Prince Arthur collapsed into his chair, his face streaked with soot and heavy with exhaustion as he recited the damaged incurred by the dragon’s systematic attacks.
“Do we have any idea how this abomination escaped?” Uther demanded furiously.
“We believe it to be the work of Morgause.” Arthur answered heavily. “She is the only known threat with the power to break those chains.”
“Is there no way to kill it?” The king asked the room at large. His gaze fell on the physician. “Gaius?”
Of course he has an answer, Merlin thought uncharitably. He always has a solution to the problem after the fact. All those innocent lives lost…Why would Gaius condone trapping a dragon rather than killing it outright? He knows Kilgarrah, possibly even had a hand in his capture. Surely even he could foresee what a dangerous decision that was. Blind old man, blind and an old fool…
He turned back in just as the man revealed the name of the Dragonlord.
“Where can we find this Balinor?” Arthur broke in, ignoring the king’s outraged gasp.
Merlin quietly slipped out, leaving Arthur to argue with his father. He knew the prince; they would be leaving immediately for Cenred’s kingdom, whether Uther approved or not.
Gwen and Morgana were ahead of him; they were in Gaius’s chambers making up two travel packs for him and for Arthur. Knowing that they had things well underhand, he changed course and went to saddle the horses. It was Gaius, however, who met him first in the courtyard.
“Is there truly no one else left that the dragon will heed? My magic has no effect!” Merlin greeted him, nearly pulling his hair out with frustration.
“As I told the king, we need a Dragonlord. The only one I know of is Balinor.” Gaius answered reluctantly.
“Then I guess we’re off to Cenred’s kingdom to find this Balinor.”
“Merlin…Balinor was also once known as Prince Balin, Lord of Dragons. Uther’s younger brother, disowned and banished when Uther implemented the Great Purge….and also your father. ”
“Wait. Balinor is my father?” Merlin yelped. “And he’s the king’s brother?” And you never thought to mention this to me in the two years that I’ve been here? That’s kind of important information to with hold, Gaius! And don’t blame this on my mother! She’s leagues away. You’re my guardian while I’m in Camelot, not her. No matter what her wishes were, you made the final decision to keep this from me.” He glared at the old man. “You knew I was visiting the dragon, from nearly my first day here in Camelot, and there never came a moment when you felt you could impart this revelation?”
“I’m sorry, Merlin. I only wanted to protect you.”
“From seeking out the one man who could possibly teach me about my powers and legacy.” Merlin said bitterly. “I will never forgive you for this, Gaius.”
“If I am the son of a Dragonlord, does that mean I would be able to use those powers as well?”
“It is said that the gift passes from father to son. Look deep inside for the fire that burns within. The knowledge will come from there.”
The warlock nodded, his eyes narrowed in thought.
“So be it. I need to speak with Arthur. I won’t forget this. Goodbye, Gaius.”
He mounted up and whirled his horse around as his guardian watched helplessly, not bothering to wait for the Prince, who was just descending the last step.
The Prince urged his mare on with voice and hand alone, trusting her to overtake the slower, heavier gelding. Only when they were well away from the citadel did Merlin slow his horse. Arthur thundered up beside him, ready to berate him for his impulsiveness, but the warlock beat him to the punch.
“Gaius just informed me that not only is the Dragonlord–Balinor–my father, whom I assumed was dead all of these years, but he’s also Uther’s disowned younger brother. Once known as Prince Balin of Camelot, Lord of Dragons. ”
“You can’t be serious.”
Merlin managed a grim smile. “Such is my destiny. Son of a Dragonlord, cousin to a royal prat.”
“Uther’s brother. Your uncle. My father. Vice versa. Makes us cousins.” Snarking at the prince always made him feel better, and this time was no exception.
Still, Arthur winced at the bitterness in his friend’s voice, and urged his mount alongside to grip Merlin’s arm, forcing the younger man to look at him.
“I’m sorry.” He said gently. “I’m sorry for my father, and the depth of the sins that he has committed that we all are now paying for in his place. ” He offered a small smile. “Would it help if I say that you were my family long before this, and you will continue to be so long after as well?”
Merlin sneaked a glance at him. “Maybe.”
“It is true, you know. We are brothers-in-arms, you and I. Kindred spirits–”
“Two sides of the same coin?” Merlin suggested helpfully, his lips twitching.
Arthur shoved him. “Just as long as I’m the more important and handsome half.”
“You’re the side with the head profile, because that’s all that would fit on a coin stamp, big as it is.” Merlin retorted. “Royal prat.”
“Uh-uh, Merlin. If I’m a royal prat, then so are you, cousin.” Arthur’s words were deliberately light as he watched the tension drain from the other man’s shoulders with an inward sigh of relief.
The prince let it go with a roll of his eyes, focusing once more on the task at hand. “So let’s say that this Balinor is dead. How do we come back and confront the dragon ourselves without revealing that you have magic?”
Merlin urged his horse back into an easy walk, and they resumed their trek as he thought.
“I think it’s time to give face and form to Emerys.” He said slowly. “It’s been twenty years since your father or any of the nobles have seen Balinor. Hopefully I look enough like him that I can pass muster, especially if I modify an aging potion so that I look older than I am.”
“What, like a man instead of an not-yet-bearded boy?”
The warlock shot him a sardonic look. “Come on, my lord.” He sighed. “Let’s go confront the Dragonlord in his cave.”