Title: The Dragon Prince
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin, Gaius
Summary: The Prince of Camelot was kept in shadows. Merlin was going to find out why.
Word Count: 1000
Author's Notes: I'm hoping to turn this premise into a longer story, so figured I would play with it now.
“Whatever you do,” Gaius said sternly, “don’t flinch when you see him.”
Merlin nodded, aware of the guards shadowing them. He had arrived in Camelot only the day before and his head was spinning over how events had led him here. On his way to visit the hidden prince, the missing heir. No one saw him, very few people remembered he was alive. But Merlin – a no one from nowhere – was on his way down a dimly lit corridor within a day of arriving in the city. No wonder his mother worried about him.
They walked a little further and Merlin realised the guards had dropped back. When he asked, a soft smile flickered over Gaius’ face.
“Arthur is not a prisoner nor is he dangerous. He’s the Crown Prince, whether Uther accepts that or not. They simply aren’t needed.”
“So why did they come this far?”
Gaius raised an eyebrow at him and Merlin rolled his eyes. “Uther was the one who ordered me down here, what does he think I’m planning on doing – freeing Arthur?”
“That’s exactly what he thinks,” Gaius said. Merlin stared at him but the old man sighed. “Come, this is not the time nor place for such heavy words. We will talk more when you have met him.”
He continued on his way, his torch sending shadows skittering across the wall. Merlin followed, lost in thought. He had heard stories about the Prince of Camelot, everyone had. The longer Arthur remained hidden from sight, the wilder the rumours became. Merlin was intrigued to say the least, but he longed to know what Gaius had said to Uther to make this meeting happen. It couldn’t be because of his magic; that would be a one-way trip to the pyre, not a stern command that he was to visit with the prince.
“We’re here,” Gaius said. His voice was soft and Merlin saw a fierce protection in his gaze. Merlin smiled. Uther may not care for his son, but it was clear Gaius did. “He’s not used to company, so you might find him a bit…abrupt. He also…well, he hasn’t had a proper upbringing. He’s young for his age. Just…”
The old man sighed, staring at the heavy wooden door. He drew back a bolt. “Be gentle with him.”
Gaius took his arm, bundling Merlin through the door before shutting it again. Merlin was relieved that he didn’t hear the bolt but instead looked around the room. He couldn’t see much.
“Who are you?” A suspicious voice said and Merlin edged forward. The room was dim, but not dark. He blinked a few times and allowed his vision to adjust. It was a sparsely furnished room: a bed, a set of drawers and a small rickety desk that had the stubs of candles wedged on it. But everywhere Merlin looked, there were piles of scrolls and books. He supposed the imprisoned prince had to do something with his time.
“My name’s Merlin,” he said softly, “I came down with Gaius.”
“Where is he?”
“Just outside. Where are you?”
Despite looking around, Merlin couldn’t locate the prince. Arthur revealed himself, and Merlin jumped when the prince dropped from the ceiling and landed in a crouch next to him. Merlin craned his head up, seeing a small outcropping of rock near the ceiling.
“You were up there?” He gasped. He wouldn’t have ever made it up there, let alone back down again without breaking something. Then he lowered his gaze and got his first proper look at the Prince of Camelot.
Arthur was thin and pale, a sign of growing up underground. He had a stooped look to him and his hands fidgeted constantly. But Merlin didn’t notice. Not when he looked into Arthur’s eyes.
It wasn’t human eyes looking back at him. The Prince of Camelot had the eyes of a dragon.
It was why he was down here, why Uther didn’t know what to do with his heir other than keep him under lock and key, driven by his own fear of magic. But the second Merlin looked into those eyes, a jolt ran through him. Empathy and fury rose at the king’s treatment of his son, but it was more than that. Joy, excitement and longing also coursed through him and something just felt right. He was meant to meet Arthur.
“Where else would I be?” Arthur said defensively, snapping Merlin out of his musings. Merlin shrugged, a smile playing across his lips. It made sense; Arthur must have more than just the eyes of a dragon if he liked heights. Despite knowing they were the same age, Gaius was right; Arthur was acting much younger. But being kept down in here in isolation meant Merlin wasn’t surprised and he looked around for a distraction.
“You like reading then?” He swore he heard Arthur’s eye-roll.
“You’re an idiot, aren’t you, Merlin?” Arthur settled himself cross-legged on the floor before glancing at the door. “Gaius came with you?”
Merlin nodded, hearing the hope in Arthur’s voice. “He cares for you a great deal. He was the one who organised this.”
Arthur scowled. “I don’t need anyone,” he muttered, not meeting Merlin’s gaze. Merlin recognised his barriers as fear: Arthur was not used to people and Merlin knew he can’t have had any friends, especially not his own age.
“Tell me about these,” he said, settling on the floor as well and gesturing to the nearest pile of scrolls. It took a little coaxing to get Arthur to talk, but once he started, the words practically tripped over themselves to fall out of his mouth. Arthur spoke quickly, so much so that Merlin missed half of what he said. It was like he was afraid his audience would be taken away. Merlin smiled sadly.
Uther may keep his son in the shadows, but it wasn’t enough to extinguish Arthur’s light. He burned brightly and Merlin vowed inwardly to help him from this rocky prison, whatever it took.