Between Two Worlds
AN-I'm back! Hello and here I present to you the not very long awaited sequel to The Hopes and Dreams. To everyone who hasn't read it, welcome. To everyone who has, welcome back. If you haven't read my other story, I advise you do for the simple reason none of this will make sense if you don't. If you have, I hope this one lives up to expectations.
Firstly, this chapter I don't really count as a proper chapter. It is more a sort of introduction to the story, so it doesn't have much action in it. That's coming later I promise! This chapter is set just after chapter 8 of THAD and the others will work from there during the epilogue. All the chapters will go in chronological order but there will be couple of places where I skip a few years so the story makes sense.
So thank you for sticking with me all this way and I hope you enjoy the first chapter of The Sorcerer's Shadow.
Disclaimer- In my head, I own Merlin. But in my head I also have a flying motorbike, a pet elephant called Theo and my house is made of ice cream. So no Merlin is not, and probably never will be, mine. Unfortunately.
Merlin wasn't alive. That of course that was obvious to all. But Merlin wasn't dead either, not quite. There was something, some inexplicable force that held him bound to the mortal world, able to see and to hear, but never to touch.
In some ways it was a relief, knowing he hadn't abandoned the ones he loved, that he could still stay and protect them. But in other ways it was maddening, being a shade hung between two worlds, not able to move on from a place where he no longer belonged.
When he had first awoken in this new, strange half-life, it had been one of the most terrifying things he had ever experienced. The last thing he could recall was the first piercing ray of sunlight breaking through his last night, then the long fall backwards into darkness. As he had fallen, he could almost feel his spirit leaving his body, that last vital connection broken forever. And as he was pulled away from his life into the darkness, he felt almost a sense of relief.
This wasn't so bad, dying. He didn't feel dead, he felt alive, more alive than he had felt in years. All the weights and responsibilities were lifting from his shoulders and he felt as light as air. Spiralling down through the void of the unknown he felt, finally, at peace. And through the black he saw a light, bright as the sun, growing stronger and stronger, pulling him in.
The light seemed to contain a power, a power he had only ever felt once before. It was not the great and ancient power he felt in the world of the living. It was stronger, but at the same time, peaceful. It was the power he had felt as he stood by the Lake of Avalon, and the gateway had opened, the doorway mortals were only supposed to see seconds before they departed life forever. Avalon, the land of eternal youth, where souls went to rest when their time on earth was over. Merlin was going to heaven.
But something was wrong. Merlin felt a tug, an inescapable pull, dragging him away from the light and the peace, back into the darkness and away from the lands of the dead where his soul belonged. It was a gift and it was a curse. Merlin could stay and protect his friends, fulfilling his destiny. But he was trapped, bound on earth and unable to move forward from this life.
Merlin had always said that his life had always been marked out by destiny and he would gladly die, if it meant Albion would live. He stayed true to his words. He did not feel bitterness or regret at being kept from finding peace in order to protect Arthur and fulfil his destiny. That was just the way it had to be.
Terror was the first emotion that he felt when he awoke to his new, unnerving existence. But the terror soon faded as understanding of what at occurred seeped in to his mind. Though he did not know how, he knew and understood everything that had come to pass, and the reasons for the events that had lead him up to today. It was as if his whole life, he had been peering through a crack in a door, catching glimpses of the path he was meant to follow, but never seeing the whole picture. But now the door had been flung wide open, and he could see his destiny laid out fully before him. And he understood.
After the terror came the acceptance. In his life, Merlin never complained or resisted what he knew was inevitable. He just accepted what was to come and moved on. It seemed even death wouldn't take that away from him.
The next feeling was sadness. Sadness at the pain he was causing. Sadness at having to watch his friends cry over his lifeless body and being powerless to stop it. He saw every one of their tears and felt every stab of grief, every drop of remorse. It was torture, watching the people he loved grieve for him when he was standing right at their shoulder, watching them cry without them having any knowledge of his presence.
After that came the joy. It was strange that, even after everything that had happened, he should feel joyful anymore. But he had been given a gift, a precious gift that few had ever had before. He had died, but he had been given a chance to see his friend again. Typical Arthur, refusing to give up even when all hope had been lost. His stubborn determination had saved them both in the end. The fact that Merlin had been allowed to stay, to remain in the land of the living seemed like a gift to them both. And for Arthur at least, it was.
But for Merlin, his greatest gift also turned into his greatest curse. He could see the world, he could hear it and even smell it. But he couldn't touch. He couldn't be heard and although he could make his presence felt, his existence seemed to be a bleak and lonely one. To be alone, caught between two words, neither living nor dead, unable to go back or to move on.
He knew that he had to stay, that he was still needed on earth to protect the land Arthur was beginning to create. And he knew if he left this life forever, he would miss his friends with all his heart. The thought was almost unbearable. But if he moved on, if his spirit could leave this world and move on to the place where souls went after they had died… How many people could he meet again?
Maybe he would see his father, to be able to know him as he had never done in life. He could see Lancelot again, apologise for not being able to save him. Will, his childhood friend who had died to save Arthur and in his last breath protected Merlin and his secret. Maybe he could even see Freya again.
But though he walked through the shadows of the mortal world, he never once caught a glimpse of the ones he most wished to see and he finally accepted that he never would.
So that was how he found himself sitting, staring out over the lake of Avalon to the mountains beyond. It was here he had buried one of his greatest friends, and the girl who had captured his heart. It was here he felt closest to the world to which he belonged, the world where his spirit yearned to go.
Gazing out over the lake, he finally allowed the emotions he had been repressing to fill him up. Even after he had died he had had to be strong, to help Arthur accept magic and fulfil his destiny. Arthur had been broken and Merlin was the only person who could fix him. The knowledge of his friend's continuing existence was all Arthur needed. But Merlin was broken too in his own way, torn between two worlds and the two sets of people he most wished to see. He had chosen Arthur and this half-life. There was no-one here to fix him.
He was so caught up in his own thoughts he did not notice the soft footsteps that drew closer from behind him. But he did notice as a gentle hand lightly touched his shoulder making him start and spin round in surprise. It was the first time he had been touched by anything since entering this new phase of his life and the feeling was unfamiliar and alien to him. Startled and unnerved he scrambled backwards, away from the figure behind him. They were framed by the soft light from the evening sky, their face cast into shadow and he couldn't make out who it was. But then a voice that was so familiar and yet so different broke into the silence and he realised who he was seeing, standing reflected by the lake where she had died.
"Freya." He breathed, awe filling his face and disbelief filling his being. She was almost exactly like he remembered her, the long dark hair, the kind dark eyes, and the loving smile. But she was not the terrified, lonely girl he had rescued from a cage so very long ago, but the proud, strong creature of magic who had appeared to him in his time of greatest need and saved them all.
"I've waited a long time for you Merlin. I knew some day we would meet again and though I prayed it would not be so soon, for your sake. But it's so good to see you again."
Merlin's eyes flicked over her face, taking in every detail, looking for a trick or treachery. He found none. All he saw was the girl he had fallen in love with so long ago, standing before him, as real to him as she had been in life, completely unlike the figures of the actual living were to him now.
"Freya? I thought I'd never see you again. How…?"
"You're not the only one who can stay in this world if you choose to." Freya's voice was almost teasing, tinged with amusement are Merlin's lack of understanding. "You vowed to protect Arthur, so you stayed. I promised I would repay you, one day. I'm still keeping that promise to you, like you are to Arthur."
For a minute Merlin was speechless, unsure of what he was supposed to say. But in the end all that came out was the one thing that had been aching in his heart since the day she had left.
"I missed you."
"And I you."
And without realising what he was doing, Merlin reached out and pulled Freya to him, kissing her as he had wished to do for so many years. She wrapped her arms around his waist and he pulled her closer, unwilling to ever let her go again. The dull ache in his heart, the void left when she had died, was finally filled and everything seemed to be perfect. It did not matter where she had come from or why she was here, only that she was and that he would never let her go again.
They stood together for a long time, staring into each other's faces, drinking in the sight after so long of being parted. Eventually it was Freya who broke the eye contact, reaching out and taking Merlin's hand, pulling him away from the shore and out into the lake.
For Merlin it was a very strange feeling, to be immersed in water but to not feel a thing. But he didn't care because he was here with her after so many years of waiting and everything was right again. Freya drew him further out to the water, guiding him towards the centre, all the time gazing into his eyes, smiling.
"Where are we going?" Merlin didn't wish to break the silence and the joy of seeing her again, but this was something he needed to know. It seemed an obvious question, but Freya looked bemused, not understanding why it was being asked.
"Where do you think? We're in the Lake of Avalon. And there are so many people who want to see you again. We've all been waiting so long for you to come."
She continued to walk, but Merlin had stopped, his hand falling from hers. Freya turned round and saw his face. It was not filled with love as it had been moments before, but broken and twisted with indecision and longing. He gazed into her eyes and to the lake, gateway to Avalon, then glanced back over his shoulder in the direction of Camelot, where his destiny and his friends resided.
"I can't." Merlin's voice broke on the last word, but he took a deep, calming breath, his face hardening with resolution. "I can't leave them. Not after everything that's happened. They need me, now more than ever. Morgana's still out there and destiny hasn't been fulfilled yet. I can't abandon them now, no matter how much I want to." On the last words he felt a deep, broken feeling ripping at his chest. But he had made a choice to stay to protect his friends, no matter what the cost. No matter if the cost broke his heart.
He expected to see hurt or betrayal reflected in Freya's eyes at his refusal to join her but instead all he saw was admiration, and a deep set love.
"I understand Merlin. You don't want to leave your friends, you don't want to abandon them in their time of need. That is why I love you, because of your selflessness and your loyalty. You won't leave your friends. But you don't have to. Can't you see? You are like me. We are not alive and we do not belong with the living, but nor are we dead and we do not truly belong with those who are dead. If you do not truly live but remain in the land where the living dwell, you can also be not truly dead but cross over to the land after death. You have a foot in two worlds Merlin. And that is a gift."
"You mean, I can cross between the worlds. I can see them all again. My father, Will, Lancelot…all of them. I can be with you. But I can still come back? I can still protect Arthur and Camelot like I promised?" The realisation of what this could mean was creeping into Merlin's face and his voice was filling with a new, joyful hope.
"Yes." Freya smiled and reached out to take his hand in her own gentle grasp. "Now come on. They're all waiting for you."
And Merlin allowed her to pull him out into the lake, through the gates of Avalon and into the arms of the ones he had loved and the ones he had lost.
Arthur saw Merlin on many occasions throughout his life. But sometimes he would look and Merlin wouldn't be there, Arthur couldn't feel that familiar feeling of comfort that came with his friend's presence. The first few times this happened he felt abandoned; terrified his friend had left him again. When he voiced these fears to Gaius, the old man just smiled and told him not to worry. Arthur never understood why Gaius seemed so calm and at ease with the situation, but then again, he seemed to know something Arthur didn't.
And when Arthur did see Merlin, he was not always alone. In those brief flashes of glimpsing his friend, sometimes he was sure he could see a woman standing by his side, their hands entwined in the shadows. One night, in the darkness of his room, when he was sure Merlin was listening, he asked.
"Merlin. Who is she?"
Of course, there was no answer that night, but when Arthur awoke the next morning, he found a single piece of parchment lying on his desk, a quill resting beside it and the tip still glistening with ink. Curiously, Arthur reached for the paper and looked down at it, instantly recognising the scrawling handwriting of his friend.
Her name is Freya
The words puzzled Arthur, until he remembered the question he had asked the night before, about the mysterious woman standing by the side of his friend. But if those words had puzzled Arthur, it was nothing compared to the confusion he felt at the words scribbled below. He could almost feel Merlin laughing at him for his not understanding, but he could not, and would never, figure out what his friend had meant.
You owe her a sword
AN- So there it is! This chapter was hell to write, because I wanted to get straight to the action-y stuff but I had to introduce a few things first. So yes, Merlin can go and see everyone who has died as well as everyone who is still living if he wants to. I mean, the poor guy is stuck as a shadow on earth, invisible to his friends, he deserves some benefits. Also, the thing with him writing Arthur a note. That came from me realising that if Merlin can still use magic in his ghost form (which he can) then he can probably enchant a quill to write Arthur a letter. He still has ways of contacting his friend. So please drop me a review because I would love to know what you think.
The next chapter will be posted sometime next week. Chapters will go up once or twice a week depending on my time/inspiration/sleep deprivation. The next chapter will take place during one of Morgana's attempts to take over Camelot so it will have a bit more of Merlin and Arthur kicking some ass. Speaking of that, I was reading an interview from Johnny and Julian (creators of Merlin) and this is a direct quote from them about series/season 5.
"As he grows into the sorcerer of legend, Merlin seems to be more akin to his badass alter ego Emrys. You saw a glimpse of it at the end of the last series, he was becoming a much stronger, focused and powerful character. We're really interested in taking him on that journey and all the dangers and temptations it will bring, so that will be a big part of the fifth series. "
So it looks like we're going to be seeing a lot more BAMF!Merlin in the next series. Also in another interview, they said...
"An older and wiser Merlin will struggle between making some very difficult decisions and having to tread a very careful path between what is good and what is bad"
Who's excited! I definitely am.
Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week.