Arthur really did not want to be here. Anywhere else, literally anywhere, would have been preferable. But he was here for a reason, and he'd be damned if he didn't see it through. He owed Merlin that and much much more.
Besides if he didn't want to be here of his own free will and choice, he didn't even want to know how Merlin must have felt. He didn't really have a say in it. Arthur was hoping to change that.
There was no smell of rot and filth like one would assume would go hand-in-hand with such a place, though Arthur assumed there was plenty of it throughout. The floors were swept and tidy but a feeling of filth still lingered. Not a bit of straw covered the bottom of any of the surrounding cells. That was...odd. This was not where they were normally kept then. Arthur suppressed a shiver. He didn't even want to know what those quarters looked like.
"Ah, this one may not look like much but he's a hard worker." They paused in front of the third cage and Arthur's heart skipped a beat as he recognized the mop of black hair and thin frame that was shackled within. "Reckon he was a servant to some noble back in the day so he has high stamina…if you know what I mean." The man winked at Arthur who had to stop himself from shuddering at the implication. "Non-verbal and loaded. Comes with a month's supply."
"Loaded?" Arthur had never heard the term before but it didn't sound good.
"Ah yes, I forgot. Ya're a new customer," the man said, nodding. "When we get our merchandise they sometimes are a bit…uncooperative. It's to be expected. So we drug 'em with a special concoction—I invented it myself." Arthur wanted nothing more than to smack the man's proud grin right off his face. That and run the man through with his sword. Several times. "It makes 'em more…let's just say it makes 'em more compliant. They follow orders better without shutting down completely. Still functional, just less likely to run off on ya." The man stood a little straighter, his grin turning into one of content as though he was proud of taking away a person's will. Which, Arthur suspected with disgust, he probably was.
"I see. That's….useful."
The slaver barked a laugh. "Even more useful when they misbehave—which is rare but does happen sometimes—this one especially I might warn ya but he's a good worker in all aspects." Another wink causing Arthur's anger to rise further. "The drug makes it easier to punish 'em too. Just take it away and by the next day they're going through severe withdrawals and practically begging for it. That's why we provide a few weeks' supply with loaded purchases. It's potent and highly addictive ya see and we mix it in with the water and food to get 'em reliant upon it quicker. This is a fast business, can't waste time waiting for things to kick in, now can we." The man elbowed Arthur in the side, wanting to share the joke, but Arthur just wanted to vomit.
He schooled his features, even though he was practically fuming with anger. He knew how drug addicts were affected and knew about the pains that came with withdrawal. Had even seen it first hand and it was a sight he would never forget. He wouldn't even wish this fate upon his worst enemies let alone his manservant and—dare he say it—friend.
"No you certainly cannot."
The man smiled with pride, causing Arthur to force down a shiver at his obvious love for cruelty. "Now what kind of slave do you want exactly? Is this for labor, pleasure, translation, battle?"
"Ummm labor mostly." He tried not to think about the kind of men who came here to purchase a slave with the intention of actually using them.
"Ah, good. Be just fine then, this one. Can't be much of a translator now can he, non-verbal and all."
Arthur's eyes shot up at that. Never had he known Merlin to be one to hold his tongue. The boy was always chattering on about anything and sometimes it was a pain just getting him to shut up. Especially when given the chance to mouth off. Arthur just couldn't see him passing by the opportunity to back talk to these captors. It was one of the reasons Arthur had been so concerned about his condition. And for good reason it seems.
"Well, not anymore," the slaver continued, completely oblivious to the thoughts racing through Arthur's head. "Had a mouth on 'im when he arrived and no matter how loaded he got, we couldn't get 'im to shut it." The man shrugged nonchalantly staring at the chained boy again. "He's good now. Obedient and compliant once we cut out his tongue."
- five days earlier -
Doran looked down his nose at slight boy shaking and practically bathing in his own fluids on the floor of the cell.
"How ya doing lad? Anything I can get ya?" he asked in a mocking tone, sneering.
Merlin didn't say a word, instead opting for gritting his teeth as the shaking turned into slight convulsions. His head was pounding out a relentless tune as every inch of his body felt like it was on fire, sweat pouring off him in waves. He knew what the man wanted. Knew he wanted to continue to refuse with every fiber of his being. But he could feel his concentration wavering, the need overpowering his mind and filling his every thought. This is what they want.
From the day he had been taken, grabbed right out of the woods surrounding Camelot as he was gathering herbs for Gaius, they had been forcing the drug down his throat. It kept him in a haze, like there was a blanket covering his mind keeping him compliant and thoughtless. But whether they physically forced it down or disguised it in his meager food or water, it didn't matter. There had been no way around it. His body had become reliant upon it in a matter of days, unable to function properly without it but unable to function normally with it. No magic, no free will, no escape.
"No? You know this could all end with just one word. Come on, boy."
Merlin shook his head once, the pounding increasing with the movement.
"Oh well," Doran shrugged before flashed him a knowing grin. "They all give in eventually. It's only a matter of time." And with those pleasing thoughts, the slaver turned and walked back down the dungeon corridor, the heavy iron door screeching shut behind him as he exited.
Merlin tried to calm himself, tried to tell himself he could do this, that it wasn't so bad. But he knew better. At the start, it hadn't been too terrible. Half a day without the drug only resulted in a slight headache, some anxiety and restlessness. His mind slowly became more alert, but with it came headaches, soon followed by nausea and a feeling of constriction in his chest. That night he couldn't sleep, the adrenaline that had been repressed by the drug surging up through his body with vigor. Then came the sweating and shaking as the headaches only increased and he lost concentration here and there. Now he just felt positively ill not to mention he was trembling violently and his head was about ready to break open. Not the best feeling in the world. And it was only going to get worse the longer he went without the drug.
But he refused to beg for it. Even though he could feel his resolve crumbling with every minute that passed, with every bead of sweat that chilled him to the bone yet made him feel like he was burning from the inside out and every tremor that wracking his weakened body. He didn't want to give his captors the satisfaction of seeing him break but he didn't think he would have much of a choice soon.
And it was only made that much worse by the fact that he could feel his magic now as the drug left his body but was unable to focus enough through the pain to use it. Useless, just useless.
Slavers. That's all these men were. Large, burly, completely ruthless but just a bunch of slavers nonetheless, only out to make a profit by capturing travelers and wanderers in the woods and selling them in the underground market. And Merlin had been unlucky enough to catch their eye. Really though he could have easily escaped. That is if Doran hadn't distracted him while his companion snuck up behind him and clobbered him over the head. Cheaters.
It had been days now, Merlin was sure of it. Maybe even a week. All right, he wasn't actually sure how much time had passed since he had gotten caught, but he was sure it couldn't have been more than a week. And really that was an awfully long time to be missing. Surely someone had noticed he had disappeared. Gaius most definitely. Arthur probably wouldn't care much besides the fact that his chambers were a complete disaster and his armor needed a good polish. He most likely thought his manservant had tripped and knocked himself out again. Typical.
So that left Merlin on his own. He had to find his own way out of this hellhole.
The young warlock was broken out of his racing thoughts by a severe cramping in his stomach. He just barely had time to turn to the side and brace his hands on the floor before the meager contents of his stomach splattered all over the cell floor. Again. As if the amount of fluids around him weren't enough already. But at the moment he couldn't be bothered by it. He just wanted this all to end.
He was losing it. Not just his stomach contents but his resolve. He didn't want to, he really didn't. These men were cruel and nothing short of brutes, they didn't deserve his pleading. And he didn't want to show them how they were breaking him, piece by piece until there was nothing of himself left to put together.
But they were.
He couldn't take it any longer. He was sure that despite what the slavers said, he would not survive the withdrawals. The pain was too great, the symptoms too severe. The physician in him knew he couldn't last more than another day. This needed to end now.
A sob escaped the warlock's throat. He didn't want to, but he had no choice.
Like the man could hear the young warlock's thoughts, Doran appeared beyond the bars. Merlin hadn't even heard him approach. He really was losing it.
"How's our little trooper doin'?"
Merlin grit his teeth so hard he was sure they were going to crack. But he slumped, his mind having let go. And it hurt. It hurt so bad to give in like this. But if he wanted to increase his chances of survival, he had no choice.
"P-pp-plea-a-se." The word came out barely more than a whisper, choppy and almost incomprehensible.
"What was that boy? I didn't quite hear ya?" The man sneered, unable to keep the cruel joy from spreading across his face.
"P-p-ple-e-ase" he rasped, stronger but only slightly.
"Speak up, boy. Can't hear ya," Doran continued to mock.
A smug smile mared Doran's face. "Told ya, ya all give in eventually," he stated as he unlocked the cell door and approached the warlock.