As the sun broke over the horizon, Merlin smuggled the two brothers out of the castle so that they could make their entrance properly, and then headed toward Arthur’s chamber to start the day, stopping by the kitchen to pick up the King’s breakfast plate. He nibbled at the plate as he wove through the morning hustle of the corridors.
“Breakfast is-” The King and Queen were already seated at the table, eating. Clarissa, Gwen’s maid, gave Merlin a sheepish look from the window. “Oh.”
“Sorry, Merlin,” Clarissa whispered, as Arthur declared, “Late as usual, Merlin, honestly-”
“I’m not late!” Merlin insisted, “You didn’t let me finish! Ahem, breakfast is...not over yet, Sire – I’ve brought seconds.”
Merlin placed the plate on the table with a flourish, smiling at Gwen’s giggle.
“You know, I could have sworn the kitchen usually provides more food than that...” Arthur raised an eyebrow at Merlin. Then he motioned to his mouth and pointed at Merlin, “you’ve got a little egg by your lip there, Merlin.”
“I don’t know what you’re trying to imply, but I assure you that I’m innocent and, quite frankly, I’m offended,” Merlin said, picking up the silver water jug and refilling their cups. As he walked behind Arthur, he held the jug up and quickly used it as a mirror, wiping his lip clean. He winked at Gwen.
Clarissa giggled, and then quickly excused herself to tend to the Queen’s washing when Arthur looked over at her.
“Honestly, Merlin,” Arthur said. “You are the most incompetent- Where HAVE you been this morning?”
“Oh, you know me, busy busy busy...”
“Sleeping no doubt,” Arthur said. “Well, I hope you’ve had a nice lie in, because we’ve a full day ahead of us-”
“Yes, yes,” Merlin agreed, moving over to strip the bed. “Court, council meeting, the speech to the Weavers Guild-”
A knock on the door cut Merlin off. He left the bedclothes in a pile on the floor and quickly crossed the room to answer it. Leon gave Merlin a small sad smile as he stepped into the room. Merlin’s levity faded.
“Sir Leon,” Arthur greeted.
“Sire, there has been another attack in the lower town,” Leon reported. “A jewel merchant has been found dead.”
“Was it done by the same manner of beast?” Gwen asked.
“Certainly no man would kill in such a manner,” Leon answered.
“Thank you, Leon,” Arthur said. “Have Gaius see me after he has examined the body.”
“Yes, My Lord,” Leon bowed, “My Lady.” And then he disappeared out the door.
“Merlin, clothes,” Arthur said, even though Merlin was already moving towards the wardrobe. “Guinevere, my love, I’m sorry to cut our breakfast short. It seems I must hold court earlier this morning than I intended.”
“I’ll join you,” Gwen answered somberly. “I’ll have someone fetch Clarissa from the laundry and meet you there shortly.” Gwen still had her hair hanging loose from sleep, and no doubt needed Clarissa to help her pin it back for the day.
Merlin passed clothes to Arthur as he stepped behind the dressing screen. Gwen turned back at the door and caught Merlin’s eye, pointing to the food and giving him a wink. Merlin smiled.
“I don’t understand,” Arthur said. “Every day we hunt these beasts, and there is no trace – and yet every morning another life is taken.”
“I am sure the beast will be killed soon,” Merlin reassured, moving over to the table and munching on the leftovers.
“How, when we don’t even know what manner of beast it is?” Arthur asked.
“I am sure a solution will come,” Merlin replied around a bite of sausage.
“Are you eating?” Arthur asked.
“No, Sire!” Merlin replied, hiding his hands behind his back when Arthur looked around the screen.
“Honestly, Merlin, you’re the worst liar I know,” Arthur rolled his eyes. “At least sit down, or you’ll get the hiccups again.”
“Yes, Sire,” Merlin smiled, sitting in Gwen’s empty seat and drinking Arthur’s water.
Gaius had given his report to the King and Queen, and Arthur had made a ruling in a case about a farmer’s minor grievance against his neighbour, when Merlin finally saw Sam and Dean being led into the room by Sir Leon. They looked so different dressed in proper attire. Sam’s towering figure was even more formidable and the chainmail emphasized Dean’s broad chest. Sam had seemed a little self-conscious about his lack of sleeves, but Merlin had to admit that, coupled with the long hair, Percival’s old armour made him look quiet wild. They both gave Merlin only the barest glance before their gaze settled on Arthur.
“My Lord,” Sir Leon greeted Arthur, “these two men claim to have knowledge of the beast.”
Merlin watched Arthur sit up straighter in his seat, assessing the two warriors. Sam and Dean gave no hint that they were anything more than just simple mercenaries – and Merlin breathed a sigh of relief when he realized that the two were obviously very good liars, as they had promised him.
They bowed, as Merlin had instructed them, but remained standing.
“Speak,” Arthur commanded. “Who are you and what knowledge do you have.”
The two warriors shared a look, and then Dean stepped forward. Merlin’s pulse quickened. Of the two brothers, Merlin thought Sam was more adept at speaking politely.
“King Arthur, Queen Guinevere,” Dean said. “My name is Dean and this is my younger brother Sam.” Merlin hadn’t asked before, but now he realized that Dean was the eldest and therefore the head of the family, which naturally meant he should speak first. Merlin considered their personalities in this new light – it made the legend seem almost incongruous.
“Sam and I are mercenaries and hunters. We make our living hunting monsters – such as the monsters that are attacking your kingdom. We have come to offer our services.”
“I have the knights of Camelot, the best trained warriors and hunters in the land – what could the two of you possibly offer in addition to that?” Arthur asked. Merlin tried to catch Dean’s eyes, to communicate that the King’s answer was only bravado and that Arthur would be happy for the help.
“We offer experience and knowledge of the enemy,” Sam spoke from behind Dean. “We have been hunting creatures of its kind since we were children.”
Arthur nodded, considering.
“What do you know of the creature attacking Camelot?” Gwen asked, speaking up for the first time from beside Arthur. “Did you follow them here?”
“We heard reports of deaths in Camelot,” Dean answered. “It sounded like...we were needed.”
“Can you name the beast? Our own research has found nothing that matches the wounds,” Arthur stated, and turned his head ever so slightly towards Merlin.
“We can, My Lord,” Sam answered. “We can also kill it, if you give us the resources to do so.”
“And what resources are those? Gold?”
“Food and lodging,” Dean responded, “for me and my brother until our work is done.”
“You’re not interested in the reward?” Gwen asked with curiosity.
“We don’t need money,” Sam shook his head.
There was a silence as Arthur considered. Merlin knew he was too desperate to refuse them; there had been ten deaths in fewer days.
“Very well,” Arthur said, and then turned to speak to George, who was attending to the nobility in court that morning. “Arrange a room in the Knights’ Hall for our guests. Sir Leon, inform the knights that Dean and Sam will be attending council.”
“Yes, My Lord,” Leon bowed and left the room.
“Before I dismiss you,” Arthur turned his attention back to Dean and Sam, “you must tell me the name of the beast that we are hunting.”
“It’s called a werewolf, your highness,” Dean answered. “They eat the heart of their victims.”
“I see,” Arthur said, “but what about the others?”
“The other victims, the ones that still had their hearts,” Arthur explained.
“I’m sorry...Sire,” Sam said, and Merlin watched his gaze flick towards Merlin briefly. Merlin bit his lip, he couldn’t acknowledge that he knew the warriors. “We didn’t know there were more. May I ask what their injuries were?”
“Their necks were bitten as if by some sort of rabid weasel.”
Merlin watched as the two brothers shared a look with each other.
“Vampires,” Dean said. “Sire, you have two different monsters on your hands.”
“Splendid,” Arthur said dryly. “And do you know how to kill these...vampires...as well?”
“Yes, My Lord,” Sam answered.
“Very well, you’re dismissed,” Arthur said, and then he addressed no one in particular. “Escort Sam and Dean to the Knights’ Hall.”
Merlin stepped forward.
“Follow me, gentlemen,” Merlin said. Sam and Dean both nodded, bowed to the King, and did an odd sort of backwards shuffle before turning and following Merlin.
As they walked through the castle, past guards and other servants, Sam took it all in, memorizing the way from the court to the Knights’ Hall, tracking the exits and how many guards were on each.
“How old do you think Arthur is?” Dean asked. “He barely looked out of his teens.”
“Dean,” Sam warned, eyeing Merlin’s back. “Think about it. What do you think the life expectancy is around here?”
“Hey, Gaius is one old dude… I’m just saying... Arthur’s a kid, man-”
“Arthur’s a great king,” Merlin turned and said to them, a note of warning in his voice. Sam made a motion of agreement.
“Yeah, but seriously, Merlin – how old is he? How old are you?” Dean pressed.
“Dean-” Sam started, but Merlin cut him off.
“How old were you when your father died?” Merlin asked in return. “How old was Sam? Arthur has been trained his whole life for this role, just as you were.”
Dean raised his hands defensively. “Okay, point taken. The stories all say he’s a great guy. I just pictured him older, is all.”
Merlin turned back around, leading them to a long corridor filled with doors.
“This is the Knights’ Hall,” Merlin explained. “Your room will be between Sir Leon’s and Sir Gwaine’s.” One of the doors was ajar and Merlin led them into that room. The servant that Arthur had sent out of court was there, directing three other servants in the placement of a second bed. “Hello!” Merlin greeted, “Thank you, George.”
George looked annoyed, but the other servants all smiled brightly at Merlin.
“If that’s all...” George said.
“Yes, thank you,” Merlin said. “I’m going to get our guests settled, so we can switch and you can go look after the Royal Prat until he adjourns court.”
George glared at Merlin and left the room without a word. The other servants laughed and shook their heads.
“Sam, Dean,” Merlin said. “I’d like you to meet Mary, Peter, and Callum. They’re assigned to the Knights’ Hall. If you need anything, you can ask them.” The servants all bowed or curtsied.
“Uh, hi,” Sam said.
“Thanks...in advance, I guess,” Dean said beside him.
“Our pleasure,” Mary smiled at Dean...and Dean smiled back. Sam rolled his eyes. It never did take Dean long.
“Thank you for setting up the second bed,” Merlin said. “Just leave the bedclothes; I’ll take over from here. You can get back to your schedule.” The servants all smiled at Merlin gratefully and then left the room.
Merlin walked over and shut the door behind them, and then leaned up against it, smiling uncertainly.
“Anything else you forgot to tell us?” Dean was clearly annoyed. “Anyone seeing dead people? Clouds of black smoke? Invisible dogs?”
“Uh, no,” Merlin said. “There are just...uh, just the people with missing hearts and the ones with bites to the neck.”
“Okay, so, werewolves and vampires,” Sam said. “No problem. We’ll just have to figure out who they are.”
“When’s your next full moon?” Dean asked.
Merlin counted on his fingers. “In two days?”
“Okay, that doesn’t give us that much time on the werewolf, and of course, if we focus on that more, that gives the vamp time to expand the family...” Dean looked to Sam.
“Divide and conquer?”
“Let’s get the lay of the land first.” They turned back to Merlin who was looking at them warily.
“Anyone come to Gaius with just bite wounds lately? Not dead, but just with a strange bite?” Dean asked.
“Not that I know of, but I can ask-”
“Okay, you’ll have to take us to the victims’ houses,” Sam said.
“Well, get someone who can,” Dean responded. “The longer we wait on this, the more casualties we risk.”
“No, I meant that you have to meet with the King and other knights at council first,” Merlin explained. “Arthur’s expecting you to work with the knights.”
“No, we work alone,” Dean said. “I cannot be responsible for a bunch of newbies who don’t know what they’re dealing with.”
“They’re the best knights in the land! They’re hardly incapable of looking after themselves.” Merlin said, and then Sam watched as Merlin’s eyes grew wide. “You don’t... you don’t use magic to kill the monsters, do you?”
“No,” Sam replied. Merlin let out a breath in relief. “Listen,” Sam said calmly, in order to mitigate Dean’s anger.. “We’ll talk to Arthur – Dean and I have been hunting these things our whole lives. I’m sure we can convince him to just let us do our thing, so no one else is put in danger.”
Merlin looked doubtful, but Dean seemed appeased. Sam started planning, wondering if they would have free roaming rights or whether they’d be escorted the whole time they were in Camelot. Maybe it was a matter of sneaking off when no one was looking and just getting the job done. On the other hand, being accompanied by knights would probably make people more willing to answer questions.
Sam watched as Merlin put the sheets on the second bed with practiced ease. Sam had to remind himself that this was the legendary Merlin – or at least a version of him – making a bed.
“So,” Dean said. “The knights of Camelot...”
“Yes?” Merlin asked.
“I think I only know Lancelot,” Dean said, looking over to Sam, silently asking if he knew any others. Sam shrugged. It wasn’t like he’d been expecting to be summoned to Camelot – otherwise he would have done some research. Merlin, however, stilled completely.
“You know...” Merlin said, looking at them with wide eyes. “You know Lancelot?”
“Yeah,” Dean said, smiling. “Brave Sir Lancelot. Is he around? Do we get to meet him?”
“He’s... he’s dead,” Merlin said, looking down at the half-made bed. “It’s probably best if you don’t talk about him in front of the others.”
“Sorry,” Sam offered, because by the expression on Merlin’s face, he had obviously liked the guy.
“Yeah, man, sorry to hear that,” Dean said. “How’d he die?”
Merlin swallowed, and Sam wanted to kick his brother for staying on the topic.
“He sacrificed himself to save the kingdom.” Merlin focused on the task of making the bed as he spoke quietly. “But that’s not... he came back, but it wasn’t him. Lancelot was the only person other than Gaius who knew about my magic, but when he came back, he didn’t – and well... It was actually something called a Shade. And he... did something against Lancelot’s character, and now people remember it as though it were Lancelot, and I can’t tell them that it wasn’t him without exposing myself.”
“The Queen?” Sam had to ask.
Merlin’s head snapped up. “How do you possibly know-”
“We told you... where we come from, you’re a story,” Sam explained. “King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table – Lancelot and Guinevere, and how they... well, depending who’s telling the story, it either destroys the King, or nearly does.”
“What else do the stories say?” Merlin asked.
“They say you’re an old guy,” Dean said. “Long beard...proper wizard, you know?”
“And do the stories speak of Albion? Does Arthur achieve his dream?” Merlin asked,
“Yeah, yeah, I think so,” Dean said. “I mean, he’s a legend, right? Had to have done something good to become a legend.”
Merlin smiled, and Sam thought there was happiness about him as though just by Dean’s word all of Merlin’s dreams were promised to come true. Yet there was tiredness about the goofy looking kid that made Merlin look like he was already an old man who had lived an exhausting life.
“What else is there?” Dean asked, turning to Sam. “I know there’s something about Arthur’s death – some woman takes him somewhere or something.”
“What?” The happiness on Merlin’s face vanished.
“Dean,” Sam said. “I don’t think... Merlin, I’m sorry, but I don’t think we should be telling you this sort of stuff. You…Camelot…are just stories in our world, and they might not have anything to do with what happens here. Look, they’re already not accurate, because you aren’t an old man – so, don’t worry about it, okay? I’m sure Arthur will be fine. I mean, he’s got you watching his back, doesn’t he?”
“I suppose that’s true,” Merlin said. “But I am an old man sometimes. Whenever I need to perform magic openly, I use an aging spell so that Arthur won’t recognize me, and then I escape before he can execute me and I change back.”
“How is it that magic is banned anyway?” Sam asked, hoping to keep Merlin from asking more questions that Sam and Dean weren’t equipped to answer. Dean was busy frowning in Merlin’s direction and Sam where his brother’s thoughts had gone.
“Uther, Arthur’s father, banned it after the death of Arthur’s mother,” Merlin explained, returning to the task of making the bed. “They were unable to have children and so he made a deal with a sorceress in order to have a son. Only, magic cannot give life without taking life – a balance must be kept. This was not explained to Uther, and when Arthur’s mother died shortly after giving birth, Uther blamed magic and he... well, he killed every sorcerer and magic user in the land.”
“Seriously?” Dean asked. “But it was his own fault! What kind of an epic douche-”
“But Uther’s gone now, and Arthur’s kept the law?” Sam interrupted.
“Well, yes, all Arthur’s been told was that magic is responsible for his mother’s death – and the only magic he’s ever seen has been used to attack him or his kingdom,” Merlin explained. “But Arthur is not his father, and one day, I know that he will change the law and accept magic. I just have to... make sure he lives to see that day.”
“Why don’t you just tell him it’s his dad’s fault?” Dean asked.
“Because I’ve already told him the truth is a lie.” Merlin cringed. Sam and Dean gave him equal stares of disbelief. “I had to,” Merlin gestured for understanding, “When he heard the real story, Arthur flew into a rage and was going to kill his father. If he’d gone through with it, he would have never been able to live with himself afterward.”
“Seriously?” Dean asked again. “His father sounds like an asshole. Arthur would have been doing everyone a favour.”
“And would you have killed your mother?” Merlin asked.
“What?” Sam asked, as Dean froze beside him.
“Well, she traded her son’s destiny for the life of her lover,” Merlin explained. “If she had lived, would you have killed her for her treachery?”
Dumfounded, Sam watched as Dean rushed forward and grasped Merlin by his jacket, pushing him against the wall.
“Don’t talk about things you know nothing about,” Dean growled in Merlin’s face.
“Dean!” Sam yelled, as Merlin’s eyes widened in fright.
“I apologize, My Lord,” Merlin winced. “I... I’ve obviously got it wrong.”
“Let him go,” a voice suddenly commanded from the door. Sam turned, instinctively reaching for his gun and touching the hilt of his borrowed sword instead. The knight at the door continued with a slight gesture of his sword. “You, don’t move or there will be trouble. And you, step away from Merlin.”
Dean let go of Merlin as though he had intended to anyway. He held up his hands.
“Merlin,” the knight said, “are we reporting this to the King?”
“Not unless you want me to end up in the stocks, Gwaine,” Merlin answered. “I’m afraid that I truly was in the wrong. I insulted the man’s mother.”
Gwaine raised his eyebrows, still not lowering his sword. “And why did you insult the man’s mother?” he asked.
“Believe me, it wasn’t my intent. It was a simply a misunderstanding.” Merlin turned to Dean, and bowed his head. “I beg your forgiveness, Sir, yours and your brother’s. I meant no offense. I’m sure your mother was a fine woman who loved you and was loved dearly in return.”
“Apology accepted,” Sam said. Dean was silent. “Dean...”
“Yeah,” Dean said. “And, uh, sorry about...” Dean waved in the direction of Merlin’s chest and the wall.
“Good, I’d hate to start off on the wrong foot, as I hear we’re to be working together.” Gwaine smiled and sheathed his sword. “I’ve come to collect you for council. We’ll be a bit late now, but that’s okay, we can just blame Merlin.”
With this, Gwaine sauntered over to Merlin and wrapped an arm around his shoulders, pulling him in tight and ruffling his hair with his other hand.
“Hey!” Merlin exclaimed, squirming away – but the giggling undercut his indignation.