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The Fire In Your Chest

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In Albion, where the moss grows thick and the rainy weather never seemed to let up, the Dragon King sat close to the fireplace, wings folding close to him in the cold as he listened to one of his trusted knights list out potential brides. The chill of the autumn air rolled in with mists finely shrouding the land around them, the fog feeling as dense as armor. He didn’t know why they went through all of the formalities. Arthur had already said instead of an heir, he was going to pick his successor out of the wise and witty, someone qualified to run his kingdom when he had passed. He needed no bride, but he did want companionship, and that was why he was humoring this list.

“If it’s not a wife you’re after…” Gawain said, steadily testing the waters. “Do you wish for a husband? A fellow king to rule with?”

Arthur lifted his gaze from the fire, interested but dismissive. “Surely no one has offered their sons to me. They would all be putting forth their princesses.”

“It just so happens that the third son of Uruk was offered in a footnote from King Lugalbanda. I think they meant it as a joke, but…”

A third son? Someone not destined to rule, then. “They’re lions, aren’t they?”

“They are.”

Golden-haired, red-eyed lions. Arthur had met them once in passing, but could not recall a third son in recent memory. Still, he did not want to put a princess through the labors of queenship, he resented the idea that women had only the place to rear sons. A king beside him might be interesting. Situated in a world above his knights, he bore no equals, and therefore, no friends. Arthur walked to the windowsill, his scaled tail swishing after him, pondering how long it would take to fly to Uruk and back. A third son would likely be power-hungry, but he had no idea what kind of person he was.

“Read the letter back to me,” Arthur’s clawed hands rested on the sill, watching the world move beneath him as commoners and merchants walked about their daily life in the Castletown. Albion was a place where people of all kinds could work in harmony, and he had made it that way specifically so that it was a refuge for people from warring kingdoms and people who wanted to be free from their roles in society. In Albion, so long as you obey the laws of the land, the land and its people would treat you kindly.

“My Sumerian is rubbish, but…” Gawain found the letter—or rather, the scroll that had been sent. “Greetings, King of Albion,” He began. “Blah, blah, we’ve been told you’ve been looking for a princess. I would offer you my oldest daughter if it pleases you to unite our kingdoms in a peace treaty. If she does not suit your tastes, my third son, unruly as he may be, is always looking for a way out of here…”

So he was joking. Little did he know, Arthur took everything quite seriously. A fellow king… he’d have to learn what kind of person this ‘third son’ was, and he could only do that by spreading his wings and flying to Uruk to see for himself. He wasn’t getting any younger, and he could use someone with liveliness around his castle. He just hoped they would humor him when he requested to see their son.

“Send a letter to the king, saying I’ll consider an alliance for their son’s hand, and I’ll be there in three week’s time.”

“Shall I send a knight?”

“No, a messenger bird will do.”

By that, he meant a courier with feathered wings, someone who could be trusted. As one of Arthur’s scribes in the room penned the letter, they passed it to him for him to sign. Taking the quill between his clawed hands, his sprawling signature and seal proved its authenticity.

As the courier took it and placed it in their pouch, Arthur walked with them to the parapets and watched as they spread their wings and headed east. He was trusting his intuition, something that rarely failed him. Something told him that pursuing the son instead of the daughter would prove more fruitful. After all, a man not in line for the throne, destined to be married off must have ambition. That was precisely what Arthur was looking for.

--

The first thing they did to Gilgamesh was cut his mane.

The moment the letter arrived, his father declared he was good for something, finally, and they were to prepare him for King Arthur in full decoration. The finest jewels, a winding red tattoo inked around his body, and of course, the mane that proudly made him a proper lion needed to be sheared off to make him look more submissive. Just as Arthur had guessed, Gilgamesh was ambitious, but the treatment they were giving him was nothing short of an embarrassment. Gilgamesh was constantly angling to be king of his own damn country, not to be married off into someone else’s.

As strong as he was, he held little power when his father ruled, so he just barely tolerated the decoration as they wound gold around his upper arms and pierced his ears with long, shimmering earrings. He’d take a chunk out of this King of Dragons, he would—nothing could steal his pride, not even being prepared as a bride. Tutors were suddenly swarming him to help him brush up on his English to try and make him more appealing. They didn’t really plan on this son ever going anywhere, considering his belligerent attitude, but to hear someone wanted to take him off their hands—with a prosperous kingdom, no less—it was tempting.

Weeks passed as Gilgamesh asked around about what Arthur was like. The Dragon King, who slew an innumerable number of foes, big and small, strong and powerful, who had led Albion to glory. He didn’t seem like the type to be dominated so easily, but Gil was an adept fighter, easily the strongest and most robust of his siblings. He wasn’t content with Arthur’s fairytales, no matter how impressive they were. He would have to meet the man for himself. Whatever made him take his father’s joke seriously, though… that was bizarre enough. Perhaps he just preferred a male counterpart, and that’s why he hadn’t taken up any princesses or queens that had thrown themselves at him. What an oddball.

Still, he would never be satisfied with just being passed along like a toy.

When the day came for King Arthur to arrive, he waited at his windowsill until he spotted something in the distance. He never imagined the Dragon King to arrive by sky. Still, he wouldn’t dignify him by going down to greet him with the rest of his family. They would have to drag him before the king before he ever stooped so low.

Soon enough, a couple of guards arrived to do just that.

--

Arthur was met with a crowd of cheers, his heavy plate armor trapping the humid air in Uruk’s weather. He definitely wanted to return home quickly if all of this paid off. When the kings met, they traded cordial greetings and Arthur almost instantly asked where his third son was.

They brought him before Arthur, two guards flanking either side of him. Rounded ears atop a crop of blonde hair that had clearly been cut in comparison to the men around them who bore striking manes, a swishing, agitated lion’s tail, and beautiful, colorful red fabrics wrapping around his body as his chest was left bare. They had draped a flowered veil over his head, but Arthur could still clearly see his face and all of the anger written all over it. Doing the noble thing, Arthur took his hand and kissed it.

Gilgamesh retracted his hand almost instantly, earning the ire of nearly everyone around him. Arthur didn’t seem perturbed in the slightest. In Uruk’s traditions, a bride was traded almost like goods and it wasn’t an enviable position to be in. He couldn’t imagine the shame born from being traded off from your family, it was a position Arthur never had to be in.

“It’s an honor to make your acquaintance,” Arthur spoke, looking over Gilgamesh admiringly. He was truly beautiful— pure red eyes that were trying to pierce him, a lithe frame that was shown off in the outfit they presented him in. He could tell he was powerful despite his position, and every bit as beautiful as any other bride presented before him, perhaps more. He couldn’t help but behold him, even as Gil wondered what the hell his deal was.

“I’m sure it is.”

“Shall we talk inside?”

“I’m sure you’d rather speak to my father.”

“On the contrary,” Arthur gave only the slightest smile. “The person I’m most interested in is you.”

Gilgamesh wasn’t impressed by Arthur’s charming words, either. As they were given permission to walk the gardens, the very moment Gil was out of sight, he tore the veil off and threw it to the ground.

“I don’t know what you’re doing here, but clearly , you’re out of your mind.”

“For seeking a bride?”

“For choosing me over my sister! Are you insane? I’m comfortable here, this is my territory, and one day I will be king . I can’t afford to get wrapped up in foreign affairs when I have so much climbing to do.”

“Do you intend to kill your brothers?”

“Wh—”

“I’m just saying, the only way up is by clearing the path ahead of you, and that’s quite treasonous.” Arthur’s voice was even, carrying no judgment but no approval, either. “I intend to marry someone to have as an equal. If you cannot rule here, why not in Albion?”

“You don’t even know me.”

“Such is my intention to get to do so now.”

Arthur was stunningly handsome. Gilgamesh had never seen a dragon in person before, the elegant crown circling his horns that curved up and off of his head, the slight shimmer to his wings. Most people would be thrilled a prospective husband was checking them out, but most people weren’t Gilgamesh. Just as easily as he noticed his handsome face did he notice the talons on his fingers. Gilgamesh had claws, too, but they could retract into his hands (and had since been filed down by those wishing to make him look more demure). He was aching to use them, too.

“Ask what you want. It won’t change my mind.”

Arthur would press him on politics, ask him about what a king was meant to do and how they were meant to lead, how he felt about civilians and how he felt about leadership. Things a real king would want to know from a prospective one. Gilgamesh’s answers impressed him, even if they were selfish ones—he clearly had spent a lot of time thinking about what it was like to rule. He lacked polish, as if he were raw gold, yet to be formed into its true shape. He was young, spiteful, and ambitious. He was everything Arthur had hoped he’d be. A challenge, something to liven up his life.

“I think I will accept your father’s offer.” He said, once their conversation had wound to a close. “You will have more opportunities where I live to grow than you do here.”

Gilgamesh balked at him, before he scowled. “Suddenly, you know what’s best for me?”

“I will not take you without your consent. I know it is tradition here to trade for a bride, but we do not do things that way in Albion.”

Gilgamesh saw it for what it was—an opportunity. He was destined to rule, and he’d always known as much. So what if it was somewhere else? Still, his pride demanded satisfaction, and he wouldn’t go without a fight.

“I’ll crush the hopes of my family if I refuse you, so who am I to say no?”

Arthur sensed that wasn’t the end of it, but he nodded and accepted it anyway.

--

They really, really wanted Arthur to take Gil.

Showering him with an impressive dowry of jewels and gold, they also threw the notion of having territory near Uruk at him. Arthur didn’t seek to expand his borders any, but the offer was still something. Still, he was sticking to his guns. Gilgamesh would only accompany him out of the country if he wanted to go. The pressure was on Gilgamesh to take up the offer, his father even threatening punishment if not. He resisted until it was clear his neck was upon the line if he didn’t.

But what was going to happen when he did? Arthur stood tall at seven feet, he didn’t want to imagine bedding this man. Surely, if he professed this much interest in him, that was his intention. Gilgamesh knew he was attractive, and hazarded a guess that Arthur thought the same. He found himself sauntering into Arthur’s guest room as he was disrobing for bed, unlatching the fabric around his wings and letting them spread properly. His form beneath his clothes was everything Gilgamesh had come to expect from the Dragon King.

“So all of this is mine if I marry you?”

Arthur looked back at him in slight surprise, undoing the rest of his armor. “All of this…?”

“This body of yours. Surely you are not thinking of a chaste relationship.”

“No,” He said finally, stripped down to his pants and boots. “I’m not.”

Gilgamesh smirked at him, crossing his arms over his bare chest. “So you’re seeking a partner to bed? You could have anyone back in your kingdom for that.”

“I’m not seeking just that, though you are pleasing to the eye.”

“You have my family to thank for decorating me for you. Please, look all you like,” He bit back sarcastically.

“Hmm… I like you a bit more because you’re unafraid to challenge me. Back home, my knights respect me and the common folk revere and somewhat fear me. I want someone who can challenge my opinion freely, to help me to think from a new perspective. You seem like a perfect candidate.”

“Interesting way for a king to think. I would like my rule to be absolute in every way.”

“It gets boring at the top,” Arthur said quietly, sitting on the bed, looking over Gilgamesh somewhat hungrily, who noted it.

“Do I please you?”

“Very much,” Arthur opted to answer honestly.

It was a weird feeling, being the third son and somewhat openly ignored his entire life, to finally have someone drop into your lap who saw your value, but Gilgamesh would neither be so easily swayed or bend to his will. Arthur’s deal wasn’t exactly a bad one. Rule in another kingdom by another king’s side, have a position of power and influence over the world. He still wanted his own damn kingdom and badly, and knew that he could easily throw a coup with the power that flowed through his veins. Still… this might be easier, or he could manipulate it to his advantage.

“I will tell you tomorrow whether I accept or not.” Gilgamesh said finally, though he was fairly sure he knew his answer by now.

“Please do. There’s no rush,” Though Arthur would like him to hurry, as the heat really was dizzying.

--

Gilgamesh waited for Arthur to come before the royal throne room the next morning, dressed again in new luxurious clothes and jewelry.

“Arthur Pendragon, I accept your proposal.”

He was between a rock and a hard place anyway, with punishment threatening to rain down on him should he refuse or turn Arthur away in any meaningful way. Arthur gave him the slightest of smiles, getting down on one knee before him and taking his hand. He procured a silver ring from his satchel, one he had brought from Camelot’s treasury just in case. As he slid it onto his finger, Gil got the sense that it wouldn’t be coming off any time soon. Arthur pledged his loyalty to him in front of his family.

 “So long as you will have me, I will have you,” These words coming from Arthur’s mouth, even if Gilgamesh was totally opposed to this, he had to admit were enticing. “and so long as we’re together, I will make sure you live happily.”

With the thunderous applause following, Gilgamesh felt his life lock and the key thrown away. Still, he hadn’t given up just yet. He gave Arthur a thin smile as he retracted his hand, wisely saying nothing in response to his proclamation. There was to be a feast in celebration of the third son finally moving away from the nation and solidifying the bond between their kings.

Arthur sat across from Gil as presents were given left and right, treasures from the vaults of Uruk being offered as dowry. Arthur was surprised to see so much—they must really want Gilgamesh gone. It didn’t matter. He’d make sure he had a better life back in Albion, one where he could shed that angry demeanor as he became appreciated for who he was. Even so, Arthur sensed this wasn’t the end of Gilgamesh’s anger towards him for even presuming to take him away from Uruk, and his suspicions were confirmed when Gilgamesh lifted a sword as if to gift it to Arthur in both hands.

“I have a gift for my intended, as well,” Then, triumphantly, he turned the sword deftly in his hand to point at Arthur’s neck. “The right to duel me for my hand.”

Arthur didn’t even flinch, as if he knew he was in no real danger, and that just pissed off Gilgamesh further. Gilgamesh’s father went red in the face, about to shout him down for saying so, but Arthur lifted a hand.

“Are you sure you wish to do this?”

“How could I marry a man weaker than me? Fear not, family. I intend to honor my promise to Arthur, but the stakes are changing. Win, Arthur, and I’ll go quietly. Lose… and cede your power to me as rightful ruler.”

Arthur sighed, the edge of the sword still pointing at his neck. “I accept.”

Gilgamesh was surprised he’d wager so much when he could brute force Gilgamesh into obeying. “We’ll duel in the courtyard. Now. I can’t wait another minute.”

--

Gilgamesh proudly boasted the same sword he’d offered Arthur as the king stood opposing him, withdrawing the holy blade Excalibur against him. A tense moment passed between them before Gilgamesh charged, slicing through the air with intent to kill, knowing that he could pull no punches before the holy swordsman. Arthur casually dodged each blow with a deflection from his blade, sidestepping Gilgamesh as he advanced. For a moment, it seemed one-sided, with Arthur carelessly avoiding each blow, before Gilgamesh got serious and upped his game.

Each clash of the sword became more threatening, aimed for more vital places, and Arthur suddenly gasped for breath. Sensing weakness, Gilgamesh advanced, aiming for his side, steel clashing against steel as their armor blocked blows. He could outlast him, he could—eventually he’d tire and relent. His sword ghosted Arthur’s cheek, leaving behind a scratch. Proof he was slipping up, proof he was underestimating him! Arthur winced slightly, Gilgamesh priding himself on his skill, knowing that the kill strike was coming soon—

Suddenly, Excalibur struck back.

The flurry of blows that came back from Arthur, charging forward as his blade cleaved straight through Gilgamesh’s, breaking steel as it fell to the ground. Gilgamesh at first stood dumbfounded before he called upon his gods-given power of the Gates of Babylon, drawing out another sword as he stood his ground. That, too, was broken through. It was a flurry of blades as Arthur broke treasured weapon after treasured weapon before he planted his boot on Gilgamesh’s torso and kicked him down, planting Excalibur in the ground right beside his head and pinning him in place.

“Enough,” Flames were flickering in Arthur’s breath as he leaned over his bride, Gilgamesh staring up at him with disgraced, furious eyes. “This farce has gone on long enough.”

“Farce…?!” Gilgamesh sputtered.

“If you want to learn how to fight in a way that isn’t baseless scrapping, I’ll teach you. Back home.”

He stood up and withdrew his sword, sheathing it by his side as Gilgamesh sat up. He looked at the ring on his finger with scorn. He really just promised himself to someone and lost the wager that would seal the deal! His father was watching from the hall, clapping slowly, looking at him with disappointment. Gilgamesh simply glowered in his direction.

He’d be married in Albion, but for now, the party to send him off would continue.

--

Arthur had instructed him to dress in furs for the trip home. As all of his things were packed (more like tossed in his treasury because convenience won over everything else), Gilgamesh crossed his arms as they were lead out of town. As Uruk vanished on the horizon behind them, Gilgamesh wondered where Arthur’s men were, to take them out of town and head back.

“So where is your entourage? Your carriages? Surely we’re not going to walk.”

“Oh, we’re not walking.”

Without another word, Arthur picked up Gilgamesh in a princess carry and spread his wings.

“Oh, you cannot be SERIOUS—”

“Do you want this to take weeks or days?”

Gilgamesh crossed his arms, refusing to hold him or anything like it. Arthur held him in one arm for a moment, passed him a potion from his satchel in a small vial, and Gil looked at it with scrutiny.

“Drink this, or you’ll freeze at high altitudes.”

Down the hatch it went. Taking it as approval, Arthur’s wings flourished as he took to the sky, and Gilgamesh quickly realized why Arthur had told him to bundle in furs and had him take that potion. The higher they rose, the more frigid the air grew. They would make the whole trip like this? Being… carried like this?

“For gods’ sake, you better land somewhere secret so no one sees me like this--! I’ll kill you!”

“You’ve already proven that you’re not capable.”

“Khh… bastard.”

“Loving language for a bride.”

Gilgamesh wished he’d drop him then and there, but the cold was engulfing him and he realized, Arthur was warm . He was a fire-breather after all, which meant his torso must have been full of flame or the ability to create them, heated like an old furnace. Unintentionally, he leaned into him to cozy up to this natural heater because the furs weren’t nearly enough for flight above the clouds. It was a beautiful sight, and Gilgamesh didn’t fear it. He knew Arthur wouldn’t drop him or tease him by dropping him and catching him, he was so…

“You’ve barely expressed anything while you were back there. Even when I accepted your proposal, you barely smiled.”

“…”

“… Don’t ignore me!”

“I’m not. Flying takes focus.”

“I think you’re using it as an excuse not to answer me.”

Arthur smiled mysteriously, and Gilgamesh frowned. “We could at least use this time to talk.”

“Ask me anything, then.”

“How on earth are you able to fly carrying another person?”

“Magic. These wings aren’t even enough to carry me on their own, but I’ve been enchanted. Now, let me ask you something.”

“Go ahead.”

“How do you plan to use your newfound power?”

“I can’t rule a kingdom without seeing it first, mongrel. Obviously, I will observe before I make any moves.”

Arthur laughed at ‘mongrel’, and if Gilgamesh were in any position to move his body at all, he’d smack his chest. “Does this amuse you?”

“Oh, very much.”

“I didn’t know you were taking back a court jester.”

“No, I am certainly carrying home my bride.”

“Stop—stop with the ‘bride’. I’m the one who should be getting brides! Plural!”

Arthur fell silent again, and as the air grew colder, Gilgamesh realized it was growing intolerable as the sun set. At this rate, he’d freeze solid. He demanded Arthur stop at an inn and give him time to warm up and rest, which Arthur agreed. Paying in a handsome amount of gold, they took the best room as Gilgamesh warmed himself by the fire and Arthur stripped off his armor.

“Are you all right?”

“Perfect,” Gilgamesh snapped back. His kingdom having abandoned him to whatever life awaited him in Albion, he didn’t want to appear weak and admit homesickness. Arthur took a blanket off the bed and draped it around his shoulders.

“I can sleep without one. You stay by the fire for as long as you need.”

Arthur carefully navigated his wings over the side of the bed facing the wall and laid down to rest. It would be a cold day in hell (which, he realized bitterly, it was) when he willingly curled up beside Arthur any time before their wedding night. Oh gods, he had to think about a wedding night. He fell asleep sitting upright in the chair as the fire before him turned to embers and the room fell into a soft chill again. Tomorrow would bring about a second flight, bringing him farther away from home and closer to the kingdom he was now committed to preside over.

He’d never felt anything like anxiety before and he wasn’t about to start, but a simple unease filled him as he drifted off to sleep.