Merlin nudged the door open, carefully trying to balance the logs as he carried them into the little lean-to at the back of the house. Dropping them heavily he let them clatter onto the pile. It looked significantly fruitful, and he hadn't needed to cheat. He knew he shouldn't ever do that, even a whiff of sorcery and there could be trouble.
"Mother? I did the firewood… Mother?" Merlin pushed open the door that took him into the small house. It was quiet in the tiny living space, and Merlin's nose wrinkled as the smell of burning food caught his senses. Looking around he realised there was a pan on the stove, which was bubbling frantically, the contents running up the side, threatening to spill over. Merlin ran to it and using the thick cloth by the stove, took the handle and lifted it clear. He grimaced as he looked at the contents. Then he spun round as the door burst open.
"I don't think we're getting much for dinner, unless you want to eat firewood," he joked.
His mother ran forward and grabbed him, pulling him up and then pushing him towards the back door, out towards the lean-to.
"You have to go!"
"Mother, what?" Merlin resisted her, taking her hands. She gripped onto him tightly, her face pale, eyes wide and frightened. "Mother?"
"You have to run; the King's soldiers are here, Uther's soldiers!"
"What?" Merlin gasped, eyes rolling, and smile of disbelief flickered across his mouth.
"Someone knows, someone betrayed us. Merlin, you have to run, you can't let Uther take you, you have to go! Go!" She raised her voice, pushing him back and Merlin's head jerked up as he heard the sound of horses, and rough calls. There were several screams.
"Go!" she hissed at him. "Now! Go, for heavens sake child!"
Merlin heard the terror in her voice. He turned and stumbled out of the door, through the lean-to and he dashed around the back of another house. He crouched down by the pig pen and looked around. The knights of Camelot were easy to spot, their black armour decorated with the red dragon crest, their red cloaks a perfect match. They crashed carelessly through the village, and Merlin saw a few of the villagers, people he had known since he was a child, run to the lead man and point in the direction of his home. He winced, panting in shock as his mother was dragged from the house, by her neighbours and friends. Merlin whimpered, watching as the lead man dismounted.
Merlin had never seen him before, but he could only assume this was Prince Arthur, his armour edged in gold, his red cloak delicately decorated in gold brocade. Merlin watched as Prince Arthur stepped forward and snapped something at his mother.
Whatever she said in reply caused the knight stood on her left to lash out and slap her, sending her to the floor. Lifting her head she spat at him and then launched herself at Arthur, holding a knife. The attack was entirely futile, but it was not designed to kill, she wanted to delay them, and give him time to get away.
He watched as his mother's body was yanked into the air, by a single command shouted by several people. Merlin fell back as she twisted painfully, her limbs snapped in different directions and her back bowed. As he stumbled away, two people turned to look in his direction, and the knight's attention focussed on him.
Someone shouted, one of the villagers. They all yelled. Merlin turned and stumbled away, turning he lifted his hand and shouted a word. Several items flew at his pursuers, but they were easily deflected by the accompanying sorcerers. Merlin turned and ran, hearing the sound of hooves as the knights rode after him.
Merlin just ran. There was nothing else he could do. He tried to use his magic to speed his run but all of a sudden he felt sluggish and dizzy. Something tangled around his legs and he pitched forward, landing heavily against a fence and striking the side of his head. He crashed to the floor and lay still.
Arthur watched calmly as the knights ran to the now unmoving boy, who had been easily brought down by his bolus. He had thrown it with expert accuracy, and the leather wrapped itself around Merlin's legs, hampering him instantly.
He strode over as Sir Leon and Sir Olwen hoisted the boy up.
"He's unconscious," Leon said. Arthur reached out and lifted Merlin's chin, looking at his pale face and the trail of blood running down his cheek. Arthur ran his thumb over Merlin's cheekbone, smearing the blood and picking some up on his leather glove. Idly Arthur licked it, while he looked at Merlin.
"Shame, we could have tested him further. At least he shows some power. Put him in the cage."
The knights lifted Merlin's limp body and took him over to the cart parked close by, on the back of which was a cage. The silver glittered in the sunlight, wards and symbols were etched into the metal. Merlin groaned a little as he was unceremoniously put inside it, and the door securely locked. Arthur strode over to the man stood forward of the cluster of villagers.
They all looked a little dull eyed now, looking down at the body of their neighbour and Arthur guessed someone who had been their friend. She looked pitiful now, her glassy eyes seeing nothing, her body unnaturally twisted, broken apart by a clash of magic. It would have only taken one of the knight's sorcerers to stop her. Arthur himself could have done it. But they had overreacted. He was Uther's son, failing to protect him came with a very high price.
Arthur pulled the bag of gold from his belt and threw it at the man.
The man opened it, smiling at the gold inside. It would presumably ease the pain over the woman's death, Arthur thought.
"Thank you Sire," the man fawned. "He has power, I promise you."
Arthur smiled, very congenially. The man smiled back, until Arthur stepped forward, going nose to nose with the unfortunate man. He met the prince's cold eyes, and a shiver ran down his spine. Arthur's polite smile remained in place, making him look even more chilling.
"You'd better, because if not, I will deliver him back to you, personally."