merlin and arthur tugged on their stirrups just as the two of them reached the flat land, an exhausted smile on merlin’s face as he dismounted stark, brushing his clothing down quickly. he looked over to catch arthur dismounting his horse, a grunt flooding past his lips as he did so. his armour was much too heavy for him. merlin didn’t even want him to wear it, but passing through essetir meant armour for the crown prince.
“we’ll set up here?” arthur asked, almost as if he doubted the location before pressing his foot against the ground to make sure it was soft enough to sleep on, “we need firewood.” he decided, with an almost content sigh.
merlin nodded, “i’ll get the firewood for us, sire.”
arthur just waved his hand dismissively, as per usual, and merlin sighed. it was like this always and to say once again, merlin was deeply sick of it. but he just shook his head to himself and grabbed a bottle of water, swinging it around his shoulder with the strap it was attached to, and started walking around to collect dry wood.
he picked up a few pieces occasionally, now further into the woods than he would’ve liked to have been, but it was vital he got properly dry wood, or else the fire would die out much too easily, and neither of the two men wanted that.
so merlin tried his best to get proper wood for the fire. but he hadn’t expected to hear a loud neigh from a horse in the distance, and it sounded as if it were moving in closer. merlin instantly dropped the wood where he was standing, eyes widening with urgency. but once the wood sticks clattered to the floor, a few yells were heard and his eyes widened even more. he hadn’t even expected to see the bandits closing on him already.
he yelled as he began running back to where he thought the camp was, following a trail of broken twigs that he had made himself, yelling loudly for arthur as he ran. but once he realised that he would’ve been putting arthur in danger, he turned to face the bandits who were all running towards him.
as he looked around, trying to find something that could prevent them getting closer, his sight caught onto a large tree, taller than one he had seen before, and he instantly knew what to do. and, as per usual when using his magic, merlin’s eyes flashed that same glorious and brilliant gold, and the tree was falling.
once it had completely fallen, the pure size of it was completely capable of stopping the bandits from passing over and he sighed from relief, looking around before quickly running back to the little camp they set up.
the young warlock hadn’t expected to see a fire already ablaze, or to have seen arthur collecting few small pieces of dry wood around where they had set up. merlin was panting with his hands on his knees, bent over slightly as he attempted to regain his breath. his scrawny build really wasn’t meant for all this running he had to do.
arthur looked up at him and burst out into an obnoxious laughter, “ran ten miles, have you, merlin?” he asked, in a sarcastic and joking way, a smirk spreading across his face as he set off the bickering between the two.
merlin simply rolled his eyes.
“it’s getting dark, sire, and we need to sleep.” he spoke, pulling the blankets from the bag that was currently equipped on the tied up stark.
he laid one of the thin blankets down, bunching you get another to make a comfortable pillow for arthur, and stayed quiet as he watched for his reaction to the bed he’d be having for the night. but arthur had already sat down at it, now just in a tunic and some bottoms. merlin hadn’t even noticed that he had removed his armour.
but merlin just continued anyway, making his own with a considerably thinner blanket and an old pillow that gaius told him to take, since it would be okay if he lost it or anything like that.
merlin sat down on his makeshift bed and laid back against the pillow, looking up at the gradually darkening sky, staying quiet whilst he did so.
he hadn’t even noticed the way that arthur was watching him, with a quipped lip as if he were ready to tease, but he had stayed quiet and watched the young warlock viewing the sky. he didn’t know why but it felt very comfortable to just watch merlin whilst he was quiet. because this quiet was a calm and comfortable one.
not an urgent silence, nor was it an awkward one. it was one of a friendship that didn’t need words to be beautiful. the two of them could sit there and be peaceful and happy and just relax.
“what’re you thinking about?” arthur asked, looking over at him with a certain type of serene tone in his voice, almost as if he were completely content at that exact moment.
the young warlock stayed quiet. he just looked over at arthur for about a minute, smiling slightly before sighing softly, from happiness, and looking back up at the sky. as if it were his sole company. like it was everything to him.
merlin had always had a fascination with the stars. and he loved to watch them as the night passed. it often helped him sleep when out and about with arthur and the knights, and he didn’t mind looking at them without needing a reason to. they were enticing to merlin, it was like they called out to him, and that made him feel warmer and safer than he had before. because there was no home like a beautiful one. no home like one that was everywhere.
but merlin didn’t want arthur to know that, or to make fun of him, so he sighed and decided to speak his mind on something else.
“are you in love with gwen?” he asked, quietly, hesitantly looking over at him with a small reflection off of his face. arthur took a while to notice it was the stars shining down on him, but once he had noticed, he couldn’t unsee it.
“guinevere? merlin, are you crazy?” he asked, almost an offended tone in his voice.
“why?” merlin asked, looking at arthur with confusion enlightening his face, his head tilted to the side slightly, “because she’s a servant?”
“no.” he spoke, very strongly and simply, as if he had known this forever. “i don’t care about that, merlin, it’s not that at all. i don’t have feelings for her, if i were to be in love with somebody, i’d need to have feelings for them, don’t you agree?” he finished, in a snarky and sarcastic tone.
merlin just smiled slightly before looking back up at the stars, a very quiet sigh escaping his lips as he spoke, still looking up at them.
in a whispered, most importantly, merlin began to speak, “sometimes, i believe i’ll never find anybody to have feelings for.” he whispered, staying hushed for a few seconds. “but you’re prince arthur. so you’re sorted.”
arthur scoffed slightly, whispering back, “my father wants me to marry for- for wealth.. personal gain. for everything he wants. i’m not sorted, merlin, i’m far from it. i’d rather marry someone that i truly had feelings for.”
the two of them had laid back against the makeshift beds whilst talking, completely engrossed in the conversation and sight of the stars.
“and is there someone like that?” merlin asked, allowing a curious tone to slip as his mind wandered, once again, back to the small band that arthur had in his pocket. it was annoying that he couldn’t forget about that no matter what he did.
arthur simply sighed. “i don’t know, merlin. perhaps there is.”
merlin tilted his head and then turned it to look at arthur once more, his eyes now drooped slightly from being tired, watching the way arthur looked up at the stars and they reflected against his eyes. merlin hadn’t really thought about arthur’s eyes before, it wasn’t something that crossed his mind. but sitting right there and seeing them in the starlight, merlin had decided that he thought they were nice. and that he wouldn’t mind having a pair of eyes like that.
“don’t look at me like that, idiot.” arthur spoke, quickly kicking his leg out, getting merlin in the side, causing a loud laughter to rip out from the smaller boy, a smile gracing his face as he laughed.
the two of them laughed before merlin yawned, and soon enough, arthur was telling merlin to get some sleep.
the two of them said goodnight to each other, merlin dreaming about the stars in the sky and how gorgeous they were.
but arthur couldn’t get one thing out of his head the whole time that he struggled to sleep, fighting against being awake as much as he possible could.
seeing merlin’s face lit up by the moonlight and starlight was one thing that could not escape his mind, and that was the one thing that had left arthur stumped for many, many years.
he had no idea why.