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.”