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Title: The Imp and the Demon (a fanfic in three parts)
Author: dogmatix_san
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Language
Word count: 4831
Summary: Tyrion's bodyguard is more than meets the eye.
A/N: Set during the first three books(which are all that I've read so far) so warnings for spoilers for those, since it's heavily canon-based.

The Imp and the Demon

Part 1Battle of the Blackwater – Aftermath

“What did I tell you about going into battle without me?” the dryly amused tone intruded on Tyrion Lannister’s drifting consciousness.

“Oh but it seemed like such a good idea at the time.” Tyrion managed to mumble past the bandages, making his bodyguard snort with laughter. It was a miracle either of them was still alive after the battle to defend King’s Landing, moreso in Tyrion’s case than Merlin’s. If Podrick hadn’t been there to kill Ser Mandon Moore, Tyrion would be feeding the fishes even now.

“I would’ve liked to let you rest some more, but things are happening that you need to know about,” Merlin’s voice went serious.

Tyrion cracked open an eye, and was it took him a moment to realize what was odd about Merlin – even in the candlelight, the bright blue surcoat with a black owl was heartstoppingly clear. “What is that you’re wearing?”

“Mm.” Merlin nodded, “I was knighted,” he grimaced, “by your lord father’s command.”

There wasn’t a trace of pride or victory in Merlin’s tone. Tyrion’s bodyguard understood exactly how bad this was for Tyrion’s position, that Lord Tywin Lannister would usurp Tyrion’s power as King’s Hand like this. And it wasn’t like Merlin could have turned it down, although from the sound of it he would have liked to.

“Shit. Why didn’t you wake me?” Tyrion asked angrily.

“Even with my help, there’s only so fast a human body can heal, especially since I couldn’t take you out of here. That wound by your shoulder kept trying to get infected again, and I finally had to.. ah. Actually I have a bit of a confession to make.” Merlin shifted uncomfortably. The man had a perfect mask for his expressions, but he couldn’t fake expressions worth a damn. Either that, or he was so perfect even Tyrion couldn’t catch him at it.

“My pet demon has a confession? Should I be worried?” Tyrion tried to make light of it, but unease crept into his stomach. Merlin Athrawes was one of the strangest men Tyrion had ever met, unpredictable in ways that made no sense – Tyrion had promised his bodyguard riches and a knighthood, but it felt more like Merlin was playing along than anything else, as if he neither wanted nor needed gold and status. And Merlin was intelligent, so intelligent it was frightening, and strong beyond anything mortal. He’d saved Tyrion’s life on more than one occasion, not the least of which was when he’d acted as Tyrion’s champion that first time, against Ser Vardis Egen at the Eyrie. Tyrion was torn between trusting Merlin implicitly, and distrusting him as much as he did Varys. He called Merlin his ‘pet demon’ as a jest, but there was an uncomfortable amount of truth to it.

“I,” Merlin cleared his throat, “I did something to help you heal.”

“What, you cast a spell on me?” Tyrion asked, only half-joking.

Merlin grimaced again. “No. But I can’t explain it to you in a way that you could understand, so calling it a ‘spell’ is probably the best word for it.”

Tyrion stared at his bodyguard, hard. “Ignoring for the moment how insulting that was, what did you do to me?

“Your lip and nose are completely healed. There will be a scar, but nothing more. And… you will never take ill again. Ever. From anything.”

Tyrion took a moment to let that sink in. He explored his lip with his tongue, and found that while he could tell where the axe had split his face, his lip was whole. There was no lingering ache in his limbs, and even the wound by his shoulder felt whole, where just a few days before it had been seeping pus and rot. This was beyond any maester’s arts.

“Merlin. What are you?” There was silence, and Tyrion could see Merlin searching for words. “And don’t give me that horseshit about not being able to understand. Make me understand. Who are you? What are you? Why are you helping me?”

Tyrion had accepted the strange man’s help without too many questions until now, and Merlin had always been true to him, but Tyrion’s burning curiosity had never left him, and now Merlin had worked magic on him. Tyrion wanted explanations, and he meant to have them.

Merlin matched Tyrion’s glare, lips tight. “I’m not refusing to tell you because you’re stupid, Tyrion, Hells, you’re one of the smartest people I’ve met. But even if I told you, it wouldn’t make any sense to you. It’s… you don’t have words for what I am, it’s….” the man blew out a frustrated breath, collected his thoughts. “I could tell you that I’m a Personality Integrated Cybernetic Avatar. I could tell you that I injected you with nanotech to help you heal. I could even tell you I come from Old Earth. But for you to understand any of what I just said, I’d have to explain, among other things, what the stars are, why the sun rises, and how birds fly.”

Tyrion was half angry, half confused. It was true that Merlin hadn’t made any sense with his ‘explanation,’ but Tyrion couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being jerked along like a goat on a leash, being led wherever Merlin needed him. “Of course the sun rises, you dolt, it does it every day,” Tyrion answered tartly.

Merlin looked like he was about to speak, but then he just gave Tyrion a wry smile, and held his tongue.

Tyrion eyed his bodyguard uneasily. He made himself stop and consider the conversation rationally. He had never given it much thought, truly, but surely the world, sun, and stars were the workings of the gods. What else could they be? And what was Merlin, that he knew the workings of the gods?

“You are a wizard then, or a demon,” Tyrion said at last, “or, perhaps… a god?”

“No,” Merlin said immediately, jerking his head sharply in negation, “I’m no god, Tyrion.”

But he hadn’t refuted any of Tyrion’s other guesses, not that Tyrion would have believed him if he had. “If nothing else, I need to know why, Merlin. Why me? Why help me, the hated Lannister Imp?”

Merlin got that searching look again for a few long moments. “Because you treat Shea and Alayaya like people instead of things.”

Tyrion frowned. “You’re helping me… because of two whores?”

Merlin shrugged. “Yes.”

Tyrion scowled at his pet demon, but Merlin only gave a small grin. “I warned you my explanations wouldn’t make any sense to you. But I can give you this, Tyrion Lannister.” Merlin turned serious. “There may come a time when our paths diverge, but while I serve you, I will never lie to you. And if I cannot serve you any longer, I will tell you so. I swear on my honour.” Merlin held out his hand. “Deal?”

Tyrion had never been confident in his hold on Merlin’s loyalty, the man’s strangeness making it difficult to predict him. Even this much – that Merlin would let him know before he left – was oddly reassuring. And it was almost a relief to know for sure that Merlin wasn’t human. Maybe that meant that Tyrion really could trust him, after all. “Deal,” Tyrion replied, offering his small, stubby hand in return. Merlin’s large, elegant hand engulfed his as they shook and it must have looked like a bad joke, yet the handshake was firm and earnest.

“Now,” Tyrion said, bringing himself back to more grounded concerns, “was there a reason you were getting me up?”

“Several. The first of which is that Chella and her Black Ears have almost reached King’s Landing. If you don’t want them turned away at the gate, I suggest you get down there to let them in.”

Right. “Help me up.”



Part 2Brave New World

No plan of battle survives contact with the enemy.

That certainly seemed to be the theme of Merlin’s life of late. Or his life, period, if you measured from the time when Nimue Alban’s cybernetic avatar had woken up several millennia later than planned on a world that she never could have imagined.

Thankfully Commodore Pei had managed to leave her an updated briefing, because the last thing she remembered had been skiing with her father. That was, of course, not the last thing Nimue Alban had done before she died, but it had been the last time she’d used her mechanical double before the final desperate flight from the alien Gbaba.

So she knew about Langhorne’s psychotic plan to set up the perfect planet, with himself at the head. She knew about the steps Shan Wei and her allies had taken to work against that. And she knew about how it had all gone to shit when the colony ship actually reached its destination.

The original plan for her, had been to wake her up about a thousand years or so after the ship’s arrival. From what she could tell, the people in the Seven Kingdoms had an oral tradition that stretched back at least ten, twelve thousand years, so obviously that hadn’t happened. And while her PICA body and some of the equipment stored with her had survived relatively unscathed, there had been nothing left in orbit. Not that it would have mattered much, Nimue had much bigger issues to deal with. Like magic.

Merlin wasn’t sure how magic worked, but it obviously did, and most of his spare time and extra resources were dedicated to finding out how it did what it did. He hadn’t made much progress so far.

As for changing from Nimue to Merlin, well, Nimue had taken one look at the information the single operative SNARC platform had gathered and decided grimly that female just wasn’t an option at the moment, not if she wanted to be taken seriously. It was easy to romanticize the European Middle Ages, and to forget the stark historical facts about the treatment of women, especially from the comfortable distance of a Fleet commission and several centuries of equality between the sexes. But here and now the world was brutal, cruel, and petty, and while women could be taken seriously and rise to power, that was very much the exception rather than the rule. And so ‘Merlin Athrawes’ had been created, the PICA’s sex and various others features adjusted, and he’d gone tromping out into the wide world.

SNARC reports were all fine and well, but after all there was no experience like first-hand experience. A few weeks into his reconnaissance, he’d had his face well and truly rubbed in the fact that for a great many people, life was ugly and short. The infant mortality rate was horrendous, medicine was little more than habit and hearsay, and the primary anesthetic was opium. Which didn’t even touch on all the social issues. The entire system was entrenched in a medieval mindset, and had been for at least eight thousand years. Somehow, a Renaissance had never sparked – no massive plague to destabilize society, no gunpowder to shake up military structuring, no remnants of ancient Greek or Roman civilization to give bright minds a push in a different direction.

There was nothing to break the feudal cycle. Except him. Part of Merlin had been aghast at himself, that he could be so arrogant as to think he could start an entire social revolution all by himself. Another part had felt utterly inadequate in the face of so great a task. But on the other hand, with his original mission against Langhorne moot, wasn’t the next-best thing to carry out the spirit of that mission, and give people back the advances and technology their ancestors had worked so hard to achieve? And he couldn’t just dismiss the Gbaba out of hand – just because they hadn’t shown up yet, didn’t mean they couldn’t show up tomorrow. No, he owed it to those who had worked so hard to put him here, to the people suffering out there right now, and to his own sense of duty and honour, to at least try.

He figured this self-appointed task would keep him busy for easily the next thousand years. Then he’d gone among the people who lived in the Seven Kingdoms, and grimly revised that to two thousand. The most difficult part was where to begin. He hadn’t quite figured that out yet, except to cross gunpowder off the list of options - he wanted to improve the standard of living, not drive it to shit.

As for the world itself, Merlin wasn’t sure which made his head hurt more, the insane seasons, functional magic, or dragons. And whatever was making his SNARC’s remotes malfunction in the north left him with a very, very bad feeling.

Sometimes tough, patience was the only real option, he decided. He’d keep an eye out for any opportunities to further his ultimate goal. Until then, he’d work towards it in any way he could. So, he’d ventured further into the Seven Kingdoms, and met Tyrion Lannister.

He’d met the man when Catelyn Stark, a local noble, had taken Tyrion captive in a small inn. She’d called on those knights present who owed her family fealty, and then asked for sellswords. For no better reason than liking Catelyn Stark, Merlin had volunteered his services. He’d ended up guarding Tyrion, and that had been the start of it. At first it had been curiosity that had drawn him into conversation with the diminutive young man – if there had been any dwarves in Nimue’s time, Merlin couldn’t remember ever seeing one. Then amusement at the audacity he found there; here was a man who could bluff and scheme with the best of them. Probably a necessary skill, Merlin reflected. And yet there was something more about Tyrion.

Merlin liked Catelyn Stark – she had an inner strength and fire. But Tyrion seemed able to outstubborn and outmaneuver even her. Catelyn believed the young man guilty of sending a cutthroat to murder her crippled son, but the more Merlin found out about the incident, the less sense it made for Tyrion to have left such a blindingly obvious trail. Tyrion Lannister might have sent a cutthroat if he felt it necessary, Merlin judged, but to use such a traceable and unique weapon? Instead of any old kitchen knife with a good edge? No. Tyrion was smarter than that.

Merlin spent a lot of time talking to the young man as they traveled towards the Eyrie. Of course he realized that Tyrion was trying to win him over, dropping hints of gold and other rewards. But mixed in with those were assurances that ‘Lannisters always paid their debts,’ and that Tyrion would repay loyalty with loyalty. Not that he came right out and said that last, and there was plenty of normal banter mixed in with the bribery, but still, that was what caught Merlin’s attention. He hardly needed money for food, travel, or weaponry – was probably safer without it, to be honest. Accumulated wealth was only as useful as what it could buy, after all. But loyalty now. That was something Merlin was willing to take a chance on.

So, when Tyrion had called for a champion in his hour of need, Merlin had stepped forward.


Part 3Trial by Ice and Fire

He’d been a fool. Such a fool. Tyrion sat, numb, as the laughter rose, mocking and cruel, derisive, dismissive.

How could he have believed, even for an instant, that there could be any other outcome? Of course the trial would be a farce, of course they’d dig up every idle and not-so-idle threat he’d ever made, of course they’d drag Shea in, have her betray every sweet moment they’d ever shared.

“My giant of Lannister, he made me call him,” Shea sobbed again, describing falsely how he’d forced her into horrific and debased sexual acts, against her will and wishes.

Until this very moment he’d hoped, some stupid, stubborn fragment of his heart had hoped that the trial might be fair, even though he could tell how it would end long before they’d done this, heaped this last indignity on him.

With curt anger, Tyrion demanded Shea be removed, so that he might ‘confess.’ He looked then, not at Shea as she was being removed, but at Merlin. Cersei would call Ser Gregor Clegane to champion her. Merlin had offered to champion Tyrion from the start of this whole farce, but Tyrion had refused, unwilling to place his one true ally in front of The Mountain That Rides if there were any other option.

Now, Merlin looked at him calmly, one of the vanishingly few people not roaring with laughter. The swordsman put one hand on the hilt of his absurdly thin sword and nodded once. Do it.

So Tyrion did. He called Merlin as his champion, and Lord Tywin, thin lipped with fury, had no choice but to allow it.

The next morning, everyone turned out to see the fight. Tyrion wondered if he was about to get Merlin killed. His bodyguard might not be entirely human, but this was Gregor Clegane. And yet, Merlin hadn’t even looked nervous this morning – had actually managed to eat something for breakfast, which was more than Tyrion had been able to do.

Merlin wore only chainmail under his surcoat, and his sword’s reach was less than Ser Gregor’s. Tyrion’s stomach was in knots as the duel started, his small hands gripping white-knuckled at the arms of his chair. Merlin was sure to be killed, to be cut down in a single stroke – without proper armour, he couldn’t afford to be hit even once.

Tyrion had seen Merlin fight at the Green Ford, and against Ser Vardis Egan. He was good, very good, but-

Clegane’s giant blade came whistling down, and this was it- but no. Merlin seemed almost to vanish, he moved so fast. A murmur went through the crowd. Clegane roared and swung, and again Merlin side-stepped, neat as you please. And kept right on doing it. At first there was stunned silence. Then, ever so slowly, a chuckle started to rise up out of the crowd. Two minutes. Three. And still the lithe bodyguard evaded every blow, untiring and quick as a snake. Clegane’s roars grew in volume and rage as the crowd started to laugh. And now there were cries for Merlin, supporting the cat-quick man as he darted and dodged, making the duel seem almost a dance.

Clegane was experienced though, and drove Merlin back, this way and that, until the bodyguard came up against the crowd, and threw a startled look back as he stumbled into a young man. Sensing victory, Clegane roared again, sword flashing. Impossibly, inhumanly, Merlin’s sword was there to meet it.

The swords – a two-handed greatsword and a thin whip of a blade not even half the breadth of a bastard sword – came together in a ringing clash, and Merlin’s sword-

Held.

Tyrion found himself on his feet, hands balled into fists. Merlin was down on one knee, Clegane’s greatsword not even a handspan from his head. The swordsman’s hands and arms trembled with the effort of holding the deadly steel at bay.

And then Merlin twisted out from under the blade, lightning quick, and Clegane stumbled forward.

The crowd had started to yell as they climbed over each other to get away from the combatants, where just a moment ago they’d been crowding in closer. Confusion spread like ripples from the two knights, but Tyrion was still in a perfect position to see what happened next.

Clegane brought his sword up for another enraged blow, and Merlin came up under his guard, displaying that inhuman speed again, and the tip of his blade snaked out. Unerringly it found its target, and Clegane roared blood as he staggered back, Merlin’s sword coming out dark and wet.

Clegane threw himself towards Merlin with the last of his strength, but the bodyguard evaded him almost contemptuously. And then the Mountain that Rides was dead.

Cheers rose up haltingly as people started to realize what had happened, making Tyrion narrow his eyes. Just a shade too unenthusiastic, that cheering. They’d seen Merlin’s inhuman strength, and it had made them uneasy. The speed had been amusing, making a fool of such a great knight, but what kind of monster was that strong? And to best the Mountain That Rides without taking so much as a scratch must surely be sorcery. Not to mention that sword…

Merlin was walking slowly towards him, breathing heavily and obviously favoring one arm, probably hurt during that impossible block. He turned and grinned at the audience, waving good-naturedly at them with his good arm. The cheering picked up in the face of such a smile. Sometimes, Tyrion could strangle Merlin out of sheer disgust.

Later, after Merlin had begged off the celebration of his victory to tend to his wounds (which he insisted on doing alone), Tyrion and his demon bodyguard sat opposite each other. Tyrion sat stretched out on his bed, contemplating the simple dinner he was pushing around with his fork. Merlin sat at ease in a chair, arm in a sling, chewing thoughtfully on a pear.

“I suppose I should be happier,” Tyrion said absently, “I survived, after all. Proven innocent by combat in the sight of gods and men.” He snorted. “Fat lot of good that’ll do me.” He wondered for a second if he should try to guard his tongue, but why, after all? What did it matter if Varys’s little birds told the eunuch every single fucking word? “I’m no longer Master of Coin, and not like to get it back, either, no. Proven innocent, but show me one man who says he believes that, and I’ll show you a liar.”

“I know you didn’t do it.” Merlin lifted one shoulder.

“Oh? How?” Tyrion demanded sharply.

“Because you would have been smarter about it.”

Tyrion’s fork stilled. “If you’re suggesting that my wife had anything to do-“

“Peace, Tyrion. All I can say with certainty there, is that Samsa didn’t strike me as the type, but I didn’t know her that well. The point is moot, anyway.“

Tyrion settled down grudgingly. Part of him wanted nothing more than to drown himself in a wineskin until he passed out, but the rest of him never wanted to see a wineskin again. How had it all gone so wrong? He’d arrived in King’s Landing with his own people, wild though they were. He’d been King’s Hand. He’d damn well saved the whole misbegotten city at the Battle of Blackwater. Now?

Chella and the Black Ears had been sent away while he was imprisoned. The city hated him for saving it and blamed him for the whoring tax. No longer King’s Hand. No longer Master of Coin. He would never inherit Casterly Rock, no matter that he was the only son available - his father would rather give Casterly Rock to a dog than to his dwarf son. Even Shea had been turned against him, lovely, warm Shea, who had lied, and lied, and lied.

And here he was, lashing out at the only man besides Jamie who had ever… what, cared about him? Considered him worthy of loyalty? Seen him as a man instead of an ugly shrunken curse?

“Aye,” he agreed, sighing. He put down his fork, suddenly repelled by the thought of food.

Merlin eyed the core of the pear before eating it, stem and all. Another of Merlin’s small quirks. Then the two of them sat, silent, listening to the fire crackle quietly in the hearth.

“I have nothing left here,” Tyrion said, getting the words out before they choked him. Listened to how to they sounded. “I have nothing left anywhere.”

“You have me.”

Tyrion’s mouth flattened. “I would hazard that my access to coin disappeared when my title did.”

“Tyrion,” Merlin said gently, patiently, “you have to at least suspect by now.”

It was almost too strange to be true, and yet… there it was. “You’re not doing this for coin, are you.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Why then? If you have designs on my soul, I warn you it’s a bit threadbare, and smaller than most.”

“It’s the largest, brightest soul I’ve seen on this entire world,” Merlin said so earnestly and forcefully that Tyrion nearly choked, and if it had been anyone except Merlin he would have laughed in their face and mocked them relentlessly. But Merlin was a demon, and if he was serious-

“And no, I don’t have ‘designs’ on your soul,” Merlin chuckled.

“Oh. Well, that’s good to know,” Tyrion said, half in jest and in complete earnest.

There was silence for a time, and Tyrion moved the platter from his lap. He wouldn’t be eating anything tonight.

“Tyrion, is there anywhere you’d like to go? If you could go anywhere, I mean.”

Tyrion shook his head wearily. “No. I have not given it any thought, but… no.”

Merlin nodded contemplatively, seeming to stare off into the distance. “I was thinking of going somewhere.”

“Oh?” Tyrion asked, unable to stir any real interest.

“There have been some… unsettling things happening up North, by the Wall.”

“Thinking of taking the black?”

“No. Just of, hm, investigating. I was wondering if you’d like to come with me.”

“To the Wall? I’d freeze my balls off! And most likely get killed along the way!” It was true, too. With how ravaged the countryside was, it’d be a miracle getting anywhere without being beset by brigands, and he remembered all too well how cold it was up by the Wall. Not to mention that it was where his father had wanted to send him. For an instant he wondered if Lord Tywin had put Merlin up to this, but he couldn’t find any way for that to make sense in the context of, well, Merlin.

“So that’s a no?”

Tyrion glowered at his demon. “You’re going to get me killed,” he said in disgust, then sighed. “I suppose you want us to leave tomorrow?”

Merlin’s smile was impish and bright, not dimming one whit in the face of Tyrion’s scowl. “Certainly. And, there’s one more thing. Wait here a moment.”

Tyrion snorted derisively. “Well, I’m not like to go skipping down the hall,” he called after Merlin as the demon slipped quickly from the room. Tyrion wondered if he should be worried by the fact that he wasn’t worried about Merlin anymore. Especially since Merlin’s ‘hurt’ arm had either already healed, or never been hurt in the first place, for all care he took with it.

A minute later, Merlin was back, and yes indeed his arm was completely out of its sling. He had something bundled in a tunic. Tyrion eyed it curiously as Merlin came to sit cross-legged on Tyrion’s bed, showing a fine disregard for rank or personal space. “And what witchery have you there?”

“A gift,” Merlin said as he folded open his bundle. A sword lay there, looking plain and utilitarian, with a leather-wrapped hilt and a functional crosspiece and pommel lacking any patterning or inlaid jewels. It was small for a regular sword, but just right for Tyrion’s hand, he noted as he took the sheathed blade from Merlin. Tyrion glanced up at Merlin and held back the dismissive remark he wanted to make. Merlin would hardly give him an ordinary sword. So he gripped it by hilt and sheath, and drew the blade.

“Valerian steel?” Tyrion breathed in surprise as the layered patterning glinted up at him in that distinctive rippled flow on the blade. “Where… how? Valerian steel?” Tyrion repeated.

“Well, it’s not exactly Valerian steel,” Merlin admitted with a grin, “but I guarantee you that it will cut anything Valerian Steel can cut, and then some.”

“So. Demonic Valerian steel,” Tyrion said dryly, but couldn’t stop the smile that kept tugging at his mouth.

“That you’ll never need to sharpen,” Merlin confirmed with a grin, gaze dropping to the blade.

It was truly a magnificent gift, and Tyrion would not have traded the deceptively plain sword for a thousand bejeweled and pompous blades, not even if they’d been offered to him by Lord Tywin himself. “And, does my trusty blade have a name?” Tyrion asked, feeling the perfect balance of his sword, overall just a shade lighter than he expected.

“Excalibur,” Merlin said, and Tyrion could hear something of fondness, and something of reverence in that word.

It was a foreign name, but fitting somehow. Tyrion held up his new sword so it caught the candlelight and sent it back in a shimmering wash. Well then, if he couldn’t stay here, then he could do worse than to join his demon on a quest, he supposed. Even if he did freeze his balls off.

“Excalibur,” Tyrion echoed, and the name tasted like hope.

FIN

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
mel_redcap
May. 29th, 2012 10:56 am (UTC)
"Excalibur". Oh, nice touch! XD
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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