NOTES: Book 2 of the Legends Of Camelot. This story takes an AU turn before 'Sins Of The Father' and rewrites what we learn in the 2nd half of Season 2. You've been warned! Book 1 is already published and is called The King Of Elfland's Daughter. With thanks to all the people who read and left feedback for Book 1!
Legends Of Camelot
The Dragon's Son
Long ago and far away, a prince grew to maturity among his people. Strong in his heritage, cunning in his gifts, confident in his birthright, he set out through the land to spread his rule abroad.
Yet, even as he succeeded, there were those who resented his influence and majesty, who remembered old wrongs left unrighted, and old hurts left unhealed. The prince's enemies took him by stealth and wickedness and imprisoned him beyond the reach of light and hope until all memory should be lost of him.
This is not his story.
Arthur comes in from training to find Morgana's new maid giving Merlin a piece of her mind.
"You can't just deny me the prince's chambers!"
He can hear them all the way down the corridor, the echoes carrying in the empty space. "Actually, I can. Unless the Lady Morgana's asked you to fetch something for her from there, although I don't know why she didn't ask me while I was visiting her five minutes ago. What do you want?"
"I want to speak to Prince Arthur."
"Well, you can't. He's not here."
"Actually, I am now." Arthur climbs the last few stairs with some effort. He feels sticky and sweaty and wants a cup of wine, a solid meal, and a hot bath - not necessarily in that order.
The girl whirls, startled, and drops into a deep curtsey. "Sire."
Over her head, he gives Merlin a significant look. What's all this about?
His servant's shrug says most of it. He's got no more idea than Arthur.
The girl's risen, green eyes lingering on his face. She's a small, pert thing, blonde and buxom, and Morgana says she has nothing to complain of her service, save that she isn't Guinevere. A small thing, maybe, to most nobles; a big thing to Morgana, who's grown secretive and withdrawn since the Fae took Guinevere in exchange for their lives.
"Sire, I need to speak with you."
"You're speaking with me now."
The girl glances over her shoulder, shooting venomous looks at Merlin, who's got his best 'innocent' look on again. "In private."
Once upon a time, he'd have assumed that anything a servant girl had to say couldn't possibly be important compared to his need for a hot bath and clean clothing.
You claim titles don't matter to you, but you behave like a prince and expect me to wait on you like a servant.
"You have as much time as it takes Merlin to find some servants to fill my bath," he tells her and ignores the way Merlin rolls his eyes and huffs off. "And get me some lunch and wine while you're at it!"
She follows him into the room and closes the door behind Merlin, then stands there as he picks an apple from the table, her hands clasped tightly in front of her. The pose completes a pretty picture of innocence, made all the more affecting by the way she looks up at him from between dark-blonde lashes.
"Well?" Arthur says when the girl doesn't continue.
Now that she's actually got his attention, she seems hesitant to speak. "It's...it's the Lady Morgana. I didn't want to take this to King Uthyr but..."
"Yes?" When she doesn't continue, he frowns. "What about the Lady Morgana?"
"I think she's practising magic, sire."
Arthur sets the half-eaten apple down on the table as the maid pours out her suspicions.
Morgana, a witch? At first it seems a ridiculous.
Then pieces of the puzzle begin to fall together.
It explains why the Druids tried to take her years ago; and why she was so invested in saving the Druid boy in the first place. The fire that started in her quarters, the attacks his father believed were magic cast against her, the odd things that happened - and still do - to Morgana and no-one else in the castle.
It would explain some of Morgana's moods in the past seasons.
She's been subdued of late, aloof in a way that once would have been adopted to pique Arthur and his knights, but is now no longer intentional. Her outbursts are less frequent, less fiery, but the pent-up ferocity of her personal crusades still burns inside her, given outlet...how?
Arthur never dreamed Morgana might be using magic, and it floors him.
"Sire? Did I do right in bringing this to you? I'll not say a word to anyone, I promise..."
"No," he tells her. "You did the right thing. Continue to serve the Lady and..." But he can't bring himself to say the words that naturally follow on from that sentence. Tell me if you see Morgana practising magic again. He wouldn't have set Guinevere to spy on his foster-sister, why should he ask this girl?
Then again, Guinevere would never have brought this to Arthur in the first place. She'd have kept her counsel and protected Morgana - with her life if needed.
If it comes to that, she did give her life to protect Morgana - and Arthur and Merlin, too.
Arthur drags his thoughts back to the new maid, her gaze intent as she watches him. It occurs to him that this girl might not even want to serve a mistress she believes is using magic. He's not sure he could blame her.
"If you wish to be reassigned..."
"No, my lord! I...I'm happy where I am." Her words are a relief, and Arthur reaches for the apple again. At least he doesn't need to think up a reason to use on his father for why Morgana's gone through yet another maid. And speaking of servants, where the hell is Merlin and his bath? "But..."
"But if my lord...requires anything of me..." The pause is significant, as is the blush that touches her cheeks - very becomingly, he notes - although she then continues. "Regarding the Lady Morgana, of course."
"Of course." Arthur doesn't bat a lash. "No, just continue to look after the lady and keep your silence."
She drops into another deep curtsey, and now Arthur notices that her clasped hands are squeezing her breasts together, giving him an excellent view of her cleavage. From the look of it, she's quite a handful - whichever way a man would want to take it.
Arthur keeps his expression graciously aristocratic until the door closes behind her; then he lets out an explosive breath, and plants his hands on the table.
Of all the things to come up now, Morgana and magic are two things he doesn't want to confront.
Unable to take it to his father, reluctant to confront Morgana, without Guinevere to tell him the truth of it - and she would have known the truth, Arthur tells Merlin the maid's suspicions and his own thoughts while he eats.
Merlin pauses in laying out Arthur's meal. "Morgana's practising magic?"
"The maid says she's heard her muttering in a language she doesn't recognise. There are papers that apparently appear and disappear and she's never seen where Morgana keeps them." Arthur swirls the wine in his glass. "And she says that sometimes things move around the room and there's no-one touching them."
"That's not proof that Morgana's practising magic."
"Which is why she hasn't taken it to my father."
Abruptly, it occurs to Arthur that the maid's offer of a romp might have been a form of exchange: take what the maidservant is offering and she won't say anything about Morgana. Why didn't he see that before?
"Shouldn't you be talking to Morgana about this, then?" Arthur scowls as he takes the cutlery his manservant's offering, and Merlin hastily backtracks. "Right, dinner first."
It's usual for Merlin to clean up around the room while Arthur's eating. At least he does it quietly now, although he still has moments. Today in particular, he seems even more preoccupied than usual. While turning around with his arms full of armour, he nearly knocks over the great iron candelabra, then bumps into the sword-stand as he's trying to right it, and scatters the armour everywhere across the floor.
"What is your problem today?"
"Other than that I'm clumsy, stupid, and generally useless?" How Merlin manages to make Arthur's old insults sound like they're a joke, Arthur will never understand. Perhaps a servant doesn't have the same kind of pride as a prince, but they still have their pride and it still hurts when pricked.
Guinevere taught him that.
"Other than that."
"Hm. Nothing. I'm just going to take these and--"
It dawns on Arthur that Merlin's babbling. And, moreover, that there's something wrong with his manservant's response to the maid's report about Morgana.
"You're not surprised."
"Morgana using magic." This time, Arthur glimpses the flicker of dismay that crosses Merlin's face, feels something nagging at his memory.
Arthur's memories of that day are scattered and fragmentary now - as though the whole thing took place in a dream.
What he remembers is the way it felt to be helpless on the ground - armed but effectively disarmed. He recalls the way Guinevere's hand brushed against his nape, the moment's impulse he'd felt to turn his cheek into that roughened hand. He can't forget the anger that shook him when she exchanged her life for theirs - what right did she have to claim responsibility for them, as though she was the lady and they were mere servants?
And he remembers the Sídhe courtier - dark-skinned, fine-clothed, with an amused air as Arthur threatened him with violence.
"The day we were in the forest - the day the Sídhe took Guinevere... They knew your name."
"Well, they knew all our names."
"They said yours could be heard in the kingdoms of the Sídhe if we had ears to hear."
"Are you sure your ears didn't need cleaning that day? Because I don't know what you're talking about."
"Oh, I think you do. And I think you know more about Morgana than you're letting on."
"Uh...you know, this armour isn't getting any cleaner. I should probably--"
"You should probably sit down." Arthur points at the stool in the corner. "And start talking."
He doesn't usually use intimidation on Merlin, but he figures today's a special situation. Arthur lays one hand on the table and the other on Merlin's shoulder, and leans over his manservant ever so slightly. "We'll start with what you know about Morgana."
"She's your foster-sister." Somehow, Merlin manages to look cagey and innocent all at once.
"All right, what if magic isn't evil? What if it's just one more ability someone has? You know there's more to magic than your father paints it. You've seen his irrationality regarding magic."
"You're not answering the question."
"I don't know anything about Morgana."
Arthur narrows his eyes. That had a ring of truth to it - sort of. "So what do you suspect?"
Merlin glances away, and Arthur has a sudden insight.
"Is this like your friend at the village? The one who was a sorcerer?" His manservant hesitates, and that's enough to tell him that it is like the sorcerous young man in the village. Merlin's protecting Morgana. A tiny flame of anger leaps up. Dear Christ, does Merlin think him that rigid? He stands straight. "Merlin, you're not the only one who cares about Morgana. And I can't protect her if I don't know what she is!"
"You can't protect her if Uthyr finds out, either!" Blue eyes snap with a sudden, uncharacteristic anger. Merlin's never been servile, but the expression on his face is something Arthur's not used to seeing. For a moment, his manservant is a stranger before the ferocity fades leaving just Merlin. "What are you going to do?"
He doesn't know. He hasn't had time to think about this much.
And he's still hungry.
Sitting back down again, Arthur keeps one wary eye on Merlin, who doesn't move from the stool, but perches there, toes on the floor, wrists on the seat edged, balanced. His shoulders are hunched over, but his expression is open and thoughtful.
"You've got a natural skill with a sword," Merlin says as Arthur saws through meat grown cold. "What if magic's just like another skill?"
"Anyone can learn to use a sword." Arthur pauses. "Anyone except you."
"Maybe anyone can learn to use magic, too - it just takes more effort for some than others. I'll never use a sword as anything more than a club; someone else will never use magic."
The potatoes are mealy, would be delicious if they weren't cold. Arthur frowns, but swallows and lets himself be caught up by the argument rather than send Merlin back down to the kitchens to get something hot. "It's still dangerous, Merlin. There's a reason my father's abolished the use of magic and mages."
"And if the reason's wrong? Do you really believe Morgana's evil?"
"No." He's known Morgana since they were children; she's stubborn, wilful, imperious, demanding, and a right pain in the arse at times, but she's not evil. "That doesn't change the fact that she's using magic."
"I thought you said this was just the maid's story."
"All right. It doesn't change the fact that Morgana might be using magic, and if she is..."
If she is, then they're in trouble.
Morgana's in one of the southern sunrooms when Arthur finds her.
Ostensibly, she's reading. She actually staring out the window, not paying one bit of attention to the book of... Arthur pulls it up to see the cover. "Virgil's Aeneid?"
"At least I can read it. How bad is your Latin?" Morgana leans back in the chair, all white shoulders and vivid green dress. "What are you doing here?"
"I...uh..." He glances around the room, wondering how to bring the subject up. "Where's your maid?"
She shrugs. It's an ordinary gesture - very Morgana. The idea that the girl sitting in front of him is a sorceress seems laughable at this moment; but he has this idea in his head now, thanks to Merlin and there's no stopping it. "I don't know. Why?"
"Nothing. I'm just wondering...how are you finding her?"
"She's a good worker, I suppose." Another shrug; it doesn't make a difference to her. "She's not Gwen."
No, she's not.
Arthur feels the loss like stone in his belly. Perhaps it's a foolish thing to still hurt over something that was never there. They exchanged no promises, made no commitments. She never promised to wait, he never promised to cleave to her. They were barely friends, connected only through Morgana and Merlin.
"I've been thinking of going back."
Her words startle him. "What? Back into the forest? To be taken prisoner by the Sídhe?"
"A swap. I'd willingly take Gwen's place."
"Among the Sídhe?"
"Because of your magic?" The words slip past his guard. He hadn't intended to ask, yet even before he closes his mouth, he knows the shaft has struck home.
She holds herself like a hunted creature waiting out the hunter. "I don't have magic."
It's a staring game between them; whose will is stronger? Who will be the first to look away? Arthur watches her and she watches him. It doesn't occur to him to be afraid. Magic is magic, but this is Morgana.
Finally, Morgana's gaze drops to her book, and although her face is downcast, her pose shifts, shoulders setting back, resolute; every inch the lady. "What will you tell your father?"
"Only what he knows, which seems to be nothing. For heaven's sake, Morgana! I didn't believe when-- You know the edict against magic!"
"I know the edict is wrong! Arthur, what I can do...I was born with it - I didn't ask for it. I've sacrificed to no gods, made no exchange of souls, nor promises to demons. Magic's not evil, it's just something that can be used - like a sword or a bow."
He eyes her. "Have you been talking to Merlin?"
Dark brows rise. "We do hold conversations from time to time. Why?"
"Nothing." He rests his elbows on his knees and wonders when his life became so complicated. And something's nagging at him; something that Merlin said and which he can't quite--
Arthur jerks upright as something bellows with a reverberating roar and the stone walls of Camelot castle tremble as though they were made of wood. "What is that?"
Beyond the jewelled-pane window, something roars, something flaps, something steams with a crackle of fire and water and smoke. Arthur glimpses leathern wings and glittering scales leaping for the sky as people scream and scatter. And the shouts of the guardsmen mingle with the sudden clatter of boot heels down stone stairs.
He whirls, intending to join his knights to defend Camelot, but when he turns to Morgana, her eyes are looking right through him. "He's free," she whispers, and there's a terrifying joy in her expression.
"You kept a dragon under the castle? For twenty-five years?" Arthur stares at his father in disbelief.
So many secrets - so many lies. It's just the two of them here in Uthyr's chambers, where Arthur's found his father armoured up as though for war. The servants were dismissed; orders issued to the master of horse, the master of house, the seneschals of the knights.
"It was necessary," his father is saying. "The dragon represented everything evil about magic - power without restraint, no loyalties, no limits. As long as it was free, Camelot would never have become what it is today - it wouldn't be the kingdom it is! As long as it still is free, Camelot will never be safe."
"Father, going up against that is...it's insane!" Arthur saw the size of the dragon as its wings churned the air with thunderous downbeats, clearing the castle and the bailey, the town and the sky, winging its way north. It was big enough to eat a man whole without ever needing to chew. The span of those wings would stretch longer than a half-dozen horses.
And yes, Arthur felt a cold fear in his heart as he watched it fly away.
It matches the current, terrifying understanding that his father means to ride out to meet the dragon. Without Arthur.
"Listen to me, Arthur. I have dealt with this beast - this magic - before. I'll deal with it now."
"You're--" Arthur can't bring himself to say the words that hover on his lips, too old. He's seen his father nearly every day for the length of his life, both as parent and as liege lord, and never truly noticed the way his father's hair greyed through the years, never thought about what it meant that his father was growing older.
He thinks about it now. If Arthur's father dealt with the dragon once before, it was years ago, when the king was a younger man.
Uthyr's not young anymore.
But he's still the king.
Pale eyes pin Arthur like a spear through the shoulder. "I'm the one responsible for this," he says, and before that paternal, authoritarian will, Arthur must give way. "I'll deal with the dragon. You will hold Camelot together in my absence. Clean up the bailey, let the people know that our rule still holds sway."
"And what do I tell them? What you've told me?" It's little enough in the face of the questions that well up in him - questions that he knows he won't get an answer to, not yet, not now.
"Tell them..." Uthyr hesitates. "Tell them that evil is abroad in the land again, and that we will resist it to our last breath for Camelot."
"And when you come back?" Arthur won't think of the alternative. He's a man grown, responsible and capable; but a part of him fears the world without his father.
"When I return, we'll talk."
It's not the promise he wants, but he knows it's all the promise he'll get from his father.
They ride out in the midafternoon, a great and gallant parade of king, knights, guards, and Gaius. Arthur watches from the top of the courtyard stairs and wishes he was the one going out to fight the dragon instead of commanded to stay behind.
"That might have been me."
He turns his head in surprise at Morgana's statement. "Going out to fight the dragon?"
"No. Chained up for use of magic. Denied light and freedom for nothing more than being what I am."
"You don't know that's what it was imprisoned for."
"You don't know that it's not." Her gaze is frank, almost fey in its intensity. She's changed without Guinevere to anchor her, become someone that Arthur isn't sure he knows. "Uthyr has his reasons, I'm sure. But your father's no saint, Arthur. He'll do as pleases him, whatever that'll be, and both of us know the penalty for crossing him."
Imprisonment. Banishment. Death.
Maybe it's a simple issue for Morgana. Her abilities means it's hide her magic or flee for her life.
Arthur finds it more complicated. Maybe magic isn't wholly evil as his father's always claimed; but it can be used for evil - doesn't that make it dangerous?
By the fourth day of his father's absence, Arthur's feeling stir-crazy.
The bailey is being repaired under the watchful eye of the castle stonemason and the captain of the guard. The land and livelihood of the people almost manages itself, but for the occasional storm or raider, neither of which have the decency to make an appearance during a time when Arthur could do with a distraction. He trains the remaining knights in the mornings, drilling them in various formations that might be of use against a wind-borne enemy. In the afternoons, he sits in his father's seat of judgement and hears the petitioners who bring their grievances before him.
But there's a dragon out there, out among his people, and Arthur's stuck here at home, chained to a castle and a responsibility he can't shirk
Merlin brings him his meals, and Morgana's taken to keeping him company at mealtimes and sometimes in the judgement seat, while her maid hovers in the background, eyes downcast over clasped hands.
The conversation is not easy, but at least there are no more secrets between them.
"Then how are we supposed to keep magic users within the law?" Arthur demands of her one lunchtime, taken in his quarters because he doesn't want to deal with the court anymore. "If we can't expect obedience to our laws..."
"What if magic users are already within the law - except for having magic?" The jingle and clank of Merlin sanding Arthur's chainmail by kicking it around in a bag of sand punctuates his manservant's breathless voice. "It's using magic that puts them outside the law."
"Right now, it is. But if magic is lawful, what uses of magic are permitted? Oh, monsters and magical beasts that threaten the people - of course. But lighting candles? Warming food? Fetching slippers?"
Morgana laughs. "Who'd use magic to fetch slippers?"
It so happens that Arthur's looking at Merlin at that moment; sees shadows of embarrassment slide off his manservant's face. And something settles inside him, like the click as a door latch falls into place.
"Have you ever used magic to fetch slippers?"
"No, sire. Of course not."
"Because he doesn't have slippers." Morgana leans in. "Do you, Merlin?"
"Uh, no. May I be--?"
"Sit." Arthur indicates the bench, and watches as Merlin takes a very wary seat. It's not just him this time, it's Morgana, too - and, oddly, of the two of them, he gets the feeling Merlin's more afraid of Morgana. "The Sídhe knew your name."
"I did point out that they knew all our--"
"You knew about Morgana's magic."
"Probably longer than I did, since he was bringing me sleeping draughts from Gaius for a long time before I understood I was being drugged." There's a hint of bite in the honey of Morgana's voice, and Arthur watches as his manservant doesn't quite squirm.
"You asked for relief from your nightmares. Gaius just provided--"
Arthur cuts off Merlin's babbling. "You'll never wield a sword as anything other than a club."
Both Merlin and Morgana stare at him - at the non-sequitur - but Arthur looks only at Merlin. "You said 'I'll never use a sword as anything more than a club; someone else will never use magic.' Which suggests that someone else will never use magic...but you will. And have."
Arthur can say it with certainty through the growing anger in his gut. Merlin's worked for him for three years, and never said or hinted a thing. It's not the magic he's angry about. Magic is a problem under his father, yes, but Arthur knows loyalty when he sees it and he knows without a shred of doubt that Merlin is loyal to him. It's the deceit.
It's the fact that he doesn't really know the young man who sits on the bench, his hands folded in his lap, his demeanour no longer that of the cheerful, ingenuous servant but of someone who's something...more.
"I wanted to tell you," Merlin says after a moment. Earnest, as only Merlin can do. "It wasn't a matter of trust."
Arthur's about to ask what it was a matter of, when there are shouts from the courtyard.
Someone shouting for him.
He gets up so fast, his chair skids across the floor and his goblet tips over, but he barely notices as he strides to the window to look out at the open courtyard below.
What he sees is are the riders whose scarlet cloaks are seared and torn from a dragon's breath and a dragon's claws.
What he sees are the handful of men where nearly two dozen rode out.
What he sees is the man being handed down from another horse, his body battered, his leg bound with a scarlet cloak that's even now being stained a deeper scarlet.
Arthur turns on his heel and runs for the courtyard.
His father's unconscious but alive - at least for the moment. Waxen and limp, with none of the spirit and passion that he's always associated with Uthyr Pendragon, but alive. A dozen guards carry him into the main hall and Arthur bends to Gaius, who follows behind, limping and shaken. "What happened?"
"The dragon tore his leg and it's grown infected. I'll need Merlin, sire. And peace if your father's to survive this."
"You'll have both." He'll deal with Merlin and his breach of trust later.
"You'll need me, too. I can help." Morgana steps up, and when Gaius glances from Morgana to Merlin to Arthur with nothing more than a raised eyebrow, he gets a resigned shrug from Merlin in answer.
Is there anyone here other than Arthur who didn't know of this...this conspiracy of magic? He's beginning to wonder. "Fine. I don't need to remind any of you to be careful, do I?"
He leaves them to it. Gaius and Merlin will look after his father, Morgana will commandeer the servants as necessary; what Arthur wants now is answers, and he's only going to get them from the men-at-arms and knights who went with his father.
The guards reek of draconic musk, their undergarments rancid with sweat and dirt. Arthur gives them permission to take over the bathing house and compensation for the servants, and then takes Sir Leon aside.
"Where was it?"
"Up in the mountain reaches along the north-west pass. I swear, it was waiting for us, sire." Leon's eyes are dark with guilt and the fear that he's failed his king. "We'd expected destruction, but the villagers only said their herds were nervous and they were missing a few sheep. It took us by surprise - ambushed us as the sun was setting. It had the King within moments, and we tried to beat it off, but our weapons did nothing against it - arrows, spears, even swords when we managed to get some knights close enough."
"Didn't even scratch it?"
"Not that we saw, my Lord. They bounced off, or just scraped along the hide. Sir Galenor got a good thump in with his shield and the dragon let the king go long enough for us to get him away, but his leg was...well...you saw it, sire. Gaius could only do so much, and the king wasn't going to do any better."
Leon holds himself stiffly; the man's exhausted, he'd sag if he dared in the presence of his Prince. Arthur claps him on the shoulder. "You chose right, Leon. Thank you for bringing my father back."
"I've left half the men at the nearby village to keep an eye out on the dragon, but it didn't attack after the king was wounded. It was...it was like it was only interested in my Lord Uthyr."
Considering his father was the one to imprison the dragon for twenty-five years, Arthur isn't surprised.
"Get yourself cleaned up and fed and rested, and see to the men who were with you. Camelot lies in your debt."
Arthur turns away, expecting the man to excuse himself and head for the baths. But Leon doesn't move and Arthur turns back and catches an uneasy expression on the knight's face. " Leon?"
"My lord Uthyr's leg, sire. It was all torn up." Leon wets his lips and looks down at his hands. "That first night we got away, we didn't think he'd make it. Gaius made us stop in the forest and was tending to it, but he said it was probably hopeless and the king wouldn't last the journey."
"Sire... We set a watch - I swear it - but I woke when the moon was high and found...a woman tending to the king's leg. Like she'd just walked past the sentries and into the camp. She didn't seem afraid of me, either, and I challenged her presence."
Foreboding prickles at Arthur's nape. "Did she say anything?"
"That the dolorous wound would never heal, and...and to tell the Prince that the sword and he who had it made would be necessary to kill he who made it. And then...everything became a blur to me and it was morning and she was gone. And the king...he wasn't fully healed, but he was awake and strong enough to make the journey back."
A woman. Magical from the sound of it. Arthur frowns. "Did you recognise her? The woman you saw in the forest?"
Leon's expression is steady. "It was the Lady Morgana's maidservant, sire. The one who went missing last summer."
- tbc -
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