Addie looked over her shoulder nervously as Merlin led her down yet another corridor. She had no idea where they were, and she had even less of an idea of where they were headed. Before setting off from the throne room Merlin had said that he would take her to the chambers he shared with Gaius, but Addie didn’t hold much truth to his words. It wasn’t as if anyone had made her promises before and kept them. In the end, no matter how hard the person tried, they always failed to keep their word. By now Addie had given up believing them in the first place. She had believed in Timothy, she had thought that he would help her during That Dark Day, but instead he had turned traitor. His betrayal still shocked Addie, rattling her to her core, even though it was nearly six years later. Timothy was the last person she would expect to betray her, but it just went to show that in the grand scheme of things, you can’t trust anyone.
Like this Merlin fellow. He was a perfect example, Addie found herself thinking to herself somewhat nastily. But Addie didn’t feel any guilt for secretly hating Merlin. If hating Merlin kept her safe, alive, and unhurt, then she would do it without a second thought. He’s probably a twisted fellow, Addie continued in her internal rampage. No matter what the prince says about him, he’s probably got some cruel plan for me.
Merlin seemed to notice Addie’s nervousness as he halted and turned back towards her, smiling again in a way that he must have thought reassuring. Addie fought to keep from shuddering- she hated smiles. Some were lovely, of course, like Timothy’s, but underneath there was always something darker lurking. And Merlin’s smile was wider than most, meaning that he had a bigger secret.
It all made sense to Addie, anyway. She had learned so much of the world from That Dark Day and her life as a slave. If anyone could understand people and their actions, it was Addie.
“Addie, there’s no reason to be afraid,” Merlin gently said, stretching his hand out towards her.
Addie froze, unable to move as Merlin’s hand reached towards her own. Please don’t hit me, please, I’ve been beaten already today, I thought I had done a good job at the banquet, please don’t hit me.
Addie blinked slowly, finding herself no longer frozen like a deer torn between observing and fleeing. Merlin’s hand was now back by his side. He wasn’t going to hurt her.
“I’m sorry, Addie,” the manservant quickly apologized. Addie’s face paled and she quickly curtsied. Her master shouldn’t be apologizing to her, it just wasn’t right! Now he really would hurt her…
“There’s no need to apologize, my lord, I acted foolishly,” Addie quickly mumbled, focusing her gaze on the toes of Merlin’s boots. She was taking note of mud on the left boot- she would have to clean it as soon as she found supplies- when Merlin spoke again. His voice sounded surprised, but Addie didn’t understand of what.
“Don’t call me ‘my lord’, Addie. I told you that you’re as good as free. Call me Merlin,” the dark-haired boy instructed. Addie sank into a curtsy again. She didn’t like the idea of calling her master by his name, but if he ordered it, then she must obey. That was the first rule of being a slave. Live to obey, die to obey, exist to obey. Or at least, that’s the first thing that Ulric had told her after That Dark Day.
“As you wish… Merlin,” Addie quietly said, her voice faint and only able to be heard because the stone walls amplified it somewhat. And as quickly as it had started, the conversation was over. Addie stood in front of Merlin in silence, her gaze still directed at his boots. It would be improper for her to look any higher, so Addie simply studied the floor. It was dirty, she would have to fetch a mop and clean it later. If she could find her way back here, of course. The castle was a giant maze, and there was no telling what hid in the alcoves. Addie had no intention of finding out what.
As if Merlin had read her mind, the boy coughed and gestured down the hall. “We only have to walk down a few more corridors to get to the tower where I live with Gaius. Tomorrow I can give you a proper tour of the castle, as well as see about your lodgings. Unfortunately Gaius has only two beds, so we’ll have to see if you can use one of the rooms designated for castle staff… Well, come along. It’s getting late, and I want Gaius to check your wounds before we go to bed,” Merlin said while setting off down the hall once again. Addie followed, making sure to keep several paces between them. She had gotten the whip after she had done what Ulric termed as ‘hovering’.
Before long, Merlin was standing in front of a tall and beaten oak door. Without knocking, he shoved it open and entered the room. Addie remained in the hall- she was not to enter rooms unless on orders- and Merlin returned, looking at her quizzically. “Aren’t you coming, Addie? I know I said that you’ll have to get lodgings elsewhere, but you can stay here for tonight.”
Ducking her head once again, Addie timidly stepped forward into what she now realized was the court physician’s chambers. Tables upon tables cluttered the room, and the tables themselves were cluttered. There were flasks of multiple colors arranged, vials and flagons, a scale for measuring, and even a mortar and pestle. Above the tables and hanging from the rafters, while also filling several pouches that also littered the tables, were dried herbs. Hundreds of herbs. Their smell gave the room an earthy feel, and Addie immediately felt calmed. This room, as threatening as Addie knew it to be, felt warm and inviting. If she hadn’t learned her Lessons of Life, she had the feeling that she would dearly love this room.
Turning around the close the door, Addie suddenly found herself facing a wall of shelves and books. The shelf reached the ceiling, and a rickety ladder was balanced so that one might reach the top shelves. Addie sighed, although not loud enough to be heard. She had loved books and reading, but after That Dark Day she hadn’t been allowed to touch any. If only she could get her hands on these… but she never would. She was a slave, and she had duties that didn’t involve reading. If only, if only.
Merlin must have noticed a slightly wistful look on Addie’s face, because he smiled and said happily, “Those are Gaius’ books. He’s collected them over several years, and he’ll probably let you borrow some if you ask.”
Addie blushed and dipped her head, looking back towards the floor. “It’s not in my place to ask for books,” she automatically responded, while she was actually yearning to delve into a few. She had caught sight of a story that she had grown up reading, La Cendrillon. It was her favorite fairy tale as it was about a poor girl who was tormented by her stepsisters and made to work as a servant until she met the handsome prince and fell in love. Wouldn’t it be nice if something like that happened to me? Of course, it never will, Addie thought to herself.
“Addie…” Merlin said in a hushed tone. Addie hesitantly looked up from beneath her lashes and was startled to see Merlin looking… sad? Pained? The appropriate word was so close, just on the tip of her tongue, but she couldn’t come up with it. “Addie, don’t think like that. I know you’ve been brought up as a slave, but you aren’t one anymore. Well, you’re one legally but that’s just paperwork. In truth, you are as free as I am. Don’t ever forget that.”
Addie looked away again, because as much as she tried to understand, she couldn’t. She was a slave. Her whole purpose in life was to serve others. Now she was suddenly ‘free’; it just didn’t seem possible. What if she woke up and found this all to be a dream? No, she couldn’t let herself be crushed like that. Better to be a slave forever than to be free for a day.
“Okay, then,” Merlin said, clapping his hands together from the awkward silence. Internally, Addie cringed. He had expected her to say something, and she hadn’t. Now she would be punished.
“I’m sorry,” she mumbled quietly before bending down, her back towards Merlin.
“Er, what are you doing?” Merlin said from behind her, his voice quizzical.
“You wanted me to say something, and I was silent. I am to be punished.”
No sound came from Merlin. Suddenly Addie felt a gentle hand on her arm, pulling her up and turning her around. She found herself once again staring at Merlin’s feet. Yes, she would definitely have to clean his left boot. It looked like horse manure was smeared across it.
“Are there any brushes and soap lying around this room? I must clean your boots, they are filthy,” Addie interrupted. Merde! Now you’ve gotten yourself in trouble, she scolded herself. A slave never interrupts their master; to do so means whipping, starvation, or any other horrible punishment that the master felt like doling.
“Addie, I don’t want you to clean my boots!” Merlin sounded exasperated, although why he did was unclear. If he wasn’t happy with how Addie was acting, it was his own fault. He wasn’t being very clear with his orders. But if he wasn’t happy, regardless of whose fault, she would be punished. Addie hung her head even lower, hoping that her scrawny master wouldn’t hit as hard as Ulric. That man was a bear.
Suddenly Addie felt Merlin’s fingers touching her chin. He gently pulled up, moving her head so that she was staring straight into his eyes. Addie was surprised to see that they were blue, and as she looked she saw flecks of gold. His eyes were beautiful… but then again, maybe all eyes were. Addie hadn’t seen them for so long.
“Don’t ever lower your gaze around me, or anyone else for that matter. You’re equal, now. Avoid their gaze if you wish, but promise me that you won’t look at the ground,” Merlin said in a manner that suggested he was trying to be encouraging. Instead he simply sounded desperate. Addie wanted to pull her head away from Merlin’s fingers, but she couldn’t. The master was the master for a reason, and he ruled the slave.
Merlin closed his eyes tightly, breathing deeply before opening them. When he did, he shook his head sadly and dropped his hand back to his side. Perhaps he knew how uncomfortable Addie was feeling and was being generous. If so, Addie was grateful. Maybe Merlin was a nice master. “Promise me, Addie. Saying yes isn’t enough,” he finally said.
“Yes, Merlin.” Addie knew that she was being irritating, but what was she to do? She didn’t trust promises, at least not anymore. Not ever since Timothy and That Dark Day. There was no way she would ever promise anything after all that had happened.
“Gaius should be here soon. He’s just been administering some medicine to Uther, I believe,” Merlin then said, trying to find something to break the silence with. But Addie preferred silence, so she remained quiet. Pretty soon her master caught on, and they simply stood in the center of the room. Neither one paid attention to how much time had passed before Gaius had entered the room.
“Merlin!” Gaius called out as he strode towards both his ward and Addie. His voice was gruff, but Addie immediately could tell that this was simply from age and not personality. It was clear from both Gaius himself and his room that he was learned man, and for that Addie couldn’t help but like him. She didn’t trust him, of course, but he wasn’t necessarily bad. “I see that you have brought your new… assistant to spend the night with us,” the physician continued.
Merlin nodded and smiled once again, his expression goofy and idiotic. Addie could understand why Arthur yelled at him so much. She would too, if she had met Merlin before That Dark Day. “Gaius, this is Addie. Addie, this is Gaius. Now, could you maybe check her over? I just want to make sure she isn’t hurt too badly,” Merlin said, directing the majority of his words towards Gaius.
Gaius looked at Addie and studied her for a moment before nodding and gesturing for her to step towards him. “Come here, child,” he said warmly. Addie blushed at the endearment but stepped forward nonetheless. Gently, Gaius reached forward and lifted her chin up so he could study her bruises. He also checked her breathing, heartbeat, joints, and teeth before pronouncing her healthy. “I just want you to put this balm on your bruises twice a day, once in the morning and once before going to bed. It will speed up the healing process and also sooth the pain,” he instructed before pressing a jar into her hand. Addie looked down at the jar and immediately opened it, applying its contents to her bruises. The effect was instantaneous as she felt the pain ebb away.
“Thank you very much, Sir. I’ll be sure to find a way to pay you back,” Addie said respectfully.
“That won’t be necessary, child. Healing people is my job. Now, you are completely fine? Nothing else that I should be aware of?” Gaius asked, his eyes deep and penetrating. At first Addie was unsure to what he was referring, but she quickly realized and shook her head.
“No, definitely not! Ulric wasn’t… like that,” she immediately answered. Gaius’ demeanor seemed to brighten once that matter was cleared up.
“Now, I’m sure that Merlin wants to talk you and ask questions, but it’s been a long day for all of us and therefore I think we should all head to bed. For tonight you can use the cot by the window. Usually I save it for patients, but it will suffice until we can find you a room of your own. And if you wake up and need anything, be sure to fetch either Merlin or I. I’ll be in the bed at the other side of the room, and Merlin will be in the room up those stairs,” Gaius said while pointing to somewhere behind Addie. She followed his finger and saw a set of narrow stairs leading to another door, which she hadn’t noticed earlier.
“Well, good night, Addie. We can talk more in the morning,” Merlin said with his dopey grin. Addie curtsied to him as he turned to go up the stairs, and then she curtsied again to Gaius.
“Thank you very much for the balm and the lodging, Sir. And I do swear to repay you. I’m not worthy of such attention,” she said as she came back up from her respectful gesture.
Gaius shook his head and smiled- although why he did, Addie didn’t understand. “Firstly, call me Gaius. I am not a sir nor ever will be, Addie. And secondly, you are as worthy of attention as anyone else. You may not see that now, but I promise that within time, you will see everything differently. And thirdly, I do not wish nor need you to pay be back as no debt has been created. But please, go to sleep. You’ll need to be well-rested for tomorrow, as Camelot is a very busy place.”
And with that, Gaius walked away towards his own bed. Addie carefully slithered into hers and reveled in its comfort. There were a few lumps, yes, but the ground was a lot worse. At least she was warm and covered.
In one day I’m sold and promised freedom. But that cancels out to me being just sold, Addie thought to herself as she reflected on the day. Hopefully Merlin will be a good master. It’s all I can do to hope. Anyone who is better than Ulric is a hero in my eyes.