“Son, you must prevent a terrible disaster. You are heading in the wrong path,” his father, ghostly in form, spoke to him in his dreams.
“Father? I don’t understand,” Merlin spoke, puzzled.
Yet he felt more awake now than he had been before when he’d been drifting in and out fleeting, shapeless dreams.
After all, this was the first time that his father had appeared in his dream. Merlin’s yearning to see his father again was still as strong as ever even years after his untimely death.
There were so many things Merlin wanted to tell him that he barely knew where to start.
“You must tell Arthur the truth and be a true friend to Mordred,” his father clarified in a firm tone.
“I love you and I miss you,” Merlin answered with a sigh. “But those two things can’t happen. It’s not the right time to confide in Arthur about magic. And I was told time and again not to trust Mordred. It’s prophecy. I’m doing the best I can.”
“They are leading you astray. I have seen the future and it is grim if you don’t do the two things I’m asking of you.”
“Why should I believe you over what I’ve been told?”
“Merlin, I am your father. Isn’t that enough? Think. Haven’t you missed chances to tell Arthur over the years? Have you seen Mordred do anything but to reach out to you? Mordred may not be a Dragonlord like you, but he is magic like you. You are kin, brothers at heart. Give him a chance, listen to him. You should not refuse his company because of the words of strangers.”
“I don’t know…” Merlin could only say. He was torn between doing what his father wanted and disobeying him – following the prophecies instead.
But he felt guilty, and he thought if he couldn’t trust and believe in his own father, then what sort of a man was he? Could he live with himself if he chose not to follow his father’s advice?
Maybe this wasn’t really his father, just a figment of his imagination. A part of his mind desperate to see his father again must be playing tricks on him.
Merlin had to admit that there was a small part of him that agreed with his father. It was a tiny voice inside of him that he’d had for a while now, but he had managed to silence it – to stubbornly believe that Mordred was no good and to keep Arthur unaware about his magic.
Yet now with his father forcing that voice to the forefront – Merlin could not ignore it any longer. Had he gone about it all wrong? Should he not have depended so heavily on prophecies and instead trusted his own instincts? Maybe he should give Mordred a proper chance like he had with Arthur after first seeing him as a royal prat.
Of course being made Arthur’s manservant had forced Merlin to see Arthur on a daily basis and truly know what sort of man he was. Yet it still wouldn’t have worked if Merlin hadn’t allowed himself to be patient with Arthur. Yes, it had been out of curiosity – wondering if Kilgharrah’s words about his destiny with Arthur were true. Soon though, he had been grateful to see what Arthur was truly made of no matter what the Great Dragon said. After all, it was a rare opportunity for an outsider to Camelot like him to become intimately familiar with Prince Arthur – to the point that he became a close advisor for him.
While Kilgharrah had denounced Mordred more than once – a very different situation to the magical creature’s opinion of Arthur – Merlin thought that maybe just maybe Mordred deserved that chance like anyone else. A chance that Merlin – so full of terrible prophecies speaking of Mordred’s evil nature – had not given to Mordred now as an adult. Like his father had said, Mordred had done nothing but try to reach out to him, to be his friend, another magic user Merlin could confide in within Camelot’s walls.
And there was Morgana who Merlin had failed. He had known about her magic and had not reached out to her, told her he had magic too, before Morgana fell under Morgause’s poisonous influence. Merlin still felt guilty about Morgana, that their friendship had been irrevocably shattered after he’d poisoned her. He couldn’t fail Mordred too like he’d failed Morgana.
Mordred deserved a chance.
“Please, Son,” his father spoke up after Merlin remained silent for too long. Merlin didn’t miss the pleading tone in his father’s voice. “Our time together was all too brief. There’s not a day goes by that I don’t wish I had had more time to spend with you when I was alive. I’m proud of you, Merlin – know that. But I feel it’s my duty for your sake to save you from the disaster that will come if you do not seek to prevent it. Believe me when I tell you that you will bring hope to the land, to Albion, if you do what I tell you.”
“Will Arthur still die at Camlann?”
His father nodded. “Yes, I think so. But the final battle will happen later if you do the right thing. There will be a period of happiness and peace for magic users instead of the battle that will soon take place if you do nothing.”
“So if I do this,” Merlin said slowly, thinking it through. “Arthur will live longer? And magic will be accepted in Camelot for some time before this battle at Camlann?”
“Yes. And if you extend a hand of friendship to Mordred, then it will not be him who will kill Arthur.”
Merlin swallowed, and then he gave a small nod – half-wondering if he was making an awful mistake by making this promise to his father.
“I’ll do it. I won’t turn down a chance that will allow Arthur to live longer,” Merlin decided.
Even if he feared that Arthur might just kill him for the years of secret-keeping. The very heart of Merlin’s identity and Arthur didn’t even know – it was a wrong Merlin just had to make right.
His father smiled, pleased. “Thank you, Son. I only want what is best for you. I’ll always be watching over you,” he assured him.
Then he approached Merlin and embraced him fully.
That’s when it truly hit Merlin how much he missed his father.
The hug was done all too soon as his father faded away.
The dream shifted into a different setting – that of a meadow. He was lying on the grass, feeling sleepy and lazily watching the clouds drift by in the sky. A winged horse -- a snow white Pegasus -- stood before him as if the creature was exacting judgment on him. Merlin found the whole experience very disconcerting and silently wished the white Pegasus would go away.
Merlin was grateful when the judging creature went away and the rest of his slumber was blessedly dreamless.
Morning came all too soon, and with that Merlin steeled himself for the most difficult thing he would ever have to do.
Reveal his magic to Arthur.
~ * ~
Merlin was so anxious to confide in Arthur about his magic that he decided to talk to Mordred first. That would be easier. And he could tell Mordred about revealing his magic to Arthur. In case Arthur would sentence him to death, at least he’d know he would have Mordred there mourning him. After all, Mordred understood the dangers of living in Camelot and possessing magic.
“Mordred, I need to speak to you,” Merlin caught him in the hallway. “Privately,” he added as he observed servants and members of the Court walking the corridor.
Considering the nature of what he needed to tell Mordred, Merlin couldn’t risk anyone eavesdropping on them.
Mordred looked at him strangely. “What is it, Merlin? You seem different…” he commented.
“I’ve had an epiphany,” Merlin only said. He walked further down the hallway, turning into another passage to find the right room to hold a private conversation. Mordred followed him, looking understandably bemused.
“Uh…yes, this room is empty. Just need to make an adjustment,” Merlin said more to himself than to anyone else.
Merlin beckoned Mordred inside the empty council chambers. He said a quick spell to make the room soundproof.
“Merlin, what’s going on? What epiphany did you have?” Mordred wondered.
“I think we should be friends, Mordred. Proper friends. I promise not keep my distance from you like I have been doing. I realize now that I was wrong. I was blind. I should have seen that you are a good person, and it’s time I confide in you. I’m sorry.”
“Are you sure you didn’t go to the tavern last night? This epiphany of yours…must have been something big. Not that I don’t like it. I’ve been hoping we could be real friends for months now. You’re the only one here who understands what it’s like being magic. I had hoped to even learn from you yet you looked at me with such disdain.”
“I haven’t been drinking, trust me. I’m being honest here. I want to have a second chance with you. Like you said, I could use someone who understands magic like you do. It can be lonely after all living in Camelot sometimes…”
“Knowing one wrong move can lead to death,” Mordred finished, nodding.
“Yes well…on that note, I’ll be telling Arthur about my magic,” Merlin said the last bit in a hurry that he wasn’t sure Mordred heard him. “Right. So I should go. It was good to talk to you, Mordred--”
Mordred interrupted him, “Wait. Merlin. You’re going to tell Arthur? You know what you’re risking.”
Merlin nodded, feeling unwell just thinking of the difficult position he’d be putting Arthur in once he’d told him. “I’ve known Arthur for years, Mordred. He has called me a true friend yet he has never truly known my true self. I was wrong to lie to him in that way. But knowing I have your support and understanding will help. You can’t stop me, Mordred, though a small part of me wishes you would. I don’t deny I’m terrified, but I think for my own sanity, I need to do this…” Merlin declared, trailing off as his resolve wavered.
“Good luck then,” Mordred told him. “I hope you survive this.”
“Yeah, me too,” Merlin said with a sigh. “Friends?”
He put out his hand. Mordred shook it and nodded. “Friends.”
Merlin felt like something momentous had happened.
“I should go,” Merlin decided after a prolonged silence. It was as if fate was puzzled by his actions and needed time to accept this turn of events.
“Yes. I should too. I’m glad we had this talk,” Mordred told him in full honesty.
Just before Merlin left the room, he turned back to Mordred. He felt the need to assure him, and maybe assure himself as well. “I won’t let Arthur have me killed,” Merlin promised Mordred.
Merlin was grateful that Mordred appeared to accept his promise, so he went off to speak to Arthur, feeling braver than he had felt before.
~ * ~
Merlin thought he would die waiting for Arthur’s response to what he had just told him.
Arthur was sitting at the dining table in his room. His right hand curled into a fist, his jaw clenched and he looked like he was restraining himself from throwing something.
Not good signs, Merlin thought.
“You say you have magic,” Arthur finally spoke, his voice low, dangerous with an undercurrent of anger Merlin didn’t miss. “That you were born with it.”
“Yes,” Merlin acknowledged with a nod. “I have only used my magic to help you, Ar—Your Majesty. I use my magic in your service, in the service of the kingdom of Camelot.”
“Show me proof, Merlin,” Arthur asked him, waving his hand out in front of him.
Merlin swallowed, feeling nervous. “Are you going to execute me?” He wanted to know.
“Well magic is currently against the law,” Arthur said what Merlin knew all too well. “But I’ve asked you to do something, Merlin. Please do it. I believe it goes without saying that you not do anything that would surely get you to the executioner’s block.”
Merlin understood what Arthur was suggesting. “I would never threaten your life. Never,” Merlin said firmly, with such fire and fierceness in his words that he surprised even himself.
Arthur did not speak. His wary blue eyes looked at Merlin expectantly.
Merlin took a deep breath and let it out. Something harmless. A harmless magical display. Fire was not an option then.
In his palms, he conjured three butterflies. Their wings were the same rich red as Camelot’s colours.
Arthur looked with interest at the butterflies, one of which fluttered to his finger and settled there.
“Your eyes glow gold when you do magic. How could I have missed that,” Merlin heard Arthur say, sounding both intrigued and frustrated.
“I can do more, of course. Over the years, I’ve learned ways to help you magically, to protect you in battle,” Merlin informed him. “I can’t bear to see you die. I was meant to come to Camelot, Sire, to serve you and make sure you survive the magical threats aiming to hurt you.”
Arthur tapped his fingers on the table. “And yet, Merlin, you can bear to see me as the blind fool that I am. How do you expect me to be King when I can’t even see my own manservant is a sorcerer?” Arthur said angrily. “I want you to leave now, Merlin. I need time away from you. All I see is lies in your face.”
“Arthur, no. You’re not a --” Merlin couldn’t finish saying it. “Please,” he began, pleading with him. He knelt down before Arthur. “It was never a lie that I see you as my closest friend, Arthur. You say I’m your true friend, and the same holds true for me. You’re the truest friend I’ve ever had. I love you, Arthur. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I wasn’t here by your side to protect you.”
“I’m exiling you, Merlin. You won’t change my mind. Be grateful for this act of mercy and take it before I decide to execute you instead. Maybe I am a fool, but I still--” Arthur stopped, closing his eyes briefly. He peered at the butterfly still on his finger. “I can’t live with the thought that I ordered your death even if you kept this secret from me all these years. My father would think me a weak fool for having this affection for you, but I…anyway,” Arthur cleared his throat.
“Just go, Merlin. I want you gone by the end of the day. Just please, go.” He finished softly.
Merlin could hear the pain in Arthur’s voice. He could tell that it wasn’t easy for Arthur to send him away.
“And the ban on magic? Will something be done?” Merlin asked.
He needed to know if the anti-magic laws would be changed even if he knew that wasn’t helping. Arthur had enough to deal with coping with Merlin’s reveal that giving thought to altering the laws was adding too much to the King’s already conflicted mind.
“The laws against magic have been in place for a long time, Merlin. If they are loosened, then not everyone will accept it so readily. Many citizens of Camelot are still fearful of those with magic – seeing the good magic users and those with ill intent as one and the same. It may take time for magic to be accepted by all.”
“I understand it is not a matter to be taken lightly,” Merlin acknowledged.
“For now, I need you to leave me. I can’t properly think about what I must do when you’re here. We need time apart from one another. I’m sure I can cope without your magical protection for some time. I’ll send for you when I wish you back in Camelot,” Arthur reassured him.
Merlin stood up, bowing his head. “Yes. I understand. Thank you, Arthur.”
Arthur nodded. “I am glad you finally trusted me with your secret.” He told Merlin.
Merlin could almost hear the unspoken words, that Arthur wished Merlin had confided in him sooner. It had been almost four years since the death of King Uther, and yet even with Arthur was King, Merlin had remained quiet.
Until his father had intervened in his dream.
Before Merlin departed from Camelot, leaving Gaius with a heavy heart, he expressly asked Mordred to protect Arthur magic-wise.
Mordred gave him his word that he would.
~ * ~
Merlin found an abandoned cottage to stay in. He thought that Arthur would need months at least to come to terms with the truth of Merlin’s magic and change the laws accordingly.
He spent the first day making the place livable and as comfortable as possible. Though it was difficult, Merlin tried not to descend into melancholy thinking how much he missed Arthur. But he did not regret telling Arthur the truth. It had to be done. His father was right.
True, Merlin had put Arthur in a difficult position now as he had to set Camelot on the path that would allow magic to flourish. Merlin wished he could be there with Arthur, to carry some of the burden; but he decided it would be wisest to follow Arthur’s instructions. Arthur had enough to contend with without Merlin disobeying his orders.
He was surprised when only a week later Mordred came to see him. Merlin had informed Mordred about his location, but he hadn’t expected Mordred to visit him. Much less come carrying a big pack like he was planning to stay for a while.
“What happened?” Merlin asked as he let Mordred inside.
Mordred shrugged, setting down his pack. “I confided in the King that I had magic too since you told him about yourself. I told him I would leave too, and he looked like he was nursing a headache as I left.”
“I see,” Merlin remarked dryly. “You spoke to Arthur privately?”
“Of course. If I had a death wish, I would have made a public declaration. This was the best thing to do, wasn’t it? I doubt the King would appreciate not knowing one of his knights was a sorcerer.”
“All right. Fine. You’re right. But I wanted you to look after Arthur if there’s a magical threat.”
“Haven’t you heard of the Crystal Cave? The birthplace of magic? If need be, we can go there to contact him and warn him of any problem.”
“That’s true. I’m hoping Arthur won’t need long to ask me to return though. If I have to wait a year…”
“It shouldn’t be that long,” Mordred assured him.
Merlin sighed. “Well then. I’m glad you’re here. It’ll be good to have company.”
At dinner, Merlin told Mordred about the dream he had and the advice his father had given him.
“I never knew my father growing up. Almost eight years ago, I did finally meet him and get to talk to him. Unfortunately not long after that, he died protecting me.”
“You didn’t want to live with the knowledge that you didn’t listen to your father,” Mordred figured out.
Merlin nodded. He stared at the food on his plate, concern about Arthur making him less hungry. “It was the least I could do after he gave up his life for me. I still wonder if I’m doing the right thing, but--”
“I think you are for what it’s worth.”
“Thanks. I hope so.”
“You’re lucky to have known your father. No matter for how long. I was an orphan before I even understood what that meant,” Mordred confided in Merlin.
“But that man you were with when I first met you. The one Uther executed? I thought he was your father.”
Mordred shook his head. “He was a Druid who took me in when my parents died. He wasn’t my natural father. Being a Druid means being a part of a community, and no child is left on their own. I was happy, but still sometimes I yearned to know more about my mother and father. I was too young to remember how they looked like when they were alive.”
“I don’t know where I’d be without my mother. I owe a lot to her,” Merlin declared. “May I ask if you know what happened to your parents?”
He shrugged. “I think they both fell ill. If they were killed on Uther’s orders, I was never told. I guess it was just an unfortunate case of a terrible ailment. I learned that my mother had trouble after I was born -- some aftereffects of birth causing her to be unwell. I don’t know what illness befell my father though.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t help but think of Arthur’s mother who died giving birth to him. He never knew her because of that.”
“Yeah. Yet somehow we have to cope, make the best of it. I hope to make my mother and father proud. I’m sure they watching over me.”
“I hope my father feels the same way too. I never thought I’d see him again much less speak to him. So to see him in my dreams was a pleasant surprise.”
“I would have liked to meet your father,” Mordred said with a small smile.
Merlin smiled back at him.
~ * ~
That night, Merlin had a strange dream that he believed to be a vision of a future. He was sure of it, and that certainty gave him hope that he would return to Camelot, to be by Arthur’s side as he should be.
He dreamt that he was in Arthur’s room. He was there with Arthur and Mordred.
The three of them were laughing about something, the laughter dying down as Arthur turned to Merlin and spoke to him.
“Honestly, Merlin, I do think you need an apprentice. A child, perhaps. Easier to learn from a young age. It’d be good for you. Someone who possesses magic like you to be educated under your tutelage.”
“And it’ll give you a break from your worrying about protecting Arthur. You’re not alone, Merlin,” Mordred reminded him. “I’m just as capable of making sure Arthur’s safe from magical attacks.”
“I may not have magic, but I don’t believe I’m completely useless.” Arthur put in.
“Hmmm…up to debate,” Merlin quipped, a quirk of amusement upon his lips. “You know no matter what, I’ll never stop worrying about you, Arthur. It’s just who I am.”
Arthur nodded, understanding. He grasped Merlin’s hand in his own. “Then at least pretend for me. I believe taking a child under your wing would be a good noble pursuit for you. You are the most powerful sorcerer known to man, Merlin. You should share that knowledge.”
“Yes you should,” Mordred agreed.
“Mordred, you’re meant to side with me.”
“Sorry. I must have missed that part in the contract.”
“The both of you are terrible people,” Merlin muttered sullenly. “But I will do it. I guess a part of me always liked the idea of having a student of sorts.”
Then the dream shifted, and he was facing a small blond boy whose face was dirty but Merlin could still see that the boy’s eyes were as green as grass.
“It’s all right. I’m not like those who held you captive,” Merlin assured him as he took a soft wet cloth to clean off the boy’s face.
“What’s your name?”
“Rilian,” The boy answered him promptly.
“How old are you?”
“I’m ten, Sir.”
Merlin frowned. The boy looked too small to be ten years old.
“What about your parents?”
“My mother was a Druid. She never talked about Father before she died.”
Merlin set down the cloth, having finished. “I’m sorry to hear about your loss, Rilian.”
The boy bit his lip, looking like he wanted to say something but he couldn’t go through with it.
“What is it?”
“Every time I asked a question, I was hurt…” Rilian explained, looking uneasy. He swayed, almost like he would faint with the fear.
Merlin beckoned him to sit on the bed beside him. “You can ask me any question you like, Rilian. You will be my charge, and I promise I’ll make sure no one will harm you. Do you understand?”
Rilian gave a small, still uncertain nod. The boy just needed time to trust in him.
“Are you Emrys?” He asked Merlin after a few moments of silence. There was awe in Rilian’s voice as he said Merlin’s prophetic name.
Merlin woke up suddenly, sensing someone unwanted was in his home.
Upon seeing Morgana, Merlin got up so fast from his bed that he felt his head spin momentarily. Morgana was smiling and looking all too pleased with herself.
“I should have known,” she said as she approached him.
“All this time…Arthur had you by his side. You’re Emrys,” Morgana told him.
Merlin felt grateful that at least he had already confided in Arthur about his magic. Morgana couldn’t use the knowledge against him.
“Then it’s bold of you to come here and think you’re a match for me, Morgana,” Merlin said, raising his arm in threat. An incantation was ready on the tip of his tongue.
“You were protecting him all these years, and yet the ban on magic remains. I wonder what my dear brother is waiting for.”
“He needs time,” Merlin told her.
He didn’t wish to explain that Arthur only just learned of his magic days ago. That would be exposing a weakness that Morgana could use against him. And that as yet, it wasn’t a guarantee that Arthur would lift the ban on magic, though Merlin fully trusted Arthur to do so. One thing he was absolutely sure of was that Arthur wouldn’t execute him. Arthur felt as strongly and deeply for him as Merlin felt for him. Arthur had admitted as much.
“I think you should leave now, Morgana,” Merlin said firmly.
Morgana had raised her arm too, anticipating a fight, but before either of them could make a first move; a dagger pierced her side.
“Hello, Morgana,” Mordred said, facing her now.
Merlin felt a little better to have Mordred there with him. Two against one turned the favour in his direction.
“Mordred… you’re on the wrong side,” Morgana told him almost desperately.
“No. It is you who are on the wrong side. No matter how hard you wish it, I will never serve a half-mad witch like you.”
“How dare you!” Morgana shouted in outrage. She viciously pulled the dagger out of her side and the blade fell to the floor with a loud clatter.
“Arthur knows Mordred and I both possess magic. You have lost, Morgana,” Merlin informed her.
She glared at them and then she called up a magical tower of wind to transport her away in fury.
Merlin turned to Mordred. “She knows I’m Emrys.”
“Good that she can’t use it against you then,” Mordred said.
“Yes. That’s true,” Merlin said and then he sat down. “Look…there’s something you should know,” he began. He was nervous about revealing this to Mordred. What would he think of the dreaded prophecy? “You may know it already. I’m aware of a prophecy that you are meant to kill Arthur. That you would unite with Morgana and together, the two of you will bring about Arthur’s downfall.”
Mordred frowned. “Not all prophecies are set in stone. I will never join with Morgana or kill Arthur. I promise you that, Emrys.”
“Do you believe making a proper effort to be your friend will change Arthur’s fate?” Merlin wondered.
“I wouldn’t know if what you did will lead to the King living to old age, but I do believe you changed my fate. King Arthur will not die by my hand, I give you my word.”
Merlin nodded, hearing the sincerity of Mordred’s words. If his father had been right and the dark battle at Camlann would be delayed, then Merlin would be forever grateful to him. Words wouldn’t be able to express his gratitude. If he could bring his father back to life, he would do so in a heartbeat.
“Thank you, Mordred. Really. Thank you,” Merlin told him.
Mordred smiled. “It’s thanks to you in the end. I’m sure it wasn’t easy to see me as a real friend when you had that prophecy to consider. I had heard that prophecy, but I never took it to heart. I believe I just couldn’t imagine myself killing a King of all people. That never felt right…” he confessed.
“When I first learned of the prophecy that I was destined to protect and serve Arthur, I couldn’t believe it. I thought he was such a…well, prat, at first; but as I got to know him better, I was glad of being able to serve a great man such as Arthur.”
“And let’s hope he ends the ban on magic. A Camelot allowing magic once again is a freer Camelot.”
Merlin nodded. “I have faith that he will.”
~ * ~
Months passed, and the Yuletide was upon them. Merlin had had a dream where he’d talked with Freya. She had assured him that while he was doing the right thing, Morgana would always be his bane. That he should be wary of her.
Merlin took Freya’s words to heart. Yet what he hoped for most was Arthur seeking him out. Only months away from Arthur and Merlin was yearning to be with him again. He could barely wait any longer. But he was sure that the spirit of the Yuletide time of year would persuade Arthur to ask him to return to Camelot.
“What are you doing?” Merlin asked Mordred one day.
Merlin had just returned home from selling some potions and tinctures – his physician’s training coming to be very useful in making money. He saw Mordred hanging up holly around the house – at the door, at the center of the table, and along the walls.
Mordred turned to Merlin. “Decorating for the Yule. You do know about holly, don’t you?”
Merlin looked questioningly at him. “No, I admit I don’t. Does holly have magical properties?” He guessed.
“Many believe, including the Druids, that holly can ward off bad spirits.”
“And the traditionally merry time of the Winter Solstice is when people would want to avoid encounters with bad spirits. Right. That sounds logical,” Merlin remarked.
Someone knocked on the door.
“Arthur?” Mordred guessed.
Merlin nodded, and then he grinned as he went to open the door.
“Well, I’m glad you and Mordred are doing so well without me,” was the first thing that came out of Arthur’s mouth once Merlin opened the door to let him in.
So happy to see Arthur, Merlin couldn’t resist embracing him.
“Merlin,” he said in mild protest. “I don’t hug.”
“Oh you prat. Don’t think I’ve forgotten that one time you hugged me,” Merlin countered as he pulled away.
“Those were exceptional circumstances,” Arthur retorted stubbornly.
“Why don’t you two just admit you love each other and be done with it?” Mordred spoke up.
“I don’t know, Mordred…Merlin has betrayed my trust after years of friendship,” Arthur told him. He then turned to Merlin. “But yes, I suppose I do care for you, Merlin. Or it may be that our separation has made me miss your daily insubordination. I cannot deny your loyalty despite the lies. I want you and Mordred to come back to Camelot.”
“Thank you, Arthur. I’m sorry for not telling you much sooner. I would apologize to you every day if I could,” Merlin told him earnestly.
Arthur raised his hand. “No, please don’t. I’d fear you would truly have a mental affliction if you keep apologizing. I know you’re sorry, and now I look forward to working with you and Mordred to make Camelot a better place.”
“So you lifted the ban on magic?” Mordred asked him.
“Yes. Not long after you left, Mordred. These last few months I’ve been working to guide the change, to allow the citizens of Camelot to accept that magic can be a good thing. I think it’s time for you two to return so you could show everyone the good of magic. That magic can help to protect Camelot and to heal the sick. I alone cannot do that.”
“Yes, of course, Arthur. Anything you request,” Merlin agreed.
Mordred nodded. “I think that would be a wise idea.”
“I’m grateful for your service, Mordred,” Arthur told him. “And since Merlin started it…” he trailed off as he embraced Mordred himself.
“I believe this will be the best Yuletide I’ve had for a long time,” Merlin declared with a smile.
“I don’t know. I thought last year’s celebration was brilliant,” Arthur shot back after he finished his hug with Mordred.
“I wonder why I missed you again,” Merlin quipped, sounding put-upon.
Mordred just watched them in bemusement as Arthur grabbed Merlin and tackled him to the ground.
~ * ~
Merlin didn’t tell Arthur or Mordred of his dream about Rilian. He thought it would be better to have the vision occur as naturally as possible. Well, as naturally as it could occur considering Merlin knew it would happen but he wasn’t sure when.
He and Mordred worked together with Arthur to bring about a Golden Age for Camelot where magic flourished peacefully once again.
Only a month after Merlin and Mordred returned to Camelot, Merlin’s vision came true.
Outside Camelot’s borders, there were slavers who had Rilian as one of their prisoners – thinking they could sell him for a high price because the boy possessed magic and would offer more in service than one without magic.
Merlin easily overcame the men with his magic and took Rilian with him. The scene in his vision came to life without Merlin even trying. The same words flowed out of him even if he hadn’t memorized what he had said in the vision. This was meant to be then. It was important that he encountered the boy, and made him his apprentice.
Arthur met Rilian as soon as Merlin returned to Camelot with him. It was a small audience as the young boy was still anxious and shy, understandably so, as he’d had a harrowing ordeal.
Rilian stayed close to Merlin’s side the whole time, Merlin’s hand resting on the boy’s shoulder. Gwen expressed dismay when Rilian revealed quietly that he was ten years old. Merlin knew she felt the same as he did – that Rilian looked younger than he should be.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Rilian. I expect Merlin to be a good tutor in the ways of magic for you,” Arthur told him. Then he added almost uncertainly, “At least I hope so.”
That led Merlin to glaring at Arthur.
Mordred looked to be holding back a laugh.
“Yes, Your Majesty. I know he will be,” said Rilian with a tentative smile. “He is Emrys after all…”
“Yes well. Hard to tell sometimes with how he can be – tripping over things.” Arthur said with a wave of his hand.
“I think you should stop talking, Sire,” Merlin bit out as Rilian looked confused, unsure how to take Arthur’s insulting Merlin.
Arthur smiled at him. He looked vaguely conciliatory as he said, “My apologies, Merlin. Honestly now, I believe you will be in excellent hands, Rilian. Welcome to Camelot,” Arthur told him.
Mordred silently communicated to Merlin. “Rilian’s blond,” he only said.
“Thanks, Mordred. I was a bit blind so I hadn’t noticed that,” he shot back at him silently.
Mordred gave him a small wink, clearly amused by something Merlin didn’t feel the same way about. Or at least, Merlin didn’t want to directly address.
Rilian had needed his help, and Merlin had done the right thing and saved him. And now the boy would have a better life. That was all that mattered.
~ * ~
The following decade turned out to be the best years of Merlin’s life. One of the few dark spots was Gaius’s death only a year after the magic ban had been lifted. But Gaius had died a natural death and he was in peace when he’d died. Merlin had made sure his death was a painless one. He only hoped that he would be as a good a mentor to Rilian as Gaius had been to him. Gaius had reassured him that he did not doubt Merlin’s ability to raise Rilian, that the boy would be fine. Gaius’s words meant a lot to him.
Almost two years since he had taken Rilian, he started calling Merlin, “Father.” While the first time Rilian had tentatively addressed him as such startled Merlin, it soon became a very natural thing.
And when Merlin had to attend to his Court Sorcerer duties, Mordred sometimes looked after Rilian. Merlin almost couldn’t believe that once, he looked upon Mordred with suspicion and distrust. Yet now, he counted him as one of his closest friends along with Arthur and Gwaine.
Ten years passed before the dreaded battle at Camlann. Merlin was unable to protect Arthur due to a terrible illness. Morgana had captured him days before the battle. Arthur, Rilian and Mordred had rescued him from her clutches, but the damage had been done.
Morgana’s curse on him left Merlin in a miserable state. His magic felt weaker inside of him, and he could barely keep any food and drink down. He couldn’t walk without feeling the need to vomit and even simply standing led to him feeling dizzy and unpleasantly lightheaded. All he could do was lie in bed and wish Morgana the worst curse imaginable. Of course, Merlin together with Rilian had pored over spell books for an antidote, but the answer never changed. Only Morgana’s death would free Merlin of this cursed sickness as she had been the one to cast it.
Upon learning the solution, Arthur vowed to Merlin that he would strike Morgana down. That she would die.
Merlin couldn’t bear to tell Arthur that this battle may very likely be Arthur’s final one. He realized that these past ten years were a blessing and a gift for him and Arthur. But this one part of the prophecy -- that Arthur would fall at Camlann -- would not change. Merlin felt this deeply inside of him no matter how much he wished it could be avoided as befriending Mordred and revealing his magic had delayed the battle.
Merlin had to admit, regrettably, that Arthur would not be one to see old age. Yet he knew that Arthur would be proud to die an honourable death in a battle defending his beloved people of Camelot.
He was grateful to be granted these years with Arthur seeing him for what he truly was, and to have a son in Rilian. It hurt Merlin though that he didn’t think he’d have the strength to protect Arthur on the battlefield. Morgana had essentially crippled him. He had to have faith now in Mordred to take his place.
Mordred had assured him that he’d stay by Arthur’s side during the battle. Merlin knew that Mordred was well aware of the futility of that action. That Arthur’s fate at Camlann could not be easily prevented.
Still Merlin gave him a small smile, thanking Mordred for being a good friend.
Rilian stayed to look after Merlin, though Merlin had tried to convince him he’d be of better use on the battlefield. But Rilian, now a man of twenty, wouldn’t hear of leaving Merlin alone in misery. As his son, he would take care of him as Merlin had done for him the past ten years.
So it was during this time, as the battle at Camlann raged outside of Camelot, Merlin woke up from a restless sleep feeling ill at ease.
His fears came to light when a note tied in black ribbon had been left at his bedside table.
He removed the ribbon and unrolled the note. It was a message from Morgana.
The message said:
“I have Rilian.
This is an invitation to watch him die.
If you don’t come within the hour, he will die alone.
He had to go. Even if his magic was not as strong at the moment as he would’ve liked or this blasted sickness rendered him near invalid, Merlin could not leave his son to Morgana’s wrath.
So he called for his staff – a dark blue stick with golden and silver leaves wrapped up and down it. A golden dragon head was positioned at the top of the magical staff. Merlin hoped that the staff would strengthen the weak magic inside of him, that acting as a power boost it would be enough for Merlin when confronting Morgana. He couldn’t do much about the sickness except to tolerate it as best as he could. The thought of his son gave him the strength he needed, and also seeing Arthur on the battlefield. Perhaps he could aid Arthur as he’d dearly desired to.
~ * ~
Merlin was able to use his staff to transport himself to the battlefield. He was sorely tempted to collapse on to the ground once he’d arrived. But he wouldn’t give up that easily. He wouldn’t let Morgana’s curse prevent him from what he had to do.
While he’d wished his magic to lead him to where his son was, his heart broke when he saw the sight of Arthur laying so very still on the ground a few steps away.
It was then that he couldn’t stop himself from collapsing and crawling over to Arthur.
“Arthur?” Merlin whispered, feeling so lost. “Please…I never got to say…” He stopped. He just couldn’t continue.
He felt Arthur’s pulse and it confirmed what he already knew. Arthur was gone.
“Well, I’m surprised you came,” Merlin heard Morgana say behind him.
Painfully, Merlin stood up and gripped his dragon head staff like a lifeline.
He turned around to face Morgana. She had Rilian restrained in front of her, his hands bound and his mouth gagged. His face had bruises littered all over it. Morgana held a dagger to Rilian’s throat, and Merlin feared that one wrong move and she’d slit it.
“Rilian isn’t a part of this. I’m the one who poisoned you all those years ago, Morgana. I blame myself for what you’ve become. Your problem is with me, not him. Let him go,” Merlin demanded of her firmly.
The world around him started to spin unpleasantly as dizziness plagued him. He felt faint, but he said a silent prayer and stubbornly wouldn’t let his nagging sickness win.
“Oh no, Emrys,” Morgana said his prophetic name as an insult. “Rilian became a part of this when you took him in ten years ago. When he became like a son to you. If you didn’t want him involved, then you should have left him to those slavers,” she said.
Merlin looked at his son carefully. “Rilian, your magic. I know it’s difficult, but please try,” he spoke silently to him.
He knew that it was harder for Rilian to summon his magic when his hands were bound. But still, it wasn’t impossible. Rilian just needed to concentrate.
“Yes Father. The King…”
“I know. Do you know where Mordred is?” Merlin asked him.
“No. But I think Morgana did something to him…”
“I won’t let you win, Morgana. You took Arthur’s life,” Merlin said, unable to stop the grief from surfacing in his words. “You will not take my son’s.”
“Look at you. You can barely stand. How can you hope to defeat me?”
Merlin studied Morgana. There was something about how she carried herself. She was having trouble remaining on her feet, as the hand not clutching the dagger was pressed over her abdomen.
Had Arthur wounded her with Excalibur before Morgana struck the death blow on him?
Merlin hoped so.
“You’re wounded,” Merlin pointed out.
“Then I better finish this,” Morgana declared.
She readied the dagger, taking the sharp point and pricking the skin of his son’s neck in warning. Merlin saw Rilian wince.
“It’s a shame, you know, to kill someone so handsome. I was considering other uses for Rilian,” Morgana jibed Merlin with a wicked smile. She moved the dagger to his face and traced the blade down it, a thin trail of blood following in the weapon’s wake.
Merlin wished her unimaginable pain.
Rilian closed his eyes then.
“This will end,” Merlin told her fiercely.
He tapped his staff firmly to the ground, and the earth started to shake. But it was a contained spell as it was meant to only put Morgana off-balance, not anyone else. The energy and focus it took to do this incantation was a deep strain on Merlin in his current state. His body was pleading with him that he needed to sleep, that he couldn’t take this much excitement. Merlin refused to listen. Sleep would come when Morgana was dead – her curse on him lifted when that happened.
Morgana glared at him. “Damn you.”
Rilian’s eyes opened, and finally Merlin could see that he’d been able to reach his magic. Rilian’s eyes only glowed a brighter green, not gold like Merlin. Yet no matter the difference, his magic was still strong. He had taught his son well, and he never expected Rilian to be as powerful as him. Merlin knew he himself was a special case. As long as Rilian learned and did his best, then Merlin was proud of him.
Morgana dropped the dagger she’d been holding like it was suddenly too hot. Rilian’s doing. Merlin pulled Rilian away from her. Then he cast a spell to freeze Morgana in place as his body was screaming at him to stop exerting himself – magical and otherwise. He lay down his staff to focus his attention on his son.
He saw Rilian’s hands were unbound – he had managed to magick himself free. “Are you all right?” Merlin asked him, worried. He removed the gag from his mouth, throwing it away from them.
Grasping his son’s face, he looked him over to better see the extent of his injuries.
“I’m okay. You’re not. Please sit, Father,” Rilian requested of him. “You look so pale.”
Merlin fell to the ground, and Rilian went down with him. Tears flowed unheeded down his face as sorrow enveloped him.
Arthur was dead.
Arthur was gone.
“Father,” Rilian said softly.
“Please don’t leave me,” Merlin pleaded, the words spilling out of him before he could stop himself. He just didn’t want to be alone now.
“Of course I won’t. You’re my father,” he said with a small smile.
Merlin embraced him.
He saw Mordred approach, nursing his wound to the side. He looked unhappy and in pain.
“Mordred,” Merlin called to him.
Mordred only nodded at him, and slowly walked to Arthur’s body. He took Excalibur, the sword forged in dragon’s breath, which lay at Arthur’s right side.
While Merlin wanted the curse removed, he had a deep sense that Morgana could not die by his hand. And he was uncertain in his cursed state if he’d have the ability to kill her. After seeing Arthur dead before his eyes, he just didn’t have the heart to kill himself. Even if it was to avenge Arthur’s death.
That thought made him feel like a terrible friend – how could he not want to avenge Arthur’s death? The first thing he should have done was to kill Morgana the moment he saw her with Rilian. But he believed that’s not Arthur would have wanted for him. That instead, Arthur would have wanted him to live on, to do good by sharing his knowledge and wisdom and not to mourn his loss for the rest of his days. Merlin doubted he’d ever stop grieving Arthur, but he would try.
Morgana unfroze, but Mordred was there to meet her. He had Excalibur at the ready.
“I should help. Mordred’s wounded…” Rilian said to Merlin, making to stand up.
“No,” Merlin told him weakly. He blinked his eyes, feeling disoriented as the world spun around him though he was sitting still. His head was pounding and he wished it would stop. “I want you to stay here with me. Mordred will be fine.”
Rilian rarely didn’t listen to him. Even when Merlin had been expecting rebellion over these last few years as Rilian made the change from child to adult, Rilian remained his calm-tempered self for the most part.
In this instance, he was sure Rilian would not leave him.
His son bit his lip, but nodded. Merlin grabbed his hand and held it tightly.
“Mordred. Still confused I see,” Morgana said with a smirk.
“It’s over, Morgana,” Mordred said, pointing Excalibur at her. “Accept that.”
“I know your deepest secret,” she said. Blood fell out of her mouth, but she swept it aside uncaringly, her face now smeared with blood. “It’s a shame you’re dying.”
Mordred’s eyes darkened at that and then without a word, he struck Morgana with the sword. Morgana, while she was a powerful High Priestess, did nothing to stop him. Maybe she had given up, Merlin decided. She was on the verge of death already, and Mordred only needed to finish the job.
“Goodbye,” Mordred told her quietly as she fell to the ground, dead.
Mordred removed the sword from her body. He stumbled; his own fatal wound catching up to him now after his final act was accomplished.
Merlin felt Morgana’s curse leave him as his headache stopped and the world settled down and wasn’t making him so dizzy anymore. A black smoky looking thing left his body – visual evidence of the curse’s end. Merlin directed his staff at it to destroy the black mass so as to stop it from plaguing others.
Mordred collapsed, his legs giving out. Merlin and Rilian went to him – Merlin on his left side and Rilian on Mordred’s right.
“The sword…Merlin…” Mordred said in a whisper.
“I’ll take care of it. Don’t worry. Thank you, Mordred. For everything.” Merlin told him with a small smile.
“And you, for being a friend to me…”
Merlin gave him a small smile and kissed his brow. “Until we meet again, goodbye, Mordred,” he told him solemnly.
Mordred smiled, acknowledging his words by grasping his hand.
He left the dragon head staff with his son, but he took Excalibur. “I’ll be near,” Merlin told him.
Turning back for only a moment, he saw Rilian holding Mordred’s hand – the two of them in the midst of a whispered conversation.
As he walked away, he sensed that Arthur was close by.
“You have my sword. That’s good of you,” he heard Arthur’s voice from behind him, though it had an echo to it. An echo that only spirits had.
Merlin turned around, and saw Arthur as a transparent ghost. He was wearing his crown and was resplendent in his red Camelot cape. It was the image of King Arthur that Merlin would always cherish and never forget.
“I plan to throw it back into the lake,” Merlin informed him, attempting to keep the tone light as Arthur was doing.
Arthur frowned. “I hope Excalibur doesn’t rust then.”
“Oh you prat. You know it’ll be magically protected,” Merlin shot back at him, almost forgetting that Arthur was dead and that come tomorrow, he wouldn’t have conversations like this with him again.
Arthur smiled. “Of course. Emrys would make sure of that.”
Merlin returned the smile with a shrug. Even now, when Arthur said his prophetic name, Merlin got a little thrill to know that Arthur knew his true identity, knew about his magic.
“Say hello to Freya for me,” Arthur said.
Merlin nodded. “I will,” he assured him. “Arthur…” He started, sadness coming over him.
“No. This won’t be goodbye. I won’t allow it. We’ll see each other again. I may not have magic, but I feel it, Merlin. Our story isn’t over.”
“You were born of magic. There is some magic inside you -- in a different way than me, but still… I hope so too – that our story will continue.”
“It will. I believe it, and I’m never wrong.”
“Of course,” Merlin agreed, humoring him a bit. He sighed, “Arthur, I…”
“Is Mordred dead?” Arthur asked him.
“I left him with Rilian. He was close to death.”
“There has been a shift, I think. Mordred’s gone,” Arthur told him. “Maybe I will see him soon.”
“Yes. That would be good. You won’t be alone then.”
“And you have Rilian. I am glad of that. I know this will be hard, Merlin. But don’t try to live out the rest of your life alone and miserable. I will hate it if you do. Rilian may be grown, but you’re still the only family he has.”
“I wasn’t planning on leaving Rilian behind,” Merlin told him indignantly. “I promise you I won’t slip away and live out my last years as a lonely recluse.”
Arthur nodded. “Good. I need to go very soon…I can’t stay much longer.”
“Arthur, I love you,” Merlin said to him.
It was a declaration he had made on more than one occasion over the last ten years, but this time was the worst in a way…because this was the final time. Arthur wouldn’t be there come morning.
“I wish I could kiss you,” Arthur told him. “But since I’m a ghost, I won’t feel it as well as I want to.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Merlin retorted.
He went to Arthur and placed his hand over his cheek, feeling the coolness of his spirit form. He saw how his fingers went through Arthur’s face, and it was a sight that unnerved him. Yet Merlin would not be deterred.
Arthur leaned forward and their lips met – Arthur’s cold ones and Merlin’s warm ones. It was like Merlin was experiencing the chill of autumn, but it wasn’t unpleasant because this was Arthur and that thought alone made the kiss one he would never forget.
“I love you, Merlin. More than I care to admit.”
Merlin cleared his throat, trying in vain to stop the tears threatening to fall. “This is an ‘I’ll see you later’, right?” He asked with a watery smile.
“Always,” Arthur said with such faith as he spoke that one word.
He faded away.
Merlin didn’t know how long he stood there, watching the spot where Arthur had been. As if he stared long enough, then he could magically wish Arthur back to his side.
Eventually, Rilian came to see how he was faring. His son wrapped his arms around him in an embrace without Merlin even needing to say anything.
~ * ~
December 21, 2005
Arthur was sure that someone was following him. Looking back, he saw the culprit wearing a black hooded cloak that reminded Arthur of the ghost of Christmas future from ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Yet he distinctly felt that this ghost would sooner kill him than simply show him the future – like his place in the cemetery. No thank you on that count.
“Creepy strangers should be banned this time of year,” Arthur muttered to himself.
He breezed past the Christmas-themed shop windows as he was in a hurry to get the cloaked person off his back.
Although Arthur did stop at a display with the sword Excalibur stuck in a stone.
“Wait a minute. Isn’t it supposed to be back in the lake?” Arthur wondered suddenly, not quite knowing where that thought came from.
All twenty-five years of his life, he’d never had a thought like that. Like Arthurian legend was a real story. But why now did he feel that this legend wasn’t fictional after all?
“Arthur, come here,” a familiar voice spoke to him.
It was a voice he’d wanted to hear for so long now. But he couldn’t remember whose voice it was. Only that it was familiar somehow – like from a buried memory.
“Who’s there?” Arthur asked. He couldn’t see the person.
Then he felt a change in air pressure. Arthur quickly turned his head around and to his shock; everyone had frozen in place as if by magic.
A glowing bullet came shooting straight at him. Arthur knew he should get out of the way, duck, do something; but all these strange things happening at once…he needed to process it all.
The bullet froze right before it was due to hit him in the chest.
The invisible person grabbed him and pulled him down. As his rescuer beckoned him into a hidden alleyway, Arthur was finally able to see the person. He was a man his age with dark hair, blue eyes and big ears. He knew this man. He did. His name was…what was it again?
The dark-haired man exited the alleyway, appearing to check that the cloaked stranger had gone. Arthur heard him speak a few words in a tongue he couldn’t understand. Arthur heard the usual hustle and bustle of people up and down the street again. Then, seeming satisfied, the man returned to him. Arthur guessed that the mystery assailant had blended into the stream of shoppers along the way or had accepted defeat for now.
“You have to trust me. All right?” The man asked him.
“Merlin?” Arthur addressed tentatively.
The dark-haired man nodded and smiled. “Yes, that’s my name.”
“I’m Arthur. Was it you who stopped the bullet?”
“It was,” he admitted.
“Thanks for that,” Arthur said, feeling a bit awkward about it. He wasn’t sure what to make of this familiar yet not man who had saved his life. “I’m not sure who’s trying to kill me. And I don’t know why you seem familiar and how I guessed your name correctly. Have we met before?” He asked him curiously.
Merlin looked thoughtfully at him. “Maybe this will help.”
Then Merlin kissed him. Arthur was about to pull away and say something like, “What the hell??”
But then all memories of his long ago past life returned back to him in a rush. Arthur stepped back a bit, overwhelmed by the strong sensation.
Merlin placed a steady hand on his shoulder so Arthur would keep his balance.
“Merlin!” He said, his voice now full of recognition and years of memories. “Is Morgana trying to kill me then?”
Merlin grinned. “Glad that the kiss worked,” he said. “And unfortunately yes…reincarnation has made her…more unhinged than she previously was. We must be careful.”
“Brilliant. Just what I wanted for Christmas. Morgana hoping to kill me again,” Arthur said darkly. “Have you been reincarnated too? Or did you live up to the Emrys name? Are you really immortal?”
“I’ve been reborn like you, so no, not immortal,” Merlin informed him. “We can talk more at my place if you want to.”
Arthur nodded. “Sure. It’s starting to get chilly here.”
~ * ~
Merlin lived in the countryside. Yet Arthur hadn’t expected his residence to be so big.
“Merlin, why is your place a mansion?”
Arthur looked up at Merlin’s impressive estate. The five-storied home was made of solid grey stone with deep green vines surrounding it, glints of gold coming from the unquenchable vines. Arthur liked it more than his childhood home – though he had grown up on a big estate, it never truly felt like home compared to now – standing beside Merlin, together again, looking at the home Merlin and his magic had crafted.
Merlin shrugged. “I was bored. Decided to use some magic to try my hand at building.”
Arthur stared at him. “I now wonder what happens when you’re not bored.”
Merlin playfully shoved him. “You’ll find out soon enough.” He winked at Arthur.
“All right, you win,” Arthur conceded as he followed Merlin through the grand foyer and into the blue, white and gold themed kitchen.
“Sit down then,” Merlin offered. “I’ll make some hot cocoa.”
Arthur looked pointedly at the hedgehog eating a beetle on the kitchen table.
“That’s Sirius, my faithful companion,” Merlin said. “Don’t worry. He won’t bite.”
“Funny,” Arthur said wryly. He sat down, and nevertheless, he was careful about making contact with the hedgehog. Sirius paid him no mind when he patted him on the back, Merlin’s pet being preoccupied with his meal. He was a cute hedgehog all things aside. “So it’s just you and the hedgehog in this big place?”
“Full house, let me tell you,” Merlin joked.
“Of course,” Arthur said.
Merlin grinned at him.
After Merlin set down the mugs of cocoa and some chocolate biscuits and cakes too, Arthur spoke.
Arthur said, “So…I’m not sure where to begin. How was it after I had died? What did you and Rilian do?” He asked.
Merlin sighed. He stirred his cocoa. “Well of course it wasn’t easy for me to return to Camelot. It was terrible…having to live without you and then Mordred dying. I hadn’t expected Mordred to die at the battle,” he said unhappily. “Knowing I still had Rilian forced me to brave the aftermath of Camlann. But though we came back to Camelot, I could not stay long. I had to leave, travel…go anywhere that wasn’t a place holding so many memories of you and Mordred. Gwen understood, thankfully. Rilian insisted on coming with me…”
“Someone needed to keep an eye on you.”
“Well I was hoping you’d haunt me, but clearly that didn’t work out,” Merlin shot back at him.
“Sorry about that,” Arthur said gently yet he reached out to grasp Merlin’s hand.
Though he believed Merlin wasn’t being serious about the haunting, he still detected a hint of misery. As if Merlin had tried in his past life to magically summon Arthur back to him, but had been frustratingly unsuccessful. Arthur couldn’t help but feel for Merlin because he would’ve been at a loss too if he’d had to live through Merlin’s death. He couldn’t bear to think about what he would have done.
Yet still, he was glad Merlin hadn’t succeeded in returning him from death because Arthur feared the repercussions would have been terrible.
Merlin smiled at him in gratitude, quietly reassuring Arthur that he was okay.
“I tried to persuade Rilian on staying in Camelot. That he should help Gwen, use what I taught him. That he should find a girl to love, start a family. Rilian was twenty years old, Arthur. It was time that he let me be and begin the next phase of his life.”
“But what will never change is that you’re his father. Of course he saw how much you were hurting. I expect it was hard on Rilian too after Camlann.”
Merlin nodded. “My son knew so well how close we were, Arthur. He understood it wouldn’t be easy for me to cope. He wanted to come with me because he’d only be worrying about me if I traveled on my own. He told me that I’d looked after him for ten long years, and it was time to return the favour. That he would be there for me. So I just agreed to Rilian coming along. I rationalized it to myself that it would be a good thing. Rilian could learn something valuable by seeing other places, meeting people in distant lands.”
“You’re never too old to learn.”
“Yes. I admit I enjoyed the idea of teaching him further, that though he was grown, there was always something new to learn. For him, and me too.”
“So how long did the two of you travel?”
Merlin shrugged. “For a few years. The whole experience – seeing lands with customs so different than my own – was unforgettable, to put it lightly. I ended up being grateful to do this with Rilian, to share the adventure with someone. We returned to Camelot, and Rilian did find a sweetheart. Her name was Ophelia, and she reminded me of Gwaine a bit. She was good for Rilian – balanced out his more reserved nature.”
“A girl like Gwaine? I don’t know, Merlin. Sounds like trouble.”
“Oh you were just jealous that Gwaine was more entertaining than you.”
“No I wasn’t.”
“Whatever allows you to sleep at night,” Merlin quipped with a grin.
“One can’t deny the fact that he liked you more than me, but that’s beside the point,” Arthur said. “So Rilian married her then, I would assume, and you got a daughter-in-law.”
Merlin smiled. “Yes. They had grandchildren, and I tried to be a good grandfather.”
“Oh I saw Disney’s The Sword in the Stone, so…”
“I didn’t grow a ridiculously long beard,” Merlin cut him off as Arthur looked ready to let out a laugh. “And that’s an inaccurate depiction.”
“Well of course. It’s an animated film. If you must know, my favorite part was the last bit of the squirrel scene…”
“Mine too,” Merlin said quietly with a small smile. “Anyway…so Rilian did help out Gwen at Camelot. He took the position of Court Sorcerer and I advised him when he needed me. But one day, when Rilian’s children were grown, I told him that I had to leave.”
“It was an odd thing… I just personally didn’t want the last my son saw of me was when I was on my deathbed. I knew I would be happiest leaving, comforted by the thought that Rilian last saw me alive and well. I guess I felt a proper retirement meant leaving my old life behind completely.”
“It can’t have been easy. What did Rilian think of it?”
“He was upset to see me go, but he accepted my choice. He told me he was grateful that I stayed long enough to be a grandfather to his children.”
“Or he just accepted your stubbornness and decided to make the best of it,” Arthur countered.
“I had spent days thinking about it, Arthur. But I knew it was the right thing deep down. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to tell Rilian yet I had to follow my heart. Of course it was hard to leave and I missed Rilian, but I appreciated the years I had with him. I couldn’t have asked for a better son. I could never thank you enough, Arthur, for convincing me to find a child.”
“No need to thank me. I just thought it made the most sense for you to have a magical child to mentor. I was pleased to see it work out so well. So that your life’s work wasn’t solely looking after me.”
“Those ten years with you and Rilian and Mordred…they were brilliant, weren’t they?” Merlin thought out loud. He sighed, looking wistfully.
“No doubt there,” Arthur said with a nod.
“After I left,” Merlin continued, “I returned to the cottage I had stayed in with Mordred years past. It was the cottage you came to when you asked us to return to Camelot.”
“Right. I remember that. Especially the holly all about the cottage.”
Merlin smiled. “Yes. The spooky thing, I suppose, is Mordred’s spirit came to visit me there every so often. I didn’t even summon him magically…it was just lucky that somehow he could come to me. But he couldn’t speak.”
“Hmm, not being able to speak certainly makes it spookier.”
“Still, I was glad to see him. I had long ago resigned myself to the fact that I’d never see you again at least in that life. It was a nice surprise that at least I could see Mordred again.”
“You did all the talking then?”
Merlin nodded. “I told him about my life since he’d died. I told him about Rilian and his family, about being a grandfather, about how much I still missed you, and how I wished he – that is Mordred – hadn’t died at Camlann. That suffering the loss of two of my closest friends in one battle was a terrible thing to deal with.”
“It’s fortunate you had Rilian’s support then. And you have me again. Thank goodness for reincarnation.”
“Grief is never easy to overcome,” Merlin said, sighing. “Eventually, one day, I left my cottage and traveled to the Crystal Cave. I had decided long in advance that if I would die of old age, I would rest inside the cave. The Crystal Cave is the birthplace of magic after all – I believed that was my true home in the end. I couldn’t think of a better place.” He smiled, remembering. “And Mordred was there too. I felt him hold my hand before I fell asleep one final time. Though I thought I’d be alone when my end came, I was grateful that Mordred was there with me nevertheless.”
Merlin looked down, appearing very somber. Arthur didn’t miss the quick swipe at his eyes like he was wiping away tears.
“I’m glad Mordred’s spirit was able to be with you. I guess fate refused to allow you to die alone.”
“Stubborn fate,” Merlin muttered.
Arthur lifted his chin to see wetness on Merlin’s face. “I’d say wise,” he said.
He leaned forward to kiss Merlin softly on the lips.
~ * ~