The dragon curled in on himself, somewhat familiar with the sensation, but not used to feeling it so intensely. The prince, too, was curled around the nausea and breathing as shallowly as Merlin.
“I believe I know how to remove the cuffs,” said the dragon after Arthur’s breathing had stabilized. “But I require your assistance,” he said, ignoring the way the prince had shied away from Merlin as he recovered his breath.
“Assistance! To free a sor-“ The human cut off. He looked at Merlin hunched in and breathing shallowly, and held his own stomach, presumably in memory of the horrific vertigo of constantly losing and feeling the loss anew of a part of himself. “What do you need?” he asked.
“Dragon fire is enough to weaken the bonds,” said the dragon. “But he submitted to them willingly. They can only be removed by one whose judgment he trusts as much or more than his own.”
Arthur snorted. “Merlin doesn’t listen to me,” he said.
“Young Pendragon,” said the dragon impatiently. “This is not the first time I have experienced his thoughts. Don’t presume to tell me you know them better. Bring him closer.”
The human squared his shoulders, paused a moment, and dragged the warlock closer to the edge. Gently still, the dragon noted. Not, he reminded himself firmly, that he cared what Arthur thought of Merlin.
“I will heat the cuffs. Then you must remove them. They may be quite warm. Do not worry if you are burned. Merlin or myself will be able to heal you.”
The prince winced at Merlin’s name, but settled behind him, half-propping him up and holding out one of the sorcerer’s arms. The dragon settled himself, and stretched to minimize the distance. Focus, focus, he thought, and spat a tiny stream of flame that struck perfectly where the wrist cuff met the chain connecting it to the other wrist.
On cue, Arthur grabbed the cuff and wrenched at it. He hissed as the fire-heated metal hit his skin, but the cuff opened easily. Merlin gasped, and let it out on a sigh. He blinked a couple times, and focused on the Prince.
“Arthur,” he frowned. Arthur glanced at the dragon, then suddenly moved around again to face Merlin. Intentionally or not, he blocked the dragon’s aim for the second cuff. “Merlin,” he said firmly. “I need the truth.” He grabbed the second cuff and they both winced – his hands must be pretty badly burnt – but he held on. “Do you use magic?” asked Arthur.
Merlin looked at the dragon, obviously still as affected by one of the manacles as the Memory had showed. He closed his eyes and looked the other human. “You were in my Memory,” he said, slurring slightly. “You know I do.”
Arthur hunched. “Have you used magic against anyone in Camelot? Against me?”
Merlin drew a breath and shook his head violently, and “The truth,” Arthur said. Merlin frowned, and thought. “I made you trip, when you fought me in the blacksmith’s,” he said.
Arthur waited, but Merlin just blinked muzzily at him. “You can’t expect me to believe you’ve never used magic on anyone in Camelot. Thetruth.” His voice broke slightly on the final word and he rattled the manacled wrist. Merlin flinched again.
“Oh no,” he agreed immediately. “I’ve used magic on Camelot’s people. I tried to heal you, loads of times. I’m not very good at it. I tried to enchant your sword when you fought the griffon. I healed Gwen’s father when the wells were poisoned, and I made the snakes appear early on Valiant’s shield, and…” he continued.
The dragon watched them. He thought of Arthur as he had seen him, a shining paragon of honor trying to drag the entire world with him. This isn’t right, the dragon thought. He’s not complete. It wasn’t Arthur the king before him, but Arthur who was called the Wart sometimes, young and strong and full of potential. But the Wart should be younger yet. By the time he was this age he should be complete, guided into the kingship by Merlin’s unfailing moral compass and tutelage. Merlin, who the dragon had taught to lie with the best.
We are none of us who we are supposed to be, he thought.
“Stop,” said Arthur, to Merlin who was still listing off times he had used magic under their noses. “Stop, Merlin. It’s okay.” He barked half a laugh and shook his head. Then he took a deep breath, moved around behind Merlin again, and held out the wrist he hadn’t let go of. “What are you waiting for?” he asked, staring defiantly.
The dragon spat again – not quite as perfectly on target, but the manacle popped anyway when Arthur pulled it open. Merlin arched and was suddenly the center of a golden vortex. When the last gold swirl evaporated into mist, he sat up abruptly and hunched in, moaning.
The prince stood up, looking dazed. He glanced at his hands, where the burns from the cuffs had disappeared.
Merlin’s groan resolved into words, “Thank you thank you thank you.”
“Don’t,” said Arthur. He hesitated, then reached down and took the moonstone manacles. “I’m returning to the castle,” he said. Merlin started to stand. “You’re staying here,” Arthur said slowly. Merlin looked at him. The dragon wasn’t sure what he saw. “I’m staying here,” whispered Merlin.
In my head, this whole scene is filled with this crazy on the edge of your seat tension…wait. We’ve been there. But I mean it all again. This scene is actually considerably softened from it’s original version, because the original made my beta (hasn’t watched the show) really hate Arthur. And that’s not the point. But what I figure is this: Arthur doesn’t get much praise from his dad, and the only one we see him being friendly with is Morgana (who he’s just learned Merlin poisoned) and he’s in love with this girl he can’t even really talk to unless he goes through some elaborate scheme to get them both out of the castle, and Merlin’s pretty much IT. And you can tell, when he’s talking about magic maaaybe not being tooootally evil in Morgause’s introduction that it’s really the first time he’s considered it. So I don’t really buy that he’d be okay with “the big reveal” in any way. And we haven’t exactly seen him respond to bad news in any way other than violence. So… my beta says he’s torturing his best friend for information, I say he’s not thinking straight, we can all agree that bad times are going down.
Arthur nodded once, and turned smartly. He left with a straight back, and he didn’t turn around, though the dragon heard his steps slow and falter when he was out of sight. Merlin sank back into a ball. “That was awful,” he said. The dragon didn’t know if he was referring to the manacles or what came after.
“But you survived it,” he said.
“Why would you call me stupid.” It wasn’t a question, but Merlin answered anyway.
“Because, it’s obvious why you can’t build a castle there,” he said. “Look,” he pointed.
“I’m looking,” acquiesced Vortigern.
The dragon scried for several hours, or minutes, or days. He had seen this possibility before. Merlin was about to mention the dragons. They always had to do with the foundations of a castle, most often Camelot. Merlin always explained it so. The dragon visions had been increasing in frequency recently. They had to do with Albion, with the founding of Camelot, with something that Merlin understood before anyone else, but the dragon could find no other constants to explain their meaning. His thoughts were interrupted when Merlin decided he wanted to talk.
“How could you help, with the –” the boy waved his wrists slightly.
“The Binding of Menroah is an old and evil spell,” said the dragon. “The trap springs when the afflicted attempts to access magic. The more power accessed, the more severe the backlash. This is why Morgause was unaffected – she is able to use her magic only when she calls upon it, while you are connected almost constantly. I reduced your ability to call on your magic, thus reducing the backlash.”
You know what’s good after crazy tension? MAGIC METAPHYSICS INFODUMPS
Merin nodded. “How do you know all these things? Do you study dragon-sized books whenever I’m not here?” He smiled weakly.
“There is a variation of the binding on the chains that bind me,” the dragon said shortly. Merlin blanched. “It is not as powerful,” the dragon reassured him. “And I am well-trained enough to not draw on massive reserves of magic with my every breath.”
“That’s why the Memories come out weird as well, isn’t it?” asked Merlin. “The book said it was supposed to be sensory only, not reliving everything I think.”
“You over power the spell,” the dragon agreed.
“So then what – “ Merlin began, but the dragon cut him off.
“Merlin,” he said. “I am perfectly happy to discus the finer points of magical theory with you all night. But not if you’re only doing it to distract yourself. I don’t know when you last slept, and I suspect you don’t know either. You should rest.”
“I can’t sleep,” said Merlin.
“Yes you can,” said the dragon, slipping a small amount of power into it. Just a suggestion, but Merlin was breathing evenly before he finished speaking.
The dragon waited until he was sure Merlin was asleep. “I’m not leaving,” he called. “So you might as well come down.”
“Could you hear me?” Arthur asked, emerging.
“I could smell the chicken,” the dragon said.
If you aren’t familiar with Merlin fandom, there’s this slightly weird thing where it is now fanon that Arthur expresses love through chicken.There is some basis for this. Anyway, I didn’t have this scene originally, and I put it in so my beta wouldn’t hate Arthur, and I am so glad that I did! But now with the softening and this scene, he doesn’t come off as TOTALLY PISSED as I think he ought to be. Oh well.
Arthur looked at the tray in his hand as though he had forgotten it. “He wasn’t able to keep anything down,” he justified.
“Your concern is touching,” the dragon said drily.
“I’m not concerned about a sorcerer.” The prince set the tray down gently and rearranged Merlin’s scarf, which had gotten twisted around.
Okay so I don’t only love it when point of view characters lie to themselves. I am down for anyone lying to themselves. Particularly when they don’t even bother to try to be consistent.
“Is he really that powerful?” he asked.
“He is the most powerful warlock who will ever be,” the dragon replied, voice flat.
Arthur laughed shortly. “Of course,” he said. “Of course he is.” He turned to go. “I’ll be back, at some point,” he said. “I need to – I’ll be back.”
The dragon watched the archway for a long time after the Prince had gone. He thought of Gwen’s verbal stumbling, the frightened fragments of dreams Morgana had projected when she’d been present, and Lancelot, absent. We aren’t who we are supposed to be, he thought. But maybe we are growing into it. He wondered what he was growing into.
Arthur’s feelings completed the misery of the court. He, unfortunately for himself, had been beautifully brought up. His teacher had educated him as the child is educated in the womb, where it lives the history of man from fish to mammal – and like the child in the womb, he had been protected with love meanwhile. The effect of such an education was that he had grown up without any of the useful accomplishments for living – without malice, vanity, suspicion, cruelty, and the commoner forms of selfishness. Jealousy seemed to him the most ignoble of vices.He was sadly unfitted for hating his best friend or for torturing his wife. He had been given too much love and trust to be good at these things.
Arthur was not one of those interesting characters whose subtle motives can be dissected. He was only a simple and affectionate man, because Merlyn had believed that love and simplicity were worth having.
The second paragraph here is one of the most beautiful things in The Once and Future King, which had me crying about how beautiful it all was many times. I don’t suppose it means as much out of context.
Despite years of seclusion, the dragon found it remarkably unpleasant to have a guest in the cave. For the first several days after waking up Merlin sat against a wall and stared at nothing.
“D’you think he would have responded the same, to Morgana?” heralded his return to speaking.
The dragon considered. “The circumstances would be different,” he said. “Morgana’s magic would certainly have been revealed as she acted against him. Her evil would have to be taken into account.”
“Morgana wasn’t evil,” Merlin corrected the dragon immediately. “Isn’t,” he then corrected himself. “She’s just,” he paused, searching for words. “She’s got her own sense of right and wrong, and she’s not flexible. And that’s been good - she made us do right before. It’s just that she couldn’t make Uther do right on this – her magic – she couldn’t even fight him. “
Remember Season 1, when Morgana needled Arthur into doing the right thing? Morgana isn’t always evil in different retellings. I was really excited for the possibility of a Morgana who was a powerful sometimes-ally, sometimes-enemy. Politically powerful, not just magically. I am just…really disappointed with the way the show handled her.
“She will destroy you,” boomed the dragon, forgetting his resolve to be patient with Merlin’s situation. “Your myopic inability to see her true nature does not change it.”
“You said you couldn’t see the future,” retorted Merlin.
“I have seen a thousand futures,” said the dragon. “I have seen a thousand versions of her betrayal, of Arthur’s death and Mordred’s smile.”
“Every world is unique,” the warlock insisted. “If we can just find her, we can show her that Arthur is more flexible. Her right and wrong, and his right and wrong, they can coexist.”
“Is he more flexible?” needled the dragon. It had been more than a week.
Merlin didn’t reply. He did start moving about again though. First he alternately explored the few parts of the cave that were accessible by foot, and, seeming to remember how little time remained in his year, tried to engage the dragon in stimulating conversation to find out how to manipulate him. Then he decided this was an opportunity to learn more magic, and pestered the dragon into teaching him more about scrying, and elemental manipulations, and more complicated healing and binding and transfiguration spells.
That’s how it came to be that he wasn’t immediately visible when Arthur returned.
“Where is he?” the prince asked.
The dragon chuckled. “I’m sure I don’t know,” he said, ignoring the small bird now peeping insistently in the general area of his eyes.
The prince looked suspicious. “I’m not helping you out of this one,” the dragon said.
The robin pecked halfheartedly at the ridge above his brow, and swooped down to the discarded pile of clothes. Within a heartbeat: “Turn around turn around,” Merlin said.
Why is this scene here? I don’t know. I don’t think it actually does much for character development, and Merlin’s ability to turn into a robin, only occasionally taking clothes with him, is not important to the plot. I just…robins are blue and red and adorable. It’s the joy of fanfic.
The prince started and dropped the torch, which thankfully went out before catching the clothing on fire. He turned to face the half-light from the corridor above.
“A – bird,” he said, voice a half-octave higher than usual.
Merlin looked at the prince, then the dragon. “What was that for?” he asked angrily.
“I told you that you should have practiced longer to retain your garments,” the dragon said calmly, “but you wanted to get on to flying. I won’t help you out of a mess you made yourself.”
“Why a bird?” Arthur asked as he turned back around.
“…I wanted to fly.” Merlin wasn’t meeting his eyes.
“But what is it good for?” Arthur asked. Merlin paused, considering. “Some magic is good, Arthur,” he said, picking up the torch and re-lighting it with a breath. “And some is bad. But some of it just is.” He extinguished the torch, exchanging it for a globe of wizard’s fire, then dismissed that to bring the torch back in red and gold – Pendragon colors. Then he stood, straight, waiting.
There are lots of fics that use Merlin making a little light globe like in “The Poisoned Chalice” as proof that not all magic is evil. I’m not sure if he’d remember, being delirious and all, but I wanted to reference it, just slightly.
Arthur stared at the place where the wizard’s fire had hung. He shook himself and started pacing the small ledge. “Please understand, Merlin,” it sounded like something he had practiced. “In Camelot there are three crimes for which one can be executed without being heard by any court. Murder, treason, and sorcery. This is…what I know. This is what I have always known. You admit you’re a sorcerer, and that IS treason, and you think you murdered Morgana, and –” he cut off. If he was hoping for Merlin to disprove any of it, he was disappointed.
In my head, and as I tried to explain it to my beta, that Arthur was raised in a world where people who used magic were viewed the way that we view terrorists. How would you react to finding out your best/only friend was a terrorist? I’m not sure how many people are with my on this, because the show is told from Merlin’s point of view. But we see large parts of the population reacting in fear to magic, and it’s not like Camelot hasn’t been poisoned by magic at least twice and burned half down by magic at least twice. Anyway, I tried to make that point less obviously by having Arthur list crimes. And I sort of chickened out of listing child molestation as a crime or whatever, both because honestly that’s what marriage was then for realz and because I don’t want to squick my readers, but I have a torch to carry about this which is that magic is seriously bad news in his world, and him getting over it for Merlin is a big deal.
“I told everyone you had been hurt by taking off the manacles, and you were home recuperating,” Arthur said after a long pause.
“Thank you,” said Merlin quietly. “And I suppose I will decide not to come back from my recuperation?”
“Merlin, I don’t know,” Arthur said. “Just – explain it to me. Why do you even want to be here? You do know you’re in incredible danger, don’t you? Why should I let you stay? How could you – how could you hurt Morgana? How could you talk to us, to Gwen, after that? I need – I need to know who you are.”
“My mother sent me to Camelot to learn from Gaius,” Merlin said. This too sounded practiced. “He fell off his balcony when he first met me, and I slowed time to save him. I met you not long after that…”
The dragon grew bored shortly into this account. He flew up to the upper ledge (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven) and dreamed.
Honestly…I didn’t want to write a resolution. So I didn’t. I could have gone the Princess Bride route, and just been like “everyone deserves some privacy!”
I don’t want to have two husbands, and I am just as uncomfortable as you are: but what is the good of being in the open? As we are now it is horrible, but at least Arthur knows about it inside himself, and we still love each other and are safe. If I were to run away with you, the result would be that everything would be broken. Arthur would have to declare war on you and lay siege to Joyous Gard, and then one or other of you would be killed, if not both, and hundreds of other people would be killed, and nobody would be better off. Besides, I don’t want to leave Arthur. When I married him, I promised to stay with him, and he has always been kind to me, and I am fond of him. The least I can do is to go on giving him a home, and helping him, even if I do love you too. I can’t see the point of being in the open. Why should we make Arthur publicly miserable?
Neither of them had noticed, in the deepening twilight, that the King himself had come in as she was speaking. Profiled against the window, they could see little of the room behind. But he had entered. He had stood for the fraction of a second collecting his wits, which had been far away considering the Orkneys or some other matter of state. He had stopped in the curtained doorway, his pale hand with the royal signet gleaming in the darkness as it held the tapestry aside – and then, without eavesdropping for a moment, he had let the tapestry fall and disappeared. He had gone to find a page to announce him.
This is the scene I remembered most from The Once and Future King. I know I’ve already beaten it to death that I love this Arthur, but – just – he didn’t stay to listen AT ALL. I just… sigh.
Merlin was gone when the dragon woke. He brought another deer with him when he returned. He was improving – it was imperceptible until was suddenly at the dragon’s feet.
“Well done,” he was startled into saying. Merlin beamed. “Thank you,” he said.
“I take it you reconciled with your prince?” he asked, and Merlin’s smile disappeared. He took the time while the dragon was eating to launch into a long, long list of examples, which seemed to illustrate only that Arthur was acting inconsistently. “He wants to know everything about it one day and wants to pretend it doesn’t exist the next! He says he doesn’t want me to leave, but then he twitches away whenever I enter a room and assumes I am doing everything outside of his sight with magic.”
After a few more minutes, he stopped, panting. “I never imagined it would go this well,” he admitted. The dragon curled his tail around his legs, confident than no one remaining would be able to interpret it as a sign of pleasure.
“If you are back in the prince’s favor, I wish you to continue your search for Lancelot,” he said.
Merlin sighed and threw his hands in the air.
“You owe me for staying here,” the dragon reminded him, and the human gestured at the remains of the deer. The dragon smiled.
After a beat, Merlin smiled back. “I’ll try,” he said.
This scene makes me really happy, in a sort of warm and fuzzy way. Is it schmoop? Maybe
The king turned back to Piers. “I beg your pardon, son. Tell me your message.”
“My master, Sir Ither, is waiting for you in a small clearing to the east. He wants to fight you, your highness. No one else.”
King Arthur pursed his lips, and Sir Kai struggled to his feet. “You can’t go, Arthur,” he said.
“Tell me why I can’t, Kai,” said Arthur. “I’ll defeat him, you know.”
“I know that, but you still can’t go. The King of All England can’t go off to meet every halfwit who challenges him. Send someone else.”
“Who?” Arthur said. “You can’t go with a cracked head. Gawain’s in Orkney. I don’t have any seasoned knights here. These are all journeymen, Kai.”
“I’ll go fight him,” said the rustic, Parsifal.
“Will you shut up?” Kai snapped irritably. “Look, Arthur, this knight has no honor. Why should you respect his wishes? Send all the knights after him.”
“I’ll fight him by myself,” Parsifal said. “I’m not afraid.”
“Well you ought to be, clodpole!” retorted Sir Kai. “He’s a grown knight, and you’re a puppy in bad clothes. He’d kill you.”
Parsifal smiled. “I’m not the one he bonked on the head,” he said pleasantly.
Parsifal’s Page may be my favorite of Gerald Morris’ books, except for The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf.
Merlin was smiling when he returned.
“You were successful?” asked the dragon.
“That’s uncanny,” said Arthur. He looked unsettled, with a thin veneer of calm superiority laid over.
Merlin shrugged. “I can’t see it myself,” he said. “Let’s go on.”
He could feel Lancelot’s presence ahead of them, and close. There was a town there, so they were going to the inn. It wasn’t far from the border with Camelot, so Merlin had opted to start the Memory outside of too many prying eyes.
Lancelot was easy to find once they entered the inn. He was the only one sober, the only one sitting with easy upright posture, and the only one to stand and smile on seeing them.
“What brings you here?” he asked, after they had greeted.
“Well, you, actually,” Merlin said. Lancelot brightened, and Merlin realized his mistake.
“I can’t rescind my father’s order,” Arthur rescued Merlin. “We’re only here to talk.”
“What about?” asked Lancelot. He covered his disappointment well, but not quite well enough.
Arthur looked at Merlin. “I’m not sure it matters,” Merlin said. He leaned in. “I… have a deal with the dragon under Camelot. He wanted to know what you are like, so I am Remembering this for him.” He lowered his voice. “It’s a pretty simple spell,” he said.
Lancelot jerked his eyes over to Arthur, at the same time Arthur exclaimed, “He knew!?”
“He figured it out,” Merlin hissed to Arthur. “He saved me,” Merlin said to Lancelot. “From a magical trap.”
“So, when I talk to you, it is for the pleasure of this dragon,” Lancelot asked stiffly.
“He just… wants to know you,” said Merlin. “I think he’s lonely.” He paused, and closed his eyes tightly on realizing that would now be Remembered. “Let’s just… talk about swords. You two like fighting, right? Let’s talk about swordfighting.” He kept his eyes closed, and Arthur asked Lancelot where he had been and how he had come to be here. Gradually they reached a conversation Merlin could take part in and forget he was Remembering. Gradually, it became one of the better nights of his life. Arthur and Lancelot talked about Gwen without fighting. Merlin and Arthur told Lancelot about the various supernatural beings they had fought off since they last met. Merlin and Lancelot even teased Arthur just the slightest bit about not noticing the magic.
And once again I wussed out from writing a scene with actual conversation. Whatever. It was a fun night, guys. Trust me.
“I am not lonely,” the dragon insisted.
“No, of course not,” Merlin agreed hastily. “I only meant to say that you didn’t have many people to talk to, or that I am not that interesting alone, or that you – I sound like Gwen, don’t I.”
The dragon curled his tail again.
“I wanted to ask you,” said Merlin. “What are your plans, when you are free?”
“I will revenge myself on Uther,” the dragon repeated and his tail slowly uncurled. There was no point in hiding it, but for some reason it didn’t bring the joy it should have.
“I know. But, what then?” asked Merlin, for once not harping on the destruction of Camelot.
The dragon thought about it. Twenty long years in the dark, and he had found only one thing do once he regained his freedom. What else was there, truly? He was the last of his kind; only one option remained. “I will be free,” he said to Merlin, but he thought it was a lie.
There was supposed to a part in here about how Uther had won, because there was one dragon left, but he was so reduced he was unworthy of the name, so there were none. It didn’t quite fit, so I didn’t put it in.
“We’ve got four picts,” said Palomides. “Can anybody go fight them off?”
There was a chorus of no’s around the table.
“Does anyone need only a little help?” asked Arthur. “We could do an exchange.”
“I’m close, admitted Gawain. “But I need them to fight off the siege engines.” Everyone glanced outside and agreed the siege engines were just as dire as the picts.
“Merlin owes me a favor,” said Lancelot.
“Then why’d you let the picts even get this bad?” demanded Palomides.
“I was saving it,” Lancelot said, responding to the challenge as much as the question, “for when Morgan next comes to fuck us over.”
There was silence as the table considered how long since Morgan had last attacked and their chances of surviving her next ploy without Merlin.
“Okay,” said Arthur. “We’ve lost sight of the goal. We just need two more swords. Does anyone have any…insight as to the location of the grail?”
SHADOWS OVER CAMELOT. This is a boardgame in which you are pretty much destined to lose, or win by the skin of your teeth. There are amazing stories, which won’t be told here. The manual insists that you not mention game mechanics when discussing strategy, so in order to say “I don’t have enough combat cards for that” you say “My strength of arms is not great enough.” It’s ridiculously fun, particularly if you are tipsy. And Morgan’s cards are awful. She does indeed fuck you over. And then kill you, and spit on your corpse, and take the grail and burn the castle and… yeah
“I need your help!” shouted Merlin. He didn’t wait another moment before
“You’re remembering this, aren’t you,” said Arthur.
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean, Sire,” Merlin tried. Arthur stared at him, unblinking, and Merlin thought that he looked just a little like the dragon. “It’s the best way for him to know what this is,” he tried to explain.
“Sure,” said Arthur, turning away. “Let’s just humiliate the crown prince in front of the malevolent reptile beneath the castle.”
“He’s not a reptile,” Merlin said, offended.
“Of course not,” Arthur rubbed his face. “Let’s just get this over with.”
They’d come investigating stories of a monster in the lake that lured men to their deaths. The one clue they had was that only knights in armor were called, so Merlin was to hang back and try to identify the creature while Arthur rode up to the lake as bait.
Merlin heard it first. “What’s that noise?” he called. Arthur half turned back to him, then turned abruptly out to the lake.
“Merlin,” he said, in the tone he reserved for when he thought Merlin had done something particularly stupid, which was most of the time. “How did you even get out there?”
“I’m right here,” Merlin called back, trying to sound helpful.
“Of course,” said Arthur, still facing the lake. He dismounted. “But you needn’t have brought Gwen and Morgana with you.”
Merlin frowned. Gwen was still at Camelot, but something was really wrong if Arthur thought Morgana was there.
“You know, I managed perfectly fine for many years without your incompetent help,” Arthur sniped, fiddling with one of his greaves.Then “Fine,” he threw up his hands and headed straight for the water without any further attempt to remove his armor or prepare to swim.
“Arthur!” called Merlin, but he didn’t seem to hear, and that’s when he saw the figure in the lake. Her mouth was open, and Merlin guessed that’s where the noise he could still hear was coming from. On an instinct, he tried to hide her from sound like he did himself when he was sneaking down to see the dragon. The noise stopped, and Arthur stopped heading out to the lake. He looked down at himself, waist-high in water, then turned to mouth something at Merlin.
“What?” said Merlin, but no sound came out, and realized he must have over-done the spell. He cursed, silently, and moved to try to sign to Arthur that he didn’t know what the thing in the lake was, and they’d better get back to Camelot, and yes, they’d be able to talk again by the time they got there. Probably.
“It’s a siren,” said the dragon. “They usually only call one sort of person. They sound like something their prey loves, drawing the men their death by shipwreck or drowning. I suppose this one likes knights.”
If they can have chimeras I can have psirens. Also: everyone Arthur loves is out in the water. Did you notice that guys? I tried SO HARD not to shout it at you.
“Can I stop it?” shouted Merlin.
“…You still haven’t fixed that spell, have you?”
Merlin smiled sheepishly and took a deep breath. “I can only talk when I shout,” he bellowed. “But Arthur can only whisper.”
The dragon laughed.
“You can silence her for good,” he said. “You had the right idea. Just make the spell permanent, and by the Dawn’s fire, focus it.”
show-like hijinks! I added this scene in much after writing the rest, because: The magic handcuffs were sort of the climax of their own story.But there’s still the story of the dragon, which Merlin and Arthur need to be united at the end of. So there needs to be time for them to be friends again, which makes more sense if I actually write some of it.
Merlin grimaced and turned to leave.
“Merlin,” said the dragon and he turned back. “Your time is almost up. I will see you soon,” he said grimly.
“Rise, Sir Terrence,” said the King, “and be known as a fellow of the Round Table. Be ever true to your God; protect always your neighbor; honor always your king.”
The thing about Gerald Morris’s books is that they are fun light-hearted children’s book romps through Arthurian legends…and then every once in a while they break out with something beautiful and real. In part because of these books, I have this idea that someone came up to Arthur one day and was like “You are going to rule England. You can do it well, for all your life, your descendants will rule, and everything will be okay until the next family takes over and people will write your name in history books. Or you can rule brilliantly, for about 20 years before your kingdom and everything you have made and love are destroyed before your eyes before you too are killed, and people will remember you forever and write your name in legend.” Nope, nothing close to that ever, but I just – it’s the idea, that Arthurian England is too perfect to last (or to be at all, really)
Merlin visited, on the dragon’s last evening of imprisonment. “I brought you something,” he said.
“-would have died,” said Merlin, turning away from the fire. He felt twice as guilty, hiding the magic now, but Arthur acted differently when he knew the dragon was watching.
“It was still a stupid promise to make,” Arthur insisted.
“I know,” said Merlin. He smiled at Arthur, not caring that he probably looked like an idiot. “But you’re going to help me keep it. This,” he said, reaching out on impulse to take Arthur’s hand. “To keep a promise, even when the outcome is uncertain, because it’s right. This is what you will build your kingdom on.”
Arthur stared at him a moment, the fire reflected in his eyes. “Are you sure you can’t see the future?” he asked. One of a hundred magic-user stories he’d heard and asked if Merlin was part of.
Merlin shook his head. “I can see you,” he said.
Arthur’s face twisted. Perhaps it was about as pleasant to be told you would be a magnificent king as to be told you were a prophesied warlock.
It’s not a Merlin story without a sudden expression of actual friendship which quickly dissolves into banter! Actually though, I really liked writing this. Back before I got three seasons in with no “big reveal,” I thought they’d get the magic secret thing out of the way soon. I mean think about it – You can have serious episodes where Arthur is torn between loyalty to his father and to his friend! You can have funny episodes in which magic-hiding hijinks ensue! You can have Arthur get amnesia and forget and find out again! Since it’s mostly a buddies show anyway this makes sense to me. In fact, having it stay a secret doesn’t make much sense, since it adds yet another layer of “really screwed up” to Arthur and Merlin being friends, which already has more than enough, with the whole Master/servant thing. Anyway, it’s been so long now, it’s going to be a letdown no matter how they do it I bet. And once they do, there will probably be less “big reveal” fic, which I like reading, so I suppose I can’t complain.
“I can see that you didn’t actually fix the fire,” Arthur changed the subject.
Merlin laughed, and stood up. He nudged at the logs in the fireplace with a thought, to allow a little more air to those in the middle, and almost forgot to be amazed that he could to that here.
Arthur grumbled something about sorcerers that wanted to get caught and slouched further in his chair, while Merlin walked to his window. This is what he had meant to do from the start. Arthur’s window looked out over the castle court and down over all of the town.At night the houses were lit from within, small points of life in the dark. Camelot is alive, Merlin thought.
“I don’t know why you brought me that,” the dragon said, uneasily. Something was pricking at his thoughts.
“I hated you, when you tricked me into trading my mother’s life,” said Merlin, not addressing the comment. “I think I hated you more than I’ve ever hated anyone.”
He paused. “But I’m not sure I hated you, even then, more than you hated me.
“You told me that not being able to see Morgana’s true nature – to hate her - would destroy us, but I think it’s the other way round. I can’t hate you now that I know you better either.” He clambered to his feet. “I just want you to know Camelot. Like we can make it, when Arthur is king.You say you’ve watched Camelot rise and fall a thousand times, but have you ever really seen it?”
The title of this piece also makes me endlessly happy. There’s what the dragon sees for himself and what he sees through Merlin. There’s the other worlds he Sees in scrying and the ones that he sees in front of himself. There’s the possibility that he sees at the end, that isn’t anything he’s Seen, but maybe can be more real.
Merlin still didn’t understand, the dragon thought as the boy left. He wasn’t blind to what Camelot could be, what it was already becoming.Uther was the one who killed out of hate. The dragon would destroy Camelot in revenge. He would destroy Camelot so that his people’s fate, and his, would be remembered.
The world would remember the dragon imprisoned at the root of Camelot.
The foundation of Camelot.
This is what you will build your Kingdom on.
He had finally seen it. The foundation of Camelot, something Merlin understands first, a conflict. There was no other dragon, as he had known. No dragon on a standard, no conflict from Albion, not even a Pendragon to fight. There was only himself.
He paused and considered further. Himself, and the decision he had made two decades ago. Were they the same any more?
There is something else that is supposed to be here. My beta wrote it pretty much perfectly:
But then part of him thinks that he might just be getting out of destroying Camelot with fire, because -- dare he say it -- he actually sorta likes Merlin, and Arthur's dickery reminds him of himself, and Gwen is cute, and Morgana deserves more than the shortshrift she's gotten.
And maybe it's here -- and not in the closing moments of the story -- that he realizes that he's warring with himself, so when Merlin and Arthur come in, he's ready for them.
AND THEN he could expand it to a larger moral: that everyone in the story -- Merlin, Arthur, Lancelot, Morgana, and one day even Gwen -- will have to war with their darker natures. And every person has to make that fight alone. Camelot is a beautiful place, and it's worth fighting for... and in the same breath, he realizes that one day, Camelot will fall -- because all it takes is for one person to lose that fight with their baser nature. But today, it won't be Kilgarrah that loses that fight. He can always come back and roast everyone alive, but right now, he has something better than revenge: hope.
“You have dealt him a mortal blow,” said Merlin. He tried to feel the same guilt for leaving the dragon alive as he had for releasing it to start with, but found he couldn’t. There were things more important than revenge, even for the destruction wreaked on Camelot. Even for what he himself had lost.
Merlin returned at a year to the day, as he said he would. Arthur appeared with him. They stopped to look solemnly at the dragon, who returned the stare.
“Ask me again, Merlin,” he said, when they had reached the base of the chain.
“Ask me,” he insisted.
“What… will you do to Camelot?” Merlin asked, uncertain.
“Wrong question,” said Arthur, watching the dragon. The King understood. Merlin paused.
“Please…don’t hurt Camelot,” Merlin asked.
Before the dragon replied he saw this: the Once and Future King stood at the head of his court – Lancelot and Gawaine and Percival and Bors and Kay and Palomides and all the rest. Beside him stood his Queen, his sister and his mage. Behind all, the dragon of Camelot.
He wasn’t scrying and it wasn’t true; not a single possibility in all his years of searching had even come close to this.
That didn’t mean it wasn’t worth fighting for.
This is the moral of Arthurian legends for me.
“Yes, alright then,” said the dragon, almost laughing at how simple it was, as Merlin broke the chain. The joy bubbled up inside of him, breaking through the ice that hate had formed. He was the last dragon, but that needn’t mean he was alone.
“I am Kilgharrah,” he said. “The wind is friend to us both. If you are in need, speak my name and I will hear it.”
Merlin nodded, and Kilgharrah flew. He rose out of the earth, burned his hatred into hope, and flew free.
purple prose? Why yes, yes it is. I have a dislike for emotional writing pretty much categorically, but I recognize that it is appropriate in some places. But because I dislike all gradations, I have difficulty recognizing what level is good by most people’s standards and what will be considered too much by people who are not me. So I hope you weren’t put off at the end. It’s been a long time coming (more than twice as long as my next longest fic) so some purple prose is perhaps deserved.
1) Made up
3) The Squire’s Tale
4) The Dark is Rising
5) The Once and Future King
6) Le Morte d’Arthur
7) The Squire’s Tale
8) Blazing Dragons
9) The Once and Future King
10) The Sword in the Stone, then Monty Python and the Holy Grail, then Camelot
11) The Once and Future King
12) Merlin (with Sam Neill)
13) The Sword in the Stone
14) Merlin Season 2 finale
15) Merlin (with Sam Neill)
16) The Once and Future King
17) Parsifal’s Page
18) The Once and Future King
19) Shadows over Camelot
20) The Squire’s Quest
21) Merlin Season 2 finale