All the colours seemed to have bled from the world.
The faded brown jacket, the well-worn red shirt, the ever-present blue neckerchief... they were supposed to be what greeted him every morning, framed by bright sunlight and heralded by a cheerful voice with the goofy grin to match. They were supposed to be there every time he glanced to the side or looked behind him during the day as his servant hovered at his beck and call. They were supposed to be among the last few things he saw before going to sleep every night.
But they were gone. Without those mismatched splashes of colour in his life everything appeared grey and lifeless.
The warmth was gone, too. Leeched away as though by the coldest of winter nights, even though he knew winter would not be here for another two seasons and the sun, set within a clear sky, bathed the cobblestones outside with light. The only beam that could have offered any genuine relief from the chill that had seeped through into his bones was not formed by an iridescent object of nature, but by lips that always had a smile at the ready. No matter the situation, that open, unreserved grin never failed to work wonders.
But he would never see it again.
When he first awoke in the mornings, it seemed that all sound had been stolen, just as colours and warmth had been. The inane chatter that usually greeted his return to consciousness had been replaced by silence, and it was a poor substitute. When he ventured out of his chambers, though, forcing himself to brave another day, noise would assault him mercilessly. It was a mindless jumble, a cacophony of voices, footsteps, squeaking doors, clanging kitchen implements, ringing bells. He could discern no meaning from any of it, and he longed to order everyone and everything to shut up, except those words were reserved for one person only and now he regretted ever using them. It was the universe telling him too late to be careful what he wished for; the order he had never truly meant in earnest would now be obeyed for eternity.
Food had become tasteless, as though it had been the person who brought and served it to him who gave it flavour all along and not the cooks who did the actual preparation. The rat stew he had been tricked into eating during Camelot's famine had been far better than anything he put in his mouth now. Even those meals he had once thought of as his favourites were nought but ashes on his tongue.
Drink could no longer achieve what it was supposed to. It was the wrong person working to ensure that his goblet never ran dry. The finest wines and the best brewed mead might as well have been water for all the contribution they made toward the attainment of inebriation, and all water managed to do was remind him of the smacking sounds made by a thirsty servant or of buckets overturned on his head that soaked him to the skin.
The memories would not leave him alone. Wherever he went, they ghosted around him like phantoms. His echo was in every room, every corridor, ever street. It was easy to imagine that he was there still, just beyond the edges of his vision and all he had to do to find him was turn around.
But although Arthur knew full well where his rightful place was, by his side, he also knew that never again would Merlin be found there.
He was resting beneath a green hillside, forever resting, ever the lazy layabout servant that Arthur had constantly accused him of being. He was neglecting his duty to his king. Arthur had never given him permission to quit his job and abandon his post. He would have stopped him if he could have.
But he had not seen what was coming. Merlin had.
Merlin saved his life.
If the idiot had been any kind of a swordsman, or at least sensible enough to carry a shield, the action would not have killed him.
He wondered now, dully, pointlessly, why he had never insisted that his servant be trained in self defence and basic weaponry. Or why he ever brought an unarmed man with him into combat situations in the first place. They had gotten away with it too many times. He should have known that their luck would not last.
But hindsight was useless to him. It could not change what happened. It could not bring Merlin back.
Merlin was gone. Forever.
And Arthur was alone.
His world would never be right again.