The king was dead.
Shock was still ringing in the ears of those who had learned. Gwen had taken her place upon the throne, head held high. Even now, standing alone in her chambers overlooking the courtyard, her head was high. She refused to let the tears fall now. She refused to allow her grief to overcome her.
And a good friend had yet to come home.
When he did, it was up to her to make certain he was safe. There would be those who would wish to undermine the now proven sorcerer. And Gwen wasn't going to have that. Not for someone who had given so much of himself for so many with no rewards of his own. One hand landed on her stomach and Gwen leaned against the window, wishing silently that the one person who would understand the depth of her pain would ride through those gates. She wished for that only less than one other thing, and that was for her beloved to ride home.
It was never going to happen again. Her last night with him had truly been the last one. Gwen felt the overwhelming tightness in her chest forming again, and she wrapped her arms around herself fully, as if that alone could hold her together. No noise came from her lips as her face contorted with agony. No tears came as she squeezed her eyes shut.
She didn't hear the door open, or the knight enter her chambers. "My queen," came the quiet sound of a man she had come to trust. Gwen turned to face Sir Leon fully, arms still around herself, but face relaxed once more. With a small nod of her head, she gestured for him to go on. "The search has come up with good news. Merlin has been found. They are bringing him home."
A forced deep breath and nod had Leon giving Gwen an almost hesitant bow before he turned and left. Gwen shut her eyes tightly after the door was closed. She did need her friend. And Merlin was more than that. He was as close to her as her brother had been. Closer in some aspects. He deserved so much more than he had, and she wanted to be certain that he received it.
There would come a time when she could ask Merlin about Arthur's last moments. But not for a long while. Not until she was stable enough to ask such a question. Gathering herself, she gave one last look out the window before she headed towards the door so she could go give Gaius the good news.
Sitting astride the horse, Galahad on one side, Percival on the other, the big knight's arm reaching out every now and then to keep Merlin steady, the sorcerer knew he needed to pull himself together before they got back to Camelot. Galahad, one of the younger knights, kept giving him strange looks, as if he was uncertain they were doing the right thing by bringing Merlin back to Camelot.
Even Merlin was not certain of that. He looked behind him, back towards where the lake was, where Arthur now rested and waited for the time that Albion needed him again. There was no reason for him to be traveling forward when he was needed back there. The horses quickened their stride and Merlin jolted, lack of sleep and hunger causing him to nearly tilt out of the saddle, but Percival was right there, big hands keeping the small man in place.
"Leon was already sent ahead," Galahad said absently. "Are we in any hurry to get back?"
The look Percival shot past Merlin was almost as if he wished he could knock the young knight from his own saddle. "Merlin is weak and injured, we need to get him back." There was a deep mask of grief in the big man's voice. Merlin had to let out a shaky breath as he remembered that Arthur hadn't been the only loss. Gwaine gave his life to protect Arthur as well. That breath ended on a cough, causing Merlin to double over in his saddle.
"Enough of this," Percival said before he bodily drug Merlin from his saddle, tossing the reigns to Galahad as he draped the sorcerer across the front of his own horse. "We will meet you there." Merlin felt the horses powerful legs kick into a full run and he swallowed against the sensation, just hanging there until all sensation was gone.
Wherever he was, it was much too cold. He could feel it seeping into his bones. Without opening his eyes, he rolled slightly, feeling around for his blanket. Why Merlin let his fire die down so far was beyond him. Merlin was a sorcerer, after all, he could just start one. Merlin...was a sorcerer...
Arthur's eyes flew open and he sat up quickly enough to startle the creature that was leaning over him. His hand went automatically to where he usually kept his sword, but realized that there was nothing there. The white, winged beast crooned at him for a moment before Arthur started hearing words. A soft, young, feminine voice, almost seeming to plant itself directly into his mind.
"Once and future king, you are here to rest, to heal, to wait. Until you are once again needed."
Arthur shook his head. "Merlin, where is he?"
"The dragon lord and sorcerer is in the land of the living, awaiting your return. He knows his fate and yours are still irrevocably tied together."
He was dead. And Merlin lived. Arthur was both happy that his best friend was still alive and devastated that he could not be there, be home, with Gwen, with his knights. He looked at the dragon, for that was all this creature could be, and let out a small sigh.
"And how long until I am needed again?"
"Only the world of men can decide that."
"Then I wait."