Arthur laughed, pulling his hapless friend out of the chair and steadying him when he nearly fell over. “It really does get easier—with practice. Lots and lots of practice,” he added with a smirk as he finished with Merlin’s armor and easily slung off his own.
Merlin fell back into the other chair with a thump as Arthur claimed his own and regarded him curiously. “I know you aren’t out of shape—you run around this castle like a rabbit, and you eat like a horse, despite appearances.”
Merlin opened his mouth to retort, but Arthur wasn’t finished. “And you can be quiet when you want; I don’t sleep that heavily, yet there have been plenty of times where you have managed to come in and get the fire going, and my clothes laid out, and breakfast on the table before I wake up.” He fixed the younger man with a look. “So what’s with the clumsy act, and what other abilities have you been hiding from me?”
He knows it is fruitless, knows the answer he is seeking won’t breach the air between them, but some inner impulse spurs him on anyway.
Merlin has no clue of his inner turmoil, taking the question at face value, and for once, considering it seriously. “I guess I’m fine on my own, but swords and other things make me nervous.” He finally answered. “You know, being noblemen’s weapons and all. I’m a peasant—hunting rabbits is one thing, but deer? In the royal forest? Not a chance. In Camelot or in Cendrid’s kingdom,” he added bitterly.
Arthur nodded slowly. It wasn’t the answer he wanted, but he was still pleased by the honesty. He wanted to ask why Merlin hadn’t said anything over the past months he had been there, but knew the answer. He assumed the castle chatelaine would show Merlin how to do his duties, had assumed that he would automatically know because it never occurred to the prince to think otherwise.
“Well, we’ll do some training every day,” he said out loud. “Being my servant elevates your status and it also raises other people’s expectations and assumptions of your skills. Those who have seen you in action know better, of course.”
“We all must maintain certain illusions of rank.” Merlin retorted cheerfully. “I’m certain there are many among the court and town who would be severely disappointed to learn that you really are a royal prat. Oh wait.”
Arthur’s eyes narrowed. “Merlin.”
Even Merlin knew to back down upon hearing that tone.
He was nearly at the door when Arthur spoke again. “Merlin. I ordered you to get out. Not your armor. Leave it right there. You’ll need it for tomorrow.”
He watched as Merlin reluctantly relinquished the armor back to the table, and slunk away. Only when the door was safely closed behind him did Arthur groan loudly, running his hands through his hair in frustration. He had returned to his bed after his conversation with the dragon—Kilgarrah—expecting to toss and turn the remainder of the night away. Instead, he had slept deeply and woken filled with new resolve.
While he was still coming to terms with the revelations and repercussions of the past few days, one thing had remained quite clear: Merlin was still Merlin. Prophecies and predictions and magic could not change the fact that his bumbling, good-natured, sarcastic, stubbornly loyal to a fault servant and friend was still just that. Arthur had felt the strength of Merlin’s faith and loyalty in him, solid down to the core. Not even the news that his bumbling, good-natured, sarcastic, stubbornly loyal to a fault servant and friend was actually a powerful warlock could change that.