“We’ve been riding out to search for a white stag on the shortest day of the year for as long as I can recall. And every year we return to the castle empty handed and frozen to the bone.” Arthur complained. “But it’s tradition. I can’t really get out of it without angering my father.”
Merlin fetched Arthur’s boots and watched as the prince put them on. Arthur had a very good cobbler, and great taste in footwear. The leather was soft as butter, but the soles were sturdy and strong. They smelled fantastic too, but wild horses wouldn’t make Merlin say that out loud.
Arthur picked up his gloves from the table and glanced longingly at his bed. “Forget the soup. I’d rather have hot mulled wine on my return.”
“Shall I bake you a cake, Sire?” Merlin teased, turning down the sheets. Arthur could be a demanding prat when he was being forced to do something he didn’t want to do.
“That’d be nice.” Arthur, for once, didn’t rise to the bait. He looked so damned miserable, that Merlin really did begin to feel sorry for him.
“Any idea how long this quest will take? I’d like to make sure the fire is blazing and the bed is warm before you return.”
Arthur shook his head. “There’s no telling, so you might as well remain here until you hear us ride back through the main gates.”
“That won’t allow enough time to heat the warming pans and bank up the fire.” Merlin wasn’t about to risk being discovered using magic just so the prat could crawl into a toasty warm bed.
But Arthur was grinning widely and advancing on him with a look in his eyes that made Merlin’s heart race. “Then you must personally see to it that the bed is kept warm until my return. I’m sure you’ll work something out.”
And with that parting shot, Arthur strode from the chamber leaving Merlin to wonder if that had been meant to sound the way it had.
Four hours later, he was awoken from a deep sleep by the sound of a door banging open. He sat up, feeling disorientated and confused. He looked around, trying to make sense of his surroundings.
“Merlin! What the devil do you think you’re doing?”
Arthur stood in the doorway, wet hair plastered to his head, steam rising from his soaked clothing and Merlin imagined it was coming out of his ears too in outrage and fury. Arthur slammed the door shut behind him and Merlin finally remembered where he was.
In Arthur’s bed.
“Keeping the bed warm, as per your instructions, Sire?” he mumbled uncertainly. It has seemed like such a good idea at the time. He convinced himself that this was exactly what Arthur had meant, but now he wasn’t at all sure. He grabbed his shirt from the end of the bed and fumbled it over his head.
At the same instant, Arthur began divesting himself of his wet clothing. “I rather naively assumed that you would use your poorly hidden magical talents to make sure all was ready for my return.” Arthur stood naked in front of the dying fire and shivered. “You never cease to surprise me, Merlin.”
Merlin had frozen in the act of reaching for his britches at the mention of magic. Even the sight of Arthur, naked and glowing in the firelight could not break through the shock. “You know about…”
Arthur strode towards the bed. “You are a terrible liar and I am not an imbecile. Move over.”
Merlin blinked and did as he was bid.
“But one thing I have to give you credit for,” Arthur said, snuggling closer, “you do make a great bed warmer.”
Merlin wasn’t sure what to say. Arthur knew, and it didn’t seem to bother him. Arthur was also not kicking him out of the bed. This, Merlin decided, boded very well for his future until Arthur’s flesh met his.
“Aaarghhhh, you’re feet are freezing,” Merlin yelped, trying to put as much space between them as he could.
“Shut up,” Arthur mumbled against his neck, “or I’ll insist you fetch me the mulled wine after all.”