Author: Kiva Taliana PM
AU story. Arthur Pendragon knew nothing but the life of a slave, passed around the kings and nobles of the land at their whims, until he is claimed by a Dragonlord, Merlin, and something simple slowly gets increasingly complicated.Rated: Fiction T - English - Family/Friendship - Arthur & Merlin - Chapters: 24 - Words: 103,419 - Reviews: 292 - Favs: 158 - Follows: 225 - Updated: 12-19-12 - Published: 04-23-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8051977
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
I have nicked a bit of orginal legend, so some of the characters are in different places...
The castle still lay some distance away so they paused to rest the horses. It made Arthur wonder about the sheer size of the place. Merlin predicted that they had another few hours travel to get there. Arthur knew the pace of the army would be slower than if they were travelling in a small group, but it still seemed to give the turrets a magnificent despite their sorry state.
Since they didn't want to delay for too long the convoy didn't bother to leave the road en-mass. Percival looked mildly apologetic as Lancelot realised he had drained the water skin.
Lancelot huffed, glancing around to see if anyone else could give him some water. He couldn't make the short walk through the trees to the nearby stream to get any more. Arthur reacted immediately, holding his hand out to take the container.
"I'll refill it, My Lord," Arthur said.
Lancelot handed it over without a word and Merlin tossed his own in Arthur's direction. He managed to catch it, a little clumsily, cupping it into the palm of his hand and then slamming it against his chest so it didn't fall to the floor. He managed to splatter water down the front of his new red shirt, but Arthur guessed it would dry easily enough. He jogged through the trees to head towards a section of the small stream. He shifted through the brush and hopped down the bank, dipping the skin into the water to fill it.
The stream was only a small trickle. He could easily step to the other side, but it looked clear enough as he hooked the strap of Lancelot's now full skin over his shoulder and started to fill Merlin's. Arthur tensed, almost dropping it into the water as the bushes parted on the far side and someone stepped through. Arthur glanced up, expecting to see someone from Merlin's army. He couldn't be the only one needing to stock up on water, but glancing up Arthur changed his assessment. And he tensed as he felt someone moved behind him. Glancing to his right he saw another pair of boots, scuffed and dirty, step towards him.
Looking up at the man opposite Arthur shifted nervously. The man's greasy hair fell lankly around his face, the dirt looked ingrained into the clothing which hung from his thin frame. Arthur shuffled back, keeping sight of the second man in the corner of his eye.
"Well, what have we here?" the man on the side drawled.
"I'm sure he's carrying a pretty penny."
Arthur blinked, answering carefully. He didn't think shouting to Merlin for help was a wise idea. He wouldn't make it in time if they decided to attack. However, Merlin would likely come to look for him if he took too long, or he could buy time and maybe lead them back to the convey if all they wanted was money. Arthur went with the easiest option.
"I haven't," he said. "I'm just a slave."
The man opposite looked him up and down, and sniggered. He lifted the point of the sword towards Arthur's shoulder.
"A very well dressed one. Do you really expect us to believe that?"
"You can believe what you like. Now step away from him."
Arthur sighed with relief. Turning his head he saw Merlin a few steps back from him, with Leon on one side, holding a crossbow and Percival on the other, arms folded to show off his massive muscles, sword hilt in hand, while he rested the blade against his shoulder. He smiled brightly, his gaze over Arthur's head to the bandit beyond. The huge knight managed to look both friendly and menacing at the same time.
"And if we don't," the man challenged keeping the point of his sword directed towards Arthur. Glancing to his left Arthur wondered if he could inch away and get clear enough for Merlin to be able to attack.
"My friend here will shoot you."
"You can't shoot us both at the same time," the man challenged and he dived for Arthur.
Arthur had already spotted a small gap in the bushes that grew along the bank, and before the man could grab him he was up and moving, diving through. He heard a cry of pain and guessed that Leon had made good on Merlin's threat. Arthur crawled through on his hands and knees, but as soon as he had scrabbled up the bank he attempted to get to his feet. Something wrapped around his ankle and dragged him back down again. He kicked out, hitting something but obviously not hard enough to make an impression. The hand yanked harder, dragging him back and he fell face down on the floor, air rushing from his lungs. He tried kicking again and then yelped as another hand grabbed the scruff of his neck, pulling him the other way. Arthur kicked again, brushing against something causing the grip to tighten. A moment later he heard a heavy thud and the hand pulled again, although the grip slackened. What had happened obviously caused enough of a distraction to allow Percival to take a firmer grip of his shirt and yank him up the bank. Arthur scrabbled up, landing on his side and turning to look. The group of rough men had upped to five, six if Arthur included the dead one.
Seven he discovered as he crawled further along, so he could take position behind Merlin, staying down and watching the scene unfold. He presumed the other dead man was the one who had tried to grab him, and had a knife in his neck for his trouble. Leon reloaded the crossbow and transferring it to his left hand dropped it close to Arthur, drawing his sword. Arthur shuffled away from the weapon, staring at it as if it might bite him. The sounds of the dried leaf litter crackling made Merlin turn and glare at him.
"You're meant to pick that up Arthur."
Shuffling back Arthur tentatively did so, holding it gingerly, quite unsure what to do next. He felt entirely confident that the three warriors could handle the remaining bandits.
"Haven't you ever used a crossbow before?" Merlin demanded as he turned to take in Arthur's nervousness. He appeared to have completely forgotten about the attackers. Arthur shook his head.
"No, I'm not allowed to use weapons."
Merlin rolled his eyes, muttering something under his breath to low for Arthur to make out, and turned back to the men.
"Put it back down then, carefully, I'd rather you didn't shoot any of us by accident."
Swallowing heavily Arthur very carefully put the crossbow down by his side, jumping a mile as it was picked up. Arthur recognised Balinor's cloak and boots. He stayed next to Arthur, raising the crossbow to aim at the group beyond. Arthur stayed huddled at his feet, feeling safe enough next to the Dragonlord.
The bandits shifted nervously, their advantage lost. Merlin stared at them, Arthur could imagine the expression on Merlin's face. It made him uncomfortable enough when he received it.
"If you don't want to end up like your friends, I suggest you go on your way."
The bandits stepped back, eyes flickering around the group of confident looking warriors. As soon as the bandit leader turned and ran the rest followed. Merlin huffed and spun on his heel, looking at Leon and then Percival.
"Leon, get the men to split into the usual groups and send scouts around the castle. If there are any more of them I want them rousted from the surrounding area and sent on their way. Any means you can."
"Yes, My Lord," Leon said, jogging off through the forest back towards the convoy. Merlin had turned to Balinor.
"We had better get to the castle, it's odd that the guards there haven't removed that rabble."
"They may not want to. Judging by the look of that mob they haven't had any home comforts for a while. They haven't been in the citadel, but they may keep other unwanted guests away," Balinor said. "I'm amazed they're in the woods. Rumours about the hauntings in the Darkling woods have been running for years."
Merlin glowered, "That only works if you are superstitious."
Arthur shifted to get to his feet. Percival reached down and took a firm, but surprisingly gentle, grip of his arm to help him up. Percival smirked.
"What is it about you? You attract them like you are in rut."
Arthur flushed, squirming slightly as the three men stared at him.
"I didn't realise they were there."
"What sort of defence training have you had?" Merlin asked, again mildly disapprovingly. Arthur started to realise that it was not entirely him that Merlin wanted to direct it at.
"None," Arthur said.
"You've don't even know how to defend yourself?" Merlin demanded. Balinor raised his eyebrows. Arthur shook his head.
Merlin rolled his eyes again and easing between Balinor on one side and Percival and Arthur on the other he stared to head back towards the convoy. Percival stared after him.
"He's a good cook though," Percival said in Arthur's defence.
Merlin huffed again, loudly. "Percival, the world does not begin and end with your stomach!"
Percival gave Arthur a little shove to send him after Merlin and tailing behind the prince muttered under his breath.
"It does for me."
"Are you lost?" a voice asked. Arthur turned, struggling under the weight of the items that Merlin required from the wagons. He looked at the dark skinned girl who had greeted Merlin and Balinor as they arrived.
"Yes, I can't seem to find my way back to my master's chambers."
Her face rippled with a quizzical frown.
"Lord Merlin," Arthur said, not even sure if that was actually Merlin's title. He hadn't ever addressed him by name, and it felt strange doing so now. However, the confusion faded, but didn't disappear altogether as she nodded.
"I'll show you," Gwen said. "Do you want some help with all that?"
Arthur blinked. He didn't feel quite sure if he should let her, he wasn't sure of her status. Although her clothes looked plain and simple, that didn't mean she didn't have standing.
"I'm fine," Arthur stammered before she took matters into her own hands and lifted one set of saddle bags off his shoulders and shrugged it onto her own.
"I can help, it's this way, if you come in the main archway, you need to take the first set of stairs and then head to your left."
"Okay," Arthur said, committing that to his mind. They didn't talk for a moment. The girl broke the silence occasionally to give hints about directions and ways to go, that Arthur tried to memorise. It had been quite a surprise to him to find that despite the damage to the upper areas of the castle, the lower floors were still habitable, with a small community living in and around it.
Arthur had looked around with mild surprise as the small group of himself, Merlin, Balinor, Lancelot, Leon and Percival had ridden through the archway into the courtyard. Just before the archway the greenery had encroached, with weeds pushing up through the broken flagstones, and creepers clinging to the walls, looking thick and tangled, strands shooting off and twining around each other so the plants appeared almost as thick as the walls they had rooted to.
Within, however, it was a totally different picture. The stone courtyard looked neat and tidy, as if the weeds did not dare pass through. Looking up Arthur could see the damage to the towers, and the dark, almost black bark of the tree that sprouted from the battlement. Merlin pulled the small convoy to a halt by a set of stone steps that led into the building. Arthur's little pony needed no instruction from him to come to a halt. He slowly dismounted, looking up at the main building, realising that despite the dilapidated outer walls and turrets, the inside was entirely habitable. The windows were intact, the white stone of the castle clear of any damage and Arthur could see people moving about.
Then the girl had appeared in the doorway, lifting her skirts to run down to meet them, greeting all of them warmly, and even hugging Merlin and Balinor.
Arthur turned to help Lancelot dismount from his horse, and retrieved the walking stick the knight had been using for support.
"It's good to see you two," she had said.
"And you Gwen," Merlin had answered warmly. "We're about to keep you all busy. Have any of the kings, or their delegates arrived yet?"
"Only King Lot, and his sons. I heard what happened to Gareth. They all seem a little upset. Queen Anna has not accompanied them."
"I will speak to them," Merlin said. "I also need to speak to Elyan and the rest of the guard. We encountered some bandits in the woods a few miles from here. Have they been close?"
"There have been some incidents, although he has tried to increase the patrols, there is only so much he can do. None of them have tried coming close to the castle," Gwen said.
"They probably wouldn't dare," Balinor said.
"At least the presence of the army may remove them," Merlin said. "I can always increase the guard here, if we need to."
"That can wait," Gwen announced, linking her arm through Merlin's. "I've got your rooms ready, do you need me to help unpack?"
"No, that's fine, we have help," Merlin had said. Arthur had already removed the equipment off the pack horse ready to follow Merlin wherever he intended to go. It was then that Arthur had gone to get the stuff from the wagon, now parked in the courtyard, and got himself lost on the way back.
"I'm Guinevere, by the way, but most people call me Gwen," she announced to Arthur now, as they turned a corner. She held her hand out and Arthur shook it, rather clumsily as he struggled to balance the rest of the equipment he carried.
"Oh," said Gwen, in mild shock, her eyes widening as she looked at him. For a moment she seemed at a loss as to what to say next. Instead she just stared at him. It was something Arthur had become entirely used to. Gwen, realising she was staring, looked away, and paused by a door.
"It's this one here," she said, knocking quickly and then opening it up.
He tailed Gwen into the large room, carefully putting some of his burden down on the long table which occupied the near end of the room, with six chairs set around it. Beyond that a large bed lay against the far wall, and at the end of the chamber a bay window let in the afternoon sun. Captured in the brightness was a desk and chair. Opposite the bed, framed by an ornate mantelpiece a fire had been set up, but not as yet lit, and a wardrobe had been tucked up the far corner. Arthur crossed the room and put the bags down on the wooden trunk at the end of the bed. He opened them and started to unpack Merlin's travelling clothes, he carefully separated them into those that needed washing and those that could be hung up.
Merlin, who had been sat at the desk, looked up in surprise as he saw Gwen with Arthur.
"He got lost," Gwen said. "Would you like something to eat?"
She looked from one man to the other. Merlin smiled at her, the same bright smile that he had bestowed on Aaliah when he had seen her.
"Thank you, can you show Arthur where the kitchens are while you do? Percival is bound to send him up and down that route more than a few times while we are here."
"Certainly, it's this way."
Arthur looked uncertainly at the mess he had left around then room and then to Merlin, who nodded his head.
"Best you find out where everything is first," Merlin said. "Go on."
"Yes, My Lord," Arthur murmured, following in Gwen's wake. She turned back to smile at him and Arthur managed to return it.
As he watched them go Merlin went to the desk, whispering a word, eyes flashing gold, and the box on the desk clicked as the latch released, Merlin opened it up and pulled out several sheets of parchment, which he started to flick through while he waited for Arthur's return.
Again their only conversation as they walked to the kitchens was Gwen's directions. A small pool of cold, shivering dread had settled in Arthur's stomach. He hated these moments, knowing he could do nothing about it, now he was here, and the kings soon offering what they could for him. It occurred to Arthur to just ask Merlin what he would do. From what he knew of him over the last ten days Arthur thought that Merlin might just answer him. But such an action would be a fight against Arthur's ingrained nature. He kept his thoughts and feelings to himself, and he tried not to think too much about what was going on around him. There appeared to be very little point to his existence except what the people around him wanted to make of it. Merlin differed from that, from what Arthur expected, and it raised uncomfortable thoughts in Arthur's mind. In a way staying with Merlin was not something Arthur felt he could cope with, but on the other hand he had treated him decently from the moment Arthur had met him.
"Is there a laundry room or something?" Arthur asked as they took the final short walk to the kitchen.
Gwen pointed down the corridor. "Head down that way and turn to the right, go down a short set of steps and there are tubs and a water pump there."
"Thank you," Arthur said wondering which of Merlin's clothes he needed to wash. At least he could get it done fairly easily. "And what's the best way to get to the stables?"
Gwen took the last few steps into the kitchen and looked around. A few people were moving around, cooking at the large oven, and on the fire in the centre of the room. They glanced at them, but seeing Gwen their curiosity faded swiftly.
"For you probably through the main entrance and head round to your left. Merlin normally keeps his horses in the far stable, when he's here."
"Thank you, I'll get something for Merlin, and Percival," Arthur added, causing Gwen to smile.
"I'll show you where everything is. When there are guests a few of us help cook, so there is always something cooking. Plus the guards are always hungry."
"Why would you need guards? The castle looks abandoned."
Gwen shrugged. "People have lived here for years. Many of the people living here didn't leave when…" she paused, biting her lip as she looked at Arthur. "… when the king was overthrown."
Arthur got the impression that was not what she actually intended to say. He gave a shrug.
"I don't know anything about it, no one has ever really bothered to tell me."
"But… you are Arthur Pendragon."
"Yes, so I've been told," Arthur said. Gwen blinked and stared at him.
"It's mainly used by Merlin now, to house his troops when he needs to, but with all the fighting that goes on between the kings and their noblemen, he brings anyone who is left homeless, or without family, here. They are given the protection of the Dragonlords."
Gwen paused looking as if she was about to say more. Instead she turned and pointed through a door.
"The larder is through there, if you take a plate and gather some things, I'll see if there is any roast meat."
Arthur did as he was told. Merlin probably wouldn't eat straight away, so there would be no point in providing something hot. Arthur could leave out a cold platter, and then tidy up the room, then get on with Merlin's washing.
"Found some, and it's still warm," Gwen announced a few minutes later. Arthur took the plate from her, carefully balancing it on top of his own.
"I'll take them, if it cools down it won't matter. I'll fetch something else if the master wants it," Arthur said. Gwen nodded.
"Will you be all right now? I have to go and take some dinner to my father," Gwen said. "He's the town blacksmith."
"There's a town?" Arthur asked.
"You wouldn't have seen it, travelling in from that direction. It's just on the far side of the citadel. Not everyone likes to live in the castle." Gwen looked sad for a moment. "Too many bad memories."
Arthur sighed. "Sometimes it's better to not have any."
Arthur had managed, by luck, or Merlin's design, to have avoided the rest of the arrivals. Bayard had appeared later on that afternoon, just as dusk started to settle, and Olaf had been spotted close by. Some of the servants and soldiers Bayard had brought occupied an area of ground around the castle, while the more important of his entourage settled in the castle.
By that point Arthur had settled in a room next to Merlin's chamber cleaning and repairing several sets of armour. He had tided up, done the washing, fetched a few more items for Merlin and then after his own supper had been bundled off to clean the armour as Merlin had ordered him to.
While Arthur had remained deeply occupied with Merlin's comfort, Merlin himself went to perform a rather uncomfortable task. He walked around to the far wing of the main castle and knocked on a door.
"Come in!" the deep voice behind it bellowed.
Taking a very deep breath Merlin opened it. The man he had come to see stood by the window, staring out at the activity in the courtyard below. It was fair to say the kings did not meet often, at least in any amicable fashion, when they did such a move turned into a full scale operation. Having wars with each other was probably easier.
Merlin shut the door behind him.
King Lot turned to look at Merlin. Even in his mid-twenties and battle-hardened Merlin looked nothing more than a boy. Merlin himself thought that Lot had aged, probably after news of his son's death had reached him. The king was in his forties, with dark hair, which had over time become increasingly streaked with grey. He was still tall and broad-shouldered and exuded strength, but while grieving the aura had diminished a fraction.
"I came to offer my condolences on the death of your son. I did what I could to save him, but the wound he received was too severe."
"I saw the damage when the body returned. Gareth knew the risks when he joined you. He said it was only right that one of them went with the men who I chose. It was not much of an example if they all three of them avoided the responsibility."
"Nor is the safety of the troops a responsibility I avoid. But you're right, none of this is without risk."
"I'm forgetting my manners, would you care for a drink?"
Merlin actually didn't but under the circumstances refusing seemed impolite, so he inclined his head.
He followed Lot further into the room, over to the table on the far side. The king poured the drinks and offered one to Merlin.
"Don't worry, I have no intention of poisoning you for revenge."
"That's reassuring to know."
Merlin gave a slight smile and as Lot indicated to a seat Merlin took it, while the king sat opposite him.
"At least you got rid of the problem in question. Cenred was out of control to say the least."
"Given enough power, anyone could be."
"That is true, at least we all act as a controlling influence on each other. Most of the time."
"It still seems like nothing more than a vicious cycle."
Lot shrugged. "What else can we do? Those with power will always fight for more, and those that lose it will no doubt attempt to claw it back."
"I don't know."
"What you proposed to us has worked well enough these last five years. A few people agree with you, even if they don't like to. My youngest son being one of them, he feels it is his role to take his brother's place."
"He has no need to do that," Merlin said. "Gareth proved that you were willing to be fair in the situation. Gaheris and Gwaine should be with you. Certainly now."
"I can say that of Gaheris, he is heir to the throne."
"There is still no need for Gwaine to put himself into the situation, if you do not wish him to."
"It is sometimes a little hard for me to tell my youngest son what is best for him. When he gets an idea in his head it often refuses to move. He may seem fickle, and often drunk, but he's also stubborn and well-meaning."
Merlin raised his eyebrows and took a light sip of wine. "Are you asking me to refuse him entry?"
"I don't know," Lot said truthfully. "What do you plan to do with the Pendragon boy?"
Merlin shrugged. "That's a quagmire of an issue. You've owned him before?"
Lot nodded, sitting back in the chair. "He's passed through my household a few times. The first time, I did buy him merely for curiosity's sake. Then I received him again when an heirless Lord of my kingdom died and I took control of the estate. Apparently he had won the boy in a card game a few months previously. The last time I owned him Arthur must have been just in his teens."
"What role did he take in your household?"
"I kept him as a servant, that final time I didn't see much of him, the boys appropriated him. They were a little older, and still quite a handful." Lot paused and frowned, a slight smile ghosting across his face. "Oddly enough, Arthur was the only thing they never fought over, they shared him fairly equally. Any other item in question caused something of a full scale war."
"They had him as a servant?" Merlin asked. Lot nodded, sitting back.
"Most of the time, and for what Gareth generally referred to as 'recreational use'."
Merlin glowered. "Really."
"Don't go over moralistic on me Merlin," Lot said, his tone neutral. "The Golden Prince was no virgin when they got him. In a way, three hormonal youths working off some energy were much less harmful than some of the other masters he's had."
"I suppose," Merlin mused. Lot looked at him for a long moment, before he brought up what appeared to be a rather obvious point.
"If you're so bothered over it, you're his current keeper, make it legal and keep him. What else can you really do with him except sell him or own him?"
Merlin blinked, staring out of the window he replied, in a thoughtful tone.
"I don't know."