Fandom: Life on Mars and Merlin
Word Count: 2395 words.
Notes: Manservant Samuel/Prince Eugene. The basic premise of this fic is, “what if Sam, Gene et al were in Merlin instead of Merlin, Arthur et al.” So it’s a hodgepodge of anachronisms, a pastiche of a pastiche of a collection of legends. Written for the ‘out of time’ challenge at 1973flashfic.
Summary: Is he under a spell, knocked on the head, or back in time? Whatever’s happened, it’s like he’s landed in another century. Oh, right. He’s under a spell. His own. Which means he’s also back in time. And sometimes he gets knocked on the head. By the Prince.
Is he under a spell, knocked on the head, or back in time? Whatever’s happened, it’s like he’s landed in another century. Oh, right. He’s under a spell. His own. Which means he’s also back in time. And sometimes he gets knocked on the head. By the Prince.
Samuel often wonders what his life would have been like had the spell not gone so wrong. Had he not tried to save Lady Maya Le Roi. Had he realised he hadn’t yet the skill to command something so fickle as time. But he did these things and now he’s stuck here, a century before he should be, boggling at everything. Everything is different. From how the knights conduct themselves, to the foods known to the Kingdom (oh how he misses butter. Butter was good. Samuel’s convinced his main contribution to Albion would be fermented goat’s milk, and not that stupid prophecy Phyllgarrah keeps telling him about.) The armour is different, so at first, when King Harold made him Prince Eugene’s manservant, he’d looked a right dolt in his attempts to ready him for tourneys.
And then there’s the Prince, of course. ‘Different’ is a polite way of describing the Prince, with his ever-watchful green eyes, cruel mouth, and pock-marked beauty that constantly startles Samuel, until he doesn’t know his own head any more. It had been alright when he’d been a bully and a boor in the street, no understanding that it’s a foolish man that tempts a magic-user. But then Samuel’d had to go and save his life, become his right-hand man, so that now, now he has to bathe the Prince, and clothe the Prince, and listen to the Prince’s opinions all the live-long day.
Sometimes, Samuel has to run to his chambers above Nelson’s apothecary and hold the base of himself tight as he strokes and rubs and pulls furiously, because the Prince with his golden hair curling at the nape of his neck, and droplets of water resting like dew on his eyelashes, and his long, long legs muscular and golden from his training, orders him to soap him up. His fingers skate coltish against the Prince’s skin, his breath catches in this throat, the Prince makes deep, warm sounds of contentment, and Samuel will never be able to forget the tautness of the muscle before him or the way Eugene smugly tells him to call him ‘Master’. Samuel hates those times most of all.
One time, Eugene made Samuel perform drills with him. He hit him with swords, used him as a moving target, even challenged him to a duel. It had been clear he’d been expecting Samuel to be awful at it all, not knowing how he could be anything else, as a commoner who seemingly showed no interest in sparring, but Samuel had been anything but awful. He’d been closer to proficient. Samuel hadn’t even needed to use magic. He was quick and wiry, and good at anticipating Eugene’s moves. He’d used his reflexes to parry blows and strike vulnerabilities.
It had only happened the once. Eugene never asked him again. Samuel never asks why. He does, after all, value his life.
“Have you finished the washing yet, Samuel?” Eugene asks, imperious. “Only, I was planning on dining with King Harold and Annette some time today and it’d probably be best if I wasn’t stark bollock naked.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Samuel mutters. “I’m sure Annette could do with a laugh.”
He gets a cuff around the ear for his audacity.
“Has anyone ever told you you’re the worst manservant ever? No, probably not, because you’re a great big girl, aren’t you, Gladys?”
Samuel ignores the barb. It’s mild, compared with what he’s used to. Positively sweet for Eugene, who has a tongue like a razor and a mind to match. Of all his skills, insult is his most refined.
“Are you planning on going hunting with Sir Ray and Sir Christopher tomorrow?” Samuel asks. “It’d be good to have forewarning so I know as to when to drag you from the table tonight, before you do too much damage with the wine and mead. Wouldn’t want you bested by a boar.”
“There isn’t an animal I can’t skewer,” Prince Eugene says, eyes glittering with warning --- or is it promise? Samuel can never tell. “It’ll be a solo hunt starting tomorrow. Make sure you pack enough provisions for two nights.”
“For you alone, are you sure that’s wise, Sire?” Samuel asks, mocking, because it’s what the Prince is used to by now. He doesn’t let it be known he’s genuinely concerned for the Prince’s wellbeing. That would be a grave error in judgement. The one time he did that he was put in the stocks and pelted with parsnips. They stung.
“When I say solo you know it means you’re there too,” Eugene says. “You’re insignificant enough not to warrant a mention, but I need something to carry my bag. The king says I’m not allowed a donkey, so you’ll have to do.”
When Samuel first met Eugene, his immediate thought had been, ‘who’s this prick?’ His second thought had been, ‘my heart should not be racing like this.’ He finds that neither of these thoughts have stopped tripping through his mind, from day to tiresome day. But he’s surprised by how much he’s grown to respect Eugene, who is not like his father, Harold; as fatted from his corrupt dictatorship as it’s possible for a king to be. Harold, who is ever-so-polite and charming and able to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes, but quietly rules with an iron fist.
Very few people of Camelot know about magic because of Harold. Or they believed in it once, but pretend not to now. He had the Druids and those of the Old Religion murdered in the name of war. The few who seek to talk about the benefits of magic mysteriously disappear --- Harold performs his own trickery. Samuel knows Prince Eugene neither understands nor approves, but he’s loyal to a fault. He won’t cross his father, he’ll bide his time. Phyllgarrah tells Samuel that when the time comes he shall stand beside Eugene as an equal. That they’ll rule Albion and bring it great prosperity and peace. Phyllgarrah says a lot of things that turn out to be a load of shit. She’s a meddlesome old dragon that way.
Samuel thinks about telling Eugene about his secret, once, when he thinks he sees an apparition so like a girl he knew in his other life. They’re in the woods and Sir Geoffrey and Sir Clive are off after the largest stag any of them have ever seen. He’s about to say, “Eugene, I’m from the future, and look at what I can do,” produce flame out of air and ice out of flame, but the stag almost comes into the clearing, and that’s that, they’re off running, careering around tree trunks and stumbling into logs. He never gathers the courage again. The thing is, Eugene trusts him, and he doesn’t want to ruin that. He doesn’t know for sure how Eugene would react to his admission of magic, but he can imagine his look of betrayal at the months spent in silence.
Samuel washes Eugene’s clothes the conventional way, but he dries them with magic, so that it’s only half an hour before they go down to the hall together (“only?” Eugene spits. “Only? Sammy-boy, there are people in the villages beyond these walls that have grown old, had children, had grandchildren, had great grandchildren, died, and come back undead in the time it took you to bring me this single item of clothing.”) Samuel smiles at Gwen as she pours Annette’s wine, and takes his place amongst the shadows.
“Father, I’m out hunting tomorrow,” Eugene says, in a carefully measured kind of way that usually means he’s up to something. “I may be gone a total of three days. I shall leave the knights under the care of Sir Ray.”
“That’s not your cleverest idea,” Annette says, her calm countenance belying her teasing tone.
“Shut it, you,” Eugene snaps. “I don’t need the opinions of an horrible old goat.”
“That is no way to talk to Annette, Eugene,” King Harold says, tone icy. “Apologise.”
Eugene apologises, but makes to kick Annette under the table. They have a strange relationship, Samuel thinks. Everyone says they’ll get married, but they behave more as siblings, and Eugene has the habit of bringing out the nastier side in Annette, who is usually sweetness and light, and a little too preoccupied with Samuel himself. Annette has the habit of bringing out the worst in Eugene too.
Eugene does drink too much wine and mead at the meal, and Samuel is called upon to be a prop as they stumble up the stairs to Eugene’s chambers.
“Stay in the antechamber tonight,” Eugene says from the bed, stripped to his shift and lolling against the pillows. He looks his most indecent like this, hair tousled, lips pink, cheekbones flush from too much drink and not enough cool night air. Worse than naked, because the laces against his chest only accentuate the sharpness of his collarbone, the cling of the material highlights the broadness of his shoulders. “We’ve gotta go early and I’ll not be waking Nelson at first light. I remember the taste of the tincture he gave me when I’d my cold after we woke him demanding a cure for Sir Christopher’s verruca. There was no way that was made from juniper berries. Not unless they’d been rolled in horse shit first.”
Samuel hates sleeping in the antechamber. He has a habit of calling out Eugene’s name in the night. These days, Nelson just raises his eyebrows at him and shakes his head, as if to say, ‘you brought this on yourself, man’, but Eugene realising would be like a night in the dungeons, locked up with other remaining magic-users and Trent, the only thief stupid enough to steal from a market stall while Prince Eugene was not a hundred yards away, talking to the little old ladies of Camelot who claim him their champion.
“Can I tell you something?” Eugene asks, which is a phrase that always strikes terror into Samuel’s heart.
Eugene is often confessing things Samuel wished he wouldn’t, which was partly the reason he had been going to confess himself, and, he suspects, also partly the reason Eugene hasn’t yet told King Harold he’s his most hated servant. Well, that and the fact Eugene clearly likes him --- they've laughed together many times when Sir Ray and the other knights are nowhere around. Sometimes, Eugene even listens to his advice, though that’s far and few between.
“You know you can tell me whatever you desire, my liege,” Samuel replies, catching onto the fact that Eugene, for once, is waiting for affirmation.
“Stop the arsey formality,” Eugene slurs, punctuating his order with a belch.
“Alright then. Say what you wanna say, Genie.”
“I like that,” Eugene says. “More fool you, ‘cause that sounds good, that. You’re so rubbish you can’t even do insolence right.”
“What is it?” Samuel says, getting impatient, because now he wants to know. He also wants to sleep.
“I wanna be king,” Eugene says, finally, looking up at the chamber ceiling. “I wanna be king now. I wanna see things change in Camelot. These days all I see are people starving and us doing nothing about it. It’s not right.”
Samuel nods, says he understands. That’s all Prince Eugene really wants. To know that he’s voiced these thoughts and someone has cared enough to listen. There’s nothing either of them can do to change the situation; Eugene wouldn’t dare commit treason.
“Sleep, Eugene. We’re meant to be up soon. We’re never going to find a boar if we stumble through the undergrowth, heavy in tread from exhaustion.”
“You use too many words,” Eugene says from his position on the bed. “Night.”
Samuel’s awoken by a foot on his face what feels like three minutes later, but he knows it must be later when the first ray of sunlight hits him smack between the eyes. The Prince glowers down at him and tells him he needs to be up, now, before now, he’s already late.
“Can’t you dress yourself?” Samuel asks, irritable.
“I can, but why bother when I have you, Samuel?”
Samuel steadies his breathing as he helps Eugene with his breeches and shirt, his mail and armour all gleaming. He fastens latches methodically, hands Eugene his sword.
“Just think, Dorothea,” the Prince says, with what would be called a grimace on any other man, but which Samuel knows is actually a smile on Eugene. “You’re gonna have three days of this. Three whole days of me and nothing but me, ordering you about.”
“And how is that any different from normal?” Samuel asks, rolling his eyes.
Eugene steps close, placing a gauntlet on Samuel’s shoulder. “We’ll be all alone, far from the castle. I could order you to do anything I like.”
“Just try it,” Samuel retorts, glancing sideways at Eugene and refusing to look disconcerted. “You may have forgotten who won our first fight, but I haven’t.”
The Prince frowns. “So what do you want me to do --- ask you nicely, give you a posey?”
“That might be a start.”
“I should’ve known you’d be a ponce about it.”
Samuel often wonders what his life would have been like had the spell not gone so wrong. He would never have met Eugene, for a start, which is a revelation that pains him more than he thinks it should. He would be able to use his magic in public and not in secret, which is a convenience he misses greatly every time he has to save Eugene’s life. He would live out his humdrum existence as a mercenary amongst the ruins of Camelot, never knowing how the stones shone in the sunlight, hearing the tales of Albion at its finest, before poverty settled once more over the land.
And he’s fairly sure he would never have kissed a prince as sunlight filtered in through a lancet window, heart racing, hands shaking as they skimmed against metal plating, and throat making greedy, covetous sounds he couldn’t stop no matter how hard he tried.
Sometimes, the unpredictability of magic is wonderful.