Song Fic set between the 3rd and 4th seasons.
REUPLOAD because something went wrong in the first post.
Disclaimer: I don't own Merlin or the song 'Cost of the Crown'.
Arthur was in a foul mood as he marched around the citadel, prepared to throw Merlin in the stocks for being so ridiculously late - and making him walk so much. The man must have been everywhere across the castle and town; first he was in the kitchen, then the training grounds, the armory, in the market, upper town, lower town - everywhere! If Merlin wasn't at the outer gates, then Arthur had a right mind to send the guards after him.
"Where is he?" Arthur asked the gatekeepers, glaring at them both and daring them to tell him that Merlin had gone back into the town. "Where is Merlin?"
As if sensing the hostility of Arthur, the two guards both stiffened their posture. "He and some children went into the woods, Sire. There's a small clearing not far in that they visit sometimes."
Taking a deep breath, Arthur stomped towards the treeline. He knew what clearing it was, having run to play there himself as a child. But why on earth would Merlin go there with the children? Especially when he knew that there were many things to be done today!
Just breaking through the trees, the king could already hear voices laughing and talking together. The majority of them were high in pitch, but there was one that stood out among the others...
Hearing the familiar voice, his frown deepened as he marched towards it with more purpose and intent. He was about to yell out for his servant when he could finally make out his words.
"No no," Merlin chuckled, "A king's job isn't easy at all...! If anything, Arthur's job is even harder than mine."
There were small giggles in response to what the young man said, causing Arthur to slowly peak around a tree to see Merlin sitting on a log with a group of children surrounding him with large smiles.
"How is a king's job harder than a servant's?" One of the little boys asked, his head tilted. "All he does is sit around and tell others what to do!"
"I can't argue about that," Merlin smiled, nearly making Arthur come out from his hiding spot, before continuing. "But he does a lot more than that too; training the knights, patrolling the borders, deciding many things you lot wouldn't understand at this age... His Highness is always busy, and because of that I have to do what I can to make him comfortable so he can give his full effort into making this kingdom even better. While I do things that effect him, he does things that effect the whole land."
"At least he can do whatever he wants though," A young girl quipped, pulling Merlin's attention to her.
"Not so, little one. Do you think he wants to be inside all day, listening to a bunch of boring people talk? No, he wants to be out among the people more than anything...! Hunting, riding, training his sword skills, anything but sit in that chair all day."
Arthur narrowed his eyes slightly, some of his anger subsiding as he listened to his servant; he supposed that the stocks were a bit much for simply being late... But he would be mucking out the stables for sure.
"Are you sure you're not making this up, Merlin?" Another girl asked, laughing a bit. "You are friends with the King, right?"
Merlin tilted his head back and forth as if considering it before smiling, "True, Arthur is a good friend. But I would never lie about his work to make him seem better; his head is big enough as it is!"
"I still don't really get it..."
Merlin chuckled and shook his head slightly as he picked up a lute that had been resting on the ground, laying it in his lap and strumming a few strings. Arthur's eyebrows pushed together as he watched him; since when did Merlin play the lute? Surely the young man was too clumsy to be able to play an instrument properly.
When he started playing though, Arthur was proven wrong with the soft melody. It was calming... Growing up, Arthur had never really been a fan of the royal entertainers that played - they all sounded the same and were far too boring for his tastes. But the way that Merlin played was... captivating.
"Shall I play a royal lament for you then?" Merlin asked, effortlessly keeping the notes going without looking at his fingers. The children all cheered, causing Merlin to smile fondly at them.
Merlin could play the lute, Arthur would give him that, but there was no way that the young man could sing. No way-
The stars are very beautiful above the palace walls
They shine with equal splendor still above far humbler halls
I watch them from my window, but their bright, entrancing glow
Reminds me of the freedom I gave up so long ago
Arthur stood corrected. Merlin could sing. His clumsy and horrible manservant could sing quite well... Staring in bewildered awe, Arthur shook his head slightly. Could he possibly be dreaming? Maybe he hit his head and didn't realize it? Merlin shouldn't be able to sing while he was so bad at everything else! That's not how talent was supposed to go!
Giving up hiding behind the tree, the King instead chose to lean against it with his arms crossed as he listened to the peaceful sounds coming from his strange servant.
The royal circlet of bright gold rests lightly on my brow
I once thought only of the rights this circlet would endow
But once I took the crown to which I had been schooled and bred
I found it heavy on the heart, though light upon the head
The soft plucking of the lute soon tuned into bold strums, Merlin switching the tune without even looking at the instrument. He leaned down slightly to look closer at the children, looking at each of them in the eyes as if to make sure they were paying attention and understood the heavy words he sang.
Although I am the head of state, in truth I am the least
The true King knows his people fed, before he sits to feast
The good King knows his people safe, before he takes his rest
Thinks twice and thrice and yet again, before he makes request
Arthur doubted that the little ones could understand... No child could truly understand them, not even when he was their age could he have hoped to imagine the seriousness of his role. Though now, Arthur could feel the truth in this song all too well. His gaze flickered to the ground as he took in every word.
For they are all my children, all that I swore to defend
It is my duty to become both King and trusted friend—
And of my children high and low, from beggar to above
The dearest are my Heralds, who return my care with love
Never before had Arthur ever thought to think of his people as his children. That just seemed... weird. At least that meant that part of Merlin was still real - the part that said the weird things as if just to annoy Arthur.
A thought hit him as his eyes narrowed, looking back to the group. And there it was... That little smirk of Merlin's aimed directly at him. Of course the man knew his king was there, probably throwing that part in just for him.
The dearest are my Heralds, swift to spring to my command
Who give me aid and fellowship, who always understand
That land and people first have needs that I may not deny—
So I must send my dearest friends to danger—and to die
On the last note, Arthur noticed that many of the kids bowed their heads and hands swiping at their faces. Where they going to cry? Their backs were to him so he couldn't tell if they were actually crying, but it definitely looked like they were. Was Merlin intentionally trying to make the children cry?
A friend, a love, a child—it matters not. I know indeed
That I must sacrifice them all if there should be the need
They know, and they forgive me—doing more than I require
With willing minds and loving hearts go straight to grasp the fire
Merlin's attention was back on the kids, a soft -nearly sad- smile on his face as he played. Arthur had to admit, he could see why the kids might start crying. That verse had struck a chord with him as well, reminding him of too many times his friends had been killed under his direction and orders...
These tears that burn my eyes are all the tears the King can't shed
The tears I weep in silence as I mourn my Heralds dead
O God that dwell beyond the stars, if you can hear my cry—
And if you have compassion—let me send no more to die!
As the song came to an end, Merlin held Arthur's gaze for a short time before looking back at the little ones around him. He opened his mouth to speak, but before he could one of the girls lunged herself forward, barely giving Merlin time to lift his lute before she crashed into his midsection in a tight hug. "That's so sad...! I didn't know the King's job was like that!"
Merlin's eyes were wide for just a second before he smiled and patted her back, placing his lute back on the ground. "Hey, don't cry. It is hard, but Arthur is a strong King, there's no need to worry about him."
"But what if he gets sad? What if no one knows he's sad? It's not good to let someone stay sad!"
Merlin seemed to find that funny, though Arthur couldn't fathom why... What was funny about a King being sad? Nothing! So why was Merlin laughing?
"Do you honestly think I would allow our gracious King to be sad?" The man raised an eyebrow with a large grin, chuckling at the looks the children gave him. "If he was sad, there's no need to worry; I would simply do something fairly stupid and all would be well with the world again."
"What do you mean?"
Merlin's gaze flickered up to lock with Arthur's for a second, the King scowling at him. Merlin just shrugged before looking back down to the children as he stood up, "That is my own little secret. Now, we've been out here long enough, I think we should be heading back before your parents start worrying about you."
A chorus of 'no's rang out as some of the children tugged on Merlin's pants leg, trying to keep him there. They were no match for him though when he leaned down and scooped two of them up and started walking, "Come on, if we get in trouble, who knows when your parents will let us come out again...!"
That seemed to motivate them as the remaining few jumped up and started to run back towards the castle, only to stop short when they saw Arthur standing in their path.
Arthur's eyes widened as he was suddenly surrounded by small children all talking and hugging his legs at the same time, nearly sending him off balance. The two children that Merlin held soon made their way to the group as well and Arthur had to place a hand on the tree he had been leaning on to keep from ending up on the ground.
"Okay, kids, we don't want to overwhelm the King," Merlin chuckled, walking up to them with a knowing smirk. Arthur nearly wanted to send him to the stables just for that smirk...
It seemed to work though, the kids backing away slightly and calmed enough that they weren't all speaking as one. One girl remained at her place in front of him, twirling a small flower in her hands as she looked up at him.
"Yes...?" Arthur prompted, glancing at Merlin before giving her his full attention.
"I..." She started, "I just... wanted to tell you that you're an amazing King and I really like you..." She held the flower up to him, looking shy and nearly scared as she did so. Arthur frowned slightly as he took the flower and gently placed it behind her ear.
"Thank you, My Lady. It means a lot hearing that from you."
Watching her eyes light up at him was enough to wipe away any and all traces of Arthur's once foul mood, and just enough for him to temporarily forget about his annoyance with his servant.
"Me too!" One of the other children called, "I think you're a great King too!"
The children all started trying to shout over each other to make sure their complements were heard, though soon stopped when Merlin picked one of the smaller boys up and placed him on his shoulders. "Alright now, I think that's enough for one day. We don't want the King's head to get any bigger than it already is."
The group disbanded almost magically at Merlin's command, older children ran ahead slightly (one of which was carrying Merlin's lute) as most of the girls or younger ones stayed at their sides. That didn't stop Arthur from frowning at his servant though.
"I'm the King, Merlin, I'm supposed to be the one that tells them when to stop."
"You can tell them next time when I don't have the possibility of getting yelled at by their parents."
Arthur rolled his eyes slightly and chuckled, looking down at the few children left by them. He smiled a bit as he lifted the little girl who gave him the flower and put her on one of his shoulders, wrapping his arm around her legs to keep her in place. She giggled and squealed as she held onto his head, rendering Arthur unable to keep the smile from his face.
Feeling something small and warm slip into his hand, Arthur looked down to find that another child had slipped her hand into his and held it tightly as they traveled back. Looking up, he saw Merlin in much the same way, though there was another child that had a hold onto the servant's pants as well.
"I think they've taken to you, Sire." Merlin chuckled, watching the little girls giggle happily next to the King. "Dare I say that Gwen may face some competition?"
The two men chuckled as they walked back into the gates. While Arthur still had many things to do that day, he decided to stay and help Merlin deliver the children back to their families safely. As it turned out, Merlin's running around of the citadel that day had as much to do with collecting the children as it did running errands for Giaus. Now that there was a purpose to it other than looking for Merlin, it was actually a nice walk to see how his people were doing.
As the last child went running off to her family in the market, Arthur chuckled lightly and shook his head. "You are just filled with surprises, Merlin..."
"How so, Sire?"
Raising an eyebrow, Arthur chuckled again. "You are musically inclined; I never would have guessed that."
Merlin let out a small laugh of his own as he looked down at the lute in his hand, "There wasn't much to do in Ealdor as a kid... So when a traveler offers to teach you a talent, a bored and eager boy wouldn't dare refuse it."
Arthur hummed a bit as they started walking back to the castle together, "Did you write that song?"
"It's a bit old, but yeah." Merlin shrugged, "I figured it might come in handy someday."
"How would a song about being royalty come in handy, Merlin?"
"It taught the children how sensitive you are, My Lord."
The two shared a look, Merlin's face grinning and nearly smug while Arthur's was blank and serious. Merlin couldn't stop a laugh from bubbling up in him as he slowly started walking faster, Arthur matching his pace before the two of them were running through the castle.
Once Merlin was caught, he was given multiple other chores to perform by the day's end. He was tired and sore, but that smile hadn't left his face at all. Most of the knights around the castle were worried that the poor man's face would split if he weren't careful, but Merlin remained whole and happy well into the night when he went to prepare Arthur for bed.
Fixing his bed as Arthur started to undress, Merlin glanced up. "I'm going to be taking the children out again in five days, you're welcomed to join us if you'd like."
"Yes, Sire. Every five days, as long as I'm in the area, I take the children out to sing songs and tell stories with them. Perhaps you have some tales you'd like to share?"
Arthur sighed as he tossed his shirt to his friend, "Merlin, I am a king. I don't have time to entertain a bunch of children."
Merlin easily caught the shirt and placed it in a stack with the rest of his dirty clothes, "Whatever you say..."
In five days time, Merlin noted with a smirk that the King's schedule had a very large gap of activities to do at midday. How happy the children would be when they learned the King of Camelot would spend a time with them again...
A/N: I got into this fandom last week and I've fallen hard and deep into this hole... I've just gotten into the 5th season and I'm scared... I've gotten enough spoilers to know that the ending will destroy me. So I needed some happy fluff to get through this perilous time. XD
The song is Cost of the Crown by Mercedes Lackey.