Merlin lolled in bed. Arthur’d given him a rare day off and there was nothing Merlin liked better than sleeping in. He loved waking slowly, mind drifting in and out of half-dreams, coming to an awareness of his physical self atom by atom. As he cozied under the covers, he wondered about what he might do with his day. A growl came from under the blankets and Merlin realized his stomach was rumbling at him, trying to catch his attention. He dragged himself out from under the covers into the cold air, relinquishing the pleasure of feeling sleepy, and jammed himself into his day clothes.
Merlin hurried to the kitchen, both because of hunger and the frosty air. He peeked around the corner slowly, not sure who would be tending the hearths, but when he saw Anna rather than Mary or George, he knew he’d be welcome.
“Oi, Merlin! Aren’t you late?”
“Morning, Anna. What’s that? No. I’ve got the day off.”
“Oh, very well then. There’s some porridge left over from this morning in that pot and I think there’s a slice of ham over there,” she said as she twisted and pointed towards the counter. “Help yourself.”
“Thanks! Have a good day.”
Merlin grabbed a bowl and scooped some of the lumpy grey cereal into it, grabbed the ham slice and put it in a pocket. He took off across the courtyard, shoveling food into his mouth as he went.
Merlin looked around to see who was calling his name. It was Elyan. Merlin nodded his head in greeting, but with a mouth full of porridge, he couldn’t talk. He’d managed to formulate a plan for the day and didn’t want to be distracted from that either. As it was, Elyan fell in step with him and they both headed to the stables.
Mouth finally empty, Merlin said, “Morning, Elyan. Why aren’t you training with Arthur?”
“Arthur changed the plans. He went out hunting and took Gwaine with him. Told the rest of to train on our own today. What about you? Why aren’t you out with him?
“Gave me the day off.”
“Oh? What’re you about then? I should’ve guessed, with you eating breakfast so late.”
“Mmm, thought I’d just take a ride in the forest.”
“Hey, that sounds lovely. Do you mind if I come?”
“Er, no. That would be fine.” Merlin wondered if he could manage to lose Elyan in the forest.
They had reached the stables by this time and each man asked for his horse. Moments later, they were mounted and riding into the forest outside Camelot. Merlin tried every non-magical tactic he could to shed Elyan, but the man was stuck to him like a cockleburr. Resigned, he finally decided that he should just continue and try to placate Elyan later.
They came to a clearing with sunlight pouring in. It was warm and verdant. Merlin’s skin soaked up the heat and some of the morning’s torpor returned to him. He slid off the horse and tied it to a tree. Closing his eyes, as if to shut out Elyan and everything else, he called out “Oooooh, dragorn!”
When he opened his eyes, Elyan’s mouth and eyes were opened wide. Elyan was looking at Merlin as though he’d just stripped naked in front of the whole court. Then Aithusa arrived, and perched on Merlin’s shoulder. Merlin got out the ham and started ripping it into small pieces, tenderly giving the small white dragon nibbles of ham.
Elyan finally regained his voice and squeaked, “You’re. You’re. You’re a dragonlord!”
Merlin just nodded.
Elyan stumbled to a rock and sat down heavily, watching Merlin and Aithusa.
Merlin sighed. “I know. I really need to tell him. I just haven’t figured out when. The timing never seems right.”
“Arthur is a good king. He’s a good friend too. I’m sure he’ll understand.”
The corners of Merlin’s mouth turned down. “I’m not so sure. You haven’t heard him talk about magic.”
Aithusa squawked as horses crashed through the brush. Horses carrying Arthur and Gwaine.
No one moved. Merlin was afraid to breath.
“So, Merlin, would you like to tell me what this is about?”
“Um, yeah. I’m, um, a dragonlord, sire.”
Arthur’s eyebrows scrunched together, confusion plain on his face. “But, that means Balinor was your … fa-,” and then, those eyebrows lifted as understanding moved across his face, “-ther.”
Merlin just stood, Aithusa still on his shoulder, waiting.
Arthur pointed at Merlin and seemed about to proclaim something when Gwaine stepped forward.
“Arthur, think about what you are about to say. Merlin has done you no wrong. He’s been a good friend and probably helped you more than you know.”
Arthur lowered his hand and slumped in his saddle a little. He raised his hands, covering his face. The sun glinted off the wide silver band on his index finger.
“With Gwaine as your champion, there is not much I can do.” Arthur sighed. “Merlin, why didn’t you tell me?”
“Arthur, how could I have told you? A dragon was destroying Camelot and your father was in power. And then, I don’t know, time passed and I couldn’t seem to find the right time. I kept telling myself I would tell you, but then things came up.” Merlin shrugged, apologetic. “I know it’s not enough. I know you deserve better. I’m sorry.”
“If I were my father, I’d have no compunction about having you executed right now, but I am not. Merlin, I’ve grown to respect you over the years, and I just, well, I need to go home and think. Please wait until I’ve called for you to come see me.”
“As you wish, sire.”
Arthur clicked his tongue and tugged on the reins, Gwaine following on his heels.
Elyan sagged, releasing a breath audibly. “You okay, Merlin?”
Merlin looked at him with teary eyes. “I think I will be.” With a sigh he continued, “It will depend on what Arthur says later.”
After dinner, George arrived. He didn’t even need to say anything. Merlin knew he was wanted. As he walked through the castle corridors, his feet felt like they were made of lead, stiff and heavy. He thought his heart might be made of lead too, it felt so heavy.
To his surprise, George had lead him to Arthur’s chambers, not the throne room. Merlin had thought he’d known the king, but he could not interpret the meaning of this. Confused, he stepped through the open door.
Arthur sat stiffly at his desk. “George, you may go now.”
As George bowed and left, Merlin stepped up to the desk and bowed deeply. “Sire, please. I only wanted to protect you. To see you grow to be the greatest king the world will ever know.”
Arthur cut him off with an angry gesture. Merlin was glad he was not in striking distance. Arthur stood and came around the desk.
“As I said in the clearing, I am not my father. You have no need to fear me. I have many many questions for you,” Arthur paused, looking Merlin directly in the eyes, “that you will answer for me over time. As for now, I think it is time for you to know that I have kept secrets from you as well.”
He took Merlin’s hands in his own, never breaking eye contact. Arthur’s warm hands enveloped his cold fingers. Merlin closed his eyes, reveling in the feel of Arthur’s bare skin on his own. Then, Merlin realized that Arthur was tugging him closer and he opened his eyes to discover his king placing a light kiss on his lips. Merlin let go of Arthur’s hands so he could wrap his arms around his king and lost himself in the kiss.