Hello all! I finally broke down and decided to post a Merlin fic (the first couple were a little sloppy as they were just for my own amusement, but temptation became too great, and here I am). I will, however, be asking for a lot of input as to what will be included, because I'm still not quite happy with the story as it stands. Help is appreciated! Enjoy ^-^

Arthur awoke to the dull aching in his shoulders as well as his head. He was suspended by his wrists, already chafing within thick manacles, stripped of his weapons and chainmail. The room was dark except for the glow of approaching dawn in a tiny window. A chill breeze skimmed thin fabric across his otherwise unprotected back.

Distant clanging alerted him to the presence of others. He recognized the growing flicker of torchlight silhouetting bars to a dungeon hallway. Three pairs of boots, it seemed. His visitors appeared—two of the raiders from earlier, and Cenred himself.

Of course.

Arthur had been on a routine survey of the outlying villages following some complications with border treaties. Two other knights and his faithful (if bumbling) servant, Merlin, had accompanied him. The task itself had been uneventful aside from dealing with the odd wandering thief. But as they camped on the way home, still a fair distance from Camelot, a small raiding party bearing Cenred's colors attacked. Both knights were killed in stealth, and had Merlin not happened to wake at that moment, he probably would have, too. Arthur commanded his servant to run as he pulled out his own sword to fight back. Unfortunately, he took an unseen pommel to the head, and that was the last he knew.

Cenred had just been waiting for his chance to finish what he'd failed to do using Elyan and Gwen as lures. Why hadn't Arthur suspected this before?

The gruff overlord smiled unpleasantly. "My, my, we seem to have snagged ourselves a little prince. How lucky of us."

"My father will make you pay for such treacherous actions!" Arthur spat back. His feet comfortably reached the stone floor, though he had little further room to move. The bandits flanking Cenred chortled. Their dark leader unlocked the cell door so the three of them could enter.

"Hasn't learn much in the way of manners, has he? Best to teach him." Cenred's fist connected solidly with Arthur's stomach. "Show respect for your elders and betters, eh boy?"

Wheezing, Arthur glared at the rival lord. Then he gripped the chains holding him, pushed his feet off the ground, and landed a heavy kick in return. The bandits hurried to steady their master, who had lost all air of humor, face contorted in a snarl. He pulled a knife.

Whap! Whap!

Twin streaks of pain erupted on Arthur's cheeks as the flat of the blade connected with them. A trickle of blood followed on one side where the edge had nicked him. He and Cenred stared each other down as the latter worked to bring his composure back under control.

"At this very moment, a messenger is already riding for Camelot to offer your ransom. I don't expect Uther to take it kindly, but we'll have plenty to do in the meantime." Cenred pulled up the rickety stool from the corner of the cell. "After all, is even a crown prince worth giving up all your outlying lands? No matter. When we're done, Camelot will be within my grasp anyway."

"I'd like to see how kidnapping me helps you with that," scoffed Arthur. This time, one of the flunkies silenced him with a kidney punch.

That unpleasant smile of Cenred's returned. "Surely you're not so dense as to have not figured out the pretense of our last meeting. As heir apparent, champion of the great city, and one of its chief defenders, who better to learn Camelot's secrets from? It may have never been taken by siege, but a true destroyer works his way in through the cracks.

"The procedure is simple—every day you refuse, my men get more…creative. We mere mortals can only take so much. Starting now." Cenred gestured as he turned for the door. "I will be in to check on our progress, of course, but there are many other things to attend to, I'm afraid. Good day, Arthur Pendragon."

Arthur didn't get a chance to retort. Something dark and heavy collided with his still-tender stomach, completely winding him. A blow to the side of his head followed before he had a chance to regroup his thoughts. The looks on the henchmen's faces were positively sadistic. The chance of a lifetime, he supposed, having a high noble at one's mercy. He set his jaw, and prepared for indefinite pain.

One man swung a small polished club. Hard enough to cause significant pain, but small enough to reach all kinds of sensitive parts. Between the numerous hits to his torso, restrained arms, and head, Arthur soon had trouble gaining air. No matter what happened, however, he couldn't say anything. He would never be the reason Camelot's defenses failed. His job was to protect the city and its lands, and he would, if it took right up to his dying breath.

The other pulled loose a whip that unwove into many smaller lashes at the end. The worked leather cut easily through Arthur's thin undershirt and vulnerable skin. It forced out his first cries, but his resolve held firm.

Merlin, I hope you got through. Someone has to warn my father…

Merlin practically collapsed right into the stream with thirst and exhaustion. He didn't know how long he'd been running. There was neither sight nor sound of Arthur, which worried him. Or the raiders, for which he could at least try to breathe a little easier. This turn of events didn't make sense. Why such a random attack on Cenred's part? What did he hope to gain?

As his heart rate and breathing returned to acceptable ranges, Merlin drank his fill. Dawn was as yet not quite on the horizon. The horses were either lost or taken, and walking back to Camelot would take at least two days. Fate only knew if Arthur had that long.

But taking action all alone could be just as risky. While he had magic, he could hardly go blasting in and let everyone know he had it, least of all Arthur. No, he would have to scout this out, plan exactly what he was going to do and how. Fyrien, Cenred's hideout of late, was not far from here. It was as good a place to start as any. He could backtrack to camp and see if anything salvageable was left. There were always berries and plants he could forage along the way. Whatever it took to save Arthur.

He had never felt so on his own in his life. And that was saying something.

So, first big question-most of this is written from Arthur's point of view. Should I include whatever Merlin does to get into the castle, or leave that to the imagination until he meets up with Arthur again? I defer to you readers!