Red Sun Dawning
Disclaimer: I cannot lay claim to the world in which this is set or the characters whom I use. However, I have enjoyed my time playing in their sandbox.
Summary: Tag to 5x13. In the dawning of a new day, those who remain gather to bid a brother farewell.
Though it was late, the night was not still in Camelot. As Leon dismounted from his horse, crossing the courtyard, he had to dodge many of his soldiers, helping carry the wounded and the dead. The occasional scream punctured the air; the hair on the back of the Knight Commander's neck rose at a particularly drawn-out wail.
In the years to come, the bards would no doubt call the battle at Camlann a great victory. Considering the battle only in the strategic sense, this might be true, Leon mused. However, those bards had not witnessed the slaughter, had not watched so many men still dying from their wounds, had not heard the cries of the bereaved.
They had not spent so many hours searching for the lost, hope fading with every passing hour.
His clothes were still coated in mud and leaves; he left a dripping trail through the castle as he navigated its twists and turns, passing his own chambers with only a little hesitation.
It took no time at all before the door to the royal chambers stood before him. Despite the lateness of the hour, Leon did not pause before knocking; he did not doubt that the Queen would still be awake.
Hearing her voice beckoning, he pushed the door open, striding into the room and falling to one knee beside his Queen's chair. He only caught a glimpse of her face before bowing his head, but it was enough to read the exhaustion in the dark lines beneath her eyes, and the worry in the small frown.
"I am sorry, my lady," the Knight said, voice thick. "There is still no sign of them."
With no response forthcoming, Leon continued, unable to hide the hopeless desperation. "I swear we have searched every glade, every village, I simply cannot believe no one has seen them-"
The Queen raised a hand, cutting him off. "Enough, Leon. I understand."
There was a rustle of fabric, a light touch on his shoulder. Given permission, if not absolution, the Knight stood with his Queen. He was tired, so very tired, but he could not rest. He could not let himself stop, let himself think. If he kept moving, he could keep the grief at bay for just a little longer, maybe forever.
"We cannot wait any longer," the Queen said, fingers clutching something he could not see. "Percival has made the preparations. Come, let us go to him."
Leon moved to the door, ready to open it for his Queen. As he felt the cold metal of the doorknob upon his palm, he paused, turning back to the Queen.
"My lady…" he swallowed hard. "You never expected us to find them, did you?"
A shadow passed over her eyes. For a moment, just a moment, Leon could see Guinevere, grieving and angry and oh so very fragile. He held her gaze, hoping that she could draw on his strength, anything to prevent her anguish. For Guinevere, he would give all that he was, and do so gladly.
But time continued, as it always would; the calm slid back over her face, hiding her inner self from the world. He wished that it had never been necessary for her to learn such a skill.
"No, Leon," the Queen said. "You're not going to find Arthur."
Please, let it be just a passing fancy. Let it be the dark of the battle obscuring hope. Let it be anything but the intuition that his heart was already beginning to accept as true.
He would find Arthur. For Guinevere's happiness, he had to.
"But Merlin… I had hoped that you would find him. He would want to be here for this."
Leon had not seen the gangly manservant since before they had ridden out for Camlann. For once, the man had not been at Arthur's side during the battle.
Maybe that was why they had not yet found the King. Merlin was possessed of an unusual amount of luck; when he was around, all the knights felt that the outcome of their endeavours would be a little more certain.
Without Merlin at Arthur's side, they all felt a little lost.
The Queen smiled at him, a small thing that looked out of place in the suffering of the past days. "Come, Leon," she said gently. "The sun will rise soon."
They gathered in one of the small courtyards, the torches still needed to buoy the light of the dawn. There were no grieving crowds, not this time. For all his antics, Gwaine was an intensely private person; they would honour their brother by letting him pass in only the company of those whom he cared about most.
Percival was waiting for them, his face pale and drawn. The Queen brushed a hand over his as she moved besides the pyre, eyes flickering to the shadows. Leon glanced in that direction, and could just make out the familiar outline of the physician Gaius.
Turning back to Percival, Leon gripped his fellow knight on the shoulder. They were the last of the original Knights of the Round Table; already, they had farewelled two of their brothers. Now, they said goodbye to a third brother, one they had never expected to fall. Gwaine had been such a vibrant personality, such a keen swordsman, that Leon had half expected him to outlive them all.
Yet here they were, standing incomplete around a pyre as the sun began to rise.
Percival returned the gesture; the other man's fingers were bruising, even through his armour, but Leon didn't mind. What was a little physical pain, comparing to the wrenching heartache? If it would help ease a brother, then Leon could take it and far more.
As one, they turned to the pyre, taking up position around it. Gaius stepped forward from the shadows, the his face flickering in the torchlight. There were gaps in the circle they formed, gaps labelled Arthur and Merlin and Elyan and Lancelot. Every man that was not there only added to their pain.
For a while, they stood in silence. Leon found himself staring at the fallen knight's face - Gwaine's face. He studied every crinkle, every whisker, trying to burn his features upon his memory. He didn't want to forget, even as he failed to remember what colour Lancelot's eyes were.
Finally, the Queen spoke. "Sir Gwaine was one of the finest knights Camelot has ever known," she said. "More than that, he was a good friend. His loss will be felt keenly."
Will be felt? What about how they already felt? Their grief had started long ago; one only had to look at Percival's red-rimmed eyes to see the evidence.
And it wasn't sorrow that was making his own shoulders tremble. Just exhaustion.
She turned to him, now. "Sir Leon, if you will?"
Leon pulled himself together, giving a sharp nod. "As you wish, your majesty," the Knight Commander said, turning to take a torch from the wall.
At the sound of a familiar voice, Leon spun around, hand jerking away from the torch. Flames were springing to life on the pyre, though none of them had provided the spark that lit it.
Magic, whispered a small voice in the back of his mind. Leon swallowed hard; fear was already forming a knot in the back of his throat. Magic meant death, destruction; brothers falling, and not getting up again.
As the knight's hand began to move towards the hilt of his sword, another man stepped into the light provided by the burning pyre. Though the newcomer did not greet them, Leon knew him instantly. The brown jacket and tousled black hair were a comforting sight. Already, the fist around his heart was easing, just a little bit.
Then Leon saw the man's eyes, and the tension instantly returned. He saw clear as day the manservant's eyes fade from gold to blue.
The knights stared at him, transfixed with both relief and horror. However, the dark-haired man's eyes remained fixed on the flames.
"Of all the men in the world, Gwaine was one of the few who truly trusted me, who called me friend," Merlin said eventually. "I wish that I had told him just how much that meant to me before it was too late."
They stood in silence, waiting as the fire began to die. The sun was beginning to bathe the courtyard in light; its glow stained the white stone red, like blood.
Percival was crying again; Gaius was fleeing the light, stepping further back into the shadows. The Queen's calm composure was failing her; she was biting her bottom lip hard, suppressing the tears Leon knew she wanted to cry.
Through it all, Merlin stood perfectly still, a statue by the pyre. His expression was detached, his eyes blank. Were it not for the subtle rise and fall of his chest, Leon would not have believed the man alive at all.
Leon dared not disturb him. What would happen, if that composure were to break? Once, Leon would have scoffed at the idea of Merlin hurting so much as a fly. Now, Merlin felt otherworldly, inhuman. For the first time in the decade they had known him, they could see past the goofy smile to the power that pulsed beneath the skin, the magic running through the warlock's veins.
No, it seemed that Leon had not known Merlin at all. For that reason, he let the question that predominated his thoughts die unvoiced.
Where is Arthur?
Without Arthur, Merlin stood apart from the rest of them, untethered to the mortal world. Merlin without Arthur was a broken world, so many shades of wrong.
Guinevere had warned him before, and he had not wanted to believed her. But seeing Merlin now, cold and still and so very alone, dread was tightening around his heart. No, no, no, chanted the voice in the back of his head.
Finally, Merlin turned away from the pyre. There was nothing left of Sir Gwaine of Camelot; the flames had burned hot and true, claiming the empty husk for ash.
Merlin let his eyes sweep across the survivors. As the blue eyes met Leon's, the knight shuddered. There was pain there; pain and loneliness and a grief so great that the world was too small to hold it.
The man's gaze reached the Queen, and stopped. They stood still, staring at one another in mutual understanding. They were two halves, both lacking what made them whole.
"The King is dead," Merlin rasped. "Long live the Queen."
Leon drew in one shaky breath, then another. He could just here a stifled sob from Percival's direction.
The Queen held his gaze, unfaltering in the face of a truth that cut deeper than any blade. She truly had been expecting it, Leon realised; she had known it in a way the rest of them could not comprehend. While the Knights had clung to false hope, the Queen had rallied her strength to weather this blow.
"You're not staying," she said; another irrefutable fact. Merlin's mouth tightened, before he lowered his head to her. It was a bow of equals, of understanding rather than the expected servitude. For all the man's lowly status, he held himself as a peer to royalty.
It should have enraged Leon, to see a servant so blatantly disrespect his Queen. Instead, it felt right, a mark of respect more powerful than any display of servitude.
"No," Merlin responded, blue eyes glittering. "I may return, some day, but not now. Not yet."
Not while Arthur's ghost still walked every hall, every battlement. Leon would be able to forget for just a little while by throwing himself into the protection of this city, but there would be no peace for Merlin, not here. Maybe not anywhere.
In a way, Leon was grateful that there was no one bound to him, as Merlin had been bound to Arthur. The King's death hurt; he would mourn, but life would continue. It wouldn't break him, not as it had already broken Merlin.
The sorcerer turned to face them again, letting his eyes meet theirs one last time. Unexpectedly, his mouth twitched into a smile; though small, it lit up his face. At last, Leon could truly see the friend that he had known and the warlock that stood before them, one and the same.
"Thank you, my friends," Merlin said. For a moment, Leon could have sworn he heard a second voice overlaying the first. He gave himself a swift mental kick; it would not do for the Knight's Commander to hallucinate.
"I wish you well."
The King's manservant stepped back, fading into the flames; gone as if he had never been there in the first place.
The four that remained stood in vigil around the dying pyre, with only the rays of the dawning red sun to light the way.
It was a new day.
A/N: This piece was written as an idea of how the initial fallout of Camlann might affect those who remained. It was rather difficult to write the emotional turmoil from a single point of view. It turned out far more fanciful than I intended; it seems that Leon proved to be more introspective than I originally anticipated.
The work is un-beta'd; all feedback is much appreciated.