“So, are you two nobility?” Gwaine asked as they made their way through various corridors, walking two abreast with Merlin and Sam in the lead.
“Nah,” Dean said. “Just... uh, mercenaries.”
“Where are you from? You speak in a manner I’ve never heard before – and I’ve traveled all the lands of Albion.”
“Oh, we travelled all over growing up.”
“How about you?” Dean interrupted. “Were you born in Camelot?”
“No, somewhere else.”
“So, how’d you end up in Camelot?”
“Met Merlin in a tavern brawl,” Gwaine smiled broadly, punching Merlin affectionately in the back of the shoulder and interrupting the conversation that Merlin and Sam were having about the way Arthur ran meetings. “I accidentally saved Arthur’s royal arse – and then one thing lead to another and suddenly I’m swearing allegiance to Arthur and Camelot and storming a castle. The things I do for Merlin, I tell you – before I met him, I had sworn that I would never serve a king until the day I died.”
“Shut up,” Merlin rolled his eyes. “You love being a knight and you did it because of Arthur, not me.”
“Of course,” Gwaine winked.
The massive doors at the bottom of a staircase were opened by the guards as they approached. Dean tried to keep his jaw from dropping as they walked into the room to find Arthur and the knights of Camelot seated around a gigantic round table. Dean caught Sam’s eye and could tell he was geeking out just as much as Dean.
“About time,” Arthur said. “Please, have a seat so we can begin.” There were three empty chairs at the table, and Dean could hardly contain his smile as he realized that he and Sam were going to be sitting at the Round Table with King Arthur.
“I apologize, Sire,” Gwaine said. “Our delay was completely Merlin’s fault, of course.”
“Of course,” Arthur sighed and leveled a flat look at Merlin. It took Dean a moment to realize why Merlin walked to stand behind Arthur instead of claiming a seat. Dean reminded himself that this Merlin was a servant, not the King’s respected advisor and apparently servants didn’t get chairs.
“Knights, these are the mercenaries who have volunteered their services, brothers Dean and Sam.” Arthur gestured to each of them as they were introduced. “They claim they have hunted creatures such as the ones plaguing Camelot. They will be staying in the Knights Hall until such time as the monsters are slain. I expect you to welcome them in a fashion befitting the knights of Camelot. Dean, Sam, please tell us everything you know about the creatures that are plaguing my kingdom.”
“Right, well-” Dean started.
“Stand up,” Sam hissed at him, as he elbowed Dean in the side. Dean glared at him, but stood. As he did, the King sat.
“Right...” Dean started again. “There are two different types of creatures that are killing your citizens. One is a werewolf. Werewolves take the form of a human by day, but in the nights closest to the full moon, it changes into a wolf-like monster that eats the hearts of those it kills. The second creature is a vampire. Vampires also look human, but they have a second set of teeth that descend from their gums. They feed by draining the blood from their victim, usually by biting the neck. They don’t like the sun, so they’re also mostly active at night.”
“I’ve never heard of such creatures,” Arthur stated.
“They aren’t-” Sam started, paused to stand, and then continued. “They aren’t natural to this world, My Lord.”
“Then how did they come here?” Arthur asked.
“Uh,” Dean said, doing his best to keep from looking at Merlin. “They were summoned here by magic.”
“Morgana?” Arthur asked, and Dean saw all the knights tense.
“Wh-” Dean started to ask, but Sam elbowed him again and glared at him with an expression that clearly said, ‘look at Merlin, dipshit.’ Merlin was staring at Dean with wide eyes and he very slowly shook his head.
“Uh, no, your Majesty,” Dean said, sticking to the story that Merlin had given them. “It was another sorcerer. We killed him, but unfortunately we found him after the monsters had already been summoned.”
“Morgana may still be involved,” Arthur declared, and addressed an older knight across the table. “Sir Glyn, I want to know if anyone has heard of Morgana’s whereabouts recently. Take a patrol to the outlying villages, and inquire discreetly – do not wear the colours of Camelot. Report to Sir Leon when you return.”
“Yes, My Lord,” Sir Glyn replied.
“Now, Dean, Sam, how do we find and slay these beasts?” Arthur asked.
“Sam and I need to question the people in the area where the murders occurred,” Dean said. “The original creatures should be relatively easy to find, as they would be new in town. It would help if we could have a map showing where the victims were found. It will be trickier if they’ve already started multiplying – but Sam and I have dealt with that situation as well. Once we find them-”
“What do you mean by multiplying? Surely they cannot breed so quickly,” Arthur interrupted.
“Uh, that isn’t how-” Sam started, and Dean bit his lip to keep from laughing at Sam’s blush.
“They multiply by turning people into monsters,” Dean explained. “Anyone who is bitten by a werewolf becomes a werewolf. With vampires – if you swallow vampire blood, you become a vampire.”
“Who would do such a thing?” Arthur asked, repulsed.
“I’ve never known anyone who’s done it willingly,” Dean said. “Vampires are unnaturally strong and quite forceful. If a vamp decides to turn you, there’s not much you can do to fight them off.”
“I see,” Arthur said.
“So, the sooner we get out there and find them the better,” Dean finished.
“Oh, and we’ll need silver,” Sam added.
Arthur’s brow furrowed.
“I thought you said that you only required room and board,” Arthur said in a cold tone. “Have you had a change of heart?”
“No!” Sam backpedaled. “Not, uh, not silver...uh, for...um, buying things...”
“We need silver weapons,” Dean said. “Swords are fine for vampires. With a vamp, you just have to chop of their head, but a werewolf can only be killed if you shoot- uh, if you pierce it in the heart with silver. We usually use, um...crossbows with silver tipped bolts. But, we don’t, uh, we don’t have any...right now.”
“Right,” Arthur challenged. “You say you have hunted these creatures before; you say you came to Camelot specifically to help us; yet you do not have the necessary weapons?”
“Uh, we, um...” Dean stuttered, and looked Sam who shrugged. “This is awkward... um, see, it’s kind of embarrassing...”
“Let me guess,” Merlin suddenly spoke up, “Bandits? In the forest of Ascetir?”
“How’d you know?” Sam asked, playing along brilliantly.
“You mentioned you had come through there when I showed you your rooms. And no one likes to admit they were defeated by bandits.”
“Hey, we weren’t defeated!” Dean replied. “You shut your mouth.”
“Gentlemen, please,” Arthur said. “Merlin, don’t speak unless spoken to.”
“Sorry, My Lord,” Merlin said, not looking sorry at all, as he hid a grin.
“They stole our supplies while we slept, My Lord,” Sam improvised. “We had planned to track them down and reclaim our belongings, but word came of monsters in Camelot, and we felt we should come here immediately. We only hoped you’d be able to provide the necessary weapons. We’ll return them once we’ve killed the monsters and your citizens are safe. You have our word.”
“Very well,” Arthur said. “Sir Percival, request the silversmith fashion us bolts with silver tips.” He cast a questioning look at Sam. “Silver daggers would kill the creatures as well?”
“You’d have to get dangerously close to stab them in the heart, but yes.”
“Very well, from now on, all knights who possess a silver dagger are to bear them at all times.”
“Yes, Sire,” came from several directions while many of the other knights nodded. “And Sir Leon, please provide Sam and Dean with the locations of where the bodies were found.”
“Great,” Dean said. “So, if that’s everything – Sam and I will start asking around and see if we can find some monsters to shoot at.”
“You are dismissed only when I say you are dismissed,” Arthur intoned. “I’m the King.”
“Right,” Dean said. “Right, of course, sorry... we don’t usually...uh, we’re not exactly used to... Kings.”
“Good lord, you’re like Gwaine and Merlin combined,” Arthur muttered. Then he paused and continued in a firmer voice. “I will not allow you to interrogate my citizens unsupervised. I don’t know you – we’ve had charlatan witchfinders before, and I won’t have it happen again.”
“With all due respect, Sire,” Dean ground out. “Sam and I are used to working on our own. If we march into town with a whole bunch of dudes in red capes, the monsters are going to go to ground and it’ll make it a hell of a lot harder to hunt them.”
“With all due respect, Dean,” Arthur glared back, “I’m not an idiot. Sir Gwaine and Merlin will accompany you, and they won’t be wearing red capes while doing so. And I don’t know what a ‘dude’ is, but if you are insulting my knights, I’d like to remind you that you are currently at the mercy of my court, not I at yours.”
“We apologize, Sire,” Sam spoke quickly. “We meant no disrespect. We’re happy to have Merlin and Sir Gwaine help us.”
“Dude isn’t an insult,” Dean added.
“Shut up, Dean,” Sam hissed at him, “before you put your goddamn foot in it again.”
“But it’s not an insult,” Dean muttered, glancing around the table. “I really respect you dudes... I mean, men - I respect you men.”
Both Sam and Merlin were rubbing their foreheads, but Gwaine was openly beaming at Dean. So Dean figured that they were good.
Merlin breathed a sigh of relief as the meeting moved on to other matters. It was decided that Arthur would meet again with the brothers and the knights after supper, to review the results of their inquiries, and decide whether to hunt the creatures that night or whether they would need to do more research.
This meant that Merlin was going to be spending the afternoon in the lower town with Sam, Dean, and Gwaine. Merlin had already written Arthur’s speech for the afternoon meeting with the Weavers Guild, and Arthur didn’t necessarily need Merlin there. Merlin had planned to use that time to do the King’s washing and polish his armour, but now that would have to wait.
If they did go hunting that evening, then Arthur would insist that he throw himself into danger as well – which meant that Merlin would have to accompany the men in order to insure Arthur’s safety. Surely, a monster that could transfer a curse with a single bite was too dangerous for Arthur to face alone. Merlin couldn’t help but think of the Questing Beast and how close Arthur had come to death.
After the meeting concluded, Arthur gave a nod to Gwaine and Merlin that they should linger in the room as Elyan offered to show Sam and Dean the mess hall where they could get lunch before beginning their inquiries in town.
“Your speech for the Weavers Guild is on your desk, My Lord,” Merlin said. “It’s short, and should be easy to memorize over lunch. I can ask George to attend you if you like, but the meeting shouldn’t be arduous – they’re mainly just concerned about the trade routes from Mercia and how they might affect the market price here in Camelot. You need only assure them that-”
“Yes, Merlin, thank you, I’m sure it’s all in the speech as usual,” Arthur interrupted. “No need to inflict George on me. I can handle one meeting alone.”
“Right, of course, Sire,” Merlin replied.
“More important than the Weavers Guild are these two mercenaries,” Arthur continued. “I want you and Gwaine to keep a watchful eye on them. Be sure they are who they say they are. I will not have another witchfinder torturing and killing my people on false accusations – nor will I stand for another of Morgana’s spies inside these walls.”
“Yes, Sire,” Gwaine replied nodded.
“Yes, My Lord,” Merlin agreed. “But I’ve already spent some time with them, and I assure you that I’ve no reason to doubt them – they really are only here to help, and I think they’ve already proven themselves to be very knowledgeable.”
“Be that as it may, they still have to earn my trust,” Arthur said. “And as I cannot accompany them to the lower town myself, I’m trusting you two to be my eyes and ears. Understood?”
“Of course,” Merlin nodded.
“Good, you’re dismissed,” Arthur waved toward the door.
Gwaine left, but Merlin didn’t move.
“Merlin?” Arthur asked, raising his eyebrows.
“I’m supposed to serve you lunch, Arthur.”
“Oh,” Arthur said. “No, you should join Gwaine and our guests. Clarissa can attend me at lunch, she did fine this morning when you were late.”
Merlin rolled his eyes. “Just be sure you dress in your blue woven shirt before seeing the Weavers.”
“The blue shirt?” Arthur whined. “But I hate that shirt! Why do I have to wear that woven monstrosity?”
“Because it’s the Weavers Guild, and they made it especially for you last year, Arthur,” Merlin glared. “We don’t want the weavers to think you ungrateful, do we?”
“No,” Arthur pouted.
“You know,” Elyan said, as they collected their plates of food from a stern looking woman. “You two remind me a bit of those brothers from the stories.”
“Stories?” Sam asked, in forced innocent tone.
“Yes, you must know – the two brothers who fight evil spirits and whose devotion to each other overcomes all adversity – it’s a classic!”
Dean started coughing. “Sorry, uh, must have swallowed wrong.”
“I guess probably lots of people tell you that,” Elyan shrugged, as they found an empty table in the mess hall.
“Uh, sometimes,” Sam responded. On the one hand, he really wanted to know what these stories were, but if anyone became suspicious of his and Dean’s true origins, it was Merlin’s head on the line. He changed the subject, just to be safe. “So, you like being a knight of Camelot?”
“Of course,” Elyan said. “Keeps me out of trouble, that’s what Gwen says anyway.”
“The Queen?” Dean asked. “She a friend of yours?”
“She’s my sister,” Elyan smiled. “Always knew I’d never measure up, but hey, Arthur isn’t really my type anyway,” Elyan added with a laugh.
“Fair enough,” Sam smiled.
Gwaine arrived at their table then, plunking his bowl of stew down with a clatter.
“We’re to head out after lunch,” Gwaine announced. “We just have to wait for Merlin to finish attending his Royal Highness.”
Sam nodded, noticing the sarcastic tone Gwaine used when saying Arthur’s title.
“Or not,” Elyan said, nodding towards the door. The three of them looked and saw Merlin greet a few knights as he walked into the room.
“Now that’s a rare sight indeed,” Gwaine said.
They watched as Merlin picked up a bread roll and then walked over to where the cook was dishing out the stew.
“Oi! Get away you! This food’s for the knights!” the cook shouted, whacking Merlin’s hand with the ladle, making the empty bowl he was holding clatter to the table. Merlin scowled, but most of the surrounding knights just laughed.
“But Arthur said-”
“You watch your mouth, boy, and put that bread back!” The cook yelled, raising the spoon again. Merlin darted out of the way.
“I don’t want your disgusting stew anyway,” Merlin called back. Gwaine huffed a laugh and shook his head.
“Merlin!” Gwaine called him over, “has Princess seen fit to release you from your duty?”
Merlin smiled and sat on the bench next to Gwaine.
“For now,” Merlin said. “Though I’ll have to do something nice for Clarissa to make up for it – she’s Gwen’s maid, not Arthur’s, and she covered for me when I was late with breakfast this morning too. It’s hardly fair to her, but he wanted to make sure we weren’t delayed in our trip to the lower town. So, once you lot are done eating, we can go.”
Merlin took a bite of his bread roll, glancing back at the cook with a dirty look.
“Cook’s not too fond of you, it seems,” Dean said.
“She’s a troll,” Merlin muttered.
“Well, I’ll agree to that,” Gwaine said, letting his spoon drop into his stew. “I don’t think I can even finish this muck.”
Sam frowned – maybe he was just really hungry, but he didn’t think the stew was that bad – bland and a little salty maybe, but hardly inedible. Dean had already finished his.
“Particularly bad today, is it?” Merlin asked.
“Don’t believe me?” Gwaine pushed his bowl over to Merlin. “Have a taste.”
Merlin picked up a spoonful and ate it. “Ugh, yeah, this is horrid.”
“Told you,” Gwaine said. “Well, fellows, I’ll meet you by the gates. I’ve got to change out of this cape so I’m less noticeable.” He winked at Dean.
As soon as Gwaine left, Elyan started in on a funny story about Gwaine not being able to pay his bill at a tavern one evening, and Sam found himself laughing for the rest of the meal. When they rose from the table, he noticed Merlin had not left a trace of stew in Gwaine’s bowl.