The thing about being the Emrys was, it wasn't a title you were born with or even earned, exactly. You just got it when a dying old man showed up at your village with a weird knife, grabbed your hand, and forced you to kill him.
Or at least that was what had happened to Merlin. Gaius's gory stories about the knife and its history suggested his experience with this was not universal.
After yet another person tried to kill him for the stupid knife, Merlin was nearly ready to just tell the next person who turned up that they could have it.
"Merlin!" Gaius scolded.
Merlin slumped on the bench by Gaius's table. "I know, I know. The power is a responsibility, and I have to use it wisely. I can't just throw it at somebody." Even if that was exactly what the last Emrys had done . . . .
"The power is in you now, not the knife," Gaius warned. "Only your death will change that now."
Merlin looked up. "Then why do you keep telling me to hide the knife?"
"Because the knife does offer control of the magic - and, more importantly, the mage."
Merlin's eyes widened. "I feel like you could have mentioned this before," he squeaked.
Gaius looked at him in incredulous exasperation. "I assumed you knew."
"It's not like this thing came with instructions! I'm making this up as I go along! You know that!"
Gaius sighed. "Your mother's letter hinted as much," he admitted. "I should have realized." His expression turned stern. "But now you do realize, so be more careful."
"Right," Merlin said determinedly. "I will be."
Gaius eyed him doubtfully, but all he said was, "Good."
"More careful, you said," Gaius's voice was as dry as the wells had been during Anhora's curse three months ago. "What exactly about any of this do you consider being careful?"
Merlin looked up from the bowl of broth he was hunched over. "I was careful!" he protested.
The blanket he was huddled under made Merlin look sufficiently pathetic that even Gaius hesitated to yell at him. He just raised an eyebrow as he said, in a mostly calm tone. "You fought a sorcerer in front of the entire court."
"I was in disguise!"
This was true, and also the only reason Gaius wasn't either currently trying to smuggle Merlin out of the city or attempting to explain her only son's untimely death in a letter to Hunith.
That didn't mean the disguise was a good idea. "An aging potion won't work forever, Merlin. What will you do when you're old enough to actually look like that?"
Merlin shrugged. "I'll worry about that if I get there."
If. The boy was fighting off increasingly dangerous opponents nearly every week as mages and monsters sought both vengeance and power. Merlin's power was unmatched, but his knowledge of how to use it was severely hampered by the holes in Gaius's own knowledge.
The if hurt Gaius's heart, but the boy wasn't wrong. He was walking a dangerous path, and his chances of reaching old age naturally were slim.
"At least you managed to come up with an alias," Gaius said, sinking down on the bench opposite of Merlin with a sigh. "Although, honestly, Merlin, your skills in that area could use some work."
"Dragoon the Great is a fantastic name."
Gaius raised an eyebrow.
Despite Gaius's doubts, Merlin thought the Dragoon thing was working out rather well. Dragoon looked like the sort of person actually qualified to be the Emrys and not just an easy target. It also let him act more openly and get a strange kind of credit, if you counted Uther's ever growing bounty on him as credit.
Besides, Uther might just be getting progressively more enraged, muttering about being made a laughingstock, but Arthur was growing more thoughtful about the whole thing. Dragoon was, after all, consistently on Camelot's side, no matter what Uther said about it.
Unfortunately, he might have gotten a little too thoughtful about it, which Merlin only realized when he brought in Arthur's breakfast one morning and found him already awake and contemplating a knife.
A very particular knife.
Merlin managed not to drop the tray by an effort of supreme will. "Good morning," he said. "That's . . . an interesting knife you've got there. I don't remember cleaning that one before."
"That would explain its condition," Arthur said dryly. "Do you know where I found this, Merlin?"
"In . . . the armory?" Merlin tried.
Arthur stared at him. Merlin couldn't tear his eyes away from the blade in his hand. "In your bedroom, during yesterday's search."
"You said you didn't find anything!" Merlin protested before realizing that it sounded far too close to admission of guilt.
Arthur looked unimpressed. "Sometimes, Merlin, people lie. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"
"No," Merlin tried. He clutched the breakfast tray a little closer. "I never claimed not to own a knife, I just didn't brag about it."
"A knife covered in runes from the Old Religion," Arthur said flatly. "A knife that perfectly matches the description of a mythical weapon that people keep coming to Camelot in search of. I know what it is, Merlin. And I know why you have it."
Merlin edged backwards, towards the door. "You do?"
"You're using it to control the Emrys, Dragoon." Arthur's stern look suddenly appeared nothing more than very tired. "I understand the temptation. I do. With everything we've had to fight . . . but it's a bad idea, Merlin. Sooner or later, you'll make a mistake, and I can only guess what destruction he'll wreak when you do."
"He won't," Merlin swore. "Trust me, Arthur, he's on our side."
"It he was on our side, you wouldn't have to control him," Arthur pointed out. "And what possible reason would he have for being on our side?"
"Destiny?" Merlin tried. "And he likes you. Mostly. And I'm not controlling him, Arthur. I wasn't using the blade at all. I'm just hiding it."
"The most powerful sorcerer in the world agreed to hide the best weapon against him under your bed." Arthur's voice was painfully skeptical.
" . . . Yes?"
Arthur's eyes narrowed. "I'm missing something." He paced a slow circle around Merlin, who did his best not to flinch. "You look like him," Arthur said slowly. "You have the same eyes. You're related to him, aren't you?"
Merlin opened his mouth.
"The truth, Merlin," Arthur warned.
Or, rather, Arthur ordered. While holding the knife.
The compulsion burned in his chest. He lashed against it instinctively, but pain convulsed him. The breakfast tray clattered to the floor.
He couldn't - He mustn't -
He had to.
The words tore themselves out of him. "I - I am Emrys."
He was pretty sure his eyes had flashed gold.
"No," Arthur protested, eyes wide. "I've seen him. He's old - "
What was the point in lying now? Merlin had gotten better at this aging thing. He waved a hand and felt age turn himself brittle. "I present to you Dragoon the Great," he said wearily. "Also known as the Emrys, Merlin, and 'you idiot.'"
"You're the Emrys," Arthur said. "How did you become the Emrys?"
"Wrong place, wrong time?"
Arthur pinched the bridge of his nose. "The worst part is, I think I believe it." He pointed at Merlin. "You're going to tell me the whole story, and you had better tell the truth."
"And then you'll remember your own advice and give me the knife back?" Merlin asked hopefully as the geas tightened.
Arthur sighed. "This is probably the worst idea I've ever had, but assuming your story proves you're still the idiot you've always been and not some long time plotter . . . "
"I'm not," Merlin assured him. "I'm really, really not."
"And as long as you promise to hide it in a better place than under your bed . . . "
Merln winced. "Planning on it."
" . . . then I can't believe I'm saying this, but yes. You can have the knife back."