Title: Three Castles (1/2)
Summary: (Merlin, shut up, stop judging me) It’s a perfectly wretched day in Camelot when Uther Pendragon announces Arthur’s betrothal.
It’s a perfectly wretched day in Camelot when Uther Pendragon announces Arthur’s betrothal, which is surprising to all but shocking primarily to Arthur, who was under the impression he would have at least a figurehead sort of say in who he’d eventually marry.
“Well?” Arthur demands, furious.Â “Who is it to be? Someone with the pox or someone who is simple?Â Does she drink?”
The king rolls his eyes.Â “Your spouse is none of these things.”
“Then why hadn’t I been informed previously I was even to *have* a spouse?” Arthur bursts out, sending all of the servants scattering to the furthest perimeter of the room, which is unlikely to help them in the event he discovers his intended is wall-eyed after all.
“It merely slipped my mind, Arthur, my God, son,” Pendragon says, sighing.Â “I’m sure you’ll come to enjoy one another or at least develop some kind of tolerance in time.”
Outside the gleaming, stained-glass windows, rain continues to streak downward, slicking most of the village into a living, moving pile of mud.
“Perfect,” Arthur snarled.Â “Auspicious,” he added, and turned to stalk out of the room, coat flaring behind him.
He doesn’t feel much better about it later that night when his fiancee arrives, either, and from his vantage point, hidden in the clearstory looking down into the receiving hall, all he sees is a large band of people more or less entirely covered in mud.
“I’ll never manage an heir at this rate,” Arthur muttered to himself.Â He felt his cock pre-emptively soften at the thought of this farce.
“Your highness,” one of the more wretched looking members of the group said, “may I present to you, Prince Bernard.”
“What!” Arthur said, to himself and very loudly.
Below, the man at the center of the group pulled down the cowl of his traveling robes, and Arthur only had time to take in his pale, smooth skin and dark hair, the very vibrant blue of his eyes before his dick had gone traitorous and interested.
“Don’t get too excited,” he told it.Â “I don’t think effort is going to be enough to get a son out of that one.”
They’re formally introduced at the grand feast, and they’re barely past, “I’m honored to meet you, Bernard of Forsythe,” and “It is fine to make your acquaintance, Arthur of Camelot,” and the mutually unspoken, “What the fucking fuck are we to do about this fuckery?” when noblemen and women from both their lands start lavishing praises and congratulations upon them.
The frozen look of mortification on Bernard’s face more or less mirror’s Arthur’s as he says, soft and from the corner of his mouth so as not to inspire panic or anything in the great hall, “How long have you known about this?”
Arthur raised his cup to a group of embarrassingly drunk clerks in a far corner.Â “Oh, I imagine as long as you have.”
“Fantastic,” Bernard pronounced, dredging up a smile for Morgana and Gwen, who were huddled in a far corner gossiping, obviously, Arthur thought with great loathing.Â “We’re obviously bollocksed.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Arthur said, and he did.
Morning was only slightly more dignified than his blurry memories of the evening before — at some point, Morgana and Gwen had approached them and asked, extremely seriously, had they decided which one would be the wife, which had of course inspired another round of imbibing which may or may not have led to Bernard sniveling into a tablecloth that he wasn’t even supposed to *be here* and he had *wanted* to train to be a brewer — and improved only by the fact that when Arthur forced his eyes to open, the first thing he saw were Bernard’s lashes, dark against the delicate white of his cheeks.
Chastity was something only maidens in stories apparently could aspire to, Arthur decided, since somebody (not either of them) had obviously made the executive decision to dump the pair of them into Arthur’s bed at the end of the night.
Bernard made a whimpering noise and turned his face deeper into the down mattress, and Arthur had a startling moment where he considered that perhaps being trapped into inescapable matrimony against his will with Bernard might not be so terrible after all.Â It was very affecting.
From outside the heavy brocade curtains that swept the light from his bed, his manservant called out, “Sire — just to ascertain, you haven’t despoiled one another, have you?”
“I take it back,” Arthur decided out loud.Â “I pray for death.”
Bernard opened his eyes blearily.Â “Yes, enough for two, please,” he begged, and pulled a pillow over his face miserably.
Pendragon had pulled Arthur aside and informed him he would be spending a week gaining better knowledge of his intended while the wedding arrangements were finalized, during which time Arthur was to be charming and extremely solicitous.
“I am always charming and extremely solicitous,” Arthur complained.
“Lying is a sin, Arthur,” his father reminded him, and went off to find Bernard, who seemed to have taken to hiding in small, dark corners of the castle as frequently as possible.
“Do you fight?” Arthur asked Bernard later, when they’d been corralled into the rose garden together in order to find love in each other’s arms.Â It was going rather slowly.
Bernard looked horrified.Â “No,” he said.
Arthur frowned.Â “Hm.Â Joust?”
“That’s *fighting while riding horses*,” Bernard told him, looking at Arthur as if he were slow.Â “Which is yet another pursuit I do not pursue.Â What about you?Â Do you read?”
“Well,” Arthur said, “I *can* read.”
Bernard looked pensive.Â “Right.Â So I imagine the adultery will begin shortly after our wedding ceremony ends, then.”
“Probably,” Arthur agreed glumly.
Out of nowhere, Bernard frowned and asked, “Did you by any chance tell Lady Morgana last night that I’d be the wife in this relationship?”
Choking, Arthur asked, “Dear God — what?”
“She and Gwen have been sneaking me poultices and flasks of elderberry wine,” Bernard said, shuddering.Â “Something about dampening the hideousness associated with our wedding night.”
“Excuse me,” Arthur said, rising from his seat on the grass and dusting off his leggings.Â “I have a ward to murder.”
Gwen refused to let Arthur kill Morgana, despite his reminding her he was the crown prince of Camelot and he could kill anybody he liked.
“That’s entirely true,” she agreed with him, and then promptly contradicted herself by saying, “But you may not murder Lady Morgana today or tomorrow or any other day.”Â She pointed back toward the hallway and said, “Now go on — you should be spending this time getting to know Bernard better.”
“He’s very sweet!” Morgana called out from one of the interior rooms of her suite.Â “I think he’s extremely dear and obviously far too good for you.”
Arthur gave Gwen a look.
“No,” she repeated, and directed him gently back toward the door.
Bernard had fled from the gardens by the time Arthur made his way back there, and instead he saw the slight, sickly looking manservant Bernard had brought and then failed to command in any way.Â As far as Arthur knew, the boy had been cowering in one of the guest quarters the entire visit.
“Where is your prince?” Arthur asked.
“Er,” the boy said.Â “He’s gone with your father to explore Camelot’s library, I think.”
“Typical,” Arthur sighed.Â He frowned at the servant and asked, “Tell me, does your prince engage in any sport?Â Test his mettle in any way that doesn’t require the assistance of a candle and a knife to sharpen his quill?”
The servant looked like he might perish of terror at any moment.Â “Sire?” he squeaked.
“Nevermind,” Arthur sighed.Â “Vanish from my sight, peon.”
At that night’s feast, Arthur gorged himself on dolphin and peacock and eyed the various serving girls around the room, trying to remember which of them was the sluttiest and or had the lowest standards for commitment and tried very hard not to watch the way Gwen was lighting up at all of Prince Bernard’s jokes and his attention.
“My, Arthur, you’re not even married yet and you’re already cuckolded,” Morgana laughed in his ear.
He glowered at her, and said through a mouthful of pheasant, “Sod off.”
“Your job,” Morgana said.Â “Not mine.”
They ended up in bed again together, slightly less hung over the next morning, and Arthur thought with some degree of sadness it was tragic that he hated Bernard and was fiercely against this marriage because the way the prince blinked awake, sleepy slow and unguarded, really was as sweet as Morgana had said.
“This cannot be proper protocol,” Bernard croaked.
“What, to put us into bed together?” Arthur asked.Â “I haven’t the slightest idea.Â The last time anybody managed to get married in the court she was already enormous with child.”
Bernard snorted a laugh.Â “I can see Camelot is truly the paragon of virtue it claims.”
“We also have an extremely high rate of venereal disease,” Arthur said.
“It’s probably un-princely of you to defame your kingdom so,” Bernard chided him, and Arthur couldn’t help but brush some of Bernard’s dark hair away from his fine brow and say:
“It will be your kingdom, too, soon.”
That morning may have been a turning point, because the subsequent afternoon and evening are much improved from previous days.Â Bernard condescends to watch Arthur practice with his sword, and an injury which initially had promise to be embarrassing became an opportunity for Arthur to allow Bernard to undress him and see to his wounds with surprising tenderness.Â Bernard had clean fingernails and strong hands, and Arthur realized, watching the other prince wind gauze around his elbow.Â They took lunch out of doors, underneath a pair of weeping willows with interlocking branches, and Bernard recited to him the Beowulf poem, with liberal substitution of actual prose with made up poetry for the bits (read: vast tracts) he had not managed to commit to memory.
“I cannot express to you how disheartened I am to know I am betrothed to someone foolish enough to memorize poetry,” Arthur teases.
“I have an enormous amount of spare time,” Bernard answered, grinning, all reckless and wild and not at all like a prince should look when contemplating the serious business of political marriage.Â “I promise I shall try to forget it as quickly as possible once we are leg-shackled.”
“Excellent,” Arthur said.Â “I look forward to your intellectual deterioration.”
Bernard laughed.Â “Soon we’ll be communicating only in grunts,” he said, and then turned bright red with realization.
“That’s only if we’re doing it right,” Arthur said, unable to wipe the grin off of his face.
Bernard’s face took on a sudden look of distress.
It was actually nauseating how quickly Arthur found himself wishing he knew whom to murder with his bare hands in order to remove that look from Bernard’s face, and he found himself engaged in a truly embarrassing amount of handholding as he demanded, “What?” at his unwillingly bethrothed.
“It’s only that I’m not sure I’ll be any good at it,” Bernard said, wide-eyed and guileless.Â “I’ve never had any real practical experience.” ‘
Arthur tried extremely hard not to come in his pants.
“I’m a good teacher,” he said hoarsely.
Bernard narrowed his eyes skeptically.
“No, you look like you’d be a terrible teacher and start shouting at your pupil almost immediately,” he decided, which was entirely true in almost every circumstance but this one.
“I shall grade you extremely leniently,” Arthur promised and leaned in until he could feel Bernard’s breath soft and wet against his own mouth to whisper, “Lesson one.”
Bernard’s breath hitched.Â “Yes?”
And grinning, Arthur murmured, “Always letting me have my way,” and closed the last distance between them to capture Bernard’s lips in a kiss.
They had been well on their way to lesson three, “Ignore your bedamned instinct to contradict me at every turn,” when Bernard’s feeble wisp of a manservant had more or less tripped over them and made it extremely awkward for Arthur to continue unlacing Bernard’s pants.
“You’ll be hanged at dawn,” Arthur growled at the boy.
“Dear *God*, no!” Bernard argued, eyes darting toward the boy nervously as he said more or less in Arthur’s direction, “Sire — that’s hardly necessary for a simple mistake.”
Arthur continued to glower at the servant, who continued to make wheezing noises of distress until Bernard sighed and pressed an embarrassed kiss to Arthur’s jaw and whispered, soft and in his ear, “Your highness, consider it a favor to me.”
Bernard smelled like grass and sweet wine and lush, deep kisses, very good overall, so Arthur allowed himself this small and extremely princely capitulation and said with great dignity, “Fine.Â But you’ll consider this your morning gift as well.”
“Like hell,” Bernard informed him.Â “I want at least three castles for whatever you’re going to do to me as part of lesson five.”
Arthur considered this, bared his teeth at the servant (who wisely fled), and turned back to Bernard, who was flushed and whose mouth was swollen from Arthur’s possession.Â He knew very clearly at that moment he would give Bernard as many castles as he liked.
“You’re going to be trouble,” he whispered, pulling Bernard closer to review lesson two.Â “I can tell.”