Merlin raised his brows slowly. “Um. Magic.” He frowned. “I thought you’d be pleased.”
“Dammit, Merlin!” Arthur snapped, seeing red. “I didn’t accept it so that you could go around being more of an idiot than you usually are! Why would I be pleased with you taking a shortcut on an honest skill that could someday save your life?”
Merlin opened his mouth, but stopped when he realized that he didn’t have response.
Arthur sighed and shook his head. “Merlin. I’ve been taught all of my life that magic is powerful, a force to be reckoned with, meant for great deeds and greater evils. It corrupts and slays the mind and soul. I know that’s not always the case, but it’s not a crutch, either. Even for someone like you, it’s still a tool like any other, to be wielded as delicately as a physician’s knife or harshly as an executioner’s axe. Don’t take it for granted.” He finished sternly. “You are not invincible; no one is. No one is meant to be.”
The warlock was silent for long moments, absorbing the prince’s words. “Sire.” He said quietly, bowing his head, both in apology and acknowledgement of his liege’s lesson and warning.
Arthur waited another moment before saying briskly, “Still, no need to waste what little effort you did put into all of this.” Clapping Merlin on the shoulder, he walked over to the log near the fire and sat down, reaching out gingerly to check the rabbits, now spitted and roasting over the flame.
His friend followed suit after a moment, and they sat in silence, staring into the fire.
“It feels like a weight has been simultaneously lifted from my shoulders and is crushing me down to earth, “ Arthur murmured. “You have magic, Merlin. In Camelot. Under my father’s reign.” He rubbed a hand over his face and sighed. “I’m not going to ask why you came here, because there would be no point. I’m not going to even get into the fact that you lied to my face, starting all the way back at Ealdor.” He glanced sidelong at his companion, who did not meet his gaze. “No more lies, Merlin. Starting now. If there’s one thing I can’t abide more than anything, it’s being lied to. No more deceit, no more trickery. No more short cuts, unless there’s no other solution.”
This time he waited until Merlin met his gaze. “I mean it. Camelot is still under my father’s rule. I will protect you as best as I can. But people are going to begin to talk, if they haven’t already, if you carry on the way you are. You need to learn basic hunting, tracking, and fighting skills, Merlin. I don’t care if it’s with sword, staff, or bow. You just need to learn. Also, no more riding out with me without at least chainmail or a jerkin to protect you.”
Merlin wrinkled his nose, but yielded to the Prince’s command. “Fine. I’ll learn the quarterstaff and bow, alright? No swords. And a leather jerkin is fine, but no chainmail. Nothing metal. It…interferes.” He waved his hand vaguely, which Arthur took to mean that the metal links somehow interfered with his magic.
“Fine. We will begin first thing tomorrow morning.” He was amused by Merlin’s groan, which was only partly exaggerated, and took a few moments of teasing and banter before getting down to the true subject at hand. “Your magic wasn’t the only secret revealed to me by the Great Dragon, Merlin…”
“So let me get this straight.” Merlin said. The rabbits had long been devoured, the bones buried a safe distance away to deter scavengers, and a magical shield had been erected over the clearing to deter anyone else. Now, even if anyone was out in the dismal weather, they would simply see more thick forest, instead of the quite cozy campsite they had put together.