Actions

Work Header

Hanging on by a Thread

Work Text:

The day begins like any other.

In the morning, Merlin goes down to the kitchens to fetch Arthur’s breakfast, delighted to find grapes among the usual fare (because Merlin loves them and Arthur, by some lucky coincidence, has lately decided he hates grapes).  The kitchen staff giggle when he points them out.  On his way back to Arthur’s rooms, the chambermaids enquire after the prince with knowing smiles.  

From there, he carries out his duties with time-honed expertise.  He wakes Arthur (who hurls a pillow at him for being both too early and too late), makes sure he’s fed and watered (finishing off the scraps he steals when Arthur isn’t looking), and gets the prince ready with what Arthur says is a great deal of fuss (it’s not).  

After breakfast, he watches Arthur at the training grounds and notes the way his muscles bunch with effort, the way his sweat-slick skin glistens in the morning sun, the spark in his eye that he always gets before a good fight...  And every time Arthur glances over at him, Merlin makes a show of looking flatly unimpressed.  Arthur grumbles.  The knights snicker behind their shields.  

All business as usual.

The only minor deviation comes when Merlin has to venture beyond the city walls on a mushroom-gathering mission for Gaius.  Normally he wouldn’t like to leave Arthur's side for more than an hour at a time, but it’s such a lovely day after a whole week of rain.  And Merlin really loves the smell of the woods fresh after a spring shower.  If he dawdles a bit and spends more time enjoying his unplanned morning walk through the green than he does poking around for fungi, Gaius doesn't have to know. 

As long as he’s back in time to serve the Prince’s mid-morning repast, everything should be just fine.  Even Arthur can’t possibly get into any trouble between now and lunch.

He’s cooling his feet in the stream when he feels it--a pulse of magic surging in like a wave.  It washes over him and he gasps at the unexpected gentleness of it.  The magic is pleasantly warm.  Like sunlight.  Like summer.  It tingles as it sinks into his body.  His chest overflows with that warm feeling and just when he thinks he’s about to burn up from the inside, a burst of golden light fills his vision, startling him so badly that he falls ass-first into the stream.

Swearing and half-blind from after-image spots and the water in his eyes, he clambers out onto the grass in a panic.  But when he whirls around to face the threat, there’s nobody there.

He’s really very grateful for that because there is currently a very bright, very magical rope of golden light protruding from his chest, right over where his heart should be. 

It must be miles long, extending far into the forest, through the dense trees and out of sight.  It pulls taut.  It slackens.  It floats weightlessly.  It jostles every now and then, as if whatever’s on the other end is moving.  He’s slightly terrified of finding out who or what that might be.

Because this thing seems to be leading back to Camelot.

Merlin stares at it in horror.  Did he do this?  He tries to remember if he’s meddled with any cursed objects or strange spells lately.  And...yes, he has--but nothing that could cause this .

Cautiously, he tries to tug the rope, but his fingers pass straight through it, that tingling warmth running up his arm.  He tries nudging it with his magic, but it just shines even more brightly in a way that almost seems smug.

“Well, this is just fantastic,” he tells the forest dryly.  The forest does not respond.  Neither does the rope, which sways innocently in the breeze.  With a sigh, Merlin tosses his wet socks, pulls on his boots, and follows it.  Most likely to his doom.

His grim predictions seem to be coming true, because after a while it's obvious that the cord is definitely leading him straight back to the citadel.  Which means someone in Camelot must have seen it by now.  Which means the hangman will soon be getting a new pair of soggy boots.  All because of somebody else’s stupid spell.  

But what’s even the point of this spell?  It’s not like the magic is hurting him or limiting his movements.  He supposes he does feel a pull, but it’s more of a gentle tug than a compulsion.

And why Merlin?  Could someone have discovered his secret?  Is all of this just a flashy attempt to expose him?

Merlin kicks a heap of soggy leaves in outrage.  He can’t believe this.  He’s finally going to be executed for being a sorcerer and it isn’t even his fault this time!

Still.  He has to admit that it’s an impressive bit of magic.  For the spell’s effects to reach him all the way out here--whoever cast it must be very powerful.

...Which means there’s a powerful sorcerer (that isn't Merlin) hanging around Arthur. 

Merlin’s walk becomes a sprint.  Though he tries to go quickly, the trip back to the citadel takes him nearly an hour because he keeps stopping to listen for the sound of hooves, sure that any second now the Knights of Camelot are going to emerge from the trees, head-chopping axes swinging.  Somehow he manages to avoid decapitation long enough to reach the edge of the forest.  But when Camelot finally comes into view, he can't believe what he's seeing.

His is not the only magical cord leading into the city.  There are dozens of others of varying colors and vibrance passing into the city walls and extending far into the distant wood and beyond, just like Merlin’s.  But where Merlin’s is thick like a rope and bright to the point of blinding, all the others are thinner, duller, and more thread-like.  Some shine brighter than others but none are anywhere near as brilliant as Merlin’s.

Maybe...maybe the spell is meant to weed out sorcerers and since Merlin’s magic is stronger than anyone else he’s met, it stands to reason that he’s well and truly fucked.

He’s so busy cursing this turn of events that he doesn’t even notice the very hoofbeats he’s been listening for until Sir Kay trots up path on horseback.  Merlin's life flashes before his eyes.  But Kay’s stopped to gape at the colorful threads in the distance, giving Merlin the opportunity he needs to escape.  He would have made it if he hadn't tripped over a root and fallen headlong into a bush.  He’s partially blinded by the ridiculous gold light flaring out of his chest, so it’s not really his fault, he tells himself.

“Merlin?” calls Sir Kay, sounding surprised.  He brings his horse closer to get a better view of Merlin's plight.  “Oh dear. You too?”

When Merlin escapes the bush with the meagre remains of his dignity, he sees what he’d missed in his panic: a glowing green thread streaming out of Sir Kay’s chest plate.  It casts splashes of emerald over his silver armor and drifts along a gentle current.  Like Merlin’s, it goes all the way to the city walls, where it must pass through to the other side.

So Sir Kay has one, too, Merlin registers blankly.  Sir Kay, who is most definitely not in any way a sorcerer.

The knight is peering curiously at Merlin’s more rope-like thread, so obviously different from the others.  Hastily, Merlin slaps on his most guileless smile, the one Arthur says makes him look ‘even stupider than usual.’

“Oh!  Hello, Sir Kay, back so soon?  Yeah, this string business--weird, isn’t it?”

Sir Kay snorts, “That’s an understatement if I ever heard one.  I was just on the road when the vile conjuration appeared in a flash of light.  Scared the devil out of me, I’ll tell you.”

“Oh, yeah?  Wow, me too,” Merlin prattles, “Do you think it’s dangerous?”

Sir Kay blinks.  “Well--yes.  It’s sorcery, so it must be.  Although...it’s strange,” he adds contemplatively, passing his fingers through the fluttering thread.  His face softens.  “It doesn’t feel evil--though of course I know it is--it would be treason to think otherwise!  And yet.  I know it's ridiculous, but I swear it feels almost kind.  And, for some reason, it makes me think of...” He glances over at the citadel and blushes. Clearing his throat, he says, “Well. In any case, there is sorcery afoot and you must be careful, Merlin. Shall I escort you back?”

“No thanks. I, erm, have to finish collecting mushrooms for Gaius.”  Merlin looks down at the mushroom basket that’s not there because he’s left it by the stream.

Sir Kay frowns, “The Prince would not be pleased with me if anything were to happen to you.”

“I’ll be fine,” Merlin dismisses. “If I recall, Sir Kay, you’ve been away nearly a whole season. You must have someone waiting for you whom you’re anxious to see.”

Kay’s gaze drifts again to the city walls. He doesn’t seem to notice how his hand comes up to cover the spot of green over his chest plate. “Well, I suppose…”

It doesn’t take much further cajoling to convince the knight to go on ahead. With a distracted goodbye, Kay rides hard for the gates like he can’t wait to see what’s on the other side.  Merlin slumps when he’s out of sight.  Well, that puts paid to the idea that the spell is meant for sorcerers.  But then, what could it be?  And what has straight-laced Kay so flustered?

He closes his eyes and tries to focus his magic on the tingly warmth blossoming in his chest.  Now that he’s not mad with worry over both Arthur’s safety and his own looming execution, he can actually concentrate and it’s so obvious that he can’t believe he didn't recognize it right away.  He knows this feeling.  He knows it like he knows his own name.

Comfort.  Terror.  Joy.  Pain.  The feeling that you’re teetering on the edge of a high cliff.  The moment before you either fall or fly.  It feels just like...

Love.  It’s love.

For a second, the string brightens, pleased.

A love spell?  But Merlin doesn’t feel any different, so maybe it's something more benign.  The more he pokes at it with his magic, the more sure he is that it doesn’t mean any harm.  Even so, there’s still the matter of a rogue sorcerer running around Camelot and he'll feel better once he has Arthur in sight.

Entering the lower town, he tries to be discreet--not easy with an obnoxiously bright light coming out of his chest.  While he’s now fairly certain he won’t be arrested on sight for being a sorcerer, he doesn’t want to draw too much attention to his abnormal rope-string. The few times people do notice him, they do a double take.  His ears burn but he tries to wave cheerfully at familiar faces regardless of their gobsmacked expressions. 

For the most part, though, nobody really pays him any mind.  They’re all too preoccupied with their own strings crisscrossing all over town, passing through walls and fluttering with the movements of whoever’s on the other end.  Merlin tries to avoid touching them, but it’s like walking through a spider web.  Each time a string passes through him, he feels flashes of other people's emotions.  Love.  Longing.  Lust.  It's disturbingly invasive.  He wonders what others feel when they pass through his golden monstrosity.  

Outside of The Rising Sun, some women have huddled around the barmaid and notorious gossip, Wilfreda.  If there's anyone in town who knows what’s going on, it’ll be her.  Merlin shuffles closer as unobtrusively as he can.  Wilfreda is regaling her audience with the glee of someone with a truly juicy story.  

“...and then there she was!  Wearin’ silks finer than anything I ever seen!  Finer even than them beautiful dresses the Lady Morgana used to wear--before she disappeared, bless her soul..."

Like a few others in town that Merlin’s noticed on the way, Wilfreda doesn’t have a thread of her own.  But she doesn’t seem too bothered by it.  

“Ooh, you shoulda seen it, Mary! Fit for a princess, it was. White like snow--and how it sparkled-!”

Mary, a woman with a bright seafoam string protruding from her ample bosom, clicks her tongue.  “Enough about the bloody dress, Freddie, tell us about the spell!”

Lips pursed, Wilfreda snaps, “I was getting to that.” She grins again, spreading her hands dramatically, “So she walks up to the King an’ them, wearin’ that sparkly dress, right? And she says, she says, ‘Uther Pendragon!  You have poisoned these blessed lands with your hatred--reign of terror, etcetera, etcetera.’   Y’know, the usual.  But then she smiled!   Never seen a sorcerer smile at the King like that before. Absolutely barking, she was, if you ask me.

“So, right, she smiles and says, ‘Hate begets hate, fear begets fear, and so I, Cáer Ibormeith, am sent to deliver a gift of love from my lord to the Once-and-Future King.  Only the gods may see the bonds of fate which govern men’s hearts.  But for a short time, our generous blessing will reveal these sacred bonds to the good people of Camelot.  This is our gift to you.’

“Now at this point, she’s surrounded by guards and the King’s yellin’ bloody murder, but she don’t pay them no mind at all.  Just starts to sort of glow and says, ‘Follow your hearts, Camelot. May they lead you to your truest love.’ And then there was that big flash of light and the sorceress turns into a bloody bird and flies away!  On my honor, it’s true!”  She points at the strings weaving all around them.  “And that’s when these things appear and we all run ‘round in a panic ‘till we realize they ain’t doing any harm.”

“But how can you be so sure?” asks a young maid who fretfully eyes her own pink string like if it’s going to bite her. “It’s--it’s magic!”

Another woman chimes in, “I was there, too, and none of it looked very evil to me .  Oh, the dress was rather pretty, wasn’t it, Freddie?”

“Pretty as a picture!  Besides that, can’t you feel it?  I can, and I don’t even have one!”  The barmaid twiddles her fingers through a passing thread and smiles.  “It’s just lovely, it is."

“That’s treason!” gasps the girl, looking around fearfully.

Wilfreda wags a finger in her face, “It’s not just me!  You know what they’re sayin’ in town?  They’re sayin’ that at the other end of your string, you’ll find your soulmate .   It’s causing scandals left and right!  The tanner’s got the same string as the miller’s wife.  The daughter of the pig farmer's tied to the daughter of the other pig farmer, and that feud’s gone back generations.  And Finna from the lower town’s got three strings!  ‘Course plenty of married couples matched with each other, too,” she adds with a note of disappointment.

The maid fusses, “If it’s causing so much trouble, maybe the King’s right!  It is a curse!”

Wilfreda laughs, “The King’s just sore 'cause he didn’t get one. Ooh, you shoulda seen his face when he saw the Prince!”

Merlin’s been trying to stay unnoticed, but the mention of Arthur has him shouldering through to the center of the throng to demand, “What happened to the Prince? Is he alright?”

The barmaid barely spares him a glance.  She’s never liked Merlin much, probably because of that one time he’d thrown up all over her shoes. “He’s fine, just fine. But, oh!” she sighs dreamily, “He had the most spectacular thread!  Gave everyone a shock.  Even the King...was…was...”

Her eyes go wide when they fall to Merlin’s chest, stunned speechless for possibly the first time in her life.  Everyone’s staring now.  His thread is so bright that some of the ladies have to shield their eyes.  

Merlin flushes with embarrassment, slowly backing away.  “Erm--well--thanks for the information.  I better be getting back.  To the Prince.  You know.”

He’s gone before anyone else can gawk at him.

As he hurries through the town, he sees that some people have no threads, while some have more than one.  Some have threads that burn bright as a flame, while others are barely-there wisps in the sunshine.  Some threads reach out past the city walls and Merlin wonders how far the spell extends.  He sees people embracing, others arguing, getting flashes of what they’re feeling when he passes through their strings.  Normally he might be tempted to hang around and watch the drama unfold, but Arthur needs him. 

The tug in his heart becomes more insistent. 

As in town, people at the castle stop and stare when he runs past.  But he can hardly blame them.  His rope-thread-thing is getting brighter by the minute, following him around corners and up staircases like a trail of sunshine.  By the time he makes it to Arthur’s chambers, he’s out of breath and Arthur isn’t even there.  He supposes he should’ve realized that, in the midst of a magical crisis, Arthur wouldn’t be hanging around waiting for Merlin to bring him his lunch.

The throne room!  Why didn’t Merlin think of that first?  And if he’s not there, then he’ll check the training grounds, and if he’s not there, the armory, and if he’s not there ...

He’s scrambling down the stairs when he spots Gwen on the lower landing.  With an arm crossed over her middle, the other pressed against her chest, she looks troubled.  Merlin follows her gaze out the window where he sees her softly glowing lavender thread extending far out past the woods, farther than the eye can see.

Merlin winces in sympathy.  This won’t be good for her budding relationship with Arthur.  Unless...

“Gwen!” he pants, taking the stairs two at a time to get to her. “Gwen, has Arthur left the city? I can’t find him.”

Gwen answers absent-mindedly, “Arthur? Oh no, Arthur wouldn’t leave at a time like this.”

Relieved, Merlin perks up, “Great!  Do you know where he is?”

Nodding, Gwen slowly turns away from the window like she can’t bear to take her eyes off of the distant purple line. “He was with the King the last time I saw him.  You should check Uther’s chambers for--Merlin!”  Her jaw drops when she finally turns around. Her eyes dart between his chest and his face, hands fluttering. “Oh my--that's --Merlin-!

“King’s chambers, got it!  Thanks, Gwen!” Merlin hurries back up the way he came.

“Wait!” Gwen stops him, her wide eyes tracking the golden rope to where it trails down the stairs. “Um, sorry, he’s not up there, I guess?  Must be on the ground floor. Um.  The armory, maybe?”

“O...kay?  Thanks!”  Slightly bewildered, Merlin takes off down the stairs--again--and doesn’t stop when Gwen breaks out of her daze and starts calling his name urgently.  He feels bad for ignoring her, but he’ll apologize for his bad manners later.  Right now he’s really got to find Arthur before he runs off and does something stupid, like go after the sorceress without him.  

After another mad dash through the castle in which he blinds half of the serving staff and a dozen nobles with his dumb string, he bursts into the armory with all of his usual grace.  A stack of shields falls to the floor with an almighty clatter when he bumps the rack with his hip, and when he tries to right it he knocks over a wooden training dummy.  The room's empty but for a few knights and their squires.  They don’t even flinch at the disturbance.

The muffled voice of a senior knight calls from the supply closet, “What was that noise?  Is everything alright out there?”

“It’s only Merlin,” huffs Sir Bors. His eyebrows are nearly at his graying hairline and he looks at Merlin’s golden string like it's personally offended him.

‘My eyes are up here!’ Merlin wants to say, then feels silly for thinking it.  It doesn’t help matters that his stupid string has decided to start moving on around its own in a very annoying and distracting manner.  He wishes whatever’s on the other end would keep still.

“Merlin," says Sir Gaheris, a peculiar expression on his weathered face. “If you’re looking for the Prince, he’s gathered the men in the courtyard.  They’ll be commencing the hunt for the sorceress soon, so you’d best hurry or you’ll miss him.”

Bemused because until just now Sir Gaheris has never before spared him so much as a hello, Merlin nevertheless thanks him on his way out.  He takes a shortcut through the servants’ corridors, his string lighting the dim passages like a torch.  Somehow he knows he’s going the right way this time.

The closer he gets to Arthur, the more annoyed he becomes.  What’s he thinking, trying to leave without Merlin?  Yes, he does it all the time, but right now it’s especially annoying.

(Although, logically, he knows Arthur’s not in any immediate danger.  So why is Merlin so anxious to find him?  And why does he feel like he hasn't seen Arthur for ages when they’d just spent all morning together?)

The knights are already preparing their horses for travel when Merlin arrives at the courtyard.  He tries to spot Arthur’s blonde head among the crimson, but his rope-string is so bright now that it’s getting hard to see.  The nearby knights are complaining and shielding their eyes, which is great for Merlin because it makes cutting through the crowd that much easier.  

Something flutters behind his breast when he hears Arthur’s authoritative voice barking orders nearby.  Distantly, the part of his brain that isn’t wholly dedicated to find Arthur, protect Arthur, yell at Arthur is trying to tell him something.  Whoever’s at the end of this gold monstrosity must be among the knights.  

That’s important, isn’t it?  He should be worried about that, probably.  

But then he sees Arthur’s favorite horse and carves a path towards her without another thought.  He yells over the noise of horses and knights, letting a bit of irritation bleed through his cheery taunt, “You aren’t thinking of rushing off without me, are you, sire?”

There’s a moment of complete silence, and then someone is pushing through the mass of red cloaks to get to him.  The knights part easily for Merlin as he plods forward, eyes narrowed in annoyance. 

“You couldn’t have waited five minutes, you royal clot...pole?”  

Gold.

Merlin’s voice dies in his throat. He squeaks, “Oh.”

Arthur meets him in the middle.  His eyes are round as dinner plates. 

“Oh,” he echoes, staring down at the blazing line that connects their hearts.

Oh.

For one glorious moment, it’s a dream.  Everything falls into place and a feeling or rightness washes over him.  The absolute mess that is his heart finally untangling into something recognizable, finally making sense...

But then it occurs to Merlin that, actually, this is very bad.  

Because Merlin is a servant.  

And a man.  

And a sorcerer.

And Arthur looks positively furious.

Merlin is grabbed by the arm and hauled away.  Arthur doesn’t stop until they’re ensconced within the stables with no one but the horses to witness whatever he’s planning to do to Merlin.

The only upside is that the thread is no longer blinding--it twinkles serenely now that they’re together.  This isn’t overly comforting.

You-!” Arthur starts, pointing a shaking finger at Merlin.  

He apparently doesn’t have anything further to add because he suddenly whirls away to pace between the stalls like a wild animal, muttering fiercely under his breath.  The horses snort disapprovingly.

Merlin tries to chuckle, but it’s a poor attempt. “Hey, now you’re making me nervous.  Surely it’s not that bad?”  He cringes at the piteous way it comes out.  He’d been going for light-hearted and missed the mark by quite a bit.  

Arthur’s shoulders go tight.  The look he shoots Merlin is oddly distressed and he resumes pacing with increased vigor.

“If my father hears about this...if anyone’s seen,” he mutters angrily, “What am I saying--of course they saw--we were right in the middle of the bloody courtyard!  But maybe--maybe if it was only the knights--I could swear them to secrecy and then...”

“About that,” Merlin interrupts sheepishly, “I may have been all over town looking for you today and--on a completely unrelated note--people may have been looking at me funny the entire time.  Which makes a lot more sense now.”  He scratches his head. “So...cat’s very much out of the bag on this one.”

Arthur looks positively murderous.

“Sorry?” Merlin says uselessly.

After a tense moment in which Merlin is seriously worried he’s about to be strangled to death by his one true love, Arthur’s shoulders sag, all the fight taken out of him.  

“It’s too late, then.  It doesn’t matter anymore.”

Merlin refuses to let on how much that hurts.  He'd known about Arthur's low opinion of him this morning when he'd pulled the stupid prat out of bed and he’d been fine then.  But the rejection is so much worse now and it's completely unfair. 

He’s opening his mouth to tell his rotten excuse for a soulmate exactly what he thinks of him, when Arthur’s head snaps up and Merlin chokes on whatever he’d planned on saying.

Arthur’s eyes are smoldering. “I’ve got nothing left to hide,” he says nonsensically and stalks toward Merlin with menace, looking a bit mad.  

The rapidly closing distance between them sets Merlin’s heart racing.  “Arthur?  What are you-?”

Surging forward, Arthur crowds him up against a post and Merlin’s resulting squawk of surprise is muffled by an aggressive and very unexpected kiss.

Merlin’s been kissed before, but never like this.  Pressing himself all along Merlin’s front, Arthur lays his claim like a man possessed.  Merlin makes some embarrassingly needy noises and, not to be outdone, meets Arthur’s hunger with his own.  He shudders when Arthur licks past his parted lips and kisses him deeply, intimately.  Then the kiss gentles into something slow and lingering, making Merlin’s heart swell.  

When they pull apart, Merlin finds his fingers have made a mess of Arthur’s hair and Arthur’s hands have ridden up Merlin’s tunic, showing no signs of retreating.  He looks scandalously disheveled.  Going by Arthur's smug smile, Merlin's no better.

Merlin rolls his eyes. “Oh, shut up.”

“I didn’t say anything.”  Arthur’s grin grows more insufferable by the second.  

Gods above.  He’s going to be stuck with this dollophead forever.  The thought makes him smile despite himself and Arthur smiles back, a touch less insufferable than before.  They lean against the post for a while, grinning stupidly at each other, until they hear a call from outside.

“My lord?”  It’s Leon. He sounds uncomfortable.  “I don’t mean to, ah, interrupt, but the knights are awaiting your orders.”

Cheeks red, Arthur clears his throat, “Thank you, Sir Leon.  We’ll be just a moment.”

He’ll never admit it, but Merlin preens a bit at the word ‘we.’

Once they’ve untangled themselves, they’re surprised to find that their thread is much thinner now, fading even as they watch.  Merlin rubs at the spot over his heart where it connects.  The magic feels content.

“I think we’ve figured out how to break the enchantment,” he says, a little wistful.

Arthur looks down at the thread with a small frown. “So it’ll just be...gone?”

“I don’t think so.  I have a feeling it’s always been there and always will be.  We just won’t be able to see it anymore.”  He twirls a finger around the fading thread and smiles.  “I’m kind of going to miss it.”

Arthur hums.  He trails a hand through it and shivers.  His eyes flick up at Merlin, soft with wonder.  “All day, I could feel you.  It drove me mad when I couldn’t find you anywhere.  I can’t say I was overly surprised when you barged into the courtyard to blind my knights.”

“Honestly, I didn’t even think about who’d be on the other end of this thing.  I was too busy looking for you.”

Arthur grins at that.  The thread allows him to wrap it around his hand like a wire and reel Merlin into another toe-curling kiss.  When they eventually part, it’s gone, leaving no trace.

-

Arthur strides out to greet his knights with as much dignity as one can after having clearly snogged one’s manservant in a stable, Merlin falling into his usual place beside him.

“My lord?  Is, ah...” Leon doesn’t quite meet their eyes. “Is everything in rightness?”

“Yes, of course,” says Arthur, puzzled.

“I’m glad to hear it.  It’s just that,” Leon indicates the structure behind them with a blush.  “For a moment while you and Merlin were, er, deliberating, a flash of golden light illuminated the stables--and everything around it.”

“Ah.” Arthur’s brow wrinkles. “Do you think anyone noticed?”

“I’m fairly sure half the city noticed, sire. It was rather spectacular.”

The rest of the knights are crowded behind Leon.  They’d fit right in with Wilfreda and her cohort of busy bodies.  Belatedly, Merlin smooths down his hair and sets his neckerchief the right way around.

Arthur covers his own embarrassment with a stern nod.  “Yes, well, it must have happened when my manservant and I broke the enchantment.”  He waves a hand across his non-glowing chest.  “As you can see."

“You’ve discovered the cure?” Leon straightens. “This is wonderful news, sire. What is it?”

Arthur clears his throat awkwardly.  “It seems that the curse ends after a-" he coughs "-a kiss is shared between the two, erm, parties.”

Leon struggles to maintain a neutral expression. “I shall inform the King at once.”

“Yes.  Do that.” 

With Leon gone, Arthur turns to his knights, "All those still afflicted with the curse are to remain in Camelot until they are cured.” The knights' faces redden as it dawns on them what they have to do.  Arthur takes pleasure in their discomfort, “I expect you all to take care of this matter privately, and do try to be quick about it.”

-

It ends up being only Merlin and Arthur riding out to find the sorceress.  Arthur's in a worryingly good mood and every step further from the castle seems to cheer him more.  When they get to the lower town, Arthur slows his horse to a stop.  Merlin does the same, giving him a questioning look that immediately turns suspicious.  Arthur's wearing his 'I'm about to dump a bucket over Merlin's head because I'm an enormous prat' smirk.

“A solution to the curse has been found,” he announces to the drawing crowd, who chatter excitedly at the news.  “The remedy is quick and painless.  Depending on how long it will take you to find the one with whom you share a connection, you may be curse-free in time for supper."

A little cheer goes up at this.

“Now watch carefully," Arthur's obnoxious grin widens, "Here is what you must do when you find them.”

Reaching across their horses, Arthur grabs the back of Merlin’s neck and drags him in for an enthusiastic snog.  It’s over quickly and Arthur settles back into his saddle looking perfectly happy with himself.

“Everybody get that?  Good.  Now let’s be off, Merlin, that sorceress isn't going to arrest herself.”

With a kick of his heels, Arthur urges his horse onward and grabs the reins of Merlin’s, too.  Because Merlin’s too gobsmacked to do anything but sit and stare incredulously at the prat destiny has saddled him with for eternity.  It doesn’t help when Arthur decides to try and hold Merlin’s hand while they’re both on horseback, nearly unseating them both.

Merlin complains the whole way out of the citadel until Arthur points out that it is his duty as Prince to capture this sorceress.  No matter how long it takes.  So if their journey lasts days, or even weeks, the King cannot possibly fault them for their commitment to justice.  And whatever he may have to say about the matter of their bond will just have to wait until they return. 

This is wisdom Merlin cannot dispute, so he graciously allows Arthur to hold his hand on the condition that they dismount and walk along the stream for a bit, as everyone knows that sorceresses can often be found lingering by streams, especially on a lovely day.

Their progress is slow going due to frequent breaks for stolen kisses (to counteract possible lingering effects of the spell).  As a consequence, they don’t get very far the first day.  Nor the first week.  Nor the next.  In the end, they never manage to find the sorceress.  Merlin hopes they do someday.  He owes her a thank you.