Prompt: Can I start off by saying that once I stumbled across one of your fics, I had to read all the other Merlin fanfics? Hooked right from the start! Your writing makes me want to cry and coo at the same time gahhhh
(I’m not sure if you’re still taking prompts. If you’re not anymore, please ignore this part😭😂) I don’t think there’s enough fanfics in the world with the abuse Uther puts Arthur through as center focus? Arthur may or may not be my comfort character so I’d love something that’s more about his childhood, how the knights know bits and pieces of it. And especially how Merlin would react, since he’s so protective?? Sorry one last thing,,, your take on how Arthur sees the abuse.
I realize this is not at all specific and more of a rambling than a prompt. My apologies akjskshshs. Also, if this isn’t your cup of tea, that’s totally fine!! - kalki-preta
The first things he learned were never talk back, keep quiet, and don’t tell anyone.
Never talk back.
His father is Uther Pendragon. His father is the king. His father is his father. He has no authority. Not here. Uther will tell him what to do and he will do it. His father knows better. His father is the elder. If he says something is true, then something is true. It doesn’t matter what Arthur thinks, Arthur is young. Arthur is the son. Arthur does not know what is true, not like his father knows.
Sons do not disrespect their fathers, and fathers do not allow their sons to be disrespectful. Uther is better to him than the other fathers would be because Arthur is his son. Uther cares about him because he is his flesh and blood. His father protects him because no one would dare try to discipline a prince of Camelot, the king’s sire, and thus when he misbehaves, it is only Uther that will see that he gets disciplined. That will be behind closed doors. They need to present a united front. Arthur needs to behave, Uther needs him to behave. When no one else can see, when the guards have been given orders not to intrude under any circumstances, and when the only one who might know anything is Gaius, who practically raised him, then and only then will the two of them fall apart.
Running a kingdom is stressful. Uther has enough enemies as a powerful king, those who want nothing more than to see Camelot reduced to ashes or worse, absorbed into their own kingdoms to fatten their own pockets and hurt the people. And when he isn’t fighting enemies outside of Camelot, he’s battling with the ones inside. Not just spies and assassins sent by those others, but the lords and the nobles that think they would do a better job of running Camelot than Uther. He has to keep his head about him all the time, to undermine shady plots that seek to undermine him, to catch the traitors and root them out before they destroy Camelot with rot from within. He doesn’t need his own son turning traitor as well.
Running a kingdom is stressful. Tempers run hot sometimes. Sometimes Arthur won’t be smart and realize that his father has had a very long day, he’s been working very hard, and he’s very tired. Sometimes Arthur won’t realize that his father has already been drinking and so it’s not a good time to be there. Sometimes Arthur won’t be quick enough to catch the hints his father is dropping and he won’t say the right thing. So sometimes…sometimes things happen. He’s not supposed to question his father, that’s not what his father needs. He has to do what his father needs.
Uther Pendragon is a very private man. He doesn’t like to talk about the former queen, nor does he like people speculating on why things are the way they are if they don’t like the answers he’s giving them. Arthur knows this from the nights where he asked for his mother, or asked for someone to tell him about his mother, or even asked his father to remember her for him. He doesn’t get to ask for anything else from his father, not after everything his father already does for him, and not after what he’s taken from him.
That means that Arthur isn’t allowed to draw attention to himself either. Uther knows when he does things. That is good and bad. He knows when to praise Arthur, when to remind them both that Arthur is his son, that he will be King one day, that there is already a worthy heir in Camelot. He knows when to scold Arthur behind closed doors, when Arthur must be taught a lesson because he is an arrogant boy, when he needs to be reminded that he’s not the heir to Camelot yet.
Arthur knows that the guards are not allowed to pry into the lives of nobles. He cannot ask them for help the same way he would Gaius or his governesses. He knows that his father is busy enough already without being bothered by any of his problems. He knows that the problems he makes for himself are his to clean up. His father likes to help him remember that lesson.
Don’t tell anyone.
Uther is the King. Uther is the king that saw the kingdom through one of the most difficult times. Uther is the most well-loved king in living memory because he destroyed everyone who was a threat to Camelot. He eradicated magic, he enforced strong rules, he protects the people. No one wants to hear a bad word spoken about Uther because they won’t believe anything otherwise.
The servants won’t believe him because they love to gossip and spread stories that aren’t true but they know they’re all fake.
The guards won’t believe him because they love their jobs and they want to be here, in Camelot, serving their king.
The people won’t believe him because they love their king.
And it is shameful that Arthur has grown up so much and Uther still has to punish him like this. Arthur is nine years old, now, then twelve, then fifteen, and still Uther has lessons to teach him. That is shameful, that he’s a young man and his father is still suffering from a struggling son that does not know how to behave himself yet. And Arthur’s shame will only bring more shame to Uther. And Arthur doesn’t want that.
Arthur learns those three things and he never lets himself forget them.
He learns other things too. How to balance his weight near the heavy furniture where the floor has settled so the floor creaks less. How to sneak food from the kitchens into his mouth without leaving any crumbs. How to place a piece of string over the lock on his door so he’ll know if someone’s opened the door when he isn’t there.
He learns how to read the emotions of others and stand just so in a room. How to avoid his father when the servants bring back caskets of wine early afternoon instead of the evening. How to fake being asleep or bury himself behind mounds and mounds of paperwork so that no one will disturb him.
He learns how to let his voice go carefully blank, just this side of a whisper. How to school his expression into a neutral one that won’t crack, not even under the highest of pressures. How to separate his mind from his body and examine the situation logically, to view it as an extension of himself rather than the thing he lives in.
He learns and he grows and he does his best to be the perfect cutout of what his father expects.
Morgana is different.
Morgana is strong in ways that he isn’t. Morgana is brave in ways he isn’t. Morgana is naive in ways he isn’t.
The first time she dares to ask Uther a question in front of company, Arthur stiffens. His fingers twitch to reach for her, to pull her behind him, say he asked her to ask him the question, but Uther just smiles. He answers her question and guides her to stand next to Arthur with a hand on her back. Arthur doesn’t reach out to take her hand until Uther’s back is turned.
The first time she comes to him, crying that something is unfair, Arthur takes her into his arms and holds her tight. He lets her bury her head in his shoulder and sob, shushing her and keeping a watchful eye on the door to make sure the guards don’t hear. He tries to tell her what he’s learned, the things that can keep her alive, but she shoves his shoulder and says no, they can do better. He watches her leave that night and part of him wishes that she can find it so she can show him.
The first time Uther takes her away, Arthur can’t breathe. He stands there in the corridor where they left, not wanting to take a step toward Uther’s chambers or away toward his own. He doesn’t want it to be his turn next but he hates, he hates, he hates that Morgana is in there alone. He doesn’t want her to be alone. Morgana finds him afterward and she looks confused. They just talked, she says, Uther showed her some of the pretty things in the old jewelry box, nothing happened. Arthur never stops being worried when Uther takes Morgana away.
When they are older, Arthur never takes off the armor he learned when they were young. Morgana has made her own armor by then and he is so, so proud of her, but he has to hide it because Uther won’t be proud of them both. He is proud of Arthur when Arthur is what he made him to be, and he is proud of Morgana when she is everything he wishes he could make. There is no good in drawing attention to something that could make them lose this tenuous peace.
Arthur has learned.
He knows now.
He’s lucky, in fact, sure that his rank and his crown and Uther’s care for him has kept him safe.
Now, if only he could explain that to the knights and Merlin, who are currently looking at him like they want to pluck out his gizzards and feed them to the birds.
“I’m going to kill him,” Gwaine growls, a thunderous expression on his face as he throws himself out of his chair and starts to pace around Arthur’s chambers, “I’m going to fucking kill him.”
“You won’t do it alone.” Arthur’s eyes widen as Percival, a man he’s never seen anything other than slightly irritated, looks ready to tear Camelot’s walls apart with his own hands.
He looks over to see Lancelot’s hands clasped in front of his mouth, the man’s eyes closed as he bows his head to mutter into them. Next to him, Elyan isn’t much better off, the two of them muttering back and forth as their fists tighten on the table.
“I really don’t see what all the fuss is about,” Arthur sighs, adjusting his papers, “and why did you ask me about this if you didn’t want to know?”
“We asked,” Lancelot says slowly, “because some of the older knights have told us that their squire retention rate has been increasing since you took over their training, and that if any of us wanted to understand how the king trained the knights, we should ask you.”
“What we were not expecting,” Gwaine adds, his boots still thumping on the floor, “is that Uther was an abusive, neglectful piece of—“
“Now hold on,” Arthur says, pushing himself to his feet, “that is my father you’re talking about—“
“Oh, I know damn well who I’m talking about—“
“And second,” Arthur says firmly, “my father did not abuse me.”
Gwaine stares at him like he’s just grown another head. “What in the hells would you call it, then?”
Before Arthur can say anything, he catches sight of Leon. The man hasn’t said a word, standing in the corner, still as stone.
“Leon,” he sighs, gesturing at the others, “will you please help me explain to them that there’s nothing wrong here?”
Leon takes a step forward. Then another. Then another. The other knights watch him closely. He doesn’t speak, his gaze instead is trained on the floor. Arthur frowns. What is he doing?
His mouth drops open when Leon kneels.
Leon takes his sword and lays it on the ground, bowing his head and sinking into what can only be described as penitence.
“Forgive me, sire,” he says, and oh, no, why is his voice like that? “I have been remiss in my duties.”
“I stood by for many years,” the knight continues undaunted, “and allowed the abuse and mistreatment of a boy I had sworn to protect. I did not protect him. In many ways, I enabled this to happen.”
He raises his head and Arthur has to hold back a gasp at the sight of tears in Leon’s eyes.
“I am sorry,” the man croaks, “that I did not see this before, and that I was not there to help you.”
Arthur’s words are cut off in his throat as Leon bows his head again. He glances frantically around the room only to receive no help. The knights are either staring at him, at Leon, or at the floor. Even Gwaine’s rage has cooled slightly, the man staring at the ginger knight as if he wants to get down on his knees too, to repent for not doing something about this sooner.
Then his gaze lands on Merlin.
Or, more precisely, on Merlin’s back.
Merlin is facing away from him. The entire line of him is tense. The back of his head is bowed, his neck bared for the room to see. Arthur wants to reach out, to hold him, to say no, it’s alright, he’s sorry, he didn’t mean to, he—he—
But something keeps him still. Something makes him stay rooted to the ground, swallowing the lump in his throat, waiting, waiting, waiting.
“How would you feel,” Merlin says softly after a long, long silence, “if you found out someone had been doing this to me?”
Arthur’s chest drops. Fury rages through his bones, striding across the room to whip Merlin around and pull him close.
“Have they?” He searches Merlin’s face. “Who did it? Are they here in Camelot? What’s their name? Where are they now?”
Merlin’s face doesn’t soften all the way, but a small smile tugs at the corners of his mouth. “No one’s done anything to me, Arthur.”
Relief courses through his blood and he scoffs, giving Merlin a shove in gentle reprimand for scaring him.
“Then why would you—“
“That,” Merlin says softly from far away as warm hands land on his shoulders, “that’s why. Now you know a bit about what we’re feeling right now.”
He swallows through a parched throat, scrabbling uselessly for Merlin’s shoulders. “Only a bit?”
Merlin steps forward. His eyes glow. There is a strength in him as he holds Arthur firm that should scare him, but…doesn’t.
“Because it actually happened to you, Arthur,” he says in a low, dangerous voice, “and what’s worse is you don’t believe it.”
Arthur’s shaking. He’s holding on too tight. He’s not holding on tight enough. Oh, god. Oh, god.
“Arthur,” he hears faintly from over his shoulder, “Arthur, you need to breathe.”
“Come on, let’s get them on the floor.”
“Grab the blankets.”
“Here, take this, tuck it behind them.”
“Come,” says a voice, Leon, that’s Leon, Leon is safe, as arms guide him up against a firm chest, “there, shed your tears here, sire.”
Arthur turns his head blindly, croaking into ginger curls. “You were always safe, always, you…you…”
“Shh, hush now,” Leon says, relief coursing through both of their voices, “that’s enough for right now. Let’s just—how about we just sit here for a moment, sire, all of us?”
“As if you could make us leave.” Gwaine, that’s Gwaine.
And that’s Percival standing guard, that’s Elyan tucking the blanket around them, that’s Lancelot instructing him on how to breathe. His chest starts to collapse in on itself a bit, breaths coming easier but faster.
“You can shed your tears,” someone murmurs, “it’s alright, now.”
Merlin. Where is Merlin? Arthur wants Merlin. If he has Merlin, he’s not alone.
A crop of black hair takes his hands and wraps them around skinny yet firm shoulders. His hand is pressed to a chest with a heartbeat. Something gold glows between them.
“You’re safe now,” Merlin whispers, “I’ve got you. We’ve got you. No one’s going to hurt you ever again.”
Arthur wants it to be true. So it is, even if it’s just for this moment. He feels the tears slip down his cheeks as weathered and gentle hands wipe them away. The dark weight in his stomach pulses and writhes and slowly, so slowly, it starts to back away. The warmth from Merlin’s hand reaches deep inside and undoes it, tangle by tangle, until Arthur is breathing freely for the first time in…too long.
The first thing he learns is how to breathe.