Set post-The Last Dragonlord
Will be Merlin/Arthur (friendship)
None of the characters are mine, unfortunately.
At first, the king thinks his son is lying to him. He makes him repeat it all again, and watches him closely. No, Arthur is delirious with joy, relief and pride, fringed with a slight disappointment at Uther's non-reaction. He's telling the truth. But Uther doesn't believe him.
"You killed the Great Dragon," he says, carefully keeping his tone devoid of any emotion at all, "with a single strike of a spear?"
"Yes!" beams Arthur, radiating such happiness that what remains of Camelot's bedraggled court become infected with the same delight. They look around – tired, grieving, wounded – but exhilarated by their prince's victory.
'No, you didn't,' thinks Uther. He's many things – but he's a man who knows his limits. How can you push things to the limit when you don't know where it is? You don't kill dragons with a single lucky strike. You just don't. You don't kill dragons at all, not without dragonlords and sorcerers. He used them to kill the dragons, and then he killed them. Divide and conquer. Arthur didn't kill the Great Dragon. Even Uther hadn't been able to kill the Great Dragon. That's why he had locked him up.
"You saw him to die?" he says, lightly. "We should go and take his body has a trophy."
Arthur's flushed face looks momentarily crestfallen. "Well, he limped off," he explains. "Mortally wounded."
"You saw him?" Uther asks, cautious to keep disbelief from his voice. He wants the court nobles to go on believing, for as long as necessary, that they are all safe. They needed it, for the moment. And the townspeople cannot take any more fear. For once court and town are united. "Where was he wounded?"
Arthur is now becoming dejected. "He knocked me out," he admits, unhappily. He brightens again, as he waves his hand toward his omnipresent servant and declares, "but Merlin saw the whole thing."
Merlin. Now Uther is getting somewhere. "How could you know," he says in his friendliest interrogative tone, "how could you know it was a mortal blow?"
The boy nervously describes how the dragon was bleeding from his chest, howling in pain, staggering, no creature could survive it. Arthur looks back and forth, proudly. Uther is used to people being nervous around him. He's worked hard to make sure they are. He knows the difference between nerves and lying. Merlin is lying to him. Uther looks straight at Gaius. Gaius looks back, implacably, he had expected the gaze. They stare at each other, both faces completely impassive.
He trusts Gaius completely. Not to tell him everything, certainly not. Gaius has many secrets. Many of them unpalatable to Uther, doubtless. You can't trust someone who appears to be always on your side – from the start, the relationship is a lie. But he trusts Gaius about the important things. The things he tells him are the things he has to hear. He doesn't mind Gaius having split loyalties. He trusts his ultimate loyalty is to Camelot. He trusts him about Nimeuh, and about Morgause, and about Balinor. The question he is now weighing is whether he can trust Gaius about Merlin.
"It's always you, isn't it, Merlin?" observes Uther, sitting. Merlin looks panicked for a moment. Uther smiles; he's releasing him, for now, he wants to make clear, but it isn't over. He glances back at Gaius, who keeps expressionless. "You both did well," he says to the boys, and adds a few platitudes about the dead knights. He dismisses the court.
Arthur tries to stay. He wants to apologise, about taking a stand before, about not listening, about going for the last dragonlord...Uther waves a hand, without looking at his son. "Think nothing of it," he says. He can tell Arthur is bemused by this sudden lack of interest in discipline. But Uther's thinking, fast, about more important things than his son's nascent kingship. It's always Merlin, isn't it? Merlin gave him that sword which killed the dead. Even Gaius was stunned. Merlin knew Prince Valiant's shield was enchanted before anyone else, Merlin knew Arthur's goblet was poisoned, Merlin was the only person around when Cornelius Sigan's soul mysteriously got back into the jewel and Merlin was there when Igraine appeared to Arthur; Merlin was the only person there when Morgana was taken by Morgause. Merlin says a dragon can be killed with a single strike from a spear. He says he saw it happen.
Uther sits to have a think.