Wow did this take me a long time to write. THIS IS THE LAST CHAPTER OF RAVEN'S DARLING. It's scary, i'm actually terrified and sad and excited at the same time. It took me a while because I hate endings and I wanted to give you guys a memorable last chapter. It's resulted in a whopping chapter, the longest chapter which I suppose is fitting considering it's the last chapter. Well, my thank you is at the bottom, but if you don't feel like reading it: thank you for reading and I've had a lot of fun.
Arms: Christina Perry (kinda perfect for this chapter)
So, without further ado.
The last chapter of Raven's Darling!
"We shouldn't be here, Father would—"
"He won't find out, come on!"
The eldest boy continued to jiggle the knob, a hairpin deep inside the lock. Aurora watched unhappily as he struggled to open the door, looking down disapprovingly at his crouched form. Sara, the youngest, clutched Aurora's lilac dress, peeking out behind the folds at her brother. She was four, long chestnut hair curly and soft.
"Here, let me try," Merlin shoved his older brother out of the way, Jaime crossing his arms as the brown-haired boy fiddled with the lock.
It opened with a snap and the four Pendragon children jumped.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Aurora asked tentatively as Merlin slowly began to open the door.
"What, scared her ghost will haunt you while you're brushing your hair?" Jamie replied jauntily with a wide grin—a grin that faded when his older sister smacked him, the girl shoving him out of the way to follow Merlin. The two were just over a year apart, yet still managed to look almost like squabbling twins; tall with golden hair and bronze skin matched with bright blue eyes, Aurora at thirteen and Jamie at twelve. Merlin, having just turned eight, and Sara shared their complexion and eyes, however had hair that matched their mother's.
The door emitted a ghastly shriek, making Merlin hesitate for half a heartbeat, but then he opened it all the way, trying to be bold in the presence of his siblings.
It wasn't what they were expecting.
They had thought to find pots and jars for spells, chains and magical items adorning barren stone walls. But instead it looked just like a girl's room, not any different than Aurora's. A sheer canopy covered a large bed in the center of the room, a vanity next to the window, pins strewn across its surface, a bejeweled hairbrush resting on the dusty desktop. Gowns still slung from a screen, painted wood etched with flowery detailing. If it wasn't for the layer of dust over everything, they would've thought someone lived here.
"It looks like she never left," Jaime whispered, all former bravado gone. "It was probably too painful for them to change anything, too many memories."
Aurora picked up the hairbrush gingerly. Long black threads of hair were still caught in it.
"They say she was beautiful."
"Yes, they say she could kill a man with a kiss and drive him mad with less," Jaime said theatrically, looking down darkly at his youngest sister, wagging his eyebrows as she watched him wide-eyed.
"Well she was powerful enough to defeat Emrys," Merlin muttered, looking around the room curiously.
"No, not really. They say when they fought against each other at the Siege of Camelot the earth shook beneath them. Lightening fell from the sky and it seemed as though heaven was going to crash and fall and burn upon them all. But, he defeated her. Emrys was the most powerful sorcerer who ever lived, and he saved the day. He sent her away, banishing her into exile never to return—until, of course, she came back." The room was quiet, the siblings engrossed in Jaime's familiar story. It was Sara who finally spoke up, voice ringing like a silver chime.
"But they loved each other, didn't they?"
The four siblings spun around to see their mother standing by the doorway. However, she wasn't looking at them, instead regarding the room with a slightly breathless gaze. Gwenivere walked slowly into the chambers, dark navy gown trailing on the dusty stone.
"Even as they fought on that battlefield, they loved each other."
"Then why were they fighting?" Sara asked, large eyes wide with fascination.
Gwen smiled down at her youngest. " They took different paths, chose to fight for different sides. Destiny ripped them apart, and the two greatest magi were powerless to stop it."
"Did he love her, even after he sent her away?" Aurora asked with a small voice.
"Yes," Gwenivere replied with a smile, looking out into space. "I used to find him here, sitting on the edge of her bed. Just sitting, eyes closed. In those moments I could swear he was seeing her, and he would smile, hands clasped together so tightly in his lap that his knuckles turned stark white. I once asked him why, why he returned here. He answered that he remembered her best in this room...But no one, not even he, could bear to look through her old things—even tidy up. This room remains unchanged from the day she left for battle and never returned."
"Do you…do you still love her, Mother?" Her eldest daughter looked up at her hesitantly, afraid she may have ventured into forbidden territory. Gwen had never told them so much about her before with such openness, and Aurora didn't want to set her off.
The queen paused, moving a stray blonde hair behind her daughter's ear. "After what she did to you I thought I would hate her till the end of my days. But I don't, not anymore. You see, not all the stories they tell you are true. We used to love each other, me, your father, Merlin, and Morgana—destiny, though, didn't seem to approve. Do I still love her, after all she's done? Yes. She was like a sister to me, and I used to dream about how our children would grow up together in this very castle, how we'd be one family. Alas, fate is a cruel mistress."
"Where is she now?" Sara asked.
Gwen picked up her youngest daughter and looked into her blue eyes. "I don't know, darling. I really don't know."
The air was cold, so bitterly cold that every breath was a dagger in the chest. Chafed wrists sent trails of blood down pale arms, itchy and painful, but she couldn't tend to them. Chains, colder than the air and etched with runes that sent bolts of lightning down her body whenever her eyes flared gold, sliced into the sensitive skin of her wrists. Her hands grasped nothing as she screamed with agony in the darkness.
It was the black that hurt more than the new and old scars, the bruises and broken bones. A darkness that consumed all, that made the light she so longed for torturous to see. And for days it was only her and the darkness. And, of course, Aithusa. The beautiful dragon that had found her years ago now screeched with her as her bones were deformed by the tight space, her abused body pressing hard into Morgana's and cracking ribs.
Only rarely did her captor ever come, and when he did, he brought with him guards with clubs and swords and searching hands. Sometimes she didn't mind, because at least in the agony, she could be reminded she was more than a ghost - that beneath the numb, pained surface was a girl who screamed as they hurt her in any way they knew how.
Such loneliness, a deafening silence only broken by her rapid breathing and Aithusa's moans breaking the all-consuming quiet. How she longed to hear a voice, any voice, hear them talking. Laughing. Sometimes dreams caressed her, and she always clung to them whenever they chose to grace her thoughts. Dreams of warmth and sun-kissed skin, of love and joy. Occasionally they blurred into reality through the torture, a familiar hand squeezing her own, muttering words of comfort, invisible hands holding her close as she sobbed her way into unconsciousness.
But those were beginning to fade, faces she had once known so well distorting with a newly recognized madness. Features that once sparkled with light now edged with gloom, smiles turned to tears, and tears turned to anger and blood.
Sometimes she would laugh, a great laugh that startled the creature pressed against her and sent chills down the unseen guards up above. Oh how the mighty have fallen, she would call. How far they have fallen indeed. The most powerful lost in self destruction, the love diminished like the light in a once gentle heart.
It was a night, or a day-she could never tell-like any other when freedom chanced upon her. The guard was pressed up against her, hand trailing up her front, when suddenly she had an idea. Leaning forward and kissing him, the foolish man was taken by surprise and lust, wrapping his thick arms around her skeletal waist, his dagger cutting the skin of her side and making her let out a breathy gasp of pain. Breaking the touch, she reared her head back and hit him hard, so hard she saw stars, just like him, but desperation kept her from unconsciousness. Bracing herself, she whispered an almost forgotten spell. The pain was agonizing, but sheer determination and defiance kept her focused. The key on his waist slithered from the belt around his thick stomach, floating upwards before fitting into the locks on her manacles.
With a sharp sound they opened, and Morgana screamed at the agony of her arms as they were released at last. Taking a deep breath, she broke the chains around Aithusa, and the once white dragon, now blackened and bloodied, let out a roar and climbed her way up the darkness to freedom, Morgana clutching onto her. It was dark when she finally tasted fresh air, lungs greedily sucking in the sweetness of cleanliness, trying to rid themselves of the musty air of imprisonment.
Guards jumped in surprise, but Morgana only held up her hand, rage at the injustices done upon her commanding her magic as they were pulled apart, limb by limb, showering her in hot blood. Then she ran, as fast as she could, and did not look back.
She did not stop, though it took her many arduous days, until she reached it. Tall and foreboding, yet even after all these years, familiar. The once strong stone was now weathered, cracked and broken by storms she couldn't remember. A wild forest had grown around it, thick ivy branches wrapping their arms tightly around it, suffocating the tower. Aithusa, having followed her from the moment they escape their hell, mewled in fear and backed away, sensing something amiss. Morgana stumbled forward boldly, but the white dragon balked, spreading delicate wings and taking flight. She vanished into the darkness of the night sky.
Morgana stumbled inside the old tower, shattering her own sigils of protection and breaking open the rotting wood of the ancient door. Hand clutched to the still-seeping wound in her side, hastily wrapped in a makeshift bandage, she hastened up the creaking and broken stairs to the highest room.
As she staggered into the chamber like a drunkard, Morgana caught a sight of herself in an old, grimy mirror in the far corner. She let out a shuddering sigh at the tragedy she had become. For six years her beauty was left forgotten, beaten and used until she could no longer recognize the princess she had once been. Terribly snowy skin accentuated every cut and bruise, features blackened and sunk in, pale lips bitten and bleeding. Her torn gown barely hung onto her skeletal frame, gaunt and thin, sharp as though if you touched her, she would either cut you or fade away. Once silken hair was so knotted that its length was lost. Dirt covered every inch of her.
Morgana Pendragon, Morgana le Fey, where have you gone? she thought as she looked at the unrecognizable woman in her reflection.
But her attention didn't linger on her appearance for long.
Cobwebs stretched every which way, draping from the ceiling to the floor. All was filthy, dust coating everything...everything but him. It was almost as if the spell had kept him untouchable.
With warm tears that refused to stop streaming down her face, and sounds she couldn't choke down spilling from her lips, she stumbled towards the worn stone table in the center of the room. Falling to her knees before it, she rested her head against the cold, smooth stone. Wracking coughs shook her body, blood falling to the floor and leaving behind a stain as she looked up.
Age left lines in his face, but he still looked the same. His hair had not grown, neither had his nails, another perk of the spell, she supposed. Hands shaking and hesitant, she reached for him, grip tightening on the soft cloth of his tunic. She let out a cry of sorrow and pain, tears dripping onto his still form. Reaching up, she caressed his face, leaving behind trails of scarlet.
He was still warm.
Arms still shaking, she reached into the bodice of her dress, pulling out a small piece of fabric she kept close to her heart. The blue scarf was unrecognizable, torn and almost black, reeking of fear, torture, and blood.
"I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry," she repeated through her sobs, unable to catch her breath.
Where were you? Morgana could almost hear him say, voice laced with a worry.
"Imprisoned by Sarrum for six years. Funny, isn't it? Most powerful sorceress, the last priestess, it meant nothing when he took Aithusa. She's my dragon, you see, white as snow, but when he jailed her with me I couldn't escape. I wasn't strong enough…" she rambled, flesh feverishly hot.
Morgana fell quiet as he said nothing, looking at him, tracing the curves of his face, those ridiculous ears.
"I think I'm dying, Merlin," she whispered. "What has come of us, my love? What have we become? All we are now are stories, faded ghosts of a time of war and magic. Soon to turn to dust. Is there peace beyond this tower? What has come of Arthur and Gwenivere, I do not know. And it's all my fault. You should be with them, but instead my desire for vengeance sealed our fates. But my dear, I have paid the price." Morgana's head fell upon his chest, hearing the slow rhythmic beating of his heart.
I have paid the price.
Rising on shaking feet, she bent over him and touched her lips to his. They were warm, warmer than hers. Morgana moved forward and kissed his brow gently, tears dripping from her lashes onto his, until finally she pulled away, swallowing another cry of agony. And with her bloody hand covering her side, she gave him one last look and disappeared.
He felt like he was drowning. Like he was deep in the arms of the ocean, and it was holding onto him so tightly he couldn't breathe, even as he struggled to the surface. Out of the darkness, out of the nothingness that he had been lost in. Alone in a curse, wrapped in silence, disembodied as countless hours, days, months, years passed away in solitude. But finally he could feel himself stirring, his heartbeat quickening. And for the first time and so long, he felt cold, he felt hard stone beneath him. He felt aware. Heart nearly bursting, he fought back the darkness.
And opened his eyes.
Cobwebs greeted his sight as Merlin struggled into consciousness. Cobwebs and sunlight. The rays flitted between the patterned thread, the fine lines beaded with lights. His eyes squinted against the brightness, and he coughed to clear his lungs of a layer of dust.
Shaking, he rose upon the altar, the feel of his body foreign and strange, as though they shouldn't belong to him. He lifted a hand, looking down at the pale, papery skin. Slowly moving his feet off the marble slab, Merlin tried to push himself onto his feet, walking one weak step before falling to the ground. The warlock took a deep breath, reaching for the wall and using it to pull himself up. Slowly, he ambled forward like a decrepit old man, passing by a weathered mirror. He was startled by the figure in the reflection.
When did I stop being young? he thought as the figure in the mirror looked back at him with equal surprise. Wrinkles touched his face, turning him from a boy to a man. His hair looked the same, and he was just as pale as he always was. But age undeniably graced his features. How long has it been? Shaking his head, he carefully made his way down the broken stairs, paying no heed to the trail of blood upon them.
Merlin smiled as he walked into the sunlight, almost laughing at the warmth, the fresh air. The feel of soft grass beneath his feet, the green of the woods, the caress of a breeze across his numb skin. Birds sung melodies up above him, the light rays glancing off the smooth leaves and illuminating the world in a hazy glow. Entranced, he ventured further from the musty tower, stumbling through the woods, holding onto the ragged tree trunks to keep him on his feet.
The soft sound of water turned his face, and Merlin made his way past the trees to a small stream mumbling through the earth. A sparkle in his eyes, he outstretched his hand and called out with a scratchy, unpracticed voice.
"Hors, beride tha heofinan."
Clear fluid leapt from the lake, smoothly turning into the shape of a horse, galloping from the brook and into the sky. Merlin let out a loud laugh, falling to his knees as he watched the sun shine through the living water, reflecting a rainbow in the baby blue sky.
"Did you do that?"
Merlin jumped, turning around and seeing a man, a farmer maybe, wearing an orange tunic and brown breeches, with unassuming features and deep chestnut eyes and hair.
"Yes," the warlock replied softly, struggling to get to his feet. Rushing forward, the man helped him, all the while eyeing him curiously.
"Have we met before?" he asked.
"I don't think so," Merlin replied. "Why?"
"You look 'offly familiar," the man studied him more, taking in the raven hair, tall figure, ivory skin, sapphire eyes that had only just faded from the color of flame, sharp cheekbones, a rich red tunic made of fine fabric and soft leather boots. A character out of a frequently told story.
"No," he muttered. "You can't be?"
Merlin looked at him questioningly, opening his mouth to speak before the man's eyes widened.
"You…you're…are you…you're Emrys?" he stuttered.
The warlock smiled. "I prefer Merlin, but yes."
"But you… But you're cursed…You're asleep…have been for…for—"
"For how long?!"
The man was quiet before softly murmuring to the weak man he was supporting. "Thirteen years."
Merlin felt the air rush out of his chest. "Th-thirteen years?" he repeated softly, feeling dizzy. By now Aurora would have grown up…"I…I need to get to Camelot."
Nodding, the man helped him forward. "I have an extra horse, we can go there now. It's not too far."
The warlock nodded, and the pair slowly made their way to the man's cart. He unhooked the two horses leading it, and helped Merlin mount the old grey creature. Patting it gently on the neck, Merlin guided it into a gallop behind the farmer, the wind whistling in his ears, a pit of nervousness growing in his stomach. Thirteen years. How much had changed….
As they rode, Merlin didn't miss the looks he was receiving, or the pointed fingers. Aboard the grey horse, the ride bringing color to cheeks, he looked more like the Emrys they'd all heard of, his distinctive features difficult to miss.
News of their arrival must have traveled fast on whispered ears, because as Merlin approached the familiar city, more and more people lined the streets, all curiously looking at the men riding past.
Then he saw it.
White marble walls rebuilt ever taller, the magnificent citadel shining in the sun, towers topped with large, ivory banners embroidered with golden dragons. People were rushing in and out of the gates, the fields beyond the walls rich with wheat.
"Since your sleep, all Seven Kingdoms have joined in these thirteen years, an alliance with the Pendragons at their head. Districts ruled by their old monarchs but under the shade of Albion. Magic flourishes here. This is the world you built."
Merlin listened to him with silent awe, guiding his horse down the hill and towards the familiar gate. The streets of the city were teeming with people and shops, spring in full swing, and so the smell of flowers that eager merchants sold enriched the air with lilac, rose, and lavender. Colors were abundant, bright and bold and brilliant, and Merlin couldn't help but smile at the sight. And then there were the performers. A man draped in a rich silken tunic from a far off land blew a great fiery dragon from his lungs, and it soared above the peoples 'uninhibited delight. An elderly man with a long grey beard and pointed hat laughed merrily as he conjured sparkling butterflies for the children to chase after. A woman with long black hair called forth birds with a beautifully sung spell, letting them flit around her head, land on her shoulders, and sing their own merry tunes.
The man accompanying him smiled at Merlin's reaction to the city, but bid him forward. Together they made their way down the streets and towards the man courtyard, passing by white-clad knights who raced towards the citadel upon seeing the raven-haired man aboard the grey mare.
Then he was there, in that familiar courtyard, looking up at glistening marble steps. The farmer dismounted quickly and slowly helped Merlin off his horse, and just as the warlock's feet hit the firm ground, his eyes caught a scarlet-clad figure race down the stairs, gown held up tightly in her palms.
Gwenivere looked up at him with shock, eyes shining with tears as she caught sight of her friend. She froze, and right behind her, Arthur stumbled down the stairs, expression similar. Then Gwen ran towards him, damning the long tresses of her dress and racing towards him, jumping up into the warlock's waiting arms. Her hands tightened around him, Merlin breathless as the air was knocked from his lungs. He held her tightly, burying his head in the crook of her neck and breathing in her familiar scent. The warlock could feel her tears as she sobbed into his tunic.
Merlin pulled away gently, studying her grown face and wiping away a tear with a soft smile. He turned to where Arthur stood, waiting, looking his friend up and down.
"Merlin…?" the king choked.
"Who else, clotpole?"
Arthur shook his head at the man before him before taking two long strides and wrapping his arms around the thin man.
"How, but, how…?" the blonde-haired monarch asked as he released his friend, but the warlock only shrugged.
"I have no idea."
Arthur nodded. "Welcome back home, old friend."
Merlin smiled, looking up as Gwen called his name. On the stairs, in front of her, stood four children. They stared at him pale faced, surprise and curiosity touching their young features. The warlock's heart missed a beat. When he turned to Arthur, the king nodded with a smile, and Merlin almost laughed.
He walked towards the eldest girl, tall and blonde, with achingly familiar blue eyes.
The girl's eyes widened. "Uncle Emrys?"
Scoffing, the man before her smiled. "Just Merlin. My, how you've grown. The last time I saw you, you were a babe in your cri-"
The warlock was cut off as the young girl jumped into his arms, hugging him tightly.
"Thank you," she whispered to his frozen figure, and Merlin understood, returning her embrace.
When they parted, Gwen was crying. She walked forward, picking up her youngest daughter as she approached her old friend.
"This is Sara. The blonde is Jaime, and our youngest son…Merlin."
The warlock's eyes widened, looking down at the boy before him, who was eyeing his namesake with equal parts fascination and apprehension. Kneeling before him, Merlin extended his hand and let the boy shake it.
"Hello, Junior. I'm Merlin."
The boy nodded, and Merlin laughed at the look on his face. He ruffled the boy's hair before turning back to Arthur with a mischievous glint in his eyes.
"Well, someone's been busy—"
He ducked as his friend tried to smack him, the warlock laughing loudly. With that, Gwenivere took her friend by the arm, leading him forward into the citadel and towards the room that had remained unchanged, waiting for him to return.
Merlin was finally home.
But that night, as he lay on the familiar bed, stretching his muscles after a grand feast spent equal time in tears and equal time in laughter, he could not fall asleep. A single thought haunted his mind, and when the castle went quiet, Merlin pulled on a worn tunic and britches, wrapping a black cloak around his shoulders, took a horse, and crept out of the city. He urged his mount into the woods, returning to his former prison, an uneasy pit in his stomach.
The warlock looked around, a bright flame cradled in his palm, searching for a sign. Anything.
Then he found it.
A small trickle of blood, a broken branch, heavy footprints leading deep into the dark woods.
She had collapsed deep in a gorge, next to a tall willow tree. Lying on her back, Morgana looked up at the inky sky, a velvety midnight studded with diamonds. They shined down upon her, a full moon illuminating everything in a silvery glow. The grass was soft under her aching body, the night warm, a cool breeze brushing her fevered skin. It was calm and quiet, the gently swaying of leaves lulling her to sleep.
As Morgana closed her eyes, she couldn't help but think that this wasn't such a bad way to die.
Then her bliss was interrupted by rough hands shaking her shoulders, a familiar voice screaming her name. She opened her faded green eyes curiously, looking at the ghost above her. Weakly, Morgana reached up and touched his face, smiling as his own palm kept hers there, leaning into her gentle touch. She felt warm tears fall on her broken face, and if Morgana could, she would tell him not to weep. I'll be with you soon. I'm at peace.
Her ghost pulled her into his arms, holding her tightly against his chest. His heartbeat shook her fragile bones, his breath shattered her delicate skin. Then he began to whisper foreign words, again and again and again, screaming in anger and frustration as nothing worked. Morgana couldn't hear him well, the world was faded and draped in darkness, and so she focused instead on her ghost's drumming heartbeat, even as he continued to murmur long into the hours of the night.
"Ic þe þurhhæle þin licsare mid þam sundorcræftas þære ealdaþ æ!"
Morgana closed her eyes just as she saw a soft golden stream of light cradle her broken body, covering her with comforting warmth. She leaned her head into the ghost's chest and embraced unconsciousness.
Awareness was surprising as her body stirred on a soft surface. Warmth covered her from her toes to her chin, and Morgana could feel a gentle stream of sunlight on her trembling eyelids. Slowly opening her eyes, the sorceress took in the sight before her with simple thought in her mind.
I should be dead.
But she wasn't. She was very much alive. Her quavering lungs told her with every shuddering breath. Eyes were watching her, she was sure of that, the hairs at the back of her neck informing her of a familiar presence. A ghost that wasn't a ghost at all.
Scanning the room, she took in the sight of light wooden walls, a small cozy atmosphere. But her eyes could meet nothing else as they met his. The two looked at each other, gaze unbroken as they chanced upon the other after so many years.
"What did you do?" Her voice was scratchy, and she struggled to a seated position, leaning against the worn wooden headboard of the bed.
"I saved your life."
"I'm not sure."
Morgana looked down at her hands, at the bruises that told the tale of her imprisonment. She was wearing a clean, simple cotton dress, so she supposed he knew everything by now. The scars could tell the story better than she ever could.
"You shouldn't have."
"You were ready to die?"
"But I wasn't ready for that."
"Why?" she asked again.
Merlin sighed, standing from his position on the rocking chair on the other side of the room. She flinched as he sat on the edge of her bed, taking her hand in his own, matching her half-hostile, half-fearful gaze with a reassuring look.
"Because I still love you and I still think you can be saved."
Morgana's lip quivered as she looked up at him, then, lifting her hand from his grip, she smacked him hard across the face. His head swung back, palm jumping to his cheek in surprise. But, being so weak, the blow didn't even leave a mark.
"How dare you?" she spat. "How dare you still love me after all I've done? I never truly took you for a fool, Emrys, but it seems I was wrong. I cursed you for thirteen years, allowed your friends' children to grow up without you, and robbed your time from you. And still you profess love. You embarrass me! I do not need to be saved, especially not by you."
Merlin's gaze hardened at her words. "Then tell me, why am I here? Why am I awake? Answer me this and I'll leave, never to return."
"I don't know. "
The warlock's eyebrows raised. "Really?"
Morgana looked anywhere but his furious eyes, answering with a small voice. "I was…I was delirious. I just said goodbye, I never thought you would wake. I never thought it would work—"
"True love's kiss," he snapped. "It wouldn't work if the feeling wasn't mutual. Morgana, please, I am offering you a chance at redemption. You've been through enough. Give up your claim to the throne, disappear, stay with me. No one needs to know. Arthur has legalized magic and it flourishes in this land. He is not his father. Leave his kingdom be. We can start again. Please."
"Redemption is no longer an option, not after all I've done."
Merlin's face crumpled the look of a man who desperately clung to hope but recognized when it began to slip away. "My mother once told me a story many years ago. There was a man. He stole, cheated, and lied through life. It's said he killed ninety-nine people. One night, he looked at his life and felt saddened, ashamed, and embarrassed. He didn't want to die this way. And so he went to a wise man, and asked if he could ever be redeemed. The wise man spat back that he could not, that he was appalled at the very idea that this man could ask for forgiveness after so many sins. And so the man killed him, bringing his body count to a hundred souls. Disgusted with himself, he traveled his country in the wilderness until he chanced across a high priest of the Old Religion. Again he asked if he could be redeemed, and the priest, much to the man's surprise, said yes. He told the man to leave, journey to another land across the ocean, and start anew. When he stepped on the new soil, he could be forgiven. The man thanked the priest and hitched a ride on a ship to that promised place, heart bursting. But just before he made it to the shore, he fell dead. They say that there was a storm that night—The Old Goddess battling with the reaper to claim his soul instead of damn it. There was sunlight the next morning, so they say she won, and the man was forgiven.
"When do you pass the point of redemption? No one has the answer. All we know is that forgiveness can be found even to those of the cruelest souls, but only if they make an attempt at it. Redemption is yours, Morgana. No one is trying to deny you of it. You need only ask, and let go of the darkness you've chosen to hold close to your heart."
"But how? You don't know Arthur like I do, " she whispered. "The arrogant blonde boy who used to bully everyone around him because he felt this sense of entitlement. No one ever denied it when he asked if he was special. He was the golden child, born and trained to fight and lead. As for me, the beloved king's ward, I used to delight in watching in heads turn as I walked through the room. But that was all I was. An ornament. A stained glass ornament in a cold stone castle. Perhaps it was my long stay in there, trapped in those cold unfeeling walls, that turned me to ice."
Merlin leaned forward and kissed her gently on the lips, his touch warm and comforting. "I can melt it. Let me try."
She looked up at him, shaking her head with disbelief. Then Morgana wrapped her arms around him. And as she pulled him closer, she thought about how remarkable love was. Capable of so much. Without it, there couldn't be the hate that leads to agony and despair, a life of hostility and terror. Without the light it brings, there could be no darkness, for darkness is merely the absence of light as hate is merely the absence of love. It is strange, love. Such a small word capable of so much, tethered in darkness, leading armies, destroying armies, and raising them anew. It could survive wars, time, even death. It's a feeling that can hardly be captured in a word, let alone a paragraph, not even a long novel filled with thousands and millions of words, not even with all those letters could you describe it. And in many ways that is sad, for few can feel it in whole, but many feel its absence, a loss sometimes they cannot even recognize. It's a strange thing, love, a strange and terrible thing yet beautiful despite it all. And with those thoughts teeming in her consciousness, she pulled her lover close and was lost in his light.
Five years later.
Arthur aimed the crossbow, focusing down the shaft and onto the white doe before him. It was a beautiful creature with a pelt the color of shimmering moonlight, long graceful legs, and eyes like clear pools. Hunters everywhere had tried to no avail to slay it, and now the king aimed his weapon, victory sweet on his dry tongue, arms taunt. Then a young feminine voice interrupted his concentration.
"You shouldn't do that."
Before he could turn to see to whom the voice belonged, the doe perked her ears and caught sight of who would have been her killer before bounding through the trees and escaping from Arthur's sight. Sighing, the king turned around.
"Sweet lady, it seems you have robbed me of the prize of many weeks hun—"
Arthur froze. A young girl looked up at him, beautiful and slight. She couldn't be over four, and yet had within her a grace the king had never seen before in a child. Long raven hair flowed in tender curls down her body to the small of her black, a soft halo around her ivory skin and elfin features. Wearing a light green dress, she looked like she'd walked from the trunk of one of the trees, feet bare. An ebony raven with a crown of white feathers on its head was perched on her shoulder, eyeing him with a fair gaze, so still that it could be mistaken for a statue.
The king coughed, eyes caught in the young girl's strangely calm and confident gaze. "And why shouldn't I have killed the doe?"
"Because she's a creature of the Old Wood, a daughter of the Old Religion. It is said that the silver doe harbors great power, and any who fell her invoke the wrath of the priestess…well, at least that's what Mama says." Her voice was like a clear bell, tinkling and light. Arthur couldn't help but smile at her words, not surprised by her large vocabulary. It seemed to fit her.
"Your mother seems to know a lot about these things."
"Yes, she does," she cocked her head to the side, the raven mimicking her movements uncannily. "You look like someone from one of her stories. A golden king. Do you want me to tell you the story?"
"I'd be honored," Arthur smiled down at her, watching in amusement as she took him by the hand.
"I need to be home for supper soon," the young girl explained. "So I'll tell you the story on the way there.
"Once upon a time, there lived a golden king. He had hair the color of the sun and eyes the hue of the sky that housed it. From a young age, he learned to fight until he was the best knight in the kingdom. Living by the code and even adding onto it, the golden prince turned into a king when his father passed away. Then he won a great war and became the greatest king the land has ever known, ruling with a beautiful queen by his side and creating the kingdom we now live in. The end. "
Arthur laughed. "It's a very beautiful story."
"Mama tells it better, but I don't have time to add all the details to it because we've reached my house. Do you want to come in for supper? I don't think Mama will mind."
The king looked out to where the young girl was pointing. It was a beautiful cottage in the middle of a glade, surrounded by wildflowers that grew almost the height of the roof.
"I'm afraid I also have to go back to have supper with my family, but perhaps sometime soon, sweet lady. Thank you for your wisdom."
The young girl smiled and curtsied. "Please come soon. No one ever comes here. Farewell, golden king."
She began to skip away before Arthur woke from his stupor, calling out after her. "What is your name, little one?"
"Anna," she replied with a light voice, dancing down through the wildflowers and towards her home. Just as Arthur turned to leave, a familiar voice stopped him and robbed him of breath.
"Darling, it's time for supper!"
"I'm here, Mama!"
Morgana leaned over and brushed her daughter's hair back, kissing her on the forehead. "Did you have fun today?"
"Yes. I met a golden king in the woods!"
"Is that so?"
The willowy woman laughed. "You can tell me all about it during supper. Go in and wash up."
Just before Anna crossed the threshold, Morgana's voice stopped her.
"No, little lady. You know the rule. You may be the raven's darling but that doesn't mean he's allowed to sit with us during supper."
"But, Mama! Papa always says that animals—"
"I don't care what your father said, you know the rules."
"Fine," Anna sighed, whispering something to the raven on her shoulder and watching it fly away and land on a wildflower before the door.
"Good girl, off you go." Morgana pushed her daughter into the cottage, stopping before joining her. The woman looked around the glade, searching through the dark trees. Arthur ducked behind the nearest trunk, robbed of breath. When he dared take a risk, his sister was walking into her home.
Arthur found his horse at the edge of the wood and galloped back to the city, anger swelling with every breath. The king couldn't chase the image of her from his mind. She looked so different from the last time he had seen her, edges gentled, dressed in a simple dress, body soft and curvy under the deep blue fabric. From the moment he'd set eyes on the young girl, he'd known, somehow, that she was Morgana's. She looked just like his sister when she was young, except for one haunting detail.
Terribly familiar sapphire eyes.
He hurried through the halls of the citadel, slamming open the great doors to the throne room.
Gwenivere stopped mid-sentence as she looked up at him, surprised. All the council members and knights were seated at the round table with her, all staring up at him.
"Good, Arthur. I was afraid you wouldn't make it—"
"Everyone, get out," he said quietly, eyes fixed on the man seated next to his wife.
Chairs scraped on the floor in a hurried rush to leave, no one daring to meet his eyes. Gwenivere passed him with a confused glance at her husband and friend, closing the door behind her and leaving the two men alone.
Merlin stood as Arthur approached him. "I can explain—"
The warlock stumbled backwards as the blow landed on his jaw, backing away as Arthur continued forward.
"Damn, you Pendragons are violent when you get angry—"
"You'll never guess who I met in the forest today."
Merlin stiffened as Arthur shoved him against a column, hand gripping the cloth around his collar tightly.
"A young girl with beautiful blue eyes and a strangely intelligent demeanor. Her, and of course, my sister."
"IS SHE YOURS?!"
Merlin looked down, not meeting Arthur's gaze. "Yes."
The king's eyes widened, letting his friend go and backing up, hand on his temple. Merlin touched his jaw, wincing at the already growing bruise.
"I had to protect my family—"
"From those who are your family?"
Merlin's eyes hardened, shoulders straightening. "What would you have done? Morgana is a fugitive, and thought to be dead. I couldn't walk into Camelot with her on my arm and not risk the fury of the people—"
"But you could have told me! SHE'S MY SISTER, MERLIN! AND I THOUGHT SHE WAS DEAD! And you had a daughter and I never knew. You've been living an entirely secret life. How did you do it? How could you keep it hidden for so long without letting anything slip?"
"Lancelot and Gaius know. Gaius because I needed help with Morgana's pregnancy, and Lancelot because he suspected something and followed me home one night. I swore them both to secrecy. Believe me, Arthur. I wanted to tell you from the first night I found Morgana, but I was afraid. I couldn't let her be taken away from me, not again. "
Arthur sighed, walking over and putting a comforting hand on his friend's shoulder. "When Morgana cast the curse on Aurora, I was devastated. But when Gwenivere read me your letter that night, I couldn't breathe. I brought our best trackers and followed your trail; however, when I arrived I was too late. And I've had to live with that since that night. You're my brother, Merlin, and that you've had to walk around, fearing for your family's life with me, appalls me. You know how much you mean to Gwenivere and me."
"I know, Arthur, I know. But this is Morgana we're talking about. The last time you saw her she tried to kill your daughter, hell bent on destroying your kingdom. I couldn't—"
Arthur shook his head. "I understand."
Falling silent, Merlin looked down at his hands awkwardly.
"She's beautiful. Anna."
The warlock smiled softly. "Thank you. She's turning five in a month, but she already talks like an adult. Morgana thinks she's gifted."
"I think she is," Arthur replied with a laugh. "Does she have magic?"
"Too much," Merlin joked. "I'm having trouble keeping up with her."
"Can I see them again? I understand if you're still not comfortable, or if Morgana—"
"No, it's all right. You should meet them. She's your niece after all."
Arthur smiled, ruffling his friend's hair. "Look who's all grown up."
Merlin jerked back from his friend's grip, scowling, before his expression turned fearful. "Now I'm going to have to tell Gwenivere…"
"I don't envy you, my friend. You think I was angry?"
It was bright the next afternoon when they set out, sun shining down over the party as they made their way into the shade of the forest. Merlin rode at the head, showing them through the different sigils he kept to ward away unfriendly eyes, Arthur and Gwenivere behind him with their children looking wide eyed around them. They had been told who they were to meet, but still they struggled to put a face to the demon of many of their bedtime stories.
They rode out into the glade, and though it was silent, Merlin knew Morgana would be inside with Anna, nerves eating her until she heard a knock on the door.
"Wait here," he said softly, leaving the Pendragons as he went to his home. The door opened and they could see him speaking with someone for a moment, until he moved out of the way and allowed them to see who they had come to meet.
Morgana was eyeing them with slight apprehension, hand gripped tightly to her daughter's. She wore a beautiful emerald dress, hair falling down her shoulders like that of her daughter in soft waves. It was if she was the same Morgana they had first met so many years ago. Gwen took a quick intake of breath as she saw them, but soon a smile lifted on her lips.
The queen approached the pair slowly, both woman eyeing each other hesitantly. It was Anna who spoke, letting go of her mother's hand and walking towards the beautiful caramel queen.
"Hello," Gwen replied, smiling. "You must be Anna."
"And you must be the Queen Gwenivere. Papa and Mama always said you were beautiful but I thought they were just being nice."
The queen laughed at the young girl before her, eyes lighting up at her similarity to her friend. "You're very sweet." Gwen turned to Morgana. "She's beautiful."
"Thank you," Morgana replied, and the two friends stared at each other for some time before embracing slowly, arms tightening around each other.
"I'm sorry, Gwen."
"Hush now, it's all in the past."
The two women separated and Morgana was led forward to her brother, who only kissed her brow before introducing her to his children. Merlin watched as the family reunited, his nervousness passing as smiles were exchanged and laughter rung throughout the glade.
Late that evening, with everyone sitting around the fire telling stories, Merlin excused himself to get a drink of water from within the cabin, Gwen joining him.
"Hey," Gwenivere whispered, putting a hand on her friend's shoulder. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah. It's...just a bit strange after all these years, being together again."
"Yes. Time is the balm of all wounds. The scars might still be there, but soon they too will fade."
Merlin smiled. "And so it seems our story will end as we thought it would when Arthur and Morgana first arrived in Glendale. The four of us, together…with a few additions, of course." The warlock looked out at the fire, watching as his wife and friend engaged their children in a funny story, their laughter filling the glade with warmth. Aithusa was purring and gurgling as Gwen's youngest scratched the scales beneath her jaw, her dilated pupils alive with pleasure. Anna's raven had perched on the dragon's growing horn, feathers fluffed as it regarded Merlin with intelligent, inquisitive eyes.
"We've come a long way," the warlock whispered, wrapping his arm around Gwen's shoulder.
The queen smiled. "We have. But, my dear magical farmboy, this is hardly an ending, merely the start of a new beginning."
Nothing is ever simply black or white. Between the stark contrasts lie the shades the world lives in, a grey, never-ending twilight that forces us to question and wonder and change. Never has there ever existed someone with a heart of pure darkness, just as never has there ever existed someone with a heart of pure light. It is in the nature of humanity and the universe to hate and love, to betray and trust, to laugh and cry. Without those swaying passions, and without the pain accompanying them, one can never truly know if they are really feeling with all they have. To love someone is the equivalent of hate. It's a constant back and forth, a lust and need that seems never to satisfy itself, a hunger to feel emotion in its purest state. Sometimes it's a state of joy and wonder and good, but sometimes it's bitter and hard and painful. However, it is only in those moments when you miss someone-when you hate them for what they have done to you- that you know that you harbored true emotion towards them, that they were not a simple passerby you were fated to forget. This is the nature of love. It's not all happiness and love and light, and it is not all darkness and lust and hate. Love is that twilight in-between, and it's under those grey and blue skies that lovers have lived, live, and will love until they leave the words of forgotten pages, bound in scarlet covers.
So. yeah. That's it. Phew *wipes sweat from brow*. This has been the first story I've ever written seriously, and I've enjoyed like no other. I thought I'd tire of writing the same story for a whole year, but I didn't. My ideas never ran out, to which I am grateful. I did my best to make it unique and not the typical fic you run across, and hopefully I was successful! It's remarkable and I've felt amazing doing it. I hope you guys had fun too!
Basically, I want to thank you all. To everyone who spent all this time laboring away at this monster of a fic. You're the reason I felt like writing every week, not to mention you've given me a huge ego boost with all your kind words. I'm updating this at midnight so gahhhhh I really am not eloquent at the moment. So thank you thank you thank you is all I can say, for all your support and your continued positive attitude. Thank you especially to those of you who reviewed (I'll be sending you you're own messages soon (prepare for a novel of love)).
Above all, I'd like to thank Merlyn. She's been my beta this whole time, and she's actually magnificent. I could always rely on her for help, she fixed all the grammar mistakes, and helped me with so much. She's the grand mastermind behind this whole ordeal. She's a remarkable writer, so check out all her things they are amaaaaazing! Without her You wouldn't have enjoyed the story like you did, and I wouldn't have enjoyed writing it like I did. SO ROUND OF APPLAUSE TO MY REMARKABLE BETA FOR ALL HER HARD WORK!
AND A STANDING OVATION TO ALL OF YOU AND A GRAND THANK YOU FOR READING THIS, WHETHER YOU STARTED FROM THE FIRST DAY, OR HAVE JUST READ IT IN ONE NIGHT! I THANK YOU ALL EQUALLY AND I LOVE YOU ALL SO SO SO VERY MUCH!
I hope I can hear from you now that it's the end, just drop by and say goodbye, and I would love some criticism or tips for the next story I'm sure to write eventually, be it original or fanfiction! Two words is enough by dears.
THANK YOU IT HAS BEEN A BLAST
(takes a bow)