There was a dead king in his arms. Merlin wasn’t quite sure what to do now. His entire life had been: find Arthur. Save Arthur. And now he had failed.
The light filtered down on the blood pooling around his knees. It was Morgana. His friend. His enemy. Arthur lay heavy in his arms. King and corpse as one.
His brain was refusing to function. The dragon’s roar sounded, hoarse in the distance. The echo was captured by the lake and circled undying. The water trembled. Merlin could feel the vibrations in the soil, in the magic and life force of the world. It was howling. It howled in his fingertips, in the skin of his legs, the beat of his heart, his breath, his mind, his ears.
It took a long time for him to realise he was screaming.
The sky was dark when his throat seemed to finally give up and his voice disappeared.
The body in his arms was cold and stiff and it didn’t seem real. He stumbled to his feet and the body fell. He didn’t want to be near it anymore. He didn’t want to be anywhere here. His knees were stained with his victim’s blood and his king lay facedown in the mud.
‘I can’t do this.’ He told the trees. A whisper because that was all that remained.
What was a man without destiny? He would die old and empty in this forest, lying between the prince he’d loved and the queen he’d destroyed.
Merlin walked around the body to the lake and cupped a handful of water. He drank and didn’t think.
When the thirst was gone he stood and looked at the sky. The stars were multitude and foreign. He could still feel the life-blood of the world pricking at his veins, reaching out.
I can’t stay.
A breeze stirred the lake.
I can’t live this life anymore. I cannot return to a court without its king. I cannot save a future that has died. I cannot live.
The branches whipped at each other as the breeze turned into a wind. Merlin turned and looked back at the dead things.
Help me bury them, he said. And I will give you my mind.
The wind pitched up, loud and harsh, and then fell with a sudden crash of silence. The ground had split at the lakeshore. A deep and narrow crevice seemed to prove a barrier between the bodies and the water.
Merlin laughed. It was an offence to the silence that swallowed it.
The lake lapped at his ankles as he watched the earth fall down from under his toes. The earth had put him on the wrong side.
He felt for the magic inside him. It seemed bottomless.
You forget I am made of you, he thought, and buried his fingers into the soil. With reluctance a seed deep in the ground was pulled up, coaxed, forced. It burst painfully and grew tall, budding leaves of deep amber and dying in one breath. The bark broke and the roots snapped and it fell, creating a bridge to the dead on the other side.
Merlin walked it and joined them.
As the sun sunk further away Merlin gather the fallen leaves and blossoms around the clearing. He took them, handful by handful, to the crevice. As they fell the soil softened, until rock became stone, became sand, became earth. When the sun peaked back at the edge of the water the grave was complete.
It was as deep as Merlin was tall and encompassed him as he carried Arthur into it. He laid them both in a continuous line, Morgana’s head at Arthur’s feet. They were part of one person really. The mortal Merlin had chosen to save, the magic he had pushed away.
When the grave was full, and filled again with earth that bled kindness as it made itself soft, Merlin rested.
The trees allowed him one last morning with his king before calling him away from the graveside.
With aching limbs Merlin climbed the ridge that stood a few feet above the lake, trees sentinel. As a child Merlin had played among the oaks that hid his magic as it bubbled underneath his skin. It was an oak he chose now, young but strong. The bark was a little weatherworn but the branches young. He pressed his fingertips into its cracks and watched them disappear.
It was either a moment or an age, but as the lake lapped at his destiny’s grave Merlin was consumed into the oak, his body dissolved and his magic saturated the earth.