When Merlin woke in the morning, it was very early. Merlin blinked sleepily and stumbled out of bed. He didn’t know why he had woken so early; usually he slept until Gaius came into his room yelling for him to get up because Arthur was looking for him. Or Arthur was hungry, or Arthur wanted to go hunting, or Arthur had to get ready for a meeting, or Arthur was just tormenting him by requesting his presence so early.
But this morning, Merlin had woken before even Gaius. He crept downstairs into the main room of Gaius’ tower and saw that the old man was still sleeping in his cot, his blankets pulled up to his chin and rising and falling as he breathed. Puzzled by what had woken him- perhaps it was a bad dream- Merlin turned around to back upstairs. And that was when he noticed it.
Addie’s cot was empty. The sheets were pulled up neatly, and the pillow fluffed. Resting on the cot was a washed set of his clothes, complete with a laundered neckerchief. Next to the cot, Merlin could see his boots cleaned and standing neatly. Tucked underneath one of them was a slip of parchment. Merlin walked over to the cot and groaned, because he knew that Addie was responsible for this. Sure enough, the note was from her.
“Good morning, Merlin,” he read aloud in a whisper. “I cleaned your clothes and boots for today and have gone to work around the castle. I’ve begun by preparing the breakfast for your master, and after I see to him I’ll return with breakfast for yourself. With all the respect and duty I possess, Addie.”
“My God, Addie,” Merlin groaned. “I didn’t want you to do this!”
Gaius snored and rolled over in his sleep, and Merlin bit his lip to keep from saying anything else. Grabbing the clothes and boots, Merlin slipped back into his room to get dressed. Then he crept out of his chambers and headed straight to the kitchen, where he hoped to find Addie. He wanted to send her back to bed since he didn’t need her help today. In fact, he would never need her help. Merlin had been hoping to get Addie to spend the day with Gaius, who was sure to loosen her up. Of all people, Gaius was the best with timid children who’d seen terrible things. He would be the first person to get Addie to stop thinking like slave and instead like a normal person.
But when Merlin got to the kitchen, he learned that Addie wasn’t there. He asked the cook if someone had already fetched Arthur’s breakfast, and the cook informed that a girl with blond hair had stopped by an hour earlier.
“Thank you very much,” Merlin said before leaving. He then went straight to Arthur’s chambers. When he knocked on the door, it was immediately opened by Addie. She dropped into a curtsy despite Merlin’s protests. Behind Addie, Arthur was sitting at his table eating. He looked over at Merlin and gestured for him to enter his room.
“Thank goodness you’re here,” he said to his manservant. Merlin raised his eyebrows. “As much as I love Addie’s skills at servitude, she’s driving me nuts. I’m too used to your lateness, cold food, and backhanded comments.”
Beside Merlin, Addie blushed. “I’m sorry, Sir. If you wish me to make backhand comments, I will do so,” she said.
Merlin lifted a hand to scratch the back of his head. “Addie, you don’t have to do this. In fact, don’t do it. I’m Arthur’s servant, not you, and you’re… not a servant. I wanted you to stay with Gaius today and just take the day off. You deserve it after all you’ve been through,” Merlin said to his charge.
Addie’s eyes widened. “I apologize, Merlin, for going against your wishes. But since you were not waking, I had to bring Arthur his food and clean his room for you. I see that you found the clothes and boots that I washed for you?”
Merlin nodded. “About that. I’m capable of taking care of my clothes, Addie, and I don’t want to delegate those chores to you. I just want you to live without serving anyone else. You are not a slave anymore. Why don’t you go back to my chambers?”
Arthur watched the scene with amusement, but when Addie didn’t make any signs of movement he stepped in. “Addie, thank you very much for the service you’ve done me this morning. But I’ve grown used to Merlin, and I agree in that you should take the day off. If you won’t go to Gaius of your own accord, I will order you to.”
That did the trick. Addie curtsied to both men and left the room in a hurry, quickly disappearing as she rounded the turn in the hallway. Merlin looked back at Arthur and sighed, throwing himself into Arthur’s second chair. The blond prince raised his eyebrows. “A handful, is she?” he asked.
Merlin leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes. “You have no idea,” he replied. He honestly didn’t know what to do about Addie. No matter how many times he told her that she wasn’t a slave anymore, she acted like one. And she was still looking at the ground, too. It was like she was stuck in this mindset that he couldn’t break through, even though he wanted to more than anything.
“What are you going to do about her?” Arthur asked.
Merlin shrugged. “I have no idea. She won’t listen to me unless I’m telling her to do something. It’s like talking to a wall.”
“Do you think her spending time with Gaius will help?”
“I hope so,” Merlin replied. “Or maybe if she spends time with his books. She looked at them pretty hungrily when she first saw them.”
Arthur nodded thoughtfully. “If she likes reading, maybe you could ask Geoffrey of Monmouth if he’d like to have her assistance in keeping the records,” he suggested.
Merlin shrugged again. “I could, but I don’t want to just give her a job. She deserves a chance to live a little.”
“You could send her to spend a day with Gwen and Morgana. I remember how timid Gwen was when she first started working here. She wasn’t quite as bad as Addie, but it was close. But Morgana managed to get her to open up.”
“That’s a valuable idea,” he said. “I’ll try that after Addie spends some time with Gaius.”
The two men drifted into silence, but after a moment the prince broke it by saying, “I wonder what happened to her.”
Merlin opened his eyes and sat up. “I don’t know, but it must have been something bad for her to wind up in Ulric’s hands. I don’t trust that man as far as I’d throw him.”
Arthur’s eyes lit up. “Maybe we should pay him a visit, ask about Addie. We could also give him a bit of trouble,” he said mischievously.
“Let’s do it,” Merlin agreed.