Disclaimer: Still own nothing.
Sorry, just soo excited about Saturday, I had to keep writing. This is only going to be a few chapters long at the most, I want to stick one up today, tomorrow and Saturday. If it is longer, then so be it, but I'm not planning on it.
Featuring a young Arthur!
The young prince stared into the flickering flames of the small camp fire the Knights had lit. He was listening hard to their chatter, but pretending not to be as the night drew on and the topics became more lewd. He knew his father would be furious knowing that he was overhearing talk like that, and it was for that very reason the adamant ten-year old was determined to hear every word.
He had been proud of himself all day. His small pony hadn't faltered or fallen behind as the party galloped towards Camelot. He had been accompanying his father on a diplomatic visit, the first Arthur had been considered old enough to be able to cope with the journey. It had been a good few days, for the Lady of the Manor was as kind as she was beautiful, and Arthur had found himself whisked away from what he considered to be boring negotiations before he had even sat down. It was probably her actions that stopped the King regret bringing his son with him, for there was no way talk of borders and estates held any interest to the young prince. Not yet, anyway.
Arthur had been sad to leave, but the Lady Endred had promised that he had to come and stay soon, for she had never met such a charming prince. It had been a furiously blushing prince that had mounted his small pony, his favourite Knight by his side as always as Leon watched over the child. He had only been Knighted a few years previously and found that he was significantly younger than the majority of the other Knights, but also had considerable more skill than most. Sensing the atmosphere amongst his Knights, Uther had placed the young man in charge of his son, allowing Leon to oversee Arthur's training. It also meant the prince now looked up to the man in a way he had never done for his father, almost finding a big brother in the man. Despite never forgetting his place and their status differences, Leon had come to regard Arthur in the same way.
But despite having kept up with the party all day, not once slipping behind and never complaining when it felt like his legs had cramped up completely, Uther had not even spared his heir a second glance, dismissing him with a wave of his hand as the child had tried to get the man's attention. Hence why Arthur was now determined to carry on listening, despite the fact he had no idea what half of it meant.
"Shouldn't you be in bed, Sire?" Arthur grinned guiltily up at Leon as the Knight came and squatted down next to him, eyebrows raised and a hint of a small playing across his face as he watched Arthur realise he had been caught out. He himself had escorted the young royal to his tent at least an hour ago, yet was not surprised to find Arthur back out here. The boy was restless, and Leon knew his father's dismissal had wounded the prince. But if there was one thing Arthur had learnt from the King, it was not to show pain. So naturally, Arthur was getting his own back in the only way he knew how.
"Prince's don't have bed times." Arthur responded stubbornly, and Leon nodded his head seriously, even though his eyes were twinkling. He could see sleep clawing at the boy, and knew that it wouldn't be long before Arthur lost his battle against it and dropped off right where he was sitting. It wouldn't be the first time. On the rare occasions Leon had been granted permission to take Arthur away from the castle for the night – claiming it was adamant for his training, but really just wanting to give the prince a break – he had been forced to scoop up the sleeping child and get him into his bedroll every time. Arthur simply didn't know when to admit defeat.
Sir Leon watched the prince for a moment, his heart aching for the child. Arthur needed someone his own age, but the boys he had been growing up with up until this point had all just become squires, beginning their own training towards being Knights as Arthur's own education took on a new direction. It had isolated the boy, and despite loving every moment he spent with Arthur, Leon knew he was not the best company for the child. There was a fifteen year age gap between them.
The conversation around them took another turn for the worst, and Leon flinched, a blush working up his neck as he heard what the elder Knights were talking about. He glanced anxiously at Arthur, but although the prince was clearly listening, what he was hearing was going straight over his head.
"Come on, young Sire, you need to go to bed. It's going to be another long day tomorrow."
"Fine." Arthur begrudgingly agreed, causing Leon to blink in surprise. He hadn't been expecting that. "But can I say goodnight to Father first? Gaius always made sure I said goodnight before going to sleep."
"Well..." Leon didn't really have an answer, and Arthur took that as permission before springing to his feet, racing off through the camp. Leon rolled his eyes, but set off after Arthur. When the prince got something into his head, he certainly didn't hang about.
Within moments, Arthur came to a stop next to his father's tent. The guards nodded at him and Arthur bit his lip thoughtfully. What if his father was busy and didn't want to see him? But then he heard his father's deep laugh and he nodded at the guards to draw back the flaps.
Arthur walked in with his head held high, but faltered when the King turned his gaze on him. He was drinking out of a deep goblet, a few of the older nobles surrounding him. Whilst they looked relaxed enough, Arthur knew immediately his father did not appreciate the interruption.
"Well?" He demanded, and Arthur swallowed hard, his heart pounding.
"I...I came to bid you goodnight, Sire." Whilst his words were appropriate, his voice gave away his emotions as he trembled slightly. A few of the nobles exchanged fond smiles, but Uther simply stared at his son.
"Is that it? You interrupt me for frivolous things like that? Leon!" His bellow made Arthur jump, but sure enough, the tent flap was wrenched open again and Leon stumbled in, breathing heavily from his mad dash across the camp.
"You were instructed to keep him under control." Uther's tone was cold and Leon's back straightened even as he bowed his head.
"My apologies, My Lord. Come, Sire..."
"Don't shout at him!" Arthur yelled at his father, causing Leon to close his eyes in resignation, taking hold of Arthur's upper arm. He was shrugged furiously off. Uther's face closed down and he drew himself up to his full height, towering over the child.
"What did you just say to me, Arthur?"
"Don't..." Arthur's confidence gave out and he backed up a few paces, crashing into Leon's legs. Leon didn't even so much as blink when Arthur stood on his foot by accident. "Don't be mean to him."
So saying, Arthur took one last look at his father and sped from the tent. Leon hastily bowed and ran after his charge, not waiting to see the consequences of either of their actions. His duty might mean putting Uther first, but his heart went straight to the young prince.
It didn't take him long to locate the fleeing child. A flash of red – the Pendragon red, nonetheless – of Arthur's jacket sent Leon running again, and within moments, he had caught up with Arthur, attempting to jump a small stream. Whilst Leon could have simply stridden over it, Arthur was not going to make it. With one final burst of speed, he caught the prince around the chest and pulling him back.
"What have I told you about running away, Arthur?" Leon snapped. The young royal tore his arms out of his jacket, leaving Leon clutching the material as he pulled away, turning to glare at the Knight.
"Why would you care? Why does anyone care, he certainly doesn't!" Leon sighed, placing the jacket on the ground so that he crouched down so he was level with Arthur.
"He does care, Arthur."
"Does." Leon argued obstinately, and in that moment, he saw a flash of a smile light up Arthur's face before the child remembered he was supposed to be sulking.
"Doesn't." But the heat had gone from the boy's voice, and instead he was clearly trying not to laugh.
"Does." Leon replied, not holding back and smiling.
"Doe..." Arthur got half way through before his amusement got the better of him and a giggle escaped him, eyes shining with mirth. Leon opened his arms, and Arthur didn't need a further invitation, running forward and throwing his arms around the young man's neck. Normally, Leon made sure Arthur knew there was a status difference between them, but there were occasions where that didn't matter. Arthur just had to know people cared for him, even if his father couldn't openly display his affection.
Leon hugged him tightly for a moment before gently pushing Arthur away, running his eyes over the state of the boy. His cheeks were flushed from his run, his eyes overly bright, yet exhaustion from the day clearly beginning to catch up with him. The young Knight sighed; they were going to be lucky he didn't come down with a fever from all this excitement.
"Come on, Sire, let's get you to bed." Standing up, Leon knew Arthur wouldn't protest this time, and sure enough, the prince slipped his hand into Leon's. They had only made it a few steps before Arthur suddenly remembered his jacket. He pulled his hand out of Leon's and jogged back to where the Knight had dropped it.
Leon turned to watch him, but instantly narrowed his eyes, hand flying to his sword. "Arthur, come here!"
The prince knew that tone, and immediately made to run back to his temporary guardian. He wasn't quick enough however, before a hand snagged the back of his collar, pulling him firmly backwards and pinning him against his assailant's legs.
"Leon!" His cry was cut off without hesitation as a gloved hand clamped over his mouth, the force behind the action alone being enough to stop Arthur from escaping.
"Let him go." Leon's sword was drawn now, anger pulsing out of him. As more men peeled themselves away from the undergrowth, Arthur's eyes widened in alarm. Within only seconds, Leon found himself under attack. He quickly dispatched three of their attackers, but as he turned, clearly intending to raise the alarm, the rest of them pressed in. Leon was good, but he couldn't defeat those odds, and soon was carrying more than one injury.
Arthur tried struggling against the man holding him, even attempted biting down on the hand over his mouth. But the gloves the man wore were of good quality, and the figure didn't even feel it. Instead, he picked the struggling prince and merely tucked him under his arm, avoiding Arthur's kicking feet as he kept his hand clamped over the child's mouth. The last glance of Leon Arthur saw before he was carried off was one of the men delivering a harsh blow to the back of the Knight's head, dropping him instantly. Arthur yelled out, a sound no one heard as it was successfully muffled, but Leon didn't even stir.
The prince didn't know how long they carried on for, just knew that he was going to be in big trouble with his father when he got back. The man finally tipped him back onto his feet, and Arthur stood there, watching him with wide eyes, although did nothing to give away his fear. The King had taught him never to show emotion.
"Who have we got here then?" The voice sounded friendly, but Arthur found it shot shivers down his spine and he backed away, crashing into his original kidnapper. The man clamped a heavy hand on Arthur's shoulder to stop him from moving further, and the prince's knees almost buckled under the weight.
"Reckon he is a squire or something, we caught him with one of the Knights."
"A squire? Should be a hard worker then, good. What's your name, boy?" The man approaching bent down in front of Arthur. He had short dark hair and eyes that felt as if they were bearing into Arthur's very soul. But the prince didn't answer, instead just glaring at the man defiantly. Despite everything, some part of him realised that it was good they had yet to realise who he really was.
"Not much of a talker? Never mind, your new masters will like that." Arthur shuddered again, but the man was clearly finished with him as he nodded to the man behind the prince. Before Arthur had time to react, he was being pulled across the small clearing. A few pairs of wide eyes stared back at him from random points, and Arthur realised there was no one older than he was apart from the handful of men roaming what was clearly their camp. He had no time to think on it any more, for his attention was drawn by the man.
He pushed Arthur into a sitting position before drawing out a length of rope. Arthur panicked.
Jumping to his feet, he was halfway across the clearing before the man even had the chance to shout. But that was as far as he got, as he managed to crash headlong into the man who had addressed him.
"Jarl, I'm sorry, he just..."
"Silence." The man – Jarl, as Arthur had just discovered - bent down in front of Arthur. "That was a bad idea, boy." His hand shot out, and Arthur found tears springing to his eyes as he was backhanded sharply. Even his father had never raised a hand against him. Jarl regarded him thoughtfully.
"He's a brave one, that's for sure. Oh well, he'll be out of our hands by tomorrow, we will reach the village by dawn. Tie him up with the others." The other man had caught up with them, and grabbing Arthur by the arm, he jerked him to his feet and threw him over his shoulder.
This time when Arthur was placed back on the floor, he didn't move. Instead he just remained huddled against whatever it was he was leaning against as the man dropped the rope around his neck, tying it in a loop before attaching the other end to the structure behind Arthur. He made a show of checking the collar wasn't too tight and that the prince wasn't about to strangle himself, before giving some sort of signal.
Arthur just about had time to scramble to his feet before the thing behind him started moving. Arthur glanced at it in horror, realising it was some sort of cage on wheels. He knew who these people were, he remembered Leon talking about them. Slavers. The prince of Camelot had been caught by slavers.
But that wasn't what was worrying Arthur the most. Instead, he couldn't get the image of Leon's collapsed form out of his head, and as he walked along, he tried not to let anyone see the tears dripping down his face. Arthur scrubbed at his eyes furiously. A prince does not cry. But still, as the night wore on and exhaustion caressed him, causing him to stumble more and more, the rope jerking around his neck, he couldn't stop the tears from coming.
Gaius had seen Arthur disappear into Uther's tent, only to sprint out a few moments later from his own shelter on the opposite side of one of the camp fires. He sighed heavily as he watched Leon run out after the boy. One day, Uther was going to see how much of a precious boy Arthur truly was. Although the physician was glad the young Knight had been assigned to Arthur's training – and by default, care – he was not the man Arthur needed the encouragement from.
Even so, he was not about to stop Leon from taking control of Arthur. It was clear it did both of them good, the young man was as much out of place in the company of the older Knights as Arthur was with his father. There would be a day where reality would catch up on them and their duties would force them apart, but for now, Gaius was just happy Arthur had someone he could rely on.
The physician didn't know how much time had passed since he saw the pair disappear towards the stream. But after a while, something caught his ear. The familiar clang of metal on metal. Someone was fighting, and it was with a pounding heart that Gaius realised it was coming from the direction where Arthur had disappeared.
"Guards!" Gaius struggled to his feet even as men began to respond to his call. He wasn't as young as he used to be. But someone else heard his cry of alarm and Uther strode from his tent impressively, a scowl of annoyance on his face.
"What is the meaning of this, physician?" He snapped. Gaius knew that if he was wrong, both Leon and Arthur would bear the consequences, but he had been around the royals long enough to know that wherever a Pendragon rode, trouble followed.
"Something is wrong, Sire." Gaius stated simply, gesturing for the guards to head towards the stream. He followed behind as quickly as he could, and despite his irritation, the King was on his heels.
"Sir Leon!" The gasp was all but torn from Gaius as he hurried forward, lowering himself to his knees next to the motionless man. Blood pooled around him, and Gaius winced at the bloody wound obvious through his curls on the back of his head. With a slightly shaky hand – for he both liked and respected the man – he let his hand rest against the side of the man's neck. Sighing relief, Gaius motioned for the guards to carry Leon back to the tent.
"He is gravely injured, but alive, Sire." He reported to the King, turning to find Uther a little way away, crouching down. As Gaius spoke, he stood.
"Sire?" Very slowly, Uther turned. A familiar red jacket was clutched tightly in his hands and Gaius thought his heart would break.
"Arthur." The King whispered, staring down the only track someone could have taken his son. For a moment, he didn't seem to be able to move or say anything, and Gaius had just taken a shaky step forwards when the King snapped back into life.
"I want the Knights summoned now. They are to find my son!"
Arthur collapsed to his knees as dawn broke, the cage finally stopping rolling. Children were bound to it all the way around, some older teenagers confined within. His head was pounding, his vision swimming as exhaustion tugged at him. They had only stopped once, the slavers forcing some sort of tonic down their throats, giving them a wave of energy that allowed the children to carry on walking.
"Jarl!" Arthur didn't even raise his head as he realised Jarl must be almost in front of him, running footsteps skidding to a stop next to the prince. He let his head lean back on the cage, eyes immediately drifting shut.
"What is it?"
"Some sort of commotion further back. Apparently that last party we raided contained royals, and they've lost their prince." Arthur tensed, trying not to react even as he trembled slightly. A hand rested on his head, craning it back and making Arthur open his eyes. Even through the tears still filming his vision, he could recognise Jarl's face.
"Arthur?" The man asked almost gently, but Arthur shook his head frantically, his breath hitching erratically as he tried not to panic. "It's alright, Arthur, I'm not going to hurt you."
"Shh, shh, don't worry yourself." Arthur found he was trembling violently now. They knew. They knew who he was. The hand on his head moved, cupping his chin as his mouth was forced open and his head tilted back. Seeing a water skin in Jarl's hand, he tried to pull back, but his efforts were in vain, the man's grip was too strong.
"It's just water, Arthur, I promise." Whether Arthur believed him or not was out of the question, for Jarl proceeded to empty some into his mouth. After a second of resisting, Arthur choked and was forced to swallow. It did just seem to be water...
Until his limbs suddenly felt heavy. As Jarl let go, his head flopped backwards, only stopped from crashing into the cage by a quick hand as he was guided down to the ground. Darkness clawed at his vision and he couldn't move even if he wanted too. He was vaguely aware of Jarl pulling out a knife and he squirmed one more time before the darkness pulled him under.
Jarl cut Arthur free from the cage, pulling the sleeping prince away, but keeping the loop of rope around his neck. They needed some way of controlling the young royal, or a way to make them seem more of a threat if events turned against them.
"Take the rest of them to the village as planned. Make sure you get a good price."
"What about him?" The man who had first caught Arthur jerked his head towards the child. Jarl followed his gaze and smiled sickeningly.
"I know someone who will pay a much higher price for him. Young Prince Cenred needs a...needs a playmate."
The man smirked even as he set the cage rolling again. Even to them, the teenager's sadism was becoming slightly legendary. They knew full well what he did to his playmates. Not that it particularly bothered them; they would be able to get a good price for handing over another prince. Cenred wasn't even a prince, but insisted that was what everyone called him. Considering how much money they made from the youth, Jarl was prepared to indulge him for now.
It was at least late morning by the time Arthur's eyes peeled open. He immediately gasped, scrambling backwards before taking in his surroundings. He let out a muffled sob as he pressed the back of his hand to his mouth, tears once more in his eyes. No longer was he tied to the cage. Instead, he was in it. All the other children had gone, and Arthur could feel by the rocking sensation that they were making good speed to wherever they were going.
Arthur watched the scenery pass by him with frightened eyes, the drug slowly wearing off for long enough for coherent thoughts to once more return to him. His head hurt though. In fact, his whole body hurt, and more than anything, he wanted Leon to scoop him up, laughing, saying that Arthur shouldn't believe all the stories the older Knights told him.
But as the cage jerked and rocked a little more and Arthur caught his head on the bars he had been leaning against, he gave a whimper. Not from the pain, but from the fact he knew this was no dream. The Knight had tried to protect him, and failed. Leon had never failed at protecting Arthur from anything before.
Huddling into himself, Arthur found his hands playing with the piece of rope still around his neck. He couldn't undo it, the knot was too tight and the prince was terrified of making it even tighter than it already was. Someone seemed to have noticed he awake, for a rough voice shouted out something and the cage stopped rocking as it stopped. Arthur turned scared eyes on the door, and sure enough, it swung open as Jarl leapt in.
Arthur used the bars to pull himself to his feet, although his legs were wobbling slightly.
"Arthur, my dear prince. You should have said who you were, we could have provided better lodgings from the beginning."
"Take me back." Arthur tried to sound commanding in the way he knew his father could, but it gave out as nothing more than a frightened cry. Jarl smirked, backing out of the cage as if realising Arthur was in no mood for his games.
"I would...only we're a bit far away now. Looks like you are stuck with us now." A flash of anger shot through Arthur, and before he knew what he was doing, he threw his shoe at the door even as it was shut again. For a moment, he scarcely dared to breathe. The shoe had caught as the lock clicked shut, and Arthur knew in that split second that although the door was shut, it wasn't locked.
"You hurt Leon!" He screamed angrily, and someone gave a cruel laugh from somewhere behind him.
Something prodded at the back of his knees, jerking his thoughts away from the door and his fallen friend. As he fell, a hand shot through the bars and grabbed his left arm, pulling it out through the bars and holding it straight.
"No, don't, please, don't..." Arthur didn't even notice he was crying openly now as Jarl drew off his belt.
"You will control your temper." He said icily, advancing on the side of the cage.
"Don't!" It was a strangled cry that escaped Arthur now, but the man holding him merely pushed his sleeve back. Arthur tried to pull away, but the grip was too strong and he could do nothing as Jarl brought his belt down upon his arm.
Arthur let out something that was between a scream and a sob as the man finally let go. He immediately curled up on the floor of the cage, his arm cradled across his chest, a bright red mark across it as he sobbed in pain and shock. Jarl glanced at him once more before giving the order and the cage started rolling again.
Hours passed before Arthur's sobs finally gave away to the occasional hiccup. His head was pounding with more intensity and his eyes felt gritty and sore. He wanted to do nothing but sleep. But as dusk hit the party and the horse was unhitched from the cage, Arthur knew he couldn't sleep. Someone shoved a bowl of food through the bars, and Arthur didn't stop to think, instead eating it all in a few bites. It was only afterwards he remembered what the water had done to him, but nothing happened apart from the slightest bit more alertness returning to him now he had eaten.
The men made a camp, no one sparing Arthur a second glance. They believed him subdued and exhausted in a locked cage. They were right about the exhausted part, but that was it. Arthur was filled with a determination to make sure Leon was alive.
He waited until the men had all fallen quiet before inching his way slowly across the cage. Very gently, he teased his shoe lose and pushed his hand into it to get rid of the deep crease in the soft leather. Tugging it on, he raised himself into a crouch before stretching out a shaking hand. Holding his breath, he pushed against the door, and sure enough, it swung open. Arthur was just grateful they did seem to use it a lot, for the door didn't so much as creak as Arthur opened it. The prince slithered forward and dropped himself to the floor, wincing as the fall was further than he thought it would be.
Arthur didn't hesitate for a moment, but instead pelted off into the forest surrounding them. He had no idea where he was going, only knew that he had to put as much distance between himself and the slavers as possible. How he managed it, he had no idea, but Arthur forced himself to run throughout the night.
The moon was high when he finally fell to not get up again. Instead, he crawled over to a tree, hiding himself deep in the roots of an old Oak, hoping no one would see him. Unable to take any more, he let his body give in and fell into a fitful sleep. His father would come for him... but his father didn't care, Arthur had said so himself. As unconsciousness finally claimed the young prince properly, he knew that even if the King wouldn't come for him, Leon would. He had promised, after all.
Bright light forced Arthur's eyes open, but he immediately winced and scrunched them shut again. Why did everything hurt so much? What was digging into his back?
He shifted slightly, only to feel a root of the tree poke into his thigh and cause him to open his eyes again with a yelp as memories of the previous few days came flooding back. He shrank into himself, huddled in the tree roots when he heard a noise coming from nearby. Maybe if he stayed really quiet, no one would know he was there...
His plan would have worked if it wasn't for a curious face suddenly parting back the leaves. It was harder to say who screamed louder in surprise, Arthur pushing himself backwards even further into the tree or the other child falling over his own feet before blinking curiously in surprise. Arthur tried to tuck his head into his chest, making himself as small as possible, but caught sight of the rope still hanging around as his neck as he did so and gave a cry of distress.
Almost immediately, there was a small hand tugging at his arm as the child crawled into the space between them. He had to be a few years younger than Arthur, but his blue eyes were bright and full of warmth. Arthur trembled at his touch, and the boy backed away. Arthur thought he was going to leave him there as he turned away.
But the boy did no such thing. Instead, he just yelled one word at the top of his voice before climbing back into the roots and watching Arthur closely.
So, any guesses who has just found him?