There was a shout, a jumble of strange words, a whoosh of magic and then Arthur, Crown Prince, currently in charge of Camelot due to his father’s failing health, was screaming as flames rose up around him.
“Where is he?” Gwaine demanded of the sorceress his sword held toward her. Not that it would do much, she seemed unafraid of the weapon aimed at her. Still it made Gwaine feel better to have the sword between them. Elyan and Percival were behind him.
Leon had gone with Lancelot and Merlin in the other direction to search for their Prince. Gwaine was a bit relieved. He never could stand it whenever Merlin wasn’t his usual self, although he understood why the man was rather subdued. He did tend to blame himself whenever something went wrong. Gwaine never did understand that. It wasn’t like Merlin was anything more than a boy. Or rather young man now, he supposed. What could he do in these situations?
The sorceress just smiled at the knights before vanishing from sight leaving them with no idea where Arthur was. Gwaine let out a scream of anger and frustration before whirling around to face his friends sheathing his sword back at his side. Percival was quiet with a thoughtful expression on his face. Elyan looked as frustrated as Gwaine was but didn’t say a word.
“Spread out. There has to be a sign of him somewhere,” Gwaine ordered the other two. He glanced around the small clearing, the sorceress’ cottage a few steps away. It was clearly empty. The knight refrained from damaging the small garden on the side. He himself had no qualms with magic. Just with the fact that this sorceress had done something to the prince he followed. Plus if they were to find her, she might need something from the garden to undo whatever she did to Arthur.
The three searched. It was nearly two hours later before Elyan finally said something.
“There’s no sign Arthur has even been here. Or even that the sorceress did anything to him,” Elyan glanced at the ground where it seemed to rise up a bit. Or rather it wasn’t so much that it rose up as he and his two fellow knights were standing in a slight depression. It was odd. The depression looked as if it were the size of several men, but something about it screamed that it was unnatural. He pushed it out of his head. All he needed to know from the ground was whether he could track his prince. He couldn’t this time. There was nothing.
A noise came from nearby and all three put their hands on their swords. They relaxed slightly when Merlin came crashing through the brush, Leon and Lancelot behind him. He stopped short staring at them and paled.
“There was a sorceress here, but she didn’t tell us anything about Arthur or where to find him,” Percival informed Leon who nodded.
“There’s no sign of him having been here at all,” Elyan stated, “although the sorceress just laughed at us when we asked. She didn’t deny knowing anything about Arthur.”
Lancelot started walking around, staring at the ground frowning. Elyan realized he was circling the sunken land he was standing in. He knew something about it, the man realized. He watched Lancelot glance at Merlin and nod his head toward the ground. Merlin stared before a look of realization came over him.
“You realize you’re standing in a dragon’s footprint,” Lancelot informed Elyan after Merlin gave him a slight nod back. His head swung around and now all the knights were staring at the ground. Leon walked a distance away before turning to look.
“That’s not possible. King Uther got rid of all the dragons,” he said, his eyes wide. Every other part of him remained the experienced knight who would not freak out (he was slightly freaking out on the inside).
Again there was an exchange of looks between Merlin and Lancelot.
“Except for that one that Arthur killed,” Elyan said slowly. “You know the one that attacked Camelot rather suddenly after years of people thinking all dragons were gone.” There was something suspicious going on with Merlin and Lancelot. Elyan paused in his thoughts. Did they know something?
“You don’t think that Uther missed one?” Gwaine asked. The man had been oddly quiet up until now. Elyan wondered if he noticed the looks between Lancelot and Merlin. Leon shot him a look. Gwaine mumbled something softly that vaguely sounded like “not my king,” but Leon chose to ignore it.
“The footsteps go that way,” Leon said pointing east. Toward Camelot. Elyan cursed himself. He was a good tracker, he should have realized there was something to track. Did the dragon have Arthur? The thought hit him suddenly but he hesitated in voicing it. If a dragon had Arthur he was most likely dead. They didn’t keep captives.
“Why wouldn’t a dragon fly?” Gwaine asked Merlin who remained quiet. No one else answered him either.
“Then that way we go,” Elyan finally said. The men looked at each other uneasily. It seemed the others had caught up to Elyan’s thoughts and were thinking the same thing. Had the dragon done something to their prince? With hands resting on their swords, ready to draw them at a second’s notice all of them began to follow the footsteps, not noticing that Merlin was both quieter than usual and lagging behind. Lancelot glanced back at him a few times as they traveled but he too remained quiet.
About halfway back to Camelot there was a loud roar.
The knights looked at each other and then drew their swords rushing forward. Merlin paled as he rushed along with them.
Arthur didn’t know where he was. He knew he had encountered a sorceress who of course spouted something about magical creatures and what a horrible person his father was, but how she had hope for him as he was friends with Emrys. Arthur still didn’t know who Emrys was but considering his father’s weakened state he wasn’t happy about this woman badmouthing him. Uther wasn’t a perfect person, but he was a better ruler than some. He genuinely cared about the welfare of his people. Well the ones who didn’t have magic. But still. Some kings took as much as they could from their people leaving them starving. Uther at least genuinely cared whether his people had food and protection from bandits.
Arthur went to get up from where he was on the ground, but his body didn’t respond the way he wanted it to. He managed to stumble a few steps, not taking in where he was located. Everything looked funny and he just wanted to go home to Camelot. He finally collapsed again as pain rushed through his body. He opened his mouth to yell out, Merlin wasn’t here to see this moment of weakness after all and-
Arthur stopped yelling surprised at the noise. It almost sounded like a- He moved his head to look to both sides and that’s when he realized.
The trees looked a lot smaller than they usually did. He tried glanced in the direction he had come from. The clearing where he had encountered the sorceress was nowhere to be seen. But he had only taken a few steps, hadn’t he?
And then fallen unconscious, his brain reminded him. He refused to dwell on that though. He was lucky to be alive.
Footsteps sounded behind him and he got up and turned around, realizing as he did so that he was down on all fours and there was a draft.
The dragon stared at the knights and the knights stared back.
Arthur felt relief rush through at seeing his knights. He opened his mouth to greet them.
The dragon let out a soft noise at them but made no move to attack.
Gwaine, Leon, Elyan and Percival lifted their swords. Lancelot held his up slightly but once again glanced at Merlin who was staring at the dragon as if trying to solve a puzzle.
“I’ve never seen you before,” he said softly. Elyan almost turned to look at Merlin when he said that but didn’t. There was a dragon in front of him after all. He would think about it later and if need be confront Merlin on his strange words.
“I’m so glad you are here, I think the sorceress did something to me,” Arthur said. They looked smaller than the trees did. Had she turned him into a giant of some sort?
Merlin started at the words even as the four knights went to attack. Lancelot was still hesitating.
Arthur took a step back, “Stop!” he commanded his knights as they came at him with their swords. Why were they attacking him?
“As your prince regent I command you to stop,” he ordered when they didn’t listen.
“STOP!” Instead a roar came out of Arthur. Merlin was the only one who didn’t flinch. Instead he seemed to smile. Arthur the dragon was the only one who saw this. The ground began shaking suddenly, the knights fighting to keep themselves standing. It was during the yelling that Arthur heard words coming from Merlin, but they weren’t normal words, Arthur would have frowned if he could, they were in a language he’d never heard before. Without any thought on his part he found himself high in the air flying.
He needed to get to a safe place.
Right after the dragon flew away, the ground stopped shaking. Lancelot cast a questioning glance at Merlin who returned a rather guilty look.
Elyan knew then he would have to confront them. There was something more going on here. An uneasy feeling came over him. These would be the last two men he would expect any sort of betrayal from. Had they all been fooled?
“The dragon is long gone,” Gwaine said regaining his footing and stating the obvious.
“Back to Camelot,” Leon ordered. “We’ll have to pull together a bigger search party for Arthur as well as one to keep an eye out for the dragon.”
None of them realized that Merlin made no move to protest, except for Lancelot.
Arthur found himself by a lake. He was blissfully alone as he curled up low to the ground. It was the sorceress who did this to him, he realized. Why turn him into a dragon though? The answer came easily enough. So his own knights would hunt and kill him and not realize what they’ve done.
“Yes it is easy for people to do that.”
Arthur turned to look to see where the voice had come from. No one was there.
“Your father was right about magic being dangerous” the voice came again.
It was a woman’s voice, the prince realized.
“Of course magic can also be wonderful too,” the voice continued.
There must be someone there, Arthur thought looking around somewhat frantically now. Then he saw her.
The woman, or rather girl, standing in the middle of the lake observing him.
“You killed me and didn’t realize it.” She spoke aloud. “I was cursed to be a terrible monster.” She smiled sadly. “I don’t even blame you. You didn’t know.”
Arthur stared at the girl. “You’re dead?” his question came out in a soft roar. His shoulders and wings drooped.
“I am dead,” she said nodding her head. “That is the only reason I know what you’re thinking. And saying.”
He stared at her for a moment. “I am sorry,” he said softly.
“You didn’t know.” She said again. “Which is the real danger in your father’s ban. If you had a sorcerer around, one who did know how to tell such things,” she shrugged.
“He did try to save me,” she added softer.
“A sorcerer?” Arthur asked. There was no way his father would try to save a girl who turned into a monster.
She nodded. “Not all of them are bad,” she said.
Arthur opened his mouth.
She was gone.
Arthur laid back down curling up tight. He waited. He wasn’t quite sure what he was waiting for, but he had been ordered to wait. Wait. Ordered?
Merlin left the knights to assemble their search party. He tucked his magic book into his bag along with some food and set off for the lake. He knew Arthur would be waiting for him there. He had told him to after all. He chuckled a bit at being able to give the prince some commands, but soon turned somber. He would have a lot of explaining to do. He just hoped it went well. Or rather that he at least wouldn’t be thrown onto the pyre right away. He supposed he could threaten to leave Arthur as a dragon, but that would reaffirm his belief in magic being evil.
Elyan watched Merlin leave. Lancelot wasn’t with him. He took a deep breath and went searching for the other knight.
“What is going on?” Elyan demanded when he found Lancelot. Lancelot looked at him, bewilderment over his face. “You and Merlin. You know something. And Merlin was leaving just now.” He was waving his arms in the air.
Lancelot didn’t respond at first, although Elyan could tell he was clearly thinking over what to say. Lancelot finally let out a sigh and said the last thing the man was expecting.
“The dragon,” he paused. “The dragon IS Arthur,” he finally said. Elyan froze. Uther had gotten rid of all the dragons so for one to appear when Arthur had disappeared right near a sorceress’ home? It did make some sense.
“Oh.” He said. “Wait. Shouldn’t we tell the others? We’ll need to find the sorceress to turn him back-“
Lancelot cut him off.
“Merlin,” he paused, “Merlin knows of a sorcerer who can help. That is where he was going. I expect Arthur will be back to his normal self soon.”
Elyan frowned. “Arthur’s not going to be happy about this.”
Lancelot chuckled. “I expect not.”
“Hello Arthur,” the dragon opened his eyes at the familiar voice. Merlin was standing there staring up at him.
“How do you know it’s me?” Arthur asked before remembering that Merlin couldn’t understand him.
“You told the knights who you were,” Merlin replied back easily enough.
Wait. Merlin DID understand him. He also commanded him to come here, Arthur realized when the ground was shaking.
The pieces fell into place quickly. The only people that could communicate with dragons were dragonlords. And while Merlin had seemed helpless when the dragon had attacked Camelot years ago, when they had gone to find the one dragonlord left, the dragon disappeared. No, he had killed him. But, Arthur realized there had been no body left behind. So unless their bodies magically disappeared when killed, the dragon might not have been killed, but left. Like he were ordered to by a dragonlord. But Balinor had been killed before. Their sons inherited their powers though when their fathers died. Did Balinor have a son?
Arthur felt a sinking feeling in his gut. He had told Merlin not to cry over the dragonlord. He hadn’t realized he had been crying over his father.
“You’re a dragonlord,” he breathed. Merlin nodded once.
“Balinor the dragonlord we found, he was your,” Arthur stopped.
“He was my father yes. I didn’t know until Gaius told me right before we went looking for him. He had to leave my mother when the ban on magic happened. When your father was hunting dragonlords.” Merlin took a shaky breath. “He didn’t know she was pregnant.” He looked up at Arthur. “I am a dragonlord,” Merlin said calmly even as his limbs shook slightly. “I can understand dragons and command them if needed. The sorceress turned you into a dragon.”
“And now you can command me,” Arthur said darkly.
Merlin rolled his eyes. “And what use is that since you’re a dragon,” knowing exactly where Arthur’s mind was going.
Oh right, Arthur thought. No point in being able to control a prince if he’s not a prince.
“So you didn’t have anything to do with this?” Arthur asked.
Merlin rolled his eyes again. “If I wanted you to be a dragon I would just do it myself,” he pointed out. “In fact I came here to turn you back.”
And that’s when the rest of the pieces fell into place. The sorcerer the girl in the lake had mentioned, the one that the sorceress had mentioned being friends with Arthur.
“You’re Emrys,” Arthur said. Merlin froze, eyes locked on the book he had pulled from his bag. A book of magic, Arthur realized.
“That is what the druids call me,” Merlin finally looked up at Arthur.
He’s shaking, Arthur realized. He’s scared of what I might do.
“You are a sorcerer,” Arthur stated staring down at his manservant.
“I was born with magic,” Merlin said finally. “But I use it for you. Only for you. I would never hurt you or Camelot, please believe me.”
Arthur paused. Did he believe him? This foolish boy that made fun of him and picked up after him, and complained about everything and scared away the animals when he was hunting? The one with the big ears and the bigger grin.
Leon stared at Elyan and Lancelot. “Arthur is the dragon,” he repeated. He looked between the two.
“Yes,” Lancelot answered firmly.
Gwaine tripped over his feet as he carried a bag to a horse and ate an apple at the same time. The apple rolled out of his hand and another horse reached down to pick it up. Gwaine frowned as he picked himself up. The other three knights ignored him. He was far enough away he couldn’t hear what they were saying. Percival clapped him on his shoulder as he walked by grinning.
“It does make sense, the dragon appeared when Arthur disappeared and we know magic was involved. Also the dragon didn’t try to hurt us at all. It just roared and then flew away,” Elyan said. It had taken him a few minutes to come to this realization after Lancelot told him that Arthur was the dragon.
Leon sighed. Why was his life like this he wondered?
“Are we sure about this?” he asked.
“Yes,” Lancelot said. “Merlin is going to fix it though,” he added.
Lancelot faltered for a moment. “He went to find a sorcerer that Gaius knows of that may be willing to help,” he finally said. He hoped he wasn’t getting either Merlin or Gaius into trouble.
“Right.” Leon turned and walked away ignoring the fact that Lancelot admitted to both the physician and his apprentice knowing of a sorcerer and not turning him in. The kingdom would be in an uproar should he do anything to either of them without the king or prince’s say so. Plus if this sorcerer helped get Arthur back, well Leon wouldn’t punish him for it.
Elyan looked at Lancelot and shrugged. “I think we can call off the search party,” he ventured.
“Oh just turn me back already Merlin,” Arthur finally sighed. At the very least he didn’t want to remain a dragon for the rest of his life. He could always decide what to do once he was human again.
Merlin picked up his book and said some words in yet another language Arthur had never heard and then there was pain and his vision went black. Next thing he knew he was groaning and opening his eyes to see a familiar manservant mere inches from his face.
“Don’t! Back away, Merlin,” he grumbled out. Merlin moved back, slightly, and Arthur sat up. He checked over his limbs very carefully.
“Did you want me to leave so you can remove your pants and make sure you’re in one piece down there too,” Merlin asked sounding very much like his usual self.
Arthur shot him a dirty look even as he resisted the urge to peek down his trousers.
“We will be talking about how you lied to me on our way back to Camelot,” Arthur informed him as he stood up. Merlin scrambled to get up too.
“Of course, sire,” he said cautiously.
Arthur sighed. “I’m not going to burn you,” he said.
Merlin began to relax.
“I quite fancy the idea of cutting off your head,” Arthur continued. Merlin looked at him, his face pale.
“I might just start with your tongue first,” Arthur said as he began walking.
Merlin still didn’t say anything although he had fallen into step with his prince.
“I am kidding Merlin. But don’t-“ he stopped and swung his finger around into Merlin’s face. “lie to me ever again. And you need to be really careful with your magic, I can’t change the laws about that until I’m King,” Arthur removed his finger from Merlin’s face and turned back to continue walking.
“That means no magic to do your chores,” Arthur said.
“I would never use magic to do chores. Although keeping you alive is a bit of a chore, so I suppose that’s not strictly true,” Merlin finally began talking again.
Arthur shook his head as they continued their trek back to Camelot.