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05 November 2008 @ 02:41 pm
The Lantern-bearer, Merlin/Arthur (PG)  
Title: The Lantern-bearer
Author: valderys
Pairing: Merlin/Arthur
Rating: PG
Word Count: 1,742
Notes: Nothing (unfortunately) to do with the Rosemary Sutcliffe novel of the same name, although I recommend it highly, as it’s another take on Arthurian legend, but I’m stealing the title because it fitted. This started as fluff, but it isn’t, really :) Bittersweet, I think, instead. A coda for ‘The Gates of Avalon’.
Summary: Sophia was an aberration, but that’s not to say that Uther’s wrong. One day, Merlin may have to learn to share.

Merlin’s changing the sheets on the bed when Arthur finds him. The feather bed is being pounded into shape. Merlin’s giving it his all, jerkin removed, sleeves rolled up. Thin pale arms are beating, beating, at the recalcitrant piece of furniture. Arthur wants to quip, what has the bed ever done to Merlin? But the words die in this throat, as being too prophetic, too cruel. Arthur thinks before he speaks, for the most part, unlike some servants he could mention. And this is one of those times.

He stands there, instead, watching him. He leans on the bedpost and watches the dust in the air as it circles lazily in the sunlight. It’s pretty, Arthur supposes – he’s never really taken the time to pay attention before. Or rather, that’s not true, he’s always known it’s there, beauty in the most unexpected of places, but other things have taken precedence. Other things always will. He wonders if Merlin understands that.

Merlin’s ignoring him, and since Arthur’s not stupid, he can recognise a petty tactic when he sees one. And although he’s the Prince, and really, Merlin should never ignore him, no servant should, he’s not worried about it. They’re not like that with one another, Arthur knows that. He hopes Merlin knows that too. Arthur doesn’t treat Merlin like anyone else. Merlin’s position is unique, but he’s not overly grateful, or scared of it, or using it, like another might be. But that’s one of the things Arthur likes about him.

Absently, it occurs to him that Merlin probably thinks of his position as body servant in a completely different way to Arthur. He’s not used to the Court, to Courtly ways, so he might not realise certain realities. Certain evident truths. It might even be, although Arthur winces at the thought, that he might have to inform Merlin about something of his own future, with all its expectations. In all fairness, Merlin deserves to know what the least kitchen-hand probably takes for granted.

For example, Arthur wonders if Merlin thought he was doing something special when he watched over Arthur as he slept, as he recovered from the blow to the head, when Merlin had stopped him from eloping. Maybe Merlin didn’t realise it, but Arthur has had people watch him sleep all his life. First his wet nurse, then his nanny, then his tutors. He’s barely had a night when he wasn’t watched, not until he became a man, or close enough. Then, and only then, did he have the authority to tell them all to get the hell out. Solitude is a luxury, but Arthur is pretty sure that Merlin doesn’t understand that.

He moves again, away from the bedpost, towards the window. It’s annoying but Arthur’s pretty sure he’s going to break, and speak first. He’s not sure he should, but Merlin, the silly fool, can out-stubborn a donkey. He’s not even sure he should indulge him like this, but again – things are different when it comes to Merlin.

“I was ensorcelled, you know that,” he says, at last, to his reflection in the glass, to the shadowy figure reflected behind him.

Arthur waits. He stares out into the courtyard where a bit of desultory sword practice is going on. It looks like Cerdic needs some more work on his feinting. Behind him, the thumping noises are redoubled, and Arthur tilts his head a little, allowing himself a smile where Merlin can’t see it. At least the bed will be damn comfortable tonight.

“Look, I could say I’m sorry, but you know that’s not how these things work,” he tries again.

“And exactly how should these things work, sire?”

Oh yes, he had thought that would get to Merlin. Arthur turns round then, and his breath catches in his throat. All the exercise has brought a flush to Merlin’s cheek, his shirt is hanging off his shoulders, and his blue eyes are flashing with anger… It’s a good look on him.

“She – Sophia – it wasn’t my fault, and you know it.”

“And what about all the lying? That wasn’t my fault either, but I’m getting good at it, you know. Maybe you should be worried.”

Arthur can’t help it, he laughs. He knows it’s a mistake as soon as he does so, but the idea is so ridiculous. Merlin can just about lie to Uther, that’s all, not to Arthur, not to his Prince. Arthur frowns. Well, he can try it, and see how far he gets. But Merlin is glaring daggers now. On reflection however, Arthur finds he prefers Merlin angry with him, rather than ignoring him, so things could be worse.

“Look,” he says, feeling his way, “This wasn’t my choice, but even if magic hadn’t been involved, at some point I’ll still be expected to…”

He looks into Merlin’s guileless blue eyes. Really, it’s a miracle the boy’s got this far through life, Merlin doesn’t have the sense he was born with. Or any idea of the political realities.

“You know one day I’ll marry, don’t you?” he finally says, bluntly.

Merlin blinks and looks away, and Arthur’s heart flips in his chest. Dammit. He ploughs on. It has to be faced.

“It will be a political match, of course. My father will most probably arrange it, with advice from the other lords, although he’ll consult Geoffrey, to ensure that the bloodlines are sufficient. Not too close in sanguinity, not too plebeian. Politically, the marriage will have to offer the Kingdom a significant advantage. Probably a military alliance, perhaps trading rights. If I’m lucky she’ll not be too ugly, and she’ll give me an heir quickly. If I’m unlucky, she won’t.”

Arthur pauses and watches Merlin. He’s smoothing the corner of a pillow case down with his fingers. His nails are a little bitten. He must remember to have a word with him about that. Terrible habit.

“Father was lucky – he made a love match. But he didn’t know that when Princess Igraine was brought in state from her Cornish home. It’s only because he made a love match that I’ve been allowed to remain unbetrothed this long. Father doesn’t have many romantic notions, but I truly believe this is one.”

Although that’s mainly because Father expects him to fall in love with Morgana. Arthur really doesn’t want to remind Merlin of that.

“And…” Merlin’s voice is faint, but gets stronger as he continues. “What about me?”

What about Merlin? Arthur looks at him, wondering if he even wants Merlin to be politically aware. He’s not sure, but he thinks it might spoil something. He’s groping in the gloom, and it’s just a glimmer in the darkness, but he wants Merlin as he is now, ridiculous fringe flopping into his eyes, ears sticking out, dust all over him. Not cynical, bitter and twisted.

Regardless of his own finery, and the dustiness of Merlin, Arthur reaches out and yanks him towards him. Merlin resists a little, but only a little. He’s like a furnace, right now, his heat plasters itself all down Arthur’s body, bony limbs poking out, not graceful, or poised at all. Thank goodness. Arthur bends his head a little, his lips just brushing the soft skin of Merlin’s neck, just by the juncture of his shoulder. He’s gratified by a shiver.

“You, Merlin, are my body servant. If you can avoid being poisoned, executed…” He punctuates each instance with a small kiss, a small shake. “Or otherwise killed. Then you will remain with me for the rest of my life. The rest of my reign. And the body servant of a King is expected to sleep in the same chamber as his master, to be with him always, because he’s there to do and be anything that is required of him. At any time.”

Merlin smells of earthy things, a hint of horses, the liniment that Gaius brews, a tinge of fresh sweat. It’s delicious. Arthur urgently wants to bite down, to mark, to claim him for his own, but he doesn’t. He’s not that kind of a man, he doesn’t intend to be that kind of a King.

“Merlin? Will that satisfy you? Is that enough?”

And that’s the crux of it. Will Merlin understand? Arthur’s not even sure it’s fair of him to be asking. It’s not like they’ve known each other long (forever), or promised each other anything (everything).

“And where will this mythical Queen of yours be?” asks Merlin, at last, and there’s the sarcasm.

Arthur leans back a little so he can look Merlin in the eye. “You’ve never seen the State Chambers, have you? They were shut up when my Mother died. They’re in the South Wing.”

“That’s a long way.”

“It is.”

They stare at each other. They’re too close, really, and Merlin’s eyes are blurring, a hint of gold hidden in the blue. Arthur can feel every single point of contact between their bodies, he wants to throw Merlin down onto the overly plumped bed, he wants to drag him closer, and closer still. He holds himself taut, instead. The consummate Prince. Trained for control, for power. Father would be pleased with him.

Arthur continues at last, slowly, feeling the weight of each word. “I’ll not pretend, Merlin. When the time comes, you’ll be expected to prepare things for her. You’ll draw me a bath, and shave me, and send me off primped and perfumed. You’ll probably carry the lantern that lights the way.”

“But you’ll come back,” says Merlin, quick as a flash.

“I’ll always come back.”

He doesn’t think he lies. He doesn’t. He wishes he were certain.

Merlin smiles then, tips his head a little to one side, as though offering his throat, that hint of vulnerability that drives Arthur wild.

“Well.” Merlin’s voice is ruminative, brittle. “That’s not so bad. I suppose. For the rest of your life, eh? It’s almost as though we share a destiny.”

Arthur chuckles lightly, because he thinks Merlin’s made a joke, although he’s not sure he understands. But it doesn’t matter. He’s told him. He’s spelled out the politics of it all, of their lives, and Merlin hasn’t run away. Merlin’s even smiling, although it’s a funny twisted thing. Arthur has a pang then, a sudden feeling that he’s missed the point somewhere along the way.


“My Prince,” says Merlin, kissing him, “Don’t worry. I’m used to being the lantern that lights the way.”
Profiterole: Merlin - Merlin and Arthur_profiterole_ on November 5th, 2008 03:04 pm (UTC)
That was beautiful.

I don't find it too bittersweet, really, since Merlin doesn't take it badly.
Valderys: Arthurvalderys on November 5th, 2008 05:00 pm (UTC)
Oh, good! :) Still not fluff though. Hmm. And to be honest, I suspect Merlin's repressing his feelings somewhat...
harknessgirlharknessgirl on November 5th, 2008 03:09 pm (UTC)
Oh this was beautifull :-)
Loved the interaction and the dialogue between the two men.
Valderys: Arthurvalderys on November 5th, 2008 05:02 pm (UTC)
Just a little something that built on my thoughts after 'Gates of Avalon' - it was meant to be shorter, but Arthur beat around the bush a bit :)
Hils: Anyone?hils on November 5th, 2008 03:13 pm (UTC)
This is really beautifully written. I love it.
Valderys: Arthurvalderys on November 5th, 2008 05:02 pm (UTC)
Aww. Thank you! Rambling two-handers - that's me! :)
(no subject) - hils on November 5th, 2008 05:28 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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Valderys: Arthurvalderys on November 5th, 2008 05:17 pm (UTC)
I know fandom concensus appears to believe that Arthur is a bit... intellectually challenged :) But it is my belief that he has a lot of common sense, which Merlin certainly doesn't have. And yes, he's conscientious, that's exactly it. Aww. Thank you!
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Valderys: Merlin - start of a legendvalderys on November 5th, 2008 06:24 pm (UTC)
Indeed it would! :) And I know Merlin didn't get angry in the episode, but he should have, given what Arthur asked of him, and then didn't say thank you - so there's a bit of that in this fic too.
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(no subject) - valderys on November 5th, 2008 06:33 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - rodneyscat on November 5th, 2008 06:46 pm (UTC) (Expand)
kinda into that Colin Morgan guy: colin 2rodneyscat on November 5th, 2008 06:43 pm (UTC)
I was so pleasantly surprised to see your name pop up at merlinxarthur, because I remembered you from 'White Rabbit', so I hoped this was going to be good. And I was right.

I love how Arthur tries to balance what he desires with what he knows and accepts are his duties. I love how Merlin is flexible enough to be content with that. I love watching Merlin through Arthur's eyes.

It's very satisfying to feel that even if they can't have everything, they can have each other within certain limits.

Thanks for sharing.
Valderys: Arthurvalderys on November 6th, 2008 02:01 pm (UTC)
And you used to be dutch_eowyn, didn't you? I remember you from LotR, I think - where I used to write as nickeyb! I'm recognising so many names these days, somehow fandom is feeling a bit smaller than it did :) I've been writing Torchwood in between - still am - but Merlin has grabbed me *so* hard! I don't think I've ever had two fandoms competing for space in my head before. That's a first!

Thank for this - and remembering White Rabbit - that was a niche market kind of fic! :) Merlin's small but feisty as fandoms go - and growing fast. It's so exciting!
(no subject) - rodneyscat on November 6th, 2008 10:04 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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Valderys: Arthurvalderys on November 6th, 2008 02:03 pm (UTC)
Aww. You're very kind. Personally, as it's my first fic in this fandom, I think the voices aren't quite coming naturally yet, but they will! :)
lupus_malus on November 5th, 2008 07:58 pm (UTC)
That was great. I really like Arthur here.
Valderys: Arthurvalderys on November 6th, 2008 02:04 pm (UTC)
Slightly less of Arthur the Prat, more of Arthur the Statesman. We've had flashes already in the show...
Demon Faith: die for youdemon_faith on November 5th, 2008 08:06 pm (UTC)
Oh, love *warm fuzzies*

It started out so bitter but Arthur made it all better. I love the little explanations about the parts of Court life Merlin doesn't get - I hadn't really thought about it before.

Simply lovely.
Valderys: Arthurvalderys on November 6th, 2008 02:06 pm (UTC)
Oh good! I thought the ambiguous nature of the situation that Merlin's agreeing to, might not be warm and fuzzy enough :)
merelyn on November 5th, 2008 08:38 pm (UTC)
Oh, this was lovely and gorgeous and sad, and somehow exactly how I can see this playing out.
Valderys: Arthurvalderys on November 6th, 2008 02:07 pm (UTC)
Reality in as preposterous fantasy world as that of 'Merlin'? *rubs hands* Oh yes, we can do that! :)
FlameStoneflamestone on November 5th, 2008 09:22 pm (UTC)
Awww :) Sad and yet... right. And good, because they both (sort of) understand. That's about as good as it realistically could be :)

Beautifully done, well done :D
Valderys: Arthurvalderys on November 6th, 2008 02:08 pm (UTC)
Yep, I'm all for realistic, as far as it goes :) Although Merlin may yet find the nature of the bargain he's agreed to, to be chafing... But that's for the future.
EnohIOenigma_o on November 5th, 2008 11:14 pm (UTC)
That was pretty. It's an interesting idea though. Author keeping Merlin innocent of, and protecting him from, political matters so that he can keep being Merlin (and a complete dork).

Meanwhile you have Merlin keeping Author innocent of, and protecting him from, magical matters so that he can keep being not dead.
Valderys: Arthurvalderys on November 6th, 2008 02:14 pm (UTC)
I hadn't thought about it like that before, but you are totally right! :) *pets the boys*

I like your icon, although it shouldn't it read OMGWTFJellyfish! :)
Lauraflameofaphoenix on November 5th, 2008 11:57 pm (UTC)
Wooo Hun, Loving the Fiction - Really Nicely Written,
Read this on the merlinxarthur Community and when i read who the author was i went "I know this crazy lady" !! hehe

Looking forward to more good Fanfiction and Please continue with Merlin and Arthur, Can't seam to read another of it.
Valderys: John/Gareth at the Hub - swoonvalderys on November 6th, 2008 02:18 pm (UTC)
Yep, no worries, there's plenty of plot bunnies skipping about their merry way - I'm pretty sure I'll write more Merlin/Arthur. I think I may even have a little Gaius/Uther up my sleeve, as it were! :)

Are you going to GDLs latest gig on Saturday in Birmingham, hon?
(no subject) - flameofaphoenix on November 6th, 2008 06:59 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - flameofaphoenix on November 7th, 2008 01:10 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - valderys on November 9th, 2008 12:34 am (UTC) (Expand)
{    ♫ siri ♫    }thisissirius on November 6th, 2008 12:15 am (UTC)
OH, how wonderfully refreshing! I love it so much. They're in character and it's like you've lifted this right from a script. If, you know, they endorsed the homoerotic undertones. Brilliant :)
Valderys: Arthurvalderys on November 6th, 2008 02:27 pm (UTC)
Aww, thank you! Since it's my first foray in this fandom, I want to work on my voices, but I have some other ficlets bubbling... I need to think about my insults - the boys need to banter more! :)
Raiiningraiining on November 6th, 2008 12:33 am (UTC)

That was gorgeous/i>!

"Arthur urgently wants to bite down, to mark, to claim him for his own, but he doesn’t. He’s not that kind of a man, he doesn’t intend to be that kind of a King."

This was really lovely - because I like the possessiveness, but I understand that Arthur can't be like he wants, like he could choose. He's always going to put his people first, and thats what we love so much about him, in behind and between the arrogant Prince banter.

The end was beautiful, too. The lantern lighting the way. And the way Arthur thinks - hopes - that he doesn't lie. But he can't be sure.

Mmm. Gorgeous.
Valderys: Arthurvalderys on November 9th, 2008 12:40 am (UTC)
Thank you! I love the little hints in this show that despite all the changes in what we might expect of Arthurian legend, it's still going to end, as it were, the same. Which does mean Arthur is going to be the great King we know he will be, and yet will make the stupid mistakes we also know he will do. And while sad, that also gives me shivers of glee!

And it means we can play with the genre and the corners the legend doesn't tell us about, with impunity. Like this one! :)