealous of his fingers.
When he slides slick-quick inside, Merlin arches up from the table with a delirious whine, swearing he is going to die from this.
(And what a sweet death that would be.)
Neither man lasts very long, but it doesn’t matter; this is far from the last time they’re going to get sticky together.
“Now, what were you saying earlier about the beast?” Arthur asks when his executive functions regain control, taking hold of Merlin’s narrow waist to help him sit.
He stays standing between his legs, smirking as Merlin leans back on his arms and just gazes dazedly at him.
“Beast? Oh, yes… I’ve figured out how to end its reign of terror.”
“Really?” Arthur looks surprised, reaching down to get his pants up from around his ankles, “I thought you were just being facetious earlier.”
“We can end this tonight,” Merlin says, letting the prince help him down from the table because chivalrous!Arthur secretly arouses him, “But, you have to go to the caves.”
“Is this some kind of cover-of-darkness strategy?”
“If all goes well, you won’t even be fighting the beast,” Merlin says, pulling on a pair of Arthur’s too-big trousers since his are all but destroyed.
“But, there is a chance I may?”
Magic is never an exact science, so Merlin nods.
“Just be prepared.”
“And what are you-”
“I do,” Arthur vows with his heart and draws the sorcerer closer.
“We should probably have a talk about this later,” Merlin says, indicating the both of them with his hand.
“Doesn’t ‘Oh, Arthur, yes, yes!’ count as a talk?”
“All right, we will,” the prince smiles, cupping Merlin's face to caress ridiculous cheekbones, “But right now, I have to go save the day.”
“Yeah. Me, too. See you in a few hours.”
They give each other a quick kiss and part to do just that.
When Prince Guy enters his chambers, he finds that Camelot boy who knows how to whimper so sweetly, kneeling on his bed.
It’s a good thing he likes surprises.
He prowls slowly around the large bed, never once letting wide, blue eyes stray from his.
He stops at the end of the bed and curls his finger.
The servant crawls over on his hands and knees until he can prop up on the edge of the frame and lean towards Guy expectantly.
The prince reaches for Merlin with that frightening smile that promises both godlike exaltation and absolute destruction.
Then his expression suddenly blanks and he faces exactly east.
He stands stone-still like this for one heartbeat, two… and then races across the room and dives through the window.
Merlin had expected Guy’s transformation to be startling.
But, he hadn’t expected that.
When he scrambles off the bed and over to where Guy disappeared, he can hear the now-familiar flapping of wings and he lets the noise direct his vision towards the clear sky.
Against a bright, full moon, he sees the beast heading in the direction of the mountain.
Merlin directs an energy flare through the membranes of one leathery wing and the beast struggles to stay airborne before winding erratically down to land in the near-frozen moat surrounding the castle.
By the time Merlin makes it outside, a winged Prince Guy is already almost off the castle grounds, stalking single-mindedly into the wilds.
Merlin would call out for him, but he has to remind himself: that isn’t Guy anymore.
After the initial interruption, the beast starts its transformation again, but Merlin is ready for it this time.
When a shiny, segmented tail tries to sprout under the wings, Merlin manipulates Marius’ original spell to suppress the expression of the scorpion gene.
And when scaly, clawed feet start to crush frozen grass blades, Merlin does the same with the lizard gene.
And the boar gene. And the lynx gene. And the gene of that puffy, long-nosed thing (what is that?)
When Merlin is done, the beast is nothing more than a garden-variety rabbit.
Okay, so a rabbit with antlers and tattered wings, but still…
Merlin scoops it up and it gives only a cursory struggle before curling up in his arms like a child.
“You’re a cute little thing, aren’t you?” Merlin grins, stroking its twitching nose.
The rabbit nibbles gently on his finger and watches him with moony gray eyes.
Since the body of the beast is never found, word spreads that it was intimidated by Camelot’s imposing brigade so it turned tail and ran.
With the queen’s permission, Merlin sets up a tentative ward on the caves to only recognize Gisborne’s loyal mountaineers.
He cannot promise it will never be countered, but it’s a better solution than appointing out-of-control guardians.
And speaking of out-of-control guardians, Merlin wishes he could bring Guy’s arrogance down a peg and tell him how cute that little bushy tail of his is, but he knows that would be disastrous.
Seeing that suspicious look on the prince’s face when Merlin randomly offers him carrots will have to be good enough.
Mission complete, the guests retire early to prepare for their long journey home.
In the noble guest chambers, Arthur and Merlin undress each other and slip under warm blankets.
Merlin cuddles up under Arthur’s arm and rests his head on his chest.
Arthur strokes his hair.
“So, what spell did you use on the beast?”
“You know, that’s the most interesting thing!” Merlin gasps animatedly, touching Arthur's arm, “I didn’t even-”
He cuts himself off when his brain processes the implication of the question.
“Is it too late to say, ‘Spell? What spell?’”
Merlin chews on his lip.
“How did you know?”
“Well, there’s coincidence and chance… and pure luck,” Arthur muses, “And then there’s ‘This can only be explained by the use of supernatural forces.’ Like the time you exploded that ink pot in my face.”
Merlin manages to feel ashamed for a few seconds before he succumbs to nervous giggles.
“I’m guessing you’re not gong to string me up,” he says after a moment to confirm his faith in the prince.
“Nah,” Arthur shrugs, keeping his response intentionally light, “I’m not into necrophilia.”
“What about necromancy?”
“You can do that?”
“I don’t know. Probably.”
Merlin snuggles closer against him and closes his eyes, taking pleasure in the freedom and peace of not having to hide.
Of having Arthur truly know him.
“It’s yours, you know,” he whispers in the dark and feels Arthur’s lips graze his forehead.
Closing Notes: Okay, so I kind of feel like a freak for following on the tail of "His Rightful Place" with this mess. Haha, I don't know what came over me! It just kind of happened...
ETA: Thinking back on how the events in the story progressed, how *obvious* was it that Guy was the beast? Haha, good times!