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Know Thine Enemy

Title: Know Thine Enemy
Fandom: Merlin
Rating/Pairing: PG/gen
Summary: Dragons can't lie, but they don't tell the truth either. Written for Kishmet for yuletide NYR 2009, for the prompt wanting something about Mordred.

Link to story

The druids tell of how the boy Mordred was brought out of Camelot by Amhar and helped by Emrys; these are their true-names, not their use-names, of course. Mordred knows -- all of his people know -- that Emrys is the warlock Merlin, who has found a place at the Arthur's side.

No one seems to know who Amhar is.

He himself remembers almost nothing of the event, and when he asks, the elders either do not know or will not tell him.

Sometimes he wonders if this Amhar is a real person.

Mordred dreams, one night, of a voice, deep and infinite and tremendously old. It speaks his name from the shadows, and bids him come.

"No," Mordred says in the dream. It is not unusual among the druids to have dreams like this, ones that feel real enough to be portents, but something in him distrusts whomever -- whatever -- is speaking.

But the voice says again, "Come to me, Mordred," and he finds himself doing so, unwillingly, unstoppably: into Camelot, past oblivious guards, down into the depths below the dungeon.

The shadows there have eyes.

Teeth, as well, and wings: it resolves into the form of a dragon, glaring down, and Mordred feels small.

"Hmm," the dragon says. "Interesting."

"What do you want?" he says, and his voice does not tremble.

"You have a destiny, Mordred. I did not believe it, at first, but it is there." And the dragon tells him.

Mordred knows that dragons do not lie (they may omit certain relevant items, or imply misleading ones, but they cannot speak other than the truth), and he knows also that destinies cannot be avoided. Still, he says, "I will not do it."

"I think you will," the dragon purrs. "When the time is right."

When Uther Pendragon dies, the news spreads quickly. The kingdom is officially in mourning; among the people, some truly grieve, and some do not, and most are indifferent. He was not a wholly-beloved king, but he was not wholly-hated either.

The druids are among those who greet the news with relief and a certain amount of rejoicing. It is not an open celebration, of course. For one thing, druids are in general a people who cherish life rather than death; for another, it is essentially treason, in spirit if not in law. But the late Pendragon had persecuted the druids and killed many, and none of them feel grief that he no longer rules.

The king's son, Arthur, takes the throne. Mordred attends the coronation ceremony, cloaked and anonymous, the first time he has entered Camelot since he was rescued from its cold stone jaws.

No one knows what young Arthur will do about magic, whether he will uphold the strict laws of his father or whether his hand will be gentler. Many of the druids are optimistic; wary, yes, but hopeful. He does not seem to have the same prejudices as his father.

Mordred watches as Arthur, newly crowned, stands and turns to face the cheering crowd. Arthur is smiling. Mordred isn't. He stares at Arthur with an ember of anger burning in his heart.

Whatever else he may be -- whoever he may call as friend (for Mordred sees Emrys, called Merlin, grinning from where he stands near the young king) -- Arthur Pendragon is the son of the mighty magic-hating Uther. He was raised to despise magic, trained to kill those who even thought about using it, taught that all magic is evil.

The druids, as a whole, are hopeful.

Mordred knows better.

"You are asking me to kill the king," he says to the dragon. It is the first dream-walk he has had in several years, but no coincidence, he suspects, that it comes the night after Arthur is crowned. "That is treason."

The dragon makes an amused sort of humming noise deep in his throat. "I do not ask," he points out, mildly. "I merely inform you of what will be."

"Of what might be," Mordred corrects, and the dragon signals acknowledgment with a dip of its head. "I could choose otherwise."

"You could." The dragon stretches, catlike, extending its wings to their full width. "But I think you will not. You know what Arthur is. Whose son he is."

Thinking about Uther Pendragon, even now that he is dead, makes Mordred's vision darken with anger. "His father wanted to kill me for what I am. I did nothing, and he would have killed me." He speaks needlessly; the dragon knows this. Mordred clenches his hands and breathes, calming himself. "But a son is not his father."

"Arthur," the dragon says, with no love in its voice, "was hunting on his father's orders. He spent a good amount of time looking for you, to bring you to 'justice'."

And yet, Mordred thinks, he didn't kill me. "I am no murderer."

"The death of the elder Pendragon was necessary for magic to return; the death of the younger Pendragon is necessary to complete the process. It is your destiny, Mordred," and the hiss of 'destiny' lingers in the air. "It is what you will be remembered for."

Dragons do not lie, Mordred reminded himself.

(Dragons do not always speak the full truth, either.)

"And Emrys?" Mordred asks, because the warlock is always at Arthur's side, inseparable.

"He is no friend of magic!" the dragon roars, full of ancient fury; Mordred takes a step back. "He killed--" Visibly, the beast pulls himself in, until the anger is just a simmer under the surface. "It does not matter. Their destinies are twined, it is true."

"I owe Emrys my life. Amhar, as well."

The dragon bristles. "Merlin came to me for counsel, when he was hiding you. I told him what was necessary." The eyes blink once, slowly. "He very nearly didn't help, you know. He almost left you to die."

Mordred knows. He doesn't want to, but he does.

"Merlin is not your friend," the dragon says softly. "Nor is he a friend of the old magic. You must not let concern for him outweigh the needs of destiny. You know what you must do."

Mordred wakes with the dragon's words ringing in his ears.

Camlann is a beautiful place.

Arthur and his men fight well, but the day is long, and men grow exhausted. When Mordred finally faces him, Arthur takes the time to look, and a faint expression of recognition flitters across his face.

"Okay, uh-- do I know you?" he asks.

"My name is Mordred." Momentarily isolated from the main battle, Mordred lowers his sword, cautiously, and Arthur does as well.

"Mordred." Arthur looks curiously at him. "I remember you. The druid boy."

"Yes," Mordred says. He uses the moment of distraction to strike, as he says, "The one you would have killed." His sword, forged with magic as well as human smithing, slides easily into Arthur Pendragon's body. Not a blow that is immediately fatal, but it will lead to his death well enough.

It is the sort of blow that gives the victim a moment of lucidity before the shock and pain take over.

Arthur stares at him. He moves his lips, breathes just enough voice to the words that they are audible: "No, I... I saved you... I took you... home..."

Mordred's world spins.

Dragons do not lie, but neither do they tell the truth.

"You're Amhar," he says, as the realization settles over him like ice. "You're the one that saved me."

He owes Amhar his life.

He drops to his knees, but it is late, too late.

Camlann is a beautiful place, and it will be forever stained with blood.


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