Warning: Includes references to non-consentual sex.
"Merlin, into the house, now. Go!"
Her little son paused on his unsteady legs but Hunith shooed him along, hearing the sounds of horses. Heaven knows who it was but she didn't need them seeing her son.
"Cenred's men!" Cullen yelled as he ran into the village, the young boy had been watching out. Raiders moved in the area and the villages were best prepared. The women went indoors and the men came out. Hunith lingered in her doorway. She had no man, just Merlin, who stayed quiet in the corner as the men rode in.
Their new king made himself at home, his men roaming the village. Hunith had to come out to retrieve Merlin's blankets from the line and they looked at her, she could feel their eyes and she hurried back into the house. But that didn't stop one of them as she had just settled her son.
She stood up and turned around as Cenred walked into her home, as if he owned it. He could probably claim that, he was the king, she lived in his kingdom. Hunith gave a very clumsy curtsey.
"Please, My Lord."
Her hand was already moving on the laces of her dress, she was willing to do what he wanted, she just didn't want to disturb Merlin. The last thing she needed was Merlin upset.
"Did you not hear me?" Cenred snapped. Hunith cowered, glancing up at him. He was what could have been considered attractive, the trace of a beard laced his jaw, and his hair straggled in his dark eyes.
"Yes, My Lord, but I just need to consider…."
Cenred jerked as something hit his shoulder. He turned and glared in Merlin's direction. Hunith's head snapped round to look at her son, tucked up in his bed, but he had pushed the covers down and around him the bed, the herbs drying over his head and the nearby pans were shaking under his anger. His eyes were flashing gold.
"Merlin!" Hunith hissed, but it was too late, a pan lifted into the air and flew in Cenred's direction. He caught it without a flicker and he stared at her little boy.
"Merlin!" Hunith reproved again, far more forcefully. The rattling stopped and Hunith suddenly stood before Cenred, her bodice now loosened, the material falling off her shoulders.
"I'm sorry, My Lord, he did not mean to."
"You son knows magic?" Cenred said.
Hunith moved again, so she was between them, not just for Merlin's protection but also, Cenred realised, his own. She was pressing herself against him, not so much willingly but desperately.
"He doesn't know anything, he doesn't mean it, My Lord. Please, I'll do anything, he's only a child. He doesn't understand."
Cenred stared at them both calmly before leaving the hovel, walking away from it.
"Are you not interested Sire?"
Cenred paused, turning to look at the man who had asked.
"Leave the woman alone, I've yet to make up my mind," Cenred announced before going to his tent to sleep it off.
The next night, Hunith wasn't surprised by his return. He had watched her all day and also Merlin as he had tottered along with her. Some of the anxiousness his mother was feeling had transferred onto him and her usually biddable son had been fretful all day. This time Cenred came later, and Merlin was sleeping.
She was quiet, nervous, but willing and desperate for her son to sleep through what happened to her. Cenred found her tight, compliant and satisfying. As he left he turned to look at her, going to check that Merlin was sleeping while trying to straighten her clothing. The boy's name had stuck in his mind, so had the mother. She wasn't that special to look at but appealing enough. When he returned the following night, just before he left, he looked down into the blankets that made up the boy's bed to see him sleeping soundly. So soundly that Cenred knew, she had given him something so he would not attract attention, or hear what happened.
It was too late for that, Cenred thought. As attractive and compliant as Hunith was, it was not the reason he was using her. He could have taken her and left her, easily, if not for the boy. It wasn't Hunith he really wanted, it was Merlin.
The last night the army stayed Hunith was not disturbed by Cenred, instead one of the soldiers came to her, barging into the house and dumping a set of saddlebags on the floor of the house. Merlin glared at him, but the man paid no heed instead the soldier focused on Hunith.
"Pack what you and the boy need, we leave at dawn."
There was nothing Hunith could do. She put what Merlin needed, and carefully tucked the few carvings she had that Merlin's father had given her into the pack, before adding her own clothes, fitting what she could. She was packing up, kneeling on the floor of the hut she called home when the door opened. Half expecting Cenred she rose up but slumped back as she realised it was Randolph the village elder.
"It's true then?"
"Yes," she said.
"We can try and stop him."
"How? It's not me, not really, he saw Merlin. It's not me he wants, I think it's Merlin. At least… at least I get to stay with him. He could walk out of here with my son and no one could stop him."
"We could try."
Hunith looked up at him. "We both know that's not possible. I always though…" she looked away again.
"What?" Randolph asked.
"I always worried that it would be Uther who came for Merlin, he's already been here once before. At least this way… Cenred has no intention of hurting Merlin… far from it."
"What will he make him instead?" Randolph demanded.
And with one shrug of fate, Hunith became almost a queen, and Merlin became a prince.