This was originally posted as a Squire's Tales/Merlin crossover. We'll see BBC Merlin and Arthur beside Gerald Morris's Gawain and Terence. Other characters come from both series or are original.

Rated M for violence, fantasy and medieval warfare, and sexual abuse (from the baddies. No dark!good guys here).

You can find me (and the characters) on Pinterest at missceridouglas. Boards are divvied up by chapter sets to be spoiler-safe.

Arthur Pendragon, Prince of Camelot, sat straight-backed and proud on his horse. The glittering mail and flowing red capes he and his attending knights wore bore magnificent contrast to the filthy warlord waiting for him. Sir Leon's squire, Norris, took his horse's bridle, and Prince Arthur dismounted, ignoring the warlord's condescending sneer. He was sixteen and beardless, granted, but he was not a child, and he would not permit this dirty glorified bandit to manipulate him.

"Your father, boy, he ask too much this time." The warlord glared at Arthur from somewhere beneath his wild and leaf-pricked beard and brows. "We agree two hundred gold pieces."

"You agreed to three hundred, Ulf," Arthur replied coolly.

"You lie."

"I am on my way to visit the court of my uncle King Lot, who witnessed our agreement. You may ask him, if you please. I am certain he will confirm the amount."

"I no ask confirm! Two hundred."

"Very well. Sir Leon, we shall journey to King Lot at once and consult with him. Ulf, choose one of your men to travel with us and act as witness."

Arthur kept his stance light and easy, and turned towards his horse, keeping an eye on Ulf. The warlord trailed his fingers over his sword, glancing between the knights, and finally spat to the side, grumbling. Arthur mounted, and took the reins from Norris. Ulf kept this woebegotten piece of forest on the border, long ago a small kingdom ruled by some one or another of his ancestors, by paying tribute to his more powerful neighbor of Camelot. He was insolent and backwards, but he would not risk open war.

"Wait." Pure hatred shone out of Ulf's eyes. "We pay. Two hundred and fifty."

"Perhaps you would like to come with us yourself?" Arthur asked. "We will ready a horse for you."

"You cheat."

"If you were concerned with the amount, you should have discussed it during the treaty signing. Or with any of my father's emissaries who collected the tribute for the last ten years. It is my understanding that three hundred pieces of gold was agreed upon by both parties, and has not been contested since."

Ulf's mouth worked, and he shifted his weight from foot to foot, trying to stare Arthur down. The young man returned his gaze steadily, then regally broke eye contact to turn his horse away.


Arthur paused.

"We give three hundred gold tribute."

Arthur eased the horse back around, seeing the defeated rage on the warlord's face. "Thank you."

"We have two hundred gold. I pay one hundred more goods value."

"That is agreeable." Arthur did not dare to spare a look at Leon for guidance as he dismounted, but the knight nodded deeply enough to catch the corner of Arthur's glance, and he knew the decision was sound.

Three pouches of gold thumped to the ground at Arthur's feet, and Leon counted them. Ulf's men stretched a huge bearskin on the ground for the two leaders to sit on, and the haggling began. Ulf and Arthur argued over the value of every item tossed between them. Weapons and trinkets, broken jewelry and hides, and the hate left Ulf's face, replaced by sullen respect. Arthur would not be cheated, but neither would he cheat. The war band clearly did not not come expecting to pay all three hundred gold pieces, and there was a good deal of muttering as personal valuables were sacrificed to make tribute.

The value of two gold pieces short, Ulf snapped his fingers at one of his warriors and said in a resigned sort of way, "You. Bring gremlin."

The man's face fell, and he shambled away in the direction of their camp. Ulf called a sharp word after him that Arthur did not recognize, and the warrior called back, grumbling.

"How much slave worth?" Ulf asked.

Ice stuck in Arthur's heart. Camelot had slaves, but the idea of owning another person grated on Arthur the wrong way, and he had none for himself. "Depends on the slave," the prince replied neutrally.

"Him good. Small, but obey always and ever so want to please master. Know horse. Know cooking. Know the cloth-sewing. Bring to sleeping mat, prince, and you like very much. Him do however please master. Never fight, never run. I say to him, 'You belong prince,' and he will kiss feet of you every morning, every night, and belong you always."

Arthur swallowed bile, once, again when the warrior came into sight with a sad creature meek on a leash behind him. The boy was skin and bones, covered in grime and bruises. Matted hair hung down below his shoulders and across his face, so filthy Arthur could discern no color in it except mud and twigs. He wore nothing but a dirty strip of cloth wrapped many times around his hips and upper thighs and a rusty metal collar with a leather leash clipped to it.

This much Arthur saw as he approached, and the boy flung himself prostrate before the prince could catch a glimpse of his face.

"Him worth two gold?"

Arthur stared at the boy's back, crisscrossed with the scars of his beatings, the spine protruding in one long, lumping ridge. He would not sell for five silver pennies, dirty and starved as he was, and Arthur could not leave him.

"He is filthy, starved, and I cannot see how he is still walking," Arthur said. "For the body, I would pay four silver pennies."

Ulf gave a cry of outrage and started up. Arthur held up a finger.

"I am not finished. For his life, Ulf, for the life of a person, I will value him at ten gold pieces."

He was haggling up, he knew, but he was angry. He reached into the jumbled heap before them and pulled out the personal effects that had been parted with most dearly, putting them in a pile to the side. Ulf stared at him, then heaved the boy up by his leash. The boy stayed tucked in on himself, head bent, face veiled by mangy hair. Ulf grabbed his face and wrenched it around to look at Arthur.

"You belong prince now."

Arthur met fearful blue eyes as he slowly stood from the bearskin. Ulf threw the boy down on his feet, shoving the dirty head against the ground with a boot.

"You belong prince."

Thin fingers curled around Arthur's ankles. "Belong prince," the boy whispered. "Long?"

"Belong prince," Ulf said again. "Stay, you."

The boy peeked up away from the ground to look at Ulf. "Master call?"

"Master prince." Ulf pointed at Arthur. "You belong him."

A glance of mixed hope and fear, and the boy's face went down against his boots again. "Stays."

Ulf gathered his war band, and they vanished into the trees, leaving a vague stench of filth and alcohol behind them. The boy did not move until the sounds of Ulf and his men had faded, then he rose to his knees, clutching at Arthur's legs. He rambled in a language the prince did not understand, sobbing, pleading, finally lifting clasped hands in desperate supplication.

"I don't understand you," Arthur admitted helplessly.

The boy sagged at the response, then gently pressed his head against Arthur's knees. "P-rin-sss master. Long, long stays. Obeys long, long." He looked up again, fawning absently at Arthur's leg. "Master pleased?"

Arthur was anything but pleased, but he cautiously patted the boy's mangy head. "Yes."

"Him master?" The boy pointed at Leon, then each of the others in turn. He had to repeat the question a few times before Arthur finally gathered from his gestures that he was inquiring if he was considered the property of the collective group.

"No." Arthur shook his head. "You're just mine."

The following smile broke Arthur's heart with its relief and happiness. He wrapped the leash around his hand and mounted, leading the boy back to camp with them in silence. Norris stayed well on the other side of the group, clearly disturbed - the slave was close to his age, a bit younger than Arthur, though stunted by hardship.

"Leon?" he asked.

"You did right, my lord. Keep the boy."

"I don't want a slave." Arthur looked down at where the boy walked close to his stirrup, bare feet stumbling on the rough trail.

"You have one." That was Leon, always the facts as they were, stated and accepted without worry. "You can do him good."

He could at least wash him, Arthur thought. Unique among many healers, their court physician insisted that filth bore disease, and regular cleaning of body and clothes and habitation would reduce infection. He was scoffed at, until time proved him right, and Arthur could not bear to go without bathing for long anymore, though visitors thought the people of Camelot curious for it.

At their camp, Norris cared for the horses while Leon took his knife to the boy's wild hair. The knight cut the matted locks free and trimmed the hair to a rough but respectable cut. Crawling with lice and fleas, no doubt, Arthur thought. Retrieving a cake of tough lye soap, a brush, and a blanket from the packhorse, he gestured for the boy to follow him to the nearby stream.

It took no coaxing at all for the boy to abandon his single dirty loin-wrap, but removing the rusty collar turned him frantic, and the terrified slave descended into his own tongue again, shouting, pleading, trying to push Arthur's fingers away until the prince spoke sternly and wilted him to the ground in an unresistant huddle. The boy rubbed his head against the ground, then pawed his way closer to lick Arthur's boots.

"No." Arthur stepped out of reach, and the slave cowered, whimpering. "Get in the water."

The boy crawled into the stream and submerged himself up to the ears, eyes screwed shut and leaking tears as if bearing punishment. Gestures and the words 'wash' and 'clean' were to no avail. He stared at the soap without understanding.

The prince resigned himself, pulled off boots and shirt, and joined the boy in the chilly water. When he reached for an arm, the boy gave him both wrists, and Arthur started scrubbing, soap and brush and several dunkings suffered meekly. The part of the work he thought would become awkward passed in a heartbeat, distracted as he was by the battered condition of the boy's skin. He was dark-haired and pale, with round blue eyes too big for his angled face. Near all his bones showed their shape and corners in an already slim body. Every inch of his skin was marked and bruised, save the face, which bore a single small scar across the cheek, as if from a ring cutting during a blow. By the time Arthur picked through his dripping hair to check for lice and nits, the boy realized he was being cared for, not punished. He nudged at Arthur with servile affection and kissed the prince's hands if they came close enough.

The smell of food drifted towards them from the camp where the fire glimmered out in the lengthening shadows, and Leon came to the bank, fabric over his arm. The boy sloshed out to the bank, stark naked and unconcerned with it. Arthur removed his wet clothing a little more awkwardly and dried off with a blanket. The boy imitated his motions and dried himself, shivering a little while Arthur changed into the dry clothes the knight had brought.

"These should do him." Leon held up some spare clothing apparently requisitioned from the knights.

The boy could barely dress himself. He tried to put the pants on his arms, then over his head, before Arthur guided his legs through. The cuffs trailed on the ground, and Leon knelt to roll them up without a word. Arthur got the tunic on the boy, and sleeves on that had to be rolled too, the laces at the neck tied tightly so it would not fall off narrow shoulders. A length of leather tied twice around the waist held everything in, and the boy stared down at himself with amazement before flinging his arms around Arthur's knees in gratitude.

"One more thing."

Arthur stared at the modified belt in Leon's hand, cut off short and pierced through with new holes. "No."

"He will be happier with it."

"No." But he took the collar out of Leon's hands and drew the boy's attention to it. Instead of the disgust he felt, Arthur saw eagerness, a shining joy in the boy's eyes before he dropped his head and offered his neck. The leather was soft, and would not chafe as the rusty iron had. Arthur buckled it with careful concern for throat and breathing. His hands and feet were thoroughly kissed for his trouble, and he returned to the fireside blushed red, new servant behind him.

Norris crouched over the stewpot, scooping out portions and passing them around. He came to the boy last, who shrank back from the offered bowl, casting a look up at Arthur. The prince gestured for him to take it, and the boy cautiously complied, ignoring the spoon, wrapping arms and knees around the bowl, and scooping up the meal with his fingers and tongue.

Disgusted, Arthur stopped him with a hand on his wrist. The boy froze and started to hand the bowl back. Arthur shook his head and pressed the bowl to him, picking up the spoon and gesturing with it.

"You eat with it," he explained, demonstrating with his own stew.

Blue eyes watched him studiously, shaky fingers imitated his grip on the handle, and the boy clumsily scooped up a bite and crammed it into his mouth before it spilled. The knights watched in silent amazement as the boy learned the utensil. Ywain cursed under his breath. "No tribute is worth letting Ulf's bastards keep that piece of dirt. We should attack, my lord prince."

"Not without leave from the king. And he will have my report. In full."

Ywain subsided, and Arthur ducked back over his stew, waiting for darkness when he would not have to hide his exhaustion. Not even to Orkney Hall yet, and already this mission pressed new responsibilities on him. Next to him, the boy licked his bowl clean and joined Norris at the fire, communicating with gestures that he would do the washing. Considering the boy's experience with cleaning himself, Norris split the washing with him, but he turned out to be effective at it, and scrubbed all the dishes and the pot to shining with sand.

Worn out by even this small exercise, the boy flopped down by Arthur's feet, alert even in rest. The five knights split the watch, with assurances that Arthur would take his turn tomorrow, and they lay out their bedrolls.

The chill of autumn crept in when the sun went down, and the boy already shivered in the wind, with nothing extra to hold his warmth in him. The food was good in his belly, and filled it up with warmth, even eaten with the strange stick. He had seen it before, with Hairy Masters and before and very very long ago with Mother, but could not remember what anyone called it. Mother-memories were dark and like dreams.

Master had washed him like a pot, and he was clean like the pot out of the stream. His hair was not snug on his neck anymore, but neither did he itch. He must learn to wash himself like the pot, since Master was pleased to see him clean, and he was glad Master was pleased to see him wearing clothes too. He bit his lip. The clothes must also be washed like the pot, and he hoped he might have someone show him how before he made a mistake and needed punishing. His new collar was kind on his neck, and he had to touch it sometimes to feel it there.

These men were strange, and their armor shone, and they did not smell the same as others he had been with. He liked their faces, too, and the face of the other boy, who was a servant-not-servant. They ordered their watch, and Master spread his sleeping mat. The boy watched him, and memorized how it was done so he could take the task himself. Master had been gentle so far, and the boy hoped he would be given a horse blanket to huddle under for the night. Unless Master wanted him. He had cleaned his body, after all.

As he expected, he was to come to Master's sleeping mat. The golden-haired man-boy beckoned to him from where he lay, and the slave came quickly, slipping up next to him and feeling the blankets drape around his body. Master pulled him close to his warm beating heart, and the boy pressed against him, wound their legs easily, nuzzling and clutching at the loose clothes. They were always kinder if he offered himself to please them.


Master's voice was firm, but not angry. The boy let go and lay still, waiting to see what Master wanted. Quiet, then? He let the other move him and found, though he lay close and warm to his master, he was in no position he knew of to be used to please. Master's cheeks colored a little, and he spoke again, many words and firm and sometimes stammering. A few were 'No.' Then he folded his hands and put them under his head and pretended to snore quietly before pointing to the boy.

He obediently closed his eyes, and felt Master settle in to sleep next to him. Master was tired, and did not want him tonight. The boy's heart filled up with amazement and gratefulness that he was offered a warm place next to his master and beneath his blankets without having to serve his body. In the morning, when Master had had his rest, he would be ready, and would please him very much.

Notes on Currency and History

How Much Is a Merlin Worth?

The going price for gold at the moment is somewhere around $1,200 per ounce. Silver is $16 per ounce. I'm averaging one ounce as one piece.

1 silver penny is 1/8 of an ounce, or about $2.

Many scholars use loaves of bread to help visualize costs, since the value is virtually unchanged since ancient times. This gets a little absurd when you get into the hundreds of dollars, so, for visual help, I'm using two currency comparisons: diamond rings and potatoes.

A good diamond ring goes for about $5,000.

One potato sells for 33 cents.

A silver penny would buy you 6 potatoes.

At three hundred pieces of gold, Ulf's tribute is $360,000, or 72 diamond rings. (Think buying a nice house outright.) Ulf offers to sell Merlin for $2,400 - half a ring, or a couple of nice computers.

Arthur counters that, in his abused and starved condition, Merlin is only worth $8: 24 potatoes. However, for a living person Arthur will pay $12,000 - over two diamond rings. (think walking onto a dealership and buying a really nice used car outright).

During the 4th and 5th Centuries in Rome, a male slave went for an average of 500 denarii, and some girls might cost up to 6,000 denarii. A denarii was a day's wage, and the conversion to USD is disputed. However, the average equivalent seems to be 1 denarius = $20 USD. So, if you wanted a slave, you would be paying anywhere between $10,000 to $120,000.

Ulf offers Arthur a killer bargain - about 1/4 of what a male slave in Rome might go for. For Merlin's worth based on his physical condition, Arthur bargains up to the absurd. However, he buys him for about the price of the average male slave in Rome - a probably less than the going price, actually.

History lesson: buying a slave in the ancient world would be equivalent to buying a very nice used car or a brand new car today. It makes the idea of selling yourself - or your kids - to pay off a large debt much more financially sensible. It also means that owning even one handsome, healthy, well-trained slave would be like owning a Corvette. And having several carrying you around on your palanquin? Talk about a status symbol.