AN- This is my first serious writing attempt, I hope you all like it. In this story Arthur is 22 and Merlin is 19; my reasoning is that if Balinor was in exile for twenty years- I'm thinking a year after Arthur was born giving Uther enough time to claim to want to make peace, and even if Hunith and Balinor fell in love right away, it would take 9 months for baby Merlin to come along. Hence them being 3 years apart, like the actual actors!
Disclaimer: So I don't own Merlin, surprise!
A dull sound of hooves broke the silence of the forest. Two horses hurriedly carried their riders through the woods away from Camelot. The faces of the riders were tight with worry for those they left behind. Pale light reflected off the blonde hair of the prince, causing his companion to liken him to an avenging angel. A look of focus only a knight could manage took up residence on the strong planes of Arthur's face, his knuckles white where they gripped the reins.
Focus was the last thing on the warlock's mind as a frown contorted his elfin features. Whereas Arthur had a boyish ruggedness, Merlin possessed a powerful delicateness like that of a marble sculpture. His brow was furrowed and his jaw clenched, as he learned from experience not to bite his lip while riding a horse. Thoughts were swirling behind the depths of his eyes.
Father. That one word echoed through his head, soaking up any other potential for another thought. 'I have a father? What will he be like? I have a father! Is he like me? Am I like him? Will he like me? I have- '
"Merlin" Someone's voice droned from far away.
' –a father. Does he have friends? A family? A so- no, he can't, but-'
"Merlin", the voice called again. A familiar voice, Merlin knew, and one he should probably respond to, but-
'What if he does? Will he help us? What will he think of me? Does he even know I exist? What if he thinks I'm lying? Will he hate me? I can't believe I have a father! No one told me! How could they? Mother and Gaius both! Well I guess- No! They should have told me, they should have. Why didn't-'
"Merlin!" Ah, it was Arthur's dulcet tones. Merlin tried to quash his train of thought.
'They had no right to-'
"Sorry Arthur" Merlin flicked his cloudy eyes at the prince but did not further break his stony silence.
Father, father, father...
"Sorry Arthur? That's all I get? I called your name ten times! If you were too scared to come you could have just said so Merlin!" Arthur ploughed on, unaware of his friend's troubling thoughts, "Really, you have more moods than a girl. I didn't throw water on you again did I? How could I have, what with the drag-", Arthur shook his head as if that could chase away that fearful topic. "What you should have said was, I apologize sincerely my most humble master, greatest, grandest prince of..." Arthur trailed off, raising a golden eyebrow at Merlin.
Arthur huffed and drew his gaze away from Merlin, grumbling to fill the oppressive silence one normally wouldn't get when with the dark haired boy. If Merlin did not rise to taunt him when Arthur set himself up so nicely, the odds were that he would stick with keeping his mouth stubbornly shut. The prince's pride would not let him concede any more losses to the younger boy but he would never let it go. Merlin did say he was like a dog with a bone, or more often, an Arthur with defenceless prey. He would find out what was bothering Merlin later on tonight. Yes, that's what he would do.
The inn of Engerd, Merlin decided, was the sweetest sight he had ever laid eyes upon. They hurried through the pouring rain toward the inn stables to leave their horses for the night. Arthur made sure to let the stable boy know in no uncertain terms that it would be in his best interest to make sure their mounts were well cared for and then made his way towards the inn; Merlin followed after slipping two coppers to the boy.
Sounds of drunken shouts and rowdy laughter could be heard many paces away from the door, but nothing could deter the rather soggy prince and warlock from finding shelter from the bad weather.
Silence and warmth greeted them as they burst into the inn, all of the questionable looking men paused to eye the new outsiders with distrust. "...Greetings!" Arthur offered, smiling awkwardly and bobbing his head, Merlin would have laughed had it been any other night. Dismissing them as harmless travellers, the occupants turned their attention back to their drink and gambling.
They sat down at a table and the innkeeper shuffled over to slam two mugs of ale in front of them, half the contents slopping out. Just as well because both Arthur and Merlin knew what was the latter was like with alcohol; Arthur didn't like the look of these men, 'not that Merlin can do anything if something happens anyway', Arthur thought to himself.
"Do you think one of these men is Balinor?" Merlin asked weakly. They were glancing around the room warily, but not quite knowing what they were looking for. If they thought the shouts were loud outside the inn, it was nearly deafening once they were inside it.
"I hope not" was Arthur's short reply.
"So do I"
The men behind Arthur were talking (yelling) about a possible match between their children. The one Merlin determined looked shifty was championing his son. Merlin snorted into his mug, apparently he was every father's dream. Merlin regretted drinking that ale, he was now angrier than when he entered the inn, and his topic of thought only served to make him more agitated. Furthermore they had no more leads to find Balinor- the innkeeper had never even heard of him. Where would they start tomorrow? Arthur was still looking around the room, sizing up each man. Merlin wished he knew what to look for, maybe if he had a description to go by, 'Couldn't Gaius at least tell me something about him? Always has to keep me in the dark, keeping secrets, s'not fair. As if we don't keep enough of those, I'm so tired of it. Merlin sighed under his breath, aware that he was being unfair but he wasn't in the mood to be sympathetic. He knew he would feel guilty about his train of thought in the morning.
It was as they were finishing their meal- mutton with potatoes- that Merlin noticed his friend wearing one of his conflicted expressions while glancing about the room, the one he donned when he questioned his father's decisions but didn't want anyone to know.
Arthur was thinking about the man Balinor. 'If only father did not order him to be executed, we wouldn't be on this stupid chase. It wasn't like he could actually use real magic... I think' Arthur sighed and ran a hand through his damp hair.
Merlin knew what was occupying Arthur's thoughts, the prince had assumed that expression when Uther was explaining his extermination of the dragonlords. Merlin allowed himself a small smirk, Arthur would become a great king yet. The corners of his lips turned down once more, if Arthur didn't agree with his father about the dragonlords, perhaps he would accept the son of one? It was more than Merlin dared to hope, but could he take the chance? Merlin viewed Arthur as a friend, his closest friend, but they were master and servant- it would become a choice between his father and his friend, and Arthur had made it clear he never wanted to be placed in that position again. Merlin took another swig of his ale, the crystal of Neahtid wasn't something he wanted to think of right now. 'If he finds out I'm a sorcerer, it would be even worse. He wouldn't understand like he would with this. He knows better than anyone you can't choose your parents... your father', A shout of outrage jolted Merlin out of his thoughts, the dim looking man near the window had just lost at dice again.
"Right, let's turn in Merlin, big day tomorrow" Arthur belched out his mutton and stood up. Merlin followed suite, but despite a half mug of ale his belch was less than impressive.
The room they entered was small and drafty. Two beds were placed against the opposite walls with little space between them. The beds looked thin and lumpy, it seemed like Arthur would just have to make do. Sitting on his bed, Arthur freed himself of his shirt and frowned, his wounds were worse than he thought. He turned to Merlin who was lying on his bed and doing a good job of burning a hole in his back. Merlin averted his eyes, did he honestly think he was being subtle?
"What is wrong with you today?" This was Arthur's chance. Subtlety wasn't usually a strong point of his either.
"It pains me to admit it, but I do enjoy your surly retorts. In fact it's probably your only redeemable feature." Lull him into a false sense of security.
Arthur snorted softly, "There are loads of servants who could serve, so few are capable of making a complete prat of themselves. What is it?" This better work
"It's something, tell me" Merlin remained silent. Arthur pulled a face, he was going to make this difficult. "Alright, I know I'm a prince", at this Merlin turned his back, "so we can't be friends. But if I wasn't a prince..."
"What?" Merlin shot back
"Well then, I think we'd probably get on." Probably.
"So?" He wished Arthur wouldn't pry, it was getting increasingly difficult to hold his silence.
"So that means you can tell me", come on Merlin.
"Well that's true but you see if you weren't a prince, I'd tell you to mind your own damn business"
"Merlin" Arthur exclaimed, somewhat surprised at his belligerence. Arthur took it to mean he was getting close. "Are you missing Gaius" Arthur called in a sing song voice, add some diversion.
"Something like that" Merlin replied bitingly
"Well what is it then?" he grinned and lobbed his pillow at Merlin. The dark haired boy turned over on his back, 'I can tell him'.
"I'll tell you" He wanted to speak the words, really he did, but they wouldn't make it past his lips, "I'm worried about everyone back in Camelot I hope they're alright" was what came out, far too fast to be believable.
'Liar' Arthur thought, but replied, "So do I". Arthur decided to let it drop, he could probably crack his best knights before he could get Merlin to give in. He'd try again tomorrow.
Merlin cursed himself, and Arthur, he cursed Gaius too and again because he just couldn't bring himself to curse his mother, 'Arthur would understand', he thought moodily, 'He's my friend, has been for a while now'. Merlin sighed through his nose, he was only making himself angry again. He shut his eyes and tried to think how Arthur would react if he told him his secrets, not just the one either.
The prince was proven right about the inn crowd when he heard their room door creak open and a man entered trying to be sneaky. He slunk to Arthur's side and reached under the bed, drawn to the Pendragon crest and the prince seized his chance. Poor Merlin jumped out of his skin as Arthur pinned the intruder at knife point down on his bed.
"What's going on!" He drew his legs away from the heavy pressure.
"You know what the punishment is for theft" Arthur pushed the dagger closer to the man's neck.
"Please! I got children to feed" Merlin thought he should feed his children first then.
"Tell me where to find Balinor" The thief recognized the name but feigned ignorance
"What do you know of him?"
"Nothing, I-", he grunted as Arthur twirled the dagger against his chest.
"Do you value your life?" The thief squeaked at the prince's threat.
"It's been many years since I saw him!"
"You know where he lives?"
"You must travel through the forest of Merendra, to the foot of Feorre Mountain, there you will find the cave where Balinor dwells" the man conceded. Arthur released him and Merlin stared at the thief. A cave? "But don't get your hopes up"
"Why?" Merlin interjected.
"He will not welcome you. Balinor hates everyone and everything. A cave's the best place for him" With that he scurried off.
Merlin wanted to know more, what did the man mean, a cave's the best place for him! His anger did not ebb with sleep, and now after the revelations of the night, he was feeling anger and disbelief, and not a little bit of confusion.
Arthur sat back on his bed smirking, they now knew where Balinor was living! What a stroke of luck that thief was. He sat down and looked at Merlin expecting the same look of triumph on his face, but instead found that Merlin was scowling at the door. "Merlin?" he waited. 'What is with him!' Damn Merlin for ruining the moment, the prince felt a frown form unbidden on his face. "Merlin", he tried again and Merlin's eyes snapped towards his own. Arthur was taken aback by the look on his frien- servant's face. The boy was never any good at keeping his emotions secret, there was definite anger in his eyes as well as uncertainty, and was that fear? Merlin's mouth bobbed open and closed a few times, he kept glancing between his hands and Arthur. The boy clearly needed to get something off his chest; Arthur was puzzled, Merlin wasn't usually shy about speaking his mind. Something was holding him back. 'That's it! He isn't going to ignore me anymore. I'm a prince, he has to answer me', but that has been exactly what Merlin hadn't been doing, for a while now if Arthur had thought about it, and he had. Being a prince though, had never been cause enough for Merlin to defer to him. And therein lies the problem, he was a prince and more often now there were times he hated all that came with it. His servant had always treated him as simply Arthur, and now his friend Arthur for more than a year. Merlin had been the one to show Arthur what it meant to have a true friend. Arthur decided it was time he do the same for Merlin.
"What's wrong? And don't tell me you're worried for everyone, that isn't what's bothering you" Merlin took a breath and closed his mouth, looking for all the world a desperate man. Where did Merlin go? Arthur swallowed and shed the last remnants of the prince, "...Merlin, if you won't answer me as your prince, answer me as your friend". Ah, the straw that broke the camel's back, or mule in this case.
"I lied before! Or I didn't tell the whole truth, I'm not just worried for Gaius and everyone, Gaius- I- he- he told me- that-before we left -that-"
"Merlin, slow down"
But now that Merlin had started he couldn't contain it, the words just burst from his mouth. He didn't want to stop them either, since the thief had revealed Balinor's location- in a cave, he realized that he was scared at who they might find. Merlin was scared and angry and he wanted to trust Arthur but his biggest fear might be Arthur turning him away. But now the more Arthur talked the more Merlin wanted to look to him for support, to lean on him. All of a sudden Arthur registered the look of trust Merlin was giving him as if he was going to put his life in Arthur's hands, his brow knitted together in confusion.
"Arthur, he told me Balinor is- he" Merlin took another breath and clutched his hair, "Balinor's my..." why couldn't he get that blasted word out? It was like that time Will's mother had to tell him his father was dead; she couldn't say that dreaded word, it remained lodged in her throat, but after faltering she settled with saying he was gone. Merlin floundered trying to find another way to tell Arthur, he started again slowly, "Before we left. Gauis told me that Balinor fled to- to Ealdor. Where he met my mother". Merlin let his arms flop to his sides, he dragged his gaze to Arthur's, waiting for him to realize what he was saying.
The prince just stared back at him, his eyes widening as he put the pieces together. "But- that means- are you saying?" The implications were glaring, does that mean Merlin, Merlin was-
"I'm the son of a dragonlord" Merlin whispered, finishing his thought. He suddenly sprang up and Arthur continued to gape at him. "He's my father!" Merlin continued feverishly, his voice gaining strength, "Arthur, I have a father! I really have one! He's... alive...my own father..." Merlin trailed off, he found his legs couldn't support him any longer, they were shaking. He sat heavily back down on his bed and fixed his eyes on his knees. He felt relieved now, pushing his fear aside. Merlin grinned stupidly up at Arthur.
Merlin's euphoria was palpable, but Arthur needed to clear something up, "Balinor is your father?" he watched as Merlin nodded weakly. 'Well that explains it'. "Gaius only told you before we left? " Arthur asked incredulously. Merlin grimaced and nodded his head.
'Merlin is the son of a dragonlord. Does that mean he is one too? No, Gaius would have at least said something to Merlin if he was, wouldn't he? Merlin would probably stop the dragon if he could, it would be something he would do- the idiot.' Merlin was looking at him again, Arthur knew that Merlin wanted to trust him. Arthur asked Merlin to confide in him as a friend and he did, despite the danger of doing so. Gaius must have advised Merlin not to tell him- the king's son- judging by how conflicted the boy had looked, and Arthur tried to ignore feeling touched that Merlin would go against his mentor like that. Gaius was right to not want the king's son to know of Merlin's heritage, but Arthur decided that he was not only a prince, he was a friend too. And Arthur was not his father, boy did he know that, and Merlin was not his either, how could he be without knowing a single thing about the man. Arthur let himself be a little proud of his reasoning, and besides, he thought, 'Merlin can't help any of this, and he isn't a dragonlord so father doesn't need to know'.
Arthur placed his hand on Merlin's shoulder and smiled to let him know he didn't have to worry. Merlin's answering grin could blot out the sun, "Well you'll have to tell me how to deal with grumpy old fathers, you are the expert" Merlin laughed, springing back to his old self and Arthur was more relieved than he cared to admit to hear one of his silly comments. Arthur blinked and then scowled, giving Merlin a shove, "Don't push it Merlin, he's the king", he turned back to his bed, "Now go to sleep, you want to make a good first impression. He'll run away if you keep tripping over your own feet because you're too tired tomorrow". Merlin grinned at the back of Arthur's head and settled back beneath his sheets. Merlin breathed a small laugh, everything was still the same. He could hardly believe it, he felt like he could breathe properly again with one less secret to smother him. It felt like a huge burden had been lifted off his shoulders. For a moment there he'd been terrified that Arthur would judge him like Uther would, the prince had been quiet for an uncomfortably long time that he knew realistically couldn't have lasted for more than 20 seconds. But Arthur had proven that he was right to trust him. Merlin smiled into his pillow.
Merlin woke to something soft being smashed against his face. "Get up Merlin, time to go". Merlin blinked and wondered what felt different about this morning. He abruptly sat up as the events up last night caught up with him. "I told you", he said to Arthur who raised an eyebrow at his stupefied expression, "and you're alright with it?" Arthur merely looked at him. When Merlin continued to stare with his mouth slightly agape, Arthur figured he should make everything clear for the not quite awake servant. "I believe your exact words were... I am the son of a dragonlord. It took you forever to say so too", he sighed and decided to get it over with, "Don't worry Merlin, I know that sons are not always duplicates of their fathers. And I've been thinking, you deserve an apology...I mean, I too know what it's like to grow up without a parent". Merlin sat slightly stunned as Arthur cleared his throat, "I'm sorry that my father's blindness has caused you such misfortune, thank you for telling me". Arthur scratched the back of his head and cleared his throat again.
A grin formed slowly on Merlin's face, "Arthur, you have no idea what that means to me...thank you", and if his eyes were a little bright, neither said anything of it.
"Yes well, stop being such a girl's petticoat Merlin, let's go." And with that, they grabbed their bags and headed out the door.
Merlin found that he could not look away from Balinor. He just scrutinized him as the man stood afar, watching the forest. Before he kept expecting to wake up as if sitting beside him and simply eating was a dream, but now all he felt was bitter disappointment. Merlin wanted his father to be more. When he was a child, he used to dream that his father was a noble king that was fighting for some heroic cause, and would come back to get him and his mother. Maybe he was a good man before being forced into exile, but no longer. Balinor was full of an anger Merlin didn't think he could comprehend. He found that he could not summon the strength to be angry. He felt as if he lost the man Balinor used to be, and that hurt him more than words could say. Merlin knew he should tell Balinor that he was his son, it was all he could wish for before. He was so excited for when he would tell him.
Merlin knew he couldn't change him though, and he didn't think he could stand the failure. Oh, he might be able to get Balinor to come save Camelot. But what then? If he came, it would be out of a sense of duty towards a son he didn't even know, and nothing more. Merlin wanted Balinor to save Camelot because he wanted to, but there was just no point.
Merlin felt himself start as he heard Arthur trudge out of the cave. "I feel great! What the hell did you give me!" Merlin turned his head to look at him.
"It was all down to.. Balinor" he answered, resuming his watch on his father.
"So we found him then? Thank Heaven for that." The prince set his eyes triumphantly on Balinor.
"That doesn't mean he's willing to help"
Merlin shook his head, not deviating his eyes, "You'll not persuade him". Arthur looked incredulously to Balinor and back to Merlin.
"Does he know what's at stake?" Arthur looked back towards Balinor as Merlin nodded his head. He stared for a moment, "what kind of man is he?"
"I don't know" Merlin replied lowly, "I thought he'd be something more"
"Well have you told him...you know" Arthur asked, his blue eyes narrowed in confusion as Merlin shook his head at the ground. "Why not! Merlin you can convince him to come!" He looked at Merlin as if he had two heads.
"I don't think so Arthur, he doesn't even know me. And why would that work anyway, he just doesn't care".
"So what? You're going to give up?" Arthur's frown deepened when Merlin ignored him, "Fine, I will make him see sense", he began to stride towards the dragonlord, making sure to utter, "I cracked his son after all". He would not let his people down.
Merlin's eyes flitted between Balinor and Arthur. He could glean no information on how the prince's plea was affecting the man. Arthur's back was facing him and the dragonlord remained stoically gazing across the river and away from Arthur, managing to look as if he were the one who was royalty. He would occasionally fix his dark eyes on Arthur for a moment before drawing them away. Merlin got the sense that Arthur did not impress him, a feat which even kings failed at. Merlin formed a picture in his mind of Balinor sitting on a throne, and chased that old dream away. Arthur stopped talking to listen to Balinor's reply. Merlin watched as Arthur nodded and turned on his heel. Arthur marched back and Merlin bit his lip, "What did he say?"
"He'll change his mind" Arthur said confidently
"He said that?"
"Just... give him a moment". Merlin lifted his head towards Balinor, hearing him approach. Both boys looked at him hopefully.
"Farewell then", Merlin's heart plummeted once more
"That's your decision?" Arthur couldn't believe it.
Balinor stepped towards the prince, intent on making himself clear, "I will not help Uther".
"Then the people of Camelot are damned" Arthur exclaimed
"So be it"
"Have you no conscience?"
Balinor looked back angrily. "You should ask that question of your father" he growled.
"And you are no better than him" Merlin retorted quickly.
"Don't waste your time Merlin!" Arthur called in Balinor's direction before stalking off heatedly, 'How can they even be related!'
Merlin stood up and turned to Balinor's retreating back. "Gaius spoke of the nobility of dragonlords. Clearly he was wrong"
Balinor halted and turned back. "Gaius?"
"Yeah" Merlin breathed out, "I was hoping you'd be like him". Arthur stopped and called him.
"Well there's no point" Merlin said hollowly and turned his back on Balinor, missing the conflict dancing behind his eyes.
Arthur caught himself sighing in relief once more as he patrolled their camping ground. 'Looks like they are related after all', he found himself thinking. 'Turns out he really is a noble man'. Arthur skirted around the small fact that he was also relieved for Merlin finding that his father was the man he wanted him to be. He winced as he passed the two collecting firewood, strongly feeling like he was intruding. He quickened his pace when Merlin noticed him and smiled, judging by his face he worked up the courage to tell Balinor; Arthur hastened to give them space.
Merlin was curled up in his bedroll with a grin nailed to his face. He blinked at the moon and listened to the crackling fire and his father's breathing, he wasn't asleep either. His father. Merlin's grin grew impossibly wider as he kept running through his recent conversation with Balinor, for the first time in his life he had called someone father. He valiantly fought to keep a giddy laugh in. 'He truly is a good man. Brave. And honourable, he hasn't forgotten about Gaius..or mother', he smiled sleepily and belatedly realized it was pitch black, he had shut his eyes. He couldn't wait for this to be over and he could get to know Balinor, he fell asleep happy.
Merlin felt sick. He stared at the shallow grave in front of him and clutched at his chest, it felt like he had been impaled with a sword. 'No, no, no..no', he wasn't even aware that he was rocking on his knees until Arthur placed a steadying hand on his shoulder. "It's not fair Arthur!" The prince's hand tightened and he swore he could feel the raw despair seeping out of his friend. Merlin didn't care that Arthur was seeing him weep his heart out, maybe if he cried enough he could shed his heart through his tears, maybe then it would stop hurting so much. If he only had used magic this wouldn't have happened. His father was dead, and it was all his fault, all his fault.
"No it isn't Merlin" Arthur said softly. Merlin clapped a hand to his mouth and shook his head forcefully. The prince regarded Merlin quietly, the only sounds around was the rain pattering on the trees. The boy beside him was keeping his sobs in, only the quaking of his shoulders indicating his pain. Arthur drew his gaze towards Balinor's grave, they were short on time but he could not deny Merlin in his need to bury his father. He felt a thrill of anger lance through him, at himself, for Merlin, and for Camelot. They were all doomed now, he had failed everyone.
The gray sky lightened as the last droplets of rain brushed the earth. Arthur lifted a leg so he was on one knee and bowed his head towards the grave of the dragonlord, giving his last respects. Despite everything, this man had agreed to come back with them, to help them. But then Cenred's men had ambushed them. Balinor had fought better than some of his knights and Arthur had to wonder how the battle would have gone if the dragonlord hadn't lost twenty years of practice. He had died protecting his son, and despite the loss to Camelot, Arthur was glad he still had his friend. "Thank you Balinor". A sob escaped Merlin's lips. Arthur sighed and stood up, "Come on Merlin, it's time we leave...We need to get back to Camelot". Arthur went to bring the horses, leaving Merlin to say his final goodbye.
"I'll make you proud father" Merlin whispered, "áwrítan". Merlin's eyes flashed gold under his half lidded eyes and he watched as his father's name was carved into the stone he put at the head of the grave. Merlin swallowed the lump in his throat and got up to follow Arthur.
It was decided that fourteen knights would confront the dragon. Arthur watched as the men filed out of the room to say goodbye to their families. There was no hope now, the best Arthur could do was make his last stand. The prince appraised the back of his friend's upright head, he held it together bravely. Arthur felt something shift around him, he hesitated upon realizing that Merlin was far stronger then he let on. For some reason Arthur felt a speck of hope blossom in his chest, could he do the impossible? It has happened before after all. As the last knight left, he turned to his father to say his own goodbye.
"Are you really going to face this dragon with me?" Arthur stared at Merlin incredulously. Perhaps he really did have a mental affliction. They were standing in the doorway to his chambers, about to go to their deaths. Arthur glanced at the sword in Merlin's hand, he didn't think the boy would ever make a sword look natural in his hands.
"Gaius said that a dragonlord's powers are passed down from father to son.. in death" Merlin stared determinedly at Arthur whose eyes widened , "I don't know if I have the power, but Arthur I'll defeat the dragon or die trying"
For a split second, Arthur saw Balinor instead of Merlin and barely suppressed a shiver. Merlin was exuding power and determination and the prince decided he wholly believed in him. Arthur once again gripped Merlin's shoulder, "I believe in you Merlin. I knew there was hope left!" Arthur grinned like a maniac. Merlin's eyes glinted in the way they did before he said something that he thought was funny, "Besides, you'd probably kick the bucket if I wasn't there". Arthur barked out a sceptical laugh and strode out the room, calling out to Merlin, "Fine then, if we win Merlin, you have to clean my armour!"
"What! How is that fair!"Merlin yelled after him.
Sir Aldwin was good at bluffing. Outwardly he was the picture of a stalwart knight- stiff face with tough dark eyes, but he really felt like hyperventilating, just a little. But he was one of the younger knights, having just turned twenty one, and felt like he had something to prove- a feeling he was unaccustomed to as he was the eldest of six boys. But he would not think of that, thinking of his family would only make it harder to keep his composure. He made to brush his hand through his bark coloured hair but was met with the steel of his helmet instead. 'What is taking Arthur?'
"I bet the prince is on his way now Winny" a voice said to his right. Aldwin clenched his jaw at the shorter man. Sir Gerrick could always read him like a book. "I told you to stop calling me that"
"Well I wouldn't hold my breath. Besides, you don't have a problem with your brother calling you that"
"He's two". Aldwin rolled his eyes as Gerrick gave him his most winning smile and proceeded to accost him and the rest of the knights with bad jokes. But that was Gerrick, when he was nervous he wouldn't shut up and his penchant for humour came out in full force.
All of the knights turned toward the gates as two sets of footsteps walked toward them. Aldwin felt his face morph into an expression of shock as he laid eyes on Merlin who was walking beside the prince and wearing a sword. 'I know he's an idiot but this?'
When he first met the boy, Aldwin was not impressed. He was a sorry excuse for a servant and had no sense of propriety at all, he always treated Arthur more like a friend than a master. Regrettably he was not very nice to Merlin when he joined the knights. Aldwin prided himself on being observant, what others missed he often caught. He also was not an idiot, he knew that Arthur would never abide Merlin's antics from anyone other than the servant- he knew that they were friends. At first he was jealous of him. Aldwin only occasionally went on hunts in the beginning but it did not take long for the knight to notice something different about Merlin. After all, what kind of servant went on dangerous adventures with the prince with not even a hint of armour? He didn't know when it happened but he developed a respect for the clumsy boy.
But they were going against a dragon! Aldwin didn't know what the prince was thinking, letting the servant follow. Merlin was younger than all of them, not yet old enough to become a knight let alone fight a battle of one. The servant was the same age as one of Aldwin's brothers and he certainly wouldn't fancy doing half the things Merlin seemed to volunteer himself for. He cleared his throat and stepped toward the prince, what did he have to lose?
"Sire, surely you cannot think to bring Merlin along? He's not a knight! You have not even given him any chainmail...your highness" Merlin heard Sir Aldwin exclaim. Sir Cadmon, the eldest knight grunted his agreement. Merlin sent a thankful smile toward the knight whom he had a bit of a rocky start with. Sir Aldwin was taller than Merlin and quite a bit wider, the knight used to make sure to intimidate Merlin by sending him glares. However, Merlin was never one to be bullied, look how that turned out for Arthur, so Merlin would snipe scathing comments toward the knight when he could get away with it, but almost always ended up in the stocks anyway. So imagine his surprise when Sir Aldwin defended him one day from several of the other knights laughing at him. They quickly learned not to insult Merlin within his hearing and the two eventually formed an unlikely friendship.
The prince wiped his surprised expression, "thank you Sir Aldwin, but unless you'd like to give your own- that isn't necessary" Arthur chided, when Aldwin took off his helmet, "And you are right, Merlin is not a knight-" The prince turned to address all of the men, "There is still hope for Camelot my friends! We can defeat the dragon and come home to our families. Because we have Merlin here." He gripped his friend's shoulder and directed the dark haired boy in front of him, the servant's face reddening to shade that could compete with his neckerchief. Arthur cut him off before Merlin could correct him, "What you hear in this moment must never be spoken about to another soul, not even the king, on your honour as both knights and good men. Merlin is the last dragonlord", he ignored the shocked gasps around him and continued, "their power is passed down from father to son, in death. Merlin has volunteered to come and I have the utmost faith in him. I have no doubt that he is a dragonlord." For the last bit he looked at Merlin.
A beat of silence followed until Sir Gerrick let out a relieved guffaw. Sir Eadric then shouted "For the love of Camelot!" Quickly followed by Sir Aldwin and the rest of the group. They would give it their all.
The clearing they were waiting in was eerily quiet. They were mounted on their horses in a ring, all of them twitching nervously. Despite being terrified Merlin had a small quivering smile on his lips. First Arthur, and now his knights; he was being accepted as a dragonlord, and although it could have had something to do with the fact that he was the only one who had a chance at saving them, Merlin was grateful. None of them had given him a mistrustful glance at all, indeed, Sir Leon said to him that he was honoured to fight at his side. Merlin only hoped he would not let them down, he inhaled sharply as the familiar sound of beating wings reached them over the trees. He would not have to wait long to find out now.
It was over, the clearing around them was smouldering, Aldwin slowly registered. The dragon was the most terrifying creature he had ever witnessed and he was defeated by a scrawny serving boy, no a dragonlord, no wait, a warlock- that's what the dragon had said. Even though Aldwin was sure he might be hot because fire was hot, and he was right beside it, he still felt chills from when Merlin was speaking dragon, he didn't think he would be teasing the boy any time soon. Aldwin's body was a mass of pain but he didn't even think of crying out, his attention was focused on the sorrowful looking warlock. Merlin let the dragon go, in his concussed mind he made an outstanding revelation- Merlin was far too nice for his own good. His jumbled thoughts took him to evil sorcerers and kind idiotic servants, which led to another revelation- 'Merlin issin' evil, so... sorcerer-ers aren't evil...or atleast...Merlin's -not -evil.' He almost giggled at the thought of Merlin maniacally laughing, but that would have hurt too much. He barely noted that Merlin was standing sideways as the prince was stirring, 'Oh good, he's alive'
"What happened? " He groaned. Sideways Merlin looked down. Aldwin was getting dizzy.
"I did it" he whispered
"He's gone?" Arthur asked slowly
"Yeah, we did it" Merlin smiled
"I knew it! I knew you'd do it! HA!" Arthur dissolved into a series of very unprincely laughs. Aldwin would have joined him if he remembered how to. Arthur groaned and sat up, "The knights?" the smile left his face.
"I'll check the far end" Merlin volunteered and began to hover over the fallen men. Arthur got up and moved to check the other half. Aldwin barely heard Merlin whisper incomprehensible words as he went from knight to knight. As the warlock got closer the edges of his vision dimmed and he sighed with relief, he would be able to see his family again. He would have to thank Merlin when he was coherent.
Out of the fifteen men that went out to face the dragon, eight men survived. Sir Aldwin and the four other knights who survived were crammed in the physician's quarters. Leon and Cadmon were against the far wall, Aldwin and Eadric were near the back by Merlin's room, and Gerrick was placed on Gaius' bed- he had the most severe injuries. The physician was tending the prince in his chambers. It was dark in the room, the silence only being punctuated by soft snores. Aldwin groaned as his body tried to jerk upright, a loud growling bear shocked him from his slumber, then he realized it was only Eadric and settled down. He tried to breathe through his nose as to not wake any of the others, 'I hate broken ribs' he thought sulkily.
The door to Merlin's room creaked gently open and the dark haired boy poked his head out to peer in Aldwin's direction.
"Aldwin?" He whispered, "I thought I heard something, are you alright?" Aldwin suspected that Merlin was sitting by his door straining his ears for the slightest sound- because every time one of them made even a whimper, Merlin would creep out to check on them.
"It's alright Merlin, Eadric just startled me is all", he sighed and shut his eyes, his head was killing him. 'I hate headaches too'.
"Right, I thought you'd be used to it by now", Merlin's voice was right next to him, "Do you need me to look at your ribs?" The knight sighed as he detected guilt in the boy's voice. Merlin was turning out to be more difficult to pacify than his two year old brother.
"Listen carefully Merlin, 'cause I'm only going to say this once more, you-have-nothing-to-feel guilty-about" Aldwin opened his eyes to see Merlin's face remain stubbornly forlorn.
"Men died, and all of you are injured" he murmured, "if I was faster-"
"Enough!" Aldwin fixed Merlin with his best glare, the one that used to daunt him, "You are not to blame, we all knew what we were riding towards. You are not a knight, you are not a warrior, you aren't even of age. You just got thrust into your father's shoes-" Merlin winced, "...I am sorry that he died Merlin, I wish it turned out differently. But look, you cannot change what happened, if anything you should feel proud that any of us survived at all. Because if you weren't there, we all would have perished, along with the rest Camelot. You saved us all. Don't make me say thank you again". Merlin laughed under his breath.
"You must have been talking with Arthur, he said the exact same thing". Moonlight lit Aldwin's suddenly conniving face as he looked around at the other knights. Merlin had to lean closer to hear what he was saying.
"Well I bet there was something the prince didn't say" he smirked at Merlin's perplexed face and cleared his throat, "thank you for using your magic powers to heal us, Gerrick for one would have died if it hadn't been for you". His smirk got wider at Merlin's horror struck face.
"What? I'm not- I don't-"
"I heard you and the dragon", he yawned, "you're a war-lock. I won't tell no one, just maybe heal my headache.. would you" Aldwin drifted off to sleep and left Merlin stunned, he might have been talking about the weather. Merlin jumped a mile as a snore from Eadric ripped through the room. Another groan came from Aldwin along with a slew of curses that could make even the king blush. The dark eyed man slurred Merlin's name and barked an order. Merlin caught what sounded like 'fix' and 'bear'. He laughed and placed his hand over Aldwin's forehead and whispered, "onslæpan".
Merlin decided he would go to bed at last. He decided he would talk with Aldwin when they both weren't sluggish with sleep. Merlin was smiling though, he knew from early morning training sessions that a tired Aldwin was an honest Aldwin. He closed the door to his room and was lost to sweet oblivion as soon as his head hit the pillow. The warlock felt lighter than he ever remembered being.
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