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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