"Right," Leon said, somewhat more shrilly than usual. "Right. The important thing is not to panic. So. Try not to panic, Marrok."
His new squire stared at him with wild, panic-filled eyes and continued to hyperventilate. It was rather difficult to read his expression at the moment, but Leon feared he was on the brink of passing out.
"There's probably—I mean certainly—a way to fix this. Gaius. Gaius would—" But Marrok was frantically shaking his head.
"You're right," Leon was forced to admit. "That's probably not a good idea." Because even if he suspected that Gaius was more sympathetic to magic than Uther knew, his theory was just that: a suspicion. Even if what had happened wasn't Marrok's fault, nor was there any evidence that someone had enchanted his squire, he—wait. Marrok had randomly turned into a wolf without being cursed or drinking a suspicious potion or however else people were transformed into animals. There was a word for that sort of creature. Person.
"Werewolf," the knight muttered. "You're a werewolf."
Marrok whined. His tail curled between his legs, and his ears were flat against his skull. There were tears gleaming in his amber eyes.
"What do you know about werewolves?"
His transformed squire attempted something that was probably a shrug.
"But you are one!"
A whimper and another probably-shrug. He tried to hide his face beneath his hands but succeeded only in pressing his paws against his snout.
"Right," Leon muttered, "right. What do I know about werewolves?" A groan. "…I don't know anything about werewolves."
Marrok whined again, which seemed to be his primary mode of communication.
"Except that you'll turn back! Probab—definitely. You will definitely turn back. I'm just not certain when."
His squire did not seem particularly encouraged by this (admittedly lackluster) assurance. That was fair, completely fair. Leon didn't blame him.
Leon decided to stop talking until he had something useful to say.
So how did werewolves go about turning back into people? The knight wracked his brain for the information but couldn't find anything. Maybe it would just wear off on its own? Except even if that was true, he didn't know how long it would take, and someone would eventually notice Marrok's disappearance. Also, he had no idea how to go about hiding a large yearling wolf in the middle of the citadel.
He—they—needed more information. That would be… difficult, as knowledge of magic and magical practices was forbidden. Leon was something of an exception to this rule, now that Arthur had gotten the two of them lessons from Gaius, but they'd both been very careful to not display any interest in magical matters outside of those sessions, and werewolves hadn't come up yet. Although….
Leon shuffled through his notes, scanning the cramped pages for a single word. There! Bastets. Victims of terrible curses who transformed into bloodthirsty winged cats every sundown. Only extremely powerful magic or death itself could free them from their suffering.
The knight looked out the window. Pale moonlight and orange flames glinted off the snow. The western sky was still tinted with indigo, but night had properly fallen some time ago. Maybe werewolves changed when the sun was a certain distance below the horizon or once a certain percentage of its light had disappeared? He hoped so, if only because that implied that Marrok would change back by dawn. That would be excellent.
…It would also imply that Marrok would change every single night, though, which was considerably less excellent.
They needed more information. Where could he get information without actually asking anyone? From books, obviously. Geoffrey wouldn't have anything in the library, but Gaius was allowed a few old tomes to consult whenever some spellbinder or creature of magic attacked. If anyone in the kingdom had written information on werewolves, it would be him. Leon just needed to access that information without being caught.
"Right," Leon mumbled. "I… might have a plan, Marrok."
The werewolf's paws slipped from his snout. There was definitely hope in his newly amber eyes.
"I need to sneak into Gaius's chambers later tonight and steal any book he might have about werewolves. He's old enough that he probably won't hear me, and I think that Merlin sleeps with his door closed." Gods, he hoped that Merlin slept with his door closed. The boy was amazingly observant at times, and far smarter than Arthur gave him credit for. "I… should probably bring the books back here rather than read them there, so… I'll have to replace them. So I guess I'm robbing the library now, too. But then we can read the books, and—" He stared at his squire's lack of thumbs. "Do you think you can turn the pages with your, ah…?" He gestured vaguely.
Marrok gave his wolfy shrug again.
"…We'll figure it out," Leon muttered. "But it will be some time before the halls clear and I can sneak off." This soon after the winter solstice, darkness fell long before suppertime. The castle wouldn't go to sleep for quite some time yet, and even then, Leon would have to avoid the guards.
Oh, gods. He'd have to avoid the guards because he was going to deliberately, with premeditation, break what his king considered the most important law of the land. He was going to steal magical knowledge to aid and abet a creature of magic that lived inside the citadel itself.
But it wasn't Marrok's fault that he was apparently somehow a werewolf. He'd been so shocked, confused, terrified when his body twisted and fell. He'd changed in front of Leon, a sworn knight. Not to mention that only a very reckless and/or stupid magical being would voluntarily live in Camelot in the first place.
(Several rooms away, the prince's manservant sneezed into his sleeve.)
The point was that Marrok was a victim here, not someone who voluntarily spat upon the law, and he was under Leon's protection. Turning him in would be wrong, despite what the law said.
"So… we should try to sleep," Leon concluded. "Make sure we have enough energy for later."
Marrok's fur shifted in a way that suggested he was trying to raise his eyebrow.
"Well, we ought to at least try."
The werewolf circled once, like a dog would, then realized what he was doing and froze. His tail, which had begun to creep out, hid between his legs again.
Leon tried to make light of it. "You know, I've always wondered why dogs do that. You'll. Have to tell me once you're back to normal." A pause. "That is the only canine instinct you're feeling, right?" Because Bastets were vicious creatures, bloodthirsty and terrible. Marrok still seemed like himself, if a bit more wolf-shaped than usual ('A bit more wolf-shaped than usual?' squawked the little voice in the back of Leon's head), but maybe his lot got wolfier as the night went on. But Marrok was shaking his head, and Leon was fairly certain that he wouldn't lie about something like that (unless some kind of evil impulse had taken over or, or he just hadn't realized yet). "Good, that's good. Excellent."
As the knight had predicted, neither of them actually managed to sleep. Their minds were too busy, too anxious, to relax into slumber.
The minutes trudged by one by one, each longer than the last. The castle quieted outside Leon's chambers as nobleman and commoner alike made their way to bed. Finally, once the full moon was halfway across the sky, Leon slipped out of bed, made his way over to his candle, lit it so he could get his shoes on.
A pair of eerie greenish eyes caught the light. The knight nearly jumped out of his skin before realizing that Marrok must have grown those reflective eye things that dogs, cats, and many other animals possessed. He gave a nervous little chuckle. "Sorry. You just startled me, that's all. Still feeling… reasonably like yourself? Other than the wolf thing, I mean."
"Good, good, that's very good." Leon became aware that he was bobbing his head up and down like an idiot, so he stopped it. "I'll… just be off then."
It was alarmingly easy to traverse Camelot at night. He'd never realized how many convenient (or inconvenient, depending on one's point of view) little alcoves there were hidden everywhere. If he didn't know better, he'd swear that someone had designed the castle for creeping about in the dead of night, breaking numerous minor laws in order to more effectively break a larger one that could get him and his squire both burned at the stake.
The library door was not locked. This probably shouldn't have surprised Leon, but it did. He crept in, stuffed a few out-of-the-way tomes into his satchel, rearranged the other books to make their disappearance less noticeable, and padded back to the door. He pressed his ear against it, straining to hear. After a moment's silence, he pushed it open, slipped back into the hallway.
Once again, the guards completely failed to notice his sneaking. He would need to find a way to bring up improving security without letting on that he'd been doing anything illegal.
Gaius's chambers were also unlocked, which actually made sense. People might need quick access to the Court Physician. The man himself slumbered on a small cot in the corner of the room, theoretically ready for anyone who might need him.
Leon made a beeline for the elder's bookshelf, holding his newly relit candle high. This one looked promising, and that one, and another.
Gaius mumbled something and rolled over in his sleep. Leon's heart nearly failed him.
Three books ought to be enough, right? It would have to be enough, because it looked like Gaius was a light sleeper and he really didn't want to explain himself to the old physician.
He slipped outside the chambers before stuffing the books into his satchel. Even with the door closed behind him, the rustle of leather against the covers seemed obscenely loud. Then he snuffed his dim candle—it was dim, he knew that, but it seemed far too bright—and began slinking back to his own room.
Two halls later, he heard the soft susurrus of conversation. He was too far from any corners, so he ducked automatically into one of those many little crannies.
It was already occupied.
Leon opened his mouth, the other occupant's name rising automatically to his lips, but Merlin clamped his mouth shut. Quiet, he mouthed.
The knight nodded.
The two waited in tense silence as the guards ambled by. They were slow. Why were they so slow? Leon was beginning to sweat, and he wasn't certain how much more of this his nerves could take. They were almost out of earshot… completely out of earshot, but Leon didn't move.
Merlin relaxed. "They're gone," he murmured—not a whisper, which might have carried, but something low and professionally secretive. He knew what he was doing.
"Thank the gods," Leon moaned, equally quiet.
The silence took on a tinge of awkwardness as he realized something. "Wait, what are you doing up in the middle of the night?"
Merlin looked away. "…Sheep smuggling?"
"Sheep smuggling?" Leon echoed.
"Yes." Merlin nodded firmly. "Sheep smuggling."
Leon shook his head; the manservant had such a strange sense of humor. "I see."
"What about you?"
Oh, he'd been hoping that Merlin wouldn't ask that. "Er," he said, casting about for an excuse and coming up woefully short.
Merlin's gaze sharpened, a hint of his well-hidden intelligence shining through. "Is anybody in danger?"
"Is anybody in danger?" the servant repeated. "Sometimes, when people are sneaking around at night, it's because there are assassins or something afoot. So. Where are the assassins?"
"No! No, there's no assassins, I promise."
Thankfully, it was too dark for him to see Leon's blush. "It—it isn't something that's going to affect anybody else, Merlin, I promise you that."
"All right, then. Good night, Leon." And without further aplomb, he trotted off into the night.
Leon stared after him, opening and closing his mouth a few times before remembering that he had a squire to rescue. Merlin wasn't doing anything ille—ah, he wasn't doing anything that would hurt anybody, even if it might not be entirely legal.
…He should just stop thinking about it.
(Later, after an incident involving dramatic revelations, a possessed princess, and Merlin being used as a threat, Leon would tell his fellow knights about that nocturnal encounter. Gwaine would laugh, Elyan would comment that Gwen had mentioned that joke too, Percival would smile, and Lancelot would groan. "He wasn't actually joking, you know."
"…What." Leon would stare, waiting for the punchline, but it wouldn't come. "I can understand all his other… activities, but how in the hell did he end up smuggling sheep?"
And because the road back to Camelot was long and this is better than Gwaine's tavern tales, Lancelot would tell them. "It all started when he decided to release the Great Dragon….")
But that night, Leon snuck back to his chambers to help a werewolf, his satchel full of contraband books, and reflected on how very strange it was that he'd never felt more like a knight.