Title: Something Quite Special - posted April 21, 2009
Author: Lacey McBain
Pairing: gen (only slightly less slashy than canon)
Word Count: ~ 3525
Summary: Uther had only ever imagined one suitable reward for
saving Arthur's life.
Disclaimer: Merlin belongs to the BBC. (Do I look like
Notes: Feedback loved, including con crit and Brit picks. (I'm
Canadian, so in theory, I should be close.)
Spoilers: Lines stolen from 1.1; general series up to 1.11
Something Quite Special
The scene was unsurprisingly familiar.
King’s banquet hall was opulent, the court magnificent in its pomp and
finery, and the evening’s entertainment had just attempted to kill
“I told him that jugglers with throwing knives
could only end badly,” Merlin said to Gwen as the two pushed
respectfully through the gawking nobility towards their masters. Never
had the hall seemed so long or so crowded, and Merlin took the
opportunity to tell Gwen—again—how spectacularly bad a plan it had been
to seat the entire royal family at one end of the hall, much like ducks
in a row, and then invite performers with torches and knives to
“It’s traditional,” Gwen explained, and Merlin didn’t
have to ask if she meant the jugglers or the assassination attempt. He
suspected it was true of both from what he’d seen of court life at
When they finally got within sight of the head table,
and Merlin was able to see for himself that Arthur had been neither
singed nor stabbed, he let out a breath and relaxed. He’d been too far
away to do any real good when flaming daggers had started to fly, and
the gust of wind he’d been able to surreptitiously summon had done
little more than extinguish the flames. He was never, ever letting
Arthur send him to the opposite end of the room again, even if Arthur
told him it amused him to see Merlin’s ridiculously-feathered hat
bobbing about at the end of the hall like a rare bird in flight.
was lifting himself off the floor, brushing ineffectually at his cloak,
when he caught Merlin’s eye and gave a quick nod. His face broke into a
smirk that clearly said, still alive, no thanks to you this time,
and Merlin grinned in return with a look that answered, I’m glad
you’re not dead, you prat, because Merlin was still somewhat awful
at insulting Arthur when he’d really, truly come close to death.
crowd was starting to settle back in their seats, and Uther was
speaking, his hand clapped on the shoulder of a young man in the
servant’s green livery of the visiting East Anglia.
my boy’s life,” Uther said, and Merlin felt the cold prickle of
at the back of his neck, as Uther pressed the young man to accept a
“That’s not necessary,” the dark-haired servant said, eyes respectfully
be so modest. This merits something quite special. You shall be awarded
a position in the royal household. You shall be Prince Arthur’s
The applause was instantaneous and sincere, a sweeping wave of hands
clapping, and even Gwen—traitor—slapped her hands together in
Arthur said, and if his voice carried the exact note of whining
petulance that Merlin had heard in the same situation months before,
Merlin chose to believe this time it was for a very different reason.
“So, what are we going to do?” Merlin asked later, catching Arthur in
the hall on the way back to his chambers.
are we going to do about what?” Arthur didn’t slow nor change his
stride, and Merlin had to jog to keep up. The brisk pace, Merlin knew,
was no indication of Arthur’s degree of sobriety; in fact, the quicker
and straighter he walked, the more likely he was to fall down as soon
as he stopped moving.
“Your father gave my job to somebody else, or did you forget that part
of the evening’s entertainment?”
I didn’t forget,” Arthur said, but his lower lip was sticking out
alarmingly and his brows furrowed together like mating caterpillars, a
sure sign of deep thinking going on. Merlin resisted the very pressing
urge to smack the crown prince upside the head, knowing anything that
interfered with his walking at this point was likely to result in
Merlin having to half-carry the prince back to his room.
“Well, he can’t do that!”
the king. He pretty much can do what he wants.” Arthur’s voice held a
sad note of longing in it that Merlin chose to ignore. “Besides, what’s
“I’ve been sacked, that’s the problem!”
don’t remember anyone saying that,” Arthur said, and Merlin knew
without a doubt that he should have cut Arthur off from the wine at
least two goblets earlier. Possibly three.
They were at Arthur’s
chambers now, and Merlin pushed into the room, guiding Arthur to the
chair by the fire and helping him out of his boots.
“Arthur, have you ever had more than one manservant at a time?”
“What? No! I’m not a child. Why would I need—”
“So that suggests that if you have a new manservant then the old
one is being replaced. Are you following?”
nodded, then shook his head. Merlin pulled him to his feet and stripped
him out of his tunic and trousers more quickly and altogether less
gently than he ever had before. At this point, he could’ve probably
magicked him into his nightshirt and Arthur wouldn’t have been the
wiser, but Merlin knew there was no point being deliberately foolish.
He pushed Arthur towards his bed while he closed the windows, banked
the fire, and generally finished off his chores for the night. It
occurred to him that it might be the last time he did any of these
things, and it was with a certain sadness he pulled the draperies
closed around Arthur’s bed, listening to the prince’s soft snores.
“Goodnight, sire,” he murmured, extinguishing the last candle as he
shut the door behind him.
Merlin reported to the household steward’s office at the break of dawn
the next day.
will show young Bertram here to Prince Arthur’s chambers and make the
introductions,” the Steward said. Bertram was now dressed in red
instead of his East Anglian green, and Merlin felt a moment of sympathy
for the boy who couldn’t have been much more than sixteen.
“Do you want me to show him his duties?” Merlin asked, taking the
scroll that was Arthur’s schedule for the day.
not,” the Steward replied. “I’ll be overseeing his orientation myself
given that Prince Arthur opted to train his last personal servant
himself, and we’ve all seen how that turned out.” The steward let a
disapproving eye roam over Merlin.
“And what would you like me to do then?” Merlin asked, not sure he
wanted an answer.
“You’ve proven useless in the laundry, the cooks refuse to have you
underfoot, and the horses seem to dislike you.”
he’d never been trained the way Gwen had and the other servants seemed
to laugh at him a great deal, but Arthur didn’t complain all that often
anymore, or at least he’d learned to do a certain number of things by
himself, which Merlin thought was an improvement on the situation
anyway. It made Arthur considerably less of a prat when he remembered
that there were people on the other end of his orders.
“So, I should return to Gaius to see what he needs help with?”
fine idea, Merlin. On behalf of the House of Pendragon, I commend you
for your brief service.” With that, the steward pressed a coin into
Merlin’s palm and pointed to the door.
turned out, could probably have trained Merlin in the duties of a
servant. He’d been attached to the household of the Duke of East Anglia
since his childhood. He was the son and the grandson of servants, and
although he answered Merlin’s questions amiably, he already had a
greater understanding of his role than Merlin had after months with
The door was partway open when they arrived, a clear
invitation to walk in, and Merlin had one foot over the threshold
before Bertram laid a hand on his arm. “Shouldn’t we knock?” he asked.
“Um, yeah, of course,” Merlin said, and raised a hand to the door.
bloody door’s open, Merlin, just come in and quit skulking about,”
Arthur snapped from the bed. “And you’d better have brought me some of
Gaius’s hangover cure, or—”
Merlin slipped into the room,
Bertram trailing behind him, and Merlin pulled the familiar yellow vial
out of his pocket and tossed it to Arthur. “As if I’d forget, Arthur.”
call him ‘Arthur’?” Bertram whispered, and Merlin realized maybe there
was a reason he ended up in the stocks more often than anyone else.
“Just see that you
don’t call him that,” Merlin whispered back as Arthur downed Gaius’s
potion in one shot. It took him a minute to realize Merlin wasn’t
alone. “Right. Who’s this?”
“Bertram of East Anglia, your highness,” the boy said and made a
Merlin rolled his eyes, and ignored Arthur’s impressed grin. “He’s
to have someone keen to please for a change,” Arthur said, getting out
of bed and stretching. Merlin fought down the urge to tell Bertram to
wait in the hall until Arthur was decent—his shift really didn’t cover
Arthur as well as it could have—and Arthur seemed oblivious to the
attention he was attracting. He bent over to touch his toes, the white
linen riding up to reveal his firm thighs and the full curve of—
should really fetch Arthur something to eat right now!” Merlin said,
grabbing Bertram by the shoulders and pushing him forcefully out the
door. “Meat and fresh bread and porridge. Definitely porridge.”
don’t like porridge,” Arthur murmured, looking over his shoulder at
Merlin, who silenced him with a look, and then pointed towards the west
wing of the castle.
“The kitchens are that way,” Merlin said,
and Bertram, to his credit, set off westward without a glance
backwards. Like a good servant.
“Merlin.” Arthur was apparently
finished taunting him with semi-nakedness and had ducked behind the
screen to dress as Merlin laid clothing choices over the top. Arthur
rejected them by hurling clothes through the air to land on the floor
beside the bed.
“The kitchens are the other direction.”
know that,” Merlin said more harshly than he meant to. “It’s just that
we need to talk, and I don’t want him scurrying back in five minutes.”
“Alright. Who was that, by the way?”
Merlin shook his head in despair and didn’t even care when a grey tunic
hit him in the head. “Bertram of East Anglia.”
“Yes, I got that much, but what was he doing here, and why’s he wearing
“You do remember last night, don’t you?”
peeked around the edge of the screen with a look of horror. “What does
that—did I—did he—this doesn’t involve a wedding, does it?”
to Arthur verbally stumble over possible explanations for Bertram was
entertaining, but Merlin wasn’t in the mood for twenty questions. “No,
sire, you’ve not been married off to East Anglia, nor is Bertram part
of your wife’s dowry. Neither did you deflower him, nor he you, and
from now on when I say you’ve had enough wine, for God’s sake will you
listen to me?”
“Maybe,” came from behind the screen. “That still doesn’t explain—”
“Jugglers. Flaming daggers being thrown at your head. Ringing
“Oh, he saved my life,” Arthur said, emerging from behind the screen,
fully dressed if not fully alert.
were you?” It wasn’t meant to be an accusation Merlin was sure, but it
felt like one regardless, and maybe Uther was right to sack him after
all. Someone had tried to kill Arthur while Merlin and his ridiculous
hat had been bobbing through the crowd, trying to nick an extra plate
of walnut tarts to take back to Arthur’s rooms afterwards. They were
“I managed to blow the flames out!”
across the room?” Arthur looked skeptical, and Merlin reminded himself
that he couldn’t just blurt out the truth about his magic to Arthur
even if he was certain Arthur wouldn’t drag him off to the chopping
block. It was just best for all of them if Merlin was able to keep
doing what he did, and if Arthur remained pleasantly ignorant of the
“I opened a door. There was a wind.” In order to
keep saving Arthur’s life, Merlin was definitely going to need to
continue to be close to him in some capacity, and since he could never
be a knight, he’d have to settle for being a servant.
“Ah, I should have known that mighty wind was you,” Arthur said, and
Merlin said “shut up, Arthur,” but his heart wasn’t in it.
kept on. “Look, I was—it doesn’t matter. Anyway, your father was quite
pleased with Bertram saving your life and decided to make him your new
“Well, yes, that’s the standard reward.”
“What?” Merlin looked up from folding the grey tunic Arthur had tossed
at him. “What do you mean ‘that’s the standard reward’?”
Arthur had the grace to look embarrassed. “Well, he saved my life.”
“So, you’re saying that everyone who saves your life gets to be your
“Well, not everyone, no.”
servant you had before me. Gregory? How did he become your servant?”
Merlin asked, growing more suspicious by the moment as he watched
Arthur develop a sudden intense interest in the stonework surrounding
“Arthur, did Gregory save your life?”
“And before that?”
“Well, before that there was Heinrich.”
“Who also saved your life?”
he—well, yes, I suppose he did, although the arrow probably wouldn’t
have hit me anyway. Still, the poison tip could’ve been quite a nasty
business if he hadn’t—”
“Let me guess … pushed you out of the way?”
Arthur nodded reluctantly. Merlin was beginning to see a disturbing
“Arthur, has there ever been anyone who saved your life who wasn’t
rewarded with becoming your manservant?”
“Yes,” Arthur said triumphantly. “There was Patricia.”
“Who, I’m guessing, was a woman, and therefore ineligible for the
wouldn’t have been entirely appropriate, would it?” Arthur leaned
against the windowsill and met Merlin’s glare. Suddenly, he snapped his
fingers. “Bryant. He saved my life and was never my servant.”
Merlin latched onto the tiny bit of hope Arthur offered. “What was his
“There’s a lovely bronze plaque in the servant quarters.”
thought for a moment. He’d seen that plaque. There were quite a number
of them, actually, now that he thought about it. Small and tasteful,
inscribed with the words “For service offered to the House of
Pendragon.” Followed by a name and a set of dates.
Merlin put a hand to his mouth. “I thought those were dates of service!”
“They are.” Arthur looked mildly uncomfortable now.
“He died saving your bloody life!”
“And he’s got a lovely plaque to commemorate that.”
“It’s a little wall of death, Arthur. An employee-of-the-month board
for people who died trying to become your manservant.”
“I think they were trying to save my life.”
not so sure,” Merlin muttered. “Clearly, everyone knows it’s the
quickest way to get close to you. Even people from East Anglia have
There was a tap at the door and Arthur called for
Bertram to enter. He was expertly carrying a tray laden with a
selection of the kitchen’s finest, and a bowl of porridge steamed in
the corner underneath a cloth. A silver ewer balanced on his head. He
set about efficiently laying out the table and pouring Arthur a goblet
of clear cold water, while Merlin glared and Arthur tried to hold back
“Your breakfast, my lord,” Bertram said, bowing again
before standing aside. “I apologise for the delay, but the route to the
kitchens was rather longer than I remembered.” He didn’t even glance at
Merlin, but somehow accusation filled the room.
“It takes some time to learn the castle. Think nothing of it.”
“I’ll do better next time, my lord.”
“Thank you, Bertram.”
“You never say thank you,” Merlin said bitterly, and Bertram looked at
him horrified, while Arthur laughed.
you may return to the steward with my compliments.” While Bertram bowed
out of the room, Arthur settled down and grabbed for a warm slice of
“Clearly, a bootlicker.”
“Yes, I can see how you would think that about an efficient servant who
does what he’s told and manages to act respectfully.”
“You’ll never know what he’s thinking.”
everyone feels the need to share every thought that pops into his
head.” Arthur dropped a linen napkin onto his lap. “You might do well
to remember that.”
“At least you know where my loyalties lie.”
stop pouting, Merlin,” Arthur said, uncovering the bowl of porridge. He
sprinkled it liberally with sugar and poured cream over it. He handed
the bowl and a spoon over to Merlin. “Eat your breakfast.”
took the porridge, which was sweet and warm and exactly how he liked
it. It didn’t change anything, of course, but it was harder to be upset
with Arthur’s concerned eyes on him and porridge sweet on his tongue.
“Fine. But we still have to figure out what to do about Bertram.”
I give you a new manservant?” Uther asked looking from Arthur to Merlin
and back again. He seemed somewhat disappointed.
“Yes, father,” Arthur replied. “That’s actually what I’ve come to see
there some problem?” Uther leaned forward, clearly intrigued to see
where this was going. “Has the boy—what was his name? Bertram?—been
“No, sire,” Arthur was quick to point out. “He’s very well-trained.”
Uther steepled his gloved hands together and watched his son closely.
“And that’s a problem, Arthur?”
kept his eyes on the floor and counted the cracks in the stones. He’d
thought Arthur’s plan completely idiotic, but short of trying to save
Arthur’s life in a spectacular feat of oneupsmanship over Bertram,
Merlin had been forced to concede it was all they had to work with on
short notice. The next feast wasn’t until nearly a month away, and
Merlin didn’t think the Lady Beatrice and her portly cockatiel could be
relied upon to try to kill Arthur.
“Sire, if I might—” Merlin began, but stopped when Uther sighed and
raised a hand.
“It’s just that I’ve got used to Merlin, father.”
“His mental affliction is catching. That can be the only reasoned
excuse for this.”
said yourself that he’s loyal and brave.” Uther looked up and nodded,
slightly. “He’s shown himself to be capable and resourceful, and I
believe in time and with training, he can prove himself to be a worthy
asset to our household.”
“And would his time not be better served helping Gaius?”
can continue to help Gaius as necessary,” Arthur said without missing a
beat, “but I would respectfully request that he remain as my
manservant, so I can complete his training.”
“You would rather
have a servant who regularly ends up in the stocks for insolence, can
neither mend a seam nor properly sit a horse, and who once fed you rat
stew for dinner?”
Both Arthur and Merlin looked up in surprise.
“The servants do gossip, Arthur. There’s very little I don’t hear.”
squared his shoulders. “With all due respect, sire, Merlin’s never
going to learn how to be a proper servant if we don’t give him a chance
to do the job longer than a few months.”
Uther seemed intrigued. “I’m listening.”
“If we replace him every time someone saves my life, then he’s never
going to reach his full potential.”
long to reach my potential, sire,” Merlin chimed in sincerely, ignoring
the death glare from Arthur, who was trying not to laugh.
as it turns out,” Uther said, “young Bertram is betrothed to a lady of
the East Anglia court, and the Duke has respectfully asked if he might
send another servant in Bertram’s place. So, if you’d prefer to keep
your current manservant—” Uther looked Merlin up and down, shaking his
head, “—then I see no reason why you cannot. Someone will, however,
have to break that news to the household steward.”
“Oh, I’ll do it,” Merlin said gleefully, then respectfully lowered both
his head and his tone. “Sire.”
you, father,” Arthur said, and he and Merlin bowed and left the throne
room. As soon as they’d reached the hall, Merlin reached over and
punched Arthur in the shoulder.
“We did it!”
“We did it.”
Arthur grinned back and slung an arm around Merlin’s shoulder. “So to
celebrate, we should get your training started right away.”
“What?” Merlin glanced at Arthur’s smile, and wondered if it was too
late to recant his desire to remain as Arthur’s servant.
“A proper servant’s work is never truly done, Merlin, and everything
you do reflects on me.”
“My chambers need to be cleaned and aired, the bed linens need
changing, my boots need mending …”
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