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Merlin - Seventeen Days: Part 1

It's done, as in completely and truly. Everything should now be linked and working. If you find any errors of any kind, please let me know.

Title: Seventeen Days
Rating: R
Pairing: Arthur/Merlin
Genre: Hurt/Comfort, Angst
Length: ~ 22,700 words
Spoilers: Vague for 2.03
Warnings: Dark themes. Highlight to read specific warnings: non-con, attempted non-con, abuse, allusions to slavery, allusions to drug use
Synopsis: After seventeen days, Merlin is finally rescued, but is he truly free?
Author’s Notes: This is rather different than my usual style. It is dark, and the rating is based on the dark themes, not because of graphic sexual content. Huge thanks go out to the wonderful [personal profile] emeraldteal and anon for the beta. Any and all remaining errors are mine alone. Thanks also go out to the cheering section over at [community profile] camelot_fleet who helped and encouraged me to just finish the thing already. *g*
Disclaimer: I do not own this interpretation of the myths and am making no profit from this.

Live Journal
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Dreamwidth
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4


~~~~~~~~~~

Seventeen days. For seventeen days he stayed here, rotting in this prison. That did not include the day of his actual capture, nor did it include the time it took to get here that had blurred into a haze of abuse and disregard. He no longer felt the cold, or the pain. His wrists were scabbed over from the manacles that circled them, but that was but a fraction of the damage done to his body.

When he was taken, he had thought he was to be held for ransom. It was the logical conclusion, but also the incorrect one. There were demands, yes, but made of him, not of the kingdom he called home. His manacles were hooked into an elaborate pulley system, with the rest position being bound to the headboard of the room’s sole piece of furniture. His naked body was pulled upright when they wanted his mouth instead of his arse and when they held him to force the food and drink to prevent him from starving himself to death and being rid of this place. At night, he’d curl up close and try to forget the atrocities of the day. Sometimes, it almost worked.

His legs were covered with bruises he did not feel, his back lined with welts from the flogger and more than one set of fingernails. His body was no longer his own, and he was not certain he ever wanted it to be again.

He counted the days by the light from the small window set high above him. On days when the weather prevented that, the routine was the same enough by now that he could tell exactly when it was and what was to happen next.

The door opened with his next “customer” and he did not bother glancing up to see what the monster looked like this time, just prepared himself for the next bout of humiliation and degradation.

“Such a slight thing, isn’t he?” the man asked.

Silas, his owner, his proprietor, responded by pulling on the rope and dragging him up to his knees, feet hanging over the end of the bed. Much farther and he would be forced to stand or dangle freely from his wrists should his legs give out on him again. “Don’t let appearances fool you,” the large man boomed. He pressed against the fresh welts, matching his fingers to the lines, cool against the reawakened heat. “Just look how sturdy he is, how much he can take. Entertain you for hours on end, this one can. Or others, if you wish to share.”

The other man stepped forward, hesitant fingers skimming down his side and palm caressing the curve of his hip. He leaned forward, a brush of hair against the side of his face, and whispered, ever so quietly, “We will get you out of here.”

Merlin briefly wondered why he told him this, only wished he cared.

His owner was talking again, going on about the myriad of ways a proper servant could make your life far more tolerable. “What do you say; would you like to try out the goods?”

His purchaser did not reply. The hand drifted upwards now and tangled in the lock of the collar Merlin wore. “What’s this for?” he asked, giving it a gentle tug.

“This one had a bit of a mouth on him when he first arrived,” Silas explained.

There was a chuckle, followed by, “Aren’t you supposed to market that as an accessory?”

Silas joined in the laughter, reaching his own fingers around the leather and metal contraption and tugging far harder, reminding him that, yes, pain was still possible, even now. “More than that,” he said, pulling again. “When this one cursed, he truly cursed. Things happened. He nearly escaped more than once and we just couldn’t have that – deprive so many people of his pleasure.”

“So he’s a sorcerer then?” the buyer asked. By the tone of his voice, he was likely already recalculating the value.

Silas shook his head. “Might have been at one time, but not anymore. This makes sure of it, even if there were any magic left in him. Keeps him quiet on all fronts, if you know what I mean.”

“And if I want him loud?”

There was the jangle of metal against metal as Silas answered, “It’s up to you. Once you take him home, you can do what you please with him. The keys come with purchase, but be warned that we hold no responsibility should he try any of his old tricks with you.”

“Fair enough,” the man said agreeably. “Anything else I should know?”

Silas’ hand wove through Merlin’s hair, pulling him around to face him, forcing him to look at the ugly, scarred visage once more. “He supposedly served some nobility at one time. Doubt ‘serve’ is the right term as he didn’t know how to do anything until we taught him. We’re far enough away from those lands though, and your own are in the opposite direction, that there should be no bouts of retribution.” Silas released him, patting him on the cheek like a child or pet. “Besides, no one has come for him yet, so I doubt they would try anything now.”

“Full disclosure, I like that,” the man commended him. The hand was back, tracing the red line around his shoulder from when the lash missed its mark. The touch was turning more confident, more intimate, when he asked, “Can I have a go at him first? See if he’s truly the right fit for me?”

“Of course!” Silas assured him, clapping his customer on the back. “Just know that, should you decide to leave him here, the standard usage fee applies.”

“Of course,” the man repeated, and it was the first hint of coldness to his tone.

Silas slapped his goods on the arse and ordered, “Make it good for him,” before leaving and closing the door behind him.

The crank for the pulley turned and Merlin was finally given some slack for his arms. He knew what came next and did not try to fight it, letting his body fall forward to the mattress and spreading his legs wide. He expected the usual commentary for his actions, but instead received a huffed, “What? No! Merlin!”

This one wanted it different, he supposed. The use of his name trying to make it more personable; make it seem like he was less than a tool or a toy. It was his right as apparently he was also debating buying him outright, something no one else had dared. He hoped the man did not get too creative as it was such a task to dangle from his wrists and pretend he did not see his own blood as the bedding was changed.

The man walked around to the side of the bed and Merlin turned his head to that direction, finding they tended to be nicer if they thought you were paying attention to them. A quick glance showed leather leggings and a tunic of a dark shade of blue. There was no red or gold, and that was all Merlin needed to know, so he let his eyes glaze over and prepared to close himself off for a while.

Strong fingers grabbed his chin, shook him lightly, and ordered him to look at him. He willed the buyer to just do it already, felt his lips forming the words, flinching in preparation of the strike when no sound came out.

The man was closer now, his breath hissing against Merlin’s ear. He ignored most of it, words washing over his consciousness until three somehow struck something deep within, struck something he barely recognised anymore. “...bring you home.”

He blinked his eyes slowly into focus and finally saw the person before him. Dark hair and a day’s growth of beard. There was a twinge of familiarity, as if he reminded him of someone else, but it passed soon enough. He looked strong, which meant struggling would be useless. He blended with the rest and Merlin paid him no mind.

The man said something more, expression insisting he be listened to. Deciding he could humour him in this, Merlin focused his attention just enough to hear, “You will be free.”

Lies. Again. Someone else had promised him that, four days ago by his reckoning. It turned out he was the type to like to get hopes up only to crush them once more. Merlin turned his head to the other side. He did not think he ever truly was free, those memories hidden away so deeply to become nothing but dreams.

There was the heft of a sigh, but no other retaliation. “Well, I guess we better make it look like we did something or else he’ll get suspicious,” was all that was said.

Merlin canted his hips and waited. There was the scraping sound of the pot of oil being moved, the feel of droplets falling on his skin, but nothing more. His hip felt damp and part of him realised the man had spilt a fair amount on the bedding itself, which meant he was to be saddled with an idiot sadist instead of just a sadist. Those tended to do more damage simply from lack of precision, if not over-enthusiasm.

He let himself close down again as the bed dipped beside him. He paid no attention to touch or passage of time when this happened and found it was for the best. His mind was blank. He thought of nothing at all, pushing away the damning thoughts of the life that was almost his.

He came back to himself when the door squeaked open and Silas returned. “Satisfied?” his owner asked.

“He’s everything I wanted and more,” the buyer assured him, standing to move away from the bed.

Merlin spared a glance at the window, surprised at how little he hurt after the time that passed. Perhaps this man wasn’t comfortable letting his true self show in another’s keep. Perhaps he was waiting to take him back to wherever it was he was from to truly make him his.

“Payment?” Silas was asking.

“As agreed,” the man assured him. There was a touch upon his shoulder, almost an attempt at comfort. “He’s worth it.”

Silas laughed, deep and sure of himself. “Didn’t I tell you? Best of the bunch.” His own touch was harsher, leaving fresh red marks along Merlin’s arm.

“When may I take him?” the man questioned. His fingers twitched slightly, as if impatient to take what was now his and be gone of this place.

“Soon as the gold is in my hand,” Silas replied. “I’ll even give you something for him for the road; make him far more compliant during your travels.”

The man protested, but Silas would have nothing of it and called in two of his men. Merlin knew what was coming next even before he felt himself dragged upright, meaty hands on his arms and fingers digging into his jaw until his mouth opened. A truly foul concoction was poured in and his nose and mouth held shut until he swallowed. It was not the first time he was given this, but he could pray it was the last.

His consciousness dimmed quickly and the last thing he wondered before he gave in to the inevitable was whether or not he would be given the dignity of clothing for his travel.

~~~~~~~~~~

It seemed as if he had barely closed his eyes before he was jostled awake again. It took him a moment to realise he was no longer in the room that had become his home over the past fortnight and more. His hands were still manacled and he still wore the collar, but he was chained instead to the wall of a cart, a thin layer of padding between him and the wooden bottom bouncing along an uneven tract. He had been wrapped in a thin blanket and he gathered it around him as he gazed out the small opening at the back, watching the road slowly slink by.

He did not worry about the clothing, or lack thereof, when he thought about it. His buyer would most likely have anything he brought with him burned to demonstrate just how little was his, much like Silas had done when he arrived. He did, however, lament the fact he had not been granted his usual after services bath. It was less bathing and more of standing and having water of varying temperatures tossed at him, but he liked to imagine it washed off the stench of the one who last touched him.

He had to come to terms with the fact that the last man who touched him owned him now, bought and sold like produce at the market. His scent would be on him always, his touch never a fading memory. As he shifted on the pallet, he thought there could be worst fates in life, most involving staying in Silas’ fine company. This man at least had managed not to harm him too greatly so far. The oil that was growing sticky on his thigh was a reminder of what he was capable of though, made him wonder if he would continue to coddle him or simply take what was his when they arrived at their destination.

His mind still felt slow and sluggish, though he did not know if it was from the drink he was given or the effects of the collar he still wore. He knew it was affecting him, somehow, but could never quite focus enough to figure out, let alone be concerned with the findings. He let the thoughts drift from his mind and the rocking motions of the cart lull him to sleep once more. He had learned to grab rest when he could as he never knew when he would get it next.

~~~~~~~~~~

He next awoke when the cart came to a stuttering halt. He peered out the back to find not some fine manor awaiting him, nor even a hovel. They were in the middle of the woods with little light finding its way down to light the path, and even less to illuminate his current accommodations.

He listened dispassionately as the voice of his new owner mixed with another, the wind through the trees allowing him only snippets of the conversation.

“Did you succeed?” the new voice asked from the far side of whatever clearing they had stopped in.

“I did,” his master assured him. There was a hesitation not brought on by the wind before he added, “It was not easy.”

“We knew it would not be,” the other voice said. There was a sense of command to the tone, as if perhaps he was the true master and the one who purchased him only a servant himself. It would explain the almost kindness of his treatment, though did not necessarily bode well for his own future.

He had drifted again, his master’s voice now insisting, “Let me unlock him.”

“You kept him bound?” the other man shouted incredulously.

“He was unconscious when they loaded him into the cart and may well be now,” the one who bought him argued back. Softer now, he added, “He... is not well.”

“We did not expect him to be in perfect health after being kept in that place,” the second man scoffed and Merlin conceded he had a point. There was the sound of boots scuffing in the dirt, followed by, “What are you doing?”

“Are you sure you want to see him?” his owner asked.

“That’s really the whole point of this endeavour, isn’t it?” came the response.

His master sounded unsure and he really rather hoped he was not growing upset. He had learned bad things happened when his buyers were upset. “Just... let me unlock him and bring him out. He’s going to need assistance... and clothing.”

There was a moment of silence before the other man spoke again, and this time Merlin could hear the anger in his tone. He readied himself to face whatever wrath awaited, knowing it was his duty to accept it. “Very well, I will get the supplies.”

His master appeared in his field of vision, looking more harried and more stressed than before. He peered inside and looked surprised to find him gazing back at him. “You are awake then,” he commented as he climbed in next to him in the small cart, at least enough to reach the bindings.

Merlin expected to be unhooked from the wall, not unchained completely. It had been so long he no longer knew what to do without the weight about his wrists. He settled for cowering in his blanket more. There was a whisper in his mind, an urge to fight and flail and make a run for it. It faded soon enough, replaced by the realisation that he was cornered and weak and up against two opponents and it would be fruitless to try. Even that faded between breaths and his mind emptied once more.

“Well, come on then,” his master urged, giving him room to step out of the cart. When Merlin did not immediately move, a look of horror crossed his face. “You can walk, right?”

Wishing to stave off retribution for a possible purchase of broken goods, Merlin nodded. He gathered his feet beneath him and willed himself the strength to move, to please. His legs shook something awful and he slid more than climbed out to meet his fate, dragging his blanket with him.

He wavered slightly, the hard edge of wood cutting into his hip as he leaned up against it, found strong hands on either shoulder. “Easy there. You can sit if you need to,” he was told.

A streak of defiance made him want to stand taller and avoid any and all assistance. As it passed, he lowered himself to the dirt and knelt waiting for his next instruction.

“Good god, what did they do to him?” the second voice demanded. Merlin traced the sound to a man with yellow-blond hair standing near a horse weighed down by far too much gear.

There was a flash of recognition, of familiarity when he saw him. His eyes drifted from the angry face to the red shirt he wore, blinking as an image of the same man in another place, another time, came unbidden. There were stone walls warmed with colourful tapestries behind him, a fire crackling in a hearth, a table laden with weapons and parchment.

The power in his collar surged, pushing everything away. He blinked, mind blank once more. Frowning, he broke the one rule Silas was never able to fully enforce in him anyway, even with the collar, and openly stared at what awaited him. The image returned, this time matched by another, and another. Different places with the same man and that same red shirt. They cycled though, replacing each other as quickly as they were removed.

“Merlin?” the man asked cautiously, carefully enunciating the name. “Do you know who I am?”

Merlin opened his mouth to respond before he remembered his bonds prevented even that. He closed his eyes and willed sound to come out, shaking with the effort, but it was for naught. Tears welled in his eyes, a mixture of frustration and pain as the collar began to extract its punishment for him daring to vary from complete subservience.

His master knelt beside him, hand resting on his bare arm. “He’s freezing,” he announced, though Merlin barely felt the cold.

The other man turned and took something from one of the saddlebags, unrolling it to reveal the red and gold that had haunted his dreams for so long. It was too much, the memories assaulting him non-stop now. He saw only the past, watched as it was ripped from him, replaced with emptiness and darkness.

His throat was burning, skin on fire, pressure increasing with each new image until he was choking on everything and nothing all at once. His body thrashed and he felt himself connect with the hard earth, muscles wracked with convulsions. He was screaming without sound, fighting something he could not see, could not grasp, could only feel.

“What’s wrong with him?” the man he swore he knew demanded.

“It’s the collar,” his master replied. “It’s magic, cursed.”

Magic. That was what was missing. He felt it well in his blood, try to burst forth, only to be beat back again and again.

“Then take the bloody thing off!” the blond man shouted. He ran forward and grabbed the keys from the master’s fumbling hands, tried one after another until he found the match.

“Sire, there’s something...” his master was saying, but Merlin heard nothing more beyond the click of the tumbler in the lock.

He was free. The pressure released, glowing golden and bright, blinding him to anything but the glory of the power expanding from within. The scream he had been denied for so long ripped forth, torn from his lungs as memories of his captivity flooded his mind. Every touch, every sound, every moment, every abuse and injury replayed, allowing him to express the rage he had bottled up inside, hidden deep away from his conscious mind. Seventeen days worth of agony, humiliation, and degradation, playing out in a matter of moments.

He gasped for breath, readied himself for more, so very much more, when he heard a voice not his own, felt arms wrap around him and pull him close. He prised his eyes open to find himself swathed in red velvet, the golden dragon crest falling across his battered chest.

He turned his head to the side, traced the lines of a face he never thought he would see again. He swallowed, tasting metallic tang, and whispered, “Arthur?”

Arthur adjusted the cloak around him, cradled him closer still. “Shh, it’s okay,” he murmured. “I’ve got you. Let it out. Let it all out.”

Merlin doubted he knew what he was requesting, but gave in anyway. Sobs wracked his body, punctuated by shivers of magic trying to find their place again. The power coursed through him, ripping open wounds and letting out the infection of his shame.

One bruised hand freed itself from Arthur’s grasp, reached out into the world and willed the forces of nature to answer his call. The collar floated before him, spinning, fighting, trying to reassert control even though it had already lost. He focused every last ounce of his energy and power upon it, shredding it in an explosion of golden light.

His strength left him as he buried his face against Arthur’s chest, shoulders still shaking and breath coming in ragged gasps. His last thought before the darkness descended was to hope Arthur would not hate him as much as he hated himself.

~~~~~~~~~~

When he next opened his eyes, he found a darkness of a different kind. Night had fallen and a small fire, crackling close enough to him that he could feel the warmth against his skin, lit their little camp in the woods. There was a gentle pressure against his back and he found a heat there that rivalled the flames. His knowledge of the bodies of others now rivalled the knowledge of his own, and he knew it was a curve of a hip against the small of his back and the slight crook of a knee against his thigh, propping him on his side to absorb more of the flames’ offerings. He tried not to flinch away from the touch.

He looked down to find himself still wrapped in Arthur’s cloak, an extra blanket and a bedroll added for comfort. His wrists were bandaged and, by the pull against his skin, he could guess other parts of him were as well. His body ached in places he did not know it could, places he did not wish to think about. Though he missed the numbness of it all, he supposed it was a sign he was alive. His mind was not willing to accept his freedom just yet, still sluggish from the poisons he had been given, but he hoped to work up to that part. He smelled of Gaius’ herbs and it reminded him again of home.

He looked across the fire to find Lancelot watching him, nodding in acknowledgement of his waking. The heat against his back shifted and a hand stroked gently across his scalp as if checking his temperature or brushing his too-long hair out of his eyes, the soft fabric of the red sleeve brushing against his cheek.

“Do you want anything to eat?” Arthur asked softly.

He was not sure he could handle food just yet and did not want it to go to waste. He shook his head, feeling the strands of his hair catch and pull slightly at the movement.

Lancelot was rolling a cup between his fingers, staring at its contents as if they held the secrets of this great world. “What I saw...” he started, only to stop himself. He took a fortifying breath and amended, “What you see here is a mere fraction of the atrocities of that place. There was... To pretend to be seeking that out...”

“Imagine what he went through being there,” Arthur countered. His voice was level, but there was an undertone of fury to it that Merlin nearly missed in his still dazed state. “You were there by choice, playing a role, and could leave at any time. Merlin was not so lucky.”

Lancelot hung his head in recognition of the truth of the statement. When he raised it again, he offered, “We were fortunate that they did not know who I was. If it had been you, I doubt they would have let him go as easily.”

“If it had been me, there would be no one left standing,” Arthur replied coolly. Merlin felt the shrug he could not see as Arthur added, “Including possibly Merlin and myself.”

The corner of Lancelot’s lip quirked at the admission. “It could have been worse,” he added, serious demeanour returning. “Both Guinevere and Morgana wished to follow. I would have died before I let them face the likes of those men, even in casual greeting.”

Arthur snorted derisively. “You know as well as I that they are likely a day’s ride behind us, dressed as men and armed with more weaponry than the cavalry.”

Merlin felt a hint of a smile at the imagery, and the knowledge that he would see them soon. He listened as the men continued to talk, to discuss just what they should do with or to the place where they had found him. He knew they only had to say the word and what little strength he had would be devoted to destroying it.

Arthur tugged the cloak up where it had fallen from his shoulder and Merlin caught the expectant look Lancelot was giving him, making him wonder if his magic was writ across his face as it reasserted itself and let him know it was ready to use if needed.

“Is our discussion troubling you?” Arthur asked, hand repeating its gentle stroking.

“No,” Merlin replied, revelling in the fact he could speak again, even if his voice was harsh and gravelly to his own ears. He eyed the wineskin next to the fire, but did not have the will to reach for it just yet.

Arthur must have known what he was thinking as he offered it to him anyway. Merlin let the liquid sooth his throat and warm its way down to his belly. He only choked a little, and easily relented when the skin was pulled away.

“Do try to rest,” Arthur whispered, gathering him close once more and stopping the shivers Merlin hardly realised had begun.

Not willing to fight the inevitable, Merlin let his eyes drift shut once more. He was uncertain if sleep would come, or if he even wanted it to, but was willing to try, for Arthur’s sake if not his own. A long journey awaited them before they would return home, and he only hoped he was strong enough to complete it.


~~~~~~~~~~

Live Journal
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Dreamwidth
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4



This entry was originally posted at http://cat-77.dreamwidth.org/259495.html. Current comments comment count unavailable

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
sophinisba
Feb. 6th, 2010 08:14 pm (UTC)
I'm really loving this so far! Poor Merlin! Yay Lancelot!
cat_77
Feb. 7th, 2010 03:40 am (UTC)
Thank you! I was a bit concerned with the different style and the darkness factors - very happy you are enjoying it so far!
claudia603
Feb. 6th, 2010 11:42 pm (UTC)
ooh, this is awesome! I got here via a link from the person who commented above me and this is everything I love in fic!
cat_77
Feb. 7th, 2010 03:41 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! That is very kind!
(Deleted comment)
cat_77
Feb. 9th, 2010 12:39 am (UTC)
Hee! Thank you!
(Deleted comment)
cat_77
Mar. 21st, 2010 09:12 pm (UTC)
This is probably the darkest thing I've written to date, but it stuck in my head and wanted to get out, so... Thank you for giving it a shot!
(Deleted comment)
cat_77
Apr. 19th, 2010 01:32 am (UTC)
Thank you! This was difficult to write, but kept begging to be written. Very happy that you liked the end result!
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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