Give and Take
Title: Give and Take
Character/s: Arthur, Nimueh
Summary: A trip to the forest has unfortunate consequences for a young prince.
Word Count: 1000
Prompt: Do not be cruel.
Author's Notes: Happy Monday!
The ambush came out of nowhere.
The knights escorting the young prince stood no chance as their enemies fell on them with bows and spears. Half their number was reduced before the bandits came in striking distance.
They yelled at him to flee; to ride for Camelot and safety. But Arthur couldn’t. He might be a child – only seven years old – but he felt responsible for these men, even at such a tender age. It was his fault they were dying.
He slid from his horse, pulling his small dagger and hurrying towards the fighting.
“Run, Sire!” One of the knights yelled, gesturing him back as he parried a blow from a man at least a head taller.
Arthur shook his head, and stabbed down. The bandit howled as the knife sank into his foot, and Arthur flinched as blood splattered his face. The knight gave him a warm smile.
“You’ll be a fine warrior,” he said. Taking Arthur’s arm, he hurried him to the edge of the fight. “Now, go. We need you to get reinforcements.”
Arthur knew he was being played. But he was shaking from a mixture of adrenaline and fear. This time, he nodded.
He hadn’t secured his mount, though. The fighting had scared the usual docile beast and it was halfway home already, without him. The knights’ horses were too big for him to mount, let alone try and ride.
Not knowing what else to do, Arthur ran.
But he was a child among men. It made him obvious. He hadn’t gone more than a few steps when one of the bandits gave a shout. Arthur cried out when he glanced behind him, seeing three men heading his way.
He didn’t make it much further before they caught up. One caught his arm in a biting grip and before Arthur could do anything, he was lifted off the ground, thrown over one of the men’s shoulders. It didn’t matter how much he struggled and fought. The knights were still locked in the fight, and no one noticed as the men disappeared back into the forest with their prize.
They bound his hands. Looped a rope around his neck. Dragged him through the forest like a dog on a leash, and the only thing Arthur could think of doing was putting one foot in front of the other so he didn’t fall. He didn’t know if they’d stop to let him up again.
His feet were aching, his throat burning with thirst, by the time they called a halt. Arthur collapsed to the floor, exhausted. But when one of the men approached, he lifted his head. He refused to show his fear.
The man offered him the water skin and Arthur took it, drinking deeply.
“Too trusting,” the man sneered. “Few drops of poison and you’d be dead already.”
Arthur spat out the final mouthful, staring at the man with wide-eyes. He only chuckled.
“Do not be cruel, Meliock,” a cool voice said. It was soft, musical and feminine. Arthur looked past the men to see a woman walking towards them. She wore a long red dress, dark hair tumbling free over her shoulders. She moved with a grace that was beyond anything Arthur had seen at court.
“I was just messing-,”
“He’s a child.”
“I am Prince Arthur of Camelot,” Arthur said. He scrambled to his feet. “And I demand you return me to my men immediately.”
“Your men?” the man sneered. “You couldn’t command-,”
“Enough.” The woman spoke again. Her tone contained a sharp edge this time, and Meliock flinched. She waved a hand dismissively and the three bandits disappeared back into the forest.
Arthur couldn’t help but stare as she approached. She held herself with authority, controlled those men in the same manner that Arthur had seen his father do.
“Who are you?” he asked, hating how high his voice was. She crouched next to him, reaching out a slender finger and touching the rope around his neck. Arthur gave a startled gasp as it unknotted, unable to look away from the gold burning in her eyes.
“I am Nimueh,” she said. “Do you know that name, child?”
Arthur shook his head, wondering if he imagined the sad look that flickered across her expression.
“No, I don’t suppose you would.”
“What do you want with me?” Arthur demanded. He stood up, not caring his hands were still bound. He needed to get as far away from here as possible. Nimueh arched an eyebrow, looking amused.
“To teach your father a lesson, of course.”
“You’re a witch,” Arthur spat, “you can’t teach a king anything.”
“So young,” Nimueh said, “so innocent.” She reached out a hand, running her fingers through his hair. Arthur jerked away but her grip tightened.
“The king must learn what is given can be taken away. Be a good boy and this will be over before you know it. Give me a reason to hurt you, and Meliock’s threats will seem like child’s play.”
Arthur wasn’t sure he understood. But her eyes flashed again and the rope binding his wrists fell off. Before he could think of running, however, she took his hand in hers, beginning to walk off. Arthur tried to pull free, but her grip was unrelenting. He stumbled after her, an invisible force compelling him to follow even though his heart screamed at him.
They didn’t go far before she stopped, pulling him closer. One finger touched the middle of his forehead and the magic rolled off her.
“No matter what your father tells you,” she murmured, “know that I would never harm you.”
Darkness closed in but Arthur didn’t feel himself hit the floor.
The next thing he knew was waking up in his own bed. Although his father never spoke of the ordeal again, Arthur had seen the fear in his expression just as the prince had opened his eyes.
Whatever lesson Nimueh had been trying to teach, Arthur was certain it had been received.