Merlin leads Arthur through the woods to the large clearing where he generally rendezvous with Kilgarrah.
"Where are we going?" Arthur asks.
"Not too far."
"Will he be waiting for us there?"
"No. I'll have to call him. Um, summon him."
"How do you do that?"
"I just call him. In the dragon tongue."
Arthur stops walking. "You speak dragon."
Merlin turns around. "Obviously. Dragonlord." He turns and continues walking.
He wouldn't be leading me to my death. He wouldn't be leading me to my death. He's a wizard. If he wanted me dead, he'd have done so already. "Merlin," he ventures.
"The dragon… it isn't going to… do anything, is it?"
"He will not harm you in the slightest, Arthur. He will not endanger you, Gwen, or Camelot."
"How can you be certain?"
"Because I told him he couldn't."
"Oh, well, that's reassuring."
"Arthur," Merlin turns back to Arthur, stopping again, "when I command the dragon, he has no choice but to obey. It's not like when you give me an order."
"All I mean is that even though you're the king and I should obey your command, I still have free will. I could choose not to obey."
"Which you have," Arthur remarks, his tone slightly accusatory.
"Repeatedly," Merlin blithely replies. "But that's not the point. The point is, I have a choice when someone tells me what to do. The dragon cannot disobey a dragonlord. It is not possible."
"Wow. That's… impressively scary, actually. I'm suddenly very glad you're my friend."
"Wow, almost a compliment," Merlin chuckles. "Come on."
They walk in silence a short distance more, then suddenly the trees clear and they are in the middle of a large grassy field. Looks like training grounds, Arthur thinks.
"Here we are."
"Hey," Arthur says tentatively, looking around. "Isn't this where I supposedly killed him?"
Merlin nods. "Yes. So. I'm going to call him now. I can either do it the loud and dramatic way or the quiet unobtrusive way, like I did in the courtyard. He'll respond to either."
"So… I don't want to, um, throw more at you than you can handle. Can't have you losing it again by seeing me be all wizardy."
Arthur scowls at him and waves his hand. "Proceed. Whichever way you want."
"All right," Merlin says, "loud and dramatic it is."
Arthur looks at him.
"It's more fun," Merlin says, grinning, and Arthur actually laughs.
Merlin looks to the sky, closes his eyes a second, and throws his head back.
"O, Dragon…" he starts, his voice taking on a gravelly, otherworldly quality that raises the hairs on the back of Arthur's neck. His hand instinctively lowers to the hilt of his sword.
Cabbage Head. You don't need your sword. It won't do any good anyway, he chides himself.
A few minutes pass. They feel like hours to Arthur, but Merlin seems completely at ease, sitting on the stump of a tree, whistling to himself until Arthur's glare silences him.
"You're sure he heard you?"
Merlin sharply looks up, and points. The faint sound of leathery dragon wings slicing the air reaches their ears, growing louder.
"Oh, I forgot to mention that my powers work on wyvern as well," Merlin says, just as Kilgarrah comes into view.
"What? You mean…" Arthur asks, recalling the couple times they've crossed paths with the dragon-cousins.
He doesn't get to complete his question because the Great Dragon has just come to a graceful landing in the clearing directly in front of them.
"Ah, King Arthur, we meet at last," Kilgarrah says, inclining his great head down towards the two men.
Much to Merlin's surprise, Arthur drops to one knee, a reverential gesture to the dragon. The wizard smiles a small smile.
"I am honored to meet you, Great Dragon," Arthur says, lifting his head.
"Stand, Arthur, you need not genuflect to me," the dragon says kindly, respectfully bowing his own head.
Arthur stands and stares up at him, using different eyes than the ones he used years ago, when he viewed the dragon as an enemy, a threat. Now he is curious, nervous, fascinated. Waiting.
"What is it, young king?" Kilgarrah asks, tilting his head.
"I… I am trying to make sense of this. Seeing you. Speaking with you. There's been so much to take in."
"Indeed, my lord. Much has been happening. Your queen. Your new allies. Magic. Merlin having magic. The truth of your birth. The witch Morgana still lurking in the shadows. All this and a tiny prince on the way as well. It's a wonder you haven't collapsed from exhaustion," he chuckles.
Arthur glances at Merlin, "You tell him everything, do you?"
"No one need tell me these things, Arthur," Kilgarrah answers. "I see much that is plain and much that is hidden from sight."
"Can you tell me, then, what of Morgana? Will we find her? Will we defeat her?"
"So headstrong, so impatient," the dragon says. "The future is a tricky thing. Many futures are possible, Arthur. Which future you receive depends one only one thing."
"Choices," Arthur supplies.
"Ah, yes, he is already more intelligent than his father before him," Kilgarrah says, looking at Merlin.
"Told you," Merlin replies from his seat on the tree stump.
"Yes, Arthur, choices. You are well acquainted with dealing with the consequences of your choices, I know this."
Arthur sighs, nodding.
"I wonder, do you know, however, that often your poorly-made choices were ones made out of stubborn pigheadedness, blind ignorance, or plain stupidity."
"To your credit, though, you took ownership of those mistakes, did not shrink away from facing their consequences, and for that you should be commended. That is a far braver thing than facing any foe in battle."
"However, when you remembered that you were not alone, that you could and should depend on those closest to you, those that you love and trust above all others, your choices were infinitely better."
Arthur nods mutely, resignedly. "Agravaine was a mistake," he mutters.
"An honest mistake. He was family; naturally you would trust him. Your real mistake came when you did not listen to the voices of others that tried to warn you against him."
"I know that now," he says sadly.
"Yes. A lesson learned. But do always remember that you are not alone, King. Looking to others is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of intelligence. One person cannot do everything and be everything. It is simply not possible. You are a fortunate man in that you have a wise queen who knows the people and is their heart. And you also have a new advisor who, if you would learn to listen to him from time to time, may have something of value to offer," Kilgarrah continues, nodding at Merlin with a reptilian smile.
Arthur chuckles despite himself. "And Gaius," he adds quietly, remembering his conversation with him after he was accused of treason. The physician's meaningful words have resided deep within his heart ever since that day.
"Yes, the court physician. Wise, very wise. He has seen many winters; more than most. Anyone who has lived that long through these times is worthy of consideration indeed. Not only did he survive the great purge, he persevered and thrived. Crafty, that one. Appreciate him."
"I do," Arthur says simply. He opens his mouth a moment and then closes it, undecided about the words on his tongue.
"Speak your mind, Arthur. Remember I am forbidden from doing you any harm."
"Heh," Arthur laughs just once. "I… I want to… that is I feel I should… apologize for my father's treatment of you and your kind. I know it cannot bring back your kin, but please know that my attitudes are very different from his."
"Thank you, Arthur," the dragon bows his massive head once more. "Your apology means more to me than you realize, young king."
"You deserve respect. I know this now. Ignorance breeds hatred; hatred breeds fear. If I learned nothing else from my father, I learned that."
"Thank you. I am sorry for the damage I caused to your kingdom and its people when I was freed. Please understand, I was—"
"I do understand," Arthur interrupts.
"Do you now?" the dragon lifts his head up and back slightly, surprised.
"You were angry at my father for keeping you imprisoned. Seeking recompense for the slaughter and elimination of not only the rest of your kind, but of people who practiced magic and innocents as well."
The dragon nods, impressed.
"I promise you there will be no need for any future displays of that nature," Arthur says simply, a very mild threat behind his words.
Kilgarrah laughs heartily. "Arthur, do you honestly think that your friend the dragonlord would allow me to go on another rampage such as that?"
Arthur smiles, and glances at Merlin. "He had better not."
Merlin looks up and shrugs noncommittally, grinning.
"How… how did you get free, anyway?" Arthur asks.
Oh, no, Merlin thinks.
"I am a dragon, King. A creature of magic. Do you think that chains could hold me indefinitely?" Kilgarrah says casually. Merlin breathes again.
Arthur shrugs. "I suppose not."
The dragon chuckles again, to himself. Arthur watches him, wondering what his little joke with himself is.
"Kilgarrah," Arthur says, "that's your name, right?"
"Kilgarrah, I want you to know that you need no longer keep yourself hidden. Now, this is not to say that your presence won't frighten the daylights out of most people, but I want you to know that you are truly free under my rule. And I will do my best to assure the people that you are no threat to them."
"Thank you, Arthur," he says simply. "Arthur," he starts again, "will you make me a promise?"
"That depends on what it is," Arthur cautiously says.
"Promise me that you will stay true to yourself. I believe your queen once gave you this same advice."
"Follow your heart; go where it leads you, do what it tells you. You have a destiny. You know what it is. It is time to realize that destiny, and you need your queen and your wizard by your side. If you forget your heart, look to Guinevere. If you forget your head, look to Merlin."
Arthur stares up at the great beast, his scales shining in the sunlight, tail swishing along the grass as he regally sits in the clearing, lording over the wilderness. He swallows and mutely nods.
"Love your son. Show him the love that you felt you never received from Uther. Train him, yes, teach him to be a king, yes, but do not forget to teach him to be a man as well. Love all the children Guinevere will bear you this way, and Camelot will indeed be great for a very long time."
All the children? How many will we have? Dare I ask? "I will make those promises to you, Kilgarrah," he says, leaving his thoughts checked for now.
Kilgarrah nods his head once more. "I wish to bestow a blessing on you."
"You do?" Arthur's eyes grow wide.
"Yes. Place your hand on my head," he says, crouching down and dropping his giant head to where Arthur can reach him.
Arthur hesitantly reaches out with his hand, laying his palm flat on the dragon's forehead. Feels warmer than I thought he would. Dry, not slimy. Rather like tiles, actually. Hard.
Kilgarrah whispers words that Arthur cannot decipher. The dragon tongue, he thinks. His arm tingles slightly, the sensation traveling from his hand on the dragon's head up his arm and into his chest, stopping at his heart. It is not unpleasant; a warm sensation, but unlike anything he has ever felt before.
The feeling drains away and the dragon stops his chant. Arthur takes this as his cue to lift his hand. The dragon lifts his head and breathes gently on the king, enveloping him in a surprisingly pleasant blast of warm air.
"Thank you?" Arthur uncertainly says when Kilgarrah finishes, drawing forth another chuckle from the dragon.
"I did not expect you to fully trust me immediately, Arthur," he sighs, "but it is a good start."
"May I ask what it was you said?"
"No, you may not."
"Fair enough," Arthur allows.
"All you need know, King, is that you have a bright future ahead of you. Provided you keep your heart and your head and make your choices wisely."
"It is time for you to go back to Camelot. I believe I have kept you long enough," Kilgarrah says, looking at Merlin again, who smirks. So he knows, the wizard thinks.
"It was an honor, Great Dragon," Arthur says, nodding to him.
"The honor is mine, King Arthur." Kilgarrah spreads his massive wings, but Arthur stops him.
"Kilgarrah," he calls.
The dragon folds his wings back in. "Yes?"
"Thank you. For the advice. For the blessing. For all the ways you've aided us, even if I don't yet know what they all are. I want you to know that I appreciate all these things."
"You are most welcome, Arthur," he says, and with that, he spreads his wings again, pushes with his stout legs, and gracefully takes to the air.
Arthur stares up after him until he is out of sight.
"Magnificent, isn't he?" Merlin's voice behind him pulls him back down to earth.
"A bit cryptic at times, but yes, fascinating."
"Let's go," Merlin says, plucking Arthur's sleeve.
They walk a few paces into the woods, then Merlin can't resist any more. "I've gotten to ride him a couple times, you know."
"You have not," Arthur says, disbelief clear in his voice.
"I have. It's amazing," he gushes. "To be in the air like that, above everything, the wind blowing your hair…"
"You are lying. The dragon would never let you ride him like he was a common horse."
"Oh, so now you think you know him so well? Well, I promise you, I've ridden him at least twice. And once he carried me in his talons because I was nearly dead."
"Is that so?"
"It is. And I still say that flying was the most amazing thing I've ever experienced. And I'm a wizard, so that's saying a lot."
"Merlin," Arthur stops walking and turns to him. "I refuse to believe that Kilgarrah let you hitch a ride on his back."
"Arthur, you're forgetting one thing," Merlin says.
"Dragonlord," Arthur sighs, turning away and resuming his walk.
"Dragonlord," Merlin repeats, grinning.
"They're coming!" Peter races into the castle, breathing heavily.
"Thank you, Peter," Gwen says, standing to head towards the secret room she and Merlin had found.
Arthur and Merlin enter the courtyard. There are a few people bustling about, but it is still quiet. "Hmm," Arthur frowns. "I would have thought Guinevere would be out here to meet us."
"Well, let's go find her then, shall we?" Merlin suggests. Arthur looks sideways at him. "What?" Merlin innocently says.
Arthur rolls his eyes and strides up the steps to the castle. Merlin keeps up, trying to lead the king in the right direction.
"Where would she be, do you think? Kitchens?" Arthur asks, heading that way.
I'll let him have this one, Merlin thinks, following.
The kitchens are devoid of the queen, so Merlin speaks up. "She said something to me yesterday about the archives. Wanted to look up some plants or flowers or something like that," he tries. Yes. Flowers. That's believable.
"Really? Oh. I'll just go up and wait for her, then," he says with a shrug, heading towards their chambers.
No! "Why don't we go down there? I'm sure she'd like to see you."
"Merlin, I'm tired. I really don't feel like dragging all the way down there," Arthur says.
Merlin pulls his sleeve. "Oh, come on. It'll be fun. Maybe we can surprise her or something."
"Oh yes, very good, very chivalrous, jumping out and scaring the liver out of a pregnant woman," Arthur says, but he follows Merlin down anyway.
Merlin sees Peter walking up the stairs, casual as you please. He glances at the page, who nods very slightly. Merlin smiles and continues down.
They reach the end of the stairs and see two guards in their red capes standing against a wall.
"What are you two doing there?" Arthur asks. As he wanders over to them to investigate, one reaches over and pulls the handle to a door that Arthur has never noticed before.
"What the…" he asks, stepping forward. The guards nod respectfully as he slowly walks into the large room. The servants have outdone themselves. The dark wood is gleaming and the windows are spotless with fresh draperies hanging in them.
The Knights of Camelot are lined up along the walls, a sea of red and silver. Arthur surveys the sea of familiar faces, his trusted knights, standing at attention. His eyes move to the center of the room, where the Round Table has been placed. It has also been cleaned and polished, and stands proudly in the center of the room as if it has grown from the spot, its surface glinting in the sunbeam like a living, breathing thing.
Behind the table and back a ways is Guinevere, unobtrusively standing with her hands clasped in front of her.
Arthur walks to the table, unable to speak, barely breathing, moved beyond words. Guinevere did this. She had this brought here for me. I know she did. He looks up at her and she smiles ever so slightly at him, sweetly. Her eyes are growing glassy with emotion as she watches him.
He places his hand on the table. It is warm, almost vibrating under his fingers. No one moves except Arthur and Merlin behind him. They all just watch their king appreciating the gift from his queen.
"Merlin," Arthur says quietly, knowing his advisor is right behind him. "What do these runes say? Can you read them?"
Merlin steps forward. "Yes," he says, walking around the table with Arthur, looking for the right one. Aha. "Courage," he points. "That's you."
Arthur nods. "That is what Grettir the Bridgekeeper called me on my quest," he says quietly.
Merlin motions to the next rune, to the right of Arthur's. "Magic."
He nods, and points to the next. "Strength."
There they are again: Courage, Magic and Strength. "Gwaine," he whispers.
Merlin pauses before the next rune. This would have been Lancelot's place. "Valor," he says.
Arthur pauses as well, as if he knows Merlin's thoughts. "Kay," he finally decides. He has really come into his own lately.
Merlin nods, and moves to the next. "Perseverance."
Arthur's mind drifts back to the Great Dragon's words this morning. He used that word. "Gaius," he whispers, lifting his head, scanning the room, searching for the gentle old man. He finds him just inside the doors, a part of the scenery as he so often is. Arthur nods at the physician respectfully, and Gaius nods back, understanding. He was here the first time, in that dismal ruin. He will be here again.
The last rune, to the immediate left of Arthur's seat. Merlin sets his hand on it. "Love."
Arthur smiles a small smile and holds his hand out to Guinevere. She comes forward and takes his hand. "This is your place. Beside me," he says quietly to her, running his hand over the rune.
"Always," she says, looking and smiling the smile she keeps only for him. He pulls her to him and wraps his arms around her waist, gazing down into her warm brown eyes.
Merlin turns and looks at Leon and Percival, raising his eyebrows at them. They nod and begin moving. The knights quietly exit, leaving their king and queen alone.
"Thank you," Arthur says, leaning down to kiss his wife.
"Oh!" she exclaims, and he stops.
"What's wrong?" he asks.
She takes his hand and moves it to her stomach.
"It's supposed to be too early to be able to feel him yet, but… well, just feel."
He presses his hand flat against her and closes his eyes. There is a tiny flutter, a rolling sensation against his palm, and his eyes fly open.
"What…" Arthur is aghast, but a huge grin spreads across his face. "He approves?"
"Very much so," she says, putting her hand over his for a moment before looking up at him with a knowing, half-lidded smile.
"There you go with that look again," he mutters, dropping his head to kiss her, his hand sliding around to hold her again, pulling her close. She pushes upward into him, deepening the kiss, sliding her tongue between his lips which part automatically for her, his own tongue meeting hers.
Her hands creep up his chest and wind around his neck as he leans in, her soft lips sweet under his.
Slowly he pulls back and kisses her swiftly and softly one more time.
"I love you."
From the doorway, Merlin watches. He watches the sunlight cast on the table, the spotlessly clean stone floor where Arthur and Gwen stand glowing in its caring warmth. Or perhaps it was a subtle radiance borne of the contented child within Guinevere's womb.
Merlin smiles as understanding dawns on him
The pieces are finally falling into place. Arthur is King, Guinevere his Queen. The future king is growing and thriving. And well-protected. The Round Table is here. The forging of Albion will surely be next. But first things first: my chambers. I have actual chambers. He smiles to himself, then briefly scowls, remembering. They still need sorting. But at least now it won't be so labor-intensive. Perhaps I can even relax with my feet up while I wave things into place.
Destiny is a fascinating thing, indeed, he muses, closing the doors behind him.