On the fifth night of September, Camelot was alive with celebrations. The market was a bustling center of commerce as stalls offered their wares in incredibly complicated designs and cases, each more daring and pleasing than the next. Fruits and vegetables were artfully arranged on high tiers that stretched above the canvas stall coverings; horses, goats, and sheep were groomed to a healthy glow and were surrounded by both young children, looking for a pet to cuddle with, and older farmers looking to increase their stock. Closer to the castle stood the stalls selling jewelry and cloth, their wares draping over the tables and glittering in the setting sun’s light. Women clustered around these tables, occasionally drawing their husbands near as they pleaded for money for a yard of silk- didn’t they know that their daughter would be married soon and would need it for her gown? And there, by the castle itself, stood guards with smiling faces instead of their usual expressionless mask. This was the happiest night during the entire year, the one time that both commoners and courtiers could gather to discuss the finest items for trade. Tonight, the fifth night of September, was the one chance that the commoners had to present their wares to the king for inspection. If they were lucky, the king would be impressed and pay a fine price. Often this endorsement would increase their sales for the remaining year. And tonight was also the chance for new traders to bring their wares to Camelot. Each item traded had to have the express permission and approval of the king, and tonight’s festivities was the best time to get it.
Tonight, the fifth of September, was Trading Night and therefore a time of celebration.
At the far end of the marketplace stood a short and chubby man with beady eyes. His chin was covered in stubble and his hair was balding, adding to his somewhat unpleasant look. Even from a distance his skin looked grubby, and his clothes were stained from travel. In his hands he held two things- a thick chain, and a short leather whip. The chain led behind him, where a young girl stood with both her feet and hands bound in manacles. Her head hung low, with her matted blonde hair falling in front of her face, because she was worth less than the commoners standing before her. It was clear from both her chains and posture that she was a slave, and that this man was a trader.
The brutish man, who resembled a wild boar in appearance, yanked the chain and stepped forward into the market, earning shocked stares from the other traders as he did so. It had been years since a slave trader had visited Camelot- in fact, the last one had been banished by the king’s father for dishonest work. Didn’t the man realize that he and his wares were unwanted here?
The slave trader kept walking, though, and seemed unaware of the glares he was receiving. He set a brisk pace towards the castle, constantly yanking on the chain. His slave walked on bare feet and periodically stumbled, although that seemed to anger her trader even more. He would simply yank on the chain and drag her forward, occasionally twitching the whip as some sort of threat. The girl would whimper quietly to herself before stepping forward carefully, making sure to keep her balance. It seemed that this was the only weakness she allowed herself to show.
When the slave trader reached the castle doors, he smiled at the guards. His teeth were yellowed and cracked, and the closet guard fought from leaning away from his rancid breath. Instead he stood perfectly still, trying to slow his breathing as much as possible.
“I’m looking for the king,” the slave trader said in a ragged voice. Some words came out broken, and others were practically rasped. It sounded as if he had damaged his throat at some point and his vocal chords hadn’t properly healed.
The guards nodded their head towards the main castle hallway. “Down the corridor and through the third door on the left,” one of the guards intoned. “There might be a line, but I think it’s finally slowed.”
The slave trader nodded and stepped into the castle, pulling the poor slave after him. The girl tripped over the final step, but she managed to catch herself before she fell. The chains around her ankles and wrists had already rubbed her skin raw from today’s traveling, but she didn’t allow herself to cry out as her master yanked her forward yet again. To cry out was to get the whip, and that hurt even more. The one thing she had first learned about her master was that he wasn’t forgiving.
The walk to the throne room had seemed incredibly long, but maybe that was simply because she had been focusing her efforts on ignoring the pain. Suddenly, though, she found herself standing in a massive room full of beautiful dressed people. Tables full of rich food flanked her on both sides, and the girl’s mouth watered as she imagined how good they would taste. The only food she ever got to eat was stale bread.
When the slave trader had entered the room, the lively conversation had fallen silent. Each courtier and knight had their eyes trained on the slave trader as he made his way down the center aisle towards the thrones where both the king and his young prince sat. In a slightly smaller chair next to the king’s left sat his ward, the Lady Morgana. Her beautiful hazel eyes narrowed with distaste as he bowed and smiled wolfishly in her direction. “My king, my prince, and my lady,” the slave trader rasped as he directed more bows in their direction. He quickly noticed that both the king and prince were interested in his wares- the lady was definitely displeased. If he wanted to make a sale, he would simply have to win the Pendragon family over.
“You are new to Camelot’s marketplace, I assume?” Uther asked thoughtfully, his gloved fingers tapping his chin. Beside him, the young blonde prince shifted in his throne and crossed his arms. Perhaps he wasn’t as happy about slave trading as he had thought.
“I’ve just traveled here from the outlying villages,” the slave trader explained in his distorted voice. “My name is Ulric, and I trade in slaves. I understand that tonight is Trading Night in Camelot.”
Uther nodded, his face betraying no emotion. He knew how to play new traders- make them fight for the right to trade in the city by showing indifference to their wares. It always helped him get a higher tax on the goods. “Slaves, you say. We have not had a slave trader in Camelot since my father’s reign. Why should we?”
Ulric smiled again and bowed respectfully, although it was obvious to those in the room that he was trying to curry favor. Behind the prince’s chair, a tall and skinny servant with black hair seemed to bristle with anger. Ulric cast a careful eye on him- it seemed that the prince’s manservant also detested slave traders. He would have to be very smooth with his talk. “Why should you pay for servants when you can own them?” he countered Uther’s argument.
The king shared and a look with his son. “Perhaps my son Arthur should make the decision on your offer. He has yet to participate in Trading Night,” he replied carefully, throwing power into his son’s hands. Arthur looked surprised at his father’s decision but covered it well by coughing and gesturing for Ulric to continue.
“Thank you, my lord,” Ulric groveled. “I own many slaves, although this one is my finest. She is fiery in nature but does her work well. Perhaps you would like her for your own service, no? Here, take a closer look.” Ulric yanked hard on the chain and the girl stepped forward, her gaze directed at her feet. She shuffled towards the throne but was slow to curtsy. Ulric hissed at her and pulled once more on the chain, this time bringing the girl to her knees. She simply hung her head, so ashamed of her position in life that she couldn’t even feel shame.
“You idiot girl, bow your head to the prince!” Ulric roared as the girl made no move to bow her head. Perhaps she stayed still because her head was already bowed respectfully to the prince- she always had her head bowed respectfully. Ulric didn’t seem to care, though, as he brandished his whip and smacked her back with it. The girl simply accepted the blow and bit her lip, her teeth slicing her skin and causing blood to well up in the wound. Morgana looked horrified at the girl’s treatment but had no way to intervene, Uther looked interested in his son’s reaction, and Arthur simply sat with a stony expression on his face. Behind him, his servant’s eyes flashed with anger and he leaned forward, filling his master’s cup with wine. As he did so, he whispered something frantically in the blonde prince’s ear.
“Don’t harm her,” Arthur finally said. “If she is to work in the castle, I would like her to be in the best of health. How much will you sell her for?”
Ulric smiled and pulled once more on the chains so that the slave stood on her feet. She did so immediately, keeping her head pointed to the ground. “I would take five hundred crowns, which is a fine price for such a talented slave girl. She can sew, read, write, and even work in the fields. Anything, really. But you would definitely like her?”
Arthur’s face blanched at the ridiculously high price. Because the trader knew that he wanted this particular slave, he would drive a hard bargain. He could also name high prices because it was the monarchy he was trading with. Squaring his shoulders, Arthur shook his head. “I refuse to pay five hundred crowns for this girl. What would you say to one hundred?” The price was still high, but Arthur knew he wouldn’t be able to get any lower. If he had been a commoner, this would have been the starting price and he would’ve been able to get it down to maybe sixty.
“For the amount of time I’ve spent on training her, she’s worth more than that. It’s one hundred and fifty crowns or nothing,” Ulric bargained. He also knew that Arthur was trying to get a commoner’s price, but he wouldn’t allow it.
Arthur didn’t allow himself to look at his father as he finished the trade. He knew that Uther was furious right now- he had just proved what an idiot he was at haggling- but there was one way he could regain his father’s favor. This trader wanted permission to set up a stall in Camelot- he would simply make this extremely expensive. “I accept at one hundred and fifty crowns,” Arthur said loudly, gesturing for a servant to count the money into Ulric’s money pouch. “Now we must decide your tax for trading in the marketplace. I think forty percent of your sales is generous, don’t you think?”
Now it was Ulric’s turn to blanch at the high price. But unlike Arthur, he wasn’t in a position to barter for lower. “Forty percent is generous indeed, my lord. I am glad to be trading in Camelot. Here’s your slave,” he said as he shoved the girl forward. Reaching into his pocket, he withdrew a key and pressed it into Arthur’s open palm. “I hope you are happy with her. She should behave as she knows how lucky she is to be working for your family.” And with that, Ulric, left the chain and whip in Arthur’s hands and strode out of the throne room. He had very few hours left of selling time to set up his stall and arrange his other slaves.
Arthur watched in satisfaction as Ulric left the room. Then he turned to Uther, who actually smiled in return. Arthur had just gotten the highest tax in Camelot’s history, although it was partially balanced by the amount of money he had spent on buying the slave girl. “Let’s begin the feast,” Uther announced to everyone assembled in the throne room. “I think we’ve all had enough bartering for a day. Now, Arthur,” he said, turning to his son, “Why don’t you send your slave to the kitchens. I’m sure they could put her to work.”
The prince shook his head and gestured for Merlin, his manservant, to step forward. “With all due respect, Father,” he said, “I bought the girl to assist Merlin with his duties. That way when Merlin is in the stocks I’ll still be able to have someone serve me.”
“Very well, Arthur. As she is your slave you may do with her as you wish. Now, if you would excuse me I would like to speak with Sir Pellinor…” Uther drifted off across the room to speak with his knights, and Arthur finally turned his attention to the slave girl. She was still standing in front of him, her hands clasped and her head bowed.
“Miss,” Arthur said softly, trying to get her to acknowledge him. The slave girl simply stood straighter but did not look up.
“What are my orders, my lord?” she asked in a hushed tone. Her voice sounded incredibly distant, as if this was simply routine for her.
Arthur threw a glance at Merlin. “Look at up at me, will you?” he finally asked, fed up with the slave girl’s fascination with the floor. She slowly tilted her head up, finally meeting Arthur’s eyes with her own. Arthur was shocked by what he saw- the girl’s skin was deathly white, and her eyes were sunken and surrounded by puffy, black shadows. He could see a few bruises on her throat, and one by her left ear suggested that she had been hit by a fist.
“How may I serve you, my lord?” the girl once again repeated, still searching for her orders. Arthur shook his head at her.
“I have no orders for you. In fact, I don’t even own you. Merlin does.”
The slave girl looked surprised at this statement and shot a worried glance at Merlin, who tried to smile encouragingly. The slave girl simply saw this as a threat, though, and took a step back. Merlin’s startlingly blue eyes clouded as he realized how badly the girl had been treated for her to be afraid of a smile.
“I don’t understand,” she said carefully. “It was you who paid for me. Therefore you own me. My life is to serve you in any way you wish.”
“No, I bought you for Merlin. Think of yourself as a present for him. He owns you, not I, and he’ll be a good master. Merlin actually works for me, so you’ll be helping him with his own chores,” Arthur tried to explain. The slave girl seemed to understand the deal Arthur had made with Merlin as she immediately threw herself at the lanky boy’s feet. Merlin’s face whitened with surprise and he hastily pulled the girl back to her feet.
“Don’t bow to me like that,” he corrected the girl. She immediately muttered an apology and Merlin shot Arthur a frantic look. “Um, why don’t you tell me your name? And then… you can help me keep Arthur’s plate and goblet filled.”
The girl studied Merlin’s face, wondering if he was being serious. “I’m Adelaide, but my sister used to call me Addie,” she said haltingly. Merlin nodded and took the key from Arthur, using it to unlock the manacles binding her wrists and ankles. Soon the chain fell away to the floor, and Merlin placed the whip on top.
“You won’t be bound by chains again,” he promised her as he looked over the wounds the metal had left behind. “After dinner I’d like to have my guardian, Gaius, look over these. He’s the court physician here, and he’ll take good care of you.”
Addie nodded, her face still void of any expression. She quickly took her place behind Arthur, holding a tray of food that she occasionally refilled the prince’s plate with. Merlin shook his head with exasperation when he noticed how quickly she began working but took a stance beside her, holding a pitcher of wine that he used to fill Arthur’s goblet.
“Thank you,” Addie said softly to both Merlin and Arthur. The two boys shared a look and shook their heads.
“Whatever for?” Arthur asked.
“You’ve bought my freedom, even though I’m still a slave. I don’t care what happens to me, as long as I’m away from him.”
Arthur nodded, thinking over her words. “Well,” he said, his voice somewhat brusque, “You really have Merlin to thank. It was his idea, not mine. I just had the money.”
Addie turned to Merlin, who simply blushed and nodded. “I knew that Arthur didn’t like Ulric, but it was me who was ready to tackle him for chaining you up. I’d like to free you, but if Uther finds out he’ll be furious. But I promise that I’ll treat you as if you’re free. We can talk more about it in detail when we go see Gaius. Right now we’re supposed to be working,” he gave as an explanation.
“Thank you,” she whispered again to Merlin. Her voice sounded happy to the manservant’s ears, but the truth was that she was still very miserable. While the chains on her body had been removed, Merlin had yet to find the key to remove the chains from her heart.