Clothed in a vibrant blue, a man sat atop a white steed, back straight, shoulders square, his head crowned with a gold circlet. His gaze was riveted forward, not sparring a glance to the servants and subjects that walked beside and behind him. In his hand he kept a tight grip affixed to a braided rope, which hung slack down his mount, trailing slightly behind him. A sharp jerk of the rope causing it to go rigid as the tension was tightened. A soft grunt was the only answer as the rope again went slack, the message clearly having been received.
At the end of the rope, a young man's shackled wrists gave a painful twinge at the abuse. His blue eyes lifted slightly, but he was careful not to meet the King's gaze. He felt the shackles rub painfully against his already raw wrists. He felt the tall-tale stickiness and knew he was bleeding again, luckily his black long sleeve shirt hid the stains that were surely mixing with previous ones The pallid skin around his eyes flinched uncomfortably, but no further protest escaped his lips. Discreetly, he released a small stream of air to tease his ebony colored bangs out of his crystal clear blue eyes without drawing attention to himself. The soft breeze was a short reprieve from the glaring sun overhead.
Another sharp jerk broke his concentration, causing his feet to trip over one another, ending with him face down in the dirt, air exploding out of his body as dark spots pulsed in his vision. The rope became rigid as the King continued, dragging the boy against the dirt and rocks. The boy cried out as his body was scraped against stones and roots, unable to get his feet under him. The sounds of fabric straining were barely heard over the snorting of the king's horse; yet, still, no one came to the boy's aid.
The boy's right knee banged against the terrain before he was able to scramble to his feet, looking all the more haggard than before. The seams of his shirt were ripped down one shoulder, and new holes allowed a slight breeze against his bleeding knees. More blood dripped from his wrists to mingle in the dirt. His prominent cheekbones were caked in earthy powder, and one side swelled showing the promise of a fast forming bruise. His lip was split with a line of red running down the side of his mouth.
Once the king felt the rope slacken, he pulled his mount to a stop, his head barely turning to acknowledge the boy. The procession around him halted at once, well practiced in the King's idiosyncrasies.
"Something to say, have you, slave?"
The King's reedy voice taunted the boy, who knew full well what would happen should he speak back to his Master; his body was proof of that. A muscle twitched in the slave's cheek, but he made move to answer. He stared resolutely at the ground. An abrupt pull left him stumbling down on one knee beside the King's mount. The next instant the boy was again meeting the dirt floor, the imprint of a boot on his cheek.
"What say you now, boy?!"
The boy's body swayed drunkenly, "S'rry."
"...Sorry?" The King whispered back, his voice dangerously low. Anger flashed in his eyes at the continued impertinence of the boy before him. Another tug re-introduced the boy's face to the dirt.
"I...apologi...ze...milord," the slave wheezed.
The King swung his attention back around and brought his horse to a trot, seeking to make up for the loss of time. He felt the tension for several moments before the boy was able to regain his footing.
A dull procession of servants, knights, and their king trudged their way out of the vibrantly colored forest, alive with birdsong. They followed the well-worn path to the gates of the great white city known as Camelot. Servants, arrayed in blue-grays, held aloft banners bearing the crest of Ulbein: A bright blue banner, trimmed in silver with an embroidered bird of prey, soaring above a crescent moon.
Sweat poured down the men and women of the procession, save for the king, who was protected by a covering held in place by a male servant. The chained boy shuffled forward to create enough slack to use his bound hands to wipe his face with his black neckerchief. His chest heaved as his dark clothing absorbed the rays of the sun, cooking him from the inside. Blearily, the slave raised his eyes to look off into the distance. His blue eyes blinked rapidly in disbelief, an exclamation burst forth drawing the attention of others. There, flickering in the haze of distance, were the white towers and walls of Camelot.
The boy jerked forward as the King kicked his steed into motion at a brisk pace. The boy yelped each time he stumbled over a rock, root, or his own feet. He momentarily became distracted as a tingling sensation zipped from the bottom of his feet up his slender legs and core, causing the hairs of his arms to prickle with a not unfamiliar energy. It seemed as though it filled every portion of his body, all the way to the ends of his mussed hair. Breathing in deeply, the boy only halfway closed his eyes, mindful of the abruptness of his path. The feeling was similar to how he imagined a hug or a touch of comfort from a friend or relative might have felt: warm, and safe. The throbbing wounds reminded him otherwise. He was not safe, least of all in Camelot. Yet if he really concentrated on the surrounding, he could almost swear he heard a word whispering on the wind, a familiar word.
The word was Merlin.