gwyllion: Merlin-Forever (Merlin-Forever)
[personal profile] gwyllion
Title: Winter White
Author: gwylliondream
Pairing: Arthur/Merlin
Rating: PG
Words: 2,128
Warnings: None
Summary: Winter descends on Camelot and Merlin divulges one more secret to Arthur.
A/N: I wrote Winter White as a pinch hit for [community profile] merlin_holidays 2016. Thanks to [profile] a_big_apple for the wonderful whimsical prompts. I wish I had all year to write a fic that used any one of them. Thanks so much to my beta and cheer-reader [profile] gilli_ann and to the wonderful mods of this fun fest!
Disclaimer: I did not create these characters. No disrespect intended. No profit desired, only muses.
Comments: Comments are welcome anytime, thanks so much for reading.



Fat flakes of snow fell outside Arthur’s window, blanketing Camelot in a cloak of winter white. With eyes squinting against the bitter wind, Arthur watched Merlin make his way across the courtyard. A trench of trodden snow marked his path from Gaius’ workshop, around the well, and to the steps that led to the corridor beneath Arthur’s chambers. Before long, his tracks would fill with more snow if this weather continued. It seemed that no other residents of the castle are foolish enough to venture out into the storm. Merlin’s footprints, alone, disturbed the newly fallen snow. A gust of wind swirled the wintry air, making Merlin invisible beneath the whirling flakes.

Arthur closed his shutters against the chill. He decided that, despite the weather, tonight’s banquet for Queen Annis and her entourage must take place as scheduled. She had proven herself a strong ally to Camelot. The latest winter storm might have prevented her return from Nemeth directly back to Caerleon, but Arthur offered her hospitality and everything his kingdom could provide for a weary traveller, albeit a queenly one. Besides, it would be cruel to expect the aging queen to risk her life as her party plunged through the drifting snow and freezing temperatures on their return to Caerleon.

With any luck, Arthur hoped to convince Merlin to perform some of his juggling for her. That seemed to win Annis’ favour the last time she met the pair. Such antics would keep Arthur in Annis’ good graces by bringing a little light into this dark season.

Arthur tossed a few split logs onto the fire before Merlin reached his chambers.

“There’s still time to call off the feast tonight,” Merlin said as he burst into the room.

“And why would I do that?” Arthur asked, turning to face Merlin.

“In case you haven’t noticed, it’s been snowing for two days,” Merlin said, flapping his hands to shake the snow off his sleeves. The snow he tracked in on his boots melted into a pool around his feet, darkening the stone floor. “If it gets any deeper, people won’t be able to walk across the courtyard.”

Arthur regarded Merlin, his hair dusted with white flakes, his cheeks red from the cold. They didn’t get enough chances like this. Alone in Arthur’s chambers, no courtiers or petitioners to spoil their intimacy, Arthur stepped forward.

“It’s not like you to care so much about matters of state,” Arthur said. He flicked the snow from Merlin’s hair with gentle fingers.

“I care about having to treat your knights for frostbite when they venture out of their quarters to attend the feast,” Merlin said. “They could choose not to attend, but you know Gwaine when word of feasting and free ale reaches his ears.”

Arthur inhaled the scent of balsam as he brushed the snow from Merlin’s ratty brown jacket. The pleasant smell of the greenery Merlin used to decorate the castle halls for Yule clung to his clothing. The snowflakes turned Arthur’s fingers chilly and damp. He reminded himself that he really must have the royal tailor design a warmer wardrobe for Merlin. Merlin had been in Camelot for five years now. He should have clothing befitting a member of the royal household and a trusted advisor, although Arthur shouldn’t admit his fondness for Merlin to the kings and queens who relied on his wisdom to keep the balance of power throughout Albion.

“My knights are more than capable of handling a bit of cold weather. Besides, we need to make Gaius feel useful. Surely he can handle the treatment of cold injuries. Speaking of which…” Arthur said, taking Merlin’s hands in his own, “you’re freezing.”

Arthur pressed Merlin’s hands to his chest and gently rubbed warmth into his cold fingers.

Merlin laughed, his eyes flashing in the fire from the hearth. “I’m not that cold.”

It was as much a lie as Arthur had ever heard from Merlin’s lips. Mischievous, magical, adored, Merlin’s grin only grew wider. Satisfied that Merlin’s fingers were warm, Arthur tilted Merlin’s head up with a finger under his chin so their lips could meet.

“Your lips are cold too,” Arthur said, drawing back.

“If you knew how to make a proper fire, your chambers would be warmer,” Merlin said. He turned toward the hearth and his eyes flashed with gold. The logs sparked and crackled, bursting into a wave of warmth that moved like a wave through the room.

Arthur knew that as long as he lived, he’d never get used to the idea of Merlin having magic. With the secret revealed, Arthur hoped Merlin would keep his promise to be truthful as they faced a future together. But he wasn’t holding his breath.

“You’ll stay in my chambers tonight?” Arthur said. It wasn’t really a question. He didn’t want Merlin to freeze to death making his way from the feast to Gaius’ workshop where he slept alone in a tiny bed night after night.

“I can’t,” Merlin said, his eyes darting about, looking everywhere but at Arthur.

“Nervous about something?” Arthur asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Yes, that’s it.” Merlin nodded, but Arthur sensed his discomfort when he made his excuse. “Annis and her party will see my footprints in the snow.”

“So what?” Arthur shrugged.

“They’ll know it if I spend the night in your chambers,” Merlin said, backing away.

“It never bothered you before,” Arthur pointed out.

“Maybe I’m modest about such things?” Merlin said.

Arthur couldn’t contain his laughter. “Don’t be ridiculous, Merlin.” He placed a hand on Merlin’s shoulder. “You’ll sleep here tonight. I’ll meet you here after the feast—and bring your nightshirt. I wouldn’t want to offend your modesty by suggesting that we sleep in the nude.”

~

The feast was held in the great hall, although the storm kept most of the dignitaries away. Many couldn’t venture to Camelot in the storm. Barely half the tables were filled with guests, mostly knights and Annis’ men. There proved to be no shortage of mead. The cook had prepared plenty of food, but much of it went uneaten. Arthur instructed the cook to make use of the snow to refrigerate the leftovers, perfect for light meals throughout the snowy days that might follow.

Annis seemed particularly pleased to have been offered a warm respite from the rigours of travel. She nodded and tapped her foot while Gwaine led the feasters in a rousing rendition of “Mighty Annis, Long May She Reign.” Through the feast, the wind rattled the windows of the hall as more snow piled up outside.

Arthur caught Merlin’s eye and summoned him to his side. As promised, Merlin performed more feats of juggling, sometimes tossing as many as five biscuits into the air and circling them from hand to hand without dropping one of them. Annis was delighted.

“Don’t forget,” Arthur said, whispering into Merlin’s ear when he leaned close. “I wish for you to spend the evening in my chambers tonight.”

“If you insist, Sire,” Merlin said, with a small bow. “But be careful what you wish for.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Arthur asked.

Merlin simply smiled. “You just might get it. Oh, look! Gwaine is opening yet another barrel of mead.”

~

Arthur left the feast as soon as it was polite. He made sure Gwen would look after Annis and see her safely to her quarters when she was ready to retire. He had Percival and Elyan guide Gaius to his workshop. He wouldn’t be responsible for the old physician losing his way in a white-out.

In his chambers, Arthur tossed his cloak onto the chair and began to strip off the ceremonial armour that he had worn to the feast. Only a few minutes had passed since he last caught a glimpse of Merlin leaving the great hall. The unmistakable tromping of his boots in the stairway told him that Merlin had decided to accept his offer to spend the night in his chambers, despite the fear of lurking foreign dignitaries and their overactive imaginations.

Merlin opened the door and tentatively poked his head into Arthur’s chambers.

“Merlin,” Arthur said, a smile spreading across his face. “I’m so glad you decided to join me.”

Merlin stepped into the room, his brow furrowed.

“The weather has only gotten worse, and here we have wine and the warmth of the fire…” Arthur said, gesturing to the table with a pitcher of wine and a pair of goblets. A fire had already been laid in the hearth. “… and what’s in the bag?” Arthur asked, noticing the satchel draped over Merlin’s shoulder.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” Merlin said, reaching for the bulky sack and holding it out of Arthur’s reach. “I stopped in the kitchen and stole some hot chestnuts that the cook had roasted for Annis’ feast. They’re still warm.”

Arthur eyed the sack suspiciously. Surely, there was more inside than hot chestnuts. Remembering that Merlin had accepted his offer to spend the night in his chambers, he came to one conclusion. “You’ve brought your nightshirt,” he said, nodding in delight.

“No, just these,” Merlin said, dropping a handful of warm chestnuts into Arthur’s open palm.

No matter what Merlin did to take Arthur’s attention away from the sack, it was no use. Intrigued, Arthur pressed further.

“Merlin,” Arthur said, tossing the chestnuts into a bowl on the table. “I could swear your sack just moved.”

“Oh, you’re a witty one, Sire,” Merlin smiled. He set the sack on the floor and worked to untie the laces that sealed it shut.

Arthur folded his arms across his chest and waited for Merlin to reveal the contents of the sack. He could only imagine what wonders Merlin had managed to cram inside it. Using magic did have its advantages—Arthur had learned as much in the year that passed after Merlin revealed to Arthur that he had been a sorcerer all along. And not only a magic user—but a force to be reckoned with when it came to protecting Arthur and his knights. He had singlehandedly prevented Arthur’s death more times than Arthur could count. For that, Arthur was eternally grateful, and a little bit in love.

“I have something to show you,” Merlin said. “Since we’re in the habit of being honest with each other.”

Merlin undid the laces on the sack. Arthur stared as tiny animal head poked its way through the opening.

“What on earth…?”

The creature was part cat, with white pointed ears, but it had a snout like an alligator. Was it a reptile of some sort? Arthur couldn’t decide. Until the baby animal squealed and leaped from the bag, Arthur hadn’t noticed its tiny white wings.

“Arthur, this is Aithusa,” Merlin said with confidence. “I can’t leave him alone outside. He’ll freeze in the cold. And if I’m not in the workshop at dark, he’ll come looking for me.”

Arthur’s eyes flew open wide as Merlin stretched out one arm.

“I don’t think your guests would be very impressed when they saw a baby dragon flying around the castle,” Merlin said.

The little dragon took flight and swooped through the air to land on Merlin’s outstretched hand.

Arthur shook his head in disbelief. “Didn’t we have enough trouble with that overgrown basement lizard who nearly fried my army of knights before he flew away?” he asked.

“But Aithusa is just a baby,” Merlin said, his eyes lit up with glee. “He wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

Aithusa jumped from Merlin’s hand and gracefully flew around the room. His tiny wings flapped happily and sent him circling high above the canopy of Arthur’s bed. Soon, he descended to land on Arthur’s shoulder.

Arthur tried to remain still so he didn’t harm the creature. It weighed barely more than a starling.

“He won’t set the castle on fire, will he?” Arthur asked quietly.

Aithusa nuzzled Arthur’s hair with his snout.

Arthur shuddered at the tickle of the warm breath that cascaded from Aithusa’s nostrils.

“No, he’s very well behaved,” Merlin said. “I trained him myself.”

“That’s what worries me the most,” Arthur laughed.

“Can he spend the night here?” Merlin asked. “I’ve brought the nest of bedding he’s been sleeping in, and he doesn’t eat much. He's partial to warm chestnuts.”

“He’s a cute little fellow, isn’t he?” Arthur cooed at the tiny dragon on his shoulder.

“Does that mean he can stay?” Merlin asked. He stepped toward Arthur and wrapped his arms around him, careful not to disturb Aithusa.

“I suppose so,” Arthur said. He knew all too well that he couldn’t resist Merlin when he was being honest with him. It was going to be a long and interesting night—canoodling with his manservant while a tiny dragon slept nearby.

The end
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