It all began – as these things do – with a prophecy. Or, as Merlin was wont to call it, just another Tuesday. Except the problem with this particular Tuesday was that the prophecy wasn’t presented to Merlin, or even Gaius. Oh no. It bypassed the two of them and went straight on to Uther.
Merlin often wondered about the sanity of soothsayers, be they dragon or batty old men who were dead certain that by alerting Uther – the sorcerer-slayer and enemy to all magic - to the prophecy of the once and future king, then the prophecy would, at last, be fulfilled.
So it was quite the surprise when rather than burn the soothsayer at the stake, Uther confined him and several other soothsayers to the library and had them research the matter.
It seemed Uther rather liked the idea of a king uniting all of Albion, even if he could do without the magical bits.
The problem with batty old soothsayers, however, was that they were batty, and cryptic – so cryptic they made Kilgarrah seem pathetically straightforward. And Uther, it seemed, wasn’t particularly bright where metaphors were concerned.
“Arthur, you must bed your servant immediately.”
Or, as Merlin would later call it, an otherwise unknown until now day of the week that he never wanted to experience again.
Arthur stared at his father, the grape making its way to his mouth dropping from his fingers to table. Merlin paused in his polishing, both the rag and armor falling from his nerveless hands to clatter on the floor.
“Um… come again?” Arthur stuttered.
“The research was successful,” Uther declared imperiously. “You are the Once and Future king and the boy is the means by which you will be that king. However, being a sorcerer, he is dangerous and wildly unpredictable. But the prophecies said you were to bond and become one, which means you must bed him if you are to have any control over him. I suggest you do so immediately if you want the boy to be pregnant by the next full moon.”
And with that declared in all his kingly glory, Uther left the room.
Arthur and Merlin sat there and stared.
“Lords, I knew Uther was mad but not this mad,” Kilgarrah said with a clawed paw to his face and a shake of his head. “I’m sure one of those blasted soothsayers misinterpreted something. For all their future seeing they never were that bright. I’m sure it was the two coins analogy. They were always getting that one wrong.”
“But what are we supposed to do about it?” Merlin squeaked piteously. “I – I can’t bed Arthur! I’m not interested in men and… and…” he lowered his voice pointlessly. “I’ve never bedded anyone before.”
Kilgarrah looked at him apologetically – honest to goodness full of pity and contrition. “I’m afraid I don’t know.”
Arthur, however, had not hesitated in thinking up a plan.
“Merlin, strip quickly and get into bed,” Arthur said the moment Merlin walked through the door.
Merlin froze. “Um, Arthur, I thought we decided we would bed each other over our dead bodies.” His eyes widened. “Oh, gods, are you going to kill me?”
“No, idiot,” Arthur said, and shoved Merlin in the back of the head toward the bed. “But if my father is to drop this whole ridiculous notion of bedding and you being a sorcerer…”
Merlin managed not to sigh wearily.
“…then we’re going to have to make him think we bedded. So strip and get into the bloody bed. Not before you strewn your clothes about. We have to make it look good.”
Merlin did sigh, but did as told, slowly pulling off his shirt and trousers and tossing them where he would. “Why do I have to strip now? Why not wait until morning?”
“Because my father might decide to pop in without warning. Actually, he’s been doing just that for the past hour. So hurry up. Into bed.”
Arthur was shedding his own clothes while simultaneously arranging several pillows he confiscated from who knew where into a line down the middle of the bed. Merlin didn’t ask why. He didn’t need to. Arthur felt the need to explain anyway when he realized Merlin was staring at the pillows.
“I don’t want any naked part of you touching me, if you don’t mind.”
“Ditto,” Merlin bit back. He moved to the bed, shed himself of his underthings, and then quickly crawled beneath the covers.
“Gods, you’re such a girl,” Arthur said, shedding his underclothes and hurrying beneath the blankets just as quickly, if not quicker.
Merlin supposed that if there had to be an upside to misinterpreted prophecies, it was being able to languish on a feather mattress beneath a pile of warm quilts. Like sleeping on a cloud, it was, and would have been better if he wasn’t currently naked.
“Aw, Arthur, excellent. I take it the sorcerer is now bonded to you?”
Merlin popped an eye open at the sound of Uther’s voice, and angled his head enough to see Arthur – still shirtless but wearing pants – sitting at his table, dining on fruit. Uther stood at the door looking pleased.
“Yes, father, completely bonded.”
“Excellent. Did you… er… enjoy yourself?”
Arthur said nothing, then, fighting a pained expression, “He was complete rubbish, actually. But thankfully it didn’t affect the… er… bonding process.”
“Excellent,” Uther said. He left.
Merlin slipped as regally as he could from the bed, keeping one of the sheets wrapped around him until he fetched all his clothes.
“Arthur,” he said.
“Yes, Merlin?” Arthur said, the corner of his lips turning up in a smile. Of course he knew Merlin had been listening in.
Merlin ducked beneath the sheet, dressed, then let the sheet drop like shedding a royal robe. “I had no idea you were a bed wetter.”
Arthur’s eyes bulged at him. “What?”
“There was a wet spot on your side. Very wet. And big. Did I mention wet?”
Arthur launched from his chair to the bed. “What!” He flung back the covers and felt the mattress. “What? Merlin, there’s no…”
Merlin beat a hasty retreat.
“So, physician, when is the sorcerer’s child due?” Uther asked Gaius.
Gaius and Merlin exchanged helpless looks.
“Sire,” Gaius said carefully. “You do know that men cannot birth a child?”
But Uther merely smiled. “Ah, but a sorcerer can. The soothsayers said so. From Emrys will be born a great and powerful leader.”
Gaius and Merlin exchanged pained looks.
“I’m seriously starting to question the sanity of your father, Arthur,” Merlin said, scratching beneath both his shirt and the pillow strapped to his body underneath. Arthur had finally relented to letting Merlin use silk pillows instead of those dreaded scratchy things from Gaius’ closet. But the wretched things still made him sweat, and the sweat was making him itch. He was starting to develop a rash beneath his sternum.
“As am I,” Arthur grumbled, face red as he marched past servants and knights, trailed by his “pregnant” male servant.
Merlin sighed in relief as he unbuckled the belts binding the even larger pillow to his front. Gaius handed him the salve for his rash.
“Gaius,” Merlin said. “Have you figured out what we’re going to do about the… you know… birth? Because I really don’t think ‘losing the baby’ is going to be enough to deter Uther.”
Gaius cleared his throat uneasily. “I think I may have an idea but… I don’t think Uther’s going to like it.”
Uther stared down at the wolf pup wrapped in rags and cradled in a sweaty (because Arthur had tossed water on him to make things look more convincing) Merlin’s arms, while Gaius prattled on about magic having chosen this form to represent the strength of Camelot. Oh, and that Merlin might also be a werewolf.
“But how is a bloody wolf supposed to rule anyone!” Uther raged. The pup whimpered.
“He’s not, sire,” Gaius said. “Your son is to lead. The wolf… is to lead us to victory by tearing apart his enemies.”
Uther looked at Gaius, then Arthur, then Merlin, then the whimpering pup.
“I see,” he said, and walked out of Merlin’s little room, satisfied.
Merlin felt bad. He shouldn’t have been relieved when the king passed on during the night from an illness in the brain. But while Merlin’s conscience wanted one thing, his brain wanted another, and what it wanted was to be monumentally relieved.
He was quite sure Arthur might have been fighting expressions of relief himself. He cried, of course, but there was an ease in his shoulders that hadn’t been there since this whole prophecy mess began.
“I will admit,” Arthur said after the banquet, as Merlin helped him remove his robe and Archimedes the once and future wolf – a month shy of being a year old – happily gnawed on one of Arthur’s old shoes. “It will be nice to finally dispel this whole mess.”
“No need,” Merlin said. “It seems only your father believed I was actually pregnant. The scullery maids, however, know a pillow strapped beneath a shirt when they see one.”
“Oh, good to know.” Arthur took the night clothes Merlin handed him and vanished behind the screen. “You know you don’t have to keep that wolf around if you don’t want.”
Merlin gasped in feigned hurt, then went over the Archimedes and hugged him. “Arthur! How dare you say such things about our son!” Then pulled at the boot in Archimedes’ mouth until tug-of-war ensued.
“Merlin?” Arthur said.
“Yup?” Merlin said over Archimedes’ happy growls.