Two days after the battle of Badon Hill, when the dust had cleared and the majority of the dead had been burned or buried, Arthur, Merlin and Gwen found themselves sitting atop Kilgharrah's scaly back.
Between them laid the Pilgrim's body, wrapped in pure white cloth.
The early morning air was crisp and clean. Scents of thistle intermingled with honeysuckle tickled at the nose, and though the rising sun shone brightly in the east, a haze of sadness draped the day.
The Pilgrim was dead. Merlin...in a way, was dead as well. The feelings brought on by the situation couldn't be readily described.
How was one supposed to mourn a friend who was dead, but was not dead? How could one possibly comprehend the vast emotional baggage that came with the traversing of time, the future relationships that had yet to be formed, memories that had yet to be made?
The speculation alone would be enough to drive lesser man mad.
It was hard enough for Arthur and Gwen. Though not mad, their hearts were still broken.
To witness the Pilgrim's end was to witness the end of Merlin, their closest friend.
But for Merlin the situation bordered on surreal. The withered corpse before him was what he would be at the end of more than a millennia of life.
If only he'd gotten to meet him properly. Oh the questions he would ask...
How did he, if ever, cope with the guilt of Morganna's death?
He'd buried her at the Isle of Blessed beside the altar, but since the life had left her eyes, he saw her everywhere.
Even now, so soon after her death she haunted him.
Would that guilt ever fade away? Or would Merlin be doomed to wander the earth with her ghostly whispers niggling at the back of his mind?
"Do not blame yourself for the witch, Merlin." Kilgharrah transmitted telepathically. "She made her own choices. Just as I said she would."
"I could have stopped it," Merlin sent back. "I could have."
The silence continued on. None of them knew what to say. What could they say? Arthur stared at the Pilgrim's body, tears welling to the surface.
Merlin gripped his shoulder, squeezing firmly.
"No man is worth your tears, Arthur."
King Arthur turned at the quote.
"He is...you are."
Silence fell once more.
"I think we must be close," said Gwen a few moments later, pointing off to the right. "You can see the lake from here."
Arthur and Merlin shifted over to where Gwen sat just below Kilgharrah's wing joint, and peered out over the forest.
Indeed. The lake's crystalline surface could be seen between the trees, glittering in the morning sunlight.
"Take us down, Merlin ordered. "Lancelot and Verown should be ready for us. Let's get this done, shall we?"
The others agreed. The sooner the Pilgrim was put to rest, the sooner their grief would be alleviated, and things would return to some semblance of normalcy.
Though, considering the circumstances, normal would never be the same again.
After the battle, Arthur and Merlin had returned to Camelot to rein in the political upheaval that was suddenly ripping across Albion.
With Arthur as High King, change would be coming rapidly. Entirely new infrastructures of government would have to be formed. Noble families who resided outside of Camelot in countries such as Cenred, had already flocked to the palace in great numbers, all clawing for the new ruler's favor.
Meanwhile, Lancelot, Verown and their Oberan had ridden ahead to the Lady's lake to prepare a funeral pyre.
The Pilgrim's funeral would be a proper one, in which Arthur's promise to Freya would be honored. Her lake's serene waters would be the Pilgrim's resting place.
Kilgharrah landed with a wet squelch along the lake's muddy rim. Spreading out his wings, he provides his passengers with a ramp to dry ground.
Waving a hand, Merlin levitated the body down to float at waist level beside him.
Lancelot, Apalala close behind, trotted up to them.
"There you lot are," he greeted. "We wondered if you'd make it today. Thought maybe you'd gotten held up at the castle." He glanced at the body, grimacing. "We're about ready for him. Come on."
Wordlessly they followed him around to the opposite shore where Verown and his wolf waited beside a boat layered with freshly picked flowers.
"Emrys, Artorius," Verown bowed his head slightly. "All the preparations have been made."
A green scrap of fabric adorned his shoulder, a bit of the Weaver's robe. All that remained of her.
In her absence, leadership of the Druid people would fall to her apprentice. He hoped to prove himself worthy of such responsibility.
"Thank you Verown," said Merlin.
Slowly, he lowered the Pilgrim to the soft bed of petals. He looked so peaceful laying there. The pointy hat, which he still wore, jutted out at a crooked angle. Folds of wrinkled skin were tanned a light olive color, giving the elderly warlock the appearance of not a corpse, but of a sleeping angel fallen from heavens.
All heads turned.
At the lake's center rippled rings began to form, spreading outward. A woman garbed only in reeds and vines emerged. She turned to face them, smiling brightly.
Freya, lady of the lake. Merlin's first love.
"She's beautiful," Gwen whispered as Merlin waded out to meet her. " And Merlin's in love with her?"
"Yes," Arthur replied quietly.
"I can see why. They look very good together."
"You two would have made good friends," said Arthur, eyeing the couple sadly. "She was a wonderful woman...and I killed her..."
"Not your fault, " said Gwen, twining her fingers with his. "And even if it were, Merlin would forgive you."
"He could have had a future with her though... Whether he blames me or not doesn't matter. I still denied him a future with the one he loves."
"His future can't be that terrible," she said glancing at the boat. "No one with a heart like that could have lived a life of nothing but misery."
"No, I suppose not... I only wish so much of his life werent dedicated to getting me out of trouble."
Gwen smiled, leaning her head on his shoulder in a tender fashion.
"Someone has to, and Merlin's more than happy to protect a friend."
Merlin enveloped Freya in a tight embrace, liftering her up and spinning her round once. Their lips came together for their second kiss, both lovers revelling in the other's pressence. They pulled apart, foreheads resting together.
"I miss you," Merlin breathed.
"And I you," Freya murmurred back. Love shone in her mist colored eyes. Much time had passed since their last meeting, yet their feelings hadn't changed.
"I'm sorry I didn't come to visit...Just things were so hectic with Arthur, and...and you were dead."
"It's alright love, it's alright," Freya soothed. "You couldn't have known my spirit was bound to the lake. The Pilgrim told me you'd be bringing him here. He rememebrs this day you see, from your point of view."
"He's spoken to you?" Merlin asked curiously, pulling back, brows arching. "What has he told you? About the future, I mean. I only ever met him once, in a vision, and we were sort of in a hurry. Anything...interesting happening soon?"
"Yes," Freya replied, giggling lightly. "He contacted me when pulling back the spirit's of Arthur's mother and Gwen's father. And yes, you and I are going to share something very special soon." She put a finger to his lips. "Don't ask. You're going to find out soon enough. Another vision. A knowing."
The pair broke apart and strode hand in hand to the waters edge.
"Thank you all for coming," the Lady said to the others, looking over each of them. "It's wonderful to meet Merlin's friends in person. He'd..." she looked to the Pilgrim, "he'd want you to be here. All of you.
"Tis an honor," said Kilgharrah. The Great dragon bowed his head mournfully. "Desoite all the frustrations he's caused me, Merlin, both of them, came into their destinies beautifully. Perhaps my councel was not in vain after all." Another giggle left Freya's mouth.
"Perhaps not," she agrred.
"Well," said Arthur, stepping forward into the water. "Are we ready?"
"Yes," said Freya. "Lets begin."
Together Arthur and Merlin took hold of the boat. With a just a little help from magic, they shove it through the water, moving at a snail's pace towards the lake's center.
Raising a hand Merlin set the boat ablaze. The flower petals and the cloth burned away in moments, dissolving the boat into a blackened heap of floating debris. Then came a sickening crack, sounding the boats descent below the water.
A light, at first nothing more than a spark, flickered into life at the lake bottom.
A gate to Avalon rested there, and now it was opening.
Light flashed again, temporarily blinding the onlookers. When it cleared, a lone figure draped in white robes walked across the water towards the shore.
The figure, apart from the robes and a head of whitish gray hair, was his exact duplicate, big ears and all. His body was composed of semisolid shadows, shimmering as all spirits do. The Pilgrim smiled. Happiness radiated from him like sunlight, warm and bright.
"I always knew this day was coming you know. Always. My memory is a bit hazy, but I remember. Oh God do I remember," he drifted off, staring wistfully into the distance, lost in memories of the future.
"What...what happens now?" Merlin asked. "Are you going to stay here, with Freya, as a lake spirit?"
"Goodness no," he glanced at Freya, smiling. "My time in this world has long since passed, both as a man and as a spirit. No, it's time I move on. But first, if I remember correctly, this is where I say some vague things about the future that won't make sense until many years from now. Don't give me that look, I invented that look. You Merlin, you are fated to guide many heroes. The boy who lived, the sun god from smallville, Gotham's dark knight, but none shall be greater than he who stands next to you. Look into the crystal of Neatid, and see what will be."
As Merlin fumbled with the pouch at his belt, the Pilgrim turned to the others.
"Gwen my dear friend. You will make a magnificent queen. The people will look to you for guidance, and you will provide it. Know now, that even when the day arrives that you are left alone in this world, that the one's you love are waiting with open arms at the other side. Lancelot, you brave, brave man. One day you will seek the holiest of chalices, and find glory along with you mount. Verown, the ever faithful, the Druids could not be left in better hands. I know this, for i have lived it. Fear not my friend, the Weaver is so proud of you."
The crystal warmed in Merlin's hands. A flame flickered between his fingers, shining it's light through the transparent rock.
Images, knowing, filled his mind.
A basinet floating on a lake. A young woman, beautiful, powerful, with his eyes.
A man with dark curled hair topped with a crown, with Arthur's face, and his mothers eyes.
Two men circling one another. One crowned in stars, the other robed in shadow.
Himself, standing at Arthur's tomb, enscrbing the immortal words.
Here lies Arthur, formerly king, and king to be.
The visions faded away, and Merlin snapped back to reality.
"I'm going to have a daughter?" he asked, voice squeaking a bit.
"Indeed," the Pilgrim confirmed. "And she will wed Thomas, Arthur's heir." he stepped closer, clasping his younger self by the shoulders, meeting his eyes.
"Know this, Merlin. Destiny is both the will of God and the will of man. Morgana proved as such. Though God lays it out before us, it is we that choose the paths that define whow we are. This will be hard to accept, but you are going to outlive everyone you've ever loved. That is the pirce of near immortality. But," he continued at seeing the horror struck look on Merlin's face.
"That in the end, you will be there to greet them at Avalon's gates. You will see them again, and along the way you will meet many other friends. Grief does not last forever my boy. Certainly not for sixteen hundred years. Morgana...Morgana will find her way to redemption, given time. Her spirit lingers on this earth.
Though her mind was driven mad by fear, her soul is not yet so tainted. When it comes time for Arthur to enter Avalon, she will be one of four who will guide him there. And, should you ever question God's will, fate, the goodness is man, as I know you will remember this. How do I know God exists, and that he plays a role in this world greater than man can ever truly understand?" he pointed to Arthur.
"Because he sends us people like Arthur. Heroes who will define what it means to be good and true. You have many more questions, but now is the time I must leave you. So that you know, Mordred has fled with Alvarr to lands far away. He will return, never forgetting, never forgiving, and the Wicked day of Destiny will come. But in the end, Mordred loses. Because even when Camelot crumbles to dust. Arthur's name shall be on men's lips. Tales of his valor and courage will live on, and he will be made immortal by time."
The Pilgrim turned, paced back towards the lake's center, looking back over his shoulder as he went. With each step he took, ripples echoed across the water, though the surface did not break.
"The Golden age is upon you, my friends. Live well, until we meet again again."
"Wait!" Arthur called, finally managing to get a word in past the old magician's speech. "Where are you going, what you will you do? You cant't just leave us. Not now!"
"I am leaving you in more than capable hands," he called back, his voice resounding over the waters like music, like the notes of harp song. "Where am I going? To the island of kings in the sky, the island of glass spoken of only in legend. And what am I doing there? What I have always done of course. Make way for the return of the king. For to me there will only ever be one king. Now, and always."
A pillar of light shot up from the lake bottom, engulfing the Pilgrim in it's glorious luster. After so many years of life, of live, and of countless adventures, the old man legend would remeber as Merlin, the great enchanter, finally found rest. Until, that is, it came time for the kings return.
Merlin stared at the fading light below the water. He looked to Arthur, who'd come to his side, clapping him on the back in a brotherly fashion.
"Well Merlin," said Arthur. "Now that we've gotten all this insane, time travling, magicy stuff of yours done with, perhaps we can get back home? Court enchanter or not you've still got a lot to do. Polish Excalibur, clean my room..." Merlin cut him off, and the two friends embraced.
Merlin smiled. Yes, the Golden age was defininetly upon them. No matter what the future brought, whether it be agony in a shallow grave or glory in far off lands, he would stand at Arthur's side. Where he was always meant to be.
Well that's the end guys. I may do a spin off one shot, that fills in gaps in time but otherwise I'm done. Hope you guys enjoyed it. I enjoyed wrting it, buh-bye!