Unusual Behaviour Title: Unusual Behaviour Rating: M Word Count: 1760 Pairings: Merlin/Arthur Uther/Ygraine Warnings: suspected dub-con Disclaimer: I do not own this version of Merlin, nor am I making any profit from it. Prompt: First posted at the kink meme for the prompt: Arthur/Merlin, Uther protects the servants of Camelot from being taken advantage of. When he realizes that Arthur is bedding his manservant, he investigates to make sure that Merlin is a wholly willing party.
Arthur never uses that tone with anyone but his manservant. Uther can hear them all the way up the hallway.
"..shine my boots, order the horses for first light tomorrow, fix that buckle on my hauberk and be in my bed by change of watch or I'll have you put in the stocks, Merlin. I mean it. You are taking entirely too long..."
They have passed the door without seeing him and turned the corner.
The boy is devoted to Arthur, Uther knows. He looks at him... He looks at him all the time. But not with fear, surely? He's a willful, disobedient...
Uther shakes his head. Arthur wouldn't compel the boy, surely. He values him highly - too highly, Uther has often thought. Treats him as something special. As... a possession?
It's a ridiculous thought, but Uther can't shake it. He returns to his reading without conviction.
* * *
"You can't make me!" the boy shouts. Uther is drawn to the window. A week ago he would have shut the window firmly and resolved to admonish Arthur for having such a badly-trained servant. Now he watches, waits for something definite to quell his unease.
Merlin is standing with his back to the wall, his neckerchief askew. Arthur doesn't say a single word but leans in close to him, murmuring in his ear and then drags the boy out of the courtyard. Two minutes later Uther sees the windows in Arthur's room close abruptly, so that only muffled voices can be heard from the room.
He draws a deep breath. This can't be what it seems. His son knows better.
* * *
Nevertheless, when he passes the boy in the passage next he watches him, watches the way he hurtles past the other servants without interacting with them. There is a subtle division between servants and nobles as they mingle in seeming equality in these passages. Servants take the inner path, talk only among themselves, slip to the side when their space is narrowed by encroaching nobility. Nobility barely see the servants, walk through them as if they are ghosts, entirely lacking substance.
Merlin doesn't behave like either. His course is true and almost entirely unconstrained by any other person he meets. It can't be true, Uther understands; if it were, then Merlin would have collided with portly Lord Amberset in the corridor, but somehow the collision didn't occur, without either party appearing to change course at all.
Merlin is set apart from the servants, just as he is clearly not of the nobility. It's not a good sign
* * *
There's a bruise on the boy's neck, dark and deep. Uther almost says something when he sees it, opens his mouth and steps forward. And then he remembers Igraine, moving light and joyful under him, laughing - and the filmy scarves she sometimes had to wear the next day, trailing from her delicate throat in a signal only he could understand.
She would smile up at him, so delicate and fragile that he had to mark her, had to mar her perfection with a brand of possession, and she would curl under him and sink vicious little teeth into his chest in return.
She would stroke those marks the next night with dreamy satisfaction. Sometimes she would bend to them again, sucking the marks deeper. "To remind you of me," she would say. "Uther," she would say, looking up at him until he was wild for her
Was that how it was between Arthur and the boy? Did they strive together in sweet, gasping mutuality - or was it something darker?
* * *
Uther had not always been a king. He knew what it was to be young and powerless.
None who had taken advantage of that fact now lived - and for good reason. Uther never forgot, never forgave. And he loved his people: Camelot would not shelter predators like that while he was King.
And in any case, no son of his would stoop so low. He was sure of that.
Because Arthur wouldn't. (But what if he did?)
* * *
"Morgana," the King says. "Tell me what you know of Arthur's servant. He has an unusual quality about him."
There is a certain curl to the lip that Morgana wears when she talks of Arthur, and she is donning it now. "Arthur doesn't know how to treat a servant," she says, slicing at her fruit. "He runs poor Merlin ragged - dragging him around like a child's security blanket so that by the end of the day he is exhausted. And then he runs Gaius' errands as well. I don't know if he even gets time enough to eat. Gwen says he is never at supper, and he seems far too thin."
It is only what Uther has seen for himself, but Morgana and Arthur can squabble like seagulls over any random titbit that washes up on the beach. There's no proof in any of it.
He can't ask Gaius. To ask would be to imply that he is not sure of the answer. Nor can he ask the boy, for the same reason. At least, not directly.
* * *
It does happen, even in Camelot, Uther knows, but all the senior castle staff know the boundary lines that Uther has set firmly in place. They can and do deal with most matters alone, but sometimes when a really influential noble is involved they come to him. He has not been approached in at least three years. The last time was when that Mercian Earl was visiting.
Consent is not hard to buy, after all. Theft and extortion is not worthy of any man of honour, no matter how sweet the coveted prize. These are the terms in which he was forced to address the Earl. These are terms comprehensible - if barely - to a man who fails to recognise the humanity of his people.
The Earl had offered recompense, and Uther had taken it on behalf of the girl, knowing that it was all that was available and that even that gesture was a concession to odd foreign customs.
Uther has been reproached for cruelty by many who should have known better, including his son and his ward, but he is confident of his own virtue in this matter. A king must make harsh decisions, must cause pain to some for the greater good of the whole - but not for personal pleasure. There can be no excuse for self-indulgence of this nature.
* * *
The Castellan brings him the accounts as usual. Uther is content to oversee the broad outlines of his work without feeling the need to enquire into the details. They are eating more poultry and less pork at this season. The masonry on the west wall is being re-pointed, but the east wing can wait until after the upcoming state visit from Cumbria. The price of barley is extortionate.
"Have there been any recent Issues of a Personal Nature?" Uther enquires, once the issue of barley vs millet has been thoroughly thrashed out. He sits through the recitation of a rather nasty incident in the kitchens and a more delicate matter involving two squires and a stablehand, but there are no sideways looks, no hints that the Castellan has doubts that he fears to raise with his master. If there is a problem between Arthur and his servant the Castellan shows no signs of being aware of it.
Uther dismisses the man at the usual time and sits at his cleared table for a moment of thought before sending one of the guards to seek out Prince Arthur's servant and bring him to the king.
* * *
Uther waits at the window. He sees the guard cross the courtyard with Merlin by his side, the two apparently chatting amiably. Beyond, there are knights in the tiltyard and the laundresses are stringing long lines of washing in the sun-lit airing yards.
"Ah, Merlin," he says as the boy comes in, casting one look back at the guard as he steps back into place outside the doorway.
His bow is definitely better than it was six months ago, but the boy does look as thin and as exhausted as Morgana had said.
"Are you content here in Camelot?" Uther begins.
Merlin looks sincere as he answers, "Yes, Your Majesty."
"It is not too much for you, assisting Gaius as well as serving the Prince?"
"Oh no, Sire."
"I could relieve you of one of your roles - you could assist Gaius full-time if you wished. He needs a permanent assistant."
The boy looks stricken. His mouth drops open as he struggles to find the words. "I don't mind doing both, sire. Has A...anyone complained?"
Uther looks at him silently. As he expects, the boy begins to gabble.
"I like helping Gaius, and I've been practicing potions a lot because there's sickness in the lower town at this time of year - I mean, you know that I'm sure, but they can't always afford the potions but it doesn't cost me anything but the time to gather the ingredients and make the potions and Gaius is too busy but I always have other things to do during the day and I suppose it does keep me up late at night but..."
Uther's face twitches with relief and the desire to laugh. He gestures curtly for silence and turns away to school his face before finishing with the matter.
"Your desire to help those less fortunate is a good thing, but one man can only do so much, as I'm sure Gaius will have told you."
The boys bows his head submissively.
"Do you wish to continue to serve the Prince? If you prefer to pursue your work with Gaius there will be no blame upon you. A physician is an honourable profession, and if you are called to assist the sick then neither Prince Arthur nor I will have any quarrel with that."
"No, Sire." Merlin shows no doubt, no hesitation. "I serve the Prince."
Uther nods, satisfied at last.
"Very well. Let us leave it at that. But remember, you cannot serve him well if you are exhausted. Take Gaius' advice - he knows what he is talking about."
The tense shoulders of the lad relax. "Yes, Sire. I will, Sire."
"You may go," says Uther.
He is still watching from the window as Merlin sprints across the courtyard to the tiltyards towards a knight whose uncovered head shines brightly in the sunshine. The headlong rush checks just short of collision and the armoured figure throws up exasperated arms as Uther smiles.