Dragon Mistress Syal, Yalic123, and WeregoddessX all expressed interest in seeing this one. In fact, they expressed it well over a month ago. Sorry 'bout the delay, and I hope you're still watching. :)
Thanks as always to Cajast, who cleans up my punctuation and points out my issues. You're awesome. :D
There's a world where Gwen was barren and our son, the king's nephew, took the throne as the first sorcerer-king of Camelot. Handsome, dark-haired Arthur was named for his uncle, and he became a mighty ruler, king and dragonlord and warrior. He was born with your heart and my cunning, your magic and my visions, and he had his namesake's leadership and skill with a blade. In his empire, the golden dragon was a proud ally, not a conquered foe.
Our son was born at midwinter, and I always thought, secretly, that there was magic involved, that a little bit of that starry night had slipped into his soul. You always laughed at me and said that any child of ours couldn't exactly have been normal. I suppose it's true. Our son is not simply a Pendragon; he is also heir to the power of a dragonlord and the magic of two unusually strong sorcerers. He could never have been ordinary.
Still, there is something in him that reminds me of the midwinter sky, rich and clear and magnificent. Laugh if you want, Merlin; many a mother grows sentimental in her old age, but few have a son like ours.
We named him 'Arthur', of course. I pretended to object when you suggested it, but, really, it was the only name we considered. The Great Dragon came to his christening and watched with wide golden eyes.
"This one has a destiny of his own, young warlock," he said afterwards. "I will say no more. You have already changed the course of fate too many times for me to presume to guess where this will end." I can still see the way you grinned at him, settling little Arthur more comfortably against your shoulder. You caught my hand as we returned to the castle and whispered:
"And that is as close as the great beast will ever get to admitting that I was right about you." We laughed together, and you kissed me for the sheer joy of it, because we were young and had conquered fate. Do you remember?
We found that we that couldn't both travel in Arthur's service anymore. I never told you how much I missed our journeys together, questing after some forgotten artifact or solving some magical dispute. Still, our baby was worth it, even if one of us needed to be by him at all times to prevent him from conjuring manticores in his sleep.
Arthur didn't complain. He and Gwen had been wed for years by then, with no sign of a child, despite their hopes. They knew—we all knew— that our son might be as close as they ever came to a little one of their own. He eased the ache a bit, I think. Gwen sang little Arthur to sleep many a night, crooning songs from her childhood. My brother held his namesake, and I couldn't find it in me to tease him for the wonder in his eyes. Even then, we all realized that he might one day take the throne.
He was a stubborn little boy.
"How was the battle, Morgana?" Arthur would inquire with awful, gloating sympathy as I returned from yet another struggle to persuade your son to bathe. "Difficult, I imagine. The lad fights like a Pendragon!"
"So does she!" you would interrupt, in mock irritation. "He didn't get the stubbornness from me!"
"Yes, because you're such a sweet, biddable lamb," I would retort. You ignored me.
"So many Pendragons…" you would moan to Gwen, rolling your eyes at her in commiseration.
"One wonders why we married them at all…" Gwen would say sadly, and then lose her straight face and break down into apologetic giggles at Arthur's expression.
My baby grew into a little boy too quickly, shooting up like a reed. He was never coltish or gangly, despite being your child. Gaius said that the king had been much the same; always solid, always apparently made of something a bit tougher than normal flesh. I was afraid you'd mind, but I should have known you better than that. You just looked at me in puzzlement.
"Should I mind?"
"He's built more like his royal prat of an uncle than he is like you."
"And he has your smile and my eyes. Besides, no one will ever pick on him for being a beanpole."
I laughed too, and shook my head at you. You never let me be too serious for too long.
"I'm not sure that they would anyway, Merlin. He is the High King's nephew."
"I suppose you're right. Anyway, I still don't care."
From the time he could walk, Arthur loved to sit on the king's knee when his namesake heard petitions, listening solemnly even before he understood what was happening. They made a pretty picture: the two Arthurs, one dark and one blond, one a child and the other a king, with the same unbearably serious look on their faces. Arthur had a chair made when his nephew grew too large, wanting him to sit beside the throne where he could watch the work of a king.
It was Arthur who gave him his first sword, too, and taught him how to use it. You always rolled your eyes at the pair of them, the way they could talk for hours about parries and strokes.
It was Gwen who taught him music, found him a harp and taught him ballads. Do you remember? You teased me that I'd clearly played you false with a travelling singer, since neither of us had a voice to speak of. You enjoyed your little joke so much that you were almost disappointed when Gaius gave us a better explanation.
"Uther had a fine singing voice when we were young," he told us softly, blind old eyes even more distant than usual. "I never heard it again after Ygraine died, but I'd know it anywhere. The lad takes after his grandsire."
We'd sit around the fire on the nights when we were all in Camelot. You and I would curl into one large chair, poring over a book of spells or talking. You'd absent-mindedly wind one hand into my hair, then try to turn pages one-handed and nearly tip the book onto the floor, just chuckling at Arthur's derisive comments. Arthur most often had some sort of treaty or paperwork to look over, but we all knew that he really preferred the histories of ancient battles and kings. Gwen would sit in a low chair by the fire, little Arthur on the rug at her feet, and they would sing to us, warm alto and soft treble together. He liked both the ballads about sorcerers and the tales of knights, and neither you nor Arthur could ever get him to say which was his favorite, however hard you tried.
Eventually, he would fall asleep with his head on Gwen's knees, and she'd stroke his dark hair while we talked far into the night.
His dreams were less of a burden than mine. He was born after peace had come to Albion, and there were fewer of the shadows that had haunted me. Besides, he knew from the time he was old enough to understand what his dreams were and what they meant. Still, there were times when he crept into our chambers in the middle of the night, seeking comfort and protection. Often, I'd just awakened from the same dream, and we would fall back asleep together, side by side, with your arms around us both.
Magic was your responsibility. You always made a more patient teacher than I did. Anyway, it was never a burden on him as it was on you; magic was no longer a secret or a danger in Arthur's Albion.
I still say that four years old was too young to fly dragonback. It's a miracle that he came back alive. I understood why he needed to start learning magic young, but taking my child a mile above the ground always struck me as a bit unwise. 'Lunacy' was the word I used when I found out, if I recall correctly. You shouldn't have laughed. It would have gone better for you if you hadn't.
I understand that you wanted to make him laugh, of course. That was always your goal. You loved to tease even a smile out of him, just because we saw them so rarely.
Really, Merlin, it's no surprise he turned out serious. He had four parents pouring their knowledge and their responsibilities into him. We all tried so hard to give him the best of ourselves, to teach him better than we'd been taught. He absorbed more of it than any ordinary child could have managed; I think he realized even then how much responsibility he was going to bear. Still, it made him solemn. You and Arthur used to tease him, trying to get him to banter with you, but he never seemed to understand the appeal. Nothing you could do could shake him into having fun.
No, that took a different sort of love.
Do you remember the day they met? Of course you do. We knew the minute their eyes locked what had happened and what was going to happen. You slipped an arm around my waist, an excuse to lean close and whisper, "Did you see what I saw…?" I rolled my eyes, trying to look like I didn't believe it. I didn't want to believe it.
"They're only sixteen." But I looked for a long moment, forcing myself to see the young man and not my baby, and I had to agree. "But you're right. They're too young, and they've just met each other, and it's absolutely idiotic of them… but you're right."
The king still hadn't noticed, but I could see the warm, secret smile on Gwen's face and I knew that she'd seen it, too: Branwen of Gawant was looking at our son as if all of a sudden she'd found something she'd lost, and Arthur was looking back as though the springtime sun had just come out after a long, cold winter.
"Trust Arthur to make a love match which is also a perfect political alliance," you whispered, rolling your eyes. "Where did he get that? Neither you nor I is so… law-abiding."
"Surely it's too early to talk about alliances and love matches?" I whispered back, just a trifle desperately because this was my only child we were discussing. You glanced back and forth between them again.
"Erm… No. Don't think so."
You were right, of course. Elena's daughter was as blunt and uninhibited and good-hearted as her mother, with the added complication of being an incurable romantic. Arthur seemed to light up around her. She taught him how to be young, and, in return, he was her knight in shining armor, rescuing her from apple trees and overturned boats and the stallion in the pasture. They were married on the morning of her eighteenth birthday, two weeks after Arthur was officially declared the heir.
I didn't cry at the wedding. No matter how often you say it, I didn't cry.
You cried more than I did when they showed us our granddaughter. That doesn't count, Merlin. Stop teasing me. How can you tease me when you aren't even here?
It's so easy to forget that you aren't.
I miss you, Merlin. I wish you could have seen Arthur take the throne. You would have been so proud of the way he handled himself, king at 30 years old, decades before anyone expected it. I wish you could have seen the way he's cared for Albion.
I know you said 'no regrets'. I know. Do you dare doubt that that moment is the last thing I see each night? I see it clear as day every time I close my eyes: my brother Arthur in his golden armor, you a half-step behind his shoulder, the way you two always fought. I see how Arthur pressed his wedding ring to his lips in private tenderness, unaware that I was watching, that Gwen would know he'd thought of her at the last. You knew. I was sleeping a hundred leagues away, but you looked straight into my eyes and I saw your lips move. I still see the shape of the words.
No regrets, Morgana.
For you and me, who took destiny in our hands and remade our futures, whose paths could have gone so very differently, no more words than those were necessary. They meant I wouldn't change a thing. They meant I love you and I couldn't have chosen a better death and I'm so, so glad I trusted you and Albion is in good hands and Be strong, my love.
I saw no more.
Our son's dream focused on the battle, on the blow you two struck, the defeat of one last threat to Albion. He was the one who told me of the very last moment before the fight began, how Arthur was grim until you elbowed him in the ribs, how you grinned at him, teasing, like you were boys of nineteen and twenty again. He was the one who smiled through his tears and told me how his uncle the king threw his gray head back and laughed as he charged to meet his fate.
"He was a great king," he said softly. "A great man. They were both great men. I saw them fight, and they were like something out of a legend."
I smiled as strongly as I could manage.
"They would have loved that," I said. "Your uncle especially. Your father would have laughed, I suppose."
"I'll never be able to care for Albion as well as they did," he said solemnly. "They were something different. I'm just a man, but they were a legend."
"They were just men. Great men, but I knew them better than anyone, and they were only human. They did what they had to do, just as you'll do what you must."
"I'll do my best," he said, and suddenly I could see both of them in him. Both of them, my brother and my husband, could look at an insurmountable obstacle, consider their duty to what they loved, and then make the impossible possible by sheer force of will. It made them a terrifying combination.
"You will," I told him. "They had faith in you. Your uncle used to say what a comfort it was to know that, if anything ever happened to him, Albion would be in good hands. Your father was so proud of you."
I saw something settle behind his eyes.
"Get some rest before the coronation. You'll need your strength." I kissed his forehead and shooed him away.
The next day, when Gwen (wan, but upright) set her husband's crown on another Arthur's head, and the Great Dragon trumpeted his allegiance to the sky, and all Albion dried its tears, I knew that the kingdom would be well. Our son Arthur was Pendragon and dragonlord, sorcerer-king and servant-ruler, and we had given him the very best of ourselves. He would care for Albion with everything in him, and raise his children to do the same. He would make us all proud.
The next update is mostly written and will probably be along within a week or two. Thanks so much for all the support and kind words!
What say you? What do you think of Arthur the Second?