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Merlin collapsed face first onto his bed. It had not been a good day. He had woken up in a dungeon. He'd been pelted with rotten vegetables. He'd made an arse of himself in front of no less than two Princes. Put together it made for an impressive record of pathetic behaviour and unfortunate events the likes of which he wouldn't have been able to imagine before arriving in Camelot.
After he'd escorted Prince Harry to his chambers he had returned to Gaius and the man had as he'd hoped indeed had work for him to do. Later he had decided to take a stroll through the city, to learn where things were and to get his bearings. That hadn't been a bad idea in of itself, as it had been rather enjoyable, with the only problem being that the ground was slightly muddy as a result of the heavy rainfall during the previous night. That was the only problem, until he met Prince Arthur again that is.
The older of the two princes had taunted him and Merlin had to confess that he had fallen for it, he had allowed the man's words to get to him. And he might, possibly just have taunted right back when Arthur expressed surprise at him being out and about so soon after being incarcerated. Merlin might, possibly just have said that he had been released with Harry's blessing and that he had his permission to take Arthur down a peg or two whenever he liked. The Prince had not liked that one bit and had riled Merlin up with new vigour, goading him into fighting him.
The young warlock who knew that he would have had no chance playing by the knight's rules had taken to discretely using magic. It was stupid and he knew it. Despite that he couldn't find it in himself to regret his actions. Prince Arthur was a prat with inflated ego who, as his brother had pointed out, needed to learn some humility and why shouldn't he be the one to teach him?
Because it was stupid to use magic, and because it had ended up with him getting bruises all over. That was why. He should have kept his big mouth shut and walked away while he still could. An additional problem was that Merlin suspected that he wouldn't' act any differently were it to happen again. He might have learned his lesson, but that didn't mean that he had changed opinion regarding the man.
Gaius had raged against him when he returned with a split lip and bruised knuckles and rightly so. Merlin could only be grateful that the older man had taken care of him between the reproving words, showing patience with him despite his immature and reckless behaviour.
Merlin rolled over halfway onto his side, trying to get into a position that would aggravate his bruises and sore muscles the least. He stared at the shadows moving on the wall by his bed. Faint moonlight was shining in through his window, falling on the wall, the pattern ever changing as clouds moved past the celestial body.
It was later, after he must have dozed off for a bit that he was startled awake by the return of the disembodied voice. "Merlin… Merlin…"
This time there was nothing to distract him and Merlin felt himself moving from his bed as if his limbs had a will of their own, there was no conscious thought needed. After pulling his clothes back on he moved gingerly, feeling his sore muscles acutely. Still it was not enough to deter him and he sneaked out through Gaius chambers, the older man's soft snores never changing their volume or rhythm, even though there was a tense moment as he walked into a table and an empty wooden bowl fell to the floor.
He followed the voice in his mind as best he could, letting instinct rather than logic guide him. The feeling that accompanied the voice led him outside and across the square where he passed without notice. Everything was colourless in the pale light of the moon which no longer was completely round, but shrinking night by night. The voice took him in through a door, low on one of the castle walls and down a wrought iron stairway. At the bottom waited the next obstacle in his path.
By a rickety wooden table two guards are sitting, paying no attention to their surroundings as they played a game of dice, but Merlin knew that if he was to go any closer he would undoubtedly draw their attention. Feeling at a loss for inspiration Merlin went with the easiest solution he could come up with at moments notice and as one of the guards went ahead and rolled the dice he manipulated it with his magic, making it fall off the table and down the corridor where darkness would make it hard to find. The man who had rolled got up with a groan and went looking, when he was unsuccessful in locating the dice for a long moment the other man went to help him, leaving the path open for Merlin to grab a torch and head down into the tunnel from which the voice was beckoning him.
Merlin descended another set of stairs and ended up at the mouth of a long tunnel, the light of his torch too small to illuminate more than a few paces ahead. The path went steadily downward, sloping steeply. The tunnel was fairly large though it had a strange feeling to it what with the rough structure of the stone, the moisture that was clinging to every surface and the cold that seemed to live here, down below the castle.
After a fairly long trek the tunnel came to an end, an opening to the right. The voice had all along whispered in his mind, continuously calling his name. Now it turned quiet. Feeling tense Merlin slowly went out through the opening, finding himself on a small outcrop of rock that perturbed from the wall of an enormous cave. There was lighter in here, though hardly anything resembling daylight. Great columns of rock reached from the floor far below up towards a ceiling which lay hidden in darkness.
"Merlin!" the voice was back, the sound of his name was followed by a rumbling laugh. No longer caring for the scenery Merlin tried to locate the one the voice belonged to, finding nothing.
"Where are you?" he called out, his voice sounded small in the vast space, echoing desolately against the cavern walls. "You have called for me and I have come, now show yourself!"
There was movement from out in the darkness, the sound of air stirring accompanied by the rattling of chains, then appeared a dragon. Merlin had never seen a dragon before, but there was no question as to what the being in front of him was. It was a giant reptile with wings that stretched far from the pale, dull green body. Its body was enormous and covered with scales. It landed on some rocks before the outcropping Merlin was standing upon, the snot coming too close for Merlin to feel comfortable as he knew that fire could burst from its mouth, and even did it not breath flame the teeth he could see past the lips were long and sharp. Its eyes were peering down at him, ancient and wise in a way unfamiliar to humans, they were glowing dimly.
"I'm here!" it said, the voice still echoing only in Merlin's mind, though it was more palpable now that they were face to face. The great dragon moved around until it had settled comfortably, the wings getting tucked tightly against the body. The manacle around its feet clinking as the chain settled into place. "How very small you are, for such a great destiny," it mused.
Merlin wasn't sure what to feel at the revelation that the one who had been calling out to him was a dragon. He was filled with a vague sense of fear, which wasn't as strong as it probably ought to be, right now though his curiosity was taking precedence. "What do you mean? What destiny?"
"You must wonder why I have called you here, Merlin."
"There are some things you need to be told, others that I feel should wait."
"Who are you to decide that?"
The creature huffed, but ignored his question. "Your gift, Merlin, was given to you for a reason."
Excitement bubbled up inside him at the statement. "So I was right, there is a purpose behind it."
"There is a purpose behind everything that happens, small or big. You were meant to come to Camelot." The dragon paused for dramatic effect. "A Pendragon is the Once and Future King who will unite the land of Albion."
Merlin gaped dumbly. "Right," he muttered, a beat later, shifting his grip on the torch.
"That cannot happen without proper guidance and aid."
"Okay," Merlin said sceptically, it sounded absolutely implausible and he had no idea how it was related to him.
"You are the one who have to provide it."
Merlin felt himself still. For a moment he did nothing, allowing for the words to sink in. "Excuse me?"
"One of Uther's sons will become the King this land needs, but both their paths are lined with obstacles that they cannot overcome on their own, and the greatest threat would be themselves. For Albion to come the brothers must be on the same side. If they ever stand on opposite sides of a battlefield it would be the end, and there are many forces which would strive to pull them apart. You must be the force that keeps them together. Your destiny is bond to the two young Pendragons. If Albion is to be the two of them must work together. If divided it will be a catastrophe for the lands. And by divided I mean by anything, be it opinions or death."
"I don't understand? Why me? Why do I have anything to do with this?"
"Why?" The dragon chuckled. "That is not the proper question to ask! What you need to ask yourself is how. The why is irrelevant, it only is. This is your destiny Merlin, without you there will never be an Albion. There will only be war and death."
"No," Merlin said weakly. "No," he said again, voice stronger as he looked up at the dragon that loomed over him. "No, no, no, this… No… You've got it wrong!"
"Must I repeat myself? There is no right, there is no wrong, there is only what is and what isn't. And this is. The sooner you accept this as fact the sooner you will be at peace with what you must do."
"No," he repeated stubbornly. "I'm not getting involved with them."
"No. I… I… What am I even supposed to do? Which Prince is it who is meant to be King?"
"Only time will be able to give us the answer to that question."
"I know who I would pick," he muttered under his breath, not intending for the other to hear him.
"Is that so?"
"Tell me then, young warlock, which of the murderer's sons do you see fit to wear a crown?"
"I…" Merlin hesitated. He had spoken with heat. Truly he didn't know if Harry was any better than his brother, but he did know that he loathed Arthur. He thought about what he knew of them. Arthur may have treated him unfairly, and he was obviously a prat, but all he knew about Harry was that he had been at odds with his brother. It may look like he had been kind letting Merlin free from the stocks, but had it been for any other reason than to rile Arthur up? And if he had magic, was that a good or a bad thing?
"It is not so easy is it?" the dragon rumbled softly as the silence grew prolonged.
"No," he said, shaking his head as if the movement could remove the task he had been presented with. "I can't do it. I can't choose, for all I know they're both idiots, I know Arthur is for sure. And Harry, he…"
"What about the younger Prince?"
"I think he has magic."
For a moment there was absolute silence and stillness, then the dragon burst out laughing, a small flame erupting from its snout. "Oh, ha, ha, this is, ha, ha." For a long time the dragon was overcome with merriment, his laughter preventing him from speaking. As the being gained control of itself again, Merlin cowered as to avoid the continuous puffs of flame that came from the dragon's mouth. "I thank you, Merlin," the dragon eventually said, "these news have made my day."
"Why is that?" Merlin ventured to ask, daring to come out into the open again.
"Do you not find it ironic that Uther, the man who has made it his life's mission to extinguish magic has sired a son who has the gift?"
"I've thought it too," he said gently, "though I am not certain he has magic to begin with, it is only a suspicion."
"Be that as it may, I think your future will be more interesting than I first thought, and it was interesting to begin with. I wish you luck, young warlock." With a leap and the rattling of chains the dragon took to the air, leaving Merlin to stare after him uncomprehendingly for a moment.
"Wait!" he screamed once he understood that the dragon did not intend to come back. "Wait! No! Stop! That isn't enough! You need to tell me more! I have to know more!" His cries were left unanswered.
Feeling weary Merlin allowed his shoulder to sag. He put the torch on the ground and leant back against the cavern wall. His bruises were making themselves known again, he had nearly forgotten all about them as he faced the dragon. First now when he was allowed to think, was all he had been told sinking in. He had met a dragon, the last of its kind if stories were to be believed. He didn't know much, but he had heard that King Uther had captured it twenty years earlier, stopping it from terrorizing the lands, though Merlin suspected that the dragon had had good reason for wrecking havoc.
That he had met a dragon paled in comparison to what he had been told, if the words were to be trusted that is. A destiny. The coming of Albion. A Once and Future King. It was all too much and he had not had enough sleep to ponder it. Ignoring the cold weight that had settled in the pit of his stomach Merlin picked the torch back up and started to head back up the tunnel.
Harry knew that he might be signing his own death warrant, but he couldn't seem to care. The question was if it would be his father, his brother or the Court Physician who demanded he hang by the neck until dead for daring to leave Camelot so soon again while still being injured. He supposed that it mattered little which one of them became his executioner and he knew that if death was to find him it was much more likely to find him by the border where he was going. At home he would in truth only be facing house arrest and anger stemmed in worry which was nothing more than he deserved.
Still he was his own man and he had things that needed doing, nothing his father had said when they had argued the previous night had been able to change his mind. The King had accused him of being reckless and too idealistic.
Harry had met the accusations head on, saying that he only did what was necessary to protect and care for their people. It was their obligation to do so, no ruler should ever think themselves above the people of his lands. They paid their taxes and in return they were to be protected and if that protection cost lives then so be it.
Uther had then said that the only good thing to come out of his injury was that he would be forced to partake in the celebrations.
If anything that proclamation had only steeled Harry's resolve. He had been planning to leave as soon as he was able, feeling the acute need to do something productive and helpful. With his magic restored his injuries were healing faster and they didn't bother him much as they had. He could walk without limping noticeably and sitting in a saddle was no problem either, resulting in that he deemed himself fit enough for battle. That was all that mattered.
He had left the City of Camelot several hours before dawn had risen, in the darkness of night when not everyone has gone to sleep yet and no one has yet to rise. He had slipped away undetected with a little bit of help from his magic. He had decided to go as he awoke from a dream of blood and rain, knowing that there would be no more rest for him, especially not after a full afternoon and evening resting in his chambers, apart from the brief argument with the King, his body just wasn't tired anymore despite the aches that lingered in his muscles.
After a few hours of hard ride he caught up with one of the groups of knights and scouts that had been sent out the day before on his father's and brother's orders, catching them as they made ready to break camp. They expressed surprise at seeing him, but they neither the authority nor the courage to say anything against his presence, allowing for him to take charge. He consulted with Sir Raymond who up until his arrival had been in charge of the group.
The knight told him that the larger company had separated soon after leaving Camelot. One group had been sent towards Néahdún and Ǽdre and another had been sent to patrol the border. The group Harry had caught up with were headed south in the direction that the men from Cenred's Kingdom were headed by his rapport. Harry approved of this and so they continued the trek south.
His plan may have been to head east towards the two ruined villages and the men he had left behind. He had planned it knowing that he owed Brain condolences and more for the death of his uncle and he felt duty to the people of the two villages. Going there had the added benefit of probably sparing him battle as he knew he wasn't fully recovered. Still he also knew that he would fare better in a group than on his own which left him the choice of travelling with the knights he had caught up with. He also desired to make the men responsible for the destruction he had witnessed pay.
The ride went easy, they made good way, for the forest in this area of the Kingdom was made up of large beech trees. The thick, gray trunks stood sparsely, more like columns in a grand hall than the plants of the forest. The forest floor was covered with dry leaves, golden and bronze in colour and the vaulted ceiling that was made up of new sprung leaves giving an airy feeling. Their journey would have been absolutely pleasant were it not for the looming threat that they were riding towards and the unease they all felt regarding Harry being there though he was injured.
The Prince's thoughts ventured to what his family must think when they discovered that he was gone.
"I will kill him for this," Arthur muttered darkly as he walked towards the King's chambers with the unpleasant task of informing his father of the discovery that his brother was gone. He had been to the stables and seen that Harry's horse was missing after he had been to his chambers.
He had gone to Harry's rooms to partake in the midday meal with his brother, after a morning of training. Arthur was determined to at least keep himself in trim and ready for the time when his father would allow him to leave. He had thought that he would cheer Harry up with some company, only to discover an empty room and a bed with sleep in sheets that was cold since long.
The Prince looked up, he'd been walking with his head bent, his vision tunnelled as he concentrated on where he was going as his dark thoughts ran away with him.
"Morgana," he greeted as he saw the woman.
"I'm on my way to see Harry. Do you know if he has eaten yet?"
Arthur knew that his face must have shown his worry, which was brought to the surface as she asked about Harry.
"What is the matter?" she asked next.
"Harry," he said in a one word reply.
Worry immediately overtook her face. "What's happened? Is he well?"
"I don't know." He sighed. "The idiot is gone."
"Gone? What do you mean gone?"
"He's nowhere to be found and his horse is missing. He must have left."
"What was he thinking?" It said a lot that she wasn't questioning it, or trying to find plausible excuses as to where Harry could be. "He's injured!"
"I know! I thought I wouldn't have to go through the celebrations alone."
Morgana gave him an incredulous look. "Arthur Pendragon!" she wailed.
"What?" He blinked, wondering what he had said now.
"Your injured brother has fancies himself immortal, going out to fight, and you worry about having to attend the celebrations without him! Don't you have any shame in your body?"
"Oh," Arthur realized what he had said. "I didn't mean it like that. I am worried about him, of course I am!"
"Do something about it then!"
"I'm on my way to telling my father, I can't leave without telling him. I plan to though, I'll bring him home."
"Good." She gave him a superior look before she continued down the corridor, and only now did Arthur notice that Guinevere had been beside her.
The serving girl gave him a small smile. "I hope everything turns out alright with your brother, sire," she said.
He nodded. "Thank you."
Guinevere curtsied and hurried after Morgana and Arthur had to continue on his path towards his father, looking forward to relaying the news even less now. It had to be done however and soon he was standing outside the King's chambers, knowing that it was likely that the man was eating together with Lady Helen to honour their guest.
He knocked on the door decisively and waited for a vocal admittance before stepping inside. The sight that met him was exactly the one he had expected. His father was seated at one end of a table laden with delicious looking food, dressed in fine garments the same as he had been the night before and at the other short end of the table sat the Lady Helen, looking beautiful in a dress in a rich plum colour.
"Arthur! How good of you to join us," Uther said, more jovial than was the norm when it came to him.
"I'm afraid that my intentions aren't as pleasant as I would like," he began with an apology. He bowed to Lady Helen. "My Lady, if you would excuse us for a moment, I'd be most grateful."
The woman smiled sweetly, the expression lighting up her face, and Arthur could vaguely understand why his father enjoyed her company. "Of course," she said, "as long as I can have the chance to converse more with you later, sire."
Arthur gave her a strained simile in return. "I would like nothing better. Father?" he waited for his father to get up and lead the way into his actual bedchamber which was adjoining to the room they had been dining in.
"What has happened?" The King asked, once the door had shut behind them.
"Harry is gone. I suspect that he has ridden out to join in the effort to stop the group of Cenred's men who were headed south, or perhaps he had returned to help the people of the attacked villages. I am here to tell you that I intend to ride out after him and bring him back." He fell silent and waited expectantly to hear the words of permission.
"You are staying in Camelot," Uther said.
"Of course," Arthur started and made ready to turn around and leave, before his mind caught up to what had been said. "What? You can't mean that! I have to bring him back!"
"Harry has made his own decision. He will have to live with it."
"But, he could die!" Arthur hadn't known how truly upset he was until now. He couldn't understand his father's logic.
"That that's what'll happen!" the King roared. "You are to stay here and attend the celebrations as is expected of you, Arthur. Harry has disobeyed too many times; it is high time that he learn that there are consequences for his actions."
"If he dies because of this, I'll never forgive you."
"It would be his own fault!"
"Then we are in a disagreement. God day, father."
"Arthur, I trust that you won't leave."
Arthur, scowled, bowed shallowly and left. He would not leave the city, it would solve nothing now that his father had forbid it, but he was resolved to send some men after Harry, even if they wouldn't be able to force him to come home as he did not have that authority over his brother, a message to inspire guilt might be able to do the job.
End Chapter 14
AN 30th May 2014:
I'm not going to apologize for taking so long this time. You don't want to hear it, and I don't want to say it. The story goes on as planned. I don't think there were too much rehashing in this chapter. Whatever you thought let me know!