Firstly, I so sorry for the late update of my fanfic, I've had a lot of exams and coursework to do but now it's the summer holidays so I should get more time to write! Thanks for all your reviews, once again I've taken into account everyone's comments; I know there's a lot of unanswered questions regarding Merlin & Arthur's ages, when they'll meet, whether Merlin has magic, why Merlin's a slave and why the slave hasn't been given a name yet, but I promise I won't leave any plot lines untied by the time I finish this story! All will be revealed soon...
Please note that in this fanfic, Gwen and Arthur are in love, though not married, Lancelot is dead and Gwen has not been banished. King Alined and an entourage from the kingdom of Trydien are visiting Camelot.
A Protective Pendragon
Golden sunlight leaked through the thin gap between the long scarlet drapes at Lady Cordelia's window, lighting the guest chamber up enough for Guinevere to see the un-slept in bed. Cordelia was a Lady of King Alined's court, and since her arrival with the royal entourage the day before, Guinevere had been assigned as the Lady's personal maid-servant.
The pupils of the olive-skinned maid's dark brown eyes, constricted into tiny pin-pricks as she pulled open the curtains. It was a pleasant morning, but the courtyard still shimmered from the downpour during last night's storm. Not sparing the outside view any more time away from her long list of daily errands, Guinevere turned towards the bath tub, deciding that after last night, Lady Cordelia would most likely want a bath. Gwen knew exactly where her temporary mistress would be. She had seen Cordelia flirting with King Alined after leaving the feast, and being the sleazy man he was, the King had appeared to be drawling over her.
With there being no point in making the bed or tidying the hardly used chambers, Gwen began to make her way towards the courtyard in order to retrieve some water for Cordelia's bath. The castle was busier than usual, and Guinevere saw twice the normal number of servants, hurrying about to serve the increased number of royals.
Outside, pink streaks cut through the pale blue morning sky and distant birds sung a twinkly morning chorus. Gwen walked out of the servant door into Camelot's courtyard; the number of people amassed outside immediately struck her. At a first glance, Gwen assumed that despite the early hour of morning, the sudden appearance of the sun must have drawn people out of their homes to enjoy the warm outside weather. But as Gwen neared the well on the far side of the courtyard, she realised that most people's gazes were in fact turned towards one direction in particular.
Following their stares, the curious maid edged her way through the crowd of commoners and nobles. At the sight before her, Gwen's jaw dropped.
The cage's four large wheels were enveloped in striking orange rust, and the silver bars were almost black with dust and dirt. Inside, some lame strands of straw clung to the floor, flattened by a dirty puddle of water slowly dripping down onto the damp courtyard floor below. But what shocked Gwen most of all was the emaciated form of a young man curled in a ball at the floor of the cage. The caged man faced towards the crowd, but a skinny arm covered his face, revealing a silver shackle connecting both wrists. His chalky white skin contrasted the tattered black clothing, the dampness causing it to cling to his body.
Guinevere had no idea what to make of the situation before her. She knew the man was from Trydien by his distinctive black uniform worn by all Alined's men, and the cage which she'd glimpsed arriving with the royal entourage yesterday. Who is this man? What on Earth has he done to end up in this god-forsaken cage? What puzzled her most was that the curious onlookers appeared to be solely Camelot citizens; all servants she recognised from the castle and commoners living near the citadel around Gwen's own home. Any people of Trydien, noble and servants alike, simply glided in their black robes straight past the caged man, not so much as sparing him a second glance.
Movement at the top of the steps leading into the castle caught Gwen's attention. A blonde-topped man emerged from the doors, stretching his muscular limbs as he did so, and taking in a deep lungful of the crisp morning air. He wore a loose fitting red tunic, low enough at the neck to see glimpses of his strong chest, a pair of black breeches and a sword hanging from the brown leather belt at his waist. The blue-eyed man had a detached look about him, as if still dreamy from having only just woken up, as he scanned across the sun-lit courtyard. Guinevere couldn't help feeling a tug in her chest as she gazed at the King, with a feeling of pride at the great leader he had become, and a feeling of heart-ache at how his position made him so unreachable.
"Oi!" The shout caused Gwen's head to whip back in the direction of the mysterious caged man.
"OI!" This time she saw the source of the shouts; a stocky man who weaved his way through the crowd towards the cage. His unmistakable black uniform made it obvious he was a servant of Trydien, though the dark apparel appeared far better fitted and much less tattered than the shackled man's. The crowd watched eagerly as the agitated-looking servant pulled a rusty key from his breech pocket with his right hand, and violently rattled the cage bars with his left.
"RISE AND SHINE YOU WORTHLESS LAZY GIT."
The slave did not stir. The servant proceeded to unlock the cage door, and as it flung open with a high pitched screech, a beefy arm shot in to grab the motionless prisoner. Finally some groaning escaped the man as he was hauled out of the cage onto the floor at the feet of the servant.
"I said, WAKE UP! WHAT DO YOU THINK I AM, SOME KIND OF LOW-LIFE SLAVE?" The servant jeered. The slave's eyes fluttered open and he frowned with confusion at the scene around him.
"Do you have any idea who that is?" Gwen whirled round to see King Arthur standing beside her also trying to make sense of the spectacle.
"I have no idea," she admitted, "He doesn't look well though."
"You don't say."
"No, I mean there's something seriously wrong."
"What do you mean?"
Completely forgetting about her errand of fetching water, the maid watched the slave for a while longer. The angry servant was still shouting abuse at the slave on the floor, and had fistfuls of his tunic to shake him by. Gwen saw Arthur tense at this, expecting him to intervene at any moment, so she quickly explained.
"He looks confused and disorientated; almost drowsy."
"Are you saying he's drunk?" Arthur exclaimed.
Gwen shot him a disapproving look. "No Arthur, he's been out in this cage all night, all through that storm. If I didn't know better, I'd say he has hypothermia."
"Hypothermia. I've worked beside Gaius for long enough to recognise it. Apparently it happens when someone is exposed to the cold for a long time."
Arthur allowed himself a quick smile at Gwen's wisdom. She had intelligence beyond her years and kindness unlike any other servant. The King's smile then quickly dropped and he strode forward into the clearing with the slave and servant of Trydien.
"You there!" Arthur pointed towards the startled servant, who gave a quick bow. He tried to keep his tone reserved as to not offend a man of King Alined's, though underneath rage started to build up at the treatment of the slave. "What is your business with this man?" The King demanded, indicating towards the slave. Upon closer inspection, Arthur could see the skinny man shivering violently and his wide blue eyes looked downwards, dazed and unfocused.
"The slave won't co-operate m'Lord," the servant answered, "If y'ask me, the bastard needs stronger discipline!"
"As it happens, I was not asking for your opinion. The man is clearly unwell, most likely generated from being left out in the freezing cold rain all night."
"I've received direct orders from King Alined to bring the slave straight to him."
"Tell your King that the... er-" Arthur wracked his brains for another name to use than slave but none other came to him, "-that the slave will be taken into the care of my personal physician."
An eruption of gasps and a chorus of murmurs fell upon the puzzled bystanders. The speechless servant's gob gawped open and closed like that of a fish, obviously wanting to protest but not having the words to do so. The slave continued not to respond; he stayed sprawled on the floor with his head lulling downwards and body quivering.
"GUARDS!" Two armour clad guards marched attentively towards their King. "Escort this man to Gaius the Court Physician immediately," Arthur ordered. He then turned back around to Gwen who was smiling at him proudly.
"Guinevere, do you wish to accompany them to Gaius's chambers?" Arthur asked.
"Yes, it's probably best I explain everything to Gaius." Gwen paused for a moment and glanced over at the slave who was being hauled up by the Camelot guards, "I just have no idea what to think about this whole situation."
"Likewise. I can't understand how Alined could allow slavery. But then again, maybe he deserves it."
"You really believe that?"
"Well, he must have done something to deserve this kind of punishment!"
"Perhaps." Gwen glanced thoughtfully once again at the slave limping away with two guards, "I should go."
"Ensure to inform me of his condition!" Arthur blurted with more urgency than he intended.
"I shall. Oh! I almost forgot, I should be attending Lady Cordelia!"
"Don't worry, I'll send another maid servant to do your duties this morning."
"Thank you, Arthur." Gwen smiled, then hurried towards the sick slave, impatient to cease the opportunity of finding out answers to all her questions.
Arthur stood amongst the crowd watching Gwen, the slave and the guards walk into the castle. A pang of guilt struck him as he realised he had stood by and done nothing whilst the raven-haired man was punished. There was nothing I could do, he tried to reassure himself, but even as Arthur thought it, he knew there was a part of him which felt protective over the slave. The King was torn; he felt curious to discover more about the past suppressed behind those wise blue eyes, but hesitated over what kind of crime the slave could have committed to end him up in such a life. There's only one way to settle my doubt, Arthur decided, I'll visit Gaius and the slave this afternoon.
Phew, FINALLY another chapter uploaded! Sorry if this chapter was a bit naff, I've decided to make y'all wait just a LITTLE bit longer for Arthur and the slave to meet!
As usual, I welcome all reviews with comments, constructive criticism and ideas for my next chapter! Thank you for reading! xxx