The black-hearted knight Title: The black-hearted knight Rating: light R for adult themes Word Count: ~3600 words Pairings: Merlin/Arthur Warnings: Attempted coercion Disclaimer: None of this belongs to me. Prompt: This was written for a kinkme_merlin prompt here.
Arthur had inherited Sir Cadogan from his father. The man was at least forty, but still strong and broad-shouldered, still formidable in battle. He had brains, too - brainless knights died young, and Cadogan's survival with all his limbs spoke eloquently for him in this regard.
Arthur still didn't like him.
Even in his younger days Arthur had known that Cadogan held no respect for the chivalric ideal. Women, in Cadogan's opinion, were best on their knees serving him. Peasants too. And he said so frequently, with much unnecessary detail.
Arthur gritted his teeth and waited for the day that Cadogan would be too slow - or possibly the day when he did something meritorious enough for Arthur to reward him with lands at the other end of the kingdom.
And then Merlin came and Arthur's views on peasants sharpened into tight focus. No longer a mass of undifferentiated humanity- his people only by right of inheritance - the peasants became his people, each one an individual soul dependent on his goodwill, his strength of arm and will, just as Merlin and Guinevere were.
Cadogan's endless tales of sexual conquest and putting peasants in their place became intolerable on an even more personal level. Arthur had put a stop to the grossest practices - even Cadogan now knew that rape and bloodshed of Camelot's populace was unacceptable, but he had merely diverged into more subtle methods of abuse. The bruised, downtrodden woman who kept his chambers clean and shared his bed made no complaint, but Arthur could not think that she was well cared for either.
Cadogan kept no squires. And that spoke of his character, too. A man of his age and lineage should have had young noblemen queuing for guidance, but noble boys found other sponsors and Cadogan seemed unperturbed.
Cadogan made no secret of his opinion that the Prince was too weak and soft-hearted for his station, but he never crossed the line into punishable impertinence either. Arthur ignored him as much as possible, but on patrols there was no easy way to do that. Crowded around a campfire at night the knights and their attendant squires and servants would share meals and entertain each other with stories and songs, usually bawdy. A young squire might blush the first time he came on patrol but they were all men together and no offence meant or taken.
This night was warm, a lovely summer evening and patrol had gone well. Arthur had taken first watch, and the campfire chat was still going when second watch came on duty. Arthur strolled back to the fire, which had died back to embers now that the cooking was finished since the night was so balmy that no fire was required.
"His mouth," Sir Cadogan was saying, "God - the things I want to do to that mouth. He has no idea. I've barely coaxed him to kiss me as yet but I will fuck that mouth before the month is out."
Arthur sighed. If he had to listen to Cadogan one more time. He circled around the perimeter of the camp, lurking in the darkness until he could reach his bedroll.
"Such a lightweight," Cadogan continued. "Next time the Prince takes out a patrol I'm going to take his cocksucking lips down to the Duck and Goose and pour a bit of ale into him. They have rooms upstairs there and no interfering busybodies to spoil sport."
"What servant boy is going to go to the Duck and Goose with you," scoffed Alain. "Even a lackwit would know better!"
"I'm a noble knight, me," grinned Cadogan, unruffled by the slur. "Pure of heart and mind and..."
The other knights were tossing their crusts at him and he dodged with a lecherous guffaw. "God, I'd say anything to fuck that mouth - with seconds of his pure little arse. Tight and tempting that is, too."
Arthur slid into his bedroll and turned his face away from the group by the fire, letting the group's words and laughter fade into meaningless noise until he fell asleep.
* * *
It was good to see Merlin happy. Arthur had felt so helpless with Merlin grim-faced and sullen. But as summer peaked Merlin was whistling at his work and Arthur didn't have the heart to reprove him for unfinished chores and sloppy work in the face of that lightheartedness. Surely they were all due a bit of lightheartedness by now. So it wasn't until the words 'Duck and Goose' crossed Merlin's lips that Arthur felt a tremor of foreboding.
Merlin had been chattering away and Arthur hadn't really been listening. They were due out on patrol again tomorrow and Arthur had been thinking of Mercian troop movements near the border and whether the billeting arrangments by Langton were really suitable now that the inn there was getting so popular.
"Duck and Goose?" he said, trying to find a context for the words that had filtered through his preoccupation.
"Um, yes?" Merlin seemed puzzled.
"Sorry, what did you say?"
Merlin started rubbing polish into the grooves of his gauntlet. "I said that I've heard that the ale is particularly good at the Duck and Goose."
"No," Arthur said flatly. "It's not." He looked at Merlin for a moment, thinking. "You're not to go there, Merlin. It's an unsavoury part of town and they would eat you alive there."
By the tilt of Merlin's shoulders Arthur could tell that he had taken offence. "It's not as if I'd be going alone," he protested.
"You certainly wouldn't want to take Guinevere there!" Arthur protested. Although actually he rather thought that Guinevere, who was Camelot born and bred, would be rather safer at the Duck and Goose than naive country boy Merlin. She'd at least have some clue what she was getting into, and her practical common sense was far more reliable than Merlin's open-hearted innocence.
"I'm going with a knight," Merlin protested.
A knight. Well, that should be all right. The scaff and raff that frequented the Duck and Goose wouldn't dare harass a knight of the realm. Even so...
"There's nothing worth seeing at the Duck and Goose, Merlin. Really! Who on earth told you that there was?"
Merlin looked down at his hands. "No-one," he muttered. "Were you planning on taking Adda or Kels tomorrow?"
"Adda," Arthur replied. "Kels is getting on a bit and Adda needs to be ridden more; she still has a tendency to balk at water. Make sure the grooms use the new saddle. The old one is about to split a seam."
They didn't return to more personal topics before it was time for dinner, and then Arthur had a few more quick arrangments to make for the morrow before he finally went to bed.
* * *
Later, Arthur couldn't believe it had taken him so long to put the pieces together. Why had he never thought to ask why Merlin was suddenly so happy? Why had he not pursued the question of who was taking Merlin to the Duck and Goose? Why, oh why, had his manservant felt that he had to keep his love-life a secret from Arthur?
But it wasn't until the noon meal that Arthur stopped still, his mouth still on the tankard of ale he was drinking and the sound of a lewd jest from Sir Alain in his ears.
Ale. Cadogan's voice ringing clear through the darkness weeks ago saying Next time the Prince takes out a patrol I'm going to take his cocksucking lips down to the Duck and Goose ...
Merlin's lips, so full and pink.
Arthur let out a curse that had the knights springing to their feet, hands on their swords as they looked for danger. Seeing none, they looked to Arthur but he had tossed his tankard to the ground and was frantically shedding all his equipment from his horse.
"Gareth!" he summoned the most senior knight present, ripping a sheaf of papers from his saddlebag and handing it to him. "Here, this is the plan for the patrol. You're in charge. I'll catch up with you tonight or tomorrow. See if you can spread my baggage around, would you?"
Arthur leaped onto Adda and was already turning his head for Camelot before Gareth could get a word in edgewise.
"Sire!" he called. "What is it?"
Arthur checked Adda's rein with a light hand. "I have an errand in Camelot," he said, his face taut with strong emotion. "Don't worry, I'll be back in no time." He clicked his tongue at Adda and she moved willingly into a canter, leaving behind only hanging dust and a cluster of confused knights milling around the clearing.
As Arthur rode the trail homewards his thoughts were on Merlin. They'd been riding for four hours and Adda was no longer fresh. Four hours back was optimistic, but if he could make it in that time he would have plenty of time to talk to Merlin, to tell him not to trust Cadogan.
If he took five hours then Cadogan might already have taken him to the Duck and Goose. Merlin was, as Cadogan had noticed, a lightweight. It would take no time at all for him to get drunk. If he took six hours...
Had Cadogan picked Merlin because of his mouth or... was it a way of getting back at Arthur? Why hadn't Merlin told him?
Arthur slowed Adda for a breather. She was young and fit (thank heavens he wasn't on old Kels) but she was only mortal. They stopped at a running stream for her to have a quick drink.
Arthur's throat tightened as he realised that Merlin was in danger because of Arthur's lack of care for his subjects. He shouldn't have had to know that Cadogan was talking of Merlin, who he... cared for. He should have stopped Cadogan anyway. He knew that Cadogan was targeting an innocent young servant and he... Arthur's breath rasped in and out with guilt... he had rolled over and gone to sleep.
He clicked his tongue at Adda again, praying to all the gods he knew of that he would be in time.
Merlin, standing at his back at every turn - unarmoured and often unarmed.
Merlin, laughing in the sunlight at some comment that Gwen made, his face turned down to hers, his eyes crinkled with shared mirth.
Merlin's pale bony limbs; his fingers twisted uncertainly around the neck of a jug he would probably drop; his long neck bent industriously over Arthur's armour; his lean torso twisting as he wrestled Arthur's bath into position.
Merlin, crying out to him in the forest over the body of the unicorn. What have you done!
It would be cruel to spur Adda faster. And moreover it wouldn't get him there any sooner.
* * *
Arthur rode into Camelot in time to see the last of the pedlar's booths being wheeled away for the evening. There was every chance that he was in time, but he went straight to the Duck and Goose just in case. He left Adda in the stables, taking a moment to toss a coin to the man in charge to give her food and water.
The tavern was slowly filling up but he could not see Merlin or Cadogan anywhere. A moment of doubt left him paused irresolute by the doorway as a serving girl came to ask his pleasure.
"Have you seen a knight of Camelot and another, younger man here this evening?"
Her blank look assured him of her honesty as she denied it, so he ordered an ale and some bread and cheese. Before the food even arrived Cadogan and Merlin walked through the door.
Merlin had it bad. His face, upturned to Cadogan's, was soft with affection and he accepted Cadogan's hand on his back as a natural courtesy. Arthur's gut tightened with nausea as he stood up and walked over to them.
Their eyes widened, Merlin looking a little guilty, but also pleased to show off his conquest. Cadogan's eyes, however, immediately narrowed again in suspicion and his chin came up aggressively.
"Arthur!" Merlin exclaimed. "What are you doing here? I thought you had patrol!"
"I told you not to come here, Merlin," Arthur replied, his eyes fixed on Cadogan.
The knight merely grinned. "He's a free man, Sire," he said smoothly.
"Don't be ridiculous, Arthur," Merlin said reflexively, and then, "Did you come here on purpose to stop me!" His mobile face reflected the absurdity of such a proposition, but when Arthur failed to deny it his jaw dropped. "You did! Cadogan said that you would interfere if you found out about us, but this..."
The knight smirked as Merlin clasped his hand defiantly.
"Merlin," Arthur said, but he could see that there was very little he could say at this point that would not end up in a huge public row in the most unsavoury tavern in Camelot.
"I am your employer and I have need of your services," he said instead.
"What! Arthur you're on patrol. Or supposed to be," Merlin added, looking uncertain.
"Well I'm not. And I need you now. Come with me." Arthur said authoritatively. "Cadogan, I will speak to you after I return from patrol."
Both of them were used to obeying him, however reluctantly, and they looked uncertain. Arthur used their moment of uncertainty to take Merlin by the elbow and guide him out of the door, still sputtering, "But Arthur!"
Cadogan trailed after them as Arthur steered Merlin into the stables. A servant girl caught them up with a trencher of bread and cheese and an ale, calling "Sir! Sir!" until Arthur turned, his hand still firm on Merlin's elbow. Arthur pressed a coin into her hand and dumped the food unceremoniously into his saddlebags, handing the ale to Cadogan.
"I hear the ale here is very good," he said snidely as he hoisted Merlin into the saddle before him and steered Adda back out into the street. Cadogan looked a little like a cat who had just missed a catching a mouse. As Arthur looked back over his shoulder he took a gulp of ale and made a rueful face before turning back into the tavern.
Good riddance! Arthur was going to have him patrolling the back end of nowhere from next week until judgement day. He was lucky that Arthur had given rescuing Merlin priority over smashing his revolting face in. Not that there wasn't still time for that later.
"Put me down, Arthur," Merlin was saying. "This is absurd! I'll walk back to the castle from here!"
"We're not going back to the castle," Arthur heard himself saying. "You're coming on patrol with me."
* * *
Adda was exhausted. Arthur could not reasonably push her past a walk, especially carrying two, and he should have gone back to the castle - but he couldn't.
If he went back to the castle he would have to come up with some reasonable explanation for why he was there. The King would demand to see him and he would have to deal with Merlin, who would be able to run off to his room and refuse to talk and Arthur didn't have time for any of this. Or energy for that matter. He put his arms around Merlin, who was safe, if still protesting and arguing, and he rested his head on Merlin's shoulder as he turned Adda's head back along the trail that they had just so laboriously retraced.
Eventually Merlin stopped talking.
The sun went down and the moon rose. They stopped by a stream to water Adda and took a refreshing drink themselves.
"I'm hungry," Merlin said.
Arthur gave him the bread and cheese.
"Don't you want some?" Merlin asked. Arthur shrugged so Merlin divided it in half and gave him half back and they sat quietly on a rock by the stream eating it as Adda grazed contentedly. The cheese was sharp and surprisingly good but the bread was awful. Arthur ate it anyway.
"So what was all that about?" Merlin asked when they had finished. "There must be a reason lurking somewhere in your prattish brain."
"I heard him talking," Arthur said quietly, his voice barely rising above the noises of the water trickling over tree-roots and rocks. "I didn't know he was talking about you until today."
Merlin's jaw jutted disbelievingly. "What did you hear?"
"He said there was a servant he was seducing. He was going to take him to the Duck and Goose and get him drunk next time I was on patrol. Then he was going to..." Arthur prodded at the pebbles underfoot with his toes.
Merlin's jaw was less aggressive now. "Going to what?"
Arthur looked at him. Merlin had been so happy. But it had been a lie.
"He was going to ... he said he was going to fuck your mouth and your arse."
Merlin was silent.
"He said he'd say whatever it took to make that happen. He said that no-one would interfere at the Duck and Goose - and he was right. They wouldn't."
Merlin had turned his face away from Arthur. "Maybe that's what I wanted," he said, muffled.
"Not like that." Arthur was certain. "Not with him. He's a pig. I thought everyone knew it."
Merlin's reply was a long time coming. "I thought... he cared for me."
The noises of the stream almost covered the gasp and gulp of Merlin's breathing. The cool air was getting too chilly to sit there any longer.
"Come on," Arthur said, reaching out a hand to Merlin's shoulder.
They didn't go much further. Adda was tired and Arthur too. They stopped at a clearing Arthur knew well and slept rolled in their cloaks under the low spreading boughs of a fir tree.
"Arthur," Merlin said.
Arthur was nearly asleep. "Mmmm?"
Arthur thought of all the things he wanted to say about how he'd let down that anonymous servant boy he had imagined Merlin to be. How he wanted to punch Cadogan until his nose was a smashed pulp. How Merlin deserved someone so much better than Cadogan.
"You're welcome," he said.
* * *
The moon slipped slowly across the sky but Arthur didn't think that Merlin was sleeping any more than he was.
Merlin sighed. "Yes, Arthur?"
"My own fault," said Merlin, rolling onto his back to stare up through the branches.
"Mine too," said Arthur, watching that familiar profile against the low sweep of fir branches. "I should have stopped his behaviour long ago. I stopped the violence but... he just found another way."
"Predators do," said Merlin. "I should have known that no knight would want me."
Arthur's mouth opened and closed. There were certain things that he had never expected to say out loud. Certain things he should not feel or think. They weren't as important as the self-loathing in Merlin's voice.
"I want you," he said. His heart hammered fast and heavy, making him feel sick.
Merlin didn't say anything. After a moment he crawled over to Arthur to look him in the face. Whatever he saw cleansed his face to blankness.
"If that's true, you don't look very happy about it," he said wryly.
Actually, he was right. This wasn't anything that was going to bring anyone happiness in the long term.
"Forget it, then," Arthur said, and turned his back on Merlin.
"You're bloody impossible, you know that," Merlin replied. His voice was choking, but he lay down next to Arthur, a long strip of warmth all along Arthur's back. "You know I've been in love with you since forever. I never thought you would ever see me that way, though."
Suddenly he went still. "You were telling me the truth about Cadogan, though?"
"I wouldn't lie about such a thing," Arthur said stiffly.
"No, you wouldn't," Merlin agreed. "So this wanting then - are we talking about theory here or are you likely to turn around and kiss me?"
There were very good reasons not to turn around, but Merlin was right there and Arthur... he'd been wanting a very long time.
"I can't offer you anything, Merlin," he said desperately to the bole of the tree. "I can't be seen to have a lover. I'll have to marry one day. I've never had a male lover..."
"You want me, though. You came to rescue me. You care for me."
"You... love me?"
Arthur nodded again.
"We'll work it out, then, yeah?"
Carpe diem, the Romans said. Arthur turned around.
Arthur had imagined Merlin occasionally (in moments of weakness) - imagined him sucking Arthur's cock or kissing him long and slow. The real Merlin was much, much better; warm and smooth skin on skin; stubble rasping against Arthur's face, belly, thigh; Merlin's voice stumbling into pleas and invocations - Merlin so close, so very close that it was like a satisfying meal for all the senses - touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight, all satisfied at last with an abundance of Merlin.
And Merlin was smiling again, laughing and moaning and happy in Arthur's arms. Somewhere up ahead was a confused patrol which they would join on the morrow and in about a week Sir Cadogan would find that his life was about to hit new depths of hell.
The sun rose unheeded by the sleeping lovers, entwined naked and smiling in their sleep under the fir tree. An exhausted horse grazed nearby. Perhaps they wouldn't catch up with the patrol today. Tomorrow would be soon enough.