I happened so quickly, still now, months later, they hadn’t managed to accept it. The letter came, Arthur had read it, and re-read it, then read it again, trying to wrap his mind around what had happened. He had known so many people in Ealdor; he had helped them, saved them. He couldn’t understand how they could be gone. A fire, a vengeful attack, and before anyone in Camelot knew what was happening, Ealdor, and its entirety of people were gone. The worst bit was telling Merlin. They didn’t even have his mother’s body. She, along with the rest who had been in their homes at the time, had been stabbed and burned with her home and belongings. Merlin had known something was wrong the moment he walked in. Arthur sat him down, and let him read the letter. They both sat in silence for a while, before the servant dropped the paper and walked out of the room.
And that was it. That was all Merlin had really done emotion-wise. He was more solemn than usual, but that was as far as he went. Gwen had showed more feeling towards the loss of Hunith than Merlin had. And that bothered them. All of them. The Ladies, the servants, and more importantly, the knights. They stopped feeling sorry for him, and felt a strange sort of resentment.
But on a day, months from day of the letter, Merlin disappeared. If Gwaine hadn’t been looking for him, he probably wouldn’t have noticed. No one else did, because no one else cared. Gwaine wanted to leave it be, but he did need Merlin, and with nothing else to do, he set out in search of him. The castle was large and full of eyes, but none that the knight spoke to had seen the Arthur’s servant.
Aggravated, Gwaine tried to think. Where did Merlin go when he wasn’t working? What did he like to do with his spare time? Where were his favourite places or people? Funny enough, he didn’t know. Funnier, he started a peculiar attempt at trying to think of anything about Merlin. He knew his eyes were blue, and that he had lived in Ealdor, and that his father had died shortly after their first meeting, but that was really all he knew. Merlin was always talking, but when it came down to it, he never said anything at all.
Thinking was better done in a quiet place, and Gwaine needed to think. And this thinking led him deeper into the forest than he had predicted he would go. It was a sudden noise that pulled him from his deep subconscious. A loud pounding and shout were coming from near the lake. Drawing his sword, the armed knight made his approach, silent as secrets, to his unnamed foe.
But it wasn’t an enemy making a vicious attack on an innocent victim. It was Merlin making a merciless attack on tree. He kicked it repeatedly, before pulling one of the lower branches off and throwing it as far as he could into the water. Gwaine watch him continue throwing a variety of things into the lake before Merlin wiped his running nose and puffy, tear stained eyes, and collapsed into a sobbing heap by the waterside.
It took a moment, maybe two, before Gwaine started to understand what he was watching. He was watching Merlin’s emotions in there purest form. Merlin had seen some terrible things. He was the only one to see Lancelot die, the last man standing when the Great Dragon fell, the man who’d lost his home, and last family. He had seen people die, suffered terrible wounds, fought horrifying battles. Somewhere along the path he was following them all down, he’d lost pieces of himself. He’d replaced those empty spots with other things, but they would never fit right.
Yet there he stood, every day with that stupid grin on his face and wit on his lips. Being who he had to be. Gwaine always thought that Merlin was the weaker of their group, the runt of the litter. It had never occurred to him that Merlin was their strength, not the other way around. He stood there, tall and proud, unbroken when they witnessed him. But when they looked away, when they turned aside, this was what was left. A broken boy put back together with the wrong pieces.
He could have left Merlin to fall apart where he was, or told him how ‘It will get better’. But even Gwaine knew that Merlin had lost too many people to believe any of that. It never gets better, not matter how long you survive, there is no better. So instead of scolding him, or trying to give him words of condolence, Gwaine sat down next to Merlin, pulled him closer, and let him cry.
It might have been hours before Merlin started muttering.
“I should have been there… I could have helped… The world is no better for them being gone... Why did they have to kill so many people…? They’re gone... Will, Freya, Dad, Lance, Mum… Why does everything I touch die…?”
It was then, looking out onto the lake that he realized something beautiful.
“I want you to see something” He said quietly, gently pulling Merlin up as he walked to the edge of the lake. Without hesitation, the knight pulled his sword out of its sheath and threw it far into the lake. He could almost feel Merlin’s confusion as he then grabbed a large piece of bread from his pocket and threw it in as well.
“That sword cost a fortune, but it’s dark and evil, and made to do harm. It was made with bad intention. But bread is good. It helps people, makes us stronger, happier, healthier.”
Merlin shook his head as Gwaine continued.
“The wickedness I threw in that lake sank to the bottom, to lie among the weeds, lost forever. But that goodness, it floats. It’s gone, for now, floating, swaying. It might feed an animal, or fertilize the plants, or do other varieties of good. But sooner or later, with patience, it will come back to us.”
Slowly, both men watched as the crust of wheat swayed and bobbed in the water before washing back up on the shore.
“Bread floats and weapons sink. What’s good will always come back to us, and what isn’t stays lost. Nothing we care about is ever really gone Merlin; it’s just off helping someone else.”
Fresh tears began to fill Merlin’s eyes as he bent down and picked up the soggy piece of bread. It wasn’t the same, or perfect, but it could still do someone a service. Carefully, he tore up the bread and feed it to the hungry fish that were crowding near his feet. It didn’t help him, or his friends, but that bread was making someone very happy. And that was good enough.