Merlin didn’t like the sea. Never had. Never would. He would never get used to living in a ship, and especially not with that…man around him. Sheridan had hated him from the very first moment he had set eyes upon him, and Merlin knew that it would not be long before he took action on his hatred. When that day came, however, the young warlock had not thought it would be so soon.
“What the hell is this filth? How can anybody say this is real meat?” Sheridan snarled one day at the long table below beck. Everybody around the table looked at him, clearly waiting for the fun to begin. “Where’s that dammed kid?”
“He’s in the kitchen,” one of the other men answered, smirking.
Merlin heard them. He wasn’t an expert in preparing any kind of meal, but he had done his best. Obviously it hadn’t been enough for the prats.
“What’s this?” Sheridan demanded as soon as he appeared at the door of the kitchen. “I’m not eating this muck! What is it?”
“Some meat as you requested,” Merlin replied, fighting back terror. He had learnt to be frightened of this unpredictable man, not bold.
“No, this isn’t meat,” the man hurled the plate at Merlin where it collided with his chest, spilling all over the floor. “I don’t know where you come from, Runt, but I don’t like people who don’t respect my orders. I asked you for meat, and I didn’t get it.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” Merlin forced a small bow. “I’ll do it again.”
He turned around to go back to the kitchens. That was why he didn’t see Sheridan. What he did notice was the sudden pain around his neck. Sheridan’s hand was big and completely smothered his throat. Merlin could barely breathe, choking as Sheridan squeezed tighter and tighter, his face inches from Merlin’s own.
“Oh, no, you misunderstood me,” he hissed into Merlin’s horrified face, his breath rancid. “You have to be punished,” Sheridan pushed the young warlock to the other side of the kitchen. Merlin’s body crashed painfully into the furniture, his eyes bulging as the man gripped his neck again, squeezing gently, almost lovingly. Scrabbling frantically at the hands, Merlin began to feel dizzy from lack of air. Sheridan started laughing heartily.
“I didn’t like you from the very moment I saw you. I knew you were useless.”
Merlin’s breath was becoming increasingly shallow. He knew this man was going to kill him; he could see it inside his eyes – a horrible glint of hatred and evil.
Sheridan slowly drew his sword and held it up for him to see, smiling sickly.
“I’m starving. We all are. And you know what they say; desperate times call for desperate measures. What do you say, kid? Maybe you can be useful after all.”
“Please, don’t do it,” Merlin tried to release himself, but he found himself crushed against the wall again, an edge of a crate digging sharply into his back.
He wanted to use his magic, but if he did, if he ever got back to Camelot again, Arthur would know about it. And Merlin couldn’t betray his friend like that, and if he ever got that day, the day he got back to his home, he would.
“Please, don’t…” he rasped, scratching involuntarily at the hands that constricted his throat, his eyes beginning to water. “Please…”
“Are you going to cry, just as you did they first night you were here? For goodness sake, you’re nothing but a little boy! Do you know what I do to little boys?” Sheridan started laughing again when he saw the raw fear growing in Merlin’s eyes. “Yes, the same thing I’m going to do to you,” he came closer to Merlin, the sword grazing the young warlock’s gut.
“What the hell is going on here?” someone appeared at the door, someone whom had just saved his life. It was the first mate. Merlin had almost never been happy to see anyone in all his life.
Sheridan dropped Merlin instantly and turned to face him.
“Nothing’s going on here, Edwards. The Runt was just in need of a lesson is all.”
Edwards didn’t look happy and beckoned Sheridan away, gesturing to the crew to continue eating.
Merlin, lying in a shaking heap on the floor, caught hold of the side of a crate to pull himself to his feet. He stumbled into the kitchen where he slumped down in a corner, rubbing his aching neck and trying to calm his erratic breathing. His vision began to blur and black out, and he had to close his eyes for a moment to stop the world spinning. Sick rose in his throat and his head throbbed with each panicky heartbeat that pounded his chest.
The door flew open, smashing into the side of the wall and coming off one of its hinges. Heavy footsteps announced the arrival of the man Merlin was sure had the devil within him.
The young warlock scrambled back towards a cupboard and shrunk in a crevice behind it, sobbing.
There was silence for a moment.
Merlin tried not to sneeze from all the cobwebs that clung to his nose and a spider crawling over his face.
“BOO!!!” Sheridan’s ugly face appeared over the side of the cabinet, leering down at the terrified boy hidden behind it.
In a split second, Merlin was dragged out of his hole and pulled into the dining quarters again, where Sheridan threw him into the waiting arms of two burly crew members, who held him quite still, despite his fervent struggling.
“Now then, lads,” Sheridan said, standing to face Merlin with the crew right behind him. “The Runt here has been rather ill-mannered, trying to feed me poison. That’s attempted murder that is. And murder is a crime so…I think the Runt should be punished, yes?”
“Yes,” the crew chimed as one.
Sheridan motioned Toms to the front of the audience and began whispering something in his ear. Toms nodded, causing his ginger mop of hair to bob around wildly, and the smirk on his face widened to a gruesome grin.
Merlin said nothing. He knew it would do him no good but instead just make things worse, so he just watched on with lifeless eyes, waiting for his fate.
Toms scuttled away at a motion from Sheridan as the man himself advanced on Merlin with a smirk.
“Your gonna wish you’d never crossed ways with me after this, boy,” he spat in Merlin’s face, his dirty teeth bared as Toms returned with a bundle of items, which he set down on the table after sweeping the abandoned plates of food to the side.
Sheridan gestured to the two sailors who held Merlin, and they pulled him over to the table and forced him down into a chair. Merlin jumped as Sheridan slammed his fist abruptly down next to him, a knife glinting in his hand. The young warlock swallowed, watching the dagger carefully while Sheridan reached over to the bundle Toms had brought and produced a quill, sheet of parchment and a dusty old jar. He set the paper in front of Merlin and placed the long quill next to it. The jar, however, was put on top of the scroll with a thud that rang throughout the room.
Merlin stared at the items before him. It seemed that they were going to make him write…
“Lines?” Merlin’s voice broke the silence, cutting through it like a sword. “Is that it?”
“Not quite,” Sheridan answered, grinning horribly. “Have you noticed anything missing?”
Merlin looked at the objects again. The quill was there, the scroll. What was missing?
Then it hit him.
“Ink?” he asked.
“Precisely,” Sheridan replied. His grin had stretched so wide now it looked almost inhuman. “Hold out your hand.”
Merlin did not like the tone the man was using. The young warlock had never been one to follow orders, and that tone was undeniably a demanding one. He’d had more than enough of Sheridan’s cruelty and, even though he’d learnt to be frightened of the man and not to stand up to him, Merlin couldn’t take much more. In a burst of anger, he snapped.
“No,” he said, leaning back in is chair and folding his arms, tucking his hands away.
Sheridan mock sighed, and motioned to the two men who still stood behind Merlin. They pulled the young warlocks hands out, easily resisting his protesting, and held out his right arm to Sheridan.
Merlin’s moment of bravery was swept away in a matter of seconds, but he still tried to yank his wrist free from the clenched fists around them, his arm shaking with the effort. All his attempts were futile, however, and Sheridan began twirling his knife around his fingers, towering over Merlin.
“It seems we don’t have any ink around today. So, you’ll be using something else instead,” he suddenly grabbed Merlin’s closed hand. “You’ll be using your own blood.”