Merlin awakens to a bright and chilly morning. Snow has been falling all night, and he has to break the ice on the water bucket before he can wash.
He sets about his chores quickly; more to stay warm that out of any desire to finish in a timely fashion. Gaius makes porridge for breakfast, and finally Merlin begins to feel warm inside as well as out.
When he can no longer put it off, he makes his way to Arthur’s chambers. The Prince is still asleep, snoring softly beneath a mountain of furs. Merlin remembers how those furs felt against his skin last night, and he shivers with the intensity of the memory.
On the table at the side of the bed stands a silver chalice. It looks no different from any other cup that would adorn the royal table but Merlin knows Uther would never approve, for this chalice is magical. Whosoever drinks from it is destined to fall in love with the person who put the enchantment on it. Merlin knows this, for it was he that had cast the spell.
It was a difficult enchantment, but he takes no pride now in the mastery of it. He has used magic for his own selfish ends. Arthur has played his heart strings like a harp almost from the first moment they met, but the future king feels nothing for Merlin save occasional gratitude and, oftentimes, irritation.
Merlin has changed that. But he is not proud of it.
The furs heave and Arthur sits up, blinking sleep from his eyes. He sees Merlin standing at the foot of the bed and grins. “Up already Merlin? I’m impressed. I thought I’d worn you out.”
Merlin feels himself blush and looks away guiltily. He wants more than anything to confess his sin to Arthur, but he barely knows where to start. “I should lay the fire,” he murmurs, taking a hesitant step towards the hearth.
“Or you could come back to bed.” Arthur suggests. “But first, fetch me some mint tea, will you? I feel a little hoarse for some reason.”
Merlin hears the sarcasm in Arthur’s tone. If it were not for the heavy burden of guilt he still carries, he might take a moment to gloat over how loud Arthur had shouted his name last night, and how often.
“Yes, Sire,” he nods. The empty chalice almost seems to mock him. He reaches for it, intending to take it into the forest and bury the damnable thing where no one can ever find it.
Arthur looks puzzled. “What the devil is that?”
“Mulled wine,” Merlin answers. “I made it especially for you, remember? You drank it last night.”
Arthur punches his pillows into submission. “Um, actually no, I didn’t. It smelled foul, Merlin. I poured it down the privy.” Arthur turns those big puppy dog eyes on his manservant. “I hope you’re not too insulted. My advice, stick to cleaning boots. You’ll never have a career as a barkeep.”
Merlin’s eyebrows are in danger of leaving his face. “You didn’t drink it? Not any of it? So last night…?”
“Stone cold sober. Now are you going to fetch me that tea, or do I have to have you whipped and thrown in the stocks?”
Merlin can’t hide the huge grin to save his life. “Mint tea, coming right up!” He backs out of the chamber and closes the door behind himself. Arthur might not be madly in love with him, but he can totally live with that. He’d almost made a huge mistake, but disaster has been averted, and he’s learned a valuable lesson.
Well, two lessons, if you count the positions Arthur had shown him the previous night.
Which of course, he did.