Beta: my dear sister euraylie
Pairing: Merlin/Arthur; Merlin/Sir Leon & Merlin/OC (implied)
Word Count: 14, 380
N/A: Written as a Christmas gift for all the lovely M/A shippers on my flist. I love you guys ♥
Warnings: Virginal!Merlin, Protective!Arthur and Jealous!Arthur (is that a warning?) oh
Summary: Arthur, Merlin and the knights of Camelot travel to a foreign kingdom which appears to be a wonderful place, yet it has some strange customs. When Merlin is asked if he is still unspoiled and admits to this, he suddenly becomes part of these customs, which include an ‘auction of virtues’.
Disclaimer: All characters appearing in this fiction belong solely to the BBC and Shine Productions.
Strange Customs - Part One
Merlin gazed in awe at the tall towers of Isiad, the court of the Mycenian kingdom. While they didn't appear as solid as the strong, round towers of Camelot, they reached much higher into the sky. In the sunlight they looked almost like polished silver against the backdrop of the bright blue sky.
The castle itself seemed also to be much larger than Camelot, though perhaps the town surrounding it was smaller in size.
After passing through the great gate at the northern end of the castle, they reached the first courtyard. It was octagonal in shape and surrounded by eight tall towers (all clearly for defence purposes) surrounded by what appeared to be the stables and some storage facilities. Adjoining it was another courtyard, this second one much larger than the first. It was the real heart of the court. Merlin observed in pure fascination the impressive flight of stairs which led to the main building and the fountain which stood in the middle of the courtyard. Both structures seemed to be made out of some sort of marble which glistened whenever the rays of the sun hit the surface at the right angle.
Dismounting his horse, Arthur turned to his manservant and shrugged:
„I will admit that Isiad has some beauty, but that's only when you behold it for the first time.“
When Merlin had also gotten of his horse, Arthur took a few steps closer, lowering his voice as he spoke to his manservant.
„These Mycenians can be quite odd, you see. Better not to be taken in too easily.“
„I won't,“ Merlin replied, „but it still is a lovely place, at least what I've seen of it so far.“
He smiled at the prince.
Along with the knights that accompanied them, they made their way up the stairs to what Merlin presumed was the main hall.
Merlin's gaze drifted sideways to the foreign figures that were placed on the sides of each step. They looked nothing like the stone gargoyles he knew from Camelot. These were much more detailed and had a certain delicacy about them. While some statues were familiar, they boasted one detail missing from those of Camelot- someone had taken the time to carve genitals for these stone figures. Merlin couldn't take his eyes off these strange figurines.
„You must be the party from Camelot!“
A young man came hurrying down the stairs meeting them halfway. He was tall and slender, his long yellow hair hanging loose over his shoulders. The robe he wore was made of fine damask, laced with gold threads.
Not only beautiful, but wealthy, Merlin thought. All of a sudden he was sure that he would enjoy their short stay in Isiad more than he had ever anticipated.
„I am Prince Arthur. And these are my knights.“
He went on to quickly state their names, only leaving out Merlin of course. It wasn't something Arthur did on purpose. He was after all only a servant, and it wasn't common to introduce servants during such an official greeting. So it was even more surprising to Merlin that the handsome man seemed to notice him.
„And who is this young man you bring with you? I dare hope he is a present to our king?“
„A present?“ Arthur pulled a weird face.
„That's just Merlin, my manservant.“
„Ah I see.“
The man nodded and then smiled at Merlin.
The dark haired boy couldn't help but smile back. This Mycenian at least seemed to be very friendly as well as handsome.
Before more ado, they all climbed the rest of stairs together and were instantly led into the throne room. This hall was yet another example of the court's extraordinary beauty, Merlin thought as they entered and slowly approached the throne of King Rea. The floor upon which they walked was made from the finest wood, and it was decorated with the most detailed symbols which carved into the panels. The ceiling was painted in rich colours, portraying scenes of great battles and victories. On each side of throne was a huge flags in crimson and deep purple, the colours of Mycenia.
„Ah Prince Arthur from Camelot. I bid you welcome to the court of Isiad.“
The King rose from his throne to address their small party. Merlin was surprised and rather impressed. Uther never got up from his throne except when he was angry.
„King Rea, we bring you greetings from Camelot. And presents to show our goodwill to your new leadership.“
The King seemed genuinely pleased as he smiled at the prince and his knights.
„Mycenia has in the past been very glad to call Camelot an ally if not even a friend. We hope to uphold these good relations with your kingdom now that I have inherited the throne.“
Arthur nodded. Official business was always the same. And normally Merlin didn't care much for it (as it was always extremely boring) but seeing King Rea converse with Arthur was something different. The king himself was a middle-aged man, in his forties probably. He had shoulder length black hair. His shoulders were rather narrow, and he didn't seem to be as muscular as Arthur, yet he was attractive nonetheless.
After a couple of minutes the official welcome seemed to be over.
„Right, I say we leave the rest of the official business until tomorrow. Tonight I hope you and your knights will feast with me and celebrate the renewed friendship between our kingdoms!“
Arthur and his knights bowed in respect, as did Merlin.
When they raised their heads again, Merlin was surprised to see the king looking in his direction.
„Pardon me but the boy you brought along...he isn't one of your knights, is he?“
Arthur turned sideways to quickly glance at Merlin before showing the king his full respect once again.
„No that's just my manservant, Merlin.“
„Your manservant I see. Pity...“
Arthur cleared his throat.
„Excuse me sire?“
„Oh it's nothing. We will see you at the feast. Until then you are welcome to retire to your chambers that have been prepared for you. My squire Theobold will show you the way.“
The tall man that had greeted them at the stairs came rushing to their side and escorted them out of the great hall.
Merlin found himself wondering why the squire and the king had enquired after him. He guessed he kind of stood out from the rest of the party, being the only one not wearing chainmail or a coat with the Pendragon emblem on it. So maybe that was the only reason. Still normally whenever he went along on such visits nobody ever took notice of him. It was clear that he was a peasant, a person of lower social rank. It felt good to be recognized, Merlin thought as they made their way up to the guest chambers which were located in one of the high towers of the castle.
„So tell me again, why exactly don't you like staying here?“
Arthur sighed while Merlin pulled the ceremonial tunic over his head.
„I told you. These Mycenians have odd customs. You might be impressed by their architecture and fancy appearance right now, but that doesn't mean the inhabitants are as impressive, believe me.“
Merlin moved around to the front of Arthur, fixing the belt to give the tunic the perfect appearance. Arthur smoothed down his sleeves.
„Are you talking from experience?“
The prince continued to examine his sleeve with great interest as he answered:
„Yes of course. The first time I came here I was very young. I was accompanying a visiting party of my father's. As a boy you can imagine that I was even more impressed with the town and the castle. It all almost seemed to be ripped out of some fairytale. King Ethel, the old king, was a kind man, almost like a grandfather. I enjoyed the time here very much. So I was quite eager to return when I was in my teens. However, that's when I noticed how strange these Mycenians really are...“
Merlin had positioned the belt perfectly and now took a step back to observe this handiwork. When he was pleased it sat just right he nodded and signaled for Arthur to sit on the bed as he placed the prince's boots in front of him.
Arthur glanced down to see if they were polished properly before he let Merlin put them on.
„When you came back. How did you notice these strange customs, as you call them? Something must have happened.“
Arthur huffed. It was clear that this was a subject he didn't want to talk about.
„It's really nothing I wish to talk about.“
Merlin wasn't about to give up this easily.
„At least tell me what these strange customs are? So I can be prepared?“
Arthur rolled his eyes.
“Merrrrlin!” His voice sounded strained.
Still Merlin tried his best, giving the prince his puppy eyed look and asking nicely:
Finally Arthur seemed to give in.
„Well if you must know...“
There was a knock on the door followed by Sir Leon's voice:
„Prince Arthur, the feast is about to begin.“
Merlin opened the door and greeted Sir Leon with a warm smile. He was by far the friendliest of the knights that had come along for this visit to Mycenia.
Though not yet long at the court of Camelot, Sir Leon had managed to become quite the favourite with everyone who spent time with him. He was extremely popular with all the other knights as he was a very accomplished swordsman but also of course with the ladies of the court, like Morgana, who admired his good looks and charming nature. Even Arthur seemed to be quite taken with him, as he seemed to want to drag Sir Leon along everywhere they went these days.
Merlin didn't mind one bit. He was also fond of him, if truth be told. Perhaps Sir Leon could tell him something about these strange customs? Merlin was quite certain that Arthur wouldn't tell him much, though he had been about to give him some information just now.
„It's a good thing then that Merlin got me dressed in time for once, I suppose.“ Arthur answered Sir Leon as he looked at Merlin mockingly.
„Right, then off we go.“
Arthur went through the door first, followed by Merlin. Sir Leon followed behind them, although Merlin should have been the one walking behind the knight. Still, he didn't seem to mind and when Merlin cast a glance at him, he smiled again.
The hall they soon after entered was alive with people and boasted a cheerful atmosphere. Lords and ladies dressed in their finest robes greeted them as they made their way past long tables filled with all sorts of food and drink to the table at the very front, where King Rea sat. As he beheld his royal guest, the Mycenian king rose once again to greet them. Arthur was seated opposite the King Rea while Sir Leon and the other knights took the empty places at the other end of the table. Merlin went to stand behind Arthur as he was accustomed to. This way he could refill Arthur's cup at any given time or tend to any other wishes he may have.
Just when he had taken up his position, the king's voice rung out:
„What about the boy? You can't let him stand there all night. Sit, please! And dine with us.“
Arthur leaned across the table to address the king.
„My lord, as I said Merlin is merely my servant. It is only normal for servants to stand during such an event...at least in Camelot,“ he added after a few seconds.
„Servant or nor servant. He is a guest at my court, as any other. Therefore he must take part in the feast as any other guest.“
He turned to look at Merlin.
„Please sit and enjoy yourself.“
Merlin was dumbstruck. Never had anyone at Camelot, especially not the king, shown him such kindness.
Nodding eagerly he took a seat next to Sir Leon and smiled as he was handed a plate full of meats and bread along with a goblet of wine.
Then the king held up his cup and gave a toast in honour of Camelot. Everyone cheered and the feast was underway.
As more food was brought to the tables, musicians started entertaining the people.
Merlin was enjoying himself so much that he hardly paid any attention to Arthur who was now talking to the king. Downing his second goblet of wine and finishing off his last piece of meat he turned to Leon.
„Well I have to say that this is surely the best feast I've ever been to.“
Leon flashed him one of his most charming smiles again.
„Enjoying yourself then are you?“
„King Rea seems to be a very good king, and Isiad is a wonderful court. If only the Mycenians weren't as foreign in their ways...“
His voice dropped off, not wanting other people to hear him.
„Not you too! Arthur has been going on about their strange customs ever since we arrived. I honestly cannot think what he means.“
Leon took another swig from his own goblet and then leaned in closer to Merlin. As he spoke, Merlin could feel the knight's warm breath on his face. Along with the wine he'd consumed it all made him feel a bit light headed.
„Well it is a rather delicate matter. I assume that's why the prince hasn't yet told you more about the matter.“
„Delicate, how so? Please tell me! I can't stand it when people go around giving you hints without ever really letting you in on the secret.“
„You really want to know, don't you?“
Merlin tried his best to bat his long eyelashes at the knight. It sometimes worked when he wanted something. He just had never tried it on this particular knight before.
Sir Leon almost giggled, before his face turned the slightest shade of pink. Maybe it was only because of the wine.
Coming even closer, so that their cheeks almost brushed, he continued:
„Well it has to do with their carnal desires.“
Merlin felt his throat go dry and a familiar heat begin to pool in his stomach. It was clearly the wine!
„You see, they marry women, like we do in order to have children. But before a Mycenian marries it is quite common for them to indulge in carnal pleasures. But they can't do this with women. The possibility of impregnating them would be too great. And for a prince....well you can imagine the scandal.“
Merlin nodded, feeling Leon's beard brush against his cheek. It felt odd, but not unpleasant.
„So they prefer to bed men, at least until they marry.“
Merlin choked on his last sip of wine. He struggled for air for a couple of seconds. When he looked up again, he saw Arthur's deadly glance directed at him. It was clear that he disliked Merlin sitting at the table, but making a spectacle of himself now as well, it was just too much. Merlin cleared his throat and tried to act as normal as he could, with Arthur still staring daggers at him and feeling a slight arousal course through his body. He couldn't help himself. Sir Leon's revelation stirred images of these handsome men indulging in those particular pleasures and that was enough to stir his interest.
„Not too shocked I hope?“ Sir Leon inquired after a while. As a servant came by with a plate full of warm honey cakes, Merlin shook his head.
„Good. I mean it's their business, right? It's just a bit foreign to us I guess. Still I don't think we should judge.“
„No, I guess we shouldn't.“
Merlin managed to get through the rest of the meal without making a fool out of himself. He went easy on the wine, but gladly took the honey cakes which were always a rare treat. As he was trying to concentrate solely on the pleasures the sweet cake in his mouth provided, the king's squire, Theobold came up to him and took the last unoccupied seat at the table. He nodded to the king, who held up his goblet as a sign of appreciation. Then Theobold turned his attention to Merlin again.
„Well my young friend, how are you enjoying the feast? I hope everything is to your satisfaction?“
„My satisfaction? I thought this was about entertaining the prince of Camelot.“
„It is to entertain the people.“
He smiled warmly while taking up his own wine goblet.
„A small toast to the feast then?“
Merlin sighed but then took up his goblet again and toasted with Theobold. The last thing he needed tonight was more wine, but it would be rude if he didn't lift his cup with a member of the royal household.
„So now tell me something about yourself.“
It was nice to be able to talk to someone who wasn't from Camelot. Though talking to Sir Leon had been quite enjoyable too of course, but talking to a stranger gave Merlin a certain freedom to express himself as normally wouldn't at Camelot's court.
So Merlin proceeded to tell him about his childhood in Ealdor, how he came to Camelot and how he met the prince and came to be his manservant. Of course he left out the small detail about his magic. Just because these people had odd customs when it came to their bed chambers, didn't mean that they approved of magic any more than the court of Camelot did.
He finished off his little tale talking about some of the adventures he and Arthur had been on and enjoyed seeing Theobold eagerly soak up everything he said.
„That's wonderful! You are more than a servant, clearly. Why you are even a hero, having saved the prince's life! I salute you Merlin of Ealdor. He should have given you a title instead of a position in his household.“
Merlin grinned. Theobold was very good company.
As a servant girl went by carrying a plate, Theobold stopped her and took a handful of colourful fruit from it. Then he offered Merlin a strawberry that looked simply delicious.
„They are from our very own gardens. Hard to cultivate, but we finally succeeded a few years ago. But the effort is worth it. I promise you have never tasted anything sweeter or more delicious in your life.“
Merlin wanted to reach out and take the strawberry Theobold offered to him, but the squire gently swatted his hand away.
„Close your eyes. That will make the taste experience more intense, trust me.“
The uncertainty Merlin felt for a moment faded as he looked into Theobold's deep green eyes. They too, like everything in this kingdom, seemed to want to enchant him.
As soon as he closed his eyes, Merlin felt the fruit brush lightly against his mouth until he parted his lips and let Theobold slip the strawberry inside.
It was sweet and delicious and Merlin's head began to spin.
When he opened his eyes a few moments later, Theobold was still sitting very close, observing Merlin as if he were some rare piece of art in need of closer study.
Someone cleared his throat rather loudly and Merlin had to pull his gaze away to look who it was.
Arthur was still sitting at the other end of the table, his face a dangerous colour of red now. Had he also had too much wine to drink? Merlin wondered if he should attend to him, to see if there was anything he needed. But then Theobold sprung up and sent a servant to aid the prince.
„You didn't have to do that.“
„I know you are his servant. But you should be allowed to enjoy yourself at least once.“
A second later the servant girl appeared at Theobold's side again.
„I'm sorry, but Prince Arthur wishes to speak to you.“
„Well of course, I am delighted. I'll be right back Merlin.“
He rose and strode forward to the other end of the table, quickly bowing before his king. Merlin watched and wondered what Arthur might want from him. Surely he was about to tell him what a useless manservant he was and ask him why he was intent on wasting his time with him, or something similar. Couldn't Arthur let him have his fun for once?
Merlin finished his strawberries and gently rubbed his stomach. He hadn't felt this full in ages! And not as tipsy he might add, though he was sure he would only notice the full effect of the wine when he got up from the table. For now he was content to sit and listen to the music and the soft chatter of the other guests.
All of a sudden the pleasant sounds were interrupted by a choking sound. When Merlin looked up he saw Arthur cough and then down a cup of water. Instantly Merlin sprung up and hurried to his side. The room seemed to spin a bit, but it was bearable. Right now all he could think about was reaching Arthur.
When he was by his side, the prince looked up. He seemed quite unsettled to say the least. Merlin wondered what might have caused this, but remained silent.
„Ah there's the young lad already. We were just talking about you,“ Theobold said with a grin.
„Yes,“ Arthur gritted out, clenching his teeth. Whatever it was they had been talking about, it seemed a rather unpleasant topic.
„Yes we have. And we have a question we want to ask you. Prince Arthur if I may?“
Arthur stared at the squire as if he wanted to attack him any minute now. Then he finally sighed and nodded, his lips drawn tightly together. Theobold in contrast seemed quite eager and even the king himself had an odd smile on his face.
„Merlin as you told me a bit about yourself and your time in Camelot I was wondering if there ever was somebody you were close to at all? It's just you didn't mention any particular person.“
„No future bride in sight?“
Merlin had to laugh. „No...no.“
For a moment he was wondering what Theobold wanted to know, when the squire continued talking in even more in riddles.
„So you are unspoiled then are you?“
Arthur closed his eyes as if trying to concentrate on not exploding at that very moment.
„Unspoiled, untouched, innocent, if you may.“
Merlin frowned. Was Theobold really referring to what he thought? After what Sir Leon had told him about the customs of this kingdom it wasn't so unlikely after all.
„He wants to know if you ever had someone share your bed,“ Arthur finally explained, sighing heavily right after and turning his gaze so he didn't have to look into Merlin's eyes.
Merlin could feel himself blushing. He could feel the tips of his ears begin to get hot before the heat spread across his cheeks.
„Oh,“ he breathed, unable to give any other sort of reply.
„Well tell us boy,“ the king insisted, suddenly taking more of an interest in the conversation.
When it was out, Merlin dropped his head, feeling utterly embarrassed. Was this really a subject they should be discussing in public? And in front of the king? It all seemed highly improper to Merlin. So maybe this was what Arthur didn't like about the Mycenians.
„Splendid! Then it is as I had hoped. Now all we need is to convince our young handsome boy that he should participate in the ritual and everything will be prefect!“
„No!“ Arthur arose and stared into Theobold's face, as if wanting to challenge him.
„I will not allow it. He is my manservant, I am his master. You cannot decide this without my consent.“
Theobold looked slightly intimidated, but still he tried to smile and then turned to look at his king.
„My dear Prince Arthur,“ King Rea started to plead, laying a hand on his shoulder, „shouldn't we let the boy decide in this matter? I understand his position, but if he really wants to take part in the ritual then who are we to say no?“
Merlin knew better than to play with Arthur's patience as the two men were doing now.
„Shouldn't we at least tell him about this ritual? For I do believe that he is not familiar with our customs.“
The king agreed to Theobold's suggestion. The squire approached Merlin who had no idea what he should expect. But the way Arthur had reacted to it...
„Here in Mycenia it is custom that any young boy who comes of age and who is still unspoiled, as we put it, can hold an auction for his 'maidenhood' so to speak. It is a highly celebrated event held at court.“
Finally all the wine and the sensations of the evening seemed to catch up with Merlin and he started swaying on his feet.
He would have toppled over if Theobold hadn't been at his side, holding him up.
„Now, now. I know it might be a bit much to take in. Visitors from other kingdoms always tend to find this ritual a bit odd to say the least. Here it is quite common I assure you.“
Merlin tried to even out his breathing, attempting to imagine what such a ritual could be like. Did it compare to the cattle market held once a month in Ealdor?
„You would do us a great honour if you were to participate in this ritual. For a member of the royal household of Camelot it would also appear as a unique sign of trust and thus even strengthen the bond between our two kingdoms,“ the king went on explaining.
Meanwhile Arthur had gone completely silent, staring at the table in front of him. Merlin was so eager to see what he might think of this all, but without seeing his facial expression it was hard to tell.
„So what's this auction like? How does it work?“
Theobold's face lit up hearing Merlin's words. Then he gestured for Merlin to take a seat and began explaining the details. In the end Merlin had to say that it didn't even sound that bad, somewhat appealing actually. After all, from what he had seen most men in Mycenia seemed very handsome. And if it would really help strengthen the political bond between the two kingdoms, who was he to say no?
„Thank you Theobold. I promise I will consider the matter. But I think it would be best if I sleep on it,” Merlin said a bit shyly.
„Of course, but please do take it into consideration. It would be a pity if such a beautiful candidate would not take part.“
Merlin blushed even more. No one had ever called him beautiful before.
„Why yes! From the moment I saw you I couldn't help but think how extraordinary your appearance is. Quite a pleasure to behold, I assure you.“
He bowed to show he was in earnest.
„Well thank you, I guess.“
King Rea also seemed more than pleased as he raised his goblet to Merlin.
„I hope to see you tomorrow then young lad.“