Title: Steep Price
Pairing/s: Merlin/Arthur (if you want)
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin, Uther
Summary: Arthur had failed. He knew the price.
Warnings: Implied child abuse, violence
Word Count: 1000
Author's Notes: Just as cheerful as last week...
Arthur knew that look in his father’s eye. He knew it meant he had failed – again. Failed to bring a victim to Camelot, to his father and to the stake. He had failed to meet the man’s expectations and knew full well that once the court – and Arthur – had been dismissed and he returned to his chambers, he would be made to pay the price for that failure.
But for now, all he could do was stand to one side as the rest of the business was conducted and try to stop the tension from showing in his body too much. His mind was racing, desperate to think of something that would keep Merlin away from his room for the next hour or so. He had managed so far, he had no intention of his servant finding out why Arthur feared the king’s disapproval so much.
When the king finally dismissed his audience, Arthur was rigid with tension. He could feel the weight of Merlin’s gaze and knew the man had picked up on the set to Arthur’s shoulders. It came as no surprise when Merlin started instantly firing questions the second they were outside. Arthur eventually held up a hand.
“Go to the kitchens and tell them I want a pie for dinner. Actually, stay there and watch them make it yourself. I don’t trust them.”
“That was an order. Go!”
If there was one thing Merlin had picked up during his time in Camelot, it was that even he shouldn’t cross Arthur when he used that tone of voice. Arthur watched Merlin hurry off, his head low, and vowed to apologise when it was over. He knew he wouldn’t though. An apology meant an explanation and Arthur wasn’t prepared to give one.
He hurried off himself, knowing it would be worse for him if he wasn’t waiting in his chambers by the time his father arrived. He slipped off his boots and unbuckled his sword, leaving it across the table. Looking vulnerable was the only chance he had of reminding the king that he was his son as well as his soldier. Arthur hated that it came to this, but he had learnt the tricks of survival long ago.
It didn’t take long for the king to arrive. He didn’t know – why should he when he owned everything in Camelot, even Arthur?
“So,” he sneered at his son. Arthur kept his hands clasped behind his back and his chin up. Vulnerability was one thing; weakness was another thing entirely. Arthur swallowed.
“You failed me again,” the king continued. “Another sorcerer left to roam the land because of your incompetence.”
Arthur braced himself. His father was working himself up into a rage – just like he always did – and Arthur knew anything he said would make things worse. When a stinging slap whipped his head to the side, he still said nothing but turned to face the king again.
After that, Arthur lost track. His father let loose with all of his frustration, lashing out with punches and kicks. Arthur knew not to fight back, despite it going against his training. He knew the king’s guards were under orders to restrain him if Arthur ever resisted. There was nothing he could do but let the beating continue, even when he ended up curled up on the floor to try and protect himself. Eventually, Uther was breathing just as hard as his son and drove the hard toe of his boot into Arthur’s stomach one last time.
“Do not fail me again,” he spat. Turning on his heel, the king left as if he hadn’t just brutally beaten his son in front of the guards.
Arthur lay still for a moment, trying to catch his breath. But he knew he didn’t have time, Merlin could return any moment. Grabbing onto the table for support, he hauled himself to his knees but cried out, one arm wrapped around his stomach as it protested his movement. Gingerly, he lifted his shirt.
“What the hell happened to you?!”
Merlin was standing at the door, a tray in his hand and an aghast expression on his face. He hurried on, sliding the tray onto the table and dropping to his knees next to Arthur. He held out a hand, but Arthur was grateful he didn’t touch.
“Training,” Arthur grunted. “I forgot and aggravated them.”
He used training as an excuse when Merlin had arrived one morning to find him covered in bruises. This time, Merlin bit his lip.
“I saw the king leave,” he said quietly. Arthur looked at the floor, flushing and unable to meet Merlin’s gaze. It answered Merlin’s question for him.
“I’ll get Gaius.”
“No!” Arthur lunged forward, grabbing Merlin’s wrist and literally pulling him over as he fell himself, unable to support his weight on one hand. “He can’t know. No one can.”
For a moment, Arthur thought Merlin would protest. Then Merlin fleetingly touched the mark of the original slap and sighed.
“I’ll get a cloth,” he muttered and stood. Arthur let him, twisting until he could lean back on the table rather than supporting himself. He watched Merlin bustling about, gathering cloths, a bowl of water and stoking up the fire. Arthur smiled weakly through the pain. It was nice having someone look after him. It was more than Merlin being his servant… There had been genuine concern in his eyes.
“This isn’t the first time, is it?” Merlin asked softly. Arthur gave a weak laugh and it almost turned into a sob from where it hurt too much.
“How long has he been beating you for, Arthur?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Arthur muttered. “I failed, I expected it.”
“What?! Arthur! He can’t…”
“He’s the king,” Arthur shut his eyes with a sigh. “He can do what he likes.”
Merlin had no come back and Arthur knew he had made his point. No one could tell his father no.
At least he had somehow to help afterwards now though.