Time seemed to crawl to a stop, each second ticking by with an agonizing clarity. Merlin watched in utter horror as the boy he was supposed to protect slumped over lifelessly, toppling out of his chair and to the ground.
He heard someone shout Arthur's name, a horrible, desperate cry that he realized detachedly that the name had been torn from his own throat. He fell to his knees at Arthur's side. "Nononono. Come on Arthur. Come on, please! This can't happen. This isn't supposed to happen!" His hands shook as he reached out to jostle Arthur's shoulder. He was met with no reaction. "What have you done?"
His last remark was directed at Anhora, but the man only raised his head to regale Merlin with an unreadable stare. All Merlin knew was that he had failed, and Arthur's skin was cool and clammy in the cutting ocean wind. Too cold. "Please," Merlin begged. "Take me instead." A small voice in the back of his head demanded angrily why he was even considering giving his life for that arrogant cabbagehead, but another voice that sounded suspiciously like Kilgarrah's echoed what he already knew. This wasn't Arthur's time to die, and Merlin would never be able to live with himself if he sat by and let this happen.
Merlin thought he saw a flicker of surprise shift Anhora's blank expression slightly, but before he could blink it was gone.
"This was Arthur's test, not yours," the druid intoned.
"I was meant to protect him!" Merlin could feel his magic stirring in his chest, itching to do something, anything, but he knew that the boundary between life and death was beyond even his power to reach.
Anhora's voice softened with an emotion Merlin couldn't place. "Perhaps the legends are not as baseless as we had come to fear. Child- Emrys… He is not dead. Would you not have felt it if he was?"
A desperate spark of hope sent Merlin's hand flying to his belt to find the hilt of his dagger, which he held in front of Arthur's ashen lips. Sure enough, a telltale smudge of condensation clouded the blade and a weak pulse fluttered beneath Merlin's desperately grasping fingertips. He sank back on his heels, overwhelmed. "What…?"
"A unicorn is pure of heart. If you kill one, you must make amends by proving that you also are pure of heart. Arthur was willing to sacrifice his life to save yours. He has proven what is truly in his heart." Anhora seemed to sense that he hadn't exactly answered Merlin's half-uttered question, even if the meaning behind his query was not entirely clear. "Guard him well, Emrys," he warned. "There are many who have awaited his coming, and yours. The time is near for their waiting to come to an end."
With a flash of his cloak, Anhora was gone and Merlin left alone on the beach with the sighing of the wind, a comatose Career, and more questions than before.
A/N: Sorry, sorry, sorry! I'm not dead, I promise... More to come soon, I hope.