Characters: Merlin, Arthur, Gwaine, Gaius, Kinsley.
Merlin has just been caught by King Arthur – but the wizard isn’t Arthur’s biggest problem.
Merlin awoke a few seconds later surrounded by the King’s guard. Without any hope of escape he felt his energy leave him and slumped heavily to the ground.
“Now now Merlin” Arthur’s voiced mocked, “what’s the matter? Tired out by the chase? Or was it all the magic you’ve been using? Don’t worry, I’ll give you a bed to sleep in. It might not be as comfortable as the one you used this morning, but it will have to do. Take him away!”
Merlin didn’t feel the guards clumsily pick him up, nor did he really register the fact that he wasn’t standing up and his legs were dragging along the floor. Hearing the hatred and disgust in Arthur’s voice was too much for him to bear.
It doesn’t matter what the guards do to me, nothing can be as terrible as that. Was last night really worth this? Certain death and the hatred of the man I love? Next time I’ll just have a wank.
“Where are we takin’ ‘im?” asked an out-of-breath guard, shaking Merlin from his reflection. From the sound of his breathing Merlin guessed he was rather unfit.
“Don’t be soft all yer life Seswick, he’s a bloody wizard. Only one place fer ‘im – Portcullis Nook.”
Oh fuck, of course. Merlin knew he really should be terrified, but a dim numbness had spread over his mind. Portcullis Nook was a legend to most people, since there were never any survivors to confirm its existence. Of course, the prisoners couldn’t be allowed to live – their very existence was illegal. Portcullis Nook was the wizard prison.
“I’m not goin’ down there, the east dungeon corridor gives me creeps.”
“You’re a pussy Seswick, yer daughter has more balls than you, even if she does have smaller tits.”
“I don’t care what you sayin’ Branswell, that place is dark.”
“Of course it’s bloody dark, it holds the bastard mages. Where did you think they’d be kept, the gardens with the bloody daisies?”
“Y’know what I mean, don’t be a dick. Dark magic. Evil magic.” The larger guard, Seswick, was sounding increasingly agitated as the conversation developed.
Branswell smiled darkly. “You ever heard what happens to a wizard when he dies, Seswick?”
A few seconds of pride halted an immediate answer. “Can’t say I have, or I’ve forgotten alongways anyroad.”
“Well, they’re usually tortured, and put up with a fair bit too. Surprising, since they hide behind magic mosts times ‘sted of proper muscle strength. But there’s no magic allowed down there Seswick. Not even enough to wipe the shit off yer shoe. But they take the torture, yes. Cowards really wizards, deep down, behind the flash and the bangs. They take the torture because they’re damn scared of death, being like everyone else again. Most times they ain’t been in danger, they don’t fear a battle ‘cos they can magic themself safe… Still, when they die -” A small chuckle broke the rant. Branswell’s voice gave the impression that he was enjoying every minute of his speech and the hell he was describing, well aware that the wizard he dragged was hearing every word.
“When they die, it ain’t like no normal death, natural like. You better make damn sure you’re nowheres close when they go, because their magic escapes them. Explodes out, around, up an’ down, everywhichway you fancy, for miles. Nothing left but ash and dust. I ‘erd of whole armies tooken down when one accidently kills a wizard.”
“Bloody ‘ell Branswell, we’re carrying a bomb? Bump his head too hard, kill ‘im and Camelot goes tits up?” The agitation in Seswick’s voice had turned to horror as the fate described to him flashed before his eyes.
“Don’t be stupid Seswick. Arthur might not be his father, might be all looks no sight, but he ain’t a total clot. Portcullis Nook is special, druid or somethin’. It traps the magic in its walls, contains the explosion. Thousands of wizards have died in there and we ain’t noticed one bump. Heh, but the walls notice plenty.”
“Pfft, now you’re being stupid Branswell. What how the walls notice plenty?”
But Merlin knew, he could feel it beneath the numbness, a terror you hide in the back your mind until it’s corrupted all your thoughts and it’s all you can ever think about. The walls were beginning to talk to him, mock him and break him.
“You’d be best not to hit ’em, that’s my advice. The walls absorb the magic of the wizards, the evil. Then they bounce it back at the newcomers. The walls are evil, just as you is thick. They enjoy breaking wizards, they crave more raw magic. Nah, it’s never the physical torture that kills magic folk. It’s the mind damage. Against that, the rack is a relief. Oh, this poor bugger will be begging for death in an hour tops.”
Seswick was lost for words, partially worried by the glee Branswell took in the young wizard’s fate, but mainly preoccupied with not stumbling into the wall. With Branswell chuckling to himself and Seswick horrified, they continued their journey in silence.
Portcullis Nook, certain death? Do you think it’s all a rumour Arthur, or do you really hate me that much?
With the guards were absorbed in their own thoughts Merlin was an afterthought. They didn’t notice that his shoulders shook slightly as he silently sobbed.
Arthur stormed away from the crumped body of Merlin, rage filling his body and clouding his mind. He turned the corner of the corridor and saw Gwaine slouched to the side, just managing to stand up. He saw the King approach and hastened his effort, stumbling slightly. Arthur’s quick reflexes allowed him to catch his knight and help him back onto his feel.
“Sorry sire, I’m not quite sure what happened. One minute I’m asking Merlin to stop, the next I’m flying across the corridor.”
Arthur knew he should be patient with Sir Gwaine, who was bleeding slightly from his head, but his Merlin-induced rage prevented such niceties.
“Well it should be obvious to you what happened Gwaine – Merlin’s a bloody wizard.” The words stopped Gwaine in his track, oblivious to the cutting tone Arthur used.
“Merlin, a wizard? Have you hit your head too Arthur, or is your crown too tight? Merlin’s a boy, he’s our friend, he’s been your ser-“
“HE’S A FUCKING WIZARD GWAINE.” Arthur felt the anger flow out of him, but the release was nothing compared to what he needed. Instead of relief, Arthur felt a tinge of guilt as he saw the confusion on his friend’s face. “He is a wizard.” He repeated, quietly. “He fooled us all, laughing behind our back. He was my servant for six years; I thought he was my friend. He was a lie.”
Arthur stopped himself; he could feel he was getting to the point where he could no longer control his emotions, no longer anger but pain, betrayal and a bitter emptiness. He didn’t want Gwaine to know how he felt.
I don’t even want to know.
“Never mind that Gwaine, your head looks pretty bad. I’ll take you to Gaius, let’s see what he can do for you.”
“Arthur, I’m fine. Just a bit -“
“This is an order, Sir Gwaine. To Gaius’s, now.”
“I guess this is better than the last order you gave me.” Gwaine smirked.
“Careful Gwaine, I can still have you put in the stocks.” Arthur retorted, this moment of jest with his friend taking his mind away from the anger he felt.
“What, and have me bent over? I bet you’d like that sire, but think of the rumours.”
Realising Gwaine had beaten him this time, Arthur let out a laugh. It refreshed him, shaking off some of the darkness he had held since he realised how Merlin had violated his trust in the worst way possible. The laugh carried across the nearby corridors, echoing against the old stone walls of the castle.
“Pray share the humour, my King.” A new voice cut through the laughter, almost muffling the echoes and leaving an almost dirty silence in its wake. Arthur released Gwaine, who moved to prop himself up against the wall, and turned to face his guest.
“Lord Kinsley, what an unexpected pleasure.” The distaste in Arthur’s voice was barely hidden, matched only by that held in Kinsley’s.
“My Lord, the pleasure is all mine.” Kinsley smiled coldly, twisting his face into the most unnatural shape. His whole body was built to sneer, his pointed face gave way to a long neck, which sat upon a tall body. His limbs were also long, although not gangly, and he stood at an inch taller than Arthur. Although unable to tell how muscular the Lord was, Arthur instantly judged it would be foolish to underestimate his strength. Just as a sneer could cut through a person, there was no doubt in the King’s mind the Lord could do the same. “Such a shame you could not make the ball last night. I trust your illness was severe.”
“Yes, of course Kinsley.” Arthur replied, unsure where this discussion was going. He’s obviously pissed, but he must know I’m in no mood to play his stupid games.
“Well, it is nothing short of a miracle that you are on your feet today. Praise be to the gods, it is not often such a serious illness disappears overnight.”
“You have my physician to thank for that, Lord Kinsley. He’s Camelot’s finest.”
“Yet the page you have given me still has summerrash. Perhaps the physician is out of practice, your father never missed a state banquet for illness if I remember correctly.”
“Unfortunately for your ball, Lord Kinsley, I am not my father.” Arthur’s anger was now rushing through his veins, the hatred he harboured at Merlin now directed at Kinsley. No good can come of this, I have to get away. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, Sir Gwaine needs urgent medical attention.”
Arthur began to help Gwaine move away from the wall when Kinsley retorted. “You are correct, Arthur Utherson, you are not your father. Your father knew that calling yourself King did not mean you had power or control. Your father knew that without his lords he was nothing. Your father knew who to fear.” The sneer in Kinsley’s voice was no longer concealed.
“Are you calling my father a coward?”
“Not at all sire, you misunderstand me. I am simply stating that your father knew who to respect.”
“And that was you, was it? Now tell me this Kinsley, why should I respect you? In my kingdom respect is earnt, not bought by threats.” Arthur could feel himself getting heated, but the political ramifications of his words were being pushed aside by his anger and his lingering dislike for the man stood in front of him. Surprisingly for Gwaine, Lord Kinsley remained calm. If he felt a bubbling rage like Arthur’s he kept it hidden.
“Listen carefully Arthur, and listen well.” The sneer was gone from Kinsley’s voice, making way for cold, uncompromising power. “I have more troops under my command than most of the other lord combined, more gold at my disposal than even you, and my castle guards the pass that keeps countless barbarian hordes out of Camelot. You would do well to not to cancel balls in my honour in future.”
The silence in the corridor was palpable. Kinsley stood tall, a look of proud success and the familiar sneer returned to his face, standing above a King simmering with bitter anger.
“I will ask you again Kinsley – are you threatening me?” To a casual listener, Arthur would have sounded friendly, if not slightly peeved. To Gwaine, there was a dangerous edge to his voice, the edge that made Arthur a feared solder.
“If I am shown the respect I deserve, this is not a threat. Although your father learnt to toe the line a bit quicker than you did, I still have hope you yet. If you do not show me adequate respect, then this is indeed a threat.”
The little cunt. Arthur was seething, his head was pounding with hate and his fists had curled of their own accord.
“The King of Camelot does not respond well to threats.” Arthur replied menacingly, taking a slow step towards Kinsley. There was barely an arm’s length between the two. Kinsley looked directly into Arthur’s eyes and laughed.
“Do not be foolish Arthur, even you would not be as stupid as to attack your most powerful lord.”
“Let’s find out.” Arthur replied, as he brought his fist up to connect with Kinsley’s jaw. Regaining his balance, the King placed his right foot squarely in the centre of Kinsley’s chest, sending the Lord through the air and into the wall behind him. Kinsley slumped to the ground unconscious. “Not so cocky now, you little bastard. Guards!”
Around twenty nearby guards responded to the call, some almost instantly. Arthur struck his most authoritative pose and addressed the surrounding men.
“I am Arthur Pendragon, King of Camelot. I do not respond to threats. Let Lord Kinsley be an example to all those who question my authority. Now, take him to the dungeons and round up all his men. They will share his cell.” The guards began their work as Arthur turned to support Gwaine.
“Well, that went well.” Gwaine said, as they made their way to Gaius’s quarter.
“Gaius!” Arthur called as he helped Gwaine into the physician’s quarters. “Gwaine, sit down. Go on a diet, you’re heavier than you look.” Arthur’s weak attempt at humour was a mechanism for hiding his worry – Gwaine had begun babbling on the journey, making little sense and laughing at nothing.
He’s worse than usual… what exactly did Merlin do to him?
Gaius emerged from his bedroom, his slightly hunched pose failing to detract from his unique aura of authority. Even Arthur sometimes felt the desire to bow, out of a mixture of deep love and earned respect. Time after time Gaius had proven himself to be one of Camelot’s most powerful friends and defenders, treating the peasant with the same care and duty he would show to Arthur.
“My Lord, what’s wrong?”
“Gwaine, he’s had a bit of a bump to his head.”
Time slowed down for Arthur as Gaius carried out his examination, each second stretched out to hours by worry. Not one for an outward display of affection towards friends, a cold legacy left by his father, Arthur could sometimes be mistaken for arrogant or cold. Here, however, all pretence was dropped.
“Will he be ok Gaius?”
“Hmm, I’m fairly certain he will be, yes. Quite a nasty bump though, I’d rather keep him in overnight. Who did this?”
“Oh, just a scrap with one of Kinsley’s men. All sorted now.”
“Hmph. Typical Gwaine. Yes, I’ll keep him here, a strong sleeping draught should let him escape most of the pain, in the morning he should feel nothing worse than a mild hangover.”
“A hangover without a drink? I’m sure he’ll feel cheated.” Arthur quipped, attempting to judge what mood the physician with. An honest laugh from Gaius gave Arthur the confidence to make the request he had really come to the physician’s for.
“Gaius, I’d just like to say that you’re the -“
“What do you want, Arthur?” A slight smirk rested on Gaius’s face.
Still as sharp as ever, I see.
“Essence of Hesté.”
Gaius’s expression was replaced with an impassive mask, honed by years of hiding his magical apprentice and his own, minor, powers. “That’s an illegal substance, my Lord, as decreed by your father, and continued under your reign. Quite rightly so, it is one of the most potent poisons in Albion, with the potential to destroy an army with one drop in the water supply. Discovery of just one ounce of Hesté would be enough to have a man killed – and you dare to ask me if I have any, like a common smuggler? Shame on you Arthur.”
“Well, do you?”
“I thought as much, you need to improve you little speech. I could have you arrested, tried and killed within the day, you do know that?” Arthur joked, relieved that the physician trusted him with a secret like this.
“And of course I would go quietly, my Lord… up until the point I decide to bring your kingdom to its knees.” There was a sparkle in the physician’s eyes that suggested, whilst not threatening the King, he was not lying.
With friends like these, no wonder I have so few enemies. Arthur thought, thankfully.
“Then I best not arrest you then. In fact, all I want are a few drops.” Realising the need to clarify himself, he continued. “Obviously, not of the poison. I need it in the form of Hesté’s Bane.”
“Hesté’s Bane? Who do you suspect of sorcery?” Gaius’s immediate thought went to Merlin, who had been gone for a while now.
Hesté Bane was the only known draught to nullify the effect of magic acting upon a person, discovered by Hesté herself and used against her by a bitter ex-lover, who forced the potion down her throat and then stabbed her through the stomach. Unable to use her healing magic on herself, she died helpless and alone. From then on, the potion had been used to protect targets from magical interference, thus allowing the questioning of mages.
If Merlin’s secret was out, Gaius was doubtful there would be anything he could do to save the young wizard’s neck, let alone his own. Except sabotage the potion. Gaius knew this day might come – Who do I choose? Merlin, who’s been like a son to me, or my King?
“May I ask why you need this, sire?” Gaius asked, hoping he hid the nervousness in his voice.
“Of course Gaius. Lord Kesley is currently sitting in my dungeon and I need to interrogate him. The man will stop at nothing to claim the throne, so I cannot be sure he wouldn’t resort to sorcery.”
A wave of relief swept over Gaius. “Ah, I see. The draught will take about twenty minutes to make. I must ask you though, you do know the dangers of Hesté’s Bain? With such powerful magic there is always a risk, and in this case Hesté’s Bane requires such immaculate concentration that just one drop too many of Essence of Hesté in the potion could kill a man instantly, whilst too little would magnify any magical effect. I wouldn’t take it unless I absolutely had to. If you die because I failed, I would never forgive myself.”
“I know Gaius, but I am sure. If it helps, I can command you on the pain of death?”
“Hmph. Empty threats. Pain of death? I’d like to see you try young man.” Gaius sighed. “Right, I’ll do it. Just, stay out of my way.”
Potion in hand, King Arthur worked his way through the castle to the dungeons. Armed with all he needed to interrogate his prisoner, for the first time since Merlin’s indiscretion Arthur felt powerful again. He could take on the world, mages would be powerless against him and lords would feel his wrath.
Taking the steep stairs down towards the dungeons, the sound of Kinsley’s rabble grew louder and louder. Upon hearing his approach, some began to shout taunts.
“Come to bring us some more measly chunks of bread? You little shits, you wouldn’t be so tough if we weren’t behind bars.” One voice cried above the rest, starting a chant of ‘Camelot scum’. Despite their comments, Arthur smiled. Their spirit remained, for now.
As Arthur turned the corner into the corridor of cells, he allowed the prisoners to see his face. The man with the loud voice instantly stopped his chanting, and dropped to his knees.
“King Arthur, have mercy on us!” He cried, his comrades following his lead. Cries denouncing Lord Kinsley, evocative descriptions of wives and children alongside open begging for release assaulted Arthur’s hearing like a horse tramping on a fallen soldier’s skull. He raised his hand for silence, which came instantly, and then addressed the group.
“You are not kept here for a crime you have committed, but for the safety of the people of Camelot. I will see to it that you will be escorted from the castle and back to your city as soon as possible.”
“COWARDS!” Lord Kinsley cried from the next cell. “You would abandon your Lord in the hour of his need?” Yells of ‘yes!’ drowned out the rest of his rant.
Arthur raised his hand once again, and the noise died down.
“Have you come to torture me, Arthur? Why don’t you settle this man to-“
“Enough, Kinsley. I have more pressing business that requires my attention. Although, let this be known – any rowdy behaviour from you, anything untoward, and you’ll lose your leg. Am I clear?”
Arthur let Kinsley’s stunned silence ring out let a bell.
“Speechless? What a pleasant change.” As soon as he was satisfied everyone knew he was serious, he regally continued down the corridor and descended the staircase that led to a large oak door. He drank Hesté’s Bane in one mouthful, his blind faith in Gaius’s ability stopping any doubt he may have had, and then waited a minute.
It wouldn’t be good form to die during the interrogation.
At least two minutes had passed before Arthur was satisfied Gaius’s potion was concocted correctly. Walking up to the door, he realised the last set of guards to visit the prisoner had left the door unlocked. Heart beating rapidly, Arthur pushed the heavy door open with ease and strode into the chamber.
Despite never setting foot Portcullis Nook before, Arthur didn’t take in his surroundings. He stared directly at the prisoner sat in the corner of the cell, contained by three stone walls and a thick metal portcullis. Anger flooded through Arthur’s body, trampling over every other thought until only one was left – revenge. He cleared his throat to get the starving prisoner’s attention.
“Good afternoon Merlin. I’ve come to punish you.”
Author’s note: Thank you for reading and I’m sorry this chapter has taken so long! I’ve been away on holiday, had my birthday and just general ‘life’ happening.
**PLEASE REVIEW!** Knowing that people are enjoying what I’m writing is what makes me write when I don’t feel like it, or makes me carry on when I’d rather give up. It really does make a difference 🙂 This scene was going to have a bit of ‘sexy time’ in, but actual plot got in the way, so you’ll have to wait until the next instalment!