Disclaimer: I don't own the BBC's Merlin, and I have no intention of trying to profit from it.
Day 13 of my fic-a-day New Year's Project (see my profile for fandoms/details if curious).
I borrowed wholesale from the legend, so it could conceivably happen something like this. It's certainly my own private headcanon for the conclusion of the series.
All is silent.
The ancient sorcerer stands beside the Lake of Avalon, trying to find the strength to go on. Morgana is dead at last, her poison rooted out, but he isn't happy. He's tired, and old, and sick at heart. He ought to be helping in the battle that's joining even now on the field at Camlann, but he can't quite find it in himself to move.
Whatever he's searching for in the silent water isn't appearing, and he finally turns away. For Arthur's sake, he'll try—
There's a girl watching him, silent as a statue though clearly flesh and blood. She's dark-haired, and pretty in a sweet-faced, youthful way. His worn old heart stutters in his chest.
"Freya?" he says, shocked to see her in the flesh again. It's been more than fifty years, if you don't count reflections and dreams. "I came looking for you. I need your help—"
She cuts him off with a sad smile and an upraised hand.
"Camelot has fallen, Merlin," she says, taking his wrinkled old hand in her soft young one, "There's nothing to be done."
"People have told me that before," he says, shaking his head, "We always succeed in the end. Arthur always wins. We always think of something. I have to get back to Arthur."
She lets go his hand and beckons him closer. He wonders why she's staring into her cupped hands, but after a moment he realizes that they are filled with water, water he's fairly sure he didn't see her scoop up.
"Look," she says, and he sees an image shimmering on the surface. It's Arthur, lying still as a statue and stained with blood.
"Mordred offered single combat, sword to sword, magic to be forbidden," she says softly. "Arthur agreed, for the sake of his men."
"Mordred knew he would."
"He fought very well, Merlin. Unbelievably well, for a man of his years. They wounded each other in the same moment."
"Neither one will last the hour."
"No!" he says, and his ancient voice cracks.
"Watch." Her voice is gentle. Unwillingly, he returns his gaze to the water's surface.
He sees Arthur being carried from the field by figures in white.
"They're coming here," she says. "They'll take him to the Isle of the Blessed, and he'll sleep there. You've seen the bed of stone that's prepared for him."
"No." Not death. Not death with defeat and regret. Not for Arthur, the king who was once young and golden-haired and gave all of himself to his people.
Freya understands, and her voice is kind.
"This is his destiny, Merlin. He will sleep in peace, caught between the world of the dead and the world of the living. While he sleeps, time will stop for him. Albion will need him again, someday, and he'll awaken when that day comes."
"And what about me?" His voice is dull. "Do I just…lay down and die?" Does he really want to live, if Camelot and Arthur are gone?
She smiles at him, almost teasing, like a girl whose sweetheart plays the fool to make her laugh.
"No, Merlin. After all these years, don't you know that your destiny is bound to Arthur's?"
"Then…I sleep as well?" Sleep might be very welcome. The years since Merlin was a bright-eyed boy have been long, long and weary.
"Not quite. Hush, Merlin. They're coming."
And they are. The battlefield ought to be a day's ride away, but the white-clad figures are already coming up the path, carrying a litter towards the dock, where a barge is waiting. Arthur is lying as if asleep, and he appears years younger with the cares smoothed from his brow. He looks like a man slumbering soundly after a hard, wearisome day's work. The knot in Merlin's chest loosens a little at the sight; maybe this is what Arthur needs, to rest a thousand years and wake to a new task.
"Can I say goodbye?" he asks, and Freya nods.
"Quickly, Merlin. There's not much time."
He walks quickly to Arthur's side and looks down at his king.
Arthur stirs, twitches like a man reluctantly awakened. His eyes stay closed, but a little of the slackness in his face recedes.
"I was resting," he says, and the old, familiar mock annoyance is still there. It's an old man's reproval now, wry and self-aware.
"I know, Sire," Merlin says, trying not to choke on his words, not to ruin this moment with tears. "I just wanted to say…sleep well."
Arthur opens one blue eye, still sharp despite his years.
"You woke me up to say it?" One corner of his mouth turns up lazily. "Good night, old friend."
"Good night, my King."
Arthur falls still, and Merlin steps away, trying to stop his ragged breathing from breaking down into sobs. Freya slips her hand into his, and they watch as the cloaked figures proceed slowly to the barge and lay Arthur in it, assembling around him like a guard of honor.
"Speed us on our way, Emrys," commands the figure in the bow, and Merlin raises his hand as if in farewell and sends the boat sailing.
"I did the same for you, once," he says quietly, "And for Lancelot. And for my mother."
"And you saw me again," she says, and squeezes his hand reassuringly.
"I'm an old man," he says. "We should have had years to be young together."
Her smile is enigmatic.
"Come with me," she says, pulling at his hand and leading him down to the water's edge.
"What happens to Albion?" he asks.
"Chaos," she says, "No order, but no tyrant, either, at least for many years to come. Mordred is dying, and Morgana is dead. There won't be much stability for a long time. But the people remember, Merlin. They remember Arthur, and Camelot, and the Round Table."
"Gwen will live out her remaining years in peace, I promise you that. We'll send her a dream tonight, if you want, to let her know that Arthur is well."
"And I…I'm supposed to just wait? For all those years?" They're at the very brink of the water now.
She laughs, clear as a rushing brook.
"Yes. We wait. Step into the lake, Merlin."
He steps forward obediently, feeling the cool water soak through his shoes. It feels good on his skin, refreshing and invigorating him.
"You're staying with me?" She smiles and nods, and he remembers the first time he saw that smile, a lifetime ago and a world away, in the darkness under Camelot.
"But…I'm old and tired and you're…"
She lifts their joined hands and waves them playfully in front of his eyes. It takes him a moment to register what he's seeing.
"Freya?" Wonder and joy are in his voice, because the hand holding hers is no longer the hand of an old man. He leans over the water, trying to see his own face reflected, but the ripples foil his attempts. She giggles at his efforts and raises a hand, and a patch of water goes still for just long enough.
"I'm…young again?" His voice is smooth again, too, full of the sort of unabashed wonder he hasn't heard from himself in forty years.
The joy on her face reflects the broad grin he can feel on his own.
"These waters heal, Merlin. They're already washing away your years and your sorrows. Can't you feel it?"
He laughs like a young man.
"I thought that was seeing you again. Oh, but I've missed you!" He's delighted to see that she blushes. "Really, though?" he asks, "Until it's time for Arthur to come back, you'll stay with me?"
"It will be a long, long time. Centuries. And you cannot leave the Lake during that time. I suppose you could call it imprisonment. I'm sorry." She cups her hand around his cheek, "But...my home is peaceful and comfortable, and I have a library, and my windows look out on any time and place I choose." He cuts her off with an upraised hand.
"Sooo…until Arthur returns, I'm imprisoned with you?" She nods slowly.
"In a little house with books and peace?" She nods again.
"Well…not all that little."
He waves that away.
"And I won't have to rescue Arthur or save Camelot or fight evil sorcerers or defeat monsters?"
"Not for a very, very long time." She smiles up at him, and his heart swells.
"In that case…" He scoops her up in his arms, bridal style, enjoying the new, youthful strength of his body and the soft weight of hers. He begins to wade into the lake. "That sounds an awful lot like all I ever wanted. When can we start?"
Her laughter rings out across the still water as she opens the way into the quiet depths of the lake.
Day 14 will be more Merlin fluff, but will be Merlin/Morgana. You're welcome to join me, but consider yourself warned. :D
Beaucoup thanks to my beta, Cajast, who polished this thing until it shone and then made complimentary remarks about it. :)
In any case, thanks so much for reading. I'd love to hear your thoughts, positive or negative.