The Cat Came Back
Warnings: Takes place following Season 4, episode 2, but I'll try not to have glaring spoilers for anyone. No violence (yet), and no profanity (most of our swear words hadn't even been invented by that time).
Chapter Two: Cat Fight
There was a single sickening thought running circles in Merlin's head: 'How does Agravaine know?'
Ever so slowly, when the world was done its warping and spinning, Merlin turned his head toward the throne. Arthur was there, his face a mixture of annoyance and disgust, the way Merlin has always dreaded it would be.
Except it was directed at Merlin.
"Well, sorcerer? Do you deny the accusations?" asked Agravaine.
"I-it wasn't me!"
Merlin sat up straight: he recognized that voice! He craned his neck forward until he could see around the crowd of knights, noblemen, and servants alike.
The sorcerer was older, with flecks of grey peppering his hair and lines marring his face. It would have made him look wise, but for the way he cowed before the court. His eyes were crazed, and they never settled on one thing for too long.
'It is him,' Merlin thought.
It was only a few nights earlier that he and Arthur had caught the man performing magic within a village not a day's ride from Camelot. The fool couldn't have been more obvious, and Merlin was torn between suspicion and sympathy.
Arthur was not torn at all.
"There are three witnesses who saw you make a door appear out of thin air," Arthur said.
"I-it was a trick of the light! No, no, not that. It was their imagination! No, wait, they're lying—"
"Careful, sorcerer. I was a witness too."
The man went pale. His gaze flickered from the prince, to Agravaine, to the people, and even to Merlin. A pang of sympathy made Merlin get to his four paws and stretch. He didn't want to see anymore.
He had just turned back toward the side entrance of the throne room, where he'd stumbled in from, when the sorcerer said, "I was being controlled!"
Merlin rolled his eyes. 'Yeah, like they'll believe that.'
"By the cat!"
In the sudden hush of the room, Merlin could feel the heat from every single pair of eyes as they bore down on him.
He disregarded all of them to lock eyes with the only person who mattered—Arthur.
'Don't listen to him,' he pleaded. It came out as a soft mew.
Blond brows creased.
"What kind of a fool do you take me for?" Arthur asked, but the words had no bite. He was still staring at Merlin with a confused look on his face.
The sorcerer said, "I saw it near that witch, Morgana, and when I went to see what evil they were plotting, something took control over me." It was hard not to notice the note of glee in the man's voice.
Arthur's gaze snapped back to the sorcerer. "Morgana?"
Someone stepped forward. "Sire, I also saw the cat do a spell."
Merlin didn't need to turn around to know that Gwaine's servant had just doomed him. He stared desperately up at Arthur, his wide eyes begging him not to fall for the lies.
For a moment, Merlin swore that Arthur recognized him, but then Agravaine leaned over and said, "It might be true, Sire. Black cats are often the conduits to dark magic."
Merlin felt his fur stand straight in his anger. 'You lying clot pole! You're probably in on the sorcerer's plan!' The heated "words" came out as a pitiful whine that made Arthur's jaw clench.
The prince's tension was painfully obvious to anyone who knew what to look for. Merlin saw it in the hunch of his shoulders, and the set of his mouth. He saw it in white knuckles and strained eyes. Merlin tried to imagine himself in front of the most important people of Camelot, being judged on decisions that he shouldn't have to make. Decisions that should be made by the king, if he were in his right mind.
He was not at all surprised to see Arthur sigh.
"Whether the cat is magical or not," he said, "there is more than enough evidence that you have committed treason against Camelot."
Two guards grabbed the sorcerer and began dragging him away. Nonsense was spewing out of his mouth to the very moment that the heavy doors slammed shut behind him.
"Sire, the cat-"
Arthur waved Agravaine away. "Do with it what you will, I have more important things to attend to."
'Arthur!' Merlin cried, outraged. Every head in the court turned to look at him when the indignant howl came out of his mouth.
Agravaine gave a signal to the guards, and they approached him cautiously.
Merlin levelled one last glare at Arthur (and again, there was that look of surprise on Arthur's face), and then at Gwaine's servant for good measure.
The servant merely waved an ink stained shirt.
Merlin high-tailed it out of there—literally!-with four guards on his heels.
'I'm not lost,' Merlin assured himself, 'I just don't know where I am.'
After four years of running around every inch of the castle, it shouldn't have been possible that he got himself lost. He probably knew the castle better than Arthur! But in his zig-zagging to throw off the guards, he had thrown himself off too. He had finally gotten rid of them, but now he couldn't even tell what level of the castle he was on.
The world looked so much different from a foot off the ground.
His keen hearing picked up footsteps coming and going: guards doing their duty to their kingdom. Merlin went in the opposite direction and turned down yet another corridor.
There were two guards stationed outside of a door. They were staring straight ahead, so they didn't notice as Merlin ducked behind a pillar.
The wood of the door creaked as it was opened.
Merlin watched as Gwen nodded to the guards and started off in the opposite direction.
'It must be Arthur's room!' Merlin thought.
He saw his opportunity shrinking—the door was slowly drifting shut, and the guards wouldn't stare at Gwen's behind forever. With all the bravery he possessed—and quite a bit of the stupidity—Merlin ran full tilt at the door. His legs burned with the strain, but there was only an inch of space left, and Gwen was almost out of sight.
His tail flicked forward just in time for the door to click closed.
His heart hammered in his chest, but it was as much with relief as anything. He made it! Now he could give his clot pole prince a piece of his mind (sort of) and figure out what the plan was for the morning.
He looked up accusingly, then went still.
It was indeed the room of a Pendragon, but the eyes he was staring into were not the ones he'd learned to read as well as any book.
No, these eyes were far less alive.
Merlin felt the pang of pity and guilt that he always got when he had to face the king since Morgana left.
The silence as they stared each other down was so great that Merlin winced at every crash and boom of the commotion on the other side of the door.
'How quickly would Uthur have me killed if I used magic to open the door?'
Merlin was about ready to find out when the king turned back to his food. That must have been what Gwen was doing, because the plate was full. Merlin's nose twitched-there was fresh cheese and at least three kinds of meat, and even some of the sweet bread that the cook made on special days. To Merlin's complete mortification, his stomach growled.
'Shut up,' he told it. (He pretended that the whine of a meow had not come from him.)
Uther did not even glance at Merlin, so Merlin was suitably shocked when a sausage hit him in the face. The scent of it—so warm and perfectly cooked—made him drool. It over-powered the sickly, stagnant air of the room and wiped out the faint wisp of nature that drifted in through the open window.
He took a tiny bite, his eyes never leaving Uther.
It was even better than the sausages he stole from Arthur.
He threw caution to the wind and attacked the sausage. It was still hot, so he tore little pieces off with his teeth while his paw pinned the sausage down. He vaguely heard an amused sound, and then a piece of cheese landed just in front of him.
Merlin, having worked through the night and then missed breakfast, suddenly realized how hungry he was. He finished the cheese in time for another sausage to appear in front of him. He took two steps to reach it.
Then a chunk of ham.
Another piece of cheese.
A bit of roast duck!
Merlin was lost in the bliss of delicious food—he'd definitely have to order more roast duck for Arthur's future lunches. When he finished the duck, he stared ahead in expectation.
There was another breathy chuckle, and Merlin was startled to realize it came from directly above him. In fact, if he looked another hand's width ahead, there were two slippered feet, and four ornate chair legs, and-
The king had lured him into a trap.
A large hand grabbed the scruff of fur at his neck, and he was sailing through the air. He cringed, tucking his legs as close to his body as he could and unconsciously shutting his eyes ('What if he recognizes me?'). His ears went flat against his head, and even his tail curled in tight around his body.
For a moment, all Merlin could hear was his own heart beating wildly.
Then: "Morgana always wanted a kitten," Uther said.
Merlin let one eye open.
The king was unkempt. His features were gaunt and hollow. There were lines around his mouth and at the corners of his eyes that weren't there a year ago.
The worst was the eyes. Merlin had spent three years of his life intimidated by the pure conviction and strength in the king's eyes. He may have been unreasonable whenever magic was involved, but there could be no denying that Uther had been the source of security for many people of Camelot. Now, there was no vibrance in once-terrifying blue eyes.
The guilt made Merlin's heart wrench. If he had told Morgana about his magic, or found some other way of fighting the knights of Medir, or even let her die all that time ago-
Air rushed over him as he was lowered to something warm and just a little soft. Trembling fingers stroked down his back. Merlin's claws came out, ready to give him purchase for a quick escape.
"Do an old man a favour," the king said in that painfully tired voice.
Merlin let his shoulders relax, and the claws slid back in.
He could grant a suffering man at least this much.
Arthur would wait.
A/N: Arthur will indeed wait, but not for much longer, because it's too much fun writing about the interactions between a trouble making sorcerer-turned-cat and an oblivious prince. To a few of you, thanks so much for reviewing, and to all of you, thanks for reading!