a/n: I didn't want to start putting this out till I finished my Dalton fic... but I've had the first 4 chapters written for so long! Also, that last chapter is almost done
Warnings: violence, gore? sexual abuse? -implications
Can be read as Merthur pre-slash. I haven't decided what I want it to be yet so read into it whatever you want
It was always easier for Arthur to fight when he had a purpose, and he certainly did tonight.
Effortlessly he cut through five men. They fell quickly. He knew that they must have cried out but he heard little as he moved past their bodies, opened a heavy wooden door and finally, he was in the dungeons.
The guards were easy, a bash to the head with his sword hilt silenced one, the other was less lucky.
The loss of life would come back to him later, some sleepless night when he was sorting through the faces of the men he killed in his own misery, but that didn't matter right now. Right now he couldn't focus on anything other than saving him.
Because had been missing for three weeks, assumed by all, even Arthur himself, to be dead.
Arthur was amazed that the imbecile had managed a way to actually get himself killed after all the things they had been through.
He was more amazed at how devastated he had felt.
He had little memory of the last few weeks. He remembered the first day Merlin didn't show up to work. He had assumed that the idiot was in the tavern or something equally useless.
But as the days dragged on he went to Gaius who looked paler than he had ever remembered him. Gaius had insisted that Merlin had gone to a neighboring village to bring a remedy to a family, but Arthur knew he wasn't telling him the whole truth.
As days became weeks, they began to assume the worst and Arthur tried not to believe it. He had sent search parties out five times and had taken to riding out into the woods at random in the hopes that he could find him.
But Arthur's hope began to fade and his daily rides became rarer while his sleepless nights became longer. He had accepted a new servant finally and felt like he had betrayed the man, even though there was little chance he was alive. Merlin's absence left a bigger hole in his life with each passing day.
But things took a very different turn soon enough.
A note arrived for Arthur, personally delivered by a dead Knight of Camelot riding into the lower town with a letter addressed to Arthur pierced to his back by an arrow.
Never knew how talented your servant was. Now I know only too well why you kept him so close to you all this time. I'm sure his gifts have come in handy, but he's mine now. I'm sure I'll find some use for him once we can get dear Merlin to behave himself.
Arthur was ashamed to say that his first, entirely selfish emotion was relief. If there was any truth in this note, then Merlin was alive.
But then it hit him how distinctly sexual it all sounded...
Arthur's fury that night was indescribable. His father had heard of the note, and had laughed -laughed- at the fact that Cenred was trying to use a servant as bait. Arthur had had to be physically restrained when he made to hit the King. Arthur thought the man should be lucky he didn't draw his sword.
Unfortunately for Uther, Arthur took the bait. The moment those words clicked into place in his mind, his blood went cold with dread and a fierce determination to put an end to... whatever it was that needed ending.
He began packing before he realized he had decided he was leaving. He packed what was left of his dinner and two waterskins. He didn't bother to pack his sleeping mat. He had no intention of sleeping until he found Merlin, and if they made it past that then they'd think about making camp.
He didn't want to risk the lives of anyone but he certainly couldn't ask any soldiers or knights to help him, not without informing his father of what he was planning to do. But he had other men he could turn to.
He made it past the guards without much trouble and found himself on a familiar doorstep.
"Arthur," Gwen said, looking like she had been fast asleep, "Is everything okay?"
"Not quite," he said, "I'm here to see your brother."
Guinevere opened the door a little further to let Arthur in and he saw Elyean sitting up on a bedmat.
It took very little convincing. Merlin had risked his life to save Elyean with Arthur so many months ago. Elyean was a man of honor. He wouldn't pass up an opportunity to pay back that debt and bring back his sister's friend.
Elyean was packing when Guinevere put a hand on Arthur's arm. He didn't turn to her completely, "Don't try to convince me not to go..."
"So you're going to expect me to let you leave and just take my brother as well?" she asked. Her voice was never quite angry, but Arthur heard the edge to it.
"It's his choice, not yours," Arthur said turning to her.
"And when you're all dead," she said, "You, Elyean and Merlin... what am I to do then?"
"Guinevere," he said, staring hard at her, "He has willingly given his life for me more times than I can count. If there's even the tiniest chance we can save him, then you can be damn sure I'll put my life on the line for him."
She sighed, knowing there was no getting through to him when he had made a decision like this.
"Come home," she commanded.
"I'll try," he said, his eyes lingering on her lips before he turned and left.
Then it was a night in and out of the taverns. They were lucky, they found Gwaine around dawn sneaking away from a woman's bed before she woke. He wasn't so drunk that he couldn't listen, and he sobered up significantly when he understood the situation. If there was anyone they could count on to risk everything for Merlin, it was Gwaine.
So here they were, the three of them, separated in an unfamiliar castle and cutting their way through foot soldiers that lay between them and the dungeons, all for a stupid servant.
Arthur, it seemed, was the first to make it. He walked through the cold stone halls. His heart jumped a little with each set of bars as he looked through the bars in each cell, each time half-hoping and half-scared that he'd see that familiar gangly frame.
Cenred's dungeons were rather full, but each cell he passed held a huddled figure he didn't recognize. Men and women alike were chained to walls, curled in corners while others lay dead in the straw, no one bothering to move them before their bodies began to decompose. The whole place stank of death and shit.
Arthur spotted a figure ahead of him who was sitting in a chair fast asleep, an empty bottle of something hanging from his fingertips by his side. His dress told him that he wasn't a soldier but he had a full set of keys on his belt.
Arthur approached him. He kicked him roughly and the man woke with a start, his bottle clattering to the floor.
Arthur's sword was on his chest before the man could fully wake up. His drunken movements came to a stop as he stared, slightly cross-eyed, at the sword trained on his chest.
"What do you want?" he asked, desperately.
"I'm looking for someone," Arthur said, his voice quiet but with a kind of command that would make much braver men quail. "Would you like to help?"
The man whimpered and nodded, finally raising his eyes away from the blade and to the face of its wielder.
"I'm looking for a young man, about twenty years old. He's skinny with dark hair and blue eyes. He would have been brought here about three weeks ago," Arthur said.
The guard stared at Arthur, his eyes widening with each word.
"You know him I take it?" Arthur asked, pressing his sword a fraction harder into his chest.
The man stared for a moment, then nodded very slowly.
"Good, if you value you're life you'll give me the key and take me to him," Arthur said taking his sword off his chest.
Arthur stood back with his hand out, waiting expectantly.
The man stared at his hand, terrified, like it might bite him.
"There's no key..." the man said quietly.
"What do you mean, there's no key?" Arthur snapped. The man didn't respond, he only shook his head a little. Arthur raised his sword once more, "Do as I say or you'll die."
"I'll take you to him!" the man stammered. He stumbled in his haste to get out from under Arthur's weapon and Arthur followed close behind.
Further down the hall they walked, the light dimming and the air thickening. They turned and went down a set of stairs that were cut into the stone and spiraling deep under the ancient castle. The air got colder with each tight turn which were making Arthur dizzy. He stumbled as he reached the bottom step and looked around, confused.
No cells, only an old and dark cavern. There was the torch of the guard but further down the passage there was another light glowing from a gap in the stones.
Arthur looked at the man, confused. He gestured towards the light with his torch and Arthur walked ahead of the guard, his heart rate picking up from adrenaline and confusion, and half ran to the light.
He had expected to see Merlin in chains, hung from the ceiling or chained to a wall. What he didn't expect to see was a four poster bed. The linen was clean and the pillows arranged. He didn't expect to see a side table with a plate full of fruit, meat and cheese, nor a flagon of wine or a familiar brown jacket and neckerchief folded impeccably at the foot of the bed.
He didn't expect to see Merlin lying naked on the floor, seemingly unconscious.
Arthur's mind went blank. He dropped to his knees beside the body. He tried to speak out, but Merlin's name caught in his throat and he could only stare as he took in the sight.
Merlin's body showed terrible signs of beating. Bruises were blossoming along an entire side of his ribcage and his ankle was twisted the wrong way. His face was turned away but Arthur could see a cut on his cheek where the blood had dried and scabbed. And the way he was lying, it was as if he had passed out trying to reach the supper that had been left. One arm was stretched out towards the table and the other was twisted underneath him.
And then Arthur realized Merlin wasn't entirely naked, he was wearing some kind of braided bracelet on both of his wrists. Moving a little closer so he could see them, he saw the intricacy of the pattern of knots in the black, leathery material. They didn't look like bracelets, they were so tight to Merlin's skin that they seemed to be a part of it, and yet there was no sign of irritation around the area. His skin looked healthy, and yet the wristlets should be cutting into his skin.
Tearing his eyes away from the beaten body, he looked back up to the furniture. Why would they leave a prisoner in such a state? It looked like such a mockery against the harsh black stone that made up the backdrop of all this finery. Then again, maybe it was. But why leave him unchained. Arthur backtracked in his brain and there had been no door to these caverns, Merlin could escape the moment he woke up.
He tried to say Merlin's name but found that the lump in his throat prevented him once more. He wanted to shake Merlin awake, but contented himself by placing a bare hand one of his shoulders. His skin was colder than it should be and Arthur took a moment to let his hand rise and fall with the shallow breaths of Merlin's body.
"Merlin," he said, the grief making his voice heavy and slow, "What've they done to you?"
And to his immense surprise, Merlin responded.
Arthur watched as his whole body tensed. Struggling with what seemed to be inordinate amounts of energy, Merlin managed to prop himself on his elbows and turn enough so that he could see if his ears were playing tricks on him.
And then Arthur saw it, and Arthur, proud soldier he was, had never been so close to retching.
His eyes were immediately drawn to Merlin's mouth.
To Arthur's horror, Merlin's lips were sewn together in thick stitches with mean black wire.
Arthur couldn't tear his eyes away from the gruesome sight. The skin around the area was angry and red where the wire disappeared beneath his flesh and his lips were chapped and bleeding.
Merlin whimpered, the tiniest most heart-breaking sound, and Arthur stared for the first time into his eyes which were rimmed with red but bright and wide with hope and disbelief.
a/n: Dark... I know. The original idea came from me brainstorming how you would keep a powerful sorcerer from escaping a prison cell and my first thought was, "Well... they need to talk to say spells," and this ^ horrible idea came into my head. Cenred didn't count on Merlin being a badass though which leads to bad times for our baby Merlin :/
But Arthur will save him! Even if it means some secrets might be coming out by the end (heehee)