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A Dish Best Served Cold

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26 Re: A Dish Best Served Cold on Sat 19 May 2012, 12:00 am

Maeglin

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“Merlin, when I find you, you better have a very good reason for not being here!” Arthur hollered into the trees.

"Aww, come off it, Princess," Gwaine said as he settled lazily back in his saddle. "He's probably gone off to take a leak and found a pretty bird or something. Heaven forbid you have to haul your own bloody deer."

Arthur glared at him. Gwaine grinned back. K laughed.

"Oh, for the love of Pete, I'll do it," Gwaine groaned, sliding off Studly and slinging his reins around a tree.

"Sir Gwaine..." Arthur warned. Gwaine tried not to be obvious about his smirk. He absolutely loved doing things for himself that were not 'proper' for a knight to do, just to see Arthur get worked up about it. If Gwaine had his druthers, he'd generally much prefer the lazy option, but the funny, do-anything-to-annoy-Arthur option occasionally won out. For now he ignored Arthur and set to binding the hart's hooves together (which was hard, but not impossible with one and a half hands).

Then there was a crashing through the trees, and Pussy appeared. Gwaine leapt to his feet, beaming as the beast whinnied in terror and reared slightly to avoid crashing over him. When Merlin half-tumbled, half-scrambled out of the saddle, Gwaine was there to catch him. "Whoa, there!" He laughed, rounding out the catch with a manly embrace, clapping Merlin on the back. "You look like you've had the runaround!" he said, beginning to pick twigs out of his coat and hair as he quickly assessed Merlin. The kid looked fine: a bit breathless, maybe, but unhurt, though his eyes held...something he'd need more time to sort out when the whole world wasn't watching. But now, for the benefit of Arthur: "And why are you all wet? Did Pussy try to go for a swim?" Gwaine reached out to feel Pussy's saddle, which, of course, was damp. "Stupid beast. No apples for you tonight, shame on you for giving Merlin such a fright. I'll eat them in front of you, I will!"

"Gwaine! Stop talking," Arthur tried.

"Oh, Pussy's a well-meaning pony, but he just loves swimming so, and he often tries to get everyone else to enjoy it, as well. It's a good job you got him out, Merlin. Thank you."

Arthur rolled his eyes and waved his hand. "Oh, whatever," he sighed, clearly prepared to leave them to their own devices. "It's getting late, and I'm starved. Sir Gwaine, you're in charge of making sure that thing gets hauled in." And with that, the Princess rode off, with K and the other knights in tow, leaving Merlin and a few servants staring at each other.

"Well. All right, boys, let's get to it!" Gwaine said, relishing at how he was making some of the servants uncomfortable by his proximity to the labor needing to be done. "You lot check my knots, and get his antlers tied up. Merlin, let's go find us a pole."

After they were safely out of earshot, Gwaine turned to Merlin, suddenly much more interested in him than looking for any pole. "So what actually happened back there?" he asked with an inviting grin.

"Willow got scared by a pheasant, and he just took off on me. We ended up by the lake, the big one further into the forest. And then when I got off he decided he wanted to be in the water to drink it, and I had to go after him."

"That sounds suspiciously like the lie I just told Arthur," Gwaine grinned.

"He's your horse, you know how he is. Not a brave bone in his body. Right, Willow?" he said, patting the horse, who had followed them, probably afraid to be left alone with Studly and Nero and a bunch of strangers, on the neck. He wasn't a very bright horse, either. "He didn't want to come out of the lake, either, so I had to chase him around the shallows."

Gwaine nodded, backing off. He began to actually look around for what they were supposed to be finding: a suitably-sized tree. "So...that's Merlin-speak for 'I don't want to talk about it'?" He made sure Merlin couldn't see the half-guilty instigating look on his face as he said it. "Here, hand me the hatchet."

As he looked about briefly for the hatchet and then handed it to Gwaine, Merlin shrugged one shoulder. "That's Merlin for 'there's not much more to say about it'," he answered.

Gwaine smiled disarmingly as he turned back to face Merlin. He could practically smell the tension radiating off of his friend, but he had learned his lesson about How To Unsuccessfully Interrogate A Merlin, so he didn't push the issue. "Well, you know, Merlin. If you ever do decide something happened that you want to talk about. I'm here."

With the help of the other servants, they quickly got the beast taken care of, and just as they were lifting the pole to sling between the two largest horses--Studly and Nero, whom Gwaine had brought along for just this occasion, who should ride up but Lady Elaine?

"Oh!" she said, looking around at the assembly of servants. "I was wondering...where the hunting party went? Oh, Sir Gwaine!" she brightened, spotting his familiar and rakishly handsome face.

"Milady," he bowed with a flourish. "I'd offer you my hand, but it's kind of covered in guts. Arthur and his party rode on ahead." He stopped, almost asked about Sir Leon, until he saw the barely-contained rage in her eyes, startled at it, and tried another question. Unlike some, Gwaine knew that servants were people, too, and he didn't want to talk about a potentially delicate subject in front of them. "You are welcome to ride back with us, if you do not mind the somewhat slowed pace," he waved, noting by the lack of horses that most of the party would be walking.

She dipped her head in acknowledgement. "Thank you."

The way back was silent for some time. Merlin wasn't in a talking mood. After a bit a few of the servants started up a few songs or talked amongst themselves, trying not to fraternize with the "nobility."

And Gwaine didn't like silence, as a rule, so he sidled up next to the Lady Elaine, on the side where her legs hung down, and gave her horse a friendly pat. "What's his name?"

"Oh...uhh, 'Champ' I think. My father's horse."

Gwaine nodded. "Seemed a bit big." He glanced sidelong up at her with a wicked grin, testing her to see what her reaction would be. "I suppose you like them big?" he said playfully.

"I do, but they don't seem to like me very much!" She grumbled.

"Ah. Not cooperating, is he?"

"Not to mention it took me ten minutes to get back on this bloody horse without anyone to help me!"

Gwaine laughed. "I apologize, milady. You know, you wouldn't think it, but the big ones tend to scare easier. Which doesn't mean they're not worth the extra effort..." he added, quickly.

Elaine gave a grin, biting her bottom lip. "Yes, that's true." Then, as if she remembered she was meant to be angry, she grumbled, "What is the matter with Leon? I thought everything was going nice, very pleasant, we were alone, low-pressure siutation and everything, and what does he do? he goes running off to wash his damn turtle or whatever excuse he came up with." She blushed. "Sorry, I mean--dashed turtle."

"Oh, don't apologize," Gwaine replied huskily (he often had trouble turning the chat-up "off" even though he truly wasn't actually trying to horn in on Leon's woman, though of course he wouldn't turn her down if given half, nay, a breath of a chance), "I like a woman who knows how to get angry." He shrugged, fixed her with a piercing glare belying the gravity of what he was trying to say. "He's madly in love with you, you know. That's why he's so scared. I know it makes no sense," he added as she tried to jump in, "it's just...how his inbred little brain works! I think he thinks he'll...oh, hell, I don't know what he thinks! What I do know is we'll have to work together to solve this puzzle!" he grinned broadly at her, and wiggled his eyebrows playfully. "Any ideas?"

"Not unless you can get me a key to a closet so I can lock him inside with me," Elaine said with a guilty not-totally-joking laugh. She sighed. "You're his best friend. What do you think?"

Gwaine thought about this. "Well, I am the leading expert in wooing women, after all," he told her with a wink, "it shouldn't be that hard to flip it about." While she laughed, Gwaine chewed on his lip, which ended up basically being him chewing on his beard, which was a gross reminder he needed to trim it.

"Aha!" he said, finally, and loudly, making the horse whinny in alarm until he quieted it with a pet on the jaw. "An old trick I once used on a Viking Ice Queen--and when I say Ice Queen I do mean she was frozen to the core. I wasn't getting anywhere with her with my usual arsenal, so I started talking to her really quietly." For dramatic effect, Gwaine lowered his voice from his usual boisterous projection to an almost-whisper. Elaine, without thinking, bent over to hear him. "And see!" he exploded loudly again, and she shot upright. "Except you don't do that part. He's worried about you getting to close to him? Make him come to you!"

Elaine giggled. "Ooh, that sounds nice!" she said, her own voice taking on a sultriness Gwaine couldn't help but be attracted to--in a strictly-business sort of way. "You are a clever man, Sir Gwaine."

"I have a broad range of knowledge, my lady," he said, with a mock-bow, "which are ever at your service. Especially when they are also in the service of my idiotic friend Sir Leon. Who, I might add, is going to the pub with us later this evening."

"Oh?"

"Oh, yes. Around eight 'o clock. He would have had his first and only beer by half-eight. Which is about the time I would be leaving my customary seat next to him to purchase my third, leaving that the only seat open." He nodded at her conspiratorially. "And you two can get some 'hey nonny nonny,' if you get my drift?"

She nodded back, barely containing her grin. "Hey nonny nonny indeed," she agreed.

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27 Re: A Dish Best Served Cold on Mon 21 May 2012, 9:48 pm

Leon felt guilty about not actually having to see to any patents of nobility, so he punished himself by sitting inside all day getting other completely non-essential paperwork done. For the first time in years he actually finished early, and accompanied Gwaine to the Rising Sun. Thankfully, K arrived earlier and was on the other side of the tavern, so Leon was at least thankful that the topic of him getting unhorsed would not be brought up.

He ordered his usual pint and headed over to join Gwaine at the usual spot near the bar. He had hoped that Gwaine would choose somewhere a bit more private to sit this time, since he still needed to talk to Gwaine about those gnomes and didn’t want the whole tavern to know it. He doubted whether there was a private spot in the whole tavern—it was full of people tonight, all celebrating Galehaut’s recent knighthood. As Leon passed he handed Galehaut a set of new horseshoes that he bought for the occasion, glad to find that apparently everyone else was just hoping to get him slobbering drunk.

“Thank you, Sir Leon!” Galehaut said with a grin. “Would you like to join us? I’m going to teach Percival and Lancelot how to taste-test brandy!”

“I’ll just watch tonight, thanks,” Leon said, indicating the drink he already had in his hand and continuing to his usual seat.

“Elaine’s here,” Gwaine said as Leon sat down. He looked innocent enough except for the glint in his eye which told Leon that he (and probably everyone else) knew about his little tete-a-tete with Elaine earlier. Leon glanced over to see Elaine and Gwen standing at the other end of the bar talking and eating grapes. Although Gwen, more rugged than most women, was still wearing her riding clothes Elaine had changed out into a lovely frock of blue silk. It was extremely fashionable, and showed off more than her figure.

Gwaine elbowed him in the ribs. “’Ey, get a look at that dress! What do you think of that, eh?”

“I’m trying not to,” Leon said, turning back to his drink.

Gwaine sighed but didn’t press the matter, which Leon was very glad of, and to make certain that he didn’t press the matter Leon changed the subject.

“I think we ought to tell Arthur that those gnome things could be dangerous.”

“Well, I don’t envy the man who does tell him,” Gwaine said, laughing nervously. “He looks like he’s more smitten with them than Gwen.”

“But they’re dangerous, aren’t they? I mean, if they—eat noblemen, Arthur’s about as noble as you can get for miles. His life may be in danger as we speak.”

Leon looked to Gwaine to see if he would show the same nervousness he displayed earlier, but Gwaine didn’t like to look scared, especially in public. He just shrugged elusively. “Eh, forget it. I’m sure just two of them aren’t dangerous.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you wouldn’t be in much danger if a squirrel took it into its head to kill you, would you? And gnomes sort of gain power the more you have of them. One or two can’t do much besides give you a wink.”

Leon wrinkled his brow, feeling better about the whole thing even though this was Gwaine supplying him with important information. But Gwaine would err on the side of caution in matters like these, right?

“Don’t worry,” Gwaine said, giving Leon a pat on the back that made him spill his beer. “Gwen thinks they’re awful, anyway. In a few days she’ll get fed up with them and they’ll be quietly put in the rubbish bins.”


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28 Re: A Dish Best Served Cold on Fri 25 May 2012, 12:48 am

Maeglin

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No one would deny that Gwaine was selfish. But at the same time, he didn't do much thinking about himself (unless it was about his hair). He generally found other people--anyone other than himself, really--much more interesting topics for consideration. Also, he simply needed to distract himself from himself. If he turned introspective, he knew, especially after last night, it wouldn't lead to anything good. Gwaine didn't like being introspective.

So, for example, he noticed immediately when the Lady Elaine and the Queen entered together. At first he was surprised to see Gwen there without Arthur, but quickly realized that Elaine must have asked her out under the guise of "girl's night" but with the probable intent of something more along the lines of a wingman. Wingwoman? Elaine clearly thought like him, anyway. He raised his cider to her in a silent good-luck wish as he downed it in one gulp and made his way to the bar for another, leaving the seat next to Leon conspicuously empty.

It was Sir Galehaut's evening. Everyone was so pleased at him becoming a knight--he literally had no enemies in Camelot, the man was so precious--and if he rarely bought drinks anyway, he was certainly not buying any for himself tonight. The boys were congratulatory, the girls' attentions were chiefly on him (which made Gwaine's background mission a bit of a problem), but of course Galehaut only had eyes for...

Lancelot. Sir Oblivious. Gwaine couldn't decide who was the nicer man, really (although Lancelot's niceness tended to get on his nerves), so when either opened his mouth, only the most perceptive could tell the difference between the "Hi, how are you?" which stood for Hello, person whose name I've forgotten, how are you? and the "Hi, how are you?" which meant roughly Hi, how are you, want to have sex?

Meanwhile, Lancelot was being perfectly shameful in his attentions to Gwen--and this was coming from Gwaine. It almost made Gwaine wish Arthur was there, and Gwaine hardly ever wished Arthur was there.

It was pathetic. Gwaine had actually began to root for Galehaut in earnest when the newest Knight of the Round Table gave up, extricated himself from the crowd, and headed toward the bar.

"Your technique was flawless, mate, I dunno what to tell you," Gwaine said, startling Galehaut as he sidled up next to him at the bar.

"Um. Sorry?" Galehaut tried, blushing adorably.

Gwaine smiled and jerked his head at Lancelot, who was too busy making eyes at Gwen to realize he was being stared at.

Galehaut sighed, and Gwaine ordered two more ciders, handing it off.

"Ta," Galehaut said, staring at the amber drink. "He...just might be the greatest knight in the world."

"Easily," Gwaine agreed, gulping at his cider. "I wouldn't give up hope."

"I don't believe I could, Sir Gwaine." Galehaut said, smiling sadly. And he was so beautiful and lonely and romantic and wistful, it made Gwaine's heart ache. He didn't feel sorry for Leon: he was his own worst enemy in the game of love. He didn't feel sorry for Lancelot: he was an idiot in love with a woman who happened to be married to his liege-lord.

Gwaine felt incredibly sorry for Galehaut.

Now, the downside to Gwaine's negotiable selflessness was that it made him stupid. If he was thinking more about others than himself (not for any truly noble selfless reasons, of course), he wasn't keeping himself in check so his selfishness tended to rear its ugly head at the most inopportune moments, which meant he basically acted without thinking. And, while he was too busy observing everyone else in the bar to notice himself, Gwaine might have lost count of exactly how many ciders he'd had past the usual five, and the sugar took the alcohol to his head a bit faster than ale normally did, and he maybe hadn't gotten around to ordering food yet.

And he had been horny since this morning.

"Well, if you decide you need help taking your mind off of him for the evening," Gwaine said huskily, "I've just remembered I haven't properly congratulated you on your knighthood."

It actually took Galehaut a moment to realize he had been propositioned. Long enough for Gwaine to think, first of all, that that wasn't a good sign, and second of all, what the hell had he just said? It wasn't that he hadn't ever bedded a man before--he wasn't a prude, after all!--but that sort of encounter (in his shockingly limited experience) usually happened on accident, and he didn't ever seek it out.

That damned introspection got him in the end, of course, so Gwaine did not realize he was under attack until it struck.

SMACK!

The sound of Galehaut's open hand striking Gwaine full in the face was heard by the entire bar, which immediately fell silent.

"Just because I am a sodomite," Galehaut growled low, suddenly dangerously close to Gwaine's face, seething with warning, "do not dare to presume that I am as much a harlot."

Galehaut then gathered his cloak and left.

Gwaine, stunned, held a hand up to his stinging cheek. The next few seconds were gearing up to be incredibly awkward indeed, had not Leon taken that moment to spit out an entire mouthful of beer all over Percival, and once Percival had stopped shouting and Leon had stopped choking, Leon, who was apparently even more oblivious than Lancelot, took that moment to blurt out--

"HE'S GAY?!"

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29 Re: A Dish Best Served Cold on Sat 26 May 2012, 3:38 pm

“Yes, Leon, he’s gay,” Percival said, wiping beer off his face with chagrin.

“Sorry, Percival,” Leon said, reaching over to help clean off Percival’s shirt as Elyan and Lancelot laughed heartily. “Barkeep, another ale for Percival!”

“I don’t even know how you could have missed it,” Percival continued, although he looked somewhat pacified at the prospect of a free drink. “Galehaut’s been displaying all the signs since he stepped inside the castle!”

“Oh, and you’re the expert, Sir Straight-as-an-arrow-made-of-birch?” Gwaine laughed. He sidled over and took a big drink of Percival’s new ale.

“Well, I know none of you will believe me,” Leon said, “but a lot of nobles act exactly like that. Honestly, Gwaine, what did you try that for?”

“If you don’t try, how are you going to find out?” Gwaine said lustily, though his shrug was noncommittal.

Leon conceded the point with a laugh and a shake of his head, and saw Merlin heading across the bar with a half-pint of ale that he had filled a bit too much. “Merlin!” Leon called, indicating that open spots to sit down at their table. “How did Gaius like the pheasant you got?”


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30 Re: A Dish Best Served Cold on Sat 26 May 2012, 5:25 pm

In all honesty, Merlin had been trying to forget about the poor pheasant. It had been so mangled after he’d accidentally shot it and Leon had killed it that Arthur had been more than happy to let him keep it rather than sending it to the kitchens. He’d taken it back and handed it off to Gaius with some mumbled explanation about what had happened, and then gone to sit in his room with the door shut so he could think. It had been a long day, so long that he was quite frankly overwhelmed by it, and it was going to give him a headache if he didn’t sit down somewhere quiet and just deal with it.

Sir K and his various annoyances he quickly set aside, and even the debacle with the pheasant and the horses and Leon getting chucked into a bush. But his thoughts kept circling on back to Freya, until he was driving himself mad and, as he’d half expected, giving himself a headache. Freya was still alive, which he’d been easier able to believe when she was standing right there in front of him. He touched just under his eye where there should have been a cut, and wasn’t. That definitely wasn’t just his imagination. But what was he supposed to do now? He didn’t want to just leave Freya out there alone at the lake, Druid or no Druid, even if she said it was alright. If she liked it out by the lake that much, he’d at least have liked to make her some sort of shelter, rather than leaving her to fend for herself. He couldn’t just show up with her in Camelot, either, because even if he was careful about it and didn’t let on that they’d been acquainted in the past, someone was bound to figure it out. Gwaine, for one, was simply too nosey to just let something like that slide, and Merlin really didn’t want a repeat of their shouting match, which was what would happen if he tried to lie about Freya. He was a horrible liar, and he knew it.

Finally, after chasing his thoughts around for awhile, he gave up and just sat listening to Gaius crash around outside, probably making something edible out of the pheasant. It being the evening after a hunt, he was fairly certain the knights would be at the tavern, so after they’d eaten, he helped Gaius clean up and went down to the Rising Sun. He’d only just paid for his half pint of ale when he heard Leon shout at him over the crowd and wove his way through everyone else to drop in the seat next to the knight. He reddened slightly at mention of the pheasant.

“Oh, well, he was happy to see it. He made stew for dinner,” Merlin answered. He also hadn’t made any mention of the state of the bird before he’d cooked it, which Merlin appreciated. “I don’t think he could have done much else with it, really,” he added, and was then quiet for a minute while he stared somewhat blankly at the ale in front of him. His mind wandered off after Freya again, and he shook his head. It was time to think of something else. A riddle! That’d keep his mind off of things.

“Leon, you told me a riddle earlier, but I forgot it,” he said.

“You forgot a riddle?” Leon asked in mild astonishment, but relented when Merlin just half-shrugged. “Well, it’s been a long day.

A serpent swam in a silver urn,
A golden bird did in its mouth abide.
The serpent drank the water, this in turn
killed the serpent, then the gold bird died.


As he had earlier, Merlin thought hard for a few minutes, thinking up and then discarding answers until he thought he might have one. He was about to answer when a voice on his other side said, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s an oil lamp.”

Merlin and Leon both turned to look at K as he stood smugly next to them, having walked up while Leon was telling the riddle. Both of them stared while K smiled brightly, pretending not to notice that he was being obnoxious. Finally Merlin cleared his throat and looked over K’s shoulder, seeing Gwen and Elaine walking towards them. He raised a hand in a wave, realized this looked ridiculous, and stopped.

“Merlin! Leon!” Gwen said with a bright smile as she walked up, and then looked over at K. “Sir K,” she said, the smile failing only slightly. She spared him only a momentary glance before looking back at Merlin.

“I have a question for you about those horrid gnomes Arthur has been picking up,” she said, beckoning him a couple feet away from the bar where they could actually hear each other without shouting. It also left Merlin’s seat next to Leon empty, and Elaine and Leon both without anyone else to talk to.


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31 Re: A Dish Best Served Cold on Mon 28 May 2012, 5:29 am

With his drink finished and K looking like he was about to bring up the horse incident, Leon thought it best to call it a night. That is, until Elaine, whose eye contact he had been avoiding religiously, turned and outright spoke to him.

“Hallo again!”

“Er—Good evening, my lady,” he said, starting to stand.

“At ease, good sir knight,” she said with a smile as she sat down in the narrow space on the bench next to him. “We’re not in court or anything!”

You really should leave, Leon's voice of reason told himself, but there was room on the bench for both of them, and leaving the crowded tavern quickly would be quite difficult. Gwaine also chose this moment to lead K off toward the bar, shouting something about “tequila shots.” He slowly sat back down, giving Elaine as much space as possible. At least the tavern was already too warm to allow his blush to show readily.

“Can I get you something to drink?” he asked.

“Oh, no thank you—I already ordered.”

At that moment one of the barmaids put a pewter stein in front of Elaine. It was huge, and full to the brim with frothy beer.

“What is that?” he asked in astonishment.

“I, er, don’t know, actually—it was on special tonight,” she said, peering somewhat uncertainly at the beer, which nearly came level with her eyes.

“That must be worth two of these,” Leon said, indicating his empty tankard.

“This is going to be an interesting evening, then!” she giggled. “Unless…?” She proffered the stein.

“Oh!—Of course,” he said, and, after giving her one last look to make sure this was acceptable, took a big drink. It was a double white ale, slightly sweet and with more alcohol than he was used to in his usual porter. He gave the stein back to her and self-consciously wiped the froth out of his beard, but she just smiled and took a sip of beer from the opposite side of the stein.

Leon was trying to think of something to say, somewhat distracted by Elaine’s tongue as she licked froth off her lips. She said something that he didn’t catch over the din of the tavern.

“Pardon?” he said, leaning down closer.

“Was that your new crossbow I saw you using today?”

“Oh—yes, it’s a double-action repeating crossbow with composite lath, a recovery spanning lever…” Well, that was a boring thing to say….

“A spanning lever! Those are difficult to come by, aren’t they?”

That’s your cue to stop talking about crossbows. “Yes, it’s difficult to give the secondary arrows the same level of stability.” He took another drink of the ale to stop himself from saying anything else.

She said something else, just as Gwaine shouted for more shots.

“Sorry?” He edged closer to her. Her lemon perfume certainly smelled better than the stale tavern air.

“I said I tried to get one but I could never get the second arrow adjusted right. I always thought yew would be more substantial than other woods.”

Leon blinked, then laughed nervously.

“What?” she asked.

“It’s just—I thought I was boring you.”

She laughed. “I like talking about weapons—it’s about all my father and I talk about. Unless you’d prefer to talk about something like King Horn?”

“The ballad of King Horn?“

“You’ve heard of it?”

“It’s the most popular ballad series’ in Albion—of course, I love it!”

She raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t know knights liked romances.”

“It’s—its not a romance! It’s an epic!”

“Really? What did you think of Horn dressed as the palmer?”

“Well, that was a bit too far to prove his point, but he was only trying to see if Rymenhild still loved— okay, fine, it’s a romance. It’s still very good.”

She giggled, and Leon, finding his arm to be inconveniently in the way of their ability to converse in the loud tavern, put it behind her. And Elaine was so good at carrying on conversation that as soon as they got on the subject of epic ballads—okay, romantic ballads— they and the knights nearby were all involved in lively discussion over it. Even some of the less-schooled knights like Lancelot and Percival became interested. With how quietly she talked it was several minutes before Leon realized that she was practically in his arms. She didn’t usually talk this quietly, but then maybe she was just as nervous about the awkward afternoon as well—or maybe the drink was getting to him more than he thought, because when she addressed the other knights she spoke loudly enough.

He still didn’t know how to apologize for how he behaved in the forest, so when she was ready to go he just nodded to her and walked back to his room alone. Talking to a lady in public was one thing—making up for a debacle like that afternoon would take a little bit more clever planning.

He only hoped Elaine was up to the challenge.


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32 Re: A Dish Best Served Cold on Fri 01 Jun 2012, 4:11 am

As Merlin stepped away to talk to Gwen and Elaine slipped into his seat with the practiced ease of a plan well-made, he began to suspect that possibly Gwen had just been trying to get him to move out of the way. He didn't mind being part of that particular plan, because anyone who hadn't noticed the looks Leon had been sending Elaine's way recently was either blind or stupid, or simply very unobservant. Coincidentally, he didn't think Arthur had noticed...

But Gwen also looked genuinely stressed about the gnomes, so once they were far enough away not to disturb the awkward couple at the bar, he looked at her for an explanation.

“Thank you for not making that difficult,” she said with a slight laugh, looking over at Leon and Elaine, who were deep in conversation about something.

“I didn't know what you were up to, but I don't mind. What about the gnomes?” he asked, and the smile faltered and she shook her head in frustration.

“He just keeps bringing more of them home! They're all over the sitting room now, and he has them guarding the outer door,” she said quickly.

“Where in the world is he getting them from?” Merlin asked somewhat rhetorically, and Gwen waved a dismissive hand. “Well, I imagine he'll grow tired of them soon. And they're not hurting anyone, at least. I'd say I could sneak some out when I bring breakfast tomorrow, but...” he trailed off, not wanting to malign the king's cousin in front of the king's wife. He was surprised when Gwen's slight frown turned into a very real scowl and almost a glare in the direction of K and Gwaine.

“Oh, Sir K. I'm sure he's so very proud of himself for starting this nonsense,” she said, and then snapped out of it and looked back at Merlin with a smile. “But there's nothing to be done about it right now, I suppose. If you get the chance, please feel free to remove one... or five. Thank you, Merlin,” she said, and left to go speak with the other knights, who were not yet so very drunk as to be incomprehensible.

Merlin looked around, at a loss for where to go or what to do. He eventually wandered over to Percival and Elyan, looking absently for the only other unaccounted-for knight, Lancelot, as he sat down.

“Enjoy the hunt, Merlin?” Percival asked, clearly joking by the huge grin on his face, and Merlin rolled his eyes. “Oh yes, every second of it, thanks for asking,” he answered brightly, “Is Lancelot around?” Elyan snorted a laugh.

“Oh, he's outside talking to some girl, I saw them leaving just about five minutes ago,” he said, pointing back over his shoulder with a thumb. At that moment, the door slammed open and a very angry young woman came storming inside and sat down at the bar with a scowl. “Oop, looks like our Lancelot has done it again,” Elyan commented dryly. “D'you remember how long he'd been with that one, Perce?” he asked, and the other knight shrugged. “Well, looks like it's over now, anyway,” Elyan said with a sympathetic shake of his head. And indeed it did, since Lancelot never showed up to sweet-talk the young woman into forgiving him.


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33 Re: A Dish Best Served Cold on Fri 01 Jun 2012, 7:46 pm

Maeglin

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"Nine days," Gwaine said, who kept track of this sort of thing.

"What?"

"They've been together nine days," he repeated, never letting his eyes wander from the maiden. Her name was Elaine--only the second-most popular name around these parts--and she was dark, petite, and generally easygoing: much like the Guinevere she was meant to replace.

Her easy demeanor had limits, of course (unlike Gwen, whose niceness Gwaine suspected had no bounds, though he'd yet to test it). The young woman was fuming. Probably Lance had called her "Gwen" or something. Moron.

Gwaine finished his beer with a finality that had Percival raising his eyebrows. "What're you up to?" he asked in a knowing-but-dreading-the-answer kind of way.

Gwaine flashed him a smile. "Going to comfort the poor girl, of course. Lance is a brute and an idiot."

Elyan rolled his eyes. Percival frowned, giving him a disappointed look that was a shadow of what Leon would give him if he hadn't left early as usual. "Don't take advantage of her!" he hissed.

Gwaine laughed. "Oh, if only I was as irresistible as you think me! Unfortunately, I in fact have no magic powers which charm anyone I please into my bed, and must make do with consenting adults. Or did you not see the embarrassing debacle with Sir Galehaut?"

Percival and Elyan laughed to be so reminded. "Haha, fine," Percival said.

"And I can't exactly take care of the problem myself, what with being right-handed and all," Gwaine went on, too far, as usual, as he waved his injured right hand aloft as evidence.

It didn't take a genius to see what Gwaine was naughtily implying, and Percival practically died of embarrassment. "Okay, and you're gone," Elyan said, waving his arm dismissively. "Happy hunting, I guess."

"Nah, I've had enough of hunting for one day. I'm rather in the mood to be hunted, actually..." Gwaine said, licking his lips and relishing in the groans and blushes he left behind him.

"Can I buy you a drink?" he asked, leaning heavily on the bar.

"Can you buy me several?" she said, glowering at her nails.

"You bet," Gwaine said, flagging down the bartender. "What're you having?"

"Something to help me forget."

Gwaine saw his opening, and smiled broadly.

He leaned in to whisper the not-quite-magic words in her ear.

She giggled.

They left their drinks, unfinished, at the bar.

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34 Re: A Dish Best Served Cold on Sun 03 Jun 2012, 8:34 pm

Gwen woke up to the sound of something tapping against the bedchamber window. She listened to it for a while, trying to figure out what it was, until she heard smashing glass. She sat bolt upright, but no one was there. A stone, not much bigger than a large pebble, lay amongst the smashed glass. She heard a voice down below in the courtyard:

“Sorry, sorry!”


Gwen sighed. That voice was all too familiar.

“Alright, dear?” Arthur, who had been sleeping like a log after she put him to bed, mumbled this half-muffled request for assurance into his pillow.

“Yes, go back to sleep,” she said soothingly, though she was pretty sure he fell asleep before she even replied.

She was still naked, and so quickly pulled on a nearby robe and slippers before she ventured toward the broken window.

Lancelot was standing below. Well, standing was a too kind choice of wording. He was swaying on the spot like a tree in the wind.

“What are you doing, Lancelot?” she asked with a nervous smile.

“Guinevere!” he said, looking guilty. “I—sorry, I was throwing pebbles. I might have gotten one that was a bit too large,” he said. “May I repair it tomorrow? Oh, and is Arthur there?”

“He’s asleep,” Gwen said, her grin becoming more and more forced.

“Oh! Did I wake you? I’m sorry—I just had another poem for you.”

Gwen slowly buried her head in her hand. “Lancelot…”

“…and since I wasn’t sure if you got the others that I’ve left under your door, and just in case Merlin hasn’t yet given you the other ones, I thought I might read you one now.” He cleared his throat. “My lady deigned to kiss me, and in her mouth there seemed a little censer of gold, and therewithal there was such a savour as all the spicery of the world had been there—

“Don’t!” Gwen hissed urgently before he could continue.

Lancelot blinked at her like a depressed puppy. “Do you not like it?”

Gwen bit her lips and clenched her fists to keep herself from jumping off the balcony so she could strangle him. She forced another smile and said. “Hold on, I’m coming down, alright?”

She took a bit of time (though not very much, in case Lancelot decided to throw more rocks at her window) to get a more substantial robe on, and quickly slipped downstairs. She wasn’t exactly surprised that Lancelot was at her window, but that didn’t make her any happier. Really, he was a grown man…

The guards gave her quizzical looks, and she looked them both up and down. She knew both of them from when she was a servant—Alfred was a gossiper and frequent tavern patron, while Cedric was trustworthy and liked by Leon, a real locked-box.

“Alfred, would you mind coming with me for a minute?” she asked.

Alfred agreed readily and followed her to the door to the courtyard.

“Alright, I want you to wait here. I’m just going to go talk to Lancelot for a minute, alright?”

“Sure, Gwen—I mean, your highness,” Alfred said, already practically bursting with excitement about what he was about to hear. “Mum’s the word.”

Gwen nodded and walked out into the courtyard, assured that the impending conversation would be repeated all over the castle by lunchtime. She wasn’t worried, of course—Lancelot was practically an angel—but it was always prudent to have witnesses when you had to leave your husband’s bedchamber to go meet an attractive, single man in the middle of the night. And it would be better to have Alfred repeat exactly what was said rather than have rumors about what happened get spread around.

But as she approached, she couldn’t help but feel her irritation fading. Lancelot looked handsome when drunk, but he looked handsome in any state of being. He also looked handsome when he was depressed, even more so when he was trying to hide his distress. When he saw her his eyes lit up a little.

“Shouldn’t you be reading poems to Elain?” she asked, hopefully. “I mean, every relationship has rough patches, and I’m sure you could work through it….”

“I…broke it off,” he said.

“Oh.” Damn. Gwen had high hopes for Elain.

“I just don’t know what to do, Gwen,” he said, running his hand through his hair. “I’ve become a ship without moorings. I’m helpless—useless.”

“You know that you’re neither of those things,” she said, knowing a man who wanted sympathy and comfort when she saw one. “Where’s that lovely smile you gave me when we first met?”

She stroked his cheek and he smiled a little, and Gwen blushed to see a tear fall down his cheek. He looked away, his willing mind trying to control the emotion he showed.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m—you should get back to Arthur.”

“Lancelot, you are too good, and too humble to realize your goodness. Any woman would be lucky to have you as her lover. You are the best knight I have ever known—the best knight that anyone has ever known—”

“Except that I’m in love with another man’s wife.”

And of course, that was Lancelot’s only fault. He sang, he wrote, he fought, he even ate with complete perfection, and with a too-humble heart that only endeared people to him. He just fell in love, with her! Part of her knew that she didn't deserve his love! But then, she was too humble, too. She took his hand. “Lancelot, you can’t go on like this. It’s tearing you apart. I love you as a friend, I truly do. But do not pine for something more. It would break Arthur’s heart if he knew—“

“I’m not—I’m not asking you to hurt Arthur—not at all,” Lancelot said quickly, as if he never contemplated that such a thing could arise. “Your devotion need not be split between him and me.”

“Then what do you want?”

He suddenly turned his eyes on her, and gazed at her with all the love she knew he could possess. “Let me love you, in any way that I can. Give me ways to love you—help you down from your horse, run errands for you, serve you. Little, insignificant ways. Anything you want from me, I will do with thanks. Every task will be a moment of pleasure to cherish in memory to the end of my life. Just—just thinking about you gives me peace. For so starving is my love for you that it will gladly survive on scraps.”

Gwen was about ready to cry. Arthur, bless him, never spoke so eloquently, so deeply of his feelings. Many a lonely night before she loved Arthur she had dreamed of such a brave, kind, intelligent man who spoke of his love with such ardent conviction. Had she fallen in love with the wrong man?—No, of course not. In her heart of hearts she knew that for all of Arthur’s little faults, there was no contest between him and Lancelot. Arthur was the only man she wanted, the only man she needed by her side for the rest of her life. That was what was so tragic.

She let her silence speak for her, and Lancelot sniffed, as if only now realizing how drunk he was. “Anyway. I just wanted to let you know that.” He kissed her hand gently. “I could never love another woman like I love you. Not if I lived a thousand years.”

Gwen returned to her room a few minutes later, not feeling as if she did very much to help.

She noticed that Arthur had left his gnomes (he had about a dozen in the bedroom alone) all on the floor by his side of the bed. She seemed to remember putting them on the shelf on the other side of the room so she wouldn't have to look at them while she was sleeping. What was odd was that Arthur had arranged them in a circle around his side of the bed, with one looking right at anyone who happened to enter, so that it looked like they had been interrupted in the middle of a gnome meeting or something. The fact that Arthur set them up like that was the only reason it made her smile, because they were very creepy to look at--especially the one that was staring at her with cold ceramic eyes. But she welcomed the ability to do something and so didn't question it.

She busied herself with putting them back on the shelf, then lay awake for a long time, running her fingers through Arthur’s hair to comfort herself. She had to do something for Lancelot—he was her friend, as dear a friend to her as Merlin or Leon. He was too good to be unhappy for even a moment. No matter what anyone else would say, she owed it to him to find another object for his affections, someone else to make him happy…but how could he ever be happy if he truly convinced himself that he could love no one else like he loved her….

She fell asleep turning these thoughts over in her mind, and in the morning she woke up much more pleasantly than she did before. Arthur was kissing her bare shoulder, and as she turned to look at him he gazed on her with—well it was a different kind of love than Lancelot had in his eyes. It was almost disbelieving. She stroked his cheek and they kissed for a few minutes.

“How did I get so lucky as to have you wake up next to me every morning?” he said.

“I’m the lucky one, your Highness,” Gwen giggled, blushing.

“You know that’s not true.” He stared at her again, his pretty blue eyes fixed on her as he stroked her hair. “You make me aspire to be better than I am.”

And there in a nutshell was the difference. Gwen only inspired Lancelot, and gave him something to just dream about. Lancelot didn't need her to be better. But Arthur—Gwen made a difference with Arthur, motivated him to do better.

It took a while but Arthur finally got up to get dressed.

“Arthur?” Gwen called from the bed.

“Yes, angel?”

“Lancelot came by last night, while you were asleep.”

There was silence from behind the screen. He poked his head around. “He’s still pining for you, is he?”

She nodded.

He sighed and got back behind the changing screen with a “Poor man. Perhaps a year of questing would sort him out. Get him out of the castle, that sort of thing. There's this questing beast I could send him after.”

Gwen shrugged. “Maybe. He said that he could never love another woman...”

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35 Re: A Dish Best Served Cold on Mon 04 Jun 2012, 3:37 am

Rather than staying at the tavern and trying to make conversation he didn't feel like having, Merlin wandered home early, walking slowly so he could think. It turned out walking didn't really help him think much, but it had been worth a try. When he got back, Gaius was already long asleep, snoring loudly as usual, which actually made Merlin grin. No matter what sort of crisis was going on, in his own world or Camelot in general, Gaius tended to not have too much trouble sleeping. And he always, always snored. Even the door to Merlin's room couldn't keep the sound out, but he'd become accustomed to it years ago, and it didn't keep him awake anymore, unless he was already having trouble sleeping to begin with.

Tonight, he knew, it would be pointless altogether to even bother trying to sleep, the mood he was in. So he sat cross-legged on his bed and flipped idly through a spell book until he found the spell he'd brought Freya back with. It, of course, gave him no further guidance on how to deal with the situation. He supposed there weren't a lot of instructions for that sort of thing. It probably didn't happen very often.

If he was honest with himself, he'd really have been happier if she was somewhere where he wasn't this far away, on the off chance she got into trouble again. It was true she was powerful in her own right, and the druids did tend to have their ways of looking after their own, but that still felt like leaving things to chance. They might not even know she was there, after all, since they weren't looking for her. He still wasn't clear on how that worked. Maybe he should just ask her. There was no reason he needed to figure it all out himself, with her there to do her own thinking. And if she didn't want to be anywhere near Camelot, he wouldn't blame her. He didn't think he'd care much for Camelot, if he were her. It might have made vast improvements since Arthur had become king, but the last time she'd experienced it, nothing had ended well.

With a sigh of frustration, he shut the book and considered trying to sleep anyway, even though Gaius was still snoring in the main room and it was probably a hopeless venture. He'd just about decided anything was better than sitting awake thinking in endless circles when he heard a sound outside his window. A very familiar sound of footfalls, and by now he recognized the sound of the footfalls, too. They weren't even attempting to be quiet.

“Pssst, Merlin!” Gwaine hissed outside the window, and Merlin unfolded and stood to go to the outer door. When he opened it, Gwaine was still standing over by his window, apparently waiting for an answer. He didn't actually look as drunk as he usually did coming back from the tavern this late.

“Gwaine!” Merlin said to get his friend's attention, and waved him in the open door. They managed not to take out half the tables or any chairs or even a single glass bottle getting back across the main room, and Merlin managed to beat Gwaine through his door so he could go sit on the bed again before Gwaine could claim it. Then he gave the knight a look.

“Where have you been?” he asked, and Gwaine grinned.

“At the tavern! You don't remember? Did you drink too much, Merlin?” he asked admonishingly, but Merlin wasn't being taken in by that silliness. He only frowned.

Where at the tavern? The others came back forever ago, I heard them,” he said, already anticipating the answer.

“Up...stairs?” Gwaine asked. He wasn't even trying to look repentant. He was eyeing a corner of Merlin's bed like he was tired of standing around and wanted to sit down.

“Oh no you don't. This is my bed. You can't just steal it every time you're out late!” Merlin practically whined, stretching out one leg so there was no room for Gwaine to sit. The knight tried to look wounded, and when that didn't work, resorted to another tactic.

“I promise I won't steal it!” he replied.

“No!” Merlin answered, getting a little frustrated. Had Gwaine shown up just to give him a hard time?

“Why nooooot?” Oh goodness, not the whining.

“Because you'll steal it!” he squeaked, and added in a rebellious mutter, “And also because you smell bad,” which of course only made the growing grin on Gwaine's face turn into a laugh. Merlin was about to throw something at him for being obnoxious when Gwaine finally stopped and settled for sitting on the floor. Merlin was still scowling, completely unamused at the teasing, so it was Gwaine who finally broke the silence. It was usually Gwaine who broke the silence.

“So what were you doing, this late? Early? What time is it?” Gwaine asked, listening as if the tower clock would ring suddenly.

“Four. I was thinking,” Merlin answered.

“You were thinking? At four in the morning? No wonder you can't get a girlfriend, mate,” Gwaine said. Merlin flashed a quick grin, but then made his thinking face and the smile dropped right off.

“About that...” he started, and Gwaine snorted.

“Horses don't count, Merlin,” he answered, apparently in rare form as far as bothering Merlin went.

“That's not what I meant!” Merlin yelped, and when Gwaine arched his eyebrows at him in that oh-really look, just scowled back at him. Perhaps sensing (correctly) that Merlin was very seriously trying to talk to him about something, Gwaine cleared his throat and stopped with the jester's grin.

“Sorry,” he said, and waited a minute for Merlin to stop glaring at him. “Now what's this about a girl? Arthur's already married, you know,” he asked after a minute had passed, still incapable of being entirely serious. Merlin actually snorted and then laughed.

“Haha. Were you here when that giant angry flying cat monster was attacking Camelot?” he asked.

“I have never been so drunk that I would have missed something like that,” he answered, and then added, “Also... I didn't know you were into that sort of thing. And you say I'm dirty.” Merlin actually did look angry at this, and chucked a shoe at Gwaine's head, which Gwaine ducked.

“If you don't shut up, I'm never telling you anything again,” he snapped. Gwaine held his hands up as if to fend off further attack by shoe.

“Ok, ok, shutting up.”

“...Thanks. Anyway, the cat monster wasn't a cat. She was this druid girl who'd been cursed, and she was really quite nice. And kind, and sweet-hearted,” he said, maybe drifting off a little.

“You have a thing for strays, don't you?” Gwaine asked, and when Merlin looked up as if to snap off a retort, added, “No, I'm serious.” Merlin thought about it, and decided that yes, if the people he was fondest of were any indication, he probably did have a thing for strays. But he waved it off with an absent hand.

“Maybe. Anyway, she was really nice. Some guy had... taken her prisoner or something. I don't even remember what he was going to do to her, but it wasn't going to be anything nice, and if Uther'd ever found out about her...” he said, and shrugged.

“Good thing Uther's gone now, huh? Kidding, just kidding,” Gwaine added hurriedly. “Where is she now? And how does Arthur feel about you having a girlfriend?” Merlin frowned, his eyebrows knit, and he actually looked beyond sad for just a split second before he explained.

“I thought the knights had killed her. I mean... I watched her die, and then I buried her. At the lake,” he said quietly. Whether she was back or not, you didn't just get over that kind of thing, and he still didn't really want to talk about it. Gwaine was noticeably silent, and Merlin went on. “But then I kept seeing her in the lake or in water from the lake, and I thought she might not actually be dead. That spell you helped me find, it was to fix whatever was wrong, if it was just that she was... trapped somewhere. It wouldn't have brought her back if she was dead, but if she wasn't... And then when Willow ran to the lake the today I had to go out after him, and when I turned around to go back to shore, she was standing right there. I didn't even think she was real,” he admitted, and shook his head. Absently, he touched his face again where the tree had hit him, proof that Freya was actually real. “But Arthur doesn't know. He can't, because it would just get me in trouble, and her, even if she wasn't dead. She was just in some sort of limbo, I guess.” He looked up from where he'd been looking at his hands to see that Gwaine was watching him.

“Don't worry about me. I like lying to Arthur, and I like seeing you happy, so I won't tell,” he said reassuringly. “So you just... left her at the lake? Because she maybe shouldn't be somewhere she can hurt people...” he said almost hesitantly. Merlin shrugged one shoulder.

“She's still at the lake. But she didn't mention turning into a cat monster, which is important enough I think she would have said something, although I did kind of forget to ask. Anyway, she's probably less of a threat out there than anywhere else. Things didn't work out so very well last time she was in Camelot. For anybody,” he answered.

“Well, lake houses are kind of romantic, she might like it. Dunno how long I could cover for you, though. Princess might take it amiss if you're not at his beck and call,” Gwaine said.

“I was hoping his cousin would distract him while he's here, but he might just make double the work. I'm already taking care of his poor horse. I just hope he didn't bring a whole lot of armor to polish,” Merlin said, “And anyway, they have to sleep sometime. I can't just leave her out there all alone all the time.”

“Oh. Um. Well, use your magic, you know. And I'll talk to K, I'm sure he's fine. Anyway, I'll figure out something. Like I said, lying to Arthur is fun. Is that all that was worrying you this whole time?” he asked, and Merlin realized that yes, sort of, it was. If he could even get some time to go see Freya and talk to her about this whole thing, it would help.

“Actually... yes, I guess so,” he answered. Gwaine yawned then, and stood to go.

“Then you should probably get some sleep, if Princess is going to be running you ragged. I'll see you at training,” he said, stretched, and Merlin followed him to the door.

“Er... thank you,” he said as Gwaine turned to leave, and Gwaine flashed that grin at him.

“Friends, right? Don't worry about it. Now go sleep,” he said, and wandered off toward the knights' quarters.


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36 Re: A Dish Best Served Cold on Tue 05 Jun 2012, 4:52 am

Maeglin

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Gwaine was not a thinker.

He was, actually, quite proud of this. He was a man of action! Thinking was for women. He didn't ponder. Musing was dangerous. He didn't plan to see tomorrow or brood much about anything really. So he tried not to consider the gravity of what he half-remembered Merlin telling him that night, about a possibly dangerous resurrected girlfriend and lying to Arthur. Merlin would let him know when it was time to do something. That was what he was best at.

But, if Gwaine ever did think about anything, it was about pranks.

So, it might be better to say that Gwaine did not think: he plotted.

He let Merlin revel in his victory for a few days, let him think Gwaine had forgotten about the rascal magicking his shoes to be too big for his feet. Gwaine even, he suspected, lulled the warlock servant into a false sense of security.

Which made what he was about to do almost criminal. It was too easy. Too gloriously hilariously irrevocably easy.

Prank Wars were really only fun when opponents were evenly matched. Merlin's magic gave him such an edge over Gwaine it was shocking. A successful prank for him was as easy as making his eyes flash gold to snake a bit of rope around his foot when he wasn't looking, or whispering magic words to make his beer taste like bathwater.

All this almost put him on par with Gwaine, Second Prince of Pranksters. Because, Gwaine pranking anyone else just wasn't fair. It was cruel and unusual. Like a baby dear fighting a dragon. But: give the baby deer magic powers and, well, suddenly it doesn't look too one-sided anymore, and you may even get maybe 1 to 10 odds if the house is playing fair.

"Morning, Gaius," Gwaine said, tipping a nonexistant hat at the physician as he left his quarters.

"Good afternoon, Sir Gwaine. How is that hand?"

"Oh, it's fine. "May even be able to torture the lute a little tonight, maybe."

Gaius scowled.

"...Or, you know, maybe I'll let it rest another week."

"A wise choice," Gaius said, nodded, and was on his way.

Gwaine set to work quickly. He upturned a barrel, stepped on a ledge, and swung into the rafters just above the door of the apothecary. It was almost noon, and Merlin would have just finished mucking out Arthur's stables. Any moment he would rush out to bring Arthur his lunch, having cleaned up and--probably, hopefully--put on his favorite purple shirt for the evening at the tavern later on. And Saturday was laundry day, so he wasn't likely to have anything clean left. So this bucket of flour that was going to tip over on top of him when Merlin opened the door--in public, where people could see him if he tried to magic his clothes clean again--was going to stay there.

He heard commotion inside, and quickly finished securing the bucket on its hinge--it wouldn't do to murder Merlin by dropping the whole bucket on his head, of course--and at the last possible moment, swung back and rolled onto the roof. He froze, for a second, and waited there for the trap to work.

The door opened, was flung wide, and what was probably going to be a mad dash ended up with a floosh! and a mad shriek. And a cough.

"What the--what is this--I don't even--?" Merlin spluttered. Gwaine would have sold his soul to have seen it. Instead, he rolled casually off the roof on the other side and, whistling, walked around the corner.

"Oh, hello, Merl--Merlin! Why what's happened to you? You're all covered in--"

It took Merlin all of two seconds to go from surprised and confused to suddenly very aware of what had just transpired and positively, helplessly fuming.

"GWAINE," he almost-not-quite shouted, as Gwaine couldn't help it anymore, and burst into laughter.

"What can I say? Gotta love the classics."

"GWAINE SERIOUSLY. Gwaine, this--this is my only clean shirt left!"

Gwaine stopped laughing, but couldn't dredge up the decency to even look sorry. "I know."

"I--ugh--I have to go feed Arthur like right now!"

"I know."

"Gwaine. Gwaine you have really--I'm going to--" Merlin was never very good at threatening, though, so the promise fell short. "Ugh!" he grunted, frustrated, as he tried to dust himself off as much as possible, but the white greyed his beautiful dark hair and faded his favorite purple shirt until he looked like a disgruntled old man who had forgotten himself in a dusty library for 80 years.

And Gwaine couldn't help but laugh again.

"I will get you for this, Gwaine!" Merlin shouted, shaking his fist as he ran off.

Gwaine chuckled a bit to himself as, jumping, he was just able to grab the bucket from where it hung. He whistled to himself as he shook out the remains of the flour, knocking the bucket against his boot, and checked to make sure Merlin had actually remembered to shut the apothecary door properly. He stopped whistling just long enough to chuckle at Merlin's retreating form and, "Bring it on," he said under his breath.



Last edited by Maeglin on Fri 08 Jun 2012, 10:35 pm; edited 1 time in total

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37 Re: A Dish Best Served Cold on Fri 08 Jun 2012, 5:15 am

Merlin was still covered in flour, despite all his best attempts at shaking it off. Leave it to Gwaine to get the shirt absolutely, horribly flour covered, knowing good and well it was his last shirt by the end of the week, and his favorite besides. Come to think of it, that was probably exactly why Gwaine had chosen today, of all days. And he was going to be too busy to magic the flour off any time soon. He sighed. Arthur was going to find this hilarious all out of proportion. At least the flour hadn't dumped on Arthur's food, which he grabbed from the kitchens on his way to the king's rooms.

He did at least manage to get most of the flour out of his hair and off his face- and onto his flour-covered sleeve- before he opened the door to Arthur's chambers. Leon was standing there too, which really only made this that much more embarrassing. He supposed he should be glad none of the other knights were there. Before anyone could say anything (or he could be tempted to hurl the food at a particular monarch's face) he set the plate of food down on table just inside the door, and then looked at Leon and Arthur as if nothing was amiss. The effect was somewhat ruined when flour from his hair made him sneeze, resulting in a whole cloud of the stuff drifting gently to resettle on his clothes and on the floor.

“Ah, Merlin—MERLIN?!” Arthur jumped back dramatically, while Leon visibly bridled at the flour-covered Merlin. “A-are you a gh-gh-gh-ghost?”

Merlin forced a smile as Arthur laughed heartily at his own joke. “It was just—flour beetles—they were in the oatmeal and I had to—“

“Oh, come ON, Merlin,” Arthur laughed, giving him a pat on the back that sent little clouds of flour into the air. “Flour over the door? That’s about as traditional a prank as you can get! Judging by the excellent coverage I’d say you were gotten by an expert.”

“Are you in a prank war with Gwaine?” Leon asked in a scolding tone.

“Oh, Merlin—you fell victim to one of the classic blunders!” Arthur said, enjoying himself. “The first rule is ‘NEVER get involved in a prank war with Gwaine!’”

Merlin snorted angrily, causing another puff of flour to drift off him. Leon expertly turned his laugh into a cough.

“Well, your lunch is over there, so I'm just going to go-” Merlin said, but Arthur grabbed his shoulder as he walked away and swung him back around. “Or not,” he grumbled.

“My cousin has made a bet with me regarding the number of gnomes I can hide in here before Gwen throws them all out into the rubbish bin,” he said. Oh, wonderful, because any bet with Sir K was clearly a really good idea. But Arthur wasn't done talking yet. “But I'm out of gnomes, so I need you to go into the town and see if you can find more.”

Merlin huffed a sigh, inhaling some more flour. “But, Arthur, they're hideous. And I'm covered in flour,” he said hopelessly. The gnomes' hideousness seemed to be part of their general appeal.

“I know! Isn't it fantastic? And you can shake out your shirt or something before you go, and then you won't be covered with flour,” Arthur said, and Merlin just stared at him like he'd taken leave of his senses. “Well, you won't be as covered with flour. That's what you get for getting into a prank war with Gwaine.” Merlin looked down at his purple- make that lavender, with all the flour- shirt and snorted. What he needed was a completely new shirt, but of course he didn't have any. It was a well done prank, he had to admit- or would have admitted, if he was in the mood to be forgiving, which he wasn't quite.


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38 Re: A Dish Best Served Cold on Sat 09 Jun 2012, 6:28 pm

Leon, who had only been hoping to get Arthur to sit still for five minutes and give him a hand with some of the paperwork, felt this was the time to clear his throat. “Are you sure that is wise, sire?”

“Yes, I’m sure!” Arthur said, then gave Leon a sidelong glance. “Do you ever say anything else?”

“It’s just that—what?”

“K pointed it out to me just the other day,” Arthur said, cutting his eyes at Leon as he looked him up and down. Leon shifted under this annoyingly close scrutiny. “A very narrow view of life and its possibilities, he said. I can’t say I disagree. Anyway, what’s wrong with the gnomes?”

“Well—“ Leon stammered, trying to deal with this bit of news while still maintaining his line of thought, “I understand that garden gnomes have supernatural properties, and…”

“—I mean, if everyone’s always going to take Gwen’s side all the time Camelot will be incredibly boring! And probably have too many flowers.” Arthur blinked, and Leon was pleased to find that at least his bit of news also caused the King to pause as well. “What do you mean, supernatural? Like magic?”

“Yes, sire. There are legends that they—eat people, sire.”

“But I’ve seen them in gardens all over Camelot!” Arthur insisted. “I saw one in Merlin’s mother’s pumpkin patch!”

“Yes, but if they’re dangerous—“

It was doing a wee. Hilariously, I might add. How dangerous is that? At least Mrs. Merlin has a sense of humor….”

Leon, who felt himself sympathy-blushing as Merlin looked about ready to crawl into a hole from mortification, tried to stay on topic. “They only attack those with noble blood,” Leon said. “And their power can multiply the more you have—“

Arthur raised an eyebrow, suddenly taking on the expression that he often gave Leon and sometimes Uther when he was alive. It was the look of a man who knew exactly what he was doing and didn’t need anyone telling him what he ought to do. Even before Arthur opened his mouth he knew that he didn’t stand a chance trying to convince him of anything. “I know you’re just trying to protect me, Leon, but I don’t plan on acting like my father and chasing every magical rumor under the sun, especially if the only evidence I have is hearsay and old wives’ tales. Understood?”

Leon nodded. “Yes, sire.”

“Good. Listen, if you’re worried about Merlin, you can go with him. He’ll need help carrying them, anyway. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go clear some room in the small study in the North Tower—you can put whatever gnomes you find in there.”

And Arthur came quite close to skipping out of the room, leaving Leon a sheaf full of paperwork that he would no doubt have to do himself later.

He and Merlin spoke together:

“Gwen’s going to kill us.”

"Unless the gnomes get us first!" Merlin added, and laughed until Leon gave him a look. "Alright, sorry." He pulled on his jacket, and gave Leon his 'serious business' face. "You ready?"

Leon nodded bravely. "As ready as I'll ever be."

"Right, then." Merlin squared his shoulders, looking ready for anything. "Let's go do some shopping."



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39 Re: A Dish Best Served Cold on Wed 13 Jun 2012, 4:22 am

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Gwaine was quite successfully avoiding his duties by hiding in the kitchens and flirting with the maids, one of his favorite pastimes. They fed him scraps of food while he lounged on one of the long benches and amused them with his stories of distant lands and mostly-true adventures.

"Sir Gwaine?"

It was therefore startling to be accosted by another male voice. The giggling, shouting, and cooing of women stopped.

Gwaine lifted his head to find a messenger standing awkwardly at the door. "Um. Yes?" he asked, the Can't you see I'm busy? left unsaid.

How the hell had this guy found him?

"Her Majesty the Queen requests your presence."

Oh. That was how.

Gwaine deflated, cracking the back of his head loudly on the bench. "Well, ladies," he said. "I guess I'll just have to tell you about the dragon next time."

The kitchen girls at least pretended to sound disappointed as he followed the servant out. The messenger led him through most of the castle and up the stairs to the royal chambers until he stood at Gwen's rooms. Gwaine never understood why royalty had separate rooms like that. He had even heard that they actually had separate beds! Which, to Gwaine, ruined all the fun of getting married.

"Your majesty: Sir Gwaine," the messenger announced. She was sat in front of a large mirror, and a handmaid was braiding her hair.

"Ah! So he was in the kitchens?" she asked, watching them in the mirror.

"He was, my lady."

Gwaine shook his head and chuckled as the servant bowed out. "I shall have to wake earlier in the morning to outwit you, my queen," he said, with a cheeky wink and a lavish bow.

Gwen pursed her lips, seeming a bit too proud of herself. "You might try. Sir Leon would be pleased."

"Ha!" Gwaine laughed. "Yeah, that'll be the day," he said, turning and going to the desk and poking at the papers, trying to make it look brash and bored and not merely something to do that wasn't leer at the queen (he had a love for beautiful hair and hair-touching that was not quite as platonic as befitted the situation, and as much as Gwaine was loath to admit it, he did know the meaning of restraint). "So, you've discovered my hiding place and called me out of it. I'm going to rate the emergency at at least a nine."

Gwen rolled her eyes and dismissed her maid, whom Gwaine had no compunctions about tracking lecherously with his eyes as she swished out of the room.

Gwen's cough snapped his eyes up at her.

"Stop fiddling with Arthur's things," she said, shooing him away from the desk. "I...need your help."

"With?" Gwaine asked: ready, willing, and bored.

"Arthur."

Gwaine turned back to the table. "You want me to really jack his stuff up? Are we going for annoy? Because that basically comes standard. Or do you actually want me to take him out to the woods, take his clothes, and leave him there or something?"

Gwen tried to look shocked instead of laugh. "Don't sound so eager!" she cried, whacking him on the arm. "I just need--oh, it's silly."

"What is it?" Gwaine asked, bemused smile fading.

"It's the gnomes."

"The gnomes? Gnomes?"

"Yes, I need you to help me get rid of them! Arthur thinks they are so funny, but they're awful! They give me the creeps!" she paused, looking at Gwaine closely: "It's not funny, Gwaine!"

Gwaine laughed, but, "Oh, I know it's not funny," he said. But then he looked at her sidelong, as a thought struck him. "Why are you asking me? Can't you have a servant get rid of them?"

"And get them sacked?"

"Oh, so getting me sacked is fine?"

Gwen smiled disarmingly. "Gwaine, if Arthur was going to sack you, he would have done it long ago!" she said, almost-cheekily as she put her hand on his arm.

He shrugged. "Oddly comforting."

"And anyway, who else in this castle is brave and foolish enough to defy Arthur--" she added, this time quite cheekily, prodding him in the chest, "and enjoy it? I thought you'd jump at the chance."

Gwaine threw up his arms in surrender. "Oh, do not mistake me, my lady. It would be a pleasure."

Gwen rolled her eyes again. "I probably shouldn't encourage you."

"You probably shouldn't," he admitted, grinning widely. "At any rate, where are the little buggers? And, um--" he grew serious for a moment, "how many exactly has he got?"

"Oh, I don't know, not that many. But he's getting more. I'll have them put in the anteroom tonight--you do whatever you need to do. I will make it up to you."

Gwaine ignored the opportunity to make a crass joke and nodded solemnly. "Consider it done."

"Thank you, Gwaine," she said, with a huge sigh that sounded suspiciously like a beginning rather than the end of a conversation. "Now, I'd like to ask your help with something else..."



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40 Re: A Dish Best Served Cold on Thu 14 Jun 2012, 5:12 am

Leon and Merlin walked on foot into the Lower Town, their determination to do a bit of shopping for the King lost somewhat among the hustle and bustle of the actual market. Though he welcomed the walk, Leon usually traveled through the marketplace on horseback. The scent of spices, animals, baking bread, and people mixed in the air into a very particular odor that Leon didn’t often experience on the ground level. Though it disoriented him, Merlin appeared to be used to it.

“I think I’ve seen Charles—he sells pumpkins—with some gnomes. And Sif I’m sure will have something gnomish.” Merlin looked up at Leon from where he had been examining a potato from one of the stands. “So these gnomes really are dangerous?"

Leon shrugged. “Gwaine said they might be. But they haven’t done anything, have they? We can't just get rid of all of Arthur's gnomes without good reason.”

“And we all know how Arthur gets when he doesn’t get his way,” Merlin said. He was still examining the potato with a critical eye.

“Er—what are you doing?”

“Contemplating dinner.”

Leon was about to ask what there could possibly be to contemplate when he remembered (again) that Merlin was a servant and therefore did not usually get his choice of sustenance. And thinking of food made Leon’s stomach growl, and amongst the varied smells of the marketplace he just caught a whiff of bacon pies coming from a stall nearby.

While Merlin continued to mull over the possibility of splurging on potatoes for dinner Leon procured a couple of pies and brought them back over. Merlin’s eyes went wide as Leon handed him one.

“Oh—Thanks!”

Leon grinned, but eyed the pie with as much skepticism as Merlin had the potato. “You know, I’ve never actually had one of these before.”

“Oh, they’re brilliant—go on, try it! The sausage ones are alright, but stay away from the curry!”

Leon looked around. "They didn't give me any forks..."

Merlin laughed, apparently thinking he was joking, and took a big bite of browned pastry. Leon tried to observe observed his technique with an open mind.

“You certainly know your way around!” he said, taking a cautious nibble from his own food. “Did you grow up in a city, or something?”



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41 Re: A Dish Best Served Cold on Thu 14 Jun 2012, 6:04 am

Merlin laughed at Leon's hesitance to eat the pastry, already three bites into his own before the knight apparently decided it wasn't poisonous or unnatural and set to eating his own. His question, though, caught Merlin momentarily off guard. He shrugged as they continued walking, swerving to avoid a pack of small children that were running pell-mell down the crowded street. He did it without even thinking, and nearly collided with Leon when he didn't move as well. Rather than tripping over the taller man, Merlin managed to skip back the other direction, and he didn't even drop his pastry. When he was done nearly falling over his own and Leon's feet, he remembered he was supposed to be answering a question. And, unlike the riddles, this one was easily enough answered.

“No, I didn't. The village where my mum and I lived is really small. This was all... new when I got here. But you get used to it, after awhile. Between errands for both Gaius and Arthur, I think I knew the Lower Town sooner than I could find my way around the whole castle,” he answered. “How have you lived in Camelot for so long without ever having one of those?” he added, waving at the pastry Leon was still holding.


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42 Re: A Dish Best Served Cold on Thu 14 Jun 2012, 6:35 am

Leon, trying not to appear any more like a nobleman than he already did, tried to quickly think of a good excuse. “Well, you know how it is. You get into a certain kind of routine. I never had much time to just go wandering about the town. Not that you just go wandering, of course,” he added in a Gwen-like way. “I just wish I could get to know these people a bit better.”

“I wish I could ride a horse everywhere!” Merlin said with a laugh.

They reached Sif’s stand, a couple of carts linked together and filled to the brim with all kinds of knick-knacks and things. Leon pawed through it half-heartedly, almost hoping he wouldn’t find anything.

“It must be sort of weird—you know, working with all these knights that never grew up as noblemen,” Merlin said.

Leon raised an eyebrow, surprised. With all the new knights coming from non-noble families Leon was starting to feel like the odd one out amongst them. And Merlin noticed that? “Well, it’s not so bad,” Leon said. “Nobles and commoners are similar enough where it matters, although I doubt my parents would be of that opinion.”

“You’re from the House of Cameliard, aren’t you? Are you a nephew?”

“A—son, actually,” Leon said. “Cameliard is my father. The line passes through ultimogeniture, and so my uncle will inherit Cameliard from mother and father. I’ve had to make my own way in the world.”

There was a pause as Leon turned over some rusty farm equipment, and then Merlin said, “Do you miss it?”

“…Not really,” Leon said. He glanced over and saw Merlin staring at him with surprise. “I was raised to call my father ‘my lord,’ and my mother spent most of her time arranging other peoples' marriages. And my sister is quite a bit older than me. They aren’t awful, they’re just a bit funny, you know? Well anyway, I imagine country parents have more time to spend with their children." He tried to think of a tactful way to ask after Merlin's family, but wasn't sure how. "Your...parents work, then? Are they farmers?”



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43 Re: A Dish Best Served Cold on Thu 14 Jun 2012, 7:25 am

While he was listening to Leon, Merlin prowled through Sif's assorted things until he found was he was looking for. There was one small gnome buried under the heaps of everything else, and he dug it out and handed over some of the coins Arthur had handed him for the express purpose of buying the horrid things. He set the gnome gently into the bag he'd brought.

“Well, yes and no. I mean... Probably you're right. But my mum still worked in our fields or with our neighbors most of the day,” he said. “She was easy to find, though, even if she was working. I used to go find her, when I got bored,” he said. When he got bored, or when the older kids inevitably chased him off for being younger and scrawny and not good at climbing trees or sneaking around on made-up adventures. He'd always had some seriously mixed luck with sneaking around.

“When you got bored and needed someone to bother?” Leon asked with a grin. Not so very different from children everywhere. Not even so different from a certain young prince who, at a lack for someone else to bother, had often sought Leon out to drive him to distraction when he got bored. Merlin laughed appreciatively and stopped in front of a wagon of pumpkins. They were huge, abnormally huge, and he and Leon both just blinked at them in astonishment for a split second.

There were also gnomes. Gnomes all over, as if they were guarding the pumpkins, which was decidedly creepy. But it did make their job easier, because now they wouldn't have to wander around all afternoon looking for the things. Between the two of them, they picked the least creepy ones.

“I used to sit and get in her way on purpose until she sent me away to do something more useful, or at least less annoying, yes,” Merlin answered as he reached hesitantly around a pumpkin to grab a gnome.

“Arthur used to get in the way when I was polishing my armor or brushing my horse or doing anything important,” Leon commented off-handedly, and Merlin looked at him with a wicked grin.

“Arthur?” he asked, as if surprised. Though, after he gave it some thought, he supposed he shouldn't be too surprised. It wasn't as if Arthur didn't like being incredibly obnoxious. Leon looked a little guilty, as if unsure whether or not he should have said that. Instead of answering the question, he just shrugged one shoulder.

“Was your father a farmer too?” he asked, for something to change the subject, and out of the corner of his eye, caught a funny, sudden stillness as Merlin paused in what he was doing. He only paused for the briefest of moments, hoping he'd covered his discomfort as he dug around for the coins again. Merlin wasn't sure how to answer that one. He'd always been told he was a rotten liar, and he knew it was true, and it wasn't as if he really enjoyed lying to people, especially when they were being nice. And Leon seemed to be trying very earnestly to carry on a conversation. But he couldn't just... not answer that question, because that would be even more obvious than a slight lie.

“Don't know. I never met him,” he answered a bit sadly, fidgeting-but-not-fidgeting with the coins in his hands as if he was counting them. He knew them all by shape and feel, of course, and had no need to look at them as he counted them out, but he did anyway. It was less obvious than his standard stammering and making of excuses. And it wasn't as if his answer wasn't mostly the truth. He hadn't known his father, not until they'd gone to find him when Kilgarrah was trying to burn down Camelot. And he certainly hadn't had time to get to know him, given that he'd died before they'd even made it back. It wasn't worth the trouble trying to make up some sort of plausible story that'd only go horribly wrong and catch him in what was probably an even worse lie than concealing that he could do magic. Kilgarrah had killed numerous knights, after all. And Galahad, who Leon had sworn to watch out for. Optimistically, Merlin thought he could maybe be forgiven for the magic if Arthur didn't just banish him right off when and if he found out. But the dragon? There'd be no forgiveness for freeing Kilgarrah. Not that Merlin would particularly blame them for not forgiving him. He couldn't really even forgive himself for that particular disaster, not completely.

Merlin shook his head to dislodge that train of thought and glanced up at Leon with his usual bright grin.

“I'm sure your parents never had any of these,” he laughed, hefting one of the small gnomes before putting it in the bag with its fellows. “Unless they have the same taste in decorations as Arthur?” he asked. Then he gave the bag another look. He could have sworn they'd bought a gnome that was leaning nonchalantly on a trusty rake, but... the only gnome in the bag holding a rake was definitely holding it up as if to rake a garden. Then he shrugged. He'd seen so many gnomes lately, there was a good possibility one of the others had been leaning on a rake.


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44 Re: A Dish Best Served Cold on Thu 14 Jun 2012, 6:10 pm

Leon spent too much of his life looking after those younger than him or under his care not to notice the particular look on Merlin’s face as he spoke about his father. He could tell when Arthur was lying, he could tell when Gwen was lying, when the knights were lying—Gwaine was the only difficult one to master, since his constant alteration of the truth only made Leon generally suspicious of everything he said. But Merlin…Merlin always looked so sincere, and to see him give all the signs of lying surprised Leon. Could he be ashamed of his family in some way? Perhaps—but then why did Merlin give Leon that glance, like the knowledge he kept back somehow pertained to him in particular?

He should forget about it. There was no reason why Leon should know about Merlin’s family, anyway, and he could keep it secret if he wished.

Still, it was strange…

Merlin was so distressed that he put the gnomes into his bag while his money was still clutched in his hand. The pumpkin-seller was looking unhappy.

“Here,” Leon said, putting money from his own purse into the man’s hand.

Merlin blushed. “Er—Arthur gave me money specifically for—“

“Keep it,” Leon said dismissively, then added, “You can buy some more potatoes on our way back.”

Merlin’s eyes lit up, the discomfort of his lie gone completely. Leon was just glad that he wasn’t the only one who enjoyed the simple pleasures of life.

Weighed down with their purchases of gnomes, potatoes, and one very large pumpkin (which Leon was starting to regret that he had bought after the first hundred yards), knight and servant returned from their mission victorious. As they walked they chatted now and then about Leon’s family. Since he hadn’t seen them in years it was easier to view their cold, crotchety and often completely mad behavior in a humorous light, and he entertained Merlin with the story about how his mother once knocked over an entire wedding cake in order to get his older sister first in line to meet a particularly eligible bachelor from a neighboring lordship.

“Have any of the other knights got siblings?” Merlin asked. “I mean, aside from Elyan of course.”

“Gwaine does,” Leon said. He paused, and glanced at Merlin. “You’re good friends with Gwaine—look, do you think you could keep a secret?”

Again that odd look flashed through Merlin’s eyes, but he agreed with honesty in his features.

“I’ve begun a search for Gwaine’s younger siblings. There is a brother and a sister, I think. They were separated many years ago, but I believe that I found someone who can find them. I wrote I letter to them a while ago, but I haven’t heard any response, yet.”

“Well—it’s still early, isn’t it?” Merlin said cautiously. “I mean—they might not even be in Albion!”

“I sincerely hope they are.” Leon shrugged. “I can’t tell Gwaine for fear of getting his hopes up. Anyway, I would be very grateful if you kept your eye out for news from Caerleon’s kingdom.”

“Sure.”

Leon pursed his lips, giving the Lower Town a final glance. “I hope it gives Gwaine some more stability in his life. I mean, you can’t choose your family, but you still need them. They help ground you, whoever they are.”

"What about Arthur and Sir K?"

Leon paused. "OK, maybe not all the time. But you know what I mean."


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45 Re: A Dish Best Served Cold on Fri 15 Jun 2012, 3:39 am

Arthur tried to make his bookkeeping meetings with Geoffrey of Monmouth interesting. His latest tactic was to take a walk around the castle while Geoff puffed after him talking about uniform scripts and other nonsense. It was a bit on the rude side, but it kept the conversations short. Besides, Geoff needed the exercise. They were talking about lined columns or something when they saw Elaine coming toward them. She appeared to be very annoyed, and Arthur immediately had a bad feeling about this.

She barely dropped a curtsy before she said, “Your Highness. Geoffrey, may I have the key to the broom closet in the library, please?"

Arthur raised an eyebrow. “What for?”

“Oh, nothing, I’m just going to lock myself inside with Leon.”

Geoff barked a laugh, but expertly turned it into a cough.

“I beg your pardon?” Arthur said, looking nervous.

“Really, I can't wait around forever! I don’t mind his shyness, but this is getting—”

Just then Leon himself rounded the corner, Merlin walking with him. His arms were full with a giant pumpkin. He seemed to be having a pretty difficult time with it because his face was quite red. Still, he nodded at Arthur and Geoff, waited about a half-second in silence as he looked at Elaine, then continued on his way.

“Elaine!” Arthur complained as soon as Leon had gone, “that was the perfect time to talk to him!”

“You’ve got to encourage him to talk to you,” Geoff added. "Thales notes in his Psuche--"

Elaine growled in frustration. “I can’t help it! It’s not my fault that he stuns me with his beauty every time I see him! ‘Oh, sorry I didn’t immediately say something to you before you got shy and ran off, Sir Leon. Maybe if you stood still for two seconds I could stop being overwhelmed by your magnificent golden locks and actually snog you’…“

She walked off in a huff, and Geoff nervously excused himself and followed after her, leaving Merlin and Arthur standing together. Arthur felt a shudder ride up his spine.

“Women,” he said, “are strange. It’s a good thing you don’t have a girlfriend, Merlin, or you would no doubt find yourself in some serious trouble.”

“Yes, sire?”

“Yes!” Arthur said, feeling that Merlin wasn’t taking him seriously. “Best stick with gnomes! Oh—that reminds me—best not to tell Gwen about your little excursion, eh? Just put them all in the anteroom—I’ve asked an antiquarianist to come and look at them. Don’t ask me what that means, but I understand they can do a bit of cleaning.”

Arthur gave Merlin a slap on the back and watched him run off after Leon. "Servants," he said, rolling his eyes. He shrugged and continued on his way, absently singing to himself, "And if you ask me how I'm feeling, don't tell me you're too blind to see I'm never gonna give you....wait-- oh, for the love of--Now I'm singing it! MERLIN!"

He shook his fist at Merlin's retreating back and stamped off toward the castle.

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46 Re: A Dish Best Served Cold on Fri 15 Jun 2012, 5:27 am

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"Now, I'd like to ask your help with something else..."

Gwaine beamed wickedly. "Help with something else?" he began, for she had really set herself up for this one: "Usually when an attractive married woman corners me alone in her room and asks for my help, she can only mean one thing."

"Gwaine!" she cried, exasperated, hardly batting an eye at his hopeless proposition. "Can you be serious for one moment?"

"Oh, you wouldn't like me any other way," he teased, before schooling his features into something resembling sincerity. "But you know I would do anything for you, milady," he said, suddenly accidentally too serious.

"It's about Lancelot--"

"Ha!" Gwaine laughed and turned away, more to avoid how awkwardly he had just proclaimed his undying loyalty to the queen. Maybe she hadn't noticed. "Oh, Lance is fine. Don't tell me you feel sorry for him!"

"He is a good man," she insisted.

Gwaine raised his eyebrows.

"I mean, not that good. I mean--you know--he is a good man, but not the good man for me, obviously," she stammered, wringing her hands. "I love Arthur," she said.

"Oh, I believe you," Gwaine said. "I think you're mad, but I believe you. What do you want me to do? What's the problem?"

"He is...still in love with me. I am afraid he's going to do something stupid."

Gwaine snorted. "And that's different from normal how?" he grinned, forgetting already about his promise to be serious. When she glared, he threw his arms up in surrender. "Sorry, sorry. Serious. Um. I mean, what do you want me to do? He's trying his best to look for love in all the wrong places to get you out of his head--I don't think even I could help him improve in that area."

"He is just so loving, Gwaine! His heart is so great, it's as though his chest swells with the size. Anyone he loved would be so doted on, so cared for, he's almost undeservable--"

Gwaine raised one eyebrow. "You sure you're not in love with him?"

"GWAINE."

"Okay, okay, I know. His heart is the size of Arthur's ego. But Lord knows Arthur needs you, and Lancelot needs someone who loves him just as much as he thinks he loves you. The only other person that love-stricken in all of Camelot is..." he trailed off. The answer was obvious. "Not Leon and Elaine, I mean," he added though, just in case he was misunderstood.

The awkward look Gwen gave him told him they were thinking the same thing. But who would be the first to say it?

"I mean, Galehaut's clearly smitten," Gwaine blurted out with a dismissive laugh, "and the things he would do to Lance if Lance was that way inclined, but for all his writing sad poetry and knowing the names of flowers and always smelling and dressing nice, our Lancelot is as straight as my--erm--as the day is long."

Gwen was still looking at him awkwardly.

"What do you want me to do about that hot mess?" Gwaine shrieked, backing away slightly. "I can't just convince Lance to switch sides like that!"

"This is about love, Gwaine, not sides. If Sir Galehaut is--"

"No, you're right. It's not about love, it's about sex! It's--what is it you think goes on inside the male brain, exactly? We're not all just lustful--well, okay, I am--but we don't just--you can't just go from ladies to knights like that! It's not how it works!" Somehow he felt it his duty to stand up for the masculine species, whether they deserved it or not.

"Why not?"

Now it was Gwaine's turn to splutter awkwardly. And he didn't do awkward. "It's not about love, Gwen--it's about--it's about--I mean, sure, I don't mind that sort of--but he's Lancelot! He's too--perfect. And weird. And--and--and he's hurting himself, Gwen, you can't fix his problems for him!"

Gwen shrugged. Her calm bothered Gwaine. "But you see, it's not up to you or me to make him 'switch sides.' That is up to Galehaut, and if there's anyone who could, it would be him."

Gwaine deflated. She was mad, mad to think this would work, that this was sound in any universe. And the real kicker was that he was going to help her achieve her wild scheme even if she dressed him as Cupid and had him fire tiny arrows at the pair of knights.

"What are we doing, then?" he whined.

"Helping them along. We shall need to recruit the others. And we will call it Operation: Hauttie and Lottie."

Gwaine cringed, partially at what he was getting himself into, but also at the really, really stupid name.

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47 Re: A Dish Best Served Cold on Fri 15 Jun 2012, 5:37 am

When Arthur was done giving him both roundabout relationship advice and directions for where to put the gnomes, Merlin hurried to catch up with Leon, who'd vacated the general area pretty quickly for how slow he'd dragged his feet up the hill on the way home. They both headed straight to the apothecary, by somewhat mutual agreement that there were too many things to carry any further than there. Merlin had bought, besides the potatoes, carrots and peas and a loaf of bread for his and Gaius' dinner. Leon had the giant pumpkin that had seemed like a good idea at the time but which had grown heavier with every last step back up the hill, to the point that he could swear his arms were about to fall off from the combined load of pumpkin and lawn gnomes. When he set it on one of the tables that was mostly clear, it nearly overbalanced, sending papers and a book cascading to the floor as Leon and Merlin both jumped forward to catch the pumpkin.

“It's alright, it was bound to happen eventually,” Merlin laughed as they set the pumpkin on the floor and started picking up papers. When the papers were more or less stacked on the table again in some semblance of order they both stood back and looked at the huge pumpkin thoughtfully.

“What are you planning on doing with it?” Merlin asked finally, stumped. Leon looked over at him and then back to the pumpkin and then shrugged one shoulder, crossing his arms.

“I-” he started, but the door opened and they both turned to see Gaius. He also gave the pumpkin a look, arching his eyebrow with a slight frown.

“Merlin, I hope you're not expecting me to make soup out of that...” he commented, setting his bag down on the big table. Merlin grinned at him and waved a hand at the vegetables and fresh bread.

“No, Leon bought it. Those there, though, I thought we could put in some soup,” he said, “But we have to take these upstairs for Arthur.” Gaius gave Merlin another of those arched-eyebrow looks and Merlin squirmed a little, because he hated chopping vegetables, and he knew that Gaius knew he hated chopping vegetables. Leon turned to grab one of the bags to hide a smile as Gaius finally turned to retrieve the chopping knife from next to the fire with the barest hint of a smile.

“I really do need his help, Gaius, if you can spare him,” Leon said, because Merlin was still looking guilty. With a good-natured wave, Gaius shooed them both outside, gnomes, pumpkin, and all. A passing servant looked curiously at the bags they were carrying and Leon took the opportunity to flag the man down.

“Would you mind taking these to the King's anteroom? There should be other gnomes there, so you'll know when you've found the place. Don't let the Queen catch you,” he said to the confused man, who shrugged and took the two bags away. Merlin frowned, seeing his escape from vegetable chopping vanish into the castle.

“Merlin, I have some paperwork to do, but I could use some help carrying the papers,” Leon offered, and was rewarded with another of those bright grins, although there was a certain impishness about it this time.

“You're going to the archives?” Merlin asked minutes later as Leon handed him armfuls of various papers. Leon shook his head with a crooked half-smile. Geoffrey was still put-out about finding a certain manservant and senior knight sitting on the floor with a pile of antique scrolls and books and chatting about riddles. It made working in the archives decidedly uncomfortable, as the man had the mannerism of an offended vulture when he was guarding his precious books.

“No, not unless I have to. I can work in the hall, nothing is going on in there today,” he said speculatively.

“You could come work at Gaius'. I'm going to look for those gnomes in some of Gaius' old books, if you get tired of paperwork,” Merlin offered, and Leon looked at him in a little surprise. But the invitation seemed genuine, so he followed Merlin back to the apothecary with his stack of papers and before too long, they were both settled at opposite ends of the big table, Merlin with several books, and the rest of the table taken up with Leon's various and sundry papers.


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48 Re: A Dish Best Served Cold on Tue 19 Jun 2012, 3:29 am

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Gwaine was lost in thought as he wandered through the castle after his talk with the queen. On the way he passed a moping Lancelot, and, through a combination of the awkwardness of talking to a guy he had just been talking about, and Lancelot's self-absorbing moroseness, respectively, the normally gregarious and normally polite knights passed each other without a word.

Which was weird.

Gwaine shook himself. He'd have to sneak back upstairs to the royal chambers later tonight to destroy those gnomes for Gwen (while hopefully dodging Arthur, whom Gwaine was pretty sure wouldn't actually kill him even if he caught him in the act, but wanted to avoid just the same), so drinking to excess was not an option tonight. Instead, he was contemplating if he would like to have help on his quest.

At the very least, he had a few hours to kill before supper.

So Gwaine burst into Gaius' apothecary with a flourish and a grin. "The fuuuuuun has arrived!" he exclaimed, finding, to his pleasure and surprise, that both Merlin and Leon were there. "What ho, lads?"

They looked up at him from...papers. Which didn't make sense to Gwaine. I mean, the sun was shining, wasn't it? They had the afternoon off, didn't they? What were they doing ruining their eyes like this? "Whatcha doing cooped up in here?" he asked again, since he had been ignored, walking over and poking at the things on the desk.

"Gwaine," Leon said, snatching a paper from his hand. "We are doing very important work. You are welcome to be here, but please be quiet."

Leon might as well have asked fish to fly, and Gwaine scoffed accordingly, but, "Right," he said, trying to mean it.

"And stop tracking flour all over the place. I'll tell Gaius it was you," Merlin threatened. He was, hilariously, still dusted in a light coating of flour.

Gwaine looked down. The walkway in front of the physician's quarters hadn't been swept yet, so Gwaine had already tracked in a great deal of white powder, which was still swirling about his feet. In all fairness, he saw other footprints as well as his own. He put his hand on his hip contrarily. "Yeah, but who'll still be the one to clean it up?" he goaded.

Merlin sighed and rolled his eyes heavenward. "Me."

Gwaine thought this was terribly funny. But as Leon and Merlin went back to their tomes, he found a broom and began sweeping the flour back out the door and away from the walkway. He whistled bar tunes while he worked.

"Gwaine, could you not whistle, please?" Leon called. "I'm trying to do figures."

"Sure, Leon," Gwaine said, and, taking a deep breath, began to sing instead:
"Well, show me the way
To the next whiskey bar
Oh, don't ask why
Oh, don't ask why
For if we don't find
The next whiskey bar
I tell you we must die
I tell you we must die
I tell you, I tell you, I tell you we must--"


"GWAINE!" Leon and Merlin cried at once, and, laughing, Gwaine stopped and, tapping the broom against the doorframe to get the excess flour off, said, "Okay, okay, I was done anyway."

But he was still bored, and went to a pile of books that looked vaguely exciting--in the way a Northman thought a book was exciting, which was judged solely on the richness of the decorative bindings--and, pushing aside a few papers and a blanket, discovered a large tome which, when he opened it--

"NO!" Merlin squealed. "Gwaine, not that one!"

Gwaine nearly jumped at the exclamation, and looked down in alarm at the page as if it might decide to bite him. But, scanning it, he quickly realized it was written in a language he didn't understand, and those symbols didn't look very new-religion to Gwaine, and--

Oh, shit.

Leon looked up, curious and a bit concerned. Merlin looked on, horrified. Because of course Gwaine had happened upon the one book of magic spells Merlin was hiding in plain sight like either a moron or a genius.

So Gwaine did the only thing he could do.

He spread his mouth into a slow, wide, wicked, toothy grin. "Oh, Merlin, really!" he said, taking the book up and, facing them so Leon could not see any of the pages, leafing through it with no little relish. "What are you doing with a book like this?"

"Gwaine..." Merlin groaned, looking pale and sounding weak.

"What is it, Gwaine?" Leon just looked annoyed.

"Oh, lots of the boys have them about, Sir Leon, I thought you'd know!"

"Know what?"

"About these dirty picture books--" He turned the page and, bugging out his eyes, turned the book sideways. "Get a load of that centerfold! Why, she's not wearing anything but a tiny--"

"Merlin!" Leon said as he realized what Gwaine was driving at, rounding on Merlin with disappointment a blush.

Merlin stammered. It actually took him a minute longer to get where Gwaine had gone with this, but when it registered, he turned bright red and sunk down in his chair. "Oh, no..." he groaned, looking at Leon with a kind of sad, defeated horror.

"Woohoo!" Gwaine continued, driving the point home, and enjoying himself immensely even if his hands we slightly sweaty at the thought of this going horribly wrong if Leon decided to confiscate the thing. "This must be a new volume, because I haven't seen any nun do that before! Hey, Leon, you've got to take a look at these, might help take your mind off the Lady El--"

Leon pushed the book away. "Merlin," he said, his voice even though his glare spoke volumes, "put that in your room right now. What if Gaius saw you with that? I don't want to see it left out again, is that understood?"

Merlin was up like a shot, taking the book from Gwaine and going to his room.

Gwaine chuckled, but he saw that the look in Leon's eyes was a bit too harsh, so he lowered his voice and, "Oh, be fair, Sir Leon. He's young! And clearly I'm rubbing off on him a bit too much, eh, Merlin?" he added, as Merlin came back into the room, still red-faced and went back to his papers without making eye contact with anyone.

"Oh, are you to blame then?" Leon said, calming somewhat to be turning the disappointed face on someone much more logically deserving. (Gwaine wasn't sure whether to be pleased or hurt by how much easier and more natural it was for people to blame him for anything.) But Leon could give the disappointed face to Gwaine until he turned blue, and it was not going to change anything.

Gwaine winked. "I'm always to blame," he said.

"Now, Gwaine, can you please leave us? We're trying to work..." Merlin said tiredly. Gwaine was surprised he'd even gotten up the courage to speak again so soon: his face was still quite pink (as was Leon's, which Gwaine was only barely able to refrain from laughing about all over again). Partially for something to distract himself and partially to see what could be so bloody interesting, he stood next to Merlin's chair and looked over his shoulder at the book he was reading. It was one of Gaius' books on magical creatures, but from Merlin's tone of voice, he hadn't been finding what he'd wanted in there.

"Seriously? You're trying to work? On a pretty day like this?" he asked, going to sit on the edge of the table before Leon gave a pointed cough that implied he'd rather not have Gwaine sitting on his important papers, at which he leapt to his feet, not wanting to sit anyway.

"You could always help," Merlin ventured, this time handing him a book from the pile scattered in front of him as he pushed his current one away. Gwaine stared at him as if he was going completely daft. Oh, if he had to he'd help find whatever Merlin was looking for, but the situation didn't yet look that desperate. Merlin was, for example, not nearly flustered enough to indicate he needed real assistance. Well, sure, he still looked flustered, but at Gwaine: at the books he just looked mildly annoyed, like he'd been looking at their ugly faces for too long.

Or, you know, like his best friend had just given him the embarrassment of his life. Twice in one day, ha!

Then Merlin grinned, which was a little unexpected, but Merlin's bright grin was infectious, so Gwaine smiled back, perhaps a little uncertainly. Merlin turned to dig in the pocket of his jacket, which was draped over the back of his chair. With no warning whatsoever, Gwaine found something round and bright red flying at his face. He reached up and caught it without so much as blinking.

"Or you can sit there and eat an apple and maybe be quiet," his friend commented. Gwaine watched him suspiciously for only a split second, thinking there was something a bit off about that grin of Merlin's, but quickly discarded his suspicion. This was Merlin. If he'd been up to anything sneaky, it would have been written all over his face. The young man was a rotten liar. So, with a shrug, he sat down and took a bite of the delicious red apple.

The, um, horribly sour delicious apple.

Gwaine looked at it, confused, and tried another bite.

No, it wasn't mealy, he mused, turning it over in his mouth. It wasn't dry, either, he decided, after a third bite, but it smelled...wrong. Gwaine was as indiscriminate with his apples as he was with his women, and that, combined with his less-than-pampered life, meant he would eat an apple in any state.

But this--

He looked at Merlin, who, with one glint of his baby blue eyes, cracked. He snorted, trying to cover it up, but the laugh was all in his eyes. They were dissolving into laughter.

--wasn't an apple.

Gwaine had just been pranked!

With an apple! What had Merlin done, transmogrified an onion into an apple? Ugh. That was what it tasted like. He wouldn't be able to smell onion for a week, he decided, as he spit outside into the street. Ugh, and now his eyes were watering, and Merlin was still laughing...

Merlin had just pranked him with an apple! Was nothing sacred?

Leon looked up and just stared at him. He realized that to Leon, who of course knew nothing of Merlin's magic, Gwaine had just eaten half of an apple and then started spluttering. He could see the thoughts running through Leon’s sensible head: Drunk? Unfortunately not. A worm in the apple? That never stopped him before. The prank war? There was nothing a person (a normal person, anyway, joke's on Leon) could do to an apple. Eventually only one conclusion could be arrived at...

"Gwaine," he said, putting down his quill, "I know it's a bit narrow-minded of me to ask, but have you lost your mind, by any chance?"

Gwaine glared at Leon and sniffed. "It’s nothing!"

Leon blinked, genuine concern radiating from his every feature. "Gwaine, are--are you crying?"

"No!" Gwaine sobbed.

Through onion-tear-stained eyes, Gwaine gave Merlin a death glare.

He had gone too far this time.

This meant war.

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49 Re: A Dish Best Served Cold on Wed 20 Jun 2012, 1:52 am

Gwaine flipped his hair and ran from the room in a teary huff. Leon rolled his eyes—and Gwaine said he acted like a girl….

“Have you found anything, yet?” he asked Merlin as he turned back to his paperwork.

“No, not yet. These bestiaries, half of its made up and the other half doesn’t make any…well, hang on!”

“What?”

“Have a look at this.” Merlin brought his book over and Leon peered at the page of spidery script, illustrated with the picture of a small, jolly man with a beard and a pointy cap.

The Garden Dweller,” he read, “known by Paracelsus as the genomos.”

Merlin pointed to another sentence. “A magical spirit of the forest known for its skill in cultivating plants far beyond their natural size.

Leon glanced at the giant pumpkin he purchased. “Well, that’s certainly true. Er…what else does it say?”

He favors the peasant and makes his land fruitful....a friend of wild animals and plants, the genomos eats only the fruit of the land and the flesh of—ah…”

“Flesh of what?”

Merlin pressed the book to his chest as Leon tried to look. “You’re—not really of noble birth, right?”

“What? Of course I am, I was just telling you—“

“Ah. Right, and there isn’t any chance that Arthur—“

“Arthur’s the king! He’s the definition of noble birth!”

“Well, you’re not going to like this…”

Leon grabbed the book. “…and the flesh of noblemen, who they ROAST ALIVE?!“

Merlin grabbed the book back and read on. “…for the noblemen are the mortal enemies of the forest, and the genomos avenge the trees felled and the deer hunted by noble hands. Though individually slow-moving, where many of these creatures gather together they can traverse fields in the blink of an eye—for indeed they can only move while no human eye is watching them…” Merlin looked up. “Arthur’s sent an antiquarian to have a look at them!”

Leon was already grabbing his sword. “Come on!”

When they arrived at the anteroom where the gnomes were being kept, everything was eerily quiet. It was that awkward time in the afternoon before dinner, when most of the bustle was happening downstairs in the kitchens. Arthur was probably still walking around, Gwen was probably relaxing in the library—even most of the guards were off-duty. The hallway was empty, with oddly-bright afternoon light coming through the windows.

“Do you hear anything?” Merlin said as Leon put his ear to the door.

Leon shook his head then, his hand on his sword, slowly drew the door open.

The normally inviting and cheery anteroom was empty except for light, a table and about twenty gnomes. They were sitting on the table, in rows, staring at the door with pink-cheeked, smiling, unmoving faces.

“Hello?” Merlin called, edging his way in.

“The antiquarian’s not here,” Leon said. But there was something odd about the room. He wasn’t quite sure what it was at first—the afternoon light was coming through the windows very oddly, in kind of orangey, hazy shafts. “What is that smell?”

Leon tried to place it as Merlin took a look around. Nothing was burning. It was almost like the smell of a kiln that’d overheated, combined with some of Gaius’s more offensive chemical concoctions and—and a hint of thunderstorm.

All of the gnomes seemed to be staring at him. He watched them. But they were just ordinary stone, weren’t they? But in this light, in this haze, with those painted, dry ceramic eyes staring at him, how he wanted to blink…

“I think that’s the smell of magical fire,” Merlin said. He had gone around the large table and was now staring at the floor behind it.

Leon looked up. “How would you know that?”

“Well, I don’t think there’s any other way you could roast a man alive without burning his clothes.”

Leon’s heart caught in his throat as he dashed around the table, putting his hand on Merlin’s shoulder to pull him away from what he was looking at, before Leon too saw it.

The sight, if Leon had not seen—and been forced to cut down—many a burned witch or warlock, would have made him be sick. It still made his stomach turn. There, on the floor behind the table, lay the remains of the antiquarianist, burnt to a sickeningly perfect crisp. The bones had been picked clean of flesh, but not overly-so...it looked like the remains of a very skinny pig. And still draped on his bones were his clothes, without singe or mark on them.

“I think I’m going to be sick,” Merlin said, turning away as Leon knelt down.

“It was some kind of magic that killed him, certainly,” Leon said. He touched the dead man’s clothes but they were cool to the touch, and not treated with any chemicals. He steeled himself and touched the man’s exposed collar bone. “But the corpse is still warm.”

Merlin, now kneeling as well, crept forward, trying hard to look at Leon instead of the corpse. "We’ve got to warn Arthur.”

Leon nodded stiffly. “I’ll stay here, while you go after Arthur. Send a couple of guards if you have to—tell them its urgent and that I sent you. I’ll keep an eye on things here.”

“Right.” Merlin started to pull himself up, then dropped back down, looking Leon in the eye. “The gnomes can only move when you’re not looking at them.”

“Yes?”

“You’re not looking at them.”

“Well, neither are...you…”

Slowly Leon and Merlin looked up at the table.

It was empty.

Leon wheeled around just as a ceramic gnome struck his arm and fell to the ground motionless, frozen in mid-leap. He kicked it savagely away and stared around. Gnomes stood frozen on the windowsills, on the floor, in the rafters.

“Don’t take your eyes off them!” Merlin shouted. He had his back pressed flat against Leon’s back.

Leon’s gaze flitted from one gnome to the next, trying to keep them all in his line of sight. “OK, there is way more than twenty of them!”


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50 Re: A Dish Best Served Cold on Fri 22 Jun 2012, 5:37 am

Leon was right. There were definitely more than twenty of these things. Where in the world were they all coming from? Had Kay bought him more of these horrid things? A bit frantically, Merlin also tried to keep his eye on all the gnomes at once. They wouldn't bother him, since he was certainly no noble, but he couldn't let them get around him to Leon. Not that this would have been easy, the two of them standing back to back in order to keep all the gnomes in sight.

“Maybe if we moved into the corner...?” Merlin ventured, not daring to blink. His eyes were already watering. Leon nodded, and managing to keep the gnomes in sight, they moved to a corner. It was much easier to see all the gnomes with a wall on either side, and Merlin took a second to blink.

“Get into the hallway, Merlin, and call for a guard,” Leon said, not taking his eyes off the merry little red-hatted figures. Merlin glanced over at him and then back at the gnomes.

For a moment Merlin considered telling Leon that he would stay instead. The gnomes wouldn't attack him, after all. If he could keep his eyes on all of them while Leon went for help, long enough for him to get the door closed after him, it wouldn't matter if Merlin couldn't see the gnomes. They wouldn't bother him. Of course, he would then be stuck in the room with a dead, burned body and a lot of gnomes, and he didn't really relish the idea... but it was definitely preferable to Leon getting turned into a crisp. But Merlin could tell from the way Leon stood that there'd be no arguing the point, even if it made a lot of sense. That was the problem with knights, probably especially Leon. He wouldn't just let someone else take the chances.

"Right." Easier said than done, though. He carefully picked his way across the floor, and then bounded out into the corridor, hollering as he went. He didn't go far, pausing partway down the hall to shout at the top of his lungs. His voice rebounded off the walls, so he hoped--no, he knew--someone was bound to hear him.

"Anything?" Leon shouted from the room.

Merlin waited for the sound of approaching footsteps. None came. Where was everyone? Perhaps if he tried a little farther down the hall.

"Merlin, where are you?" Back in the room, Leon continued to keep his eyes on all the gnomes at once, but his eyes were no doubt beginning to burn.

"I'm going to try downstairs--don't blink!"

“Sure,” Leon said, sounding a bit annoyed now. "Just hurry!"

Merlin did so, running along the corridor toward the stairs, where surely there would be someone to hear him shout.

As he turned the corner he saw one gnome sitting on the stairs. Merlin stepped back, blinking--the gnome had disappeared. For a second Merlin wondered where it could have gone to, and that second in which Merlin had to think and turn around was enough time for the gnome to run back down the hall toward the anteroom.

"No, no no!" Merlin shouted as he sprinted back, his eyes fixed on the gnome's frozen foot which was still visible from around the door of the anteroom. If he took his eyes off it--

"Merlin?!" Leon shouted, and Merlin saw him involuntarily glance up. He glanced back down in a hurry, but the gnomes were already closer, glaring at him, their hands outstretched. Some had raised weapons, and were mere inches from his feet. He gasped.

“MERLIN!” he shouted, angry but frightened too, and Merlin bolted back into the room to watch the gnomes just as Leon blinked.


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