A/N: Hello! I must begin this by telling you that I cannot take credit for the basic outline of this story. Kitty O messaged it to me. We both agree that, since it's never actually been mentioned in the show that Arthur sleeps around a lot (although everyone assumes he does) it's time someone took a different approach... Also, it's the perfect opportunity to bruise Arthur's ego. Enough said. This chapter's kind of an introduction to the story, just to see what people make of it... If you like it, review and I'll keep going with it! If you don't like it, well... that makes me sad but you're free to have your own opinions. I'd especially like to know what people make of the characters in this chapter - because it's my first (semi-)serious attempt at OCs.
It was a horribly clichéd dark and stormy night.
The rain was falling in great, greasy clomps that splattered on the ground and mutated instantly into sullen, murky puddles.
The wind was groaning and grumbling as it twisted its way around the forest, bending the trunks of trees to its will, forcing them to dance and tremble as it slithered through their branches, knotting its fingers in their leaves.
The thunder was stomping along sulkily in the distance like a petulant child, its heavy footsteps causing the tired ground around to shake in its wake.
No one could sleep at all.
Not a wink.
The endless whistling, waning and howling; the constant disruptive flashes of brightness as lightening carved its path across the tar-like pool of the sky; the thick, sweaty stench in the air that came - unquestionably, hand-in-hand - with torrential rain.
Of course, some people weren't trying to sleep.
Some people were busy concocting evil plans.
A single, slippery, lonely cave sat by itself; like the calm directly in the middle of the storm that raged relentlessly all around.
Inside this cave were two men, so busy plotting and scheming that the rumble of the thunder and the shrieks of the lightening were of minimal concern to them.
The first man, clearly the leader of the two, was the one to whom the eye was immediately drawn. He stood taller, walked firmer, and talked far more authoritatively. His long, hooked nose poked out over his thin, grimacing lips; an endless, blank forehead stretched up above his raised eyebrows into the wilderness of his straggly hair; and his shrewd, rat-like eyes seemed to bore analytically into every crevice of his surroundings, with an air of arrogance that suggested they found nothing around them comparable with him.
His self-confidence was hardly surprising, since his companion was so painfully inferior. He was short, squat and strongly resembled a door stop. The stench of cabbages clung to his thick, ragged skin, and his timid, squeaky voice seemed to cement the general appearance of a dogsbody.
"Strumpet!" the first man bellowed, his heavy voice hanging thickly in the air as the name echoed around the walls of the cave. "We shall begin on that potion! Where is the eye of newt I sent you for?"
Strumpet - for that was the shorter man's name - waddled towards his master. "It is here, Master… I have rubbed it in the open wound of a unicorn, as you instructed…"
Master nodded approvingly, and held his hand out to receive the small eyeball, which observed him anxiously as he licked his lips. "Excellent!"
With that, Master promptly swallowed the eye of newt, his favourite pre-potion-brewing-snack, and set about prepping his cauldron.
"Read the ingredients list to me, Strumpet. I may be the most intelligent being in all of Albion, but even I have my limitations… I can only do a certain number of things at once." Master paused, and seemed to be considering this. "Well… Actually… Perhaps I can… Perhaps I have no need of you, since I am so very brilliant…"
"Oh! Oh, no, Master… You would not want to be brilliant all the time, I think… It would be tiring… Perhaps I might help you with something?"
"Perhaps. But only if you are quick about it. Otherwise I might realise how brilliant I am, and decide I don't need you after all."
"Of course, Master!"
With that, Strumpet set about scurrying with vigour, and before long he had a withered spell book clutched in his paw-like hands.
"I cannot read in this dim light, Master…"
Master sighed. "Must I do everything?"
He did not appear to require an answer to this, as, before long, he shot his hand up in the direction of his assistant, and a reddish ball of light began to hover directly above the page.
"Oh, thank you, Master!"
"Yes… Well… What does it say?"
"A quart of dragon's blood, Master."
"Naturally," Master conceded, tipping a jar, roughly the size of a small piglet, that had been filled with thick, purple liquid, into his cauldron.
There was a pause as Strumpet tried to anticipate how long it might take Master to complete the task. "A handful of Sidhe brains…"
"Oh… Yes… I should have remembered that…"
"A dollop of wilderin saliva."
"But of course."
"Three and a half unicorn hooves."
"I should have some left over from dinner last night."
"Hair of spoilt princess."
"I have a little remaining from that horrible Vivian girl…"
"A headless chicken."
"What potion is complete without one?"
"A pint of mead."
"I should still have some from the last time the druids came over to celebrate the vernal equinox…"
"Two wicked witch's warts."
"Is that two warts from one wicked witch, or two wicked witches, and one wart from each?"
"Where's the apostrophe?"
"What's an 'apostrophe'?"
"A little squiggly line. Is it before or after the 's'?"
"So it's just the one witch, then. Continue."
"It says to bring it to the boil, keep stirring, and then let it simmer for five minutes."
They peered into the cauldron as gloopy, grey bubbles slowly drifted to the surface, waiting and watching as the bubbles eventually bubbled with slightly more frequency.
"Is it simmering now?"
"Be quiet, Strumpet! I am trying to concentrate!" Master leaned right over the mixture, ignoring the stray rat skull that was bobbing along the surface, and inhaled deeply. "I think that it is simmering now."
"Oh." An awkward pause sat stiffly in between them for a full five minutes, as Strumpet contemplated whether or not it would be a good idea to propose whistling as a way of passing the time. He decided against it.
"The mixture is ready now!" Master suddenly announced with extreme authority. "Is there a final ingredient?"
"Um… Yes… It says we must sacrifice a virgin."
"Oh. Splendid. I'll go and fetch one from the storage cupboard. Shan't be a minute. Does it specify size…? Or hair colour? I've got quite a few in stock…"
Strumpet gulped. He knew he had to tell Master what it said, he knew… He just really, really didn't want to. "Master… It says… It says… A male virgin."
"It says… a male virgin, master."
In that pause, Strumpet saw his life flash before his eyes. He saw his simple childhood, raised by a kind, plump, peasant mother. He saw his adolescence - a flurry of acne, hair in unwelcome places and an endless string of rejections from the fairer sex. He saw that day when he realised his place in life; his place as a shadow behind a greater, cleverer, scarier man who could shield him from the rest of the greater, cleverer, scarier world.
And now that man was going to kill him.
All because of a stupid book.
Strumpet had never, in his life, hated books more than right then, in that pause.
Master's boots clomped down on the floor as he stormed closer, angry fists raised: ready to strike.
And then there was a laugh.
And then there was ruffling of hair.
"You really are such a fool!"
And then Strumpet wasn't dead; he was very, very much alive. He was nodding and smiling and agreeing to anything and everything Master said. Just as long as Master wasn't furious.
"I would get so bored in this cave on my own, without you!" Master shook his head, and lifted the book effortlessly from Strumpet's baffled hands. "A male virgin… Whoever heard of such a thing? I suppose I shall have to give you some more reading lessons…"
And then there was the moment Strumpet had been dreading.
The laugh died.
It shrivelled up and died, right there, on Master's tongue. It dropped clean off his face. It was washed straight out of his grey eyes, leaving them chilly and unreadable.
Because Master saw it too.
"A male virgin…?" he repeated wondrously. "Whoever heard of such a thing?"
Master slammed the book shut, tucked it under his leather-clad arm, and receded into the darkness at the back of the cave.
Then Master returned, with the crystal of answers.
The crystal that Master said could tell you anything. That was why Master said you normally shouldn't ask.
More of the words, the strange words that meant nothing to Strumpet and everything to Master, and then a face stretched itself onto the crystal, and gazed up at them.
A young, handsome, chiselled face; with a muss of blonde hair trickling down from on top of it and noble blue eyes staring out from it.
"Prince Arthur Pendragon," Master muttered, chuckling over his own words. "It has been a long time since I paid you a visit…"