In the vain attempt to avoid my looming finals… another chapter!
He was in the city.
The gates had lain wide open for him to pass, the streets deserted as he rode fiercely toward the castle. Conflicting feelings welled up within him. He should not have left for Merlin. But he had to. Though if he hadn't, Merlin would probably have escaped himself. He was a sorceress. He could have found his own way out.
But what if he couldn't?
The city was under attack, and Arthur was not there to guard it. Where was his father? Was Gwen alright? Were his knights, who he has known and trained for years? Had they all died protecting the city that he was meant to protect?
When he arrived at the castle, he stopped, gazing, speechless, at the havoc.
The carriages of the royals were turned on their sides. Goods from trading wagons littered the deserted streets. The gallant flags his father had ordered be hanged were ripped and seared with fire. The western wall had fallen.
All was silent.
He pulled the horse's reins, maybe too roughly, and urged it on hurriedly. What was this?
Voices began streaming toward him from the large gaping hole that used to be the War Chamber. People screaming, children crying, women weeping. These would be the royals. No peasants would spare running time on pointless tears.
And then something else.
But it couldn't be. There were no more dragons.
"My lord!" A call came from behind him. He stooped the horse, looking back distractedly. A girl stood there, in bloodied robes that must have once been beautiful. Her hair was in disarray and her face hidden by ash and tear marks. She gazed at him steadily as he passed.
"Atora," He said, registering who it was. She looked nothing like herself. "I'm sorry, I have to-"
"It is the dragon you have chased away, back again," She said, quickly. "Your father and the knights- they're in the War Room. So is the dragon. But you cannot kill it."
"Why not?" He demanded, disoriented.
"You… just can't."
He paused a moment, and then nodded. There was no time for conversation. "Thank you. You should go hide."
"I think I'm safe."
He sensed that she was.
Then he pulled the reins again, pulled his sword to his side, and rushed into battle.
"You can go ahead, Lancelot," Merlin said, sitting as high up in his chair as he could manage. "Truly. I'm perfectly fine."
Lancelot made a disbelieving grant, but Merlin could see him gazing at the smoke with eagerness. He did not want to be here. He wanted to be there. With Gwen.
Merlin closed his eyes.
"I can get to Giaus myself, Lancelot. They might need you."
His friend looked at him, indecisive.
"Do you know what happened?" He asked, uncertain.
"No," Merlin said, just as a roar pierced the silence.
"What was that?" Lancelot demanded, raising up in his saddle to try and get a better look.
"It's a dragon."
"And how do I know that this is not some sort of… trick, young Sear?" The dragon asked her, fire in his breath.
"I tell no lies," She said. It gazed at her, its large eyes thoughtful.
"Enough of this," A voice said from behind it. She did not need to look to see that Uther had awoken from his stupor. His face was red with anger. "Knights! Rid our city of this beast!"
She had known he would say that.
Still. He was quite daft for a king.
"Stop!" A voice called from behind her, and everyone gasped. Prince Arthur, atop a white stallion with his sword swinging high. In her mind's eye she saw his blue eyes glistening under the slim rays of sunshine as he gaped at Kilggarah, recognizing him for the dragon he had been said to vanquish.
The knights stood in place, their swords drawn, unsure what to do. Norane knew the dragon was looming on in interest. None of their swords could harm it. Only magic could.
"Stop," Arthur said again. "Retreat. Everyone, we must retreat!"
Arthur was not like their father, Norane knew. That is why he should be king. Now. Why he would be.
Already stony looks were passed between father and son. The prince had seen Amaroa's prisons, had seen the evil within them, of which his father knew, which he supported and of which he took pride. When the Wizard would die, her brother would take the throne. Uther would be killed. Peace will reign. It must be so.
"What are you waiting for!" The king demanded. "Arthur, go with the royal courts, escort them out of the city! Knights- fight!"
"They'll die! They can't beat the dragon! Can't you remember the last time-"
There would be no use. The knights raised their weapons. In her mind, she heard the dragon laugh, as it soared to the air, roaring powerfully as arrows bounced off its thick scales.
This city will burn for the blood of Emyrs, He whispered to her, like she knew he would. And I will join my brethren within it.
I wish this was true, she replied, as cries of war filled the castle and the dragon's fire swirled around her, to the screams of the royals. But Destiny will take a different course.
And it did.
They had raced the last few hundred meters to the city, disregarding Arthur's orders to take it slow, for Merlin's sake. Lancelot felt nothing as the horse ran underneath him. Gwen. Gwen…
He glanced behind him. Merlin was as pale as a ghost. He could tell his friend was using magic by the way his eyes turned golden, and by the way he no longer leaned pathetically against the horse, as he had all the way down the mountain. But he couldn't last this much longer. Was this the right thing to do? He wondered. Take his injured friend from one battle field to another?
The city gates loomed before them. He could see the ash in the air, smell the smoke of burning houses. The stench of scorched meat. There will be no celebrations today.
Lancelot turned the corner at the gates, into the city, kicking his horse into a run. They sprinted through the deserted streets.
"Where is it? The dragon?" He asked, as they came to a stop in the middle of the destroyed courtyard.
"I'm guessing… there," Merlin said, pointing toward a sudden outburst of fire.
And then she saw him.
Atora looked, locked in a trance. She was standing behind the prince, hidden from the fire by a turned over wagon. That was him. Her wizard. Merlin.
He hadn't seen her. He came galloping into the battle, on the back of a sweaty black mare who's rein flew powerfully around her. He looked, horror struck, at the destruction around. His eyes met hers for a fraction of a second. But he did not recognize her at all.
How could that be?
He was off the horse, leaning on it feebly. Something was very wrong with him, but she could not think of this now. He was here, with her, at last-
She heard the voice, and saw his lips move, but it was not his. It was foreign, but also familiar. Commanding. Furious.
You can't make me love you and then die on me.
"Kaliggara! I COMMAND YOU TO STOP!"
How do you know so much about dragons?
"I HAVE ONCE BEFORE TOLD YOU TO LEAVE THIS PLACE AND NEVER RETURN. DO AS I BADE YOU. BE GONE!"
Born out of magic.
Yes, 'Norane thought. Yes. This is how it should be.
You are alive, the dragon mused, flapping its wings, staring down to earth, at the unsteady wizard.
Yes, She heard Merlin think. It appears so.
But you are different.
No. I'm fine.
Yes, the dragon breathed to the air, and fire bloomed in the sky. Be careful, Merlin. Beware of the insanities of Kings and Mortals.
"LEAVE!" The Wizard called, commanding, and the dragon roared angrily. It could not disobey. But it wanted to.
For he know saw what was to come, too.
Not everything is as it seems, she heard it whisper, before taking off into the sky.
That was the first time she's heard that.
Merlin felt everyone's eyes upon him.
This certainly has never happened before.
"It's gone," Someone said, and murmus filled the castle. "It's gone!"
Roars of joy.
But the king still gaped at him. As did Arthur. This was not good.
The roars died down. Uther took a step forward.
"Who did that?" Arthur called suddenly, into the crowd.
The king's head snapped to his son immediately.
"Who did that?" Arthur repeated, searching the faces of the guests. "There are no dragonlords in Camelot. Who's voice was that, who vanquished the dragon?"
There was silence. The king frowned, and then glanced slowly at Merlin once more, noting his exhausted state, the way he slumped in his saddle.
"Who ever had ridden the city of the vile beast will be greatly rewarded!" Arthur called, speaking louder. Fires still burned in the castle. Smoke filled the air, obscuring individual people from sight.
What was he doing?
"I had!" A voice called from behind. Merlin turned. Everyone had. A man stood there, also upon a horse, wearing full armor with the emblem of the Roater Court. "I am the Dragon Lord!"
All eyes landed on him. He sat tall in his saddle, pulling off his helmet, allowing billows of golden curls to fall around his ears. Feminine mumurs filled the area.
"Sir Ackles of the House of Roater," Arthur said, nodding at the man and smiling. "You vanquished the dragon?"
"Yes, My Prince."
There was silence. The King frowned, his expression skeptical.
"Camelot is forever in your debt," Arthur said.
The silence filled with a roar of joy, clapping, crowds amassing to prize the young hero. Uther gazed from Merlin to Akles, uncertain and suspicious.
"Where is my servant?" Arthur called then, over the noise of the crowds. "That idiotic buffon. I told him to get my horse hours ago!"
Merlin gazed at him, quite shocked.
Arthur looked back.
"Oh where, where could he be?" He called into the crowds, giving Merlin a meaningful look.
"Oh- here, my Lord!" Merlin jerked upwards, lifting his hand stupidly. He slid of the horse. "Here! Your mare is… is here."
He looked up. The black horse looked nothing like Arthur's white stallion.
"That is not my horse," Arthur said, again, too loudly, as he came toward Merlin. "You can't be that stupid! Come on! I must get rid of these ashen robes. We've got a celebration to get to!"
He shoved Merlin forward by the neck, more gentle than usual. Still, Merlin didn't need to fake the wince of pain.
"Walk quickly," Arthur whispered in his ear. "And don't look back."
But he did. The king gazed after them, eyes narrowed.
"You do realize there'll be no celebration, Arthur."
"Shut up and walk. We've got some things to talk about."
He motioned for Lancelot, who had been standing behind the entire time, gaping. His first time seeing a dragon. Poor guy.
"Go find Gaius," Arthur muttered in his ear. "Meet us in my chambers."
"If they aren't burnt down."
"Yes. Now go."
He was gone. Merlin swallowed.
"Come-on," Arthur said, turning toward the stairs.
"Wait!" a voice called from behind them.
Arthur's eyes were about ready to pop out of his head as he turned exasperated, to the newest interruption.
There was silence. Merlin's head was beating powerfully. He couldn't help thinking.
"If you want to say something, say it," Arthur demanded of the newcomer, gritting his teeth.
Merlin glanced back. He was so tired. All he wanted to do was sleep forever. And then there was Arthur, who deserved answers, who just saved Merlin's secret, who somehow accepted all of this without comment, not yet at least-
His eyes fell on the girl who had stopped them.
His heart stopped.
She was just as beautiful as he remembered her.
But the last time he had seen her, he'd brought her back from the dead.
"Alright then," The prince muttered, and turned back to his speedy march.
Merlin looked at her for a second more.
Then he followed.
Girls were stupid. That's the only conclusion. Stupid and daft.
Arthur stomped as he walked, fuming. Nothing made sense. Not the cave full of tortured people his father had paid to build, not the dragon who had appeared out of nowhere and destroyed half the city, not the hundreds of royals who just had to be here, now, right now, when everything was going wrong. And Atora, being all strange, and then Norane girl- his sister?- and Merlin. Bloody Merlin. A sorcerer, and a dragon lord, and maybe even a bloody unicorn in disguise, for all he knew about his supposed… friend.
Oh, and that. Being friends with Merlin. There was that, too.
"Are you coming?" He demanded, turning back toward his servant.
He staggered back, for the first time getting a truly good look at Merlin. He was hardly standing up, pale and sweaty, heaving heavily. His eyes were a strange color. He had seen that color before, in Amaroa's caves, but now it was dulled and sickly.
"Hey," He said, as Merlin swayed in place and his eyes rolled up. "Merlin!"
He caught him before he fell. Merlin groaned, his eyes now completely blue once again. He looked like he was about to be sick.
"Comeon," Arthur muttered, half carrying him to the nearest wall. Merlin slumped to the floor pathetically. He was whiter than a sheet. "Are you alright?"
"Never better," Merlin managed, and coughed painfully. Arthur looked around. The hallway was deserted. Everyone was outside, celebrating the dragon's flight.
"Alright," He muttered. "I'm sorry if this isn't the best time, but for the love of Camelot, Merlin, you've got some explaining to do."
"Yeah," He pulled himself higher, and Arthur sat down next to him, watching the corners. "I know. I'm… I'm sorry, about the… dragon… lord thing." He wasn't speaking clearly. Arthur had trouble making out individual words. "I… my father was… a…" He dissolved into a fit of coughing, and Arthur had to pat his back a couple times to get him to breathe again.
"Alright," He muttered. "Definitely not a good time."
"No," Merlin protested as the prince stood , ready to get help. "I want… to say this. I'm a sorcerer. I've always been… had…" He swallowed with difficulty. Arthur could see his eyes becoming unfocused. "had magic. Since I could remember. I didn't… get it. I never… traded… my soul. I don't…"
"I know you're not evil, Merlin," Arthur said, stunned at the thought. "You're… an idiotic buffon. You can't even watch when we kill animals during a haunt." Merlin granted half a laugh, and Arthur smiled, glad to see his friend was still there somewhere. "Don't think I hadn't seen you averting your eyes. We'll talk about this later. Right now, I need to get you some help."
Merlin's blue eyes met his gratefully. Wordless, they spoke a world.
"I'm assuming you were the reason behind the dragon's mysterious disappearance that first time, too?"
"Nah," Merlin shock his head. "You did that, while you were unconscious."
"Can't believe I believed that."
"You won't believe what you've believed."
The grinned at each other.
"Gaius?" Merlin managed weakly.
"Right. Gaius. That."
It seemed that all was well in Camelot.
The dragon had gone. The damage it had caused seemed, apart from the Wester Side, to be minimal. The celebrations would not continue as planned, but the feast had remained relatively unharmed, and the birthday would proceed as expected, while the stays of the royals would be cut very much short. They would be gone the following morning, as would all the traders who's wagons still stood.
The peasants, also, seemed to be well. Apart from the main road, most of the city was also unharmed, for the dragon had only one target in his furious rage: King Uther.
Atora had been accepted back into the arms of her hysterically sobbing mother with love and gratitude, and as she stood stonily between the woman's thin arms, she thought of her wizard's regretful longing as he turned away from her.
In the dungeons of the castle, the king's daughter tried to see into the future, now somehow altered beyond revision, for reasons she could not understand.
Gwen and the ill of the battles were treated in the large courtyard, under the sun's rays, by many royal physicians who had arrived.
Merlin, long unconciounce, was left in Gaius's caring hands while Prince Arthur commanded Lancelot to join him at the head of the table during his twenty third birthday feast.
So it seemed that all was well.
Two men stood stonily before the chariot, staring emotionlessly forward.
They were as bold and as dark skinned as ever. The only difference were dozens of new scars covering their already patched together skin, and their robes, ripped, bloodied, and covered by dust and rubble from the collapse of the caves.
In the chariot, which was a new one, from one of the Ork's villages, sat another hardly changed man.
He was still small, and rat like. His eyes were still cold. Not a mark was seen on his skin. A man who owned so many sorcerers did not need to bear scars or wounds upon him.
But there was one difference in Amaroa, apart from his magically configured robes.
He wasn't smiling.
Thank you to everyone who reviews or put this story in favorites or alerts! You're all brilliant and awesome!
I think I will continue this story, if only for the few people still reading. Things are starting to come together. It may not seem like it, but really, they are. Atora's purpose is coming into focus, while Norane's is coming to its end. And Amaroa isn't done yet...
I hope you keep reading and that you're ready for some exciting moments which are coming up next...