'Of selfless heart'
When you're gone, I'm a match that's burning out
Could've been, should've done what I said I was going to
Arthur was dying. Merlin had known it for days; fought against it as best he could, as long as he could, but now it seemed inevitable. They would not reach Avalon in time. There's one thing left. . .
"Just hold me, please" the voice cut through Merlin's thoughts, as he knelt in the grass with the dying king safely stowed in his arms, holding him like he was the most precious thing on the earth. It appeared that the King had given up, too; that he just wanted to fall to sleep in peace. But how could the boy who had fought for all of his life to keep Arthur alive let that happen? Simple answer: he couldn't. He couldn't sit by in silence as his friend died; couldn't go on alone; couldn't let everything he had worked for fall apart.
"No," he pleaded, leaning over to peer into Arthur's face, "don't you dare give up." Moving backwards now, so the King lay on the grass and his most loyal subject knelt over him, Merlin steeled himself. "Please, Merlin – there's something I want to say to you" Arthur started earnestly, desperate to part on good terms.
"No" the warlock cut him off forcefully, so the king was stunned into silence. "I can't let this happen, old friend. It is my destiny, and has been that way for a long, long time so I will not let you go now. Hold on just a little longer." One more chance. That was it: the last thing Merlin could do to save his friend, even if it meant his own demise. He would do it willingly; to die for someone he loved, knowing that Albion and Arthur would live on, would be his greatest honour. His only regret was that he never got to see the promised Camelot – one of magic and myth and might. Solemnly, having made his choice a long time ago that he would never lose Arthur, he gazed down at his dear friend. Desperately, as a hint of panic crept into his hoarse voice, because even now he feared death, Merlin begged "Forgive me."
Eyes snapped shut before the King could even muster breath to protest, the warlock, so young in body but ageless in spirit, began to speak his final spell. His heart suddenly became heavy in his chest, loud as thunder, as if it knew its beats were numbered. They sky above turned grey, a storm brewed in a second with all the fury nature could command; lightning forks punctuated a lifeless sky, rain started to pour in huge droplets more a sheet of water than a shower, but it was silent in its coming and going. Fury and Silence, Life and Death, Love and Hope: all hanging in the balance. It seemed even the sky above, so angry in its quaking, knew what was happening on that small patch of grass was wrong. That what Merlin was doing was unacceptable, against all the rules; throwing away a good heart. Simply, it mourned him. The world knew the score and it wept for the warlock who gave everything, every part of him, to build a new world he dreamed of.
As he spoke, quietly at first: barely a terrified whisper, building to a crescendo of hidden power. No longer shaking, he was chanting clearly, a strange calm settled into his bones as the fear left him. What he was doing would save Arthur, that's all that mattered. As he completed the enchantment, Merlin felt the pain, sharp and cold, in his side; ending his string of words with a traumatised screech as he fell, clutching at his side. Because not matter how content he was to do this; it still hurt.
"Merlin!" he heard Arthur's startled cry, but it seemed echoed, as if far away. The King, who had felt a sudden energy surge through his bones as his dimming vision swam back into focus, clearer than ever before, found his manservant lying on the floor: looking weak but giving him the slightest of pained smiles. "Arthur," the warlock grunted, eyes sparkling as he saw his friend above him, looking well once more, "you're okay."
"What have you done?" Arthur scrambled to Merlin's side, a bad feeling spreading through his gut. Something was terribly wrong with Merlin. He felt fine himself, as if he weren't injured at all, assuming the great warlock Gaius had described had found a way to fix him. It was as he reached for his friend, and his hand came away red, that he saw the truth. "No," he shouted, "no, no, no, no. Merlin please, no, please." The last word was a strangled sob, tearing from his throat. He was quick to panic now, fear rising like a tidal wave in his chest as he begged, prayed, that his tired eyes deceived him.
Merlin lay on the grass, a red stain already spreading from his abdomen, slowly bleeding out onto the grass. "It is fine" the boy said weakly, for already his head was woozy; his action slowed; speech slurred as the endless sleep set in "You are cured, my lord." For now it was clear to see the warlock's solution. He could not cure Arthur of his mortal wound, but he could take on the hurt himself. Now, the King stood mighty again, no longer feeling the impact of the blade, the blood he had shed dried on his chain mail. Merlin, on the other hand had come off worse, for now the injury was his to bear. He had a new respect for Arthur, having put up with such immense suffering for days. For even after mere minutes it seemed too much, burning like a thousand suns in his side. He had paled instantly, shivering in the cool morning air.
"Reverse it!" Arthur slammed a fist into the ground, scared and angry at Merlin's intolerance. As always, he had put his own life second, like he was nothing – but that was as far from the truth as the Earth is from the Sun. Merlin, the simple serving boy who worked hard, tried as best he could to create a better world, was worth a thousand men. But he would never truly know it: even as he lay dying, his only thought was relief that Arthur, whom he considered to be the most important man ever to live, the future of Albion, was alive and fighting. Fighting him, as usual, but fighting nonetheless. "I can't do that, Arthur. You will be well now, as it should be."
"You can't do this"
"I already have!" Merlin, despite the crack of pain it brought him, laughed. It was good to see his friend looking better: he had worried so much over the past few days about his deteriorating state. Many times he had felt the words of the spell spring to his lips, but waited, his faith in Arthur being able to make it to Avalon only fading when the light in the Kings eyes had started to dim. "I am happy – willing - to do this. You know that" Merlin wanted Arthur so desperately to understand, to see that as long as he was safe, all was well. Dying? That was just a slight hitch in the plan, for Arthur was standing, so there was hope. "You can't, Merlin. You can't die like this, please." Arthur had tears glazing shattered eyes, sitting in the dawn light grasping at his friends broken body. He didn't want to see Merlin die; he would rather the wound return to his own flesh and pass on to the other world himself. He would die sooner than see his friend perish for him. "This is not what I want."
"But it's what you have," Merlin said calmly, watching his oldest friends expression closely, "and I know that in doing this, Albion will live. It's not all for you, clot pole." It was a pathetic attempt at a joke, but the best they had. "I won't let you die for me!" Arthur roared, grabbing Merlin's shoulders. Tears flowed silently down Arthur's face as he felt the last shards of hope he clung to slip away, for he could see in the determined set of his draw and fierce fire in those deep blue eyes that Merlin's mind was made up. Arthur knew it would always end this way; that Merlin had made his choice a long time ago, and he was never going to lose him. Even if it meant his own death.
"I know you feel that way now," Merlin nodded, ever speaking in that slow tone of his, "but this is my choice and I am content in it."
"It's not your choice to make – it was my wound!"
"Listen to me Merlin."
"Oh, you know I'll never do that" Merlin carried on the same routine they always did, he joked and Arthur got annoyed. It was the dance they did. But the King was in no mood for jesting, growing more and more impatient at the boy's refusal to listen to him. Arthur hung his head, struggling with himself for a minute, but his attention was diverted when Merlin began coughing, choking out blood onto the grass by his head. The King twisted quickly, cradling the only true friend he had ever had in his arms. The Warlock was struggling to breathe now, his own eyes dampening as the realization that he would never again smell Camelot's air, or hug Gaius or even say goodbye to him ever again. It was dawning in his mind that he was about to die, here with Arthur in this forsaken place where the world seemed to end.
"There isn't much time," Arthur moved so he gently held Merlin's head against his chest, softly speaking "you must change this back now."
"You know I will not. I am tired of fighting, old friend. Let me save you one last time" It was all Merlin wanted; all he had ever wanted. With Morgana gone, peace would fall over the Kingdoms, so he was no longer needed to protect Camelot. It would have Arthur to do that, and to have Arthur, this was the only way.
"There is one final thing I must do" The warlock said.
It was a sight Arthur had never in his lifetime expected to see: the Great Dragon whom he had believed to be dead soaring towards them in a starlit night, the saving grace of the mightiest sorcerer, now fallen. Merlin still lay in his arms, both of their hands holding the wound in his side, praying this futile resistance would slow the blood flow for a while longer. The King had been surprised when Merlin had shouted a strange call in a language unknown to him, crying at the sky to provide an answer. The Warlock had refused to tell him what he had summoned, insisting it would be 'a surprise' with a secretive grin. Now, as what Arthur thought to be a heartless monster flew at them, he jumped to his feet, swiftly unsheathing his sword. King Arthur was ready to defend his friend who couldn't protect himself to his final breath. "Wait!" Merlin called to him, making Arthur pause and turn to the boy lying before him, "This is Kilgarrah, he is a friend. He will help us; there is no need to be afraid."
"I'm not afraid." Returning to crouch at his friend's side, trusting Merlin's words without hesitation, but with a small degree of discomfort remaining settled in his stomach, the King watched the beast's approach.
Landing gracefully before them, wings extended, it was clear to behold the disdain of the creatures face. "Young warlock," it breathed, "it seems you have chosen a grave path to tread." Merlin smiled sadly; glad at least to see his old mentor again,
"Kilgarrah, I don't believe you have ever met my friend, King Arthur." The boy nodded at his King, "Arthur, this is Kilgarrah, the Great Dragon. He has helped me over the years to achieve great things, and we owe him many thanks." Arthur, still intimidated, glanced cautiously up at the beast towering over them, aware that they were completely at its mercy. He bowed slightly, "If you have ever worked to help Camelot then I thank you." A throaty gurgle sounded from the Dragon, a gritty laugh so familiar to Merlin, but strange to Arthur's ears. "Hello young friend, it seems that destiny can be rewritten for few, for you standing before me now is a miracle beyond compare." Speaking in riddles and confusing half-truths as usual, the Dragon meant no harm by his words, but they still hit the King like a hurricane. "I am meant to be dead."
"Yes, that is true. But it seems that the great will be sealing your future yet again." At this, the Dragon, Kilgarrah, inclined his head at Merlin in a show of respect. "It takes a lot to change the course of destiny, young warlock. Many unexpected things may come of this: the world will change yet again. Are you sure this is the path you wish to take?"
Merlin's answer was instantaneous, "I am sure that this is what I want to do. I believe that this will change both of our destinies, but it may not be a bad thing. I still believe in Albion as you promised it to me, all those years ago." The Dragon and its master shared a smile at this, each reliving the times they had shared.
"I apologize for summoning you. I need one last favour, old friend" Merlin said.
"Anything, young warlock. You should know that by now."
Flying. He couldn't believe it. They were flying on the back of a Dragon in an endless sky. Arthur, struggling to find breath among such beauty, blinked tears of wonder from his eyes, never before having seen a sight as he did now. Avalon loomed ahead, rising from the water in a fog, like a castle in the sky. The Dragon bore them upon its broad back, providing safe and fast passage above many leagues of forest. Daring to hope his friend could be saved yet, Arthur willed them to go faster. Dawn was coming, and with it would come a new age.
They touched down gently; Arthur supporting his friend as they staggered towards the lake. Turning, Merlin faced the Great Dragon, who waited before them with misty eyes. "I will wait, Merlin. After all our time, I will wait beside you until the very end." The young boy's face creased into a smile at the Dragon's words, so small yet so expressive of his undying thanks, at this. The Dragon bowed, lowering his head. "Thank you" was all that needed to be said.
"How?" Arthur asked suddenly, frown creasing his mouth, "how did you call him?"
"I am the last Dragonlord." It was spoken with pride, for now in his final moments, Merlin allowed himself to be proud of his achievements. He may never ask for credit, but of his own actions and how they had helped Camelot, he was deeply proud to have been a part of building a better kingdom. "There is much I yet do not know" Arthur said quietly.
"Oh, I'm afraid there will be no time for that" Merlin admitted, still being held up by the King, "but know that I will always be proud of the Kingdom you've made. That I always believed in you, Arthur."
"Stop talking like that – there's still time!"
"Time enough for one more journey, I think." Merlin nodded, standing up straighter now, supporting his own weight, "But it is one I must take alone."
Arthur stepped back, pain flashing across his features. "What do you mean?"
"I came here not to be cured, but to join a very old friend." The Warlock's voice was softer now, eyes gazing out into the lake with rose tinted view, filled with love, "she's been waiting for me a long time."
"A girl, Merlin? You?" Despite the bad timing, the lack of humour in the situation, and the reality of what was to come, Arthur did the best he could to fake his condescending tone. Merlin laughed; they both did. They laughed together for the last time.
"Can I ask you to do four things for me?" Merlin asked, tearing his eyes from the lake and back towards his best friend. "Of course – anything at all" Arthur meant it. Anything, no matter how big or ridiculous, was too much. Merlin could ask for the stars and Arthur would devote his life to catching their light.
"Live well. Rule fairly. Let magic live on in this land." As Merlin spoke his requests, Arthur nodded at each one; they would be done. "What was the last one?" he asked after the Warlock had paused for quite some time. Merlin leaned on his friend for a second, an embrace similar to a hug, before pushing away, swaying, and then regaining his balance on his own two feet. Taking two steps towards the lake before turning, just as dawn broke behind him, Merlin smiled. A genuine smile: one full of hope that Arthur would live on to do great things, "Be happy."
That was his last request: that Arthur, after all the misery he had seen in his short life, could live happily. The words brought fresh tears to the Kings eyes, ones which he made no attempt to hide. He was losing a part of himself, for he had given it to Merlin long ago. "It doesn't have to end this way" he tried one last time to persuade Merlin to change his mind, to let him die instead, but it fell upon deaf ears. "This isn't goodbye," The Warlock said passionately, "so I will not say it. I have seen enough of the other world to know that the spirit goes on, and I will not leave you now. Maybe in body I'll be gone, but I will always be watching over you; I'll always be there in mind, and heart."
"But I will never see you again" Arthur sighed, stepping forwards, wanting to be beside Merlin again, to hold him. "No, not in this life, my friend. But I promise you that I will wait. I'll wait for you, Arthur. So live well and long so that when you join me, you'll have many stories to tell; I can't wait to hear them. I will wait for you." Merlin started retreating now, the shore ending beneath his feet, replaced by bitingly cold water lapping against his calves. "I'll look forward to it" Arthur lied, not wanting to have to wait to see his friend again. But it seemed he was stuck on the slow path.
Just as he swore to wait for Arthur, there was someone waiting for Merlin on the other side. She could see that he was close, so close; she rose from the mists to meet him. As he walked, Merlin saw a shape emerge, knowing it was her. "Freya." He started faster now, holding his side still but momentarily, his pain was relieved. She watched him come, feeling in her heart that it was towards her he marched, faster than ever before.
"Wait!" Arthur came splashing behind, wading into the lake so its waters soaked up to his waist. Merlin halted his last walk to peace. "I can't let you go just yet – not without saying that I'm sorry" The King explained, finally reaching his friend. Merlin looked shocked, Arthur – apologizing? It was unreal. But even more shocked he became when the King suddenly wrapped him in a hug, pulling him closer and holding him tightly. It was the most affection Arthur had ever openly shown to his friend. After a second, Merlin hugged him back fiercely. Time passed, and they leaned away.
"You don't need to apologize to me – not ever. I wouldn't have changed it for the world" Merlin said. "I know. Me neither. Although I would have made a happy ending" The King replied.
"This is a happy ending."
"I'm glad I met you, Merlin"
With this, the Warlock turned. He finished his journey alone, leaving his King in the waters, standing resolute. He raised his sword in respect for his friend, watching until Merlin had disappeared from view. Just before Merlin faded from him forever, Arthur could have sword he saw a second figure in the lake's mists, into whose arms his old friend ran, and they vanished together.
Merlin kept walking: away from Arthur, from Camelot, from life. But towards one whom he loved dearly, and had waited so long to see again. Finally, he saw her clearly before him; there she was in all her glory. His Freya, the Lady of the Lake. She met him in joy, so his passing was quick, he didn't even remember dying. It was a flash; a touch, a kiss, a light. Merlin smiled.
"Arthur!" The King heard his name echoing across the courtyard, but ignored it, not even pausing. It had been four days: days of walking through forests, valleys and hilltops. From Avalon to Camelot - away from Merlin. It was four days with nothing but regret; a million and one thoughts pulsing through his lonely head. Now the King had returned.
"My lord?" The voice was at his side, Leon. He knew the voice and its owner, hearing the concern laced through it, but pushed it away. He did not stop, not as he entered the drawbridge, not as his remaining knights greeted him in glee at his return, not even at Guinevere running through the streets and throwing her arms around his neck. He could not stop because when he did he started thinking again. It was only when he got to his own chambers, so familiar, so much like home that he stopped; so filled with memories that he found he could not go on. He collapsed onto the stone floor and remembered no more.
In waking from nightmares that proved painfully true, Arthur found that sleep had numbed the aching in his chest, which now hit him again in full effect. Gwen was perched at the end of his bed, but jumped forward, taking his hand, when he woke. "Arthur," she spoke his name tenderly, rubbing her thumbs over his hand, "what's happened? I was so worried."
"Merlin," was all he managed to croak out, coughing, "he's- dead." Admitting it was true was harder than Arthur had ever imagined, like a fresh wound inflicted. Mordred's sword may not have killed him, but the damage done was unfixable. Guinevere's kind face broke, crumbling into an expression of honest grief, tears flowing steadily and staining her cheeks. "Oh Arthur, I'm so sorry" she choked, overcome with an extreme sadness: Merlin, ever since he had first come to Camelot, had been a good friend. He had stood by her in some of her darkest times, and it broke her heart to hear of his downfall. "He gave his life for me" Arthur said tearfully, sitting up in bed. Gwen took him into her arms as he cried into his lap for a few minutes. "I'm not surprised," she admitted, "He always did so much to keep you safe."
"But I was dying, really dying. He had a choice between letting me go, and taking on my wound even though it would kill him. He chose to die for me, Gwen. How can I live with that?"
"He knew what he was doing; he did it for you."
"But he was the best friend I had and I have lost him. He was so important. . ." As Arthur shattered mid-sentence, Gwen shushed him. Now this truth was revealed, she knew only time would erase the pain left behind. Pushing her own remorse aside, she sat with her husband for hours in silence, waiting for time to do its work.
On the second day, Arthur rose from sleep to face the day. He was trying to follow Merlin's first request: 'Live well'. He visited his knights, who were pleased to see him. The gathering was brief, and their joy was short lived. The King delivered the grave news to the court; the knights mourned another friend. He spent some time with Gaius during the day, who was naturally a broken man. Merlin had been more than a son to him, so to go on without him was like going on without a lung: living half alive.
"Tell me about him" Arthur asked calmly after some time spent sitting.
"You already know Merlin, my lord" Gaius said slowly.
"But not as well as I thought, it seems" Arthur looked sad, regretful of things he could never thank his friend for, "for until a few days ago I thought he was just a servant, but now I know him not only to be a great sorcerer, but a Dragonlord." Allowing an expression of shock that Merlin had told another of his most protected secrets, Gaius began to speak. "Merlin was the son of Balinor and Hunith. He was the Last Dragonlord, now none on earth posses the gift. He was called Emrys among the druids. . ."
The conversation was long, lasting long into the evening, when shadows had fallen. Afterwards, Arthur felt freed. He felt he had been carrying some burden on his shoulders that had now been lifted. The pressure in his chest eased, he found he had been holding his breath through tales of adventure, bravery and nail-biting tense moments. Merlin's story was one never forgotten, but Arthur was shocked in hearing it for the first time. The heartbreak, the pain, the stress of destiny – how had one man carried it all?
Leaving Gaius' chambers, tired and bleary eyed but grateful at finally understanding all Merlin had done for him, Arthur knew what he had to do. He called the court forward in haste; they responded immediately, rushing with the tasks he set them, He didn't need to ask twice, all present were more than happy to oblige with his requests. He was ready.
King Arthur stood in the palace balcony, looking out across the kingdom at the gathered masses below him. The whole of Camelot had turned out. He was pleased. In the twilight, under a dark blue sky stretching above Camelot's glowing light, they waited for their King to speak.
"My friends," he started, "we are here today in the dawning of a new age, after a terrible war which has caused both great loss and great success. After all the suffering this kingdom has faced, we have peace at last." Arthur paused as the crowds cheered. "We have one man to thank for that-"
"Long live the King!" one rowdy man interrupted from below, and a cheer erupted, but Arthur held up a hand a silence fell once more. "No, it is not me. It is someone you all know, but someone we have not appreciated. They lived like a shadow among us; a silent protector. And he- he saved my life" faltering, but feeling Gwen squeeze his arm in comfort, the Once and Future King continued, but shakily. "This war brought about by Morgana has claimed many lives, destroyed many homes, broken down this land – but it is over. Morgana is dead" Silence. "Camelot may be broken – but it's still standing!" Arthur raised his sword high above his head, a tumult coming from below. He slowly felt a smile form upon his face, they were still standing. "The man we have to thank for that – who killed Morgana and defeated the Saxons – is Merlin." A stunned silence fell now; the people unsure whether this was a joke, or an overly emotional King trying to give undeserved credit to his fallen servant. So they said nothing. "Yes, we all know Merlin: the drunk from the tavern, messy; hopeless; clumsy servant to me. He saved us all" Arthur spoke proudly now. "He did. He wasn't just a servant – he was a sorcerer."
At this, a shocked murmuring passed through the crowd. The people couldn't believe it. Merlin – that idiot – a sorcerer? "He used magic inside Camelot for many years, protecting us all – every man and woman here owes him their lives. I know it is illegal, I know he had no reason to help me when I hunted his kind – but there lies my mistake. We spoke of people with magic as a 'kind' yet are we not all human? We bleed as one; we are the same. Magic is no more a choice than eye colour is. I – I was terribly wrong."
"Merlin was the sorcerer on the hill in that battle; anyone here will tell you how he turned it around, saving us all. For that, Camelot is indebted to him. It is said that our friend Merlin, or Emrys as he is known, is the greatest sorcerer ever to walk the Earth. I believe this to be true: I have seen it, and heard many things about it – but now is not the time to tell them."
Candles held by people below burned brightly, still holding out a flame for their friend. The Knights and Guinevere stood constant companions at Arthur's side; he needed them. Light held out against the darkness here.
"I was mortally wounded at Camlaan. I was to die by Mordred's hand if not for the brave actions of my dearest friend. He used his magic to protect me, as he always had. Merlin had a choice: he could let me die, or he would take on my wound. He took the second option, and I live now where he is gone. He died so that I could live. Merlin truly was the most loyal of all Camelot's subjects. He died-" Arthur's voice cracked, a solitary tear falling, "but he is not gone! While his memory remains in Camelot, he will still be with us."
"I gathered us here today to honour Merlin. A man-" A breath. "Of selfless heart, of cunning mind, of kind spirit. A good man. He was the best of men; if I ever live to be half as good a protector of this city, as good a man as he was, I will be proud." Arthur fell silent, unable to go on.
"To Sir Merlin of Camelot!" Sir Leon assumed the place as speaker, a chant soon picked up and echoed by the crowd. Across the realm, the words "Sir Merlin" could be heard in every corner. They never forgot him.
"This is for you, old friend" Arthur murmured at the distant stars, the echoes dancing around his ears. He could have sworn a star stone more brightly at that second, as if in answer. He joined the chant, "To Sir Merlin of Camelot."
Lonely days passed into years, and life in Camelot changed. It started with the druids; Arthur visited them a few weeks after the battle, staying in their care for a few months. He rode to their camp in the forest with only Leon and Percival, his two remaining friends - to make peace at last. They bore only their swords as they entered, throwing them aside in good faith upon entering the camp. The druid's were afraid at first, for the only thing men of Camelot had ever bought to their little settlement was death and fighting: but when they saw the knights lay down their arms, the leader of the druids lead his people forward into the light, welcoming the King as a guest. Arthur had apologized, with meaning, for all the suffering that he had bought them; they forgave him, for it was in their nature.
They stayed a long time in talks with the leader, asking for a peace at last. It was granted willingly. All the time they spoke, Arthur had a question burning at the back of his throat but held back, intent on clearing the air between the people, and changing the future of his kingdom before he asked. They agreed that much had occurred, but all things pass; holding onto the hostility would just prevent a new world, where they could live freely, from being created. Arthur promised that the druids would be welcome in Camelot from this point on, free to live and work as they chose. Then came the main question of the Druid leader "And our magic? Will we be free to use it as we see fit?" It was a question long asked by the druid people 'when will we be free?' Before, the answer had been unsure, so it became best not to ask among them. Now King Arthur's answer was easy. "Yes, I am lifting the ban on magic. I fear that it was my greatest mistake not to do so when I first became King, and I am sorry." The Druid leader looked at him with eyes both happy and sad, but knowledge resided there. "You do this for somebody important" he remarked, more a statement than a question.
"I promised a friend to bring about the world he dreamed of." A smile, "I believe you knew him." Arthur's eyes swam, for it was of Merlin he ached to ask, to hear of his friend through the druids eyes. "Emrys?" The leader asked, knowing the answer.
"That is the name you knew him by. To us," Arthur waved a gloved hand at himself and his knights; "he was Merlin." The Druid leader nodded, but it was the dark haired woman sat beside him who spoke, "the boy, he promised us that one day you would change the world. But few dared to believe him. Since the dawn of time, our people have told of Emrys, who would deliver Camelot to greatness and magic." She spoke softly, and around her the druids nodded in agreement. "What has become of him?" the leader asked.
"Merlin . . . he died. At the battle of Camlaan I was mortally wounded; he took on my hurt and perished." Even now, a few weeks since that night, Arthur's voice was instantly grief-stricken as he talked about his friend who he missed with all his heart. "I am sorry to hear it. He was a good man" said the druid woman, reaching over the campfire to place a hand on the King's arm. "The best" the King met her eyes, sharing, for the first time, the pain of the Druids. It was through this shared mourning, and hope in the Albion Merlin cherished so deeply, that the foundations of peace were built.
Two short years later; Camelot was a changed place. The Druids had settled in a village just outside the Citadel, houses Arthur had built for them, creating a place for them in the kingdom. They still lived separately, as many of their ways were strange and private, but they were slowly becoming more integrated, living in Camelot's main town. The people of Camelot had accepted them, for Merlin, and soon become accustomed to their ways, even interested in them. The tide had come in and washed away the past and peace fell in all the land. There was a court sorcerer, the Druid leader's son, Bradley, who worked and lived in the castle; once again King Arthur had a sorcerer as his right hand man. Magic was back inside Camelot, being used, as Merlin had often promised, for good: healing all ills, saving the Kingdom when it was threatened, working hand in hand with man. Albion stood mighty; at last the fated place of hope nurtured by Merlin's sacrifice in both life and death. The King, who walked slower than before and spent more time alone, was proud - he had fulfilled the first three requests. The fourth, to be happy, he was still working on.
Four years down the line and the King was strolling through Camelot at night, alone as usual, when Gaius died. The elderly physician had been struggling for years against illness and age, finally passing in sleep that night. The King was informed immediately. Gwen, who had sat with the old man in his final days, found him in the lower town. She cried, and he held her shaking form tenderly. The next day she travelled to Avalon, setting Gaius out by boat across the waters to join his son, for Gaius had asked Guinevere to make sure that in death, he could join Merlin. The Knights all came but the King stayed in Camelot, unable to return to that place. He wanted to, and mourned the physicians death as much as the others, but every time he thought of Avalon; what had happened there, the empty feeling of something missing, something so important, returned to his chest. Every breath was a challenge for some time, but as the seasons changed from green to orange to green again, he feeling was numbed. It never left him, not to the day he died, and he carried it with him always, but it was dormant somehow; it could be ignored if not provoked.
So that became the King's life; a circle of loss bringing back old pain, reopening old wounds, mixed in with a pride as the Kingdom flourished. It grew, strengthened; eventually it stopped changing, having already become all they ever wanted. It was peaceful, and Arthur, true to his word, ruled fairly. The Druids leader had a place on the council; they lived not in fear, but in hope and happiness, as Merlin had promised they one day would. All in the land were safe, the peace lasting long, bringing with it light to cast away any remaining shadows. Arthur ruled for nearly seventy years in this way, with good friends to help him; four things to complete. Eventually, he died peacefully in Guinevere's arms. He was lying in his bed as it happened, being taken only by age, naturally. "My love, do not leave me now" The Queen had begged, clasping his hand so tightly it hurt. He had reached up to stroke the tears from her face, still so kind despite its lines from age, smiling softly. "I am sorry, but I think it is my time. Do not worry, I won't be alone. He had been waiting long enough." Guinevere, never bitter, had smiled. "Give him my love."
But I never promised you
Promised you, promised you, promised you, promised you.
The light was blinding, so Arthur lifted a hand to shield his eyes. He found himself to be as he once was, young again; so full of life despite being dead. But he was content, waiting now only to hear the voice only inside his mind now. It did not disappoint him.
"It had been a long time, old friend."
The King turned to face the man whose face existed only in his memory. There, standing before him, was his Merlin.
"It has, now we need never part again." The boy smiled at him, unchanged by the time that had passed. Together, Arthur and Merlin walked side by side into the light ahead.