Genre: romance, fluff.
Wordcount for this part: 2900cc.
Summary: Accompaniment to this painting. "It's not unusual for a noble to have a loved one painted in miniature so that they can wear the small, bejeweled, painted trinket within their clothes, close to their heart, or take it on journeys with them"
Merlin first noticed the necklace on a Thursday.
He’s helping Arthur out of his armour after morning training (“Gods, you stink, Arthur!” – “I do not stink. Princes cannot stink, Merlin, they smell manly.”), when the light from the window of the armory caught on an exposed link of gold chain around Arthur’s neck, beside the usual leather cord that holds Arthur’s pendant. Merlin lifted the hauberk from Arthur’s shoulders. Now he can see that the chain was tucked away under Arthur’s shirt.
“What’s that?” he asked, letting his armful of armour drop onto the tabletop with a crash.
“What’s what?” replied Arthur, pouring water from the jug.
“That. New jewelry?”
Arthur grunted in response.
“So…?” prompted Merlin, setting out each piece of armour for polishing. He lined everything up so they took up the entire length of the table, just to annoy Arthur. Plus, the light reflected off the silver better this way, making the armour look extra shiny.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Merlin,” said Arthur, and then the next thing Merlin knew, Arthur was gone so fast, Merlin swore there was an imprint of the prince in the air where he had recently stood.
Merlin stared for a moment, blinking.
Over the next few days, Merlin was determined to find out what exactly it was that Arthur wanted to hide.
After all, if it was a normal necklace, why would Arthur act so suspiciously? And ‘suspicious’ was the only word that could describe Arthur’s guilty start when Merlin burst into his chambers one morning with breakfast, unannounced. Merlin, surprised that Arthur wasn’t still snoring like a boar, paused in the doorway. There was a sharp snap of what sounded like clasps clicking together, a glimpse of something gold and oval and pendant-shaped, then a blur of movement as Arthur sat up straight in his bed, hand casually rubbing the back of his neck.
But Merlin, being sharp eyed and extremely clever, had caught the tell-tell glint of gold chain, swiftly disappearing under nightshirt.
It was suspicious, that was what it was.
“Breakfast…?” said Merlin, and it came out as more of a question.
“Merlin. We have a custom here in Camelot. Being slow of wit, you seemed to have missed it. It’s called knocking.”
Merlin ignored the comment, sliding the tray onto Arthur’s table. He picked up Arthur’s clothes for the day, folded neatly on a chair, and passed them over, before going to the windows and pulling aside the draperies. Light flooded the room, warming it with early morning gold.
Gold like the chain.
Merlin sneaked a sideways glance at Arthur while he pretended to set out the napkins beside the plate of ham and cheese. He caught a glimpse of Arthur’s naked back (!) but the prince seemed to be employing some technique which enabled him to switch shirts without either shirt leaving his shoulders. Which meant that Merlin couldn’t see what the necklace was. Bugger.
Later, as he left Arthur’s chambers, Merlin concluded that this behavior affirmed his suspicions. Arthur knew Merlin was on to him, which meant Merlin must in turn be extra cunning. Stealthy. Yes.
He chewed thoughtfully on a piece of stolen ham and went off to find Gwen.
“Have you noticed that Arthur’s been carting around jewelry lately?” asked Merlin.
“Jewelry?” said Gwen, “No?”
“Oh,” said Merlin.
When Merlin next helped Arthur out of his armour, he noticed that the chain was gone. Only the original leather cord hung there, black on the white of Arthur’s throat, the fang swinging as Arthur swatted him upside the head.
“…disturbance in the north. Honestly, Merlin. Stop day dreaming! Have you heard a word I’ve said?”
“Nope,” said Merlin, giving him a wide smile, “But it can’t have been anything important, coming from you.”
Perhaps Arthur was afraid of damaging the necklace whilst training, thought Merlin as he polished the armour methodically. That or he didn’t want Merlin to bring up the subject again, because the necklace was suspicious business. Yes, that seemed much more likely: Arthur was being careful now, lest Merlin found out about whatever it was he wasn’t supposed to find out about.
“Why weren’t you down at the training fields to help me out of my armour?” asked Arthur, the doors of the chamber banging open. Merlin jerked upwards and accidently hit his head on the edge of the bed, where he was currently crouching.
Arthur paused. Merlin could see his boots on the floor.
“What are you doing down there?” he asked.
“Cleaning under the bed,” said Merlin, returning to his task – a scowl on his face because it was obvious the necklace wasn’t under the bed. He had spent the entire morning “cleaning” Arthur’s room in the hope of finding where Arthur might have stashed the necklace whilst he was training. He had looked in every cupboard, under ever wardrobe, the mattress and even under Arthur’s pillow. But there was nothing.
Arthur’s footsteps neared, and he bent down next to Merlin’s legs which were sticking out from under the bed. Merlin felt Arthur’s hands closed around his ankle and then he yelped as he was pulled out in reverse. He sneezed from the dust, blinking up at Arthur who was looking at him with a bemused expression, still in his armour.
“Don’t even try, Merlin. I know for a fact that you have never cleaned under the bed. In fact, I highly doubt you have ever cleaned, full stop.”
“What!” protested Merlin, “I clean!”
“I do,” repeated Merlin, “And I found this!”
He drew out his hands from under the bed, an old, dust covered bear in his hand.
Merlin smiled sweetly.
“Did you drop it last night?”
Arthur’s face was something Merlin thought he would never forget; surprise, indignation, guilt all rolled into one hilarious expression.
“That- That’s not mine,” spluttered Arthur, letting go of Merlin’s leg at last and folding both arms defensively over his chest.
Merlin sat up.
He looked down at the bear, dusting it off with a finger. It had button eyes and red stitches, and a rather grumpy expression. Maybe Merlin could re-sew the mouth so it was smiling instead.
“Reeeaaaly,” said Merlin, unconvinced.
There was another spluttering sound from Arthur.
“Wh-fine. Fine! It is- was. Was mine, when I was a child. You can throw it out now.”
“You sure you don’t want to keep it?” asked Merlin.
“It might help you sleep.”
“I said no!”
“Aww, does Arthur get lone-“
“For heaven’s sake,” Arthur exploded, “just throw it out!”
His outburst effectively shut Merlin up. He stared at Arthur for a moment, unsure of what had just happened, the bear still clutched in his left hand. Arthur made a strange sound, a cross between a sigh and a ‘hummph’.
“Go and muck out the stables, Merlin,” he commanded. And Merlin went.
When he was half way through the stalls, he realised that the bear had completely sidetracked him from the Mysterious Necklace Conspiracy. He hadn’t even noticed if Arthur had it on when he walked in, hauberk or not. Forking more fresh hay into the stall, Merlin vowed to be more vigilant.
The bear frowned at him from its perch on the stable gate.
Merlin almost tripped over his own feet when he noticed, one afternoon, that the Lady Morgana had a gold necklace too.
As it were, he did trip, and ran headlong into a corner.
“Goodness! Are you alright?” asked Morgana.
Merlin rubbed the lump forming on his head.
He got back onto his feet. Morgana smiled at him, and from here, he could see that the necklace wasn’t exactly the same; the chain was more slender. But the links were the same shape as Arthur’s, Merlin was sure. She wore it on her bare neck, and Merlin could see a…pendant?
“Erm, nice necklace,” said Merlin, trying to examine the necklace more closely without looking as if he was staring at Morgana’s cleavage.
Morgana unclasped the chain from the back of her neck.
“It’s a picture of my father,” she explained, and Merlin watched, fascinated as Morgana opened the pendant to reveal a small, tiny painting of a man. It was seemingly set in a minute gold frame, with a hinge that enabled the lid to be clasped shut.
“Wow,” said Merlin, “That’s. Pretty. Er.”
Morgana stifled a giggle.
“Most of the court ladies have one of their sweethearts,” said Morgana, “It’s not uncommon.”
“Thank you!” Merlin called over his shoulder as he sprinted back down the corridor.
The thought that Arthur had a secret lover made Merlin a little unhappy.
Or a lot unhappy.
He wondered if it was a picture of Gwen that Arthur carried around with him. It would explain the secrecy, because the Crown Prince of Camelot could hardly be seen pining after a serving girl; much less carrying a portrait of her. Merlin supposed it could also be a painting of Arthur’s mother, the late Queen Igraine, but Merlin was sure he had not seen Arthur wear that necklace every before. If it was of his mother, wouldn’t Merlin have seen him wear it before now?
All the deduction was making Merlin’s head hurt.
It was near midnight when he crept back into Arthur’s chambers. There was a gap in the drapes, letting a shaft of moonlight fall in a perfect line across the floor and across the bed. Merlin could see Arthur’s chest rising and falling slowly; asleep.
Merlin crept closer, around the table and chairs until he was next to the bed.
Arthur had his duvet bunched around his hips, mouth slightly open. And on his neck, lay the necklace and it’s pendant – it was just like Morgana’s!- dull gold in the darkness. The chain was curved in coils about Arthur’s head. He wore the necklace to sleep! He wore a picture of his mother to sleep!
Merlin had to know.
“You do realise this is extremely creepy,” said Arthur, without opening his eyes. Merlin squeaked in surprise, whipping his hand back where it had been trying to sneakily open the clasp of the pendant.
“What are you doing?” asked Arthur in a drawl, eyes still closed. One eyebrow was arched, Gaius style.
“Checking for drafts!” blurted Merlin, the first thing that came into his head. “It might be cold!”
“Checking for drafts.“
“Yes! Yes, they can give you pneumonia. Very dangerous. Just making sure that there aren’t any air currents coming through the window.”
“Get out, Merlin,” said Arthur, turning over onto his stomach. His hair stuck up, sleep mussed and fluffy looking. Merlin swallowed hard and stumbled his way to the door.
“Yes ar-Sire, goodnight sire,” he gabbled, wrenching open the door and propelling himself through it. Outside, he leaned against the cold stone wall, trying to calm his racing heart.
“Have you noticed anyone painting you, lately?” asked Merlin.
Gwen gave him an odd look.
“Oh,” said Merlin.
Over the course of three weeks, Merlin was still no closer to discovering who was inside Arthur’s locket. It was slowly driving him crazy. He had organized Arthur’s entire collection of rings and necklaces, arranged every coronet he owned by the number of jewels and still he had not found the necklace. He could only conclude that Arthur was hiding it somewhere other than his chambers, while he trained – and presumably wore it for the rest of the day.
Even as he slept.
“I don’t suppose you know, do you?” Merlin asked the bear, who now sat by his pillow, glowering at the world in general. Merlin wondered if Arthur was ever traumatized as a child, if he owned such an angry looking toy. It would explain a lot.
The bear glared at Merlin.
Merlin glared back.
Two days later, Arthur left for the northern borders with a contingent of knights and didn’t return for six months.
Camelot whispered of war.
When Arthur came back; safe, alive –
“The border disputes were successfully neutralized,” said Arthur, pulling off his gloves, exhaustion in every movement. His eyes were tired. Merlin helped him out of his shirt; dirty with patches of dry blood. There were new scars, running over the old. The necklace rested against Arthur’s skin like it belonged there, metal warm when Merlin accidently brushed against it.
“I’m glad you’re safe,” said Merlin.
He waited for the usual teasing. But Arthur only looked at him for a moment, as if taking in Merlin’s face for the first time. There was something unguarded and painfully vulnerable, the way Arthur smiled and said nothing.
In the end, it all down to the monster. Merlin wasn’t actually sure what it was; only that it had fangs, claws, reptilian eyes that blinked sideways and a tail that really really hurt when it whipped you back against a tree. Fortunately, Merlin didn’t let go of his sword, and he clambered back to his feet, just in time to see Arthur being thrown backwards. He collided with a large oak and lay in a crumpled heap at its roots, unmoving.
Merlin saw red.
Magic surged up within him, uncontrollable like the rage of a storm, the creature screamed; a shriek high and unnatural, before it fell to the ground with an almighty crash. Dead.
Merlin rushed to Arthur’s side; Arthur who wasn’t even wearing armour; just his favourite red shirt and hunting britches. His head lolled, limp on his shoulders.
“God, Arthur. Arthur, wake up.”
Merlin’s fingers shook as he lifted Arthur’s shirt to check for injuries, thankful to see no blood. There would be bruises, no doubt, and running his hand through Arthur’s hair told him that there would be a few bumps on the back of his head. Nothing serious. Possible concussion. Must get him back to Gaius.
And it was then that Merlin noticed the familiar gold chain on Arthur’s neck, slick with sweat. Glancing up at Arthur’s still slack face, he tentatively lifted the necklace out from under Arthur’s shirt, weighing the heavy gold locket in his palm. His curiosity burned. Surely…? It wasn’t as if Merlin would tell anyone.
Digging a fingernail under the clasp, Merlin popped it open.
His own face stared back.
It was a painting in oils; his portrait on a green backdrop. He was smiling, very slightly, wearing his usual scruffy shirt and coat. His neckerchief was missing. His ears stuck out. The frame was bronze-gold, inlaid with cut rubies and sapphires around each quarter point. And it was…
Merlin was unable to tear his eyes away from the miniature.
What on earth was his picture doing in Arthur’s locket?
Merlin dropped the locket as if it had burned his hands. Arthur was blinking back into consciousness, eyes focusing slowly on Merlin’s guilty face, then down to the locket, still open, on his chest. Arthur’s eyes widened in realization and he jerked backwards, away, hand coming up and snapping the miniature closed.
“Arthur- I didn’t mean-”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Arthur curtly, standing up so fast he had to steady himself against the tree. Merlin stood up also, reaching forwards to help- but freezing when Arthur stepped backwards; away.
“I didn’t know-“
There were bright spots of colour on Arthur’s cheeks.
“I said it doesn’t matter!”
“Goddamn!” Arthur shouted, voice echoing in the suddenly quiet wood, “will you just let it go!”
Merlin took a step backwards at Arthur’s expression, and something shifted in his face; a shadow like regret and hurt that passed by so quickly Merlin thought he must have imagined it.
His heart felt three sizes too big, his lungs suddenly non-existent.
“Why didn’t you ever say anything?” asked Merlin, and Arthur let out a bark of laughter; bitter and laced with self-derision. The sound made Merlin cringe.
“Was there any point?” he said, voice raw, “You’d never- I can’t-“
Arthur took a shuddering breath, eyes fixed on a point in the distance.
“Well. There you are, then. If you want to seek employment elsewhere, I most certainly understand, you could-“
Merlin shut him up with a kiss.
Much later, when the sun was low in the sky and the tree tops tinged with red, and Merlin was slotted snug under Arthur’s arm and in the dip of his side, Merlin smiled into the curve of Arthur’s neck. The necklace bumped against the bridge of his nose.
“What are you grinning about?” asked Arthur, voice languid and slow as the evening.
“Oh. Nothing,” said Merlin, smile growing wider.
He felt Arthur pressed a kiss into his hair.
“Must be the concussion.”
Merlin reached across and tugged on the locket.
“You won’t need this now, you know,” he said, stifling a yawn.
Arthur looked down.
“I’d be here always.”
Because Merlin would. Of course, there was the matter of destiny. And his magic; secrets which must be said, lies which must be told. Bridges and wars and kings. But all that could be put away safely in the future of tomorrow.
For now, everything could wait.
So I wrote this all in one go, very rush, unbetaed and I'll probably come back and revise it at some point. Originally, it was going to be an epic work of epic ness, with betrayal and the irony of secrets and whatnot. But I wanted to write something fairly light hearted instead.
hope it's not too trashy.