|The White Dragon of Camelot
Author: Imperial Mint PM
Spoilers for 4x04 A dragon egg can remain unhatched for a thousand years, but it takes many more for a dragon to grow. This is the story of Aithusa from birth to the dawn of Albion as the white dragon to guide Camelot towards its golden age. A/MRated: Fiction T - English - Arthur & Merlin - Words: 9,466 - Reviews: 15 - Favs: 59 - Follows: 6 - Published: 10-26-11 - Status: Complete - id: 7496823
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Pairings: Arthur/Merlin and a brief mention of Arthur/Gwen and Gwen/Lancelot.
Word Count: ~9000
Summary: Contains spoilers for 4x04.. A dragon egg can remain unhatched for a thousand years, but it takes many more for a dragon to grow. This is the story of Aithusa from birth to the dawn of Albion as the white dragon to guide Camelot towards its golden age.
After that ep? Had to be done! Hope you enjoy. Originally posted on my livejournal - flypaw.
The White Dragon of Camelot
On his first night, Aithusa sleeps. He curls up tightly,still unsure of his limbs when he's been in an egg for so long, and sleeps. He has been sleeping for years, hundreds in fact, but it wasn't sleep like this. Before, he'd never truly been awake, caught in half-awareness and half-dream, but now he knows what the difference is and needs to sleep.
Before he sleeps though, Aithusa meets Merlin properly. He has felt him since he touched his egg, a warm beam covering him, pulling at him and soothing his ancient magic. SoonMerlin tells him, silently and with heavy promise. He is a Dragonlord, Aithusa's Dragonlord, and when he speaks his name, Aithusa responds.
Hatching takes great effort, but he does it, using all his strength and the point of his snout. Beside him stands another dragon, so tall that he has to crane his head almost backwards to see his face. He looks so sad and old, but he is smiling - crying - at the very sight of him.
Aithusa turns to the Dragonlord who called him, struggling free of the egg shell and taking his first steps. He doesn't do it very well and trips, falling from the wooden stump and towards the ground. His wings snap open and he tries to flap them, but they are still too wet and too young. He lands with a bump, on his side, and gives a squeal.
Merlin is there in an instant, hesitant to touch him. He can feel the worry radiating from him, mingling with the calm Kilgharrah is feeling. The older dragon knows that he is tough, he knows that he will be alright even if he'd fallen from the very tops of the trees. Dragons are born hardy after all, but Merlin knows none of this.
"Aithusa!" he gasps out and Aithusa feels his body hum as he speaks his name. He wants to ask Kilgharrah if it's like this for him, but he is still too new to the world. His magic is exhausted from keeping him alive for these centuries and his body is weak from breaking from the shell.
Aithusa wants to speak to Merlin, too. He wants to thank him, to let him know that he will always be hisdragon, but he can't.
(He thinks Merlin knows anyway, but it's something that he wants to say.)
When he picks him up, Merlin's hands are soft on his thin scales. His face is so wide and open, eyes watery and smile plastered on his face. He handles Aithusa with such care as if he will break at any moment and he struggles in his grasp a little, wiggling his body to show him that he is tough.
His laughter fills his ears and Aithusa knows that he will be hard-pressed to find a greater sound.
Kilgharrah speaks to Merlin and Aithusa looks to him. He doesn't understand the human tongue (yet - there is plenty of time to learn and Kilgharrah will make sure he learns), but he knows that it is time for Merlin to leave. He bows to Kilgharrah and looks at Aithusa, stroking his neck with long fingers, whispering to him in awe.
He leaves and Aithusa wishes he could follow him. He knows that he can't and moves alongside Kilgharrah instead, walking next to his large feet. He cannot fly and Kilgharrah will not carry him.
Instead, Kilgharrah teaches him like his own mother did for him, walking with Aithusa, letting him explore and become used to his muscles. When he falls, he looks at him with an ancient eye, looking for signs of injury. Never once does he interfere and Aithusa respects him for that.
They reach a low-lying cave, large enough to fit Kilgharrah in. They sleep there, or rather Aithusa sleeps there. Kilgharrah spends his night watching over him and Aithusa wakes to kind, golden eyes. He knows that there are two creatures in the world who would do anything to protect him and he snorts happily, curling back into a ball and falling back asleep.
For the first month, Aithusa eats. In the egg, he survived on yolk and magic and he's never known hunger like this before. Everything consumable, he eats. Grass, berries, meat, carrion, fish... everything that he can stomach, Aithusa eats. The scales around his mouth are constantly stained with food, the white colouring hiding nothing.
Kilgharrah watches with amusement. He says it's normal for a dragon to be constantly hungry for the first years of their life and that Aithusa needs to accept this.
"You're constantly growing," Kilgharrah says, stretched out in the sun.
They have made the cave they discovered on Aithusa's birth-night their home for now, at least until Aithusa can fly. Their cave is safe for Aithusa when Kilgharrah leaves to hunt, away from wolf and bear territory. Aithusa may be a dragon, but he is a young hatchling and would make a fine meal for any predator. Dragons are at their most vulnerable in their first few months, their magic too weak to be of any use and wings to weak to fly.
"Everything will come in time," Kilgharrah says, more than once. It's not an answer Aithusa wants to hear, but it's the truth. "You will live for hundreds of years, see the turning of kingdoms and dawns of new worlds." Kilgharrah smiles, remembering a time long ago. "There is time, plenty of time."
Still, Aithusa's belly doesn't understand time. It's hungry and he needs to eat so he wanders off from the cave, tearing into a cluster of blackberries. They're not ripe enough yet and the brambles scratch at the insides of his cheeks, but they fill the hole for a while.
Everything changes when Kilgharrah leaves for another hunting trip. The meat he brought back from the last one was enough to last two weeks (Aithusa's mouth salivates in thought of that much meat once more), but Aithusa cannot remain in the cave this time. The food in their area has gone, devoured by the growing dragon, and Kilgharrah fails to mention any place safe for Aithusa to go while he is gone.
So Aithusa takes himself off, slinking through the woods and sniffing for food. He sees a herd of deer grazing and thinks of protection in numbers. He approaches the deer but they flee as soon as he comes close, hundreds of hooves thundering through the field. Aithusa stands alone, watching them run from him and learns a little more of what it means to be a dragon.
Aithusa moves to the bushes at the edge of the field. He learnt a few days ago that grass doesn't have what he needs, but the bushes are closer to it. They are more filling than grass could ever be and he browses for hours, moving ever onwards. The evening draws in without Aithusa noticing, such is the depth of his hunger.
He startles when he sees fire in one of the woods. Aithusa has seen plenty of fire from Kilgharrah, but he has never seen it without a dragon. This fire is surrounded by people, knights judging from the chainmail they wore, and he remembers the warning Kilgharrah had told him.
"You cannot trust anyone other than Merlin," the old dragon had said. Upon pressing the issue, Aithusa had learnt nothing and he'd learnt to stop asking.
Ignoring the hunger in his belly, Aithusa slinks through the undergrowth to move closer to the people. He's grown a lot since he hatched, but he's still plenty small enough to remain unnoticed. In fact, Aithusa is able to move to the fringes of their camp, tucked in leaf mulch and bushes.
The people are asleep and Aithusa slinks forward, breaking into open ground. Despite Kilgharrah's warnings, he has nothing to fear. The people are asleep and he is fast. If they wake to see him, he can run back to safety and they'll think it a dream.
There is a thick smell in the air, of meat and vegetables and something else. Aithusa sniffs again, bright blue eyes scanning the camp to find the source of the food. He finds it by the fire, a huge pot of silver and he sits on his haunches, using talon-less feet to prop himself against the pot.
There isn't much left inside, but enough to make a decent meal for Aithusa. The pot tips to the floor, muffled by the fire crackling and the leaves on the ground, but the noise is enough to make a few of the knights shuffle. Aithusa pauses a moment, head down and his eyes swivel in their sockets, before he lunges into the stew, wolfing down the meat and potato chunks and licking the broth.
Aithusa doesn't notice the presence behind him and, when he does, it is too late to do anything. He is caught tightly in the person's grip, struggling like a mad cat, biting at any skin he can get at. It's not much, but the person's grip wavers slightly.
"Stop it," the person hisses and Aithusa stills at once. It is not human-tongue that the person uses, but the language of the dragons and there is only one who still knows it.
He has found Merlin.
In an instant, Aithusa turns, licking the places he'd bitten and twisting round to see Merlin properly. Kilgharrah wouldn't approve of the behaviour, calling him a common dog, as he had before when he'd been telling Aithusa about Merlin, but Kilgharrah isn't here and so Aithusa can do as he pleases.
Merlin shifts his grip to cradle Aithusa against his chest and Aithusa listens to Merlin's hammering heart as they move quickly away from the knights and back the way Aithusa had come. He hasn't seen Merlin since he hatched, but he feels as if he knows Merlin as well as he does Kilgharrah.
When they are far enough away, Merlin sits down on the ground and lets Aithusa go. He looks as though he expects the dragon to wander away, but Aithusa stills, looking up to Merlin's face and letting out a soft keen.
"You've grown big," Merlin says, smiling as he scratches Aithusa's neck. "But where's Kilgharrah?"
Such is the nature of the dragon language that Aithusa cannot even bend the truth. If he could spoke human-tongue then he could leave out the fact that Kilgharrah had asked him to remain near their cave.
As the truth slips from Aithusa's mouth, Merlin stops his stroking, looking down with a raised eyebrow.
"He left you?" Merlin asks, guttural tones of Dragon-tongue slipping lighter and human tongue spilling out.
Aithusa ducks his head and explains how hungry he is. Kilgharrah says the hunger is normal and as there is no food close to home, Kilgharrah has to fly over the white mountains to the huge plains and take whatever meat he can from there. It ends in a risk for Aithusa, but they both must eat.
Though he still seems upset by the revelation, Merlin lays back and sighs heavily.
"I didn't expect you to grow so big so soon," he says quietly. "You're bigger than a cat now and it's only been a few weeks."
Aithusa snorts and looks down at himself. Kilgharrah has commented that he isn't growing as fast as some of the old dragons, but that it is nothing to worry about. He is a dragon of purpose, says the old dragon, and his dawning time has yet to come - whatever that means.
"Are you hungry now?" Merlin asks, propping up onto his elbows. Aithusa's stomach rumbles, answering the question for him and Merlin stands, telling him to remain there.
Aithusa can smell the food before Merlin arrives and he circles the small patch of ground, snorting and searching the wood for any sign of Merlin. Merlin arrives soon after, a bag tucked under his arm and a smile on his face.
"We had some leftovers from hunting. The others might wonder where they're gone, but I can pretend I used it all for the stew." Merlin opens the bag and plucks out two rabbits, not quite fresh but mouthwatering to Aithusa.
He wastes no time in getting stuck in, ripping the flesh with his teeth and eating the meat. His teeth are not yet strong enough to chew through bone (unlike Kilgharrah who can eat a whole deer in one mouthful) so Aithusa picks carefully, eating everything he can. He can feel Merlin watching him and so he pauses occasionally to peer up at the Dragonlord who had summoned him.
The rabbits vanish quickly, meat stripped from bone and down Aithusa's throat. His belly accepts the meat and the hunger wanes, though it'll return again soon.
There are things that Aithusa wants to ask Merlin but doesn't know how. He's asked Kilgharrah once and learnt not to ask the dragon again. Aithusa wants to know where his egg-mother is, where his brothers and sisters are and yet when he asks Kilgharrah, the old dragon turns away and the sadness radiating from him is almost overwhelming.
He doesn't ask Merlin though. Aithusa can't bear to think of that sadness over Merlin and so avoids it all he can, chirping and playing with Merlin. He chases his Dragonlord's fingers, climbs over him and playfully bites him. Kilgharrah never really lets him play like this, instead sending him off to climb over trees and explore, but this kind of play is just as fun.
Merlin starts talking through it, in his human-tongue. Aithusa doesn't understand the words, but he can pick out names and how Merlin feels about each person. There's Gaius who is a Kilgharrah to Merlin, Gwen who is a friend yet hardly sees Merlin anymore, a slew of names who form the knights and who are friends and then there's Arthur.
When Merlin speaks Arthur's name, everything changes. Aithusa feels hope and despair, love and hatred and so many other things all at the same time. It is almost painful for Aithusa to feel and he knows that Arthur is more important than anyone else to Merlin.
Aithusa wants to know more about Arthur, know more about Merlin and he remembers Kilgharrah mentioning instinctual magic. Aithusa doesn't know what it means, exactly, but he trusts in his own abilities and his Dragonlord.
For a moment, Aithusa's whole body stills. He can hear everything in the forests and it almost overwhelms him until he can feel what he's looking for. There is a bond between Merlin and himself, a strong, pulsating bond that can only belong to a Dragonlord and the babe it called from the egg.
The first inklings of dragon magic rises in Aithusa and calls to Merlin's magic. The bond cements and Aithusa sees the image of a man, striking with a golden crown on his brow. He instinctively knows that this is Arthur and looks to Merlin with bright blue eyes, letting out a chirrup.
"Aithusa?" Merlin asks,eyes wide in shock. Aithusa knows why (and Kilgharrah has told him not to interfere in peoples' lives as he has here) and so he shares a thought of his own. He shows Merlin what it's like to be with Kilgharrah in their cave, how solid and warm the older dragon is to him and asks silently to see Merlin's Kilgharrah - Gaius.
Merlin understands and smiles brightly, thinking of a wrinkled human with white hair. Aithusa gives a loud chirp, thinking of his own colouring, and Merlin laughs, their voices flooding out into the night.
The time comes, though, that Merlin has to slip back to camp and Aithusa needs to eat again. They need to part, but it is every bit as unwilling as their last parting.
"One day," Merlin promises in the ancient dragon-tongue. "One day you will come to Camelot as a free dragon. You will see everything and be praised for what you are."
The words sound so strong and grand in the forest they're in and Aithusa can all but simply nod and walk off. He doesn't ask why he cannot come to Camelot now and hasn't asked Kilgharrah. Aithusa isn't sure that he's ready for such a thing.
The first year is one full of ups and downs. Aithusa never loses his hunger, but he learns when to gorge himself and when he can go hungry. He's learnt to hunt by himself now and grown talons to match his adult teeth.
Kilgharrah leaves occasionally, but for most of the time, the elder dragon teaches Aithusa everything he knows. From the layout of the land and the sky to the history of the people, Aithusa soaks it all in.
He is easily the size of a large workhorse now, but thicker and far more deadly. His size, though, isn't the biggest change for Aithusa, for his wings have grown longer, thicker, and the membranes now hold to the wind. In other words, Aithusa can fly.
It was hard, at first, and it took days of trying to launch himself into the skies after Kilgharrah before Aithusa could lift himself even a fraction off the ground. Now, however, he can soar on the fastest air currents, dive and dip, spin and bob like the birds. He can watch the world below and see for miles, picking out individuals from miles high in the sky, such is dragon sight.
Another change is his magic. Aithusa has begun spell casting and learning of the Old ways. He has been schooled in all the theories of magic, but it is only when he is a year that he can begin to properly learn.
There are times when they're summoned. It is technically Kilgharrah's name that Merlin thinks of when he summons them, but Aithusa goes too. Merlin is always pleased to see him and Aithusa ignores Kilgharrah's amusement when he greets Merlin. Still like a common dog, Kilgharrah says, but he means it in good jest and they both know that Aithusa will never bow to any human other than Merlin.
There is something in the air though and Aithusa almost expects a call from Merlin. Kilgharrah is in their cave - a new one in the White Mountains, tucked away from humans - and he watches Aithusa with care.
"Nothing will happen," he says slowly, laying his head back down on the cave floor and closing his eyes. "You should try to rest."
Aithusa snorts angrily and bows his head. The two horns on his head flash in the dim light provided by the moon, but Kilgharrah's eyes are still closed and the great dragon has little care for the anger of children.
"Can't you feel it?" Aithusa eventually snaps, nostrils flaring as he turns his head out to the cave entrance. He thinks that Kilgharrah can feel it and wants to know what it is.
"You need to ignore it," Kilgharrah says darkly, his voice low as he shifts his massive bulk. "It's not something that will ever go away, though it's only there once a year."
Aithusa cannot let this chance slip past. He needs answers and Kilgharrah is so short-coming.
"What is it though?" he asks, not taking his eyes from the entrance of the cave, as if expecting an attack. "Will you tell me what it is?"
He knows his answer before Kilgharrah speaks. Still, Aithusa is disappointed at the refusal and uncomfortable by the strange feeling on the air. He can't describe it, but it's wrong.
Aithusa gets an idea, but he has to wait until Kilgharrah is asleep. Still in discomfort, he settles down in his own nest, further back in the cave and waits until he knows Kilgharrah is sleeping, dreaming even.
He has never attempted this before, aside from using the connection with Merlin. Aithusa doesn't know if it's possible to do the same with Kilgharrah, but he has to try. He wants the answers and it's clear Kilgharrah isn't going to share them.
It works at first. Aithusa can see the dream that Kilgharrah is having and he marvels at the dragons around them. There are no other white dragons (Aithusa knows that he is a rare one) but there are countless scores of others. They are flying in a flock, just like birds, and there is almost every colour of the rainbow reflected in Kilgharrah's eyes.
The dream soon changes though and Aithusa can only watch in horror as he sees dragons bleed red. He can feel Kilgharrah's anger and knows that he would have fought if not for a Dragonlord calling him away.
"Balinor!" Kilgharrah roars in a terrible way that Aithusa can never imagine using on Merlin. "Uther is slaughtering our kin and you call me to leave them?"
The Dragonlord is crying, kneeling in the mud and letting tears stream down his face. He reminds Aithusa of Merlin and wonders if this is his father.
"You would have died," Balinor says, sobs still shaking his body. He looks so vulnerable and weak, but Aithusa understands why. Hundreds are being killed, shot down from the sky and bound, tortured before death. It is not a noble death and he shares Kilgharrah's anger.
Through Kilgharrah's memories, Aithusa learns of Balinor's trap and rages that Kilgharrah - the mightiest and most ancient of the dragons - is left chained underneath Uther's castle. Aithusa wants to roar, to find this Uther and tear him into shreds, but then the memory changes and it is Merlin who cuts the heavy chain, setting Kilgharrah free.
Merlin looks so young here and Aithusa knows that he's not yet a Dragonlord. He doesn't trust Kilgharrah and says nothing as the great dragon leaves. He is Balinor's son, but Balinor must have still lived.
Rage overwhelms him, along with sadness, when he sees Merlin use his magic to throw a spear at Kilgharrah. It doesn't even graze the dragon, but then the image flickers and Kilgharrah is shackled by a Dragonlord, the very one who is holding a spear. Aithusa knows Kilgharrah lives, but fear pounds through his entire body when he sees Merlin throw the spear up high.
It doesn't leave his hand and stays far away from Kilgharrah, but to Aithusa it is a betrayal. He growls low and wakes Kilgharrah, splitting the mind-bond he formed and it is then that Aithusa realises how far he's overstepped the boundary.
"You should not have done that," Kilgharrah says,eyes furious.
Aithusa doesn't know what to do. He cannot turn to Merlin for Merlin tried to harm Kilgharrah and yet Kilgharrah is angered beyond all reckoning.
"I would have told you!" Kilgharrah spits out,standing and curving his neck. His white teeth are revealed as he growls.
They may be the only two dragons left, but it doesn't give Aithusa the right to do whatever he wants. Kilgharrah is still his mentor and guide and he should have respected him.
Aithusa knows this, but he is still too angry.
"They betrayed us!" he shouts back, hackles raised and eyes narrowed. His claws dig into the ground, preparing to spring if need be.
"And yet here we stand," Kilgharrah says, his voice echoing through the cave. "It is long past the time of revenge and Merlin will bring about the golden age for Albion. We must trust in him, for he will free us from our prison."
Aithusa hissed. "The same Merlin who took a spear to his dragon?"
Kilgharrah straightens up, suddenly looking tired.
"Merlin became a Dragonlord when his father died in his arms. I destroyed his homeland led to the death of his father. I killed hundreds of people in my rampage and almost killed his prince. Merlin had every right to take that spear to me and I have never forgotten his clemency." Kilgharrah sighs, mournful and ancient. "He is a kind man, a good man. Foolish at times, but definitely good."
The answer isn't enough and Aithusa ducks his head down, aggressive to the only other dragon in the world.
"Aithusa," Kilgharrah says slowly, ducking his head a little in reply, showing his head plates in warning. Kilgharrah is larger and will win any skirmish they have, but this isn't something that can simply be pushed away. Aithusa knows the truth and it has hurt him.
"But they hunted us!" he cries and watches as Kilgharrah turns away, for once unsure.
"It is usually years before a dragon takes his great flight, but I feel that the time has come for you." He turns his great head to face Aithusa once more. "Albion has done the dragons great harm. Before, when out kind flourished, younglings would take their great flight across the sea to see the world."
Aithusa's heart beats wildly in his chest.
"Usually they are far larger than you are now, but you were never a dragon meant to follow the old ways." Kilgharrah smiles, and though their animosity remains - Kilgharrah angered by Aithusa's intrusion and Aithusa angered by humans - they can push past it for now.
"The dawn of Albion is fast approaching. You have a choice, Aithusa, to remain in Albion with your hatred or to see the world." The words are spoken and it takes no time at all for Aithusa to decide. He can't stay, not when his trust in Merlin has been so shaken.
"I will come back," Aithusa says, promising in their ancient tongue. Kilgharrah understands and watches him leave, fly into the night and up into the clouds.
Aithusa will return when he is ready, but he cannot watch Albion be born in harmony with the uncertainty he carries.
The second year of Aithusa's life is spent exploring far lands. He is far from Camelot and Albion, dancing between great forests and soaring over barren plains. He has seen strange animals - ones taller than him even - and marvels at each new thing he sees. There are humans all over the world too and, eventually, Aithusa learns not to feel fear or hatred upon seeing them. They are like every other animal and the prejudice that wiped out dragonkind does not stretch to every human.
Aithusa is into his third year - now roughly three times the size of a horse, yet still nothing to the great bulk of Kilgharrah - and he feels the call to go home. He has replayed the images he saw in Kilgharrah's head so many times and listened to the dragon's words that he understands now. He forgives Merlin and knows that it is time to return home.
Albion is calling.
He is roughly halfway to reaching his home when Aithusa hears the call of a Dragonlord. He has heard it in the time he's been away, but never like this. Before, Merlin had been calling for Kilgharrah, but now? Now he was calling for Aithusa.
Aithusa's heart leapt at the thought of seeing Merlin again and he gathered his magic. Kilgharrah had told him the one spell all dragons knew, no matter how untrained or unskilled they were. It is a spell that enable the dragon to appear near the Dragonlord calling them. Thousands of miles can be covered in less than a second and it barely drains the magic of either side.
With a flick of his tail and a flash of gold around him, Aithusa breathes in his magic and feels for Merlin. It is his first time doing this and he has to get it right. For whatever reason, Merlin has chosen him and him alone, rather than Kilgharrah. He has to make Merlin proud.
The sky erupts into flashes of gold when Aithusa splits open the clouds. He recognises Albion and sees Camelot's castle nearby. It's never been this close and he wonders what could have happened to Merlin for him to be so carefree. It is still daytime and Aithusa is likely to be seen if anyone happens to look the right way.
Merlin is close and Aithusa simply needs to look down to see why he has been summoned. There are two people - Merlin and his Arthur - and they are surrounded by creatures. They do not look mortal and Aithusa's suspicions are confirmed when he sees another man step out from the trees.
Aithusa can sense the man's magic, but it is twisted and ugly. He has summoned these demon-creatures, conjured of flame and hatred, spurred by greed and lust. These are beasts that only hell could accept and Aithusa knows that not even Merlin's magic could stop them and still save Arthur at the same time.
He roars, louder than any animal he's ever encountered and drops from the sky. Aithusa twists his body - he was always slimmer than others Kilgharrah had commented, for speed and agility - and hurtles for the sorcerer. He doesn't stand a chance against a dragon, even if Aithusa is young.
As Aithusa severs the head from body, the demon-creatures fall to the ground, patches of flame that Merlin and Arthur stamp that is finished though, Aithusa turns to his Dragonlord and finds a pointed sword blocking his view.
"From one beast to another," Arthur spits out and Aithusa bares his teeth. Even though he knows what Arthur means to Merlin, he is threatening Aithusa and Aithusa will not stand for it. He is a dragon and the purges are long since past.
With his face set in grim determination, Arthur takes a step forward towards Aithusa. Merlin calls out to him, tells him to stop and yet he doesn't. Dragon and man circle each other until Arthur realises that Aithusa is closer to Merlin than he is and he shouts Merlin's name.
Aithusa roars again, deeper this time and more meaningful as Arthur charges, heading for Merlin this time. Though it is no doubt to get his friend to safety, Aithusa will not let his Dragonlord be taken. He was called to help and he will protect his Dragonlord, even if it is from Arthur.
"Merlin!" Arthur cries again, trying to see his friend over the back of the white dragon. It is Merlin who speaks next and his voice is so calm that both Aithusa and Arthur startle.
"That's enough," he says, stepping forward and resting a hand on Aithusa's shoulder. "Aithusa is here because of me."
The effect is instant and Aithusa watches Arthur's eyes widen. He looks to have pieced everything together and he drops his sword.
"Merlin?" he questions, not daring to drag his gaze from Aithusa.
"I couldn't tell you," Merlin tries, but Aithusa can sense they're not the right words.
"Even after everything," Arthur hisses, finally tearing his gaze away from the dragon and reaching for his sword. It is a fine work and Aithusa can sense that Kilgharrah was the one to create the blade. A dragon's sword for the finest king to have existed.
"Arthur please-" Merlin begins, taking a step forward, but it is useless.
"You only revealed you had magic when you had no other choice," Arthur's voice is hateful and Aithusa shifts, unsure what to do. Kilgharrah would no doubt simply watch, but Aithusa cannot do that.
"I asked you if there was anything else..." Arthur looks pained and Aithusa can feel Merlin's own sorrow too. It is too much to bear and he puffs his chest, drawing attention.
"Merlin is the last of his kind," Aithusa says, in perfect human-tongue. Arthur startles at his apparent intelligence and Merlin looks at him in delight.
"He is the last Dragonlord and carries the burden of an ancient and powerful bloodline." Aithusa raises his head, looking down at Arthur. "We asked him to keep our secret and it was not his to share."
"We?" Arthur asks, shakily. "How many are you?"
"Just two," Aithusa replies, looking back to Merlin to see if he's okay with the information being shared. Merlin nods slowly, resting more heavily against Aithusa's side and his presence warms the dragon.
Arthur looks back at Merlin, a little hopeless and yet still so hopefully. Aithusa can sense his confusion, but he can also sense something larger and deeper, something Arthur has tried to keep hidden.
"I need time," the great king says, and Merlin lets out a heavy sigh.
"I'll stay with Aithusa," he rushes out, not once looking Arthur in the eye. "And there truly are no more secrets."
Arthur's mouth downturns and he leaves without speaking another word.
"It's understandable," Merlin says, though the sorrow radiating from him shows how Merlin really feels.
They wait in the field for a while, Aithusa curled on his side and Merlin tucked up against the dragon's neck. They are comfortable, enjoying the sun as it begins its descent, and wasting time before they both have to return to their lives.
"Arthur will never trust me again," Merlin mutters some hours later. Aithusa stirs from the doze he had suck into and opens an eye blearily.
"It will take time, but wounds will heal. He will remember all you've done for him and when he sees the good that dragons can do, he will think twice about why you've protected us." Aithusa stands and unfurls his wings, letting them warm in the sun a moment.
"You're so big," Merlin says and Aithusa looks down. Merlin is right though, he is so big compared to the last time he'd seen Merlin and he realises this with a pang of regret.
"I have learnt many things," Aithusa says, summoning the imperial wisdom Kilgharrah seems to think all dragons possess. It seems to do the trick and Merlin smiles, smoothing his neck scales.
"Kilgharrah said you needed to leave," Merlin mutters. His voice is regretful, as if he could have stopped Aithusa from feeling all the pain and hurt. Aithusa is older now, wiser, and knows that nothing could have stopped him.
"I needed to take my great flight across the world," Aithusa says. "I have learnt so much and it was a journey I needed to take at some point." Aithusa looks to the sky, closing his eyes for a moment.
"He told me what you saw," Merlin continues on and Aithusa opens his eyes.
"I was angry," he admits and Merlin nods, sinking in on himself as if he has betrayed Aithusa.
"You granted him clemency though," Aithusa adds, remembering when these memories caused him pain rather than the warmth he felt now. "You had a choice and you chose to spare him. After everything you lost, you let him live."
They walk in silence until Aithusa can smell Kilgharrah. He is high above, far away in the skies - their cave - but Aithusa can still smell his old friend. His heart soars at the thought of seeing another of his kind again (for he's seen so many animals, a few similar to dragons in looks but nothing like them in any other respect) and he looks to Merlin with wide eyes, singing his wishes through their bond.
"You..?" Merlin asks, voice full of awe and wonder. "You'd let me?"
Aithusa smiles and nods enthusiastically, dropping down slightly so Merlin can climb onto his back. He has to sit upon Aithusa's shoulders as his neck is still too small, and he waits until Merlin is settled, gripping the spines at the base of his neck for support.
Aithusa tensed his muscles and launched into the air. He unfurled his wings, taking to the skies and Merlin's cry rang out around them. It was full of joy and awe and Aithusa couldn't contain his own excitement, calling out and twisting in the wind currents, calling to Kilgharrah, to Arthur, to the entire kingdom of Albion.
Kilgharrah was waiting by the time they arrived at the cave and he drew himself up to his full height, staring Aithusa down. Merlin leapt from his back and Aithusa drew closer to Kilgharrah, snorting softly and lowering his body. Kilgharrah was still the stronger of them and he respected his mentor.
"Welcome home," Kilgharrah said softly, eyes twinkling. He looked down at Merlin after and bowed his head. "Young warlock, it is good to see you."
"Arthur saw Aithusa," Merlin blurts out, looking to Kilgharrah for advice. Aithusa has never wondered about their bond - it is so clear to any observer. Merlin trusts Kilgharrah and seeks his advice, even if he knows it will not always be what he wants to hear.
"You carry the same worry you felt when Arthur found out about your magic," Kilgharrah says, and in the background his magic is feeling its way to Aithusa, connecting with him and seeing if he is okay.
"And just like then, when you came for my advice, I will tell you that he will accept this in time." Kilgharrah bends further down, coming eye-to-eye with Merlin. "I told you that the white dragon bodes well for Camelot and Arthur will never be able to hate Aithusa."
Merlin looks so hopeful and Aithusa makes note to ask Kilgharrah about what he means later on.
"I have to return to Camelot," Merlin says quickly and he turns, as if he's to walk back. Kilgharrah gives a rumbled laugh and Aithusa snorts sharply, shaking his head when Merlin turns, eyes wide.
"I can take you," Aithusa says and they slip away into the darkening sky, a white streak that seems like a shooting star.
Aithusa waits and watches after he's left Merlin, hiding in the clouds as he sees Merlin return to the castle. As he suspected from what he felt in their connection, Arthur is waiting for Merlin by the gate and, even as high as he is, Aithusa can feel the relief the king exudes.
Kilgharrah explains that they are two sides of the same coin, but Aithusa thinks its a little different. A little more like destiny and love than simply being lumped together.
He returns to Kilgharrah and their cave, begins learning all that he's missed and shares his own experiences with Kilgharrah. They learn together, share memories and now Kilgharrah is unafraid to forge a connection with Aithusa. They dream the same dream, share fond memories that Aithusa knows belonged to all dragons at one time and they are peaceful.
The months spin past and there are mentions of wars and conquests, lands lost and won and people scared. Through it all the name Arthur Pendragon rings like a beacon of hope to those seeking safety and Camelot's territories spread. Kilgharrah is content only to watch (he says he is not meant for that destiny, but that Aithusa is something entirely different), but Aithusa knows he cannot simply watch while Arthur and his kingdom forge their golden kingdom.
It happens accidentally while Aithusa is hunting. He passes valleys and hillsides, fields green with grass before coming to a darkened field. People have died here, slaughtered where they stood, and he sees men in Camelot red and gold shaking their heads.
Merlin is with them and he looks grim beside Arthur. Aithusa stays high above, but calls out to Merlin and Merlin answers.
"They were slaughtered for seeking peace with Camelot," Merlin explains and the sadness in his heart he feels for these lost people is heavy. "We were so close to providing them an escort to safety and instead their so-called king murdered them."
Merlin pauses a moment and Aithusa can see him speaking to Arthur. Arthur nods and draws his men together while Merlin remains where he is.
"You can come out if you wish," Merlin says and Aithusa breathes in deeply.
He falls to the ground, landing with a heavy thud. He is angry and growling, but not at the knights and certainly not at Merlin and Arthur.
"What king would do that to his people!" he roars, and the gathered horses whinny in response. They do not fear him and they rejoice in his anger, while Merlin's gaze is levelled stonily at the corpses.
"Not a man who deserves to be called a king," Arthur calls and, surprisingly, he is the first to approach Aithusa. The knights, though they were given a moment's warning, are still wary and Aithusa cannot blame them for wanting to stay away from an angered dragon.
"Aithusa," Arthur says quietly, close enough to each out and touch Aithusa if he so wished. "That's your name, isn't it?"
"As true as yours is Arthur," Aithusa replies, bending his neck a little so that he can look into Arthur's eyes more clearly.
"I wish to apologise for the last time we met." Arthur's voice is stern, all that a leader's should be and it would sound callous, if not for the honest emotion Aithusa can feel underneath. "It was..." Arthur trails off and Aithusa smiles.
"Unexpected," he finishes and Arthur gives a small laugh.
"Exactly." He turns to his men and raises his chin. "We will rid Albion of all false kings who wish only to harm than protect. We ride with the white dragon, the most noble of all creatures and who is granted protection like no other."
Arthur looks into Merlin's eyes as he speaks and Aithusa cannot fathom how Kilgharrah simply thinks they only share a destiny. He can feel their emotions tingling through the death and the sadness and knows, beyond doubt, that he has done the right thing. Aithusa was always Camelot's dragon, after all.
Aithusa is five when the last kingdom falls under Arthur's control. He flies over the land and calls out in victory. He is too high for enemies to think they can claim a prize and their arrows fall short, raining back down on the united land of Albion.
There are the days when Merlin flies upon his back. They can fly lower then, for Merlin can wave the arrows away - if they come that is. They speed through the country, shooting over lakes and forests, Merlin pressed against Aithusa's back and shouting in glee. No matter how many times they take to the air, Merlin still acts like a child.
It is a gloriously sunny day and Kilgharrah leaves their cave early. He tells Aithusa he is going to cross the seas and Aithusa smiles, telling him a handful of places that he'd like. Kilgharrah hasn't been able to leave Albion for some time and it has been even longer since he took a great flight. With Aithusa here to protect Albion, Kilgharrah can place all his trust in the young dragon and take himself off. He is surely deserving and Aithusa watches him go with a smile.
Merlin already knows and he greets Aithusa warmly.
"Kilgharrah left this morning then?" he asks, stepping out from the walkways and into the courtyard.
It is where they have been meeting for months now and everyone in Camelot is used to the sight of the large, white dragon. Children often rush forwards when they see Aithusa, calling his name and tying garlands to his legs. Aithusa watches it all with a smile, occasionally bending his neck to snort and snuffle at the children, laughing when they skitter and roar to each other. The older humans greet him too, but with food and water, for which Aithusa is grateful. He is still growing and still hungry, and sometimes the hunger is almost unbearable.
"He will be back soon, I have no doubt about that," Aithusa replies.
He tracks a group of children with the corner of his eye, wondering if he'll be gifted with another set of garlands. He likes them and likes indulging the human children. There is very likely never to be another dragon one and the human kind are the only ones fearless enough to accept Aithusa, to laugh with him and tie flowers around powerful claws.
"Aithusa," Merlin begins, voice deeper as he switches to the dragon-tongue. Aithusa's attention focuses fully on his Dragonlord, prepared for any command.
"It's not an order," he continues. "I wanted to do something for Arthur and was wondering..."
Aithusa laughs, his whole body shaking. He can imagine Kilgharrah's face if he told him about the request and shares the image with Merlin. They laugh together and that is how Arthur finds them, some minutes later. He is accompanied by his knights and a woman and they all pause at the sight of Merlin and Aithusa laughing together.
"I will carry the two of you, yes," Aithusa agrees, looking over to Arthur. The king smiles in return and nods to his knights. They continue on their path, but the woman - Gwen, Queen Guinevere - remains. She watches Arthur with sadness and Aithusa can sense something on her, something dishonest and something that is tearing at her.
It is not his place though. Aithusa has made it a duty to be concerned with Merlin and Arthur only, and even Arthur stretches it a little.
"King Arthur," Aithusa says, shifting his body until he is lying on the ground. Merlin smiles and looks over to Arthur as well, his excitement seeping from every pore in his body.
"Aithusa," Arthur greets evenly and steps towards them. He raises an eyebrow at Merlin, who shrugs in return, before nodding his head towards the dragon.
Almost belatedly he remembers his queen and turns back, smile a little forced.
"Perhaps Lancelot would accompany you to the gardens?" he questions lightly and Aithusa can tell he sees the stiffening Gwen makes at the knight's name. She nods though, instantly happier, and Aithusa thinks he understands.
He is sure that Arthur knows too and every chance he gets subtly condones their trysts. Arthur has Merlin after all, even if neither of them realise this.
They wait until the queen is gone and only then does Arthur fully relax. The truth isn't spoken aloud, but Aithusa knows that everyone is aware of it. It's simply a matter of time before it explodes and Gwen leaves Arthur, but that is something for another day.
(And would Kilgharrah say that this was a prophecy? Aithusa had never understood how he could make a prophecy - could he just say whatever he wanted and it would come true? - but this was something that wouldcome to pass, so perhaps..?)
"What did you want Merlin?" Arthur asks, eyes raking over Aithusa as he would with any of his prized horses. It annoyed Aithusa at first, until Merlin had explained that it was Arthur's way of checking for injury. Arthur cared, in his own, odd ways.
"You need a break," Merlin says promptly and grins. Aithusa feels his happiness and smiles too, closing his eyes and soaking up the sun shining down on the courtyard. He feels at peace and at home and marvels at the terrible circle dragonkind has undergone to get to this point.
""I'm the king Merlin," Arthur says slowly, as if Merlin is a terribly dim-witted child. Aithusa can feel the excitement though, bubbling underneath Arthur's skin as if he knows what is to come.
"Then consider it a trip over your country," Merlin states, grabbing Arthur's arm and tugging him over to Aithusa's shoulder. No other person in the entire kingdom (even the queen and the knights) will ever behave as Merlin does and simply pull the king around, but it is a perfect display of Merlin and Arthur's relationship and the bond they share.
Arthur fully catches on and his eyes widen. Aithusa is never quite sure whether Arthur has learnt to trust him, even when he's fought in Camelot's battles and protected both Merlin and Arthur many times. The dragon can't fault Arthur for it (he doesn't know the joy of a dragon after all), but today he will not accept distrust.
"Merlin," Arthur warns, voice low, but Merlin pays no heed. With help from Aithusa, they push and drag in equal measure until Arthur is clinging to the spines along Aithusa's neck. He is pale and Merlin is quick to slide behind him, wrap his arms around the king and hold tight to Aithusa's spines too.
Aithusa gives no warning and it takes a few seconds before they are in the clouds, Camelot a tiny model below them. Arthur is tense against Aithusa's scales, but Merlin is speaking to him, coaxing him to look around and he eventually relaxes.
When he sees the world, the vast land of Albion and even the glittering seas, Arthur laughs. He sounds like a young child and it isn't long before the two men on his back are whooping for joy, arms out against the wind as they are carried across Albion on the back of their dragon.
Aithusa is approaching his first decade when he feels Merlin call him, uncertainty and fear dripping through his dragon-tongue. Aithusa wakes and runs from the cave - Kilgharrah watching him go with a knowing look, as if he's been expecting this for some time.
"Merlin?" Aithusa calls as he splits the skies near Camelot. It is night and the magic surrounding him bright in the sky, but Aithusa pays no heed and simply speeds on, looking for Merlin and the source of his fear.
He finds his Dragonlord sitting in the grass and he lands, moving to curl around him. When Aithusa is settled, he turns to Merlin and nudges him gently. Merlin's hand can just cover his eye now, but he remembers a time when Merlin cradled him so gently, moments after he was born.
Aithusa waits. He doesn't use their bond to see what the problem is, doesn't try to coax Merlin to talk and instead waits. They have an eternity to wait and Aithusa would put everything on hold for Merlin,without needing a command.
"Arthur knew about it," Merlin says, as if he's been having a conversation in his head all this time. "He just let them... wished for it even..."
Aithusa thinks he knows what Merlin is talking about, but he does not speak.
"She was so happy when he returned, but I didn't think-" Merlin takes a deep breath, sharp and crisp. Aithusa lowers his head to the ground and looks up at Merlin, wishing he can take all the sadness away.
"The king no longer has a queen. There hasn't really been a queen for years now and I... Arthur knew. He had to suffer through it alone and I couldn't help him." Merlin is angry at himself, Aithusa realises and he knows he has to say something.
"Could you have stopped Guinevere and Lancelot?" he asks. Merlin thinks for a moment, shaking his head with a frown.
"Then you were spared from lying to Arthur," Aithusa says. It's blunt and he hates to speak in such a way to Merlin, but it needs to be said.
"You and Arthur share a bond that is deeper than anything I've ever experienced. It is, in many ways, like the bond we share, at least in terms of strength." Aithusa raises his head and smiles. "Perhaps Guinevere and Lancelot have chosen to finally be open because they know it is not just their happiness at stake."
It takes a moment, but Merlin finally gets it. His jaw slackens and he shakes his head, but Aithusa just gives a chuckle.
"Gwen was never meant for Arthur just as you are never meant to remain alone. You should return to your king, share how you feel and perhaps you'll see that this has happened for a reason." Aithusa stands and looks down at Merlin. He is shocked, but something seems to click, as if everything he's been through since he met Arthur finally makes sense.
Under the watch of a white dragon, Merlin returns to Camelot, running through the fields. He is still scared, but it is a different kind of fear, a good fear.
Aithusa can feel the very moment that Merlin tells Arthur and his hear soars higher than he has ever been able to fly. For the first time, they are both happy and Aithusa shoots a look to Kilgharrah.
"It was always more than destiny," he says, proud of what he secured. Kilgharrah simply rolls his eyes and states that they were always headed for this moment.
It doesn't wane Aithusa's happiness though and his dreams that night are filled with the flourishing kingdom that will come to pass under Arthur and Merlin's hands, even greater now they are united wholly.
As he grows, Kilgharrah teaches him more and more. Merlin sometimes joins them, though the journey gets longer as he grows older. Aithusa is saddened to see Merlin grow from the lanky man he knew him to be, but it is the way of life. Magic has a funny way of dealing with things too and Kilgharrah speaks in an amused tone of reincarnation and immortality.
Aithusa doesn't understand, but then again a lot of what Kilgharrah says is nonsense. The older dragon says it's because Aithusa still has much to learn, but Aithusa is convinced most of it is because Kilgharrah is going senile.
"Stop fretting," Kilgharrah says softly one day. They are in their cave and a breeze drifts by, gentle and warm. Aithusa lets out a stream of fire into the open air, warming any chill that was beginning to seep in and turns to his mentor.
"I can't help it," he mutters in reply, curling up and tucking his head back down.
"They have many years left to go," Kilgharrah says, closing his eyes and sighing. "It will take more than an army to pull them apart and, believe me, they will not leave Albion without protection."
Aithusa knows what this means - that they will guard the land after Merlin and Arthur are dead - and he opens his eyes, staring out into the night sky. He thinks he sees something, but it is not outside in the night. The vision dances behind his eyes and Aithusa smiles, satisfied by the answer he has been gifted with.
"Oh how they will live," he says quietly, thinking of the flight he can take Merlin and Arthur on tomorrow. They still have a long life ahead and Aithusa is going to see it through.
Merlin named him after Arthur and Camelot and after the sun that watches over them all. He is the last of the dragons, pupil to the great dragon himself and will live for hundreds of years to come. Through it all, Aithusa will protect Albion, but while he grows, he will live and love with his Dragonlord and king, protect and cherish them until their time to part comes.
He is, after all, the dawning of a new age.
I stated earlier that I just had to write this and I've enjoyed writing it a lot as, like many people, I love, love, love dragons and Aithusa is just... so full of hope for the future.
Comments are appreciated, thank you for taking the time to read.