Title: Oceans Rise, Empires Fall
Pairing/s: hints of Cenred/Merlin
Character/s: Merlin, Cenred, Arthur
Summary: He couldn’t breathe as Cenred’s fingers twisted tighter in the collar. “You belong to me,” Cenred said when Merlin’s face was inches from his. His eyes were dark and hot with greed.
Warnings: Vague hints of non-con, abuse, hopeful ending
Word Count: 1,000
Prompt: #254: You'll Be Back
Author's Notes: This is my favorite Hamilton song. :D So cheerful and terrible!
Merlin stood trembling in a line of trees overlooking the encampment of the Camelot army and tried to be brave. Walking into those tents meant almost certain death; he wasn’t just a sorcerer, he was a sorcerer from an enemy kingdom in the middle of a war. He’d killed their soldiers, maybe even hundreds. It was as good as volunteering himself for the pyre.
It was still better than the alternative.
He couldn’t breathe as Cenred’s fingers twisted tighter in the collar. The King of Essetir dragged him from his knees by it, choking him and burning the skin of his neck with the force. Iron sigils sewn into the leather kept him from fighting back.
“You belong to me,” Cenred said when Merlin’s face was inches from his. His eyes were dark and hot with greed. “Your magic, your body. As your king, you’ve owed them to me since birth. You’ll pay for denying me what’s mine for so long.”
From his spot in the trees, Merlin couldn’t tell which tent belonged to the king. Either it was further in than he could see, or it matched the others too well. He’d expected it to be large and ornate, like Cenred’s, but blending in meant less chance of a targeted attack.
It also meant it would be harder for Merlin to reach the King of Camelot without being caught by someone else first, and if that happened he wouldn’t stand a chance. He needed to get to the king.
Each ragged breath brought up enough blood to make Merlin gag and cough. His arms shook as he struggled to hold himself up off the red-spattered floor, and he was pretty sure a few of his ribs had cracked under Cenred’s boot.
That selfsame boot returned to his field of vision as Cenred squatted in front of him, careful to avoid stepping in the mess he’d beaten out of Merlin.
“I’ve been patient,” he lied sweetly, “but your time for childish rebellion is up. Arthur Pendragon prepares to march on my borders and you will use your magic to protect Essetir. If you defy me again, it won’t be you who suffers for it. I will kill your friends and family. I will raze the whole village that dared to hide you from me.”
The sharp point of a sword bit into the nape of Merlin’s neck. He’d been too absorbed in trying to plan his next move and he hadn’t even heard the patrol coming up behind him.
“Have we killed so many of Cenred’s spies that you’re the best he has left?”
Merlin flinched away from the words more than the blade, but the blade was what followed, pricking into his skin. “Not—” His voice cracked; Cenred didn’t like for him to talk. Getting out of the habit had been a painful process, since Merlin talked as easily as breathing, accelerated by Cenred’s foul mood at being forced to the field by Camelot’s forces.
He swallowed down the memories. “I’m not a spy.”
“But still Cenred’s.” The sword tipped up and caught at the edge of his collar. For a breathless moment, Merlin dared to hope it would cut through, but it held. Whoever owned the hand kept it remarkably steady, just a hint of pressure tugging the collar against his throat. “You’re his pet mage.”
Merlin had never had trouble sleeping before, but whenever he finally managed to pass out where he was chained to the ground at the foot of Cenred’s bed, memories of men’s faces twisted in pain and horror woke him soon after.
“They would kill you,” Cenred said, looking up from his maps to Merlin’s hunched, nightmare-drenched form. “Then they’d go on to kill your mother. Or I would, for your failure. Remember we made an arrangement: your total obedience for all their lives. Is that not a price that you’re willing to pay?”
He curled more tightly in on himself until Cenred marched over and kicked him in his still-healing side. “Answer me!” the king demanded.
“Yes, Sire.” They were the only words Merlin was allowed anymore.
He was rewarded, if it could be called that, with Cenred’s hand stroking through his sweaty hair. “That’s right. You’re mine, willingly. My sweet, submissive subject.”
“Not willingly,” Merlin answered the swordsman, his voice growing stronger with conviction. “Not his pet.” He tilted his head to bring his collar to even further prominence. “His slave.”
“A slave who’s killed more of Camelot’s soldiers than any general. I ought to cut you down where you stand.”
“No!” Merlin made to turn, to plead his case face-to-face, but his captor pressed the swordpoint harder into his flesh and he froze. “Please, just let me have an audience with King Arthur first.”
“So you can murder him more easily?”
“No, I swear. I want to help. I can help him.”
“You’re a sorcerer, an enemy of Camelot and apparently a traitor. Why should I believe that?”
“Cenred has my mother. My brother. He holds my entire village over me to get his way. And he... If your king were to send me to the pyre, it would still be kinder than the treatment I’m used to.”
“I can offer you that kindness now.”
“You could,” he said, and as a last attempt, “But then I couldn’t kill Cenred and end the war for you.”
The silence he got for that seemed intrigued, so he pushed his advantage.
“My bondage, the collar, it doesn’t control my will. But it forces me to only use my magic to serve my king. Cenred’s an overconfident fool, so he never thought that I could just... swear myself to another king. To King Arthur.”
When the sword dropped away, Merlin took the invitation to turn around. His captor was no ordinary soldier, nor even a knight; the golden crown shining atop his golden hair proved that.
He dropped to his knees before King Arthur. “I’m your man, if you’ll have me.”