The battle was won when King Arthur captured Cendred's sorcerer.
Deep in the caves beneath Camelot, the Great Dragon was aware of the event — things were changing, beginning to twist back towards their rightful path like capricious vines. He had spent days tasting blood in the air and now felt the quiet that followed a great battle. Up above there would be celebrations for the returning king and his victorious knights, there would be garlands and feasting and song. None of that particular relief reached down into the earth and so as the days passed and the dragon waited, he wondered: What would the king do with Cendred's sorcerer? Would he recognise his own destiny staring back at him?
At last Merlin and Arthur had met, and to the dragon it felt like the world taking a new, deep breath.
It was a matter of weeks before the dragon got his wish to see Merlin in the flesh. He smelled of the dungeons: human and bitter, and his hands were bound. Still, he gazed up at the dragon with something of wonder in his eyes. Behind him stood King Arthur, a drawn sword pointed towards Merlin like a promise, sharp and steady. Young for a king, the dragon thought. Aloud he said, "What a tiny morsel. Is it for me?"
Arthur looked thunderous. "Sorceror or no, I will not stoop to feeding him to the likes of you."
"Hmm, a pity. But then I see there is not much meat on those bones."
The dragon looked at the young man wreathed in chains and in his mind said, You could free yourself with but a thought.
Merlin looked back speculatively for a moment. Couldn't you also free yourself?, he replied, and the dragon rumbled with laughter, and the simple joy of being heard after so many years.
That is your destiny, not mine. I have waited many years for this conversation, young one.
"I want you to answer me honestly," Arthur was saying into the otherwise quiet spaces of the cavern. "And if you do not, I shall have this sorcerer put to death."
"I fail to see how that concerns me," the dragon replied serenely.
I have no destiny, Merlin said. I failed my king — I failed my mother. Cendred said he would kill her if I did not obey. Do you think I should anger Pendragon by setting you loose, as well?
"I know you dislike Camelot's laws regarding magic. You have a chance here to spare the life of this warlock."
"The son of Uther Pendragon, sparing the life of a sorcerer?"
"My father brought peace to this land, and to the people of this kingdom," Arthur said.
"Not all the people. And not all the land."
"And now that is my duty as well," Arthur went on harshly, as if he hadn't been interrupted.
The dragon looked at him with an interest it could not quite hide. To Merlin he said, You have failed neither. For your mother still lives and your true king has need of you yet.
Merlin looked strangely innocent then, his face gleaming in the shadows.
"Ask your question, young Pendragon," the dragon said aloud.
"Tell me," Arthur said, "how to bind this warlock to my service."
The dragon stepped closer on his rocky promontory. "You have need of him?"
"Camelot — I believe Camelot may benefit where it has suffered in the past."
A diplomatic answer: deference and treachery twined as one. Yet something in the dragon was crowing: at last, at last.
He said, Will you serve this one? It will not be easy.
And the reply came, If it allows me to fulfill my oath and spare my mother — yes.
The seasons of destiny turn so slowly, thought the dragon, and yet so quickly can they turn everything on its head. He stood and unfurled his wings.
"Ask him," he said, turning away. "Ask for his word."
He rose up and flew into the deeper parts of the cavern, away from the keen scents of fear and hope and the wheels of politics.
He had played his part. And he had grown used to waiting.