They went back to their room for lack of anything else to do. They’d were in it long enough for Dean to complain about the lack of TV and Sam to complain about the lack of computer and wifi, when there was a knock at the door. Dean answered to find Gwaine, Percival, and Leon, all smiling from ear to ear.
“Hello lads,” Gwaine said. “We realized that we had been remiss in our duties, for we never did give you a proper welcome in a fashion befitting the knights of Camelot. And that simply will not do – not when it was commanded by his Royal Pratness.”
“Gwaine,” Leon sighed, but the reprimand was ruined by his smile.
“What?” Gwaine said, “that’s what Merlin calls him.”
Percival rolled his eyes, and then motioned for Dean to follow him. “Come on, we’ve... acquired a few kegs of the Camelot’s finest ale, and if we don’t hurry the squires will get at it before we do.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so,” Dean smirked.
They followed the three knights to the mess hall full of men in chainmail and red capes. A huge cheer sounded as Sam and Dean walked in, and Dean grinned at the welcome.
“Don’t get too excited,” Leon laughed. “Gwaine told them they weren’t allowed to open the kegs until they saw you.”
Dean laughed with him. A moment later, as the ale was being served, Gwaine jumped on top of one of the tables, a mug of ale raised in their direction.
“To Dean and Sam, who have rid Camelot of the monsters that plagued it and taught King Arthur some humility, all out of nothing but the goodness of their hearts!”
“Hear, hear!” the knights chorused. A squire handed ale to Dean and Sam to join in the toast.
“And to those we could not save,” Leon added somberly.
“Hear, hear!” the knights called again, although more subdued. Dean saw Gwaine give a begrudging look to Leon as they all took a drink, then Gwaine raised his glass in the air once more.
“To Camelot!” Gwaine yelled.
“To Camelot!” The room resounded, good mood restored. Gwaine smiled and leapt off the table with natural grace.
The other knights were eager to hear of the hunt, and Dean let Gwaine tell it, since he seemed to love telling stories. Gwaine’s recounting made it seem much more impressive than it had felt to Dean at the time. Leon then spoke up telling the story of how Sam had fought the werewolves with his bare hands and saved the King the night before. Leon was much more diplomatic than Gwaine, glossing over the part where Arthur had been a moron.
Other tales of adventures with King Arthur and the knights followed, knights chiming in on the stories that they had been present for. Some knights would deliberately and obviously exaggerate the facts for laughs, others would insist on being truthful, much to the jeering of the crowd, who seemed to discourage humbleness when it came to storytelling... though the stories themselves praised it.
There were also stories of things that happened while King Arthur was just Prince Arthur, and his father ruled the kingdom. The tone was decidedly different when the knights were speaking about the old King.
“Do you remember how often Merlin was in the stocks back then,” an older knight laughed. “My little ones used to love those days. My wife would sometimes catch them trying to steal the good fruit to throw and when they ran out of the rotten ones.”
“Aye,” Leon laughed. “There was that week when Arthur seemed smitten with that girl – and he kept dodging patrol duty and ordering Merlin to make up excuses for him; only Merlin could only ever think to blame himself. We were all taking bets on what would happen first, King Uther finally sacking him or Merlin coming to his senses and quitting.”
“Ah, tell me you bet on Uther,” Gwaine laughed. “For if you bet on Merlin leaving, I’m afraid I’d have to question your intelligence, my friend.”
“Well, I hardly knew him back then,” Leon defended. “Besides, I think we’ve all at one time or another wondered why Merlin stays.”
“For the honour!” a knight called out. Gwaine laughed out loud, and the knight looked confused.
“For the love of Camelot,” Gwaine decided, but he said it with a wink.
“For the love of Camelot!” the room chorused and everyone took another drink. The conversation resumed.
Listening, Dean had to wonder, why it was that Merlin stayed. Granted, it was how the story went and according to Merlin, his destiny, but Dean didn’t understand how the greatest wizard of all time could happily stand in the stocks for a week and be pelted with rotting fruit. What prompted Merlin to devote his life to someone who seemed to only tolerate his presence at best, let alone have any idea of how important Merlin was to his own success? Arthur seemed, frankly, to be a bit of a douchebag.
Dean leaned over to Gwaine, lowering his voice so that it wouldn’t carry over the knights’ conversations.
“Why does he stay really?” Dean asked. “I mean Arthur... uh, no offense or anything... but...”
Gwaine smiled and shook his head, cutting Dean off.
“You just got off on the wrong foot,” Gwaine replied. “You don’t know him like Merlin does – like we do. Merlin would follow Arthur to the ends of the earth, everyone knows it – myself especially; but Arthur would do the same for Merlin. You’ve never seen him-”
“Can someone tell me why my knights have stolen ale from Camelot’s stores?!” A voice boomed out in the room. Every head turned towards the door, where King Arthur stood, looking angry.
“Sire!” Leon stood.
“And can someone tell me, why my knights are all drinking rather than training!?!” Arthur continued. Some of the knights shifted nervously on their feet, looking afraid. “And MOST IMPORTANTLY,” Arthur continued. “Can someone tell me why I was not invited!?”
Slowly the knights started smiling.
“Am I not a good king?” Arthur asked, and Dean could see now how the edges of his lips were curling up.
“Aye, My Lord!” the knights chorused.
“Then bring me some ale and let me correct the grievous lies in whatever tale Sir Gwaine has woven for you,” Arthur smiled. More than one knight rushed forward to hand Arthur a drink, and the laughter returned to the room.
Gwaine and Arthur proceeded to engage in a storytelling argument, which Dean could see was largely for the entertainment of those within ear shot.
“He does seem to have a sense of humour at least,” Sam said, as if reading Dean’s mind.
“Still,” Dean said. “It’s good Merlin has a friend like Gwaine.”
“Yeah,” Sam agreed, then he kicked Dean’s chair and leaned in close so that no one would overhear him. “Hey, we’re drinking ale in Camelot with the knights of the Round Table,” Sam whispered. “This is pretty damn cool, even if Arthur’s a jerk.”
Dean smiled, “Yeah, it is.”
“You started without me!” Elyan exclaimed entering the room, a handful of knights behind him. “Was it really so hard to wait until I finished my patrol?”
“It was indeed, my friend,” Gwaine answered.
“Sorry,” Percival apologized, and brought Elyan some ale. “I made sure there was some left for you.”
“How was patrol?” Arthur asked. “Anything to report?”
“No, Sire,” Elyan answered, in a more professional tone. “Camelot is calm. I ran into Merlin on his way to the lower town, and he told me that you killed the last of the beasts – I’m pleased to hear it.”
“The credit goes to our guests,” Arthur replied, motioning towards Dean and Sam. “But tell me, why on earth was Merlin on his way to the lower town? He’s supposed to be helping Gaius with the injured man.”
“He said the man was resting and Gaius was hopeful for his full recovery,” Elyan reported.
“He’s not going to the tavern is he? I’ll put him in the stocks, I really will,” Arthur declared. The knights chuckled.
“No, My Lord,” Elyan said, and then he smirked. “He was going to see Gwen’s maid, Clarissa. Apparently she was feeling unwell this morning and Merlin wanted to check up on her. I do wonder if he might be sweet on her.”
Arthur laughed. “Merlin?” he said, as though the very notion was absurd. Dean had to admit, he doubted Merlin had time for a girlfriend. “Even if he did find a girl, I doubt he’d know what to do with her.”
The knights all laughed.
“Besides,” Arthur continued. “He’d have competition. According to Gwen, there’s a man named Thomas that’s vying for Clarissa’s heart.” At Elyan’s raised eyebrows, Arthur added, “What? I’m not allowed to gossip? She’s my wife’s maid – and it’s not like Merlin does anything interesting.”
“Well, he won’t have any competition now,” Leon announced, a furrow in his brow.
“Why’s that?” Arthur asked bemused.
“Thomas is the man we killed this afternoon, My Lord,” Leon replied.
“Oh,” Arthur said, the smile dropping from his face. “I’ll have to apologize to Clarissa – I half thought her illness today was only an excuse to see him.”
Dean felt the familiar coiling of dread in his stomach, before he even realized why it was there.
“Did Merlin say what symptoms...or, uh, manner of illness, Clarissa had?” Sam asked.
“He was bringing her Gaius’ tonic for headaches,” Elyan shrugged. “Apparently when he saw her this morning, he had to whisper so as to not cause her pain – he was surprised that she hadn’t stopped by to see Gaius herself, but Merlin figured it must have been because she was so hungry.”
“Dean?” Gwaine said. Dean could see his own dread reflected in the suddenly sombre knight’s face. “Is it random who these monsters change? Or... if Tom loved Clarissa, might he have-”
“Goddamn it!” Dean said, as the pieces that hadn’t fit suddenly fell into place. “He wasn’t trying to leave town, he was trying to bring her a snack!”
Before Dean could say anything more, the colour drained from Arthur’s face and he bolted out of the room. The knights stared after him dumbfounded, then Gwaine, Dean, and Sam jumped to their feet to follow. Behind him, Dean could hear Leon shouting orders, and more footsteps echoed through the corridors.
“Please tell me you know where she lives!” Dean yelled out to Gwaine who ran ahead of them.
“Arthur does!” Gwaine yelled back, but Dean couldn’t actually see Arthur anymore. He wasn’t sure how the King managed to out run them, given that he was wearing more armour and had a shorter stride, yet somehow he did.
By the time they reached the lower town, they were close enough to Arthur to see which narrow street he turned down. When they reached the corner though, he was nowhere to be seen. Dean had a brief moment of wondering how many houses they’d have to bust into before they found the kid.
But then there was a yell so anguished that Dean’s blood ran cold.
“No,” Gwaine pleaded through gasping breaths. They drew their swords and ran to the house that Arthur’s voice had come from.
The door was already off its hinges. Inside, the table was overturned, a chair smashed, and in the middle of the room body. A silver dagger protruded from its chest. Clarissa’s eyes stared unblinking from the head that rested three feet away from the neck.
What Dean focused on, however, was the King. Arthur sat with his back against the wall, his bloody sword on the floor beside him, Merlin in his lap, cradled to the King’s chest. One hand was pressed against Merlin’s neck, blood seeping through Arthur’s fingers. Arthur looked at Dean with terrified eyes, and if Dean had thought he looked young before, now Arthur looked like a frightened child. Arthur’s eyes were wide and wet with threatening tears, and Merlin looked impossibly fragile and small laying unconscious in the young King’s arms.
Dean realized that to Arthur, Merlin must always look small and fragile, because Arthur had no knowledge of the power contained within Merlin’s slim body.
“Has he been changed?” Arthur asked, his voice wavering.
Sam took a step forward and Arthur immediately moved his blood-soaked hand from Merlin’s neck to the hilt of his sword, holding Merlin tighter to his chest.
“Sire?” Gwaine said softly.
“What manner of beast is she?” Arthur demanded. “She bit him... she...” Arthur’s voice broke and he swallowed. “I won’t allow you to hurt him.”
“No one’s going to hurt him,” Dean said calmly, putting his sword on the ground and holding up his empty hands while he walked forward. Arthur eyed him, but he eased the grip on his sword.
“She a vampire, so she would have had to feed him her blood to turn him,” Dean continued to explain as he slowly approached. “I bet she was too hungry to even consider it – we killed her delivery man after all, right? She was just snacking on Merlin’s neck when you got here, wasn’t she?”
Arthur nodded, as Dean knelt beside him. If Dean had thought that Merlin’s puppy eyes rivaled Sam’s, well... Arthur could give them both a run for their money. Arthur finally took his hand off the hilt of the sword and returned it to Merlin’s neck.
“We’ll just check to be sure though,” Dean said, and he carefully reached towards Merlin’s face. Arthur seemed to hold his breath as Dean slipped a finger under Merlin’s slack lips and ran it over his gums. Dean smiled, withdrawing his hand. “See, nothing to worry about. He’s still Merlin.”
Arthur choked out a relieved laugh, a wide smile breaking out as the fear left him. Dean expected Arthur to make a joke or stand and pretend that he hadn’t just been clutching desperately at his servant – but instead Arthur pulled Merlin in tighter, squeezed his eyes closed, and buried his face in Merlin’s hair. Dean realized that Gwaine had been right. Dean had gotten the wrong impression – and part of him wondered if maybe Merlin had too.
Dean turned away, feeling like a voyeur. He caught Sam’s eye and could tell that Sam had come to the same conclusions. Their silent conversation was interrupted by Gwaine giving quick orders to Leon and Percival, who had just arrived.
Leon nodded to whatever Gwaine said, gave a sympathetic and worried look towards Arthur and Merlin, and then disappeared back outside. Percival entered the small house, looking worried, and Dean winced as he remembered the conversation they’d had just that morning while Merlin slept safely in the corner of the armoury.
Arthur looked up as Percival approached.
“Let me carry him, My Lord,” Percival said gently. “We need to take him to Gaius.”
Arthur let out a long breath and then helped lift Merlin into Percival’s arms, tucking his head to rest on Percival’s shoulder. Arthur watched Percival leave, then the King gathered himself together, looking around the cabin as if for the first time.
“Right,” Arthur said. “Gwaine, you’ll have to-”
“Already done, Sire,” Gwaine said. “It’s all taken care of. Go on.”
“But I should-” Arthur started to say, glancing sorrowfully at Clarissa’s very dead body.
“You should make sure Gaius has all the help he needs,” Gwaine interrupted. “His dogsbody is currently his patient.”
“Yes,” Arthur said, “very well.” Arthur turned to Dean and Sam then, not quite meeting their eyes. “Thank you – I don’t know... if you hadn’t...”
“No problem,” Sam tried for a smile.
Arthur nodded authoritatively and then left the house with a forced casual stride.
Gwaine took a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair.
“Holy shit,” Dean said, “I... really didn’t see that coming.”
“I tried to tell you,” Gwaine said. “Now help me with this body. I’d like to check on Merlin myself as quickly as possible.”