A/N Please accept my most sincere thanks to all of you who have read, followed and favorited my story. Special thanks to all of you who made my day by reviewing! I feel thrilled and inspired to keep improving my writing.
This last bit of epilogue did not really fit into the framework of the poem, but it closed the story well. I hope you will enjoy!
Gawaine shoved a log into the fire with the ease of long experience. He poked at the fire, banking the embers and ensuring a few more hours of steady warmth. Usually Merlin did this, he realized. The boy had a knack for it, that was for sure. No, he didn't really want to think about that right now, he told himself.
Those thoughts led him to the still figure of his friend, who now lay propped up of blankets, lightly dosed with a pain drought. It had taken a long anxious time for Gaius to tend to Merlin's wounds, and to ease his breathing. When at last, the old physician could spare a moment to explain Merlin's condition, he had told Arthur and Gawaine, that relieving Merlin's pain was a delicate decision. A strong dose of opiate would have relieved Merlin's agony, but would have depressed his breathing. The old man had said Merlin was so fragile, he might not be able to keep breathing on his own. But the pain could kill him just as easily. Gawaine did not want to remember the dark shadow that arose in the old man's eyes as he spoke with them. Nor did he want to remember the same shadow dim Arthur's hopeful , it was a light dose only and Merlin suffered.
Gawaine hated that it all made perfect sense to him, because Merlin was moaning, periodically. It was his soft unconscious attempt to bite back the sound with a faint gasp, that was eating away at Gawaine's heart. It was better than the alternative , he thought. When he couldn't hear Merlin's faint moans, he panicked every time. Either way it was going to be a long night. Even Gaius had finally nodded off in exhaustion.
Arthur lay not far away from his manservant, also well propped on blankets and more deeply asleep than Merlin. He looked pale and drawn, his blond hair completely tangled and filthy. His injuries were less. With rest and Gaius' care, he would be well soon. At least that is what the physician had promised. But Merlin.
Gawaine had to look away. Merlin. He let the tears fill his eyes; no one was near to watch. To a seasoned warrior , the sleep of recovery looked different than the slow decline into death. Merlin hovered on the edge and he didn't need Gaius to tell him. He knew.
He sidled over to where Merlin lay. He gently touseled the servants dark hair, thinking how his friend would send him an irate glare if he had been aware. He took Merlin's hand just as he had earlier. His heart compelled him to sit silently, sending his own vital strength into his friend. He would have faced a dozen crazed immortal swordsmen than have Merlin suffer the torture that had brought him to this state. His strength might bring Merlin through the night. He had to believe it.
Merlin stirred suddenly, calling out Arthur's name, but he was so weak, Gawaine would not have seen or heard a thing if he had not been right next to him. His breath escaped in little puffs of pain. He was becoming more agitated now, turning his head from side to side.
Gawaine slid his arm, under Merlin carefully, lifting his head slightly to pour a bit of water in his mouth, hoping it might relieve him a bit. But it didn't work. Gawaine lowered him carefully back to his blankets, as his friend continued to writhe and move, as if his pain was unbearable or as if he was trapped in a nightmare. Maybe both.. He was breathing too hard.
"Shh, Merlin. It's ok. You're safe now," he soothed, hoping his friend might register the message through the veil of his unconsciousness. "I'm here with you mate," he whispered. But he knew what Merlin really needed to hear. He bent low to his ear.
"Arthur's safe, Merlin. You did it. You brought him home." It was like a miracle to Gawaine's eyes and this time he did not feel ashamed of his tears. An expression of peace spread slowly over Merlin's face, he even smiled faintly. His breathing eased. Gently, the knight wiped traces of blood from Merlin's face with a cool cloth. Gawaine's heart was breaking.
He could not forget what he had seen. As hard as he tried, he would never be able to forget what he had seen. He closed his eyes in pain. As Merlin layhopelessly in Arthur's embrace, his body trembling as he died, Arthur had been agonized, distraught and unhinged with despair. Arthur's cry of grief would fade only slowly from the knight's memory. The king had not seen or understood anything but his grief in that terrible moment.
So only Gawaine had seen the blue fire that had flared from between the servant and the king. The light had been brilliant but soft. Alive with power, it sang with magic. It had connected both Arthur and Merlin, bringing Merlin back from the edge of death. The radiance of that moment, played out again in his mind. The wonder. The shocking knowledge. The tragedy. The secret.
Gawaine understood the secret. He had seen powerful magic before. Magic swirled around Camelot, like a dragon shadow of irony, mocking the Pendragons at every turn. And Merlin had powerful magic. He understood many things. And Gawaine was equally sure, that as time passed, as he had the chance to stare into many fires, with many flagons of ale, he would understand many more of the curious happenings around Camelot.
But then, he thought, could he bear to know the truth? The burden Merlin carried was so large that it staggered Gawaine's imagination.
It was best to act now he decided. Best to act, while his heart was sure and the details of daily life hadn't yet gotten in the way of what was right. That was the way of inspiration. Gawaine saw only one path open to him.
He took out his sword and laid the sweat stained leather pommel into Merlin's outstretched hand. Strangely enough, it looked like it belonged there. He covered his friend's limp hand with his own, with the sword between them. It warmed to their embrace.
" I swear to be your man, Merlin, in life and beyond life if I can. None will know your secret. I will protect and defend you as if you were my liege, whether you want me to or not. Your life will come before mine. I ask no reward but to serve you. So do I swear before all powers."
The stars and his sword were witness and the knight was satisfied. Merlin need never know, but Gawaine's promise burned faithfully. It sang in every drop of his blood.