Merlin had been born in the sultry summer: a red, wet little thing, looking at her with unblinking blue eyes, unnaturally quiet.
The midwife, a large woman with hands that had seen years of hard work, clucked at him and smiled at Hunith.
“Special,” she said.
“Yes,” Hunith replied, staring at her baby, drawing a finger down his tiny chin.
She didn’t find out just how special her little boy was until he turned three.
When she sent him to Camelot, there had been such fear in her heart. Fear of discovery, the thought of her son burnt at the stake heavy like stone. It had not been an easy decision, but it was time to let him fly from the nest, to make his way in the world.
Having a friend like Prince Arthur was the best thing she could have wished for him.
A good man, and a good prince. A good friend, who would protect as he was protected, even if he did not know of Merlin’s true nature.
She hoped that Merlin would find the courage to tell him. Someday, perhaps far in the future.
His letters were few and far between, but treasured and read so many times the parchment wore creases.
To a mother, a child will always be a child. Cherished to her bosom, with a fierce want to protect them from all harms and hurts that the world would inflict.
It is in their natures. It is why a bear would protect her cubs to the death.
There is a hurting anger to be so helpless in the face of such deep pain, to be unable to take it on like one would a marauding rogue, with sticks and spears.
“I couldn’t prevent it,” he whispers.
“I’m so sorry,” she says.
She can only hold her son as he speaks. Grief, she understands. Love.
“Go back to sleep,” she says. “We can talk about it in the morning.”
Later, much later, when all is said and done, Hunith lies down to rest for the last time.
Please be happy, she thinks.
“Hey! Got some good samples over here.”
Hunith turns around. She smiles, holding a hand against her forehead to shade her eyes from the fading sun.
There’s been a sort of pulling feeling within her all day, like she’s on the verge of discovering something. What it is, she doesn’t know, except that it’s near—a vague yearning that has been there all her life.
Even though they’re tromping through the marshy soil of Avalon in rubber boots in the evening, with nobody around as far as she can see, that’s okay. She’s always believed in the stories they tell about the lake—that it’s a bit magic, left over from centuries before. Looking at the water, it certainly feels like it; the surface twinkles calmly, mysterious beneath its blue-green depths.
Hunith follows close to the edge of the water.
“Iggy, we haven’t—”
She doesn’t notice the lone figure sitting so close to the shore until she nearly stumbles upon him.
Strangely enough, he seems to be watching over the water. Like a guardian.
That feeling pulls hard at her soul with a sudden tug, leaving her gasping for breath.
She starts to cry, like everything had been stopped up like a great dam and has only just burst free.
“I was waiting to come back,” she says, eyes blurred, warring with the barrage of memories.
He turns and looks nothing like her son. An old man withered from age, with eyes that have seen too much.
They’re ages apart.
Here, in this world, she’s just a university student. If she’d felt helpless then, it’s nothing compared to now.
“Hunith,” he says. His voice is raspy. “Why—”
She steps forward and pulls him into a bear hug, all five feet of her, clinging, wanting to protect him just like the first time.
“—Mum,” Merlin says. His voice feels sweet, this close to her ears.
“Have you been waiting for him?” she whispers, “All this while?”
He remains silent, and then puts his arms around her.
Another hand comes to rest on the small of her back—she’d forgotten about Iggy.
“You’re—” Merlin says, startled.
“I’m here for Hunith,” Ygraine says. Her voice is firm and kindly, as if it isn’t strange that Hunith’s hugging a stranger she’s just met. But Iggy has always had a good head on her shoulders. Hunith loves that about her.
In her arms, Merlin changes. In an instant, he looks like he had always been.
And this time, just like the last, she will be here.
Whatever is to come—they’d be alright.