18 April 2009 @ 07:26 pm
Not Sentimental  
Title: Not Sentimental
Author: [info]lilithilien
Fandom/Characters: Merlin, Arthur/Merlin
Word Count/Rating: 1000 words/Gen
Summary: Since the first day of his service, Merlin had wondered about the helmets perched on the prince's cabinet.
Disclaimer: Property of the BBC and Shine, sadly not mine.
A/N: Arthur doesn't strike me as a knick-knack man, which is why I've wondered about these helmets in his room. I think Merlin must wonder, too. Huge thanks to the lovely [info]ladyflowdi who inspired me by saying that in 1000 years these model helmets would be model x-wing fighters, and to the wonderful [info]sarcastic_jo and [info]aelora who helped whip this into shape.

Since the first day of his service, Merlin had wondered about the helmets perched on the prince's cabinet. Especially the first one, the small one made of silvery steel, just the size to fit a young boy's head. In the beginning he'd simply assumed it was Arthur's first helmet. But as the months passed and Merlin learned more about his master, he came to see that the prince eschewed sentimentality. Tokens from ladies would be politely accepted, but Arthur put his faith in practical matters, in steel and sword, and left the bards to embellish his exploits as they wished.

So not sentimentality, then. Perhaps it was the deep dent in the metal that warranted this pride of place, or the torn edge whose teeth caught Merlin's rag as he dusted the helm. Perhaps if he was a better servant, he would have not been so curious; perhaps if he had not been alone here in Camelot, he would not have wondered so about these solitary pieces of armour, alone on their stands, isolated from their kin. But after nearly six months of wondering about these odd adornments in the prince's chambers, Merlin finally gathered the courage to ask.

"Arthur, what's this?"

The prince raised only his eyes from his reading. Seeing Merlin with his hand on the hammered steel, he lowered them almost immediately, his voice laden with annoyance as he answered, "Merlin, you're my manservant, that hardly gives you call to go through my personal things."

Merlin raised an eyebrow at this hypocrisy. "My job is to go through your personal things."

There was a quiet huff at this, but nothing more. Merlin returned to his cleaning, letting Arthur relax for a moment before adding in his most innocent voice, "It looks like it's been damaged. Were you wearing it then?"

For several long moments, Merlin thought his question was ignored. All he heard was the quiet rustle of a page turning, a hand smoothing down gilded vellum. When he had almost given up hope of a reply he heard Arthur quietly say, "It was part of the armour I received for my eighth birthday. The helm barely fit -- my instructor had to stuff it full of wool so it wouldn't wobble when I put it on. But I thought I commanded the world."

His back safely toward the prince, Merlin grinned at the image of a miniature Arthur waiting regally while his helmet was pillowed.

"I had an enemy, though, even then. Fendrel, his name was; he was the son of one of father's knights. He was older than I, and bigger, and he refused to kneel before me."

Merlin felt a sudden respect for young Fendrel. But it faded as the story went on, as Arthur's voice hardened. "He had been warned away from me, but you know how boys can be. He kept coming back, always goading me, looking for a fight…"

Merlin was only pretending to dust now, his rag gliding uselessly over smooth planks. His attention was fixed on Arthur although he dared not turn around, dared not disturb his story.

"Early one morning," Arthur continued, "I was at the armoury and no one was there. I couldn't fit my armour myself, you know, so I only wore my helmet. My ears were deep in the padding and I didn't even hear Fendrel until he was on top of me." His voice grew quiet and distant. "He had a morning star; I was defenceless. If I'd not been wearing that…"

Merlin froze. The morning star was one of the fiercest weapons in the king's armoury, capable of piercing a skull when wielded by a skilled knight. Even in the hands of a boy it could do immeasurable damage. And although over a decade had passed since these events, hearing about them still awoke his protective urge. He coaxed back the surge of magic that pricked the surface of his skin, waiting for Arthur to continue his story, but the prince remained silent. "What happened to him?" Merlin finally asked, not sure he really wanted to know.

"They disappeared from court, the boy and his family," Arthur answered. His voice was empty of emotion as he added, "I was never told what happened to them."

Silence hung heavily in the room, Merlin's fingers gingerly tracing the torn metal. Without it, there would be no prince of Camelot, no destiny for him to fulfil. "And you kept this because it saved your life," Merlin concluded. He cringed at how reverent he must have sounded.

But Arthur seemed not to notice. "I kept it because it cost him his," he corrected Merlin. "At one time, I thought that was just."

And Merlin wanted to know more, wanted to know when Arthur stopped believing that, what had made him change his mind, and everything he thought now about being a just king. But knowing such a barrage of questions would be met with scorn, he allowed himself only one. "And now?"

There was a heavy sigh before Arthur said, "He was only ten years old."

Time shivered for just a moment, long enough to make Merlin question whether he'd done something to slow it. Long enough for him to imagine how this burden might have weighed on a boy who was never allowed to show it. With every question that was answered, a hundred more arose, but for one brilliant instant Merlin saw the sum of them falling into place. In a single crashing second he saw what it might be to understand this person who was Arthur Pendragon, his prince, the man the dragon had proclaimed would one day be the once and future King.

And then time rolled forward again and Arthur returned to his reading with a huff that proclaimed their conversation over. Merlin returned to his listless cleaning, straightening the helm and tucking away this story, one that no bard would ever sing, but one he would never forget.

~~~ The End ~~~

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[info]sarcastic_jo on April 18th, 2009 06:40 pm (UTC)
This seriously makes me go all smishy inside. I don't know why - if it's Merlin *not* looking at Arthur while he tells the story or Arthur trusting Merlin with the story (and his thoughts on the story) or Merlin realizing that there's so much more to Arthur than on the surface ... whatever the reason - smishy. I can totally hear Arthur telling that story and Merlin struggling not to just blurt out the 101 questions flying through his head ... they're both all grown up. *sniffs*


Lovely, lovely job!
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Lilith: merlin-glad you're here[info]lilithilien on April 19th, 2009 08:52 pm (UTC)
Aw, thank you so much! I love when you go smishy, for whatever reason it is. I do love imagining Arthur trusting Merlin enough to share this kind of thing, something that he's not particularly proud of. The boys! *sniffs too and squishes them*
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(Anonymous) on April 18th, 2009 06:57 pm (UTC)
This was really good. It really shows Arthur's depth as a soldier and as a man. It's nice to know that under it all, he isnt just a big meanie. hehe

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Lilith: merlin-arthur[info]lilithilien on April 19th, 2009 08:53 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! Oh yes, I don't think he's a big meanie at all. I think he has to present that face to the king, but he's shown in so many little ways that there's another side. I'm really glad that you liked it!
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Sebastian: Merlin - Arthur down face in hand[info]kabal42 on April 18th, 2009 07:02 pm (UTC)
That's brilliant, Lilith. I love that a detail like that can grow into a full fic and I love the snippet of Arthur's character, his view of his own responsibilities and the many things he carries around with him. It also gives a very nice spin on "I've been trained to kill since birth" - a sentence I've always taken very literal and thought was cruel to him.

Thanks for sharing this.
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Lilith: merlin-arthur2[info]lilithilien on April 19th, 2009 08:55 pm (UTC)
Oh, that line, yes! It's thrown out as just a threat but taken literally it really is quite chilling. I'm so happy that you liked this! Thank you!
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[info]kahtyasofia on April 18th, 2009 07:39 pm (UTC)
I get a little tired of 'Arthur is a prat' fic and 'Arthur is so dense cause he doesn't realize what Merlin is' themed stories. I like that your Arthur quietly shows he is observant, aware, sensitive and working to find his own place and identity as a man and a king.
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Lilith: merlin-arthur[info]lilithilien on April 19th, 2009 08:57 pm (UTC)
Yes! Me too! And I don't think that's an apt characterisation of Arthur -- the show really doesn't present him as a stupid man in any way. In fact, there are so many times that he stands back and observes the action and only after Morgana it stops does he present the voice of reason. I am so pleased that you liked this -- thank you so much for commenting!
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[info]ladyflowdi.livejournal.com on April 18th, 2009 08:24 pm (UTC)
Oh wow, this is a gorgeous piece of business here. I loved Arthur's quiet seriousness and maturity, and Merlin's thoughtfulness. Gorgeous!
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Lilith[info]lilithilien on April 19th, 2009 08:59 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! I'm glad that maturity came across -- I think Arthur's carrying a lot on his shoulders, and I love thinking of how that might have affected him. So glad that you liked it!
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bewarethesmirk[info]bewarethesmirk on April 18th, 2009 08:57 pm (UTC)
Chilling in what it says about what Arthur has been through, but lovely for Arthur sharing his history with Merlin, and for Merlin's protectiveness and curiosity, his desire.
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Lilith: merlin-once & future king[info]lilithilien on April 19th, 2009 09:02 pm (UTC)
Oh, thank you so much! I can't imagine that Arthur had any kind of happy childhood. There's got to be a reason he's such a prat! I'm so glad that you enjoyed this -- thanks so much for commenting!
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Bridget McKennitt: Kristin chilling[info]bridgetmkennitt on April 18th, 2009 09:28 pm (UTC)
I'm not in the Merlin fandom, but this was very easy to follow and I enjoyed it immensely. Very nicely crafted.
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Lilith: merlin-glad you're here[info]lilithilien on April 19th, 2009 09:09 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much, honey! And thanks for reading outside your fandom -- that's something I've not managed to really do. I'm really glad that this story worked for you!
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(Anonymous) on April 18th, 2009 09:44 pm (UTC)
Oh, this is just lovely. I love Merlin reading between the lines, this tiny anecdote meaning so much more than it is. And just those last two bits Arthur said, "I kept it because it cost him his," he corrected Merlin. "At one time, I thought that was just." And "He was only ten years old," just made me ache in the best way. Love! :D

(followed this from LJ, I'm nebulia there.)
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Lilith: merlin-camelot[info]lilithilien on April 19th, 2009 09:09 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! I love that good ache -- I'm so happy that this story inspired it!
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[info]alexi_lupin on April 18th, 2009 09:44 pm (UTC)
I love this. It gives Arthur a depth we don't often see, whe he's keeping the helmet to remind him to always strive to become a better person.
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Lilith: merlin-arthur[info]lilithilien on April 19th, 2009 09:08 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! I do think Arthur's one to keep "trophies" (the unicorn horn, his necklace) about the events of his life -- I'm really glad that this idea worked for you!
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[info]muppet on April 19th, 2009 03:31 am (UTC)
Oh that's so lovely, showing yet another side to Arthur that you just don't expect - thank you ♥
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Lilith: merlin-prince[info]lilithilien on April 19th, 2009 09:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much, sweetie! I'm really glad that you enjoyed it. Arthur's so much fun to peel layers off of! *g*
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[info]kathyh on April 19th, 2009 05:11 am (UTC)
Short but very effective glimpse into Arthur's early life and the effect it has had on him. Very well done.
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Lilith: merlin-glad you're here[info]lilithilien on April 19th, 2009 09:05 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much -- I'm so happy to hear that it worked for you. Thanks for commenting!
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hab318princess[info]hab318princess on April 19th, 2009 06:32 am (UTC)
Liked that a lot, lovely insight into Arthur
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Lilith: merlin-torchwood wannabes[info]lilithilien on April 19th, 2009 09:04 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! I'm really glad that you enjoyed it!
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[info]ein_papier on April 19th, 2009 07:51 am (UTC)
Oh, this is so... Poor Arthur. It's lucky he has Merlin now, who asks about these things. Great story! <3
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Lilith: merlin-camelot[info]lilithilien on April 19th, 2009 09:03 pm (UTC)
It is lucky, isn't it? I do hope they'll give us more of the boys sharing their histories in the next series. *hopes* In the meantime, I'm really happy that you enjoyed this -- thank you!
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(Anonymous) on April 19th, 2009 09:00 am (UTC)
This is beautiful and thought-provoking. I really enjoyed reading it.
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Lilith: merlin-arthur2[info]lilithilien on April 19th, 2009 09:02 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much -- I'm really pleased that you liked it!
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Montana Harper: arthur/merlin[info]montanaharper on April 20th, 2009 02:16 pm (UTC)
What a gorgeous character piece. I love the unspoken dance they do, the way Merlin doesn't look at Arthur and Arthur opens himself a little in that safe space that Merlin's given him.
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Lilith: merlin-glad you're here[info]lilithilien on April 21st, 2009 02:49 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much, I'm really glad that you liked it! I love thinking about their developing friendship -- not just the lifesaving things, but the little bedtime conversations about their pasts. I want more of this next season!
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lilian_cho: Arthur lips[info]lilian_cho on April 20th, 2009 11:25 pm (UTC)
Oh <3 I love this character study of Arthur.

And I love how Merlin's circumspect enough to ask Arthur after they've known each other better =) (Saving each other's lives doesn't count!)
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Lilith: merlin-stealthy[info]lilithilien on April 21st, 2009 02:46 pm (UTC)
Re: <3
Thank you so much! No, saving each other's lives isn't enough, I agree -- it's time and trust before they'll open up to each other. We haven't seen much of that -- I think they were only starting to approach that in TMOT. I want more!!
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