I am making a effort to finish some stories but to keep my mind moving, I'll start this one while I wrestle with Refraction.
To Arthur there didn't seem to be much else for him to do. The whole camp had descended into chaos at Cenred's dramatic flight. He had taken most things of value from the tent, leaving items strewn across the ground as he had done so. Arthur himself obviously had not been considered valuable enough and had been abandoned by his master. Soldiers from the victorious army had already started to descend on the unfortunates left behind in the camp.
Slowly he began to right the furniture, straightening the chairs, and the table. The maps that had covered it had splayed across the floor. Arthur gathered them up, setting them in a neatish pile. Then he picked up the nearby tray, plonking that on the corner of the table and then he started on the fruit and cold meats that had gone in all directions. Arthur just piled it haphazardly onto the tray, no one find it appetizing, but as he worked he popped some of the cleaner slivers of meat into his mouth. Probably a good idea to eat something while he could, he decided, since his fate would remain unknown until he met the leader of the army.
It did occur to Arthur that he could try and run. A few others had taken flight, spurred on by Cenred's frantic escape, but he didn't see the point. He'd be caught at some point and it would no doubt be worse if he tried to flee. He didn't know much about the other army; led by a Dragonlord he had heard, but that could just be gossip.
He ate several grapes and then discarded the rest onto the tray. He had gathered the worst of it, and retrieved the wine jug from the far corner. Standing up he examined the dent on the side, he could probably bang it out so it wouldn't look too bad. Although his attempts might come to nothing in the end. When Cenred had claimed him from one of Bayard's lords he had burnt the entire compound. Arthur put the jug down on the pile of ruined food and started to right the small chest that lay at the end of the bed. As he shoved it back into position the swish of material made him look up, and slowly stand. Arthur blinked at the size of the man who entered the tent.
Arthur knew he was tall but this man had a few more inches on him and he was broad shouldered, his exposed arms ripping with muscle. He also carried a bloodied sword, which he shifted in his grip as he eyed Arthur carefully, the man's gaze drawn to his throat and the collar around his neck. It wasn't always worn, Cenred only used it as a minor torment, and he had been rather bad tempered lately, but it hinted enough at Arthur's status, as did his clothes, of a plain simple tunic and trousers.
The soldier took five further steps into the tent, bringing him into close proximity to Arthur. Despite the man's bulk and the sword Arthur didn't feel too concerned for his immediate safety. Despite Cenred abandoning him Arthur knew he had value.
"Where's Cenred?" the man asked him curtly.
"Gone, took what valuables he could and ran."
Arthur flinched slightly as the sword blade lifted close to his neck. He stopped looking the man directly in the eye and instead looked at one broad shoulder.
"And you would be?"
"Arthur, Cenred's slave."
There came a short pause, while the man continued his assessment of Arthur, although he lowered the blade a fraction. During the moment Arthur listened to the sounds coming from beyond the tent. He could hear shouts, and calls, but nothing that made it sound as if the invaders were harming any of the entourage. At the end of the moment the man reached out with his free hand, grabbed Arthur round the scruff of the neck, making him wince as the rough studs on the inside of the collar rubbed on his neck again and propelled him towards the entrance to the tent. Once he had Arthur outside, he gave him a shove to force him onto his hands and knees. Arthur dropped without resistance and waited.
"Sir Percival?" a voice demanded.
Arthur saw a pair of well made boots, but lifting his head to look at the approaching individual would be too obvious. Best to wait, Arthur told himself. He had changed hands so many times he knew the safest way to manage it, until he could work out what sort of person owned him.
"It looks like Cenred has run. Apparently took most things of value. Left this though."
Arthur felt himself nudged with the sword, which smeared blood onto the sleeve of his tunic. He added cleaning it to the mental list of chores had had drawn up.
"This being?" the new man asked, although his tone revealed that he might already know. Arthur's eyes widened as Percival reached down to grab the loose end of leather on the collar to hall Arthur up onto his knees so the new arrival could view him. The studs pressed into his throat, causing Arthur to momentarily choke until Percival released him.
"Cenred's slave," Percival confirmed.
Arthur could now at least look at the leader. He didn't look that much older than Arthur himself. Again Arthur avoided eye contact while he was assessed.
"You're Prince Arthur, of Camelot."
Arthur gave a shrug. "So I'm told, Master."
He added the term of address, causing the leader's eyes to narrow momentarily. Arthur noted that although the man had very dark hair, his eyes were blue. Then he averted his gaze again.
"You don't sound very interested."
Arthur couldn't help but glance up again, then as he lowered his head he shrugged again. The man stared at him with interest, but his face gave away nothing more.
"I've been a slave since I was a child. I don't remember anything else. It's others that seem to think it's important."
Not that he would ever say, the memory was too vague for Arthur to truly comprehend, but he had a flickering in the back of his mind of being dragged away from someone. A woman, who had tried to keep hold of him, pleading with whoever had removed him. Arthur couldn't remember who she was, he felt fairly certain that she had not been his mother, but some form of carer. After that he had been passed onto his first owner, another person he really didn't remember that clearly, although if he ever gave it a moment's consideration it tended to make him feel a flicker of dread and fear. But he had spent all his life being told he had been a prince of some long lost kingdom and the nobles who had repeatedly owned or used him seemed to very much enjoy the fact.
"I don't doubt they do," the man answered rather drolly.
Arthur didn't look up again and Merlin eyed him curiously, rather surprised to find Arthur still in the camp. The ownership of Arthur had been a prize that many kings and lords had boasted, while it had lasted. Merlin also knew he had been a bargaining piece on occasion, sold on or negotiated for, or on occasion simply taken by another. Cenred could have left him as something of a placating gesture. If Cenred wanted to go on the run taking a slave with him added to the burden.
Although Arthur's vague disregard for his heritage puzzled Merlin his instinct told him that Arthur was not hiding his feelings. He simply had none on the subject. Merlin took a step closer to Arthur, who dropped his head a little further, so all Merlin could see was Arthur's light blond hair. It glittered in the light of the camp torches and at least explained one nickname Arthur had acquired. The Golden Prince. His eyes narrowed as Arthur's head tilted slightly and the studded collar caught Merlin's attention.
He felt Arthur tense as his fingers probed around the collar, feeling the rough metal studs that pressed into Arthur's neck, just enough to be uncomfortable. He felt Merlin's fingers run around to the back of his neck, locating the buckle and a moment later Arthur felt the whole thing spring apart, sections of the metal clasp dropping to the floor. Risking it, Arthur looked up in time to see the golden light fading from Merlin's eyes. Merlin didn't pay him any attention for a moment, instead he regarded the collar with mild distaste. Arthur had again averted his gaze when Merlin looked back, taking Arthur's chin and angling his head to then examine the bruises which had started to form. Arthur clenched his jaw as Merlin's fingertips ran over the smooth skin of his neck.
It took all of Arthur's effort to not shy away as Merlin's hand rested on his neck, while he turned to greet the new arrival.
"The area is secure Sire, shall we set up?"
"Use what's here first, there is no point anything going to waste. I can make use of Cenred's tent."
"It's a bit of a state," Percival commented. "He was clearing up when I arrived."
Merlin's hand thankfully left Arthur's neck, pushing him backwards slightly.
"Go on then," Merlin ordered him. Arthur breathed something of a sigh of relief. In that one hint it appeared he had been claimed.
He heard Merlin's snarl of irritation but didn't stay to see if there was anything further, he just got up and disappeared back into the tent to finish straightening up, putting the covers back on the bed, gathering odd random things off the floor and putting things back into place. The conversation continued outside for a few more minutes until Arthur heard the ripple of the fabric and knew someone had entered the tent. He piled everything he needed to remove onto the tray.
"I'll bring some fresh food, Master."
Merlin glared at him, the stare freezing Arthur in place with it's intensity.
"You will address me as My Lord," Merlin said coldly.
"Yes, My Lord. I'll take this," Arthur said, hefting the tray full of debris. Merlin moved further into the tent, looking around. It looked mildly disarrayed still, but decent enough. He forced Arthur to pause again, just as he was about to leave, as Merlin lifted the lid of the chest and stared at the sparse contents.
"Has Cenred removed much of value?"
Arthur blinked, the fabric of the flap drifted against his side, moving as the breeze caught the edges.
"I'm not entirely sure, most of the gold and gems have gone. They were all in there," Arthur nodded at the almost empty box. Merlin raised his eyebrows and shrugged.
"My belongings are on my pack horse, you can fetch them while you are gone."
"Yes, My Lord."
Arthur left the tent, heading off through the camp. It took him a little while, some of the people were still in chaos, and there were a few bodies to clear. The new master's troops seemed to be efficient at taking things in hand. A few pertinent questions to people meant Arthur easily located the horse in question, and removed the saddle bags. Arthur also removed the bedroll from the back of the saddle. He could presume that his master would use Cenred's bed, but he may not want the bedding. On the way back he managed to get the saddle bags over one arm, with the bedroll tucked into his armpit and the tray carefully balanced, also holding a wine jug and goblet. He ignored some of the glances he received as he walked through and got himself back to the large tent in the centre of the camp.
The master didn't react as he entered and Arthur concentrated on getting the tray and jug down without causing any accidents, the saddle bags threatening to swing forward and dislodge everything. Rather than lean forward Arthur bent his knees to slide the tray onto the table, putting the jug and goblet down and then letting the bags slide from his shoulder. He made sure he positioned everything neatly on the table, pouring some of the wine out before taking Merlin's pack over to the sleeping area and opening it up. He had no idea how long Merlin would want to actually keep the camp but Arthur took everything out, shaking out the clothes, deciding that at least one of the shirts probably need washing.
Merlin had crossed to the table, sitting down and eating, Arthur felt his master's eyes occasionally following him as he worked. Until he finally finished setting everything up, rewriting his mental list, it had to be entirely different now. There was a new owner, which meant an entirely new set of rules. However, as he looked up his heart tensed slightly. When he had re-entered the tent Merlin had been sifting through some of Cenred's possessions and Arthur realised Merlin was currently examining the box of 'toys' that Cenred kept for him. In Merlin's hand at that moment he held another collar, the small spikes on the inside enough to hurt but cause only shallow wounds. Arthur didn't particularly want to contemplate what other items Merlin had already looked at. The fact that he had removed one collar didn't necessarily mean he wouldn't use something else.
Arthur laid out Merlin's sleeping attire and stepped back, waiting a moment. Merlin didn't acknowledge him, his hand shifting the collar in his grip.
"Will you require anything else, My Lord?"
Arthur made the hint obvious, assuming what Merlin wanted next. It was fairly standard to him, and although Cenred could often be quite inventive Arthur couldn't honestly say he had been worse than any of the others. The sooner he found out what Merlin would be likely to do to him the better.
His question caused Merlin to look up in surprise, almost as if he had forgotten Arthur was in the tent with him. For the second time Arthur received that freezing stare and unconsciously Arthur inclined away from Merlin, averting his gaze from the cold blue eyes. Arthur blinked violently as the box slammed shut with a snap. Merlin's hands had been nowhere near it.
Again Arthur avoided a direct gaze, although for some reason he found that difficult with Merlin, even though he had no desire to encounter that icy stare that didn't, Arthur thought, seem to entirely match the youthful looking man that owned it. Arthur felt himself swallow nervously, his throat still aching a little, probably enhanced by his own mind as his nerves rose.
"No," Merlin eventually snapped. "You can leave me for the rest of the night, get some sleep."
"Yes, My Lord," Arthur agreed, thankful for the chance to escape. Until, just as he had been about to duck through the entrance, Merlin's voice stopped him again.
"You don't sleep with the rest of the servants?" Merlin turned the question into a statement. Arthur stopped in the doorway, hand tensing on the material. The icy glare had melted somewhat but Arthur's nerves didn't feel entirely eased.
"No My Lord, in the small tent outside. I'm to hand if you need me."
That caused Merlin's eyes to narrow again, but Arthur realised he was mentally trying to visualise what Arthur had said. After a moment Merlin's face relaxed again, not looking entirely pleased but he waved his hand to dismiss Arthur. Arthur wasted no time, ducking out of the tent and almost diving into his own.
When Arthur said it was small, it was ridiculously so, the structure barely big enough to accommodate him. He had to get onto his hands and knees to enter it, and curl up to fit inside. Arthur found he never minded it. There had always been something comforting about the confined space. With a gesture born of years of practice he slithered out of his tunic and into the blanket, wrapping it around himself in one smooth gesture, settling down to sleep. Reaching out he tucked the flaps down, but as always he could never entirely close the gap.
Through that gap he saw Merlin's boots appear in the doorway of the main tent. Arthur waited quietly, wondering if Merlin had changed his mind. He shifted carefully in his little den, so he could assess him more clearly. His master stared in the direction of the small tent, a puzzled frown on his face. Arthur stayed still, taking the opportunity to look Merlin up and down. Arthur felt inclined to think that Merlin probably had to be at least five years older, slight of build, but he moved with a lean, predatory-like confidence. It occurred to him that as the head of an army Merlin didn't wear armour. Or he certainly hadn't tonight, when he had rousted Cenred's army from it's defensive position in the hills.
Eventually Merlin's frown smoothed out and he turned and went back into the tent. Arthur breathed a sigh of relief. It looked like he might actually manage a full night's sleep.
Heading inside, Merlin still felt mildly confused. Sitting back down he picked at the remaining food, he hadn't realised he felt so hungry, but he hadn't eaten most of the day, too concerned about dealing with Cenred and the threat he posed. Merlin sifted through the pile of maps that Arthur had left on one end of the table. He would need to take his force deeper into the hills to try and locate the fleeing enemy. Merlin sighed, pouring some more wine as he stared at the maps, and the lines that divided so many territories.
For years it had been like that, petty squabbling, snatching of lands, and fighting. Lords and nobles taking what they could. Merlin knew his history. It had all started when the other kingdoms had combined to take down Camelot, four years after Uther started his war on magic. The story had been drilled into Merlin, yet Arthur seemed to know nothing of it even though he lay at the centre of it all, taken into slavery by the kings for revenge and then passed on, sold and traded, the nobles taking satisfaction from the knowledge of who Arthur was.
Arthur didn't care, he just took advantage of a good night's sleep.