It took far too little time for Sir Michael, an elderly knight from the far reaches of the kingdom, to get drunk and handsy, which would have been embarrassing enough without him insisting on calling Merlin “Deira” as he did it.
As Prince Arthur’s manservant, Merlin was used to feasts by now – Uther seemed physically unable of letting even the most minor dignitary come to Camelot without celebrating it somehow – but he had never seen anything quite like this. They were celebrating the first day of Advent, and the hall was festooned with holly and ivy, and there were candles everywhere; over in the corner, minstrels were playing, and the kitchens had really outdone themselves, creating dish after delicious dish which even Morgana, normally a picky if polite eater, was enjoying with relish.
Merlin hadn’t wanted to go to this feast, and Arthur taking great pleasure in informing him that it was traditional for the servants to dress up had only lessened his already-minimal enthusiasm for it. Remembering The Hat all too well, Merlin had checked thoroughly beforehand, asking every servant he knew – and some he didn’t – whether it was obligatory, even asking a couple of them if he could see their costumes. It was, apparently, totally inescapable.
In some kind of desperate denial about the whole thing, Merlin still had no costume the night before the feast. Which was how he ended up in an discarded dress of Morgana’s – one of her plainer ones, which she had given to Gwen, but which, in Gwen’s own words, “doesn’t suit or fit me. But it will look good on you. Not that I think you look good in dresses, or anything! Except, you will. But, um…”
Thankfully, Merlin knew for a fact that he wasn’t going to be the only boy dressed up as a girl – George, one of the older pages, was too, and Matthew, one of the servers, was also going to battling skirts as well as plates of food – but he was still dreading the mocking he was going to face from Arthur. That said, it was better than the apparent retribution for those who turned up costumeless, which, according to palace rumour, was spending the duration of the feast in nothing at all. Merlin knew for a fact that Arthur would take huge delight in embarrassing him like that, and he didn’t intend to give him the satisfaction.
He’d managed to find a hair-growing spell, and he would cut the lot off at the end of the night. In the meantime, he convinced Gwen it was a wig, and got her to put it up for him – he wasn’t going to trail hair in Arthur’s food, after all – but Gwen, unfortunately, got far too into the swing of things, put his made him shave thoroughly and then put what she called ‘artful touches’ to his eyes. In Merlin’s considered opinion, he looked like a harlot, but saying it out loud was just asking for a slap, and Merlin had stopped tripping over his tongue so much recently.
Now, though, he had to worry more about tripping over his skirts. What on earth did girls need so many bits of material for? And – he gasped – what the hell was Gwen doing back there?!
“What the hell are you doing back there?” he wheezed, and Gwen smiled, sweetly.
“Lacing you into your stays.” She told him.
“I don’t need-”
“I thought you wanted to do this properly?” she asked, sounding hurt, and he sighed, as much as he could sigh while his lungs were being crushed.
“I never said that. I said I needed a costume-”
“Well, my dad always says if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly.” Gwen said, as though that decided it, and pulled once more for luck.
The breath hissed out of Merlin’s lungs and he whispered, “I’m not sure it’s worth doing anymore!”
She shrugged. “If you want to risk the forfeit…”
When she put it like that, she was, of course, totally right.
Which was how Merlin was here, on the first night of the run-up to Christmas, being groped by a drunk, elderly knight who thought he was a slut called Deira. Yes, life couldn’t get any better than this.
The only thing which had made the night at all worthwhile was the look on Arthur’s face when Merlin had walked into the room with Gwen, having learnt to take smaller steps to compensate for the gown and almost getting used to the totally foreign feeling of fabric swirling around bare legs and ankles. Gwen had eventually compromised, and loosened the stays a little, on the proviso that Merlin pad the chest of the gown with fabric so it would ‘hang right’.
The two of them made an interesting pair, Gwen dressed as a squire in some ill-fitting chain mail and a tabard, Merlin in his relative-finery, but however ridiculous Merlin felt in his dress, Arthur’s look of shock was going to make up for a lot of things in the weeks to come.
He dutifully made his way over to the prince and risked a small curtsey. “Your Highness.” He couldn’t quite stop himself from grinning at Arthur’s slightly open-mouthed look, and Uther’s interested,
“Arthur, do you know this lady?” Had him fighting down a very unmanly giggle. Really, he’d done enough to compromise his masculinity for one night.
Arthur swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing. “This is – my manservant, Father. In costume for the night.”
To Merlin’s vague horror, the interest in Uther’s face didn’t disappear at that. “What a fascinating illusion.” He said, and gave Merlin a smile which had the hairs standing up on the back of his neck in the worst way possible. “A wonderful costume, my – good man.”
Arthur had apparently noticed Uther’s interest, and his face clouded. “Merlin, I shan’t be needing you this evening, we have enough servers. But, um, Sir Michael and Lord and Lady Chichely have that inept idiot who spilt sauce all over his charges last time. I’m sure even you can do better that.”
Sir Michael and Lord and Lady Chichely were strategically placed at the other end of the great hall, but Uther’s murmured, “I’m sure he has plenty of – talents…” Which sent Merlin scurrying over to the other side of the room and the three elderly nobles he had been sent to serve.
Everything went smoothly – despite the fact that the short-sighted Lady Chichely had asked who ‘this charming young girl’ was – until the actual feast itself was over, and many of the older generation – the Chichelys included. Sir Michael, however, was one of the elder generation who had managed to miss the passing of the years and believed that he was still one of the younger lot. Or, at least, clung firmly to the belief that he could be, given by the way he was currently whispering,
“-may be old, but there’s an awful lot of ‘go’ in me yet, eh, Deira?” coupled with a firm pinch to Merlin’s already abused behind. “What say we have a bit of fun of our o-”
“If you’d excuse me, Sir Michael,” Merlin took full advantage of Michael’s distraction, and pulled himself away from the elderly knight, self-consciously smoothing his skirt down, and looking anywhere but Arthur, “But I need to borrow this servant.”
Michael gave him an obscenely graphic wink. “Of course, your Highness.”
Arthur managed to hold back his grimace until they were out in the corridor, and Merlin was too busy trying to get his head round what had just happened to notice that the Prince was guiding them towards his chambers. “But – what?” He asked, finally.
“Sir Michael’s idea of ‘fun’ isn’t one I think you would enjoy.” Arthur said, stiffly, opening the door to his chambers.
“I’m fairly certain it’s not, but…” Merlin trailed off, before rallying. “It’s your fault! You’re the one who told me I had to come in costume-”
“That’s a palace tradition.” Arthur said, placidly, regarding him with bland disinterest.
Merlin ignored him, something he’d got better at over the past few weeks. “Not to mention, you’re the one who told me to wait on him!”
“If I’d known that your notion of waiting on someone involved letting them take you to their bed afterwards, I’d have taken advantage of that long ago.” Arthur said, with a lascivious grin.
“And – wait, what?!” Merlin took a step backwards from the advancing Prince, and promptly tripped on his skirts. “Shii-”
A warm arm caught him round the waist and righted him, which had the handy side-effect of bringing him far too close to Arthur. “Really, Merlin, you should be much more observant.” He whispered, against the other boy’s ear. Merlin shivered. “I’ve been dropping hints for months now.”
“I didn’t notice.”
“That much is obvious.” Arthur’s voice was dry, as was the chaste kiss he pressed against Merlin’s lips. It was Merlin who deepened it, his tongue tracing Arthur’s lip in blatant invitation, one which Arthur was only too happy to respond to.
The kiss lasted until both of them were seeing stars, and it was only then that Arthur stood back. “I’m tempted to fuck you in the dress,” he mused, and Merlin whimpered – Arthur’s eyes glinted, “But however delectable you look in it, I have a feeling you’ll look even better taking it off.”
When Merlin staggered out of Arthur’s chambers the next morning, his dress sloppily done up, his still-long curls tangled down his back, he reflected that, really, he could get used to these feast things. He could even get used to dresses. But he hoped he’d be spending more time with Arthur out of his clothes – if only because it would let him avoid Uther…