“Really?” he asked with surprise. Arthur usually expected him to carry all the damned gear. Granted, the Prince would be accompanied on his hunting trip by a half dozen of his knights, but even so, it wasn’t like Arthur to miss an opportunity to make Merlin suffer.It was early summer in Camelot and a prolonged heat wave was making everyone cranky. Merlin muttered to himself as he loaded the equipment for the hunt onto a spare horse. He could really do without hours of plodding through forests. There were plenty of other things he could be doing, like cleaning Arthur’s chambers, collecting herbs for Gaius or, his own personal favourite, napping under the big oak tree in the meadow.
He was about to mount up when Arthur spoke from behind him. “That’s all for today, Merlin. I won’t require your services again until tomorrow evening.”
“Really?” he asked with surprise. Arthur usually expected him to carry all the damned gear. Granted, the Prince would be accompanied on his hunting trip by a half dozen of his knights, but even so, it wasn’t like Arthur to miss an opportunity to make Merlin suffer.
“Really,” Arthur replied, leaping effortlessly onto his own horse. Behind Merlin, someone sniggered and he spun round to see two of Arthur’s men trying to hide smiles behind their hands.
“What’s going on?” Merlin asked, suddenly suspicious.
“Nothing that need concern you,” Arthur informed him imperiously. “Make sure the kitchen has a hot meal ready for our return at sunset tomorrow.”
“We’ll certainly need it,” giggled Sir Leon, eyes sparkling from behind his unruly mop of curly hair. Merlin almost did a double take. He tried to recall if he had ever heard the man laugh before, far less giggle. As First Knight of Camelot, Leon took his responsibilities seriously, so frivolity was not something Merlin would have associated with him. But today, he seemed almost giddy. In fact, the same could be said for all the knights. There was definitely something fishy going on here.
Merlin peered at each of them in turn. They were a handsome bunch and no mistake. Gerraint, with his curly black hair and roguish smile, had celebrated his eighteenth birthday only the week before. This would be his first official outing as a knight of Camelot. Merlin knew he had to be feeling nervous, yet his smile was as broad as Leon’s. Bors and Lamorak, both fair and broad with cornflower blue eyes full of mischief, could be taken for brothers, yet they shared no familial bond. They were both quiet men, seeing everything that happened at Court but keeping their own counsel. Pelinore, a swordsman to rival even Arthur, was dark skinned and charismatic with eyes the warm brown of treacle and a smile that had the ladies of Court fainting in droves.
Oswald, the eldest of the knights here assembled, was definitely the most striking. Until Oswald, Merlin had never before met a man with hair so fiery red. He was from the far north, and although Merlin often strained to understand what he was saying, he rather liked the deep resonant tone of Oswald’s voice. He also liked Oswald’s quirky sense of humour. And then of course, there was Leon. Taller by a head than the other knights, usually quiet and reserved, with scruffy hair and even scruffier beard, he was always polite and soft spoken, even to Merlin, who as a servant should not have merited such kindness.
“Let Merlin come along, Sire,” Leon was saying. Merlin turned a grateful smile towards him, happy that at least someone wanted his presence on their trip. Although the next words Leon uttered put things right back into perspective for Merlin. “We could do with a servant along to make sure our cups are kept full while we…”
“Yes, that’s quite enough!” Arthur admonished. He glared at Leon then looked down at Merlin with a frown, clearly weighing the options. “Do I have your promise of discretion?” he asked.
Merlin’s eyebrows shot up. “You’re meeting girls!”
That explained rather a lot, actually. The knights were all immaculately presented, which Merlin had thought a bit odd considering they were meant to be spending the day crawling through the undergrowth. Who trims their beard for a hunting trip?
Oswald snorted. “Not exactly…”
“Enough!” snapped Arthur, reaching down to haul Merlin up onto the back of his own horse. “Let’s go before the entire Court becomes privy to our plans.”
Merlin wrapped his arms tightly around Arthur’s waist and hung on as the ‘hunting party’ set out at a brisk trot. Oswald’s comment had him curious. He was now convinced that sex was going to be involved in the day’s activities, but the comment suggested something other than a clandestine meeting with pretty village maids deep in the woods.
He knew there was a tavern in the next town where men could pay for the company of a woman for the night. Perhaps that’s what Oswald was hinting at. He hoped that no-one suggested he spend the night with a whore. He wouldn’t have the first clue what to do with her! He had absolutely no experience with the fairer sex. Or at least no sexual experience. He knew plenty of girls, but they all seemed to treat him like an adorable puppy. He preferred being around men, if truth be told. They were far easier to understand. Women? They were complicated.
Merlin leaned in close and whispered into Arthur’s ear, “Tell me where we’re going at least?”
Arthur sighed and shook his head. “All will become clear when we reach our destination, Merlin. Have patience.”
Merlin rolled his eyes but remained silent. Clearly, Arthur didn’t feel comfortable discussing the details, which worried Merlin quite a bit. Just what exactly had he gotten himself into this time?
The knights were in good humour as they rode into the forest, keeping up a lighthearted banter that served to distract Merlin from his concerns. He’d rarely seen them this relaxed. His experience with the knights so far mostly involved watching them get the stuffing knocked out of them by Arthur on the training grounds.
He grew drowsy in the late afternoon sun, lulled by the steady motion of the horse beneath him and the intoxicating smell of warm leather from in front. It wasn’t exactly the first time he’d sniffed Arthur’s riding coat, but it was definitely the first time he’d done it with Arthur wearing it. Arthur would no doubt think him addle-headed for enjoying the smell of leather if he knew, so Merlin resisted the urge to just stick his nose between Arthur’s shoulders blades and inhale.
He finally nodded off in the saddle, jerking awake as the party rode into a clearing in the middle of the forest where they began to dismount beside a sparkling lake. Surreptitiously swiping the drool from his lips and Arthur’s jacket, he looked around. A large waterfall cascaded merrily down the side of a rock face. He imagined jumping into the beautiful cool waters, bright and oh, so inviting in the oppressive heat of the afternoon. Just then, Oswald and Gerraint ran past, whooping with delight as they stripped off their clothes and did just what Merlin had been thinking about.
He didn’t mean to stare, but both men were well built and rippling with muscles. By the time Merlin had gotten his embarrassment under control, the other knights had joined their companions in the water.
Arthur’s forefinger hooked under Merlin’s slack jaw and clicked it shut. “I suppose I ought to have warned you,” he said with amusement in his tone. “We come here in the summer to relax and… well… you know...” Arthur’s eyebrows did an odd little mystery dance.
Merlin nodded, although he didn’t have a clue what Arthur was hinting at. He dragged his eyes away from the splashing knights only to notice that Arthur was getting naked too. “Oh! Um, what do you want me…?”
Arthur tossed Merlin his breeches. “You’re here to make camp, Merlin. Unload the horses, raise the tents, set a fire and prepare the food we brought.” Arthur finished stripping and straightened up to give Merlin a strange look. “Most of all, try to ignore anything you see happening in the lake.”
Merlin pried his eyes away from Arthur’s bare chest long enough to glance at the cavorting knights. “We did have a pond back home in Ealdor, you know,” he protested. “It’s not the first time I’ve seen men swim naked.”
Arthur shook his head and smiled knowingly. “I think you’ll find this is a little different. I don’t expect you to understand the ways of Court, but at least try not to trip over your own jaw when it inevitably hits the ground. And remember, not a word of what you see here is to be discussed outside of these trees.” With that rather cryptic comment, he turned away.
Merlin gulped and nodded again. “Whatever you say,” he croaked to Arthur’s perfectly smooth and tanned back, squeezing his eyes very firmly shut before they could stray down towards his gloriously naked arse, as the Prince cannonballed into the midst of his companions.
So—no tavern, no whores, just a bunch of men letting off steam in a lake?
Merlin wasn’t disappointed exactly. He had just been curious as to how Arthur would behave around such women. He’d only ever seen the Prince treat women with extreme chivalry, in the case of visiting noblewomen, or extreme sarcasm, in the case of the Lady Morgana. He’d been looking forward to seeing a new aspect of his master’s character.
It took quite a while to complete the tasks Arthur had set. Each of the horses needed to be unloaded, unsaddled and watered. Erecting a tent went quicker with two people, but Merlin had no one to help, and three tents to get through. He may have used just a smidgen of magic, but he was careful that no one saw. The knights had brought with them more food than Merlin had seen at an average feast. And all the time, he studiously ignored the laughing and splashing going on in the lake. By the time he was finished, he was dripping with sweat.
He looked up, wondering if anyone would notice if he jumped into the lake too. If he kept quiet, and didn’t draw any attention to...
“What the...!” Eyes like saucers, he stared in disbelief at the sight before him. He licked dry lips and blinked his eyes, but the sight before them prevailed.
In the middle of the lake, Arthur floated face up on the surface of the water surrounded by his knights. Leon stood at his head, supporting him with arms under his armpits and hands moving sensually over his chest, fingers lightly pinching at both his nipples. Arthur’s head was thrown back onto Leon’s shoulder while the First Knight of Camelot kissed his neck, chin and finally lips, eliciting breathless moans from the Prince.
Gerraint and Pelinore bracketed Arthur on either side, running hands and lips adoringly over his body where it rose out of the water, licking the lake water from the hollow of his navel and clearly driving him wild with the constant stimulation. Arthur’s hands moved restlessly through their hair, one minute gentle, and the next rough as he gasped and writhed in pleasure. Bors and Lamorack each supported one of Arthur’s legs, sucking hungrily on Arthur’s toes as if they were the best cuts of meat at a feast.
If it were possible, Merlin’s eyes grew even wider still. Oswald stood between Arthur’s splayed legs. As Merlin watched, he leaned forward, took hold of Arthur’s cock and fed it slowly into his mouth. Then withdrawing just as slowly, his eyes locked with Arthur’s and they both moaned. A sudden jolt of pure lust shot through Merlin’s body and his own mouth watered at the sight of Arthur’s cock, its length glistening in the afternoon sunshine with lake water and saliva as it slid in and out of Oswald’s mouth. Merlin had never seen anything so erotic in his short and apparently very sheltered life. He was confused and slightly embarrassed but he could not have dragged his eyes away if his life depended on it.
After a few moments, Oswald reluctantly relinquished his place to Bors, who in turn moved aside for Pelinore, and so it continued until all of the knights had taken a turn between Arthur’s legs. Then it all began again as Arthur’s moans of encouragement grew louder and more desperate.
By now, Merlin was even more flushed than before, and definitely in need of a dip in the icy water, but somehow, he didn’t think he would be welcome at the ‘all you can eat Pendragon feast.’
“I should probably ignore that,” he told no one in particular. Which was easier said than done, of course. The sounds of heated pleasure from the lake were becoming far too loud to ignore, at which point Merlin decided it would be a good time to go into the forest to collect firewood.
Back home in Ealdor, the boys from the village would occasionally meet up in the large barn on a summer’s evening and talk about girls. Someone would always bring a keg of ale. They were young; most of them never having had the opportunity to see a naked breast, far less touch one, so after all that dirty talk, the evening would inevitably end in a communal wanking session. The next day, they would all claim alcohol fuelled forgetfulness.
In Merlin’s case, the loss of memory was sometimes closer to the truth than he cared to admit. He was a bit of a lightweight when it came to ale. Still, he remembered enough about the ‘barn gathering’, as they had taken to calling the event. He recalled clearly the first time Abe, the tanner’s son, had reached out and touched him, though they’d passed out before anything really interesting could happen. He’d taken part in maybe five such gatherings after that. Then there was that one time with Will at the pond...
What was happening back at camp must be the Camelot knights’ version of the barn gathering. Merlin was older now, and able to admit that what had gone on in the barn did not happen because of the alcohol, never the less, the ale had ensured a certain amount of deniability. But it would seem that the knights of Camelot needed no such excuse.
He shook his head firmly and tried to put aside the mist shrouded memories of times gone by. However the image of Arthur being touched intimately by all the knights refused to be set aside and was undeniably erotic to Merlin. He only had to replay the scene in his head then glance down at his tented breeches to know that.
Sighing, he looked around for some decent kindling and tried to purge the image from his mind. It didn’t really work and minutes later, he stumbled back into the camp with his arms and his breeches full of wood, his one hope that the knights would still be otherwise occupied, allowing him to take care of the situation inside his breeches behind a convenient tree. No such luck. Arthur, Oswald and Leon were just emerging from the lake, water cascading down their bodies and huge grins plastered over their faces.
Merlin dropped the wood by the large circle of stones he’d assembled earlier and quickly crouched down to hide his embarrassing reaction to all that wet flesh. He’d never been around men like this before; so confident in their own skin, and so blatantly comfortable with giving each other pleasure.
“Haven’t you started a fire yet?” Arthur complained, grabbing a drying cloth from the pile left draped over a large rock. “Honestly Merlin, what have you been doing all this time? Lollygagging, I’ll wager!” Arthur began drying himself vigorously and Merlin concentrated really hard on getting the flint to spark.
“Look at Merlin’s face” Oswald grinned. “Have you ever seen a grown man blush like that?”
“I think we might have shocked your servant, Arthur,” Leon added. “His innocence is quite adorable really.”
Merlin bit off any sarcastic remark he wanted to make for fear that his voice might betray his confused state of mind. To Merlin, occasional gratification with a friend was something that you did when drunk. The next day, you acted like it had never happened and just went back to being pals who liked girls. Yet, he couldn’t stop thinking about how beautiful Arthur had looked, floating in that lake surrounded by men who clearly loved to touch him.
He wondered how it would feel to be adored like that, worshipped almost. How it would feel to be touched in so many sensitive places at once. Then he wondered how it would feel to be the one doing the adoring and the worshipping. His eyes drifted up to watch Arthur wrestling naked with his two knights and a warm glow spread through him. If it were Arthur spread out before him and if he were tipsy enough to dare... he could almost imagine how that would feel.
Shaking his head, he shoved the thoughts firmly to the back of his mind. The bloody heat must have addled his brain if he was starting to think of Arthur in such a manner. Oh, he’d noticed that Arthur was a fine specimen of manhood right from day one, but he’d never thought of him in a sexual context until now.
The other four knights joined them on the bank, just as Merlin finally got the fire lit, and shook themselves off like dogs, much to the amusement of the others. Merlin managed to get himself between them and the fire, saving its burgeoning flame from a quick dowsing but bearing the brunt of the soaking himself.
Arthur roared with laughter, throwing him the damp cloth he’d used to dry himself and Merlin caught a faint whiff of Arthur’s scent on the material as it wrapped around his face. He hoped that no-one heard his surprised gasp. He disentangled himself and scrubbed the lake water out of his hair.
“Right then!” Arthur clapped his hands together eagerly. “I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m famished. Let’s eat!”
Strangely, the men did not bother to dress; they merely found a spot on the ground by the fire, threw down their cloaks, and sprawled there, waiting for Merlin to serve them. Arthur wasn’t exactly the shy and retiring type so Merlin had seen him naked plenty of times. Despite having a perfectly good privacy screen in his chambers, Arthur rarely used it. Merlin had gotten very used to seeing Arthur in various states of undress, covered in mud, bruised, scraped or injured, wet from the bath or gloriously rumpled when Merlin came to wake him in the morning. So, nudity didn’t bother him per se. He’d just never been around so many naked men all at the same time.
He hardly knew where to look. Keeping his eyes closed was not an option. Not if he didn’t want to spill wine all over someone. This was so far outside Merlin’s experience that he felt cast adrift. At the barn gatherings, everyone kept their clothes on... mostly... from what he remembered.
Merlin threaded his way between them, handing out platters of bread and meat and exchanging empty wineskins for full ones, the tips of his ears burning with embarrassment at the tales they were telling and the fact that every one of them was still stark bollock naked. He watched wide eyed and slack jawed, as Bors fed grapes to Pelinore one by one from his own mouth, and Arthur sprawled by the fire so that Leon could massage his back with sweet smelling oil. It was the strangest feast Merlin had ever attended, but definitely one of the most interesting.
At one point, Lamorak got up to go for a piss, and Pelinore slapped him hard on the arse. Lamorak cast Pelinore the dirtiest grin Merlin had ever seen, and waggled his eyebrows suggestively. Pelinore lumbered to his feet and followed Lamorak into the forest. The other knights roared with laughter and the conversation got even smuttier. Eventually they returned both flushed and sweaty, hair in wild disarray. Merlin tried not to imagine what they had been up to, but the knights’ rowdy catcalls and questions about ‘who had fucked whom’ made that a little hard to do.
When Leon tugged at Merlin’s trouser leg as he passed and suggested he was wearing far too many clothes for present company, Merlin made a dash for the woodpile, thinking that he would die of embarrassment if he had to bare his skinny arse in front of all these finely muscled fighting men.
Time passed rather quickly with six knights, plus Arthur, to attend to, and before he knew it the sun had sunk below the horizon. The knights were huddled closer together around the fire now that the heat of the day was fading. Wineskins were being passed from one to another. Their voices were low, drowsy with wine and the excitement of the day.
After topping up the fire one final time, Merlin stretched and cracked his back. There was nothing much to do now that the knights had eaten their fill, so he took a moment to consider the sleeping arrangements. Three tents, six knights, the Prince of Camelot and his manservant. It didn’t take a genius to see that even with one knight on guard duty, there were not enough tents to go around. On other trips, Arthur may have allowed Merlin the privilege of sharing his tent, but not if it meant a knight having to sleep without shelter.
It wasn’t that he minded sleeping under the stars; he just wished there had been time to grab a bedroll before their hasty departure from Camelot. Now, if the others would just hurry up and retire to the tents for the evening, he could curl up by the fire and finally pass out.
Looking around the camp, Merlin saw that Lamorak and Pelinore were now lying on the same cloak, and were... oh! They were getting very friendly with each other again. The contrast of dark and pale skin pressed so close together was quite enthralling. Merlin could hardly drag his eyes away, even though it was rude to stare. They were kissing passionately, tongues battling for dominance and running hands roughly over each other’s backs and flanks. Merlin gulped audibly and made himself look away.
It seemed they were not the only ones in a state of arousal around the campfire. Bors and Gerraint got to their feet and headed off towards the tents. Bors had his arm thrown over Gerraint’s shoulder, Gerraint’s arm was around Bor’s waist, and their hips bumped together as they walked.
And only a few feet away, Oswald was looking at Arthur with what could only be described as hunger.
Merlin felt his face flush in a return of the confusion and arousal he’d felt earlier. He couldn’t blame the knight for looking at Arthur is such a manner. He was sure he was doing exactly the same thing. Sprawled on the same cloak as Oswald, magnificently naked with the firelight burnishing his skin to gold, Arthur was simply breathtaking.
With a start, he realised that he’d been staring and that Arthur had noticed. Never taking his eyes from Merlin’s, the Prince reached out and pulled Oswald into a searing kiss. Merlin’s eyes widened and his cock twitched eagerly. He willed his eyes away from the scene, staring into the fire intently. He didn’t understand why he ached so much. Not one drop of wine had passed his lips, but right then, he would have sold his soul to have Arthur kiss him like that.
He squeezed his eyes closed, wondering where these thoughts were coming from. When had he gone from craving Arthur’s praise to craving his touch? Arthur was the most infuriating person in the world. He expected miracles when it came to assigning chores, he complained about Merlin’s competency all the time and he never noticed the little things Merlin did for him and yet... and yet he was also the noblest man Merlin knew. Honest and brave, he could not sit idle in the face of injustice, and he had a vulnerable side that he only let Merlin see.
Although Arthur had said they could never truly be friends, friends they had become. Unspoken friends maybe, but the bond they shared was undeniable. Where once Merlin had bemoaned his luck at getting saddled with such a huge prat for a master, now he could feel their shared destiny to his very core and he would have it no other way. He had come to respect the future King of Albion more than he could ever have imagined possible, but more astonishingly still, he had come to like him.
And now it seemed his feelings for Arthur went deeper still than even friendship. It should not have come as any surprise. There had always been something between them from the very first day they met, each subsequent day bringing them closer to this moment. He ached for Arthur’s touch but it wasn’t going to happen. He was a servant and as such was all but invisible to the other men. Even if Arthur felt the same tug of desire towards Merlin, which was clearly ridiculous, their different stations in life would make it impossible. Merlin wished now that he’d never figured it out, because wanting something you could never have was surely worse than never knowing you wanted it in the first place. He sighed unhappily and threw another branch into the fire watching the sparks fly up into the night sky.
“Are you all right, Merlin?” Leon’s quiet voice startled him out of his musings.
He schooled his features into a smile and turned to face the knight who, Merlin noted with some surprise, had gotten dressed. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just a bit tired. You knights are a lot of hard work, you know.”
Leon moved closer to him, slung one arm around his shoulders and squeezed. “That we are. I hope you will forgive my earlier rudeness?” And Leon’s eyebrows were doing that weird dance that Merlin was coming to understand meant that words being spoken could be taken more ways than one. “Only, I thought it was time you and I got better acquainted.”
Merlin smiled quizzically. That was an odd thing to say. Knights of the Realm did not ordinarily feel the need to get better acquainted with servants. He wasn’t sure how he was supposed to respond to that, so he decided not to respond at all.
Then Arthur’s soft voice drew him from his thoughts. “Lamorak, Pelinore, you’re scaring the horses. Take it to your tent, and try to keep the noise down a bit.”
Merlin watched the two knights stagger to their feet, erections waving in the air like standard bearer’s poles and envied them their intimacy. He had never felt so alone in his whole life as at that moment, even with Leon’s arm still draped casually around his shoulders.
“Someone has to take first watch,” Arthur continued, throwing a challenging look at Merlin and Leon. “I’ve had too much wine I fear.”
Merlin knew that wasn’t true. Leon and Arthur had both drunk very little during the ‘naked picnic’ as Merlin had come to think of the evening’s al fresco feast. He should know, as he’d been the one serving up the wine. Why Arthur felt the need to lie about his reason for not standing first watch was beyond Merlin. Anyone with two eyes in their head could see why the Prince wanted to retire to his tent. And that reason had red hair and a cock as thick as a barbarian’s sword hilt.
Or perhaps Arthur was dropping hints. Perhaps he expected Merlin to volunteer to stand first watch. Merlin would be sleeping outside by the fire after all, and at least on guard duty he could slip off behind a tree and finally have a bloody wank. It wouldn’t take long. All he had to do was call to mind the image of Arthur’s head thrown back in ecstasy and he was half way there already.
His thoughts were interrupted when Leon spoke. “Sire, I drank little this evening. I will take first watch.” It sounded oddly formal and practiced, but Arthur merely nodded and watched as Leon withdrew his arm from Merlin’s shoulders, hefted his sword and took up position under a tree.
“You will keep him company?” Arthur directed the not-quite-a-question to Oswald.
Merlin frowned in confusion. If he put both knights on guard duty, Arthur would be without company for the night, and it had definitely seemed to Merlin like Arthur had not yet had his fill of being ‘worshipped’.
Oswald looked more than a little disappointed, but he nodded and left the circle of firelight to dress, saying only, “As you wish, my Lord.”
Merlin watched him go, and then looked at Arthur to find that Arthur was staring intently right back at him. He couldn’t read the expression in the Prince’s eyes at all. If pressed, he would have to describe the look as ‘questioning’ though what the question was, he could not fathom. It was like all those times Arthur had used complicated hand signals to convey his meaning silently, but Merlin hadn’t had a clue what the hell they meant. He felt thoroughly confused.
He glanced over at Leon, hoping for a friendly smile and a nod of encouragement, but the knight was busily sharpening his sword and didn’t look up.
When he looked back, Arthur’s eyes had narrowed. Their gazes remained locked for a long moment before Arthur finally got to his feet, heading for his tent and to Merlin’s utter shock said over his shoulder, “With me, Merlin.”
The tent flap fell closed behind Arthur, leaving Merlin staring in confusion between it and the two now fully dressed knights. “Um...” he said blankly.
“Hurry, Merlin,” said Oswald, tipping his head in the direction of Arthur’s tent and throwing an arm around Leon’s shoulder. “You should know better than to keep royalty waiting, you lucky bastard!”
Leon smiled and turned in the loose embrace to cup Oswald’s groin through his leather riding breeches. “Arthur’s the lucky one,” he said with rueful grin.
Merlin’s face flushed bright red, but he scurried into the tent anyway, freezing just inside to let his eyes get accustomed to the darkness. Arthur was already sprawled on his sleeping roll, head propped up on his hand. Despite the casual pose, he seemed as tightly wound as a lute string. “So,” he said through a tense smile, “what did you make of your first Summer Camp then?”
Merlin sat down and began to pull off his boots and socks, more to have something to do with his hands than anything else. “It was... interesting. I wish you’d warned me though. I nearly had a heart attack when I saw what was going on in the lake.”
“In my defence, your inclusion was rather last minute. Leon made it perfectly clear that he desired your company, so I ...”
“Wait, what?” Merlin spluttered. “Sir Leon wanted... Oh, my word, are you joking?”
Arthur’s grin grew wider. “Merlin, surely you noticed that he has barely taken his eyes from you all day. He was only waiting for me to take Oswald to my tent, before making his move. God, you really are a complete innocent, aren’t you.”
“Bugger!” Merlin whispered vehemently, casting a nervous eye towards the tent flap in fear that Leon might come sweeping in and carry him off into the forest. Although from what he’d just seen, both Leon and Oswald were going to be too busy to kidnap anyone for a while.
“Indeed,” said Arthur. “So, I gallantly forewent my evening of mutual gratification with Sir Oswald in favour of keeping you out of harm’s way. I hope you are suitably grateful.”
There were many ways Merlin could have responded. He could have thrown his boot at Arthur’s head, he could have told Arthur his virtue needed no protecting and marched back out there to see if Leon was still up for a shag, or he could have done something really stupid, like give Arthur a smouldering look and whisper huskily, “How can I ever repay you, my Lord?”
Arthur’s look of horror made him wish he’d gone with options one or two.
“Merlin!” Arthur hissed indignantly. “That was said in jest! Surely you know that I would never expect such a thing from an innocent servant. Although, if you really feel the need to repay me, when we get back to Camelot you can muck out my stables...”
He would never know what possessed him. Possibly the lack of blood to his head, which had been diverted southward for most of the day, but whatever the reason Merlin found himself saying, “I prefer fucking to mucking.”
The look on Arthur’s face was comical, if a little insulting. And granted, Merlin had no idea what he was doing, but he was fairly sure he wanted to do it anyway. Yes, he was a servant, and yes, it was totally inappropriate, and no, he wasn’t drunk, but God, he wanted to touch Arthur’s naked skin so badly right then that it actually hurt to hold back.
“You ... I ... What did you just say?” spluttered Arthur.
On being asked to repeat it, Merlin suddenly didn’t feel quite so cocky. He found he couldn’t meet Arthur’s intense gaze. “So, you have lain with a man before?” Arthur said, shaking his head. “I had assumed not, but I should know better than to take things at face value with you.”
Merlin squirmed, caught between adding another lie to the web of deceit that already hung between them, and being totally honest, which might result in Arthur considering him too unsophisticated to bother with.
“Um, sort of?” he hedged. “A couple of times, back home, when we were all very drunk, we’d talk about women’s breasts and wank off. Then this one time, Adam had broken his arm and had it in a sling. He was useless with his left hand so someone offered to help him out. It was kind of hot to watch so after that we would all help each other...” he trailed off, realising how pathetic is all sounded. “We were just kids really,” he added, face burning with embarrassment. “Barely sixteen.” If he’d been hoping to sound sophisticated, he knew he’d just failed miserably. Arthur must think him a complete bumpkin by now.
Daring a quick look at Arthur, Merlin saw that the Prince was at least smiling. “And since then?” Arthur asked, sounding genuinely interested. Merlin couldn’t help but notice that the Prince’s manhood had begun to take an interest in his tale too.
“Just before I came to Camelot, Will and I got drunk on scrumpy and went skinny dipping in the pond,” he said hesitantly, eyes alternating between Arthur’s face and his burgeoning erection. “The bastard pretended he’d drowned and when I tried to breathe for him, he thought I was trying to kiss him so he punched me on the nose. We started fighting and rolling about in the mud but it ended up with us both getting sort of excited and coming all over each other. It only happened that one time, and Will refused to ever talk about it again.”
As he told this story, Merlin watched Arthur’s cock rise to full extension with each word spoken. He couldn’t imagine what Arthur found arousing about two lads fighting in the mud, but he intended to ask... later. Right now he was more interested in seeing how far he could take this. It felt a lot like what he was used to. It felt a lot like the barn gatherings; guys talking about sex and getting turned on then having a wank. The only difference was that there were only two of them, both were relatively sober, and one of them was naked and oh, also the Crowned Prince of Camelot, but apart from that, totally the same!
Arthur reached down and began stroking his cock lazily, like he had all the time in the world, like it was almost an afterthought. “Any more exploits you’d care to share?” he asked, voice gone husky and low.
Merlin felt a shiver of desire shoot right through his body on hearing Arthur’s voice like that and he gulped, loosening his lacings to give his poor cock some room to breathe. Yes, this was good, this felt familiar and safe. “The first time I visited the tavern here in Camelot,” he continued shakily, “John, the stable hand, tried to help me home after, but I was too drunk to walk far, so we went to the stables and we... um... might have done some stuff.”
“Details?” Arthur growled, his hand moving a little faster, his chest rising and falling a little more rapidly. Even in the dim light inside the tent, Merlin could see the sweat beading on his upper lip. He had the strangest urge to lean forward and lick it off, which was neither familiar, nor safe, but something Merlin craved with all his heart anyway.
“He... he put his... his mouth on me.” Merlin shoved his hand down his breeches and fisted his cock. “Bugger! I’m so hard right now! Arthur, I...”
“Merlin,” Arthur moaned, eyes briefly drifting closed, “keep talking.”
Merlin squeezed the base of his cock really hard to stave off his imminent orgasm. This was probably one of the strangest things Merlin had ever done, but it was also one of the most erotic. Seeing Arthur become so focused and turned on with every word Merlin uttered, made him dizzy with want.
“M..my cock...” he whispered. “He sucked my cock and I have never come so hard in all my days, Arthur. And even though I was drunk, and not supposed to remember the next day, I did... I did remember.”
“Fuck!” A hands breadth away, Arthur groaned deeply and slumped back onto the ground, fist still pumping at a steady pace. “And did you return the favour, Merlin?” His voice ignited liquid fire in Merlin’s belly. “Did you put that irreverent, fuckable mouth of yours to good use...”
“No! Not with the stable hand,” he gasped. “I kind of passed out right after.”
“Then with whom?” Arthur’s eyes were heavy lidded in the gloom, but Merlin could still make out the hard glitter of them as Arthur watched him intently.
Merlin hesitated. It was one thing to admit to drunken fumblings with other servants, but he didn’t want to get anyone else into trouble. Anyone that Arthur actually knew and admired that was.
“Merlin! Tell me!” Arthur demanded, breathing hard.
There was no way he could resist the tone of command in Arthur’s voice. “After the knighting ceremony,” he whispered. “We were both really drunk. We shared my bed and lay top to tail and we... we did that to each other. We sucked each other...”
Arthur’s eyes snapped wide open and he gasped, “Lancelot? You and... Oh, fuck! Merlin!”
Again, Merlin had to squeeze his cock tightly at the sight of Arthur’s orgasm erupting from him like a force of nature. It was the hottest thing Merlin had ever seen, the incident in the lake earlier notwithstanding.
Arthur’s body shuddered under the force of it, pale in the dim light and bathed in a thin sheen of sweat. His head was thrown back and Merlin was weak with the desire to just lean over and sink his teeth into that gorgeous, glistening throat. God, he was going to pass out if he didn’t get to come soon. He kicked his breeches off while setting up a frantic rhythm with his right hand. He was still wearing his tunic, which was shoved up about his chest, but he didn’t care. He was so close to coming he could almost taste it.
Arthur, it seemed, had other ideas.
Both of Merlin’s hands were suddenly pinned over his head. Arthur straddled his stomach, still breathing heavily as he stared down at his half demented manservant.
“You really are a dark horse, aren’t you, Merlin? I can’t believe you did that with Lancelot!” he said, gaze moving rapidly between Merlin’s mouth and his eyes. “Not that I blame you. He’s very good looking, and if things had worked out differently, he and I might....” Arthur’s eyes seemed to glaze over for a moment but then they were back on Merlin, hard and demanding. “Are there any more? I want to hear about them all. I want to know everything you’ve done. Tell me Merlin! Hold nothing back!”
Merlin groaned. With Arthur sitting on his stomach like this, his cock slid between the globes of Arthur’s arse, and throbbed insistently. “No, that’s it,” he panted, arching his body upwards for more contact, more friction, more anything. “There’s been no-one else. I swear!”
Arthur leaned in closer, breath ghosting over Merlin’s lips. “Listen carefully, Merlin. This is important. Despite the fact that all your previous experience seems to be as a result of too much ale, you’re stone cold sober right now. Tell me the truth. Will you regret this come morning?”
Arthur was right. He was sober. This was no drunken fumble. He wasn’t hard because he had been thinking about a woman’s breasts; he was hard because he had been thinking of Arthur Pendragon coming his brains out not a foot away from him and he had not one excuse for it. Only the fact that Arthur was... well Arthur, and he wanted to be so much more to him than just his servant.
“No!” he cried, “I really won’t regret it, Arthur, just ... please... let me come!”
Arthur hesitated, eyes glittering intensely as he stared down at Merlin. “I need to tell you... there’s something...”
“Arthur! For pity’s sake, please” Merlin squirmed desperately beneath the Prince’s weight. This was sheer, unadulterated torture. He wondered manically if someone could actually die of unquenched lust.
Arthur didn’t hesitate any longer. He shifted quickly downwards, nudging Merlin’s thighs apart with his knees, and fitted himself between them. Merlin’s cock slapped wetly against his own belly and a moment later was trapped there by Arthur’s body as he pressed Merlin into the hard ground, his mouth finding Merlin’s in a brutal kiss. For a split second, Merlin was so shocked that Arthur was actually kissing him that he froze in place. He felt Arthur begin to pull back and he couldn’t have that. Merlin wrapped his legs tightly around Arthur’s waist and his hips jerked up, and up, and up again and again, finally getting some friction going between his cock and Arthur’s slick belly. Arthur withdrew from the kiss, pressing soft words of encouragement against his neck. “That’s it.” “Come on, Merlin.” And then, “God, come for me!” Arthur mostly swallowed Merlin’s cry of ecstasy as he finally, mercifully, did just that.
It was overpoweringly good, and Merlin began to realise that he had wanted this for a very long time. Wanted this with Arthur. His whole life so far had been leading up to this one glorious, shining moment and he wanted more. He needed more.
From outside the tent they heard Oswald’s amused voice say, “Now you’re scaring the horses! Sire, can’t you keep Merlin quiet?” Merlin hid his face in Arthur’s neck and tried to suffocate himself out of sheer embarrassment.
Once their hearts and breathing had slowed to a more normal pace, Arthur drew back and looked down at Merlin. Voice quiet and husky he asked, “Are you going to pretend this never happened? Like those times with the boys from your village?”
Merlin knew, deep down in his soul, he could never deny this. His friendship for Arthur had been set on fire, and now it burned brightly under a new name.
Love. It had to be. Even with his brain half addled from the best orgasm he’d ever had, he could finally recognise it for what it was. But what of Arthur’s feelings? Would this be just another Summer Camp exploit to the Prince?
“Are you?” he asked, voice cracking as he threw the question right back at Arthur.
Arthur sighed deeply and rolled onto his back, staring up at the roof of the tent. “There is no need for me to hide my desires under a veil of alcoholic pretence. Since I was old enough to know what my dick was for, I was encouraged to take a male lover until the time came for me to wed and beget an heir. It’s not an unusual practice amongst the nobility and considered more acceptable than running the risk of fathering illegitimate children who could later make a claim to the estate, or in my case, the throne. Of course we don’t speak of it in polite company, you understand. Some discretion is obviously required.”
Yes, thought Merlin, things would have to be different for the landed gentry. It would never be as simple as just falling in love for them. It was all about wealth and power, and protecting them at all costs. It certainly went a long way to explaining the behaviour he’d witnessed that day. He sighed softly and nodded for Arthur to continue.
“The purpose of the Summer Camp is for me to choose a new consort from the knights and nobles who have expressed interest. Leon was my consort, but the position can be held for one year only to prevent any serious attachment forming. My father would never allow any one man that level of power and influence for longer.”
“The King knows about this?” Merlin gasped.
“Of course he knows, Merlin. The practice has been going on for generations, after all.”
Merlin tried to wrap his head around the thought of Uther getting hot and sweaty with the knights and found himself shuddering violently. Never more had he wished for a flagon of ale or a blow to the head; anything to erase that particular image from his mind.
“Are you trying to give me nightmares?” he muttered under his breath.
It was strange indeed, but at least things were beginning to add up for Merlin. He now understood what was really happening all those evenings where Sir Leon would show up at Arthur’s chambers early in the evening carrying a jug of wine and an armful of charts. Arthur would dismiss Merlin, giving orders not to be awoken too early as they would be strategising late into the night. And although Merlin would give him at least two extra marks of the candle before going to wake him, the Prince would still look utterly exhausted the next morning.
And in the lake earlier, the knights had been ‘courting’ Arthur, each one trying to seek favour in his eyes. Leon had drunk next to nothing all day knowing he would be standing watch, while Arthur bedded his replacement. It was sort of heartbreaking in a way, but Leon didn’t seem at all upset. And if what Arthur said was true, Leon had already set his sights on his own replacement for Arthur. It was flattering and all but... just... no.
Then something occurred to him. “But, you didn’t take any of the knights to your tent. You took me!” Frankly, Merlin didn’t understand. Oswald was broad and muscled, stunning to look at with his thick mane of flaming hair. And he was a knight. A noble. Merlin didn’t know Arthur’s ‘type’ but if he had to guess, he would guess it was Oswald.
Arthur leaned in close and whispered conspiratorially. “Oswald is a great fighter, and I would have him at my back in any field of battle, but his interest in me is based wholly on what power the position of Crown Consort might bring him at Court. Besides, have you seen the size of his cock? Talk about scaring the horses...”
A burst of surprised laughter tore loose from Merlin and he had to stifle it with his hand. Arthur’s face sobered and he continued, “Despite that, I had all but made up my mind to take him as consort. Gerraint is too young, Pelinore too competitive, and Bors and Lamorak bore me half to death. Then I saw the way Leon’s eyes followed your every move and I found that I could not allow it.”
Merlin rolled onto his side, smiling indulgently at the Prince. “So, thinking me a blushing virgin, you decided to step in and protect my virtue.” But the smile died on his face at the intensity of the gaze that met his.
“You can hardly blame me for that supposition, Merlin. I watched you attend the knights all day. You barely knew where to put your eyes and your face was crimson most of the time. How was I to know you’d already had sex with half of Camelot?”
“Oh, hardly!” Merlin protested. “A stable hand and one of my best friends does not add up to half of sodding Camelot...”
“Shut up Merlin. I’m trying to tell you something important here.”
Merlin nodded, and settled back on the ground to listen.
“I told myself that I was merely protecting you from Leon’s unwanted advances, then when I began to suspect that they may not be all that unwanted... well, if I’m completely honest... in all honesty, Merlin...” Arthur took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I realised it wasn’t about Leon at all. I could not bear to let any man touch you.”
Arthur was frowning deeply and Merlin reached out a cautious hand to rest on his shoulder. He wasn’t at all sure he understood what was going on, but he could see that Arthur was struggling with something. “It’s alright, Arthur. His advances would have been unwanted. I’m not angry or anything...”
“You don’t understand!” Arthur batted Merlin’s hand away. “Because of my jealousy, I acted without thinking it through.” He shook his head and took another steadying breath. “Under the rules of Summer Camp, by entering my tent, you have agreed to become official Crown Consort. I knew that when I ordered you to follow me, but you did not. I shouldn’t have made that decision for you. Under the circumstances, I wouldn’t blame you if you refused the position.” Arthur mumbled the last part, staring down at his feet, totally unable to meet Merlin’s gaze.
“Oh!” Merlin had no idea what to say to that. The thought of doing this and more with Arthur, maybe in a bed, in Arthur’s bed, filled him with a deep longing. There was nothing he wanted more. But it didn’t seem to be what Arthur wanted. He’d acted rashly out of a sudden burst of possessiveness, and now could be saddled with Merlin as a lover for a whole year. He wouldn’t force Arthur to live with those consequences, no matter how much he longed to be more than just a servant to him. Talking of which... “Well, it’s probably a moot point, isn’t it? I mean, I’m nothing but a servant,” he said softly. “Your father would ....”
“Actually, the only thing that matters is that I take a male lover, Merlin. There are no rules as to his station in life, although so far, the role has always gone to a noble or knight. What matters is his lack of female reproductive organs! If we were discreet, my father could raise little objection.”
“Bloody hell!” Merlin said, not entirely sure he could face Uther Pendragon’s version of a little objection. And was Arthur actually considering this? Could it be that Arthur actually wanted to take their relationship to a whole other level?
“He would rant for a while, but in the end, he’d agree. This only works if I have the right to choose. He’d not risk the line of succession by taking away that right, fearing it might cause me to rebel and take a woman to my bed.”
Not entirely reassured, Merlin watched the cogs of Arthur’s brain turn. Ultimately, if Arthur believed it would work Merlin would cross that bridge when he was fleeing over it. “So, are you saying that you actually want this with me?”
Arthur nodded quickly, reaching out a hand to rest on Merlin’s shoulder. “Yes, I do. Very much.”
Then something occurred to him, and it was like a bucket of cold water had been thrown over his head. “Say I agree,” he said. “Am I to hand you over to my replacement next year, at Summer Camp, and go on being your manservant as if nothing has happened between us? Because, I’m not sure I could do that, Arthur.”
A shadow fell over Arthur’s face and he looked away. “Yes. One year together and then it must end.” Arthur’s eyes were suspiciously bright when he finally looked back at Merlin. “The rules cannot be broken for any man.”
Merlin already knew his heart was lost to Arthur. He couldn’t imagine a year of falling more deeply in love, only to have to give it all up. But if he did not accept what was offered, if he said no, he would have to watch another man take his place in Arthur’s bed. That, he could not bear. He would have to leave Camelot, and to hell with his great destiny. “Bugger,” he said into the awkward silence that had descended.
“I’ve never felt this way about a potential consort before,” Arthur admitted. “In the past, it’s just been about sex, but with you... it’s different. It’s more, somehow. I can’t put my finger on it.” Now that his skin was starting to cool, Merlin felt the cold night air shiver over his body and pulled Arthur’s cloak up to his chin. Arthur sighed and moved closer, running his fingers through Merlin’s hair in a heartbreakingly tender motion. “If I were king, I would not hesitate to change the rules. I would have you at my right hand always.”
Merlin drew in a sharp breath, surprised that Arthur felt that strongly. Until that moment, he had not been as sure of Arthur’s feelings as he was of his own. He wished even more now, that he was still living in blissful ignorance; that he had never come to realise the full depth of his feelings. Things would have been so much simpler if he’d never come along on this trip.
“But you’re not king yet,” he said quietly. “It could be years...”
Arthur’s eyes were suddenly alight with fervour. “Merlin, if you give me this year, I promise you that I will find a way to make it more. Perhaps next year, Sir Gareth would agree to be consort in name only, and there are others who would welcome the status, but not the intimacy. If we kept it a secret, we could be together for years, and when I am king... on that day, many things will change.” His eyes sparkled in the darkness, full of promise and hope.
Merlin desperately wanted to believe it. He wanted to believe in a ‘happily ever after’ ending to their story but there were still secrets between them, and there was still so much neither of them could control. “What if your father insists that you take a wife? You’ll need an heir to the throne eventually, Arthur.”
“It’s true that some men have kept lovers after they wed but I could not take an oath of fidelity knowing that I would break it.” Merlin would not have expected any less from Arthur. It was his deep need to do the right thing that had won Merlin over in the first place, after all. He sighed, and looked up to see that Arthur was actually smiling. Considering the gravity of the situation, it seemed a little out of place. And in fact, now that he looked more closely, he could see that Arthur’s eyes were sparkling with mischief. “Perhaps I could meet a mysterious orphaned princess from a distant land.” Arthur mused. “She would be tall of course, with long, raven black hair and a wicked sense of humour...”
Merlin raised his eyebrows in confusion. How was that going to help exactly?
Arthur continued, “It would be a fairytale romance. You would become my bride, then after the birth of our first child, a boy of course, you would mysteriously disappear leaving the child in my care.”
Merlin felt every drop of blood drain from his face. “I... what?” Was Arthur actually suggesting that he could play the role of mystery orphaned princess and bear him a child?
Ignoring Merlin’s look of horror, Arthur continued to ramble on. “We would have to come up with a good reason for Merlin’s absence during that period. Perhaps a crisis back home in Ealdor or something. And of course, if I become king before I’m forced to wed... well, like I said, on that day, many things will change. There would be no need for you to transform yourself into a woman... unless you really wanted to!”
Merlin clutched his head in utter disbelief. Surely it was meant in jest. He couldn’t actually know Merlin’s secret. Could he?
“I mean to say, you would look quite fetching in a dress. Blue, perhaps to bring out your eyes...”
“Arthur!” Merlin yelled, before the Prince could take his flight of fancy any further. Then remembering the knights on guard outside, he lowered his voice. “What you’re suggesting... I’d need to have.... well, I’d have to be a....”
“A sorcerer?” Arthur supplied helpfully. “Lucky for us, then, that you are one.”
Merlin’s mouth opened and closed several times over the course of the next few seconds, but try as he might, no sound would come out. He was frozen to the spot and stunned beyond all comprehension. Arthur was grinning from ear to ear, clearly very happy to have gotten the last word.
“Too many strange and inexplicable things happen when you are around, Merlin, so I began paying closer attention,” Arthur explained smugly. “You’re actually not that good at hiding it. Honestly, it’s a wonder your head is still attached to your neck. I’ve known for months.”
Merlin let himself flop back onto the ground and stared up at the roof of the tent. He felt like his head was about to explode with the sheer force of all the revelations he had weathered that day. It was too much for one little brain to take. Arthur knew about his magic! Arthur had known for ages, and he had not had Merlin burned at the stake nor exiled. Why had Arthur not told his father? Why had he never confronted Merlin about it? His mind felt like a river in full spate, with so many questions bubbling to the surface, that he could barely keep his head above it. He determinedly pushed the questions aside. It was of futures he wished to talk now. Specifically, Arthur’s hastily formed solution to the question of theirs!
“So, let me get this straight,” he said, tone cautious and a little disbelieving. “You’re basically saying that we can bribe key knights in order to continue a clandestine relationship or have me transform magically into a woman, get pregnant to you, give birth to an heir, and then change into a man again to continue as your permanent consort until death do us part?”
“I notice you do not deny you have magic,” Arthur replied loftily, “which we will be addressing again at a later date, but getting back to the matter in hand—it does sound a little farfetched, when you put it like that.”
“No, I like it!” Merlin grinned. “It’s just bloody well insane enough to work.” He knew he could transform into a woman, he’d done it... once or twice before. Even remaining a man, which would definitely be his first choice, he was fairly sure he knew a spell that would allow him carry a child to full term... and that way, the child would truly be ‘theirs’. The finer details could be worked out later.
Suddenly, Arthur had him pinned beneath his not inconsiderable weight, and the Prince was beaming like a beacon in the dead of night. “Are you saying yes?”
Merlin sighed melodramatically and rolled his eyes. Yesterday he’d been nothing but a servant in Arthur’s eyes. Now he was so much more. He was lover, friend, and confidant and, well... future Queen but the less said about that, the better. Most importantly, there was the tremendous relief he felt over no longer having to keep secrets from Arthur. He felt lighter than air, is if a massive weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
“I’m saying yes, you huge, great clotpole!”
And then Arthur was kissing him again, and any further thoughts he might have had on the matter were put very firmly to the back of his mind.
They had a destiny, he and Arthur. The Great Dragon had said so, and Merlin knew that although he often couched the truth in mysticism, the dragon never lied.
One month. One year. One lifetime or a hundred, He would live every moment with Arthur to the full, and maybe they could actually make this thing work. Maybe he could be at Arthur’s right hand always.