Merlin paced slowly, fidgeting with the long sleeve of his thin blue shirt. He glanced at the door every now and again, knowing that as soon as the person he was waiting for came through it, the following minutes would determine his fate and destiny forever.
Merlin's pacing took him to the window and he looked out over the castle courtyard. He closed his eyes and leant his forehead against the cool glass. He hoped, so much, that what he was about to do was the right thing, as the weight of the kingdom's future rested heavily on his shoulders. It was a weight that was slowly crushing him and that was why he had to do this.
The door eventually opening made Merlin jump and spin around. Arthur didn't comment on Merlin's panicked behaviour and instead just raised an eyebrow before looking away to place his sword and large coat on the neat and tidy bed and to kick off his boots. Arthur soon noticed the large meal that was laid out on the large wooden table. His eyebrow arched even further and he blinked in disbelief.
"Are you ill, Merlin?" Arthur asked.
Merlin looked at the Prince in confusion. "No, why?"
"You're exceedingly quiet and have been all day, normally I would get irritated by your constant chatter but to be honest, I'm starting to miss the background noise. Also, my bed is made and the room is spotless and you have my lunch set out on time. None of these things fall under your usual manservant daily agenda Merlin, as they are never done on time. So this is nothing but suspicious."
"Well I'll take your lunch away from you shall I?" Merlin asked, moving towards the table.
"No, no, I'm not complaining..." Arthur sat down quickly in front of the food, grabbing his goblet and the jug of wine. "I'm just saying it isn't like you to be this...prompt with your chores."
"Well, to be honest Sire..."
"Sire? Something must be up for you to give me that title. Is something wrong? Tell me." Arthur motioned to the chair at the opposite end of the table for Merlin to sit down on and pushed the fruit bowl at him. "Here, have something to eat while you're there, I may as well reward you for the good work as it rarely ever happens."
Merlin accepted the fruit bowl and picked up an apple, turning it round in his hands nervously. He didn't tell Arthur what was wrong and sat in silence.
Arthur began to eat, but after glancing up at Merlin twice to find that his manservant was not saying anything, eating anything and was fidgeting more than anything else he sighed. "Merlin, what is wrong? Spit it out before I throw you out for making me depressed on such a nice day."
"Sire, I have something..." Merlin took a deep breath, not meeting Arthur's eyes and staring instead at the table in front of him. "I have something I need to tell you."
"Oh?" Arthur sounded unsurprised. "What have you done this time? Ruined one of my favourite shirts? Or dropped something valuable? Is this why you've been acting so well behaved Merlin? Have you done something your guilty about?"
"It's not anything like that. It's a bigger issue than that."
"Oh, you haven't insulted my father again have you? You know there are only so many times that I can actually stand up for you."
"It's not that either." Merlin looked up at the Prince and saw the puzzlement on his face. Merlin sighed, wondering how best to continue. "Arthur, yesterday when we were out hunting and we were ambushed by those men..."
"Yes that was most incredible how I defeated three of the men single handed, whilst Leon and Bors got the others and it was lucky that that tree branch fell down just at the right moment to get the last one." Arthur grinned triumphantly, and then looked at Merlin critically. "You did nothing of course; you just stood there dithering by the horses like always. But it's best to keep you out of the way of the fighting, if you'd have died I'd have had to go through the task of finding another idiot to clean my boots, which by the way..." Arthur nodded at the pair he'd kicked off near the bed "Do need a clean."
"I'll do them in a minute." Merlin brushed the order away and clutched the arms of the wooden chair. He had to tell Arthur now. He'd been plucking up the courage for the past two days to finally admit and tell the truth. "Arthur, yesterday, the branch..."
"Like I said..." Arthur interrupted, waving his fork in the air airily. "It was a perfect coincidence and just great timing that it fell on the man that I'd had my back turned to."
"Yes, about that Arthur..."
"What about it? It's just my Prince's luck. It's amazing how much I've needed my luck within the last year what with all the creatures and monsters and evil sorcerers I've beaten..."
"You know, I think I must be the luckiest man alive, as I always seem to win, sometimes even singlehanded when I'm obviously outnumbered, as it's surprising how much nature, such as falling branches and roots tripping people up, can help me during a time of need. Like I said, Prince's luck."
"Arthur about the branches and the roots and everything else, what I need to tell you is..."
Arthur suddenly sighed heavily; his previously cheerful demeanour completely altered and he fixed a stern glare on Merlin. "Think carefully about what you say next Merlin."
"What?" Merlin asked, completely confused.
"I've given you enough opportunity to think I'm an idiot and give up the idea of telling me what you're going to, but you seem determined to ruin everything so..."
Arthur broke eye contact with Merlin to roll his exasperatedly. "I know what you're going to tell me. My advice is simple. Don't."
"But you don't..."
"I do know. I've known for a long time and I've been playing the part of ignorance for your own good."
Merlin opened his mouth to say something, but a look from Arthur silenced him.
"Merlin, if you had told me what you were just about to, as the Prince and in protection to my Kingdom, it would have been my duty to inform my father, and he'd have had you arrested and executed. But as you have made no such confession, I am willing to turn a blind eye. As I have done for the past year. I don't want to know and I don't care about what it is you have to tell me because as far as I'm concerned I'm still oblivious. And you should just keep on lying. It's for the best. So we carry on as normal as though this conversation that we've just had never happened. Understand?"
Merlin nodded, his eyes portraying a mixture of hurt, confusion and relief.
"Now finish that apple and go and clean my boots."
Merlin bit into the apple and then pushed away from the table. He swallowed. "Thank you Arthur."
"What? For ordering you to clean my boots?"
"No, for what you just did."
"I don't know what you are talking about Merlin." Arthur drawled, pretending to be none the wiser, before eating a piece of cheese.
"Right." Merlin wandered away in the direction of the boots, munching on his apple, mulling over everything Arthur had just said.
Merlin had spent two whole days in stress and worry and plucking up the courage in preparation to tell Arthur about his magic, to admit everything, to get that insufferable weight off of his chest and all that time, Arthur had known and had been acting the fool for Merlin's own safety. The sudden realisation was overwhelming, and he sat down on Arthur's bed, holding his head as pieces began to fit together like a jigsaw.
There had been times in which Merlin had saved Arthur and the magic had almost been so obvious that Merlin was astounded that the Prince, who was extremely capable and had been trained to hunt and fight from a young age seemed to be oblivious to what Merlin had just done, but now it was clear that Arthur had noticed, and had just pretended not to.
There were times in which so many branches fell from trees it had to be more than coincidental, but Arthur had not batted an eyelid, calling it a Prince's 'luck', pretending as though he had no idea how all the trees in Camelot seemed to be on his side whenever there was a fight.
Arthur had never reacted to any magic he'd witnessed from Merlin and always acted so triumphant when, on numerous occasions, he'd wake up from being knocked out, to find Merlin as the only one awake, recounting the tale of how – just before Arthur had been knocked out – Arthur had wounded the beast fatally or had made the enemy retreat.
Arthur was also always so quick to scoff and act disbelieving whenever it was suggested (and this had been far too many times, Merlin knew) that Merlin was magic and Merlin had thought Arthur's immediate denial was just because Arthur thought Merlin was an incompetent manservant, and that there was no way that such an 'idiot' could be a sorcerer.
Arthur had truly fooled Merlin, just like Merlin had thought he'd truly fooled Arthur.
"Merlin, your thinking too loud." Arthur complained through a mouthful of bread and meat.
"At least I'm intellectually capable of thought."
"Now that's the Merlin I know." Arthur spun round in his chair to glare at Merlin. "As happy as I am to hear your witty remarks that sound too intellectually superior for your background, I hope that your good behaviour from today will continue, I do like my lunch set out on time for once."
"You know that'll never happen Sire." Merlin replied mockingly, finishing the apple and getting up off of Arthur's bed.
"Where are you going?!" Arthur asked as Merlin made his way to the door, stealing a piece of cheese from Arthur's plate on the way.
"I don't know, outside for a bit."
"And what about my boots?"
"I'll clean them later."
"No you won't. Merlin! Get back here now!" Arthur made an infuriated sound. "You are such an idiot!"
"Well at least I'm not an arrogant prat." Merlin retorted and then raced from the room laughing as he avoided the lump of bread that Arthur had thrown that flew after him out of the door.
When Merlin had run far enough away from Arthur's room, he sat down heavily in an alcove in one of the castle's many corridors. He drew his knees to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, making himself as small as possible, not wanting to be noticed by passersby.
He was still bewildered about the scene that had just taken place. Arthur had known all along, and although Merlin had expected him to be angry that Merlin had lied, it was precisely what Arthur had wanted Merlin to do all along, so that Arthur wasn't forced into a situation in which he had been told about Merlin, so was in a position where he would have to choose the wellbeing of the Kingdom and loyalty to his father over his manservant and friend.
The entire time that Merlin thought that his secret powers were protecting Arthur; in fact, Arthur had known and had been protecting Merlin just as much, by not revealing his secret.