Title: Small Endearing Creatures Rating: G Word count: ~2000 Pairings: none Warnings: none Disclaimer: I do not own this version of Merlin, nor am I making any profit from it. Prompt: This was written for Merlinadvent 2009 Day 6, using the prompt: All creatures great and small!
Arthur is shouting, and it sounds strange to hear that particular note echoing in Gaius' chambers. It is a voice Merlin hears more often on the practice field or in the woods. Once or twice he has heard it in the courtyard or even the great hall, but in the intimate confines of Gaius' rooms it is overwhelming.
"You are both complete idiots, and when Gaius has bound you up sufficiently to keep what little brains you have from leaking out your overfed ears you will gather the rest of the knights and report to me in the Reception Hall. Have I made myself clear?"
Merlin flattens himself against the wall just in time, as Arthur bursts out of Gaius' door in a sweep of blond hair and outrage.
"Ah, Merlin!" he says, and despite the fact that Merlin has a perfectly good reason why he hasn't been at Arthur's beck and call for the last hour he feels guilty.
"Just the man I need," Arthur says, focussed and precise. "Get an old sheet from the laundresses - preferably one with distinctive material - and have one of them tear it into narrow strips long enough to tie around the wrist easily. Then gather up some of those repellant brats who have been playing rounders in the closed-off guest wing - yes, I have noticed and I will be speaking to their parents; that wing is closed for a reason - and have them take 27 strips up to the top of every tower in the castle and wait at the top of the stairs for the knights." He frowns thoughtfully. "If there aren't enough strips you might need to cut up another sheet."
Arthur looks grimly satisfied. Camelot has at least ten towers. "Yes, Merlin, every tower. The knights clearly have too much time on their hands. They can spend it running up and down the towers today."
It takes three sheets, but eventually Merlin has completed this errand and he thinks of it as a reward that he arrives in the Reception Hall in time to witness the knights' variously horrified, resigned and peeved reactions to Arthur's task. Arthur has sweetened the pill with a prize for the first knight to bring back strips from every tower to Sir Colm - who has been delegated to supervise rather than participate, Merlin is pleased to see.
The last two knights to complete the task will share Sir Dagobert and Sir Egbert's punishment detail for fighting, which is to spend the next fine day supervising the unpleasant but very necessary mucking out of the garderobe drops*.
"Go!" says Arthur, and most of the knights head in a bunch towards the nearest tower. A few of the smarter ones look at the crush and head in the opposite direction, thinking to start with a less popular tower. Merlin has a secret bet with himself that it will be one of those who wins the challenge.
And then Arthur nods at Sir Colm and takes off running himself. Of course: he wouldn't set the knights a challenge and not do it himself! Oh well - that should keep him nicely occupied for the day.
All afternoon Merlin passes the knights in the corridors. By the third tower even the thickest of them has realised that there is no point in wearing armour for the run. Some of the squires have joined them, apparently being touched enough in the head to think that this is fun, but they are noticeable by their lightheartedness. None of the knights wants garderobe duty and they accumulate strips of bedsheet up and down their arms with grim determination.
Sir Tristan has always been one of Merlin's favourites, and when he calls out to Merlin from the base of the Small Turret, Merlin turns with a smile. "Found this on the top," Tristan gasps. "Must've been caught in the storm. Can you take it to Gaius? I'll be there after..." he waves his hand and, evidently feeling that his point has been made, smiles weakly at Merlin and takes off at a shambling run for the High Turret.
Merlin discovers that he is clutching a bird of some kind. If it weren't for the unmistakeable jut of bones under the bedraggled feathers Merlin would have taken it for a feather duster. "Come on then," he says to it.
Gaius has him pat it dry and examines the bedraggled, shivering thing. "Some kind of falcon," he says. "There's nothing wrong with it as far as I can tell but exhaustion. It'll bite when it's recovered a bit. You'd better take it to Giles.
Giles, the head falconer, is most likely to be in the mews, which are on the far side of the stables. There is a way to them undercover, but it is complicated and involves detouring through the armoury and past the baking ovens, which are almost finished for the day. By the time they get there the falcon has taken several nips at Merlin every time the rag over his head slips, and Merlin is glad to hand it over.
Merlin is less pleased when Sir Dagobert summons him across the courtyard later on. "You, there! See what you can do about this!" he says, imperiously thrusting something at Merlin. He casts a worried look behind him at two approaching knights and disappears into the Queen's Tower. Once again Merlin finds himself clutching a bedraggled bundle, however investigation this time shows that it is a kitten - or rather a half-grown black cat at the ungainly age. It is so weak that Merlin takes it straight to the kitchens, where he knows that Addy, who is a sucker for all felines, will give it some milk.
"Where did you find him?" Addy asks, dripping the milk into the cat's mouth from a rag. "Lady Edith has been looking everywhere for him - he disappeared at least a week ago!"
"Sir Dagobert gave him to me," Merlin said, quickly disclaiming any credit. "I think he must have been trapped in the North Tower."
Addy finds him a basket so that Merlin can transport the cat to its owner, but he has barely escaped Lady Edith's grateful chatter when Arthur passes him at a trot. "Merlin," he pants, "Send word to Master Godric to have the Old Turret cleared of bats, will you? Sir Edwin has been bitten, and I remember Gaius saying that bats can carry disease." He is gone before Merlin can answer, so Merlin turns around and goes back past Lady Edith's chambers to give the message to a gloomily unamused Master Godric.
"You can tell the Prince I'll get right on it," he says resignedly. "I'll just go hunt out the nets." Merlin resolves to avoid him for the rest of the day, unwilling to be recruited for bat-hunting duty. He is looking forward to a good night's sleep, after a day of running hither and yon all over the castle.
As dusk closes in - bringing the bitter bite of night far too early, as always at this time of year - the last of the knights are still forcing tired legs up and down the towers. Merlin had some of the younger servants sent up to replace the rounders-players after three hours, and some of these have now handed out all their strips of cloth and descended again. The least popular Towers are, of course, the ones in the far corners and most of the knights seem to have left the Dowager's Tower to last so there is a stream of knights swearing their way in and out of the narrow doorway as Merlin makes his way back to the Reception Hall to see if Arthur needs assistance before the final results.
He passes Will and Adstan lighting the torches which will allow the knights to continue their task past dusk. Will smiles at him and Adstan drops his eyes. They've made up their quarrel, Merlin is glad to see.
"Look what we found in the Tower just now," Will says, stopping to speak to Merlin as Adstan hovers. He opens his cupped hands to reveal a tiny white mouse and Merlin blinks. He's never seen one that colour before.
"We rescued it from one of the mousers," Adstan says, moving jealously in beside Will's shoulder. "One of the stable-hands told me that white animals are sacred to some people. Do you think it might be worth selling?"
Merlin shrugs. "Maybe," he says. "It wouldn't cost much to feed while you ask around." They seem happy with his reply.
Who would have suspected that there were so many animals in Camelot's towers, Merlin wonders. It is probably a good thing to open them all up now and then. The strategic ones are used as guard posts, but many of the others have fallen into disuse and are kept locked, or (in the case of the Queen's Tower) are used only by lovers seeking a bit of privacy.
Sir Colm awards the prize to Sir Owaine, while Egbert and Dagobert, who are clearly in disgrace with their fellow for bringing the exertions of this day upon them, find companions in misfortune in Sir Kay and Sir Guillame. There are cheers and groans as the crowd disperses in clumps to wait for dinner. Merlin's master is making for his rooms so Merlin ducks into the kitchens to ask for hot water to be sent up to the Prince. The groans from the squires standing around the fireplace show that he is not the only one whose master is awaiting hot water, but sometimes it's good to be the Prince.
Merlin whistles as he tugs the bath through Arthur's doorway. After the day he's had he hopes that Arthur will let him use the left-over hot water.
"Merlin, could you draw me a bath?" Arthur says as he comes in. He is sitting slumped on the side of his bed, and only then looks up to see that Merlin already has his bath in tow.
"Ah, good man," he says, too tired to smile.
Merlin helps him with his boots, then with his outer clothing. A knock heralds the first of the hot water, and Merlin pours it into the bath as Arthur sits waiting, still half-dressed. His hair has dried into sweat-stained straggly clumps and Merlin is taken by surprise at the feeling of tenderness that washes over him.
When the tub is full and Arthur fully stripped Merlin washes his hair for him without even asking. Arthur is half-asleep, slowly going through the motions of scrubbing himself without any real care and Merlin is tempted to tuck him straight into bed, except that Arthur would see that as weakness.
"Come on, Your Highness," he says instead, with obnoxious good cheer. "You're done." Arthur groans but surges to his feet, dripping soapy water until Merlin towels him dry, moving his limbs with impartial efficiency and dressing him before he has the chance to sit down.
"You don't have to be downstairs just yet," he says. "May I use the bath while you rest?"
"Don't let me fall asleep," Arthur says, which Merlin takes as acquiescence.
Despite his words, Arthur lies down on his bed, half curled and facing Merlin. Merlin strips quickly and finds that the water doesn't needs a warming spell, which is lucky given that Arthur's eyes are still vaguely tracking him.
"Talk to me, Merlin," he says, and Merlin tells him about the falcon, the kitten and the mouse.
"It's been a day full of small creatures," he said, "And only the bats have come out worse for it."
"They'll be better off in a cave," Arthur demurs, and although Merlin disagrees he doesn't say so because Arthur's lids are drooping and he looks rather sweet and helpless on the bed, his fringe falling into his eyes and his breath beginning to flow slowly and evenly past his slightly parted lips.
Merlin gives him as long as it takes him to finish his scrub, empty the bathwater and mop up the mess before waking him. A nap will do him good.
________________________________ *garderobes were castle toilets. The waste dropped straight down the side of the castle and accumulated at the bottom. I am assuming that in Camelot the waste was then carted away to fertilise the fields or some such thing. Depending on the design of the garderobe it might accumulate in a confined space which needed regular mucking out to continue to work or just outside the castle walls. I don't know anything about the Pierrefonds toilet system, though, and Pierrefonds isn't exactly mediaeval anyway.