A/N: Um...hello! It's been a while...5 months again, actually...sigh. I don't know why that keeps happening. It would have been longer this time, but my sister convinced me to just get over all the concerns I had with posting this fic and to just do it already. But anyway, it's been a while, and I'm sorry about that. I got horribly distracted by a vast number of things, like video games and anime and a brilliant new show called Common Law (when a show combines humor, cops, witty banter, and bromance, I'm pretty much sold). So yeah, I got sucked into about 10 different fandoms in the last 5 months while still being obssessed with this one. Not an easy feat for me. But I'm back with a new fic, albeit a very different one.
Title: Of Twisted Morals and Human Weaponry
Rating: T for...well, a lot of things. Some language, some violence, the whole general situation, a bit of torture, etc.
Characters/pairings: The cast is as follows: Merlin, Arthur, an antagonist, two guards with names, and a few without. Merlin and Arthur are the main focus of this story. Oh, and no pairings. Only friendship here, though if you want to read more into it, feel free. Whatever floats your boat.
Spoilers: Um...none, as far as I know.
Warnings: Abuse, a bit of torture, me being descriptive
What to expect: Bromance, introspection, angst, some whump, H/C, lots of drama, lots of worrying...oh, and some magic. Can't forget the magic :)
So anyway, this fic is a bit different from what I've written before. The style is still the same, but the theme is a tad bit darker (though that might just be my opinion), though it's not without its humor as well (it's Merlin and Arthur. Sarcasm is kind of a given). For those who are familiar with my writing, it'll be the same as it always is, meaning it's all from a POV. This fic will be almost entirely from either Arthur's or Merlin's POV, and even the few times where it isn't, the focus will still be on them, so even though there are three other characters, they only exist because I needed an antagonist and a way to help push the events along. You'll see what I mean eventually :)
Anyway, I'll say the rest of the stuff I want to say later, so without further ado, I hope you enjoy :)
Sometimes, and only sometimes, mind you—after all, he was a prince—Arthur really hated his life.
Now happened to be one of those times.
The rather disgruntled future king heaved a deep sigh before settling against the far wall, the stone hard and rough against his back; he could even feel the cold of it through his shirt, sending a chill down his spine. He looked out into the well-lit hall that he could see beyond the bars of his cell (two stone walls and two barred ones), wishing that the master of this stupid fortress would just hurry up and tell him what they wanted from him already. He had better things to be doing than lying about in some dungeon—and really, it was only due to a stroke of luck on their part that they had managed to capture him in the first place. If he hadn't been so tired, they never would have been able to sneak up on him like that.
Arthur let his head fall back, thumping it against the wall while he cursed his luck. He should have known better than to leave Camelot by himself, to pretend he was just going hunting for a few days to clear his head (it was the only way his father would let him leave, and even then the king had been a bit suspicious about his reasons). At the very least he should have brought Leon with him, but he had been rather angry at the time and hadn't really thought his plan all the way through.
Not that he had had much of a plan to begin with, mind you, because he was pretty sure that "find Merlin" didn't actually qualify as a plan. Nonetheless, that was what he had been doing, what most of them had been doing discretely for the past month until his father had found out and put a stop to it. However, every time a patrol went out, regardless of what their assigned task was, they always took the time to search for Merlin. Half the time Arthur didn't even need to ask them to; they simply did it on their own. He couldn't help but wonder why, because he had been pretty sure that most of the nobility shared his father's point of view on servants, but the reasons didn't really matter in the long run. They were willing to help, and he was grateful for it.
Despite all their efforts though, they had yet to find a single trace of the prince's wayward servant.
It had been an entire month since Merlin had disappeared. No one had any idea what had happened—Arthur had simply woken up one morning to find that Merlin was gone. There had been no note, no farewell, and all of his belongings had still been in his room, untouched from the night before. No one, not even the guards posted at the gates, had seen the servant leave. Not a single person had been able to give him an answer as to why Merlin wasn't there, but Arthur was fairly certain that Gaius knew more about the situation than he let on. Questioning him hadn't gotten the prince anywhere though, and the physician had looked so worried and haggard that it just hadn't seemed right to accuse him of hiding something on top of everything else. Merlin was like a son to Gaius, so it was only natural that his disappearance would weight heavily on the man's heart.
If only Arthur had noticed the depth of it sooner (and had been able to acknowledge the weight upon his own heart), then maybe he wouldn't be in this mess.
None of them would be in this mess.
A lot can happen in a month.
The prince sighed as he let his head hit the wall once more, cursing himself for his foolishness. He had been doing a lot of that lately, and he had every reason to.
During those first two days when Merlin had failed to show up for work, Arthur hadn't really thought much of it. He had simply believed that Merlin was skiving (after all, it wasn't the first time Merlin had gone off without telling anyone), and so instead of looking for him, he had started making a list of all the chores he would pile on the boy as a punishment for disappearing and for making Gaius and Gwen worry.
By the third day, he had started to get a little worried himself. Despite being an idiot, Merlin wasn't thoughtless. If he was going to be gone for a few days, he would have at least said something to Gaius.
On the morning of the fourth, he had taken a group of knights and rode off into the forest, using the excuse of hunting down the remnants of the mercenary group they had encountered the week before. He hadn't been surprised when they didn't find anything, but the disappointment had hung thickly around all of them when they rode back into the city with no Merlin and no leads.
On the seventh day (and after five more "patrols"), he had spent a great deal of time cursing himself for not heading out that first day, because whatever trail there might have been would have been long gone by the time he had actually decided to start looking.
If something had happened to Merlin, it would be his fault, and he wasn't sure if he could live with that. Merlin had to be alright, wherever he was, because Arthur couldn't accept the idea that he wasn't.
It had been somewhere around the fourteenth day that the king had finally caught on to what Arthur was doing and forbade him from continuing his search. His father had thrown around words like "duty" and "responsibility" and had called Merlin "just a servant," and all the while Arthur had kept quiet while internally seething at his father's callousness. Merlin wasn't just a servant—he was Arthur's servant, and therefore he was Arthur's responsibility. Despite the fact that Merlin was somewhat incompetent at times, he wasn't a terrible servant, and more importantly, he was a good person—loyal, selfless, kind—and a great friend.
In the end, this had never really been about finding his servant. Arthur was trying to find his friend (not that he would ever admit it to anyone but himself, of course).
Unfortunately, every attempt to find Merlin had failed, and now he was days away from Camelot, stuck in some stupid cell and waiting for someone to tell him why he was here.
Aside from being dead, he was pretty sure the situation couldn't get much worse.
The sound of a heavy door creaking open and then slamming shut brought his musings to an abrupt halt as he quickly got to his feet and walked towards the bars. He could hear footsteps, just one set, coming down the long hall. Hopefully it would be whoever was in charge of the fortress and not some random guard, because he was tired of waiting.
He stood close to the cell door, doing his best to look as irritated as he felt and hoping he would come off as somewhat intimidating. He kind of got the feeling that wouldn't be the case though, as he wasn't really in an ideal setting to be deemed threatening. Still, he would stand his ground no matter what was thrown his way.
After what felt like forever, someone finally came into view. The first thing he noticed was that the man stood almost a foot taller than him and was built like a tree—probably not an easy person to overpower or intimidate. The second thing he noticed was the man's clothing. He had been expecting some ruffian, like a bandit or a mercenary or even a warlord, but the man was dressed like a noble.
He looked like a lord.
When they had brought him into the fortress, he hadn't gotten to see much of it, and it was hard to gauge what the place was like from just looking at the dungeons. However, it was true that the hallway outside was large and rather long, not to mention well lit and clean. Maybe the rest of the building was just as grand and just as well kept. Even though the owner looked like a tree trunk dressed in finery, he was clearly someone of high standing. This man was a lord, and seeing as how Arthur had never seen the likes of him before, it was probably safe to assume that he wasn't anywhere near Camelot. He couldn't help but wonder exactly which kingdom he was being held prisoner in.
The rest of the man's features were nothing too unexpected. He was gruff looking with tanned skin and short black hair that was beginning to gray. His eyes were dark, his face round, and there was a bit of a beard, black and gray just like his hair. His rather large arms were crossed over an equally large chest, and his lips were curled into something between a smirk and a sneer as his eyes ran over the captured prince.
He hadn't even opened his mouth yet and Arthur already hated him.
"Prince Arthur," the man said, his voice not as low as the prince had expected but just as arrogant as his pompous appearance implied. "What an honor it is to meet you."
Arthur clenched his fists at his sides, wishing he could just reach out and punch the man in his fat, smirking face. His captor was mocking him, the sarcasm and amusement practically dripping from his voice. Instead of being intimidated, Arthur only felt frustrated. He wasn't about to give in to his captor's attempts at riling him even though he was clearly at a huge disadvantage, and not just because he was in a cell. Even in a fair fight, he got the feeling he would have a hard time taking on the man before him. With a sword he would stand a better chance, but the hulking mountain of a lord likely wouldn't go down easily.
Hopefully he could find a way out of this without having to take his captor on.
"What do you want from me?" he asked, wanting to get to the point of all this, because he was really starting to get irritated.
"Come now, where are your manners? I thought your father would have raised you better than this."
Scratch that. Arthur wasn't just irritated. He was bypassing aggravation altogether and heading straight towards livid. It was a struggle to keep himself from lunging towards the bars. However, he was a prince, and therefore he did have some self-control.
"I asked what you wanted, now answer me," he said in a tight voice, his words all very short and sharp. He watched the lord's smirk fall into a glare, still tinged with amusement but also annoyance. He had obviously been trying to goad the prince, but Arthur hadn't given into it. Apparently the time for menial sarcasm was over.
"You're a rather arrogant one, aren't you?" the man sneered. "Making demands when you're in no position to be doing so. Suppose I should expect no less from a spoilt little prince."
"Who are you?" Arthur demanded, his eyes narrowing as he met the man's glare with his own.
"Barragh. Lord Barragh of Arwel, and this is my fortress. It was once an old castle, so I must say I find it rather befitting of a lord such as myself."
Arwel? No, he definitely wasn't in Camelot anymore. Arwel was a territory far to the north in a very small kingdom between King Alined's and Mercia. Arthur had never actually been there before, having had no reason to travel towards either kingdom, but both King Bayard and Alined were supposedly on good terms with the smaller territory. His father, however, had always been a bit wary of it even though there hadn't seemed to be a reason behind his suspicion. Arthur could admit that his father was just a little paranoid sometimes, but apparently his instincts had been right this time.
"Why have you brought me here?" he asked.
"My, you certainly are an impatient one, aren't you?"
Arthur chose not to answer that and simply glared at the man until Barragh heaved a sigh and uncrossed his arms, his expression finally taking on a bit of gravity.
"You can relax, princeling. I've no intention of hurting you. I'm afraid the dead don't fetch a very high price."
"So you intend to ransom me." It wasn't a question. He was already certain he knew the answer.
"Of course. I know plenty of people who would pay handsomely for the prince of Camelot. I will of course send a demand to your father first, but if he refuses…then I'm afraid you're fair game."
Arthur just narrowed his eyes further, his fists clenched so tightly that his arms were shaking. It would be humiliating for his father to have to pay for his freedom, humiliating for the both of them. He was supposed to be Camelot's best fighter, and yet he had allowed something like this to happen. What would the king think? He was likely to be disappointed. Surely he would pay the ransom though. There was no way his father would just leave him. However, there was always the chance that instead of accepting the terms, the king would simply send the army. He didn't want to admit it, but it was true that his father could be irrational in certain situations. Hopefully this wouldn't be one of those times. The last thing they needed was a full-scale war on their hands.
"However, I'm afraid you'll be staying here for a while," Barragh informed him rather smugly, "as I'm currently in the middle of something a bit more important. I'll send word to your father as soon as I get a few results from my current project."
"Oh?" he began, taking an immediate interest. This was a chance to learn something about his captor. Any bit of information could help him assess things better and possibly find a way out of this ridiculous situation. "And what would that be? What does a lord like you do that's so important that your king would give you a castle as grand as this?"
Arthur had been hoping that his obvious insult would get a rise out of Barragh, but the man only sneered at him once more, looking down on the prince (in more ways than one, the bloody giant).
"I deal in weaponry," he said, clearly proud of his trade. "I've sold a great deal of different weapons to my king as well as to other lords and other kingdoms even, and I'm very good at what I do."
"Is that so?" Damn. Getting out of here would likely be a lot harder than he had originally thought. A fortress filled with all sorts of different weapons didn't bode well, and the man probably had hundreds of soldiers at his disposal given the size of his castle (the dungeons were massive all on their own, so he could only imagine how large the rest of it was). He couldn't help but wonder just what sort of weapons the man possessed, because he probably didn't deal in just common, everyday weaponry. You could easily go to a blacksmith and probably pay a much cheaper price than going through a trader like Barragh. No, he got the feeling this was something a bit bigger, more dangerous, and the means were probably suspect at best. There was just something about the way he had said it that bothered the prince. Whatever his methods were, Arthur was certain they were anything but honorable.
"Well, I hope you enjoy your stay, Prince Arthur," said Barragh, effectively drawing Arthur out of his thoughts. "You're likely to be with us for quite a while."
That bloody poor excuse for a nobleman was smirking again, and he wished desperately for something to happen that would wipe that smirk away. If only there weren't a bunch of metal bars separating them, Arthur would have tackled the mountain of a man to the floor and punched that look right off his face. Unfortunately that little fantasy was rather impossible, but in the end Arthur did manage to get his wish.
Just as Barragh was about to walk away, a bell started to chime rather loudly. It sounded a great deal like a warning bell.
"What?" the lord shouted, looking down both parts of the hallway. It wasn't long before the sound of frantic footsteps began to echo off the walls, growing louder and louder. Arthur watched as a single man suddenly came running in from the right and stopped in front of Barragh, out of breath but still doing his best to stand at attention and compose himself. Despite being dressed in armor and armed with two swords, the soldier looked nervous and rather unsettled, bordering on terrified. He was staring at his master as if the lord might decide to suddenly bite his head off.
"My lord," the man greeted, his voice shaking just a little as he gave a hasty bow, but Barragh didn't seem to be in any mood for the man's formality and started shouting.
"Why was the bell sounded? What is going on?"
"I'm sorry, my lord…"
"I've no time for your apologies. Just tell me what happened!"
"Sir, it's the prisoner. I'm afraid he's escaped…again."
Had Arthur not been standing so close by, he might not have heard that last word as the soldier had said it rather softly, his voice bland, almost bordering on resigned. It was almost as if…as if he were used to this, Arthur realized with some astonishment—as if this sort of thing was actually normal.
Maybe it was if Barragh's reaction was anything to go by. The man looked infuriated and beyond exasperated, practically growling in irritation.
"Then what are you standing there for? Find him!" he roared, startling the poor soldier, the young man's eyes wide with fear. "Alert the others! Get him back in his cell! I don't care how it's done—beat him if you have to! Just make sure he's still alive when I get there!"
Arthur watched as the guard practically fled down the hallway, and he couldn't help but smirk as he watched Barragh lose his temper, slamming a fist into the stone wall. The self-proclaimed weapons trader had been so collected and superior while talking to Arthur, but now he seemed to be unraveling at a rather fast pace. Time to see just how far he could push him. It wasn't exactly a wise idea to goad a person in the throes of anger, but people tended to have a looser tongue when enraged. Maybe the tyrant would let something slip in his fury.
"What's wrong, Barragh?" he began, crossing his arms and looking as smug as he felt. "Having a bit of trouble holding on to your prisoners? After all that boasting, I figured you'd have more control than this, but it seems to me it was all for show. If that's the case, then perhaps I'll be out of here sooner than you think."
Barragh whirled around to face the prince, his lips curling into a snarl.
"This one is a special case," he growled, stalking closer to the bars of Arthur's cell. "That stupid brat is only useful to me alive, so I can't punish him the way I'd like, but if he keeps this up, I may have to change my mind."
The lord moved away from the cell once more, composing his expression and calming his anger. When he looked at Arthur again, his face was twisted into what was becoming a familiar sneer, this one filled with both loathing and amusement.
"Don't go getting any false hopes of escaping from this place. That boy may have gotten out of his cell more times than I care to admit, but we've caught him every time. And unlike him, I'm sure you could probably survive more than a couple lashings."
With those final words, the man turned and swept down the hall, his footsteps thunderous and foreboding. Arthur suddenly found himself feeling a bit sorry for the other prisoner, who would likely be on the receiving end of Barragh's wrath.
Having nothing left to do and no one to talk to, Arthur retreated back to the far wall of his cell, taking a seat on the stone floor once again. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to calm himself but failing miserably. Instead he went back to cursing his luck. He had told his father that he would probably be gone for a few days, which meant that no one would be looking for him any time soon. A few days could mean anywhere from two to as many as seven. He was pretty sure he hadn't been gone for more than three, maybe four. It all depended on how long he had been unconscious for.
He thumped his head against the wall a few times, resisting the urge to lose control of his temper and just slam his fist into it. That certainly wouldn't help matters any, and it likely wouldn't make him feel any better either, but the urge was hard to resist nonetheless, because while he was trapped in some stupid fortress days away from Camelot, Merlin was still out there somewhere, still missing, and there was nothing Arthur could do about it.
Damn it all, and he had actually been making some progress this time too! He had found an actual lead, a small village that Merlin had passed through. The young tavern owner had remembered someone fitting Merlin's description even though it had been almost a month back that he had been there. Apparently the boy had left quite an impression, but according to the owner, Merlin hadn't been alone, and the men with him hadn't seemed too friendly. "Looked like mercenaries of a sort," he had said. They had been heading east of the village.
Arthur had just gotten ready to set off when he had suddenly been ambushed by a rather large group of men, and once he had finally woken up after being clubbed over the head, they had already been riding up to the fortress. He had gone and gotten himself captured by some sort of sadistic weapons trader, and it didn't look like he'd be escaping anytime soon. Barragh seemed the type to hold true to his threats.
With nothing better to do, Arthur closed his eyes and decided to try and get some rest. He knew it would be pointless, that he'd only be able to manage a few hours at best before his mind would decide to start torturing him, but he got the feeling he wouldn't be getting much sleep in the next few days anyway, so he needed to take what he could get when he could get it.
It wasn't long before he began to drift off, slumping against the walls of his prison while the warning bell continued to chime in the distance. He knew it wouldn't last, that sooner or later something would wake him up—be it a guard or his own weighted mind—but for a while he could at least pretend that everything was alright, that when he woke up he would see the canopy of his four poster bed and not some dark cell. He could pretend that when morning came, light would spill in through the window and there would be an annoying but cheerful presence standing there, ready to greet him and keep him company throughout the day.
Just for a while, however impossible it would be, he wanted to pretend that the last month had never happened. He was home, Merlin was safe, and that lead weight—the one sitting so heavily upon his heart he feared it might crush him—was nothing more than a nightmare.
If only he could just wake up.
A/N: Next chapter will be from Merlin's POV, promise :)
So anyway, I hope you enjoyed the first chapter. In all honesty, I've actually had this fic partially written and sitting around for over a year now, but I was scared to start posting it. That tends to be the case with just about everything I write though. I'm always worried people won't like it.
I'm going to try and update every week like I usually do, witch is late Tuesday night for me, so the chapters will always be available on Wednesday morning. That's the plan :) If I finish writing the rest of the fic early, I'll probably update more often. We'll just have to see what happens :)
Lastly, I just wanted to thank anyone and everyone who has taken the time to read and/or review my other three fics. I continue to get such nice comments on all of them, and it always helps to brighten my day, so thank you :)
I guess that's it for now. Please feel free to leave a review. I won't beg, because I'm a terrible at leaving reviews myself, but I would like to know what you all think :) Be honest. I don't mind constructive criticism as long as it's polite and thought out.
See ya next week!