Frozen winters flowed into molten summers, sometimes a dozen times in one day, sometimes more. Merlin gave no time to counting; the number of changes didn’t matter, only the fact of each, the way it felt to tear away a future Morgana had writ and to burn the page.
Gwen came to him, there on the hill, with her hands chapped and blistered and crystalline ashes clinging to her hair. She was burnt, or she was frozen; the crunch under her feet was charred cinder, or crisp snow. “When the city burns, we take to the river,” she said. “When the river freezes, we freeze with it.”
Rivers should move forward, forward until they reach the sea. Merlin wanted the river to flow. He told Gwen that, or something like it, and it came out in the language of a spell.
She stood strong. She was good at it. She lifted her hand to his, pressed her palm to his raised palm, and slipped her fingers into the places between his, where the magic flowed. “Crops can’t grow in a field of ashes,” Gwen said, gently.
Peasant fingers and peasant hands. Merlin didn’t need reminding - he’d turned his years of soil - except that sometimes, he did.
Gwen always granted him what he needed.
It was an honour to inspire a great poet - even if, as Gwen insisted on pointing out, the honour in this case was dubious at best - and both Merlin and Morgana wanted to count Robert Frost exclusively in their corner.
There was a particular lecture room at Cambridge they’d grown fond of in the last fifty or so years, and they retired there for discussions such as these. Between oak-panelled walls, whispered remnants of brilliant thoughts and desperate one-upmanships layered the air like dust. Merlin would perch upon a massive cherrywood desk, while Morgana made herself comfortable in a chair before the fire, and they would read, discuss, debate.
They always had time for words.
It was of no interest to them whether undergraduates were present or not. There were times when they were, and times when they were not. Merlin and Morgana read Tennyson aloud, to each other and sometimes to a (literally) spellbound audience, keeping track of how many verses each had to their credit, scratching tally marks on paper with dripping black ink.
Merlin could claim more, it was true, but he would never have made it to the end of the Idylls without Morgana. When his voice was too thick for reading and his eyes too hot, too tight, she would carry the story forward until he could pick it up again.
When the world found an end, it needed neither fire nor ice. There was magic, grand, silly magic, but the night before all that, there was a bed in a high tower, in a room meant for royalty long, long ago. There were moth-eaten red draperies, preserved beyond time’s telling, and pillows that held no scent now but that of musty linen, but would never be thrown away.
There was Merlin, on the edge of sleep, and Morgana slipping in behind him. Her hands fit beneath Merlin’s, and he pulled them to his chest, keeping them warm. She pressed her forehead to the nape of his neck, and dreamed of a different tomorrow.