Title: The Hunted Hunter
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin
Summary: Arthur had fled Camelot. Someone had been paid to bring him back.
Word Count: 1000
Prompt: Donate-A-Prompt: Hunter and Hunted from fuckyeah back in 2012!
Author's Notes: Yep, this is triggering a long story!
A twig snapped and his head whipped around, frantically searching the path behind him. There was no one there.
Arthur forced himself to breathe normally. The patrols scouted the forest in teams of no less than four men - he would hear them coming.
He couldn’t stay here. He started moving, carefully avoiding leaving a trial. He stepped only where the ground was hard, avoiding scuffing the leaves or brushing against branches.
The sound of a brook drew his attention. Arthur changed direction. He drank deeply before refilling his water skin but it did little to ease his hunger. He was going to have to hunt, even risk a fire that night. There was no point making it this far only for hunger to cripple him.
He kept moving. It would have been hard to predict where he was going – Arthur himself didn’t know. He didn’t expect to have made it this far. The longer he remained away from Camelot, the greater his father’s wrath would grow. He didn’t care; the longer it took for them to drag him back, the longer the villagers had to flee.
He moved through the morning, stopping around mid-day to snack on the late berries. His thoughts drifted as he ate and he couldn’t help but dwell on what had led to him fleeing from his own men.
His father had ordered him to take a squadron to a nearby village. They had supposedly been harbouring fugitives. Arthur had asked about the innocents and his father’s expression had told him the answer. There were no innocents.
Arthur had refused. Then he had fled. He was the First Knight of Camelot – he wasn’t easily replaced. The men wouldn’t follow a replacement and now most of them were scouring the countryside for him. The village was safe for now.
The ban on magic had been lifted a few years ago after Morgana had revealed her powers. His father still hated those who practiced it though, finding excuses to have them executed anyway. The majority were guilty; the king’s relentless campaign meant many were tired of living under a tyrant. They didn’t deserve to die though.
A bird called and Arthur cursed himself for not paying attention. He knew his men’s hearts weren’t in the search but he couldn’t get complacent.
He tied the water-skin to his belt and set off again, turning east.
A flock suddenly took flight. Arthur froze; instinct told him he wasn’t alone. He turned slowly on the spot, examining the area. He couldn’t see anything but knew someone was out here.
He moved quickly, breaking into a run. It wasn’t his men, but he couldn’t imagine whoever was tracking him was a friend.
He didn’t get far. Arthur was suddenly pulled short with a yell of pain. A vine had uncoiled from a tree, latching onto him. Arthur drew his knife but the other wrist was caught as another vine erupted from a second tree.
“Face me!” He yelled but there was no answer.
He freed the first wrist and tried to seize his knife from the other hand. But roots twisted around his ankles and yanked him off balance. Arthur crashed down hard, one arm still suspended above him. He gritted his teeth.
“You’re a fighter.”
Arthur craned his head up. Roots snaked up his legs, binding up to his knees. The vine around his wrist suddenly disappeared and he landed onto his front, too stunned to reach for the knife again.
A pair of feet entered his vision and Arthur looked up. A young man stood over him. Gold swirled in his eyes and Arthur grunted as both arms were pulled behind him and bound there. Arthur suspected another vine.
The man crouched down, picking up Arthur’s knife. The prince froze but the stranger slid it into his own belt.
“You’re a hard man to find, Arthur Pendragon. You’re kind to the forest; it didn’t want to betray you.”
Arthur had no idea what he was talking about. Leon had taught him to respect nature. The man made it sound like he understood the forest though.
“What do you want?”
“I’ve been paid to deliver you,” the man said, shrugging. “Does anything else matter?”
“Who by?” Arthur fought against the restraints, cursing. “Cendred?”
“That bastard?” A dark look shot over the man’s face before he grinned again. Arthur noticed he had an easy smile. “No. Your father.”
“But…” Arthur stared at him, “you have magic.”
“It’s hardly the first time he’s turned to it when it suits him,” the man said.
Arthur wrenched at the vines holding his wrists in the small of his back. “I’m the Crown Prince of Camelot, I demand you release me!”
“Thank goodness for that,” the man said, “would have been awkward if I had caught the wrong man.”
He stood up and waved his hand. The bindings around Arthur’s legs vanished.
“Shall we go?”
“Who are you?” Arthur snarled. The man was young but powerful. Arthur hated he was defenceless against such power.
“Merlin,” the man said. Arthur looked blank. The man then ran a hand over his face. “You might know me by a different name? Emrys.”
Arthur scrambled upright. He had heard of him and knew he was facing the most powerful warlock known to man. He turned, ran, and crashed back down after a step as vines once again entangled his feet.
“You’ve obviously heard of me,” Emrys said, “Did you really think running away was an option?”
Arthur glared at him. Emrys smirked.
“Fate’s a bitch when you go against her,” he said. “Your place is in Camelot.”
“You know nothing,” Arthur spat. He sat up but stayed on the ground.
“Good,” Emrys said, “then it gives us something to talk about on the way back.”
He hauled Arthur to his feet and started moving. The prince cursed magic when he realised he was following against his will.
He was going home, whether he liked it or not.