Merlin approached the prince’s quarters the next morning with some trepidation. He had never returned to complete his evening chores, assuming that the king and prince would want some privacy. And he had been half-right; Arthur hadn’t sent a servant after him, but coming upon Uther prowling around in Gaius’ chambers and the resulting awkward conversation/threat had left the young warlock sufficiently spooked with a bad taste in his mouth.
Taking a deep breath, he knocked once and stepped warily into the room. “Good morning, sire,” he said in an approximation of his normal cheerful tone. Setting the breakfast tray down, he turned…and stopped. “You’re dressed.”
“I was getting dressed by myself before you came, Merlin, and shall continue to do so by myself many times in the future.” Arthur said dryly from his spot at the window. “Especially since my erstwhile manservant is always late and I do not particularly wish to attend a council meeting in my nightclothes, if it’s all the same to you.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it.” Merlin muttered not so quietly, frowning as he noticed the extra, slightly smaller pile of armor next to Arthur’s own. “What’s all this?”
Arthur turned from the window and smiled wolfishly. Merlin paled. “I was thinking-”
“-that although you are incredibly incompetent, I’m obviously not getting rid of you—by my choice or yours—so you need to have at least some weapons skills beaten into you. I have no idea how you’ve managed to survive this long.”
Actually, he knew perfectly well exactly how Merlin had managed to come out unscratched after a fight, but he pushed that away. Magic or not, midnight talks with dragons or not, Merlin was his servant, not Uther’s, and therefore under Arthur’s protection and personal responsibility. Until something happened to force his hand one way or the other, that was how things were going to stay.
Arthur didn’t think he could bear the weight of riding back to Eauldor to inform Hunith that her son had succumbed to the flames of Uther’s hatred. Of course, he had to actually leave Camelot first, which he wasn’t sure he would be able to do after Morgana and Gwen were finished with him.
“Just lucky, I guess.” Merlin replied, managing a wobbly smile. “Oh, and once upon a time I wasn’t chasing after a royal prat of a prince. Apparently a lot of people want to kill you.”
“Don’t know why; everyone loves me.” Arthur shrugged, but his mood darkened a bit. Most of his enemies were actually Uther’s, forged in the heat of hate and grief and revenge for their loved ones having fallen to the king’s law.
“Okay!” Merlin said brightly, edging toward the door. “I guess I’ll go get started on the laundry then—“
“We have laundresses to do that, Merlin.” Arthur rolled his eyes at the obvious ploy. “You’re not getting out of this.”
“You need to learn to defend yourself. There’s not always going to be a convenient branch to drop on someone’s head.” He watched the other man pale slightly and waited. Merlin said nothing. “Come on.” Arthur sighed. “We’ll start easy.”
“Your definition of ‘easy’ and my definition are not even in the same realm of experience.” Merlin groaned, collapsing in Arthur’s chair later that afternoon.