Chapter 1: New Beginnings
It had been perfect weather all day. The sun had long risen from the horizon and is now shining down upon an old cabin, far from the city. Merlin, who's been quietly putting items in a bag locks the door behind him, sighing. Then with a head held high, he starts walking into the extensive stretch of forest behind him.
This is going to be his last chance to get his thoughts in order. He doesn't want others to influence him, at least not in this. It has been a long time coming, confronting his immortality. In his life, he has seen too much. War. Famine. Discrimination. So, so much death. Yet his memories have become nothing more than blurry fragments upon useless skills he sometimes has. Some eras he can't even recall, but he knows he's lived them.
His bleeding heart just couldn't stay out of any conflicts, screaming at him to help those who are suffering. With the things he's seen and done to help few survivors, it's almost not worth it. Then he sees those victims later, who thank him and despite everything, continue to move forward. It gives him strength that he can move forward too.
Then last year happened, and honestly, he should have been expecting it. Something that has sat heavily in his chest for all these years has started wriggling. It whispers things to him. Taking the voices of people he's heard before. "It is time," They said. "return to us." He didn't think anything of it. He's had hallucinations before and has faced far greater challenges. The voices would not sway him.
It was until blurred figures of silver, red, and gold smiling at him did he know something was wrong. Outstretching their hands. Forgiveness. Emotions he'd forgotten that he had swelled up. It roared like the mighty sea and turned the gray world blue. They whispered sweet nothings in his ears; bringing comfort to his weary soul. "Join us, Merlin. Destiny calls for you." They chanted.
But he refused. They weren't real. In spite of that fact, they never left him alone. So he checked himself in a hospital. As time passed people found ways to improve their lives that left him impressed. This, he knew, was something they could help him with.
Every day was a battle against the voices. Every day the people there grounded him. He even made friends in this era. Kind souls who didn't pressure him to talk about his family, or ask about his life. He would be sad when he would have to bury them, but he would enjoy their youth while he could.
He shutters, fluttering away a drop of water that dripped in his eye. A rumble in the distance reached his ears, the sun's warmth no longer against his skin. He better hurry if he was going to say goodbye properly.
The items in his bag were the only clues he had to his first life. It nearly drove him mad trying to find answers, unable to let these objects go. Still, in his mind's eye, he could see what these objects used to be.
A giant diamond the size of his palm, glowing a brilliant blue. It has since lost its glow and hasn't been the same since. There is a dark sapphire, the same size as the diamond. It used to be held in a wooden staff until the wood rotted away into nothing. Once a golden chalice, now nothing more than rust. Dull and scratched up undeterred by his care.
Then, the very last thing. The one thing he wouldn't dare talk about or show to anyone. His reluctance to give it up frightened him, and he couldn't understand why. An old sword. It could hardly be called a sword anymore, with the gold handle being broken from its steel counterpart. The words that laid on both sides were scratched and unrecognizable.
Even now he can discern its brilliance. The handle and blade shimmering. A halo of light surrounding it, making it ethereal. Inscribed with the writing "Take me up" and "Cast me away". That day when he pulled it from the lake was something he couldn't forget; his wet clothes from swimming, his screaming, the sobbing, the hate he spat into the air. The words he said were lost to him now.
In his time at the hospital, he reached a sort of understanding. The voices had gone away, as did the people who spoke them. At that moment, a man had stood in front of him. Though he couldn't make out exact features, he saw this sword in a man's hand. He could recall the golden, silver, and scarlet this man was made of, standing regally. Waiting patiently.
He has to say goodbye to these things that tie him down.
He stops, rubbing the water from his face. It was raining hard now, thunder cracking in the distance. Here would be as good as any, he supposes. He gets to his knees and starts scooping soft dirt away with his hands. It is when the hole is deep enough do the tears fall in earnest.
There's no reason for the tears, but they fall anyway. As he places the bag in the hole he can't help but utter a few words. "Álætan mé. Íc genugan." He bites his tongue, tasting copper. Merlin hasn't used another language unless it was necessary. Why did he say it now? What kind of language was it?
He sighs. It felt right and that's what really matters. He's used to having unanswered questions; that one was definitely going to be one of them. He pushes the dirt back, trembling. Why does it feel like he's putting a part of himself into the darkness? As if it didn't exist at all. Yet he needs to do this, for himself. So he can start over properly, and do better this time.
White light strikes him, pain zinging in his veins and chest. The Thing inside of him bursts out, the blinding dust of life wrapping around him before he knows no more.
It hurts, a searing pain that went all throughout his body. He was melting from the inside out, he was sure of it. The world swims as he rolls over. Who is he? Where is he? What's happening?
Humming. There's no pattern to it, no clear direction, but the woman's voice is a balm to his agony. "Ugggnnnhhh." White burns his retinas the moment he opens his lids, slamming them shut against the glow of day. "Merlin!" The voice is suddenly right next to him, and a slender hand is brushing through his hair.
All he manages is a twitch and a low, questioning gurgling. "I'll be right back honey, ok?" Footsteps, rustling, and then silence. Then their back as soon as they left with another, heavier set. Both sets of hands push him up. He whines in protest. Everything tilting dangerously with the churning of his gut.
"Merlin. I need you to drink this. Can you do that for me?" It's a man's voice this time, low and soothing. Something presses to his lips. It's cold and spilling into his mouth before he's ready. He chokes on the rancid taste. Heaving and drowning on the chunky liquid. "Swallow it!"
Swallowing it once, twice, and a third time. The effects are almost immediate, leaving him drowsy and the pain background noise. "There. He's not ready to wake up yet."
"Is my son going to be alright?"
"We need to see…."
When he next wakes, it's not painful. All of it had faded to a dull throb as if it were the blood pulsing through his veins. The Thing that had once pressed too heavily on his chest now swims lazily. Welcoming him as an old friend.
Things he's once forgotten flicker through his mind like the pages of a book. Despite so many of the pages being missing, his head reels from what he starts to recall as if it were yesterday. How could he ever forget his Mother? The one who cared for him and raised him all those years ago?
She's still dead even if he can see her smile now. Purely during a time where he didn't think how much longer he would live. Knowing that all children put their parents to rest.
But there are still things missing. He knows he grew up in her home, then she told him something, and he left to go somewhere. There's a gap time time lost until he returns home broken and sobbing. She welcomed him with open arms. Merin stayed and watched her wither away. Where did he go in that time?
It doesn't matter. Right now he needs to find out where he is. He did just get struck by lighting. Opening his lids he expected to see white hospital walls but instead greeted with a tent built out of cloth. Where is he? Beneath him is a blanket set on hard dirt and on top is the long, teenage limbs that haven't quite filled out yet. Hands reach up and touch his face, the melting baby fat on his cheeks confirming his suspicions. Something was very, very wrong.
"Merlin!" He startles, magic flaring at his fingertips. It's the women from before. Its… Merin snaps his eyes to her. She's in tears as she gathers him into a tight hug.
All the air gets squeezed out of him; he can't find it in himself to mind when he's squeezing as hard as he can back. "Mom." he rasps, trembling.
"I was so worried about you. You got sick so suddenly..." She exhales. "My sweet, sweet boy…"She pulls away. He heaves in a large breath. "I'm so sorry honey. Are you feeling better?" She plants a hand on his forehead, and he feels dizzy from this influx of affection.
He nods, staring at her face dazedly. He could never touch his hallucinations. "What happened? Where are we? I can't..." Hunith frowns, setting her hands on his cheeks and turns his face this way and that.
She settles herself after his examination. "Come. There's someone who can explain it better than I can." Her tone leaves him following without comment.
The nervous swooping of his gut and fluttering of his heart woozying. As soon as he sets foot out, an odd nostalgia comes over him. Tents of all sorts are gathered around a large fire pit. Odd symbols and trinkets adorned across them. He flounders at the forest around them. Dread dropping like a rock in his chest.
His mother stops in front of a very tall man who stops attending to the fire, smiling at their approach. Merlin twitches in apprehension. "Ah Hunith, I see Merlin is well enough to walk. Quite impressive, I must say. I am Aglain."
The young boy's dark brows furrow. "Impressive…? What did I do?"
The dark skinned man blanches. "You mean you don't remember?" A small shake of the head. "Well, that's… odd. You used quite a lot of magic." Fear thunders momentarily. "No need for that," Aglain says patiently, but he can see the small flicker of trepidation all the same. "You are safe here. Druids are friends to magic, and your mother sought us in your time of need."
He swallows, pulling back the magic that anxiously scanned his surroundings. It stuffs back under his skin. Feeling like it was bursting with how much of it there is. He relaxes by a fracture. "We are uncertain as to what happened. Whatever you had done, it was powerful, and very old magic. I'm sure all magical creatures have felt it. Draining your magic that low has very dangerous consequences."
Merlin pouts at the scolding tone. It's not like he intentionally did any of this. He was just trying to say goodbye and move on. Then he just had to get struck by lightning, didn't he? Then he- what. Traveled back in time? Is now living his first life? Ridiculous. The more he thinks about it, the less impossible it might seem.
An old hunched woman shoves Aglain to make room for herself. Her glazy grey pupils stare directly at him, though they don't focus on a particular place. "Don't mind my son deary! He's always so polite and beating around bushes…" Without even turning, she pushes her son away as he tries to intervene.
"Shush! Emrys needs to hear this." Merlin blinks at the title, but she's bowling forward. "You've gone and done things no magic user has done before. Time has punished you, now it gives you a gift for your payment. Even now you reap the benefits and pay your debts." Her old croaking voice rumbles with underlying power.
She gummily smirks then. "All have heard you're pleads Emrys. You have been giving a second chance. Go to a place where your magic can run free and harm no one. Go to the Perilous Lands. Find the Fisher King. You will seek your answers there."
The women jerks, Aglain outreaching her hands to hold her. Her gaze goes unfocused. "Deary?" "I'm here Mother." She breathes. The thundering voice is gone. "Well... It's been a long time since I've done one of those." The old women slumps, seemingly exhausted.
"Come, Mother, I'll walk you back to your tent." Merlin watches as they walk away. The hairs on the back of his neck haven't gone down with magic coiling under his skin. Merlin's a bit silly, being so tense around the women when she's hardly threatening. Ominous words ringing in his skull.
Something moves beside him and he's reminded that his Mom is here too. Seeing her pale, drawn visage brings alarm to his gut. "Mom?" Her wild expression turns to him. "Ma…?" His voice comes weakly, and she shakes her head.
"I'm sorry honey… I was.." Her tone trembles, crumbling swiftly under her sorrow. "I knew destiny would come for you." Hunith cried, "But I didn't think it would come so soon!"
Tears flowed down her face so he quickly pulls her into a hug. "Ma… I think.."
"No." Her sternness stops the idea in its tracks. "I will not have my son go to the Perilous Lands." The arms tightened around him. "You are still so young... We can find a way to protect you. We'll just move further away from the village."
He swallows down the lump in his throat. There is nothing else that he wants more than to do that. His body was so young, and he could live out part of his life as a child. Unburdened. Yet he knows that this would be a lie. He cannot remain ignorant forever. If they did move farther away from Ealdor, they would no longer have the support of their neighbors, and life would grow far more dangerous. Destiny is calling for him.
"No Ma. I need to go. As much as I want too, I can't ignore this. Forgive me." Both are still. Merlin holds his breath.
"Alright honey. I'll help you prepare." And lets it go. His Mother gives him a lingering kiss on his forehead, and he can't help but close his eyes. Aching for the affection that he will soon be leaving.
Aglain clears his throat, and they separate. The man's sudden coldness is disturbing. "Now forgive me, but I am not one to ignore my Mother's warning. If your magic is a danger to us, then you have to leave. Now." "Excuse me?" Hunith's glare made them both flinch.
"I do not say this lightly. My Mother's sight is the only thing that has allowed us to make it this far. He must go."
"Mom." He grabs her hand before she could do anything more. "It's ok. I'll go." The tall man gives a silent apology with the twist of his mouth.
"I am truly sorry for this. I can give supplies for the trip and directions, but no more." Another druid rushes up with a leather bag, thrusting it at Merlin without looking before scurrying away. He manages to not drop it. "This has rations, a waterskin, herbs, a map, and a healing elixir. Use that when you are in dire need."
The teen nods seriously, throwing the strap over his shoulder. "Thank you." Swooped up into one last rib-crushing hug, Hunith whispers into his mop of dark hair. "I'll be waiting in Ealdor if you need me." It's a small comfort, but one he takes with him gladly as he steps away.
His mother's gaze prickles the back of his neck as he walks deeper into the forest. One last glance back to see Hunith's head dipped down low before he's pushing onward. Minutes of walking. The sun and wilderness pressing down on him. The ache in his heart remains; swelling until It's a terrible beast that took away time.
It's dark now. Crickets chirping away and the sweat drying off in the coolness of night. He can't see anything yet his magic is scanning the area far and wide for him. It's frightening how it tingles wholly beneath the skin.
That's what causes him to collapse to the earth. To scramble until his back touches a hard surface and prevent his panicked breaths from speeding up. The day flashes through his mind and in a tick of engulfing fear does his magic crackle outside of his skin.
It's gone. It's all gone. There is no buildings or cracks in this world to suggest that he was on a really strange drug trip. With certainty, this was life thousands of years ago, and he would have to live through it all over again. He'll be hunted relentlessly for centuries. Wars will ravish the lands and he'll be in the center of it all. His mother will die again, and he'll have to say goodbye.
This wasn't a gift. It was a curse, and he wants no part of it.
If the Perilous Lands have answers, then he's going to get them. No matter the cost.
Chapter 2: The Perilous Lands
Merlin flops, settling against the moss he gathered as to not touch the chill of the dirt. Winter is passing, a bit of frost coming onto the coldest part of the night affront the blooming flowers of spring. A week of traveling has left his whole body sore. It wasn't unusual for him to travel like this, but his unusual teenage body wasn't used to the hardships of the road as his mind was.
He is sure that he's close. Another day's travel should mean that he'll be able to spot the Perilous lands themselves if the map is to be believed. The hair rises on his arms, snapping him wide awake despite his exhaustion. Battle cries pierce the air with the rumbling of feet running at him. He tumbles on his knees and widens at the several bandits rushing him in the darkness.
He's not even on his feet before they're above him. Panic grips his heart tightly into hesitating. He rolls away just as the mace slams down. Jumping to his feet, he smashes his foot deep into the man's face. Then he dashed away, taking stock of the surroundings.
Three men are now sneering at him, not expecting a boy to fight back. The moonlight his only source of sight. He wasn't strong enough to hurt them, and he was tired. There was no way he could end this quickly. "Lucky shot boy." The man spits, wiping away blood. "Come easy and we'll spare yeh."
Merlin throws them a cheeky grin. "No thanks, Sir." Dashing at them, he bluffs a swing. The man tries to grab it, but he pulls back. Kicking at the kneecap.
A snap, the man screaming in pain. He ducks under between his legs. "You little-!" He climbs onto screaming man's back, kneeing the other man in the face as he reached out.
He yells, grabbing his nose and faltering back. Merlin squeaks as his ankle is grabbed, wiping him hard through the air onto the ground with a smack. Gasping as his vision fades from white. "Damn bugger is tougher then he looks."
His body trembles with the effort to push up, but a foot cracks into his spine. "Yield!"
Merlin's heart pounds wildly in his rib cage, as a trapped rabbit would panic before being devoured.
Shrieks devour the air. Wet gurgling slurps squelching. Thump, and silence.
He dares to glance up. The men had deep cuts split through their armor, cutting to their skins. It didn't matter where the cut's where, but one wound was a finality to their lives. Their heads cleanly separated from their corpse.
The adrenaline practically useless now that the threat has passed. The horror creeping in. He did that. He killed them. All he wanted to do was leave them unconscious, but his magic wouldn't abide by that. Illy, he snatches up his bag and runs away from the sight.
He can't find it in himself to feel guilty that they are dead. They had nearly hurt him. Others might not be so lucky as to survive the encounter. The rules in this world are different from the twenty-first. His magic did that. To protect him. Without him even winded afterword. What kind of power was inside of him to do something that horrendous?
On top of the hill, he can see how far the span of the land reaches. Lush green forest stretching from hilltop to the dips in the Earth. Between two tall mountains, it all cuts off into a barren wasteland of red and orange. All paled in the moonlight. He could hear the screeches of animals vying for their own survival in the distance.
He would stay here then, and travel in the morning. Another moss bed, and the grasping of his bag close to his chest. It frightened him, but what could he do? He can't panic. Not like he did last time. His freak out in the forest had set it alight with blue flames. He tried to put it out after he realized what he'd done. The air got sucked out of the forest, the plants decayed onto a brown smudge in a wide circle. Him standing unaffected.
Merlin is glad that he listened, or else he would have fallen apart at that camp. He doesn't want to imagine what would happen to all those people. He is truly a monster. Something that shouldn't exist. Regardless, his magic forces him to live even though he's tired to move on. It's keeping him here for some type of purpose, and he would be an idiot if he didn't see what it was first.
Sleep is short and restless, but the hot, dry day calls for him to rise and continue on. Ahead, he spots a long wooden bridge over an almost cavernous river. Cautiously he approaches. No one is around despite the small, freshly put out fire next to it. While he wasn't looking, a presence appears in front of him. Quicky turning and glaring, he sees a stout man leaning against scaffolding at the entrance. Giving him a small bow of his head. "Emrys."
Merlin's face scrunches up. "Why is everyone calling me that? It's not my name."
Humor twinkles in the man's eyes. "I'm Grettir."
Seeing the greeting for what it is, he takes the man's hand and shakes it. Offering a small smile. "I'm Merlin."
Grettir sizes him up, and he openly does the same in turn. "You are not what I was expecting. Very young for someone so powerful." He brushes aside being offended. Viewing his face in a stream while he was drinking he saw that he was scarcely entering puberty. No wonder he almost got robbed.
"Before you pass, I will leave you with this bit of advice before I let you enter the Fisher Kings Kingdom. He has waited many years for this day, try not to make his time here too much longer." The tint of seriousness had him nodding. This was important to him, and he would do his best to uphold that even though he wasn't sure what it meant.
The man steps aside letting him amble onto the bridge. "Can you at least tell me-" Merlin twists around but he was already gone. He couldn't sense him anywhere. It prickled at him, hesitantly continuing on. The forest trickles off into nothingness. Hot dry air takes bits of breath in his lungs. The Phoenix sun burning brilliantly above him. Dead bundles of trees lay as far as he could see.
It feels wrong being here. Magic had been forcefully removed from this place, sapping this land, taking the life of the plants all at once. It was revolting. The castle isn't too far now. A dark, towering spire surrounded by rocks looms in the distance. That must be it. The screeches he's been hearing all day grow fainter. It is very odd.
He enters the castle at the gate with it fully closed. It would be impossible for him to lift it by himself with his current state. So maybe he could... A small twitch of his finger, the iron gate crumples in on itself as it shoots up. Merlin grimaces. He was trying really hard to be careful!
He steps inside, scanning through the corridors. Twenty rooms later, and he hasn't found a living being. It's becoming dark outside, but the closer he is to his questions being answered the more he wants to press on just a little bit longer. Maybe the King is on a bed somewhere? Like sleeping beauty?
Wow, that's a jarring thought. No one's going to understand his references. Maybe he'll just tell it as a story. Not as his own, but a quite passing story for the kids. One room he steps into has a stone door slamming behind him. He groans. Now he was going to have to find a way out.
"At last…Emrys…" There was a throne in the middle of the room. He could see an arm resting on the side. Slowly he creeps up to it, staring at a wrinkled, paper-thin skinned man. Cobwebs formed on him and the dust remains untouched. It looked like he's been there for a very, very long time.
The Fisher King's head audibly creaks as he turns his head to look at him. Hoarsely rasping out his words. "I have waited many years for your arrival, but you have questions… I will do my best to answer them for you."
Merlin crosses his arms, staring at him. Satisfied with the transparency the man gives off. "Why does everyone keep calling me Emrys? My name is Merlin." He winces at this squeaky tone. He really sounds like a brat.
"There is a great prophecy echoed throughout the old religion. It speaks about two sides of a coin. One side is the greatest Warlock to ever lived, the other the Once and Future King. Together they will unite the land of Albion." The Fisher King lets out a dusty breath. "You are the most powerful warlock to ever live. That is why you're title is Emrys. That is why you are Immortal."
The air leaves his lungs. "But why! I didn't-! It doesn't make any sense!" He paces the floor, pulling at his hair. "There are things I don't remember. There are years I spent, without hearing any of this! Then suddenly, I get hit by lightning, and what!" He throws up his hands. "I get a second chance?! What the hell did I do so wrong that I had to wander the Earth for centuries!"
He huffs for breath, the frustration all taken out of him at the realization. Horror dawning on his face. "That's it, isn't it? I fucked up, and now I'm back to do this all over again." He giggles, hysteria leaking at the edges. "I can't even know what I did wrong to fix it!"
"MERLIN!" The King booms. He snaps back, forcing himself to take calming breaths. "That is it, Merlin. Calm yourself." It's a gentle tone, but it makes him almost want to throttle the man in the chair for telling him to do something he's already doing. After a while has gone by, Inexplicably the old King starts to laugh. Or what he can only assume is laughter with how he huffs and puffs.
"Oh.. forgive me. The irony of it is getting to me. If you are as old as you say you are, it is quite funny seeing it come out of a squeaky child."
A blush crawls on his sharp cheekbones. "I did sound rather ridiculous, didn't I?"
"Indeed, but I understand. Destiny is a cruel mistress when she has you in her clutches. I do my best to serve her well so that she may let go of me when the time comes. I can teach you to control your magic. The way you move toward destiny is all on your choices, only you can shape the details."
Merlin swallows. He can't meet that intense gaze any longer, instead glaring hatefully at the ground. "I never wanted this. I don't want this. I want to go home."
"And where is your home, Merlin?" He inquires. That question takes all the resistance out of him. He cannot answer, for all of his life he has never had a home. Not after his Mom passed away. "As for your memories, It is magic's way of protecting you, as it has done for me. I have lived a very long life on this throne, but I am lucky enough not to recall each day that has passed for me."
Merlin turns sorrowful, panging with sympathy and terrible regret. "How.." His voice turns small, "How long have you lived?"
"I am uncertain. I know it has been long enough for people to forget me, and what my Kingdom used to be. That is a story for another time, I'm afraid. It is your choice to make, but you may stay here until you have reached your decision." He has already reached a decision, for it's not much of a choice in the end.
"Thank you. I'll take up your offer on teaching me." The man from the bridge walks from behind the throne, bowing gracefully as the King cracks a smile.
"I am glad. Grettir will help prepare you a room. Come to me when you are ready to start. As they say, we have all the time in the world." They share a cheeky flash of teeth.
"Right this way, Emrys." He follows him out the door- now open and trap free- down the hallway and into the room closest to the throne room.
"You know my name is Merlin right?"
A blond brow rises at him. "I will call you by your rightful title, Emrys. You deserve nothing less." With a snap of his fingers, the room becomes clear of dust.
The warlock startles at the blatant use of magic that wasn't his. He was going to have to get used to that. "It just sounds so… posh, you know? I'm still just Merlin."
Gretter hums, "Sorry for the lack of accommodations. Everyone who has left my King had stolen all they could from him. I will get you blankets and pillows, but the floor is all I can offer you for now."
He huffs. Clearly, he was dodging, but he'll leave it alone for now. He sets his things in a corner where he'll lay. "Emrys."
"I'm happy to see my King laugh again. It has been too long."
He goes to say something, but he was already gone. They were going to have to talk about the vanishing bit sometime. Days passed. Food randomly appears whenever he is, three times a day, always on time. Always with his water sack full. In his room, he has thick, wooly blankets for when he needs to sleep now. He feels awful, because he wants to be able to do it on his own, but he's not seen Grettir anywhere to tell him as such.
Mostly his days are full of frustrations and limitations.
"Emrys. Breathe. You will be able to hold back the flow. Try again."
The boy's furious expression snaps up to him, blotchy eyes streaming tears. "I can't do it! I can't stop myself from crushing a bolder, so how am I going to be able to stop myself from crushing that bird." He gasps, shivering and shuttering. He couldn't help it. It was like trying to stop the flow of a broken dam that held the ocean with your hands. Every time he tries to pick up a bolder with his magic, it instantly smashes into dust.
The bird regards him with beady black dots. "I have something I want to try, but I need you to trust me. As carefully as you can, lift it up. Do no more." He raises up his hand and delicately moves up. The bird startled tweets reach his him and he nearly panics, if it weren't for him seeing that the bird was fine. If not a little panicked.
The flow was still rushing by him, but it was not overpowering. Maybe it recognized there was life in his hands? He lets it down to the ledge, pulling back and letting out a sigh of relief. It flies away unharmed. "Interesting." Was all he had to say.
To ease himself from that stressful encounter, he goes running. It had been something for all his years of travel that had escalated into a necessity. If he needed to get out of a place really quickly, being faster than his opponents brought him comfort. Besides, he can't continue to be weak. He'll familiarise himself with his martial arts again and build his strength. He could never really gain any muscle and he still bruises as easily as a peach, but people underestimating him is a great advantage.
"I want you to create a butterfly."
Merlin shifts his head to the side. "What?" A wry grin. The Fisher King appears to be exhausted today. Perhaps that was why he was asking him to do something so simple. "A butterfly? What, you've gotten tired of me crushing rocks way bigger than me?"
"I will never grow tired of that. Trust me." With a pause, he does what he is asked. Golden dust twirling in between his palms, shaping into a sapphire butterfly with swirling golden lines. He's never seen anything like it in his life. "Please, let me see." He holds it out.
Something like admiration fills the King's orbs. Sitting straighter in his throne and a healthy flush passing on his skin. He had a lot of time to get rid of the dust, cobwebs, and griminess of the room. In a split second, he glimpses at the King he once was. Vibrant, Youthful, and Happy.
"You can do such wonderful things with your magic. It cannot create life, but you continue to do the impossible. Your overabundance of power doesn't have to be frightening. It doesn't always have to destroy."
Its wings brush against his palm as it takes flight. Glowing and shining in the light as it flies out the window. Merlin feels a heaviness lift, just a little. The King looks proudly at the boy, knowing that he did a good thing today.
A morning where they had simply talked. Merlin told him about the impossible things in the future. How humans had built multiple castles for miles without end. How they promoted peace as much as they could by enforcing laws to protect the weak.
The King told him the story of his Kingdom. Wistfulness in his gaze and tone as he recalled his loving wife. He tells Merlin about his only daughter, who's kindness lead the people to adore her. Yet his magic had kept him young, and so he had watched as his wife aged, holding her even until her last breath.
Then the King told him a war that happened because of his mistake. How war made him bitter and how he slaughtered everyone from the other side, and how his daughter ran away from him. It was until he was injured in the battle that he became cursed, and the curse that was brought upon him rotted the land. And how he remains there, waiting.
They shared the silence. Grieving for everything that they loved.
A morning when he wakes up and walks into the empty halls, he sees the dreariness of the hallways. Using his magic, he gradually fixes up the Castle. A practice in control of how much is gushing out of him. Ballard said that his magic was instinctual. Something that could be trained and calmed through use, but will react on its own if it came down to it.
When Merlin had sat down to listen to him once more, the King spoke. "I've heard from Grettir that you've been repairing my Castle. Why?"
"I wanted to make your time here more comfortable. I wanted to give you some peace before…"
The King smiles kindly at him. "Before I die. Thank you."
It took a few months to complete, and there were days where grief overtook him, and the stones beneath his palms dusted, but it was finally done. The Castle stood proud underneath the sun, whole and radiant. In the back of the Castle, a farm he had grown attempted to stay, but it had quickly burned up in the heat. There wasn't much he could do to without water, and he hated being reliant upon Grettir. If he could catch the man when he wasn't teleporting everywhere, maybe Merlin could be taught how to do that do.
Well, here he is now. Putting on his best dopey grin, he whips around. "Hello Grettir! How are you today?"
As usual, the man smirks with mischief, but answers politely. "I am doing well today. How are you?"
"Wonderful!" He chirps inching a step closer.
"The King is asking for you." Thrown, he pauses. They hadn't used titles in months.
"The… King? Why?"
"That is for you to find out Emrys." He hadn't blinked yet. If he goes behind that pillar he would just teleport away-!
He jumps after the man, gracelessly tripping over his left foot and crashing to the ground as the man calmly walks behind the stone wall. He spits out the dust, sickened by the taste. He whines in laughter. Damn him for getting way again! He'll need to try a different trick next time.
He was really giving him the chase of his life. Getting up, he climbs the tower to the throne room. An odd cool breeze brushes over him before he goes inside, and he looks to the sky to find dark clouds in the far distance. Maybe this is what he wants to talk about.
There Ballard sits with an edge of gloom that he hasn't seen before. "There is something more I've been meaning to tell you, Emrys, but I had not been sure of it until now."
Merlin straightens. They haven't used titles for a while now. "What is it?"
The Fisher King beings to bemoan the past off in the distance. "My family has done their best to give what they could. Our magic has always been… overflowing. For generations what my family has given to the land, the land gives back tenfold. It is why we were given the name Myrrdin and a crown set on our heads. We have never been in need of food. Never starving from food that would not grow or had a terrible plague that would eat the Kingdom overnight. Now because of my mistakes my Kingdom has suffered."
This was not good, he could feel it. "So why are you telling me this now?"
The King turns with a hardened stare at him. "I have not died all this time because the Land did not wish for me to go, but now… It is time."
A resignation pierces his heart. "You're wanting to go." He said.
The King nods solemnly. "Yes. I assume you have seen the storm clouds outside."
Merlin's missing something. "I have."
He speaks with a conviction as if what he says is a fact of life."The Land will always recognize it's King, as will The Kings across Albion."
It clicks, and he grows furious. Merlin snaps, "I don't want it. I finally can hold my magic back, and now you're asking me to be King? No. I won't do it! I can't run a Kingdom on my own."
He speaks calmly like he expected this reaction, but with an undeniable undertone of resignation. "I do not ask you to be King. I am telling you that under your care, it has decided that it is time to flourish once more. You can choose to leave it. I would not blame you. But here it will remain all the same."
The sadness he radiates is not one Merlin can handle lightly. How could he refuse a man's last wish? But he doesn't know how to be a King. He's not a leader by a long shot, and he's never liked being in the spotlight. He wets his dry lips. "I can't- I need time to think about this."
"Of course. It will be a day before the storm arrives. After, many will come to conquer this empty place."
Merlin can't get out of there fast enough. He hid deep in his room, blocking all entry with his golden intent. Outside the air grew progressively colder and wet. He could taste the electricity and the static of magic on his tongue.
This could be his chance to protect people like him. They would never need to be persecuted for being themselves. Yet he's not a leader. For all of his shortcomings, he still couldn't take a thank you with a straight face. Not to mention that he hates politics. It's all polite words and harsh truths that aren't spoken.
The storm came that night. It's blades of rain cut into the dry soil below. The wind blew so hard even the refurbished castle creaked under the strain. So when the storm settled after the earth was a healthy, musty brown, Merlin reached his decision.
He would not have Ballard wait anymore. The King waits for him with a distant, weary gaze. "I will take care of this Kingdom, Sire." He bows low at the waist. "You have my word that I will do my best to rule properly and to give it the protection it deserves."
Merlin looks up from beneath his brows and sees the King far more relaxed.
"Each King that the Land chooses is granted the right to the Myrrdin name. As well as it's secrets. They are given freedom to build their Kingdom as their own, but creating a Kingdom from the ground up will have its own hazards. Even knowing this; Merlin of Ealdor, son of the mother Hunith; Emrys, the greatest warlock to ever live; Do you accept this Kingdom as your own?"
"Then rise, Emrys Myrrdin. Take the throne as your own." A sweep of sorrow chokes him as The King reaches out a skeletal hand. "You are a good man Merlin. You have brought light into my life when I thought the sun had set. Now I give you a piece of advice. Remain true to your heart."
His pale hand trembles as he takes the palm into his own, laying his other on top. Merlin hopes that he can understand the words he cannot express. Maybe he does in the way that he slumps in his throne.
Golden wisps of light twirl up the man's arm. Sliding up until it envelopes him whole. The light glows so bright that he cannot see anymore, and when it dims, there is nothing left. A single tear shatters to the floor. Then Merlin is climbing to the highest point in the castle. Crisp clean air greets him at the top.
He delves deep into what he wants. Words flowing from his lips like melted butter. Hands outstretched to glittering stars. "Bebûgan mîn friðstôl ofere mîn cuman. Lâttêow ðæge pro tôhwon fetian hyldo, hûru hræd me oðtêon ðâs sê ðâ ðe wýscan hearmian."
Nothing happens, then a beam of gray shoots from his palms, rising high into the sky. It stops once it's far above the tower, and then it burst until the gray stretches into nothing. But he can feel the barrier stretch to the very edges of where his borders are.
Every day for a week did the storm rage on, and every night he went outside to see what had changed. First, it was small bits of green on every inch of earth. Then it was trees who matured within a day to be as tall as him, with crops and bushes and herbs thick and full with eatable food. By the end, it was as if the forest had been there for years. It was magical, with how vibrant green everything was. A fresh stream ran next to the castle, and the well in the castle was full.
That night in his dreams, a caged scally beast roared to the heavens. He could feel the agony and pain of being chained down when he knew he could fly so high into the sky. Then as if he knew where he was, golden orbs saw through him. "Emrys."
The morning came with warm sun, static in the air, and throbbing in his skull. He struggles to think through the pain, but there it is. More pages added to his book of memories. Hot simmering anger groveled in his gut, but it wasn't enough for him to lash out yet. "Emrys."
He groans, turning onto his stomach. "It's n't my n'me." Grettir kicks him gently in the ribs.
"My Lord, we have lessons for you today. If you are going to be King then I need to teach you proper etiquette."
"hhmmm re'lly with da tittle?"
"Yes. It is your rightful title. Come on. Get up." "Mmhk."
They spend the whole day establishing the rules of the land, exploring castle secrets, and being shown the hidden wall beneath the castle that held a fair amount of gold. How trade would work and how they could gather their wealth in case of emergencies.
Merlin is eager to implement some ideas from the twenty-first. There were a few things he found fascinating that he could make himself that helped humanity so much. Soap, baby formula, A school would be implemented for children of all sorts to learn magic, basic writing skills, how to treat wounds, farming, the law of the land, and anything else they had wanted to learn.
He understood that Kingdoms are seen in their worth by their shows of power and wealth. It frustrated him, but he would divide as much wealth he could into the truly important things. Still, he would need all the support he could get, and he would greatly offer his protection in return. He would not have any more people killed at Uther's hand if he could help it.
But first, he needs to go find someone. They needed his protection most of all, even if they don't deserve it.
He leaves the next morning, all of his belongings shifted over his shoulder and letting Grettir know that he'll be back when he arrives that night at the border. Once again will be he traveling on foot. To journey away from what he as known. Destiny is a heavy weight on his shoulders that will not be ignored.
Chapter 3: Druids
Everyone knew of the new Kingdom. No one could miss the dark clouds that passed overhead, unnaturally moving towards the Perilous Lands. It was the reason anyone dared to enter the vicious place at all. If life could be brought back in the soil, then the land would give itself up and release itself from the curse.
They say that if it comes to pass, the harvests would be plentiful and disease would be a distant memory. Most Kings know that having an alliance with such a place is beneficial so that when a famine came they could have a trusted source of food. Yet one Kingdom felt there is more at stake than what meets the eye.
Two Knights in crimson red stand before their King, professional in the face of their King's tight posture and expression. "Report your findings." Uther said.
They shared a glance, and the dirty blond on the right was first to speak. "We investigated the Perilous Lands as your requested Sire. The rumors are true. The land is no longer barren."
Uther scowls, leaning forward in his throne. "Who is the new King? Where you able to find him." They shift, and he squints and the odd bout of nerves they are presenting. This time the left one speaks. "No Sire. Our attempt to cross the border was… stopped. Something stopped us." "Like an invisible wall!" The other piped up.
The blond swallowed. "I think… It seemed like magic Sire." "Magic?" He snapped. "Are you sure?" They shuffled, anxious but nodding. "We've never seen anything like it Sire. The King remains silent in his contemplation. Assessing the two Knights carefully. "Do not speak of this to anyone. I want the two of you to keep an eye on the border, and report back to me periodically."
They bow, clearly hearing the dismissal. Once the doors close behind them does he turn towards his physician. "Do you know anything about a barrier, Gaius?" He looks to the side, before shaking his head. "There are many ways one could give a sort of barrier to something, but I've never heard of anything like this."
"I want you to research this, Gaius. Leave no stone unturned. Find a weakness. I will not have a King that is accepting of sorcery. Not if I can help it." Gaius dips below his waist. "Of course sire." He leaves Uther seething in his throne.
Gaius turns the information in his mind as he walks back to his quarters. He had felt the giant ping of magic that erupted several months ago, and he felt a similar wave of magic nearly two weeks ago. It called to him whenever he was frightened, or when he knew there was another execution because of false accusations.
It made him feel safe. Some days he thinks of packing his things and following. Yet he has many things to do here. People need his remedies. The tides are changing, and he's interested to see what this new 'King' would do.
Merlin spends his nights sleeping on his conjured moss and dreaming about the trapped dragon. He does not speak, but neither does Kilgharrah. In the morning his anger sparks. He can remember every lie, and every manipulation the dragon told him. All that pathetic dragon wanted was to leave, and he did everything he could to do so.
He breathes, in slowly and out. Putting himself in the dragon's place. The years of isolation he must have experienced. The pain of losing everyone he knows and cares about. Being the last one alive. He understands it all. But he is nothing like the Dragon. He did not manipulate those around him for his own gain. Everything he did, he tried to help others around him. He would not fall so easily to his silky words again.
Thinking about Kilgharrah and his memories surrounding him hurt. Certain things didn't always add up. How did the dragon escape in the first place? He talked about the once and future King a lot, as if they were close. Who was he? What about the two other people whose name's slipped from his grasp?
The headaches always slowed him down, so he tries not to think too hard about it. He passes by villages more frequently now, so he must be getting close. It's when he arrives at the capital does he realize. The dragon lays deep beneath Camelot.
Merlin huffs. This wasn't something he wanted to do. "Emryssss." He rolls his eyes. The old dragon was getting impatient. Might as well do it now, so when his Kingdom is established he doesn't have to travel as much anymore. "Hyrð unnon wafung."
The spell overlaying him familiarly. It's been a while since he's used this, but it would be necessary to sneak past those who aren't looking too closely. Then he's calmly walking through Camelot in the dark. The Knights he passes are flush with mead and are swaying on their patrols. It is too easy to slip by them. He would never have this kind of guard in his Kingdom.
He slips by into the Castle as a servant leaves, easily walking down the stairs and past the guards that are playing card games. Into the dark depths, stale wind blowing by him. He turns the corner, and there is the cave in his dreams.
He stares at the giant dragon, which Kilgharrah does same, a little startled. He tries not to crack a smile as he glares up at the beast. "Greetings Emrys. You are…not what I was expecting. So small for such a great destiny." A cold fury starts in his chest. Those words echoing so similarly to the first time.
"And you are quite big for getting trapped so easily." He growls, glowering at the small boy that dare talk so crassly. "Do not speak which you do not know, warlock." "Do not belittle the person who can set you free, Dragon." His giant head jerks back, snarling down at him.
"It seems your gifts have made you arrogant Emrys. " "It's is not a place of arrogance that I speak from!" He roars, walls trembling under his rage. Kilgharrah's face trickles off into confusion then. "You are… angry with me."
The warlock puffs. "You must promise me that you will not take revenge on your captors. In time they will get what they deserve." The dragon pouts, called out and not happy about being ordered around.
"Emrys-" Something deep inside him shakes. Spilling out his throat as if he was throwing up hot coals. "Υποσχέσου μου." Saying those words takes everything out of him. Abruptly he's ill, shivering with blood layering the back of his tongue. He's had enough surprises, so why not add another one to the pile?
The Dragon who was so eager to protest now lowers his whole head close to him until he can sense his breath. It tingled, giving him the strength to continue standing. "I promise." That was good enough for him. He stumbles down to where the chains wrap around his ankles, in a daze flicking his hand and destroying them with ease.
Surprisingly he doesn't take off into the sky. Instead, he lowers himself to the ground with his wing creating a sort of ramp to his back. "Climb on. You deserve your rest." Merlin doesn't need to be told twice. Even with his help clambering up is exhausting. He holds tight onto his neck, whole body pressed tightly to the scales.
They lift to the sky with a mighty flap of leathery wings. Distantly, he hears the alarm bells ringing before the darkness takes him.
The bells rang into the night over horrified screams. A dragon as gold as the setting sun swooped down. Teasing his claws catching a Knight before flying back up. He roared, and Uther screamed at the Knights to fire. Arrows of plenty shot against the dragons face, it jerking and preventing the fire from billowing from its jaws.
Arthur ran in the halls to his room. He hasn't had his armor made for him yet, anything that he would get being outgrown. He had tried to come to his father's aid earlier. Uther was barking orders to gather men, and he had run up to him in the halls.
But once he saw Arthur, his face grew red. "Go back to your room, Arthur. This does not concern you." He's never heard such a sharpness to his voice before. Yet the adrenaline and eagerness to prove himself push him. "But father-" "NOW!"
He flinched, a burning in his eyes. It takes everything to squeak out a "Yes Sire." and take his leave. The ache in his heart doesn't go away even now, but he wants to see the dragon. He can see it from his bedroom window easily enough. The dragon bobbing and weaving, snapping its jaws at the men below but always staying in the air.
It's messing with them. He's sure his father can see that. Yet they still throw everything they have at it. The dragon takes one, close snap at Uther before flying away over the walls with startling speed. It isn't long before a servant comes to summon him to the throne room
Uther sat rigidly on his throne, peering down at the knights fiercely. Morgana sits to the right of him, and he goes to stand tall on the other side. Several of them stand in front of him along with his head Knight Olin at the ready.
"I want this Kingdom searched for any speck of magic. If a dragon can be set free into our Kingdom unnoticed, I do not dare to think of what else could be out there. Double the guard. Anyone suspected of Sorcery will be killed on sight. A curfew will be set after sundown. Anyone outside during that time will be imprisoned and questioned."
The Knights bow to him taking a quick exit. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Morgana openly frowning. "Gaius." The physician moves forward. A filtering look towards the teens in the room."Yes, Sire?"
Gaius flutters in open hesitation. "Well Sire, there is no way a barrier that large is possible. It shouldn't exist." The Kings mood sours further. "Doesn't mean we can't fight against it." "No, I suppose it doesn't." He waves a hand, staring distantly in thought. "Thank you, Gaius, that will be all."
Gaius bows and leaves. Morgana took that as her cue to leave as well. "No. Sit, I have much to discuss with both of you." She sits, speaking cooly. "What is this about." Uther sighs, slumping in his throne. "Father?"
"I do not wish to alarm either of you, and I have never wanted you to feel unsafe. But… I fear an uprising from our enemies." The King said.
Morgana and Arthur stared at him uncertainly. He tries to speak, "You mean.." but the weight of the words won't fall out.
"You wouldn't." She whispers. Uther only nods gravely. She lashes to her feet, her yelling bouncing off of the walls. "You would go to war with a new Kingdom! For what! For possibly having magic? How on earth can you be certain that is the case! And you know we cannot afford to go into another!"
"Morgana." He didn't yell, just a simple statement that had her pausing. "The Dragon was heading toward that new Kingdom. They have made a barrier that keeps everything out. Druids from the forest have disappeared without a trace. What does all of that say about this new Kingdom." "That they are running from you." Is her frozen response.
His fist slams onto the armrest. "Go to your chambers and don't you dare come out. I will tolerate no more of your belligerence." She turned her head and strode out with her head held high. A last, scorching glare thrown over her shoulder at Arthur. The wooden doors closing behind her with a bang.
He turns to Arthur, lips pressed into a thin line. "Unfortunately, she is right. We need time to build up our defenses, and you aren't ready to lead the knights yet. You'll increase your training starting in the morning with Kay. Every morning you will train with him, and every night before you go to bed. I will not have you face our enemies weak."
Arthur perks up, nodding. "Of course Sire. I'll do my best." Uther waves his palm, and he takes it as the dismissal that it is.
Merlin awakes peacefully. Laying on smooth, warm leather. "Merlin~" He flutters his lids, seeing the dragon curled around him. He could see over the wing his Castle, and the warm sun that shone down onto the clearing where they lay. "Kilgharrah?" He takes to standing to his feet, nearly falling over if he didn't hold himself up by the golden paw.
"Take it easy, Emrys. You have done quite a feat and must rest to regain your strength." He shakes his head, becoming woozy. "No… people are gonna come soon. They'll need my help settling in." "They will arrive later tomorrow. For now, we have much to discuss."
He slumps down. "To discuss what." "You're Destiny." The boy groans, being so exhausted for someone who looked so young. "Oh yes, my Destiny. How could I forget." "I am not the same as the first Kilgharrah that you have met. I have you to thank for that. Bending the fabric of time has created many ripples."
He can't help but roll his eyes at the dramatic speech. "Yeah yeah yeah. Who cares. I'm Emrys, I am King Myrridin, I have a great destiny, yadda yahda blah." "Merlin." The boy stops at the scolding tone, only because he is too tired to say anything else.
"You have handled your immortality surprisingly well for someone who has a mortal mind. There are blockages in your mind, I presume? Or even a fuzziness to certain events?" He doesn't answer, but that was answer enough for the dragon for him to continue talking.
"I do not recall what our first life was together Merlin, but I can feel the echoes of it even now. You have changed. I am truly sorry that you have been burdened with Immortality. It has crumpled your mind, but you are still whole. The core of who you are has not changed. Be proud of that Emrys."
The dragon's breath blows over him, tingling with old magic that feels as if icy hot was rubbed all over his body. "You know what you are meant to do. Your people that you will gather shall follow you loyally. For now, rest. I will take care of you." He hums, relaxing into the dragons warmth. Blissfully relaxed and head buzzing. He's never felt so good in all of his life.
In a blink, tomorrow has arrived. Random energy fuels him to rush when Grettir comes to him. Kilgharrah is nowhere to be seen. "Lord Myrrdin, there are Druids at the borders asking for you." He sighs good-naturedly. What he was not expecting was for him to touch his leg, and the world to turn sharply to the left.
He tumbles down into a completely new area. Stopping once his back slams into hardwood. Oh, he's at the border and he was just teleported. "A little warning next time?" The man smirks down from above him, brushing by onto the bridge. Scrambling onto his feet and brushing off the dirt so he's halfway decent.
Merlin travels to the bridge to see several large groups of druids waiting, chattering to each other. Several kids are giggling and playing together off to the side. "Hello!" He calls out, and everyone stops to stare at him. He tries to smile witlessly under all the discomfort of just being stared at.
A man comes up to him. Gray hair overtaking brown air at the roots and wrinkles set in his visage caused by stress. Even then he's serene as he takes the attention to him. "Greetings Emrys," He bows, and instantly Merlin is very, very uncomfortable. "We are humbled to be graced with your presence and hope that you would allow us to have safe passage into your lands."
He shakes his head, flapping his hands once he sees the others start to bow. "No! No please," ears burning hotly he goes to push him back up -he really doesn't need to be bowed to- "don't do that. I asked you to come here, and I welcome you all gladly."
He stands back up, stoically nodding. "Of course, we shouldn't have expected anything less-" He gets cut off from a hearty slap to the back that has him choking.
"Oh stop embarrassing him! All you youngsters are being ridiculous!" The old woman hobbles up to him, giving the boy a sweet patting to his hair. Her eyes are glazed, but and her skin dark. It strikes him that this was the same women who him about the Perilous Lands in the first place.
"The young, they never listen do they?" She grins at him, showing her lack of several teeth but a remarkable ability to speak clearly despite that. "Now be a dear and help me across this bridge." He realizes he's been staring, so he takes her offered arm and beings moving along.
"Sorry." He frowns, " I don't think I ever got your name."
Her wrinkled hand pats his, hmming. "My names Carey deary. Come on now!" He jumps at her shouting, turning back and seeing the frozen druids beginning to move. "So slow, can't even catch up to an old sloth like me!" She mocks, then cackles at her own joke.
That really gets them moving. Egging on a few younger kids to run past them after the bridge. They continue traveling through the woods, following behind him and Carey. "Well, we've been so rude!" She exclaims after a while. "We haven't even got your name. Rude of us to simply presume it."
Merlin hears a few awkward grumbles behind him. "My name is Merlin. It's wonderful to meet you all." He beams at them over his shoulder, but eyes shift away as soon as he does. He doesn't let his disappointment show. Carey is more than willing to break the awkwardness by catering about nothing.
As night comes, they are able to see his Castle in the distance. "Here is wonderful." She stops, "Will you help us set up?" He helps them set up their tents, but during it, he felt like he shouldn't have. All of the adults that he comes close to become skittish. The children are timid around him, and run off as soon as an adult glares at them.
He tries not to let it get to him. They have been on the run for months, so settling down must be strange for them. He understands; being afraid of something too good to be true in a new place. He'll need to gain their trust.
"Em- I mean," The gray-haired man clears his throat. "Merlin. May I speak to you for a moment?"
"Sure." He steps after him, a little bit away from the camp and into a large tent. The buzzing of the outside is muffled by the inside. It's cozy with pillows propped up in a circle. He sits on one, and gestures for the boy to sit as well.
"Thank you for calling by my name, I'll think I'd forget it at this rate." He grins at his own wit, but the man doesn't seem to find humor in it as he does. "Well," he shifts, "what's your name?"
"Iseldir and I would like to apologize. We had felt the comings of powerful magic, but had to be… careful of its promises. I came so that we could know if it was true."
He shrugs his shoulders, picking absently at his sleeve. "It's fine. I get it. You couldn't have known for sure. Will there be more coming?"
Iseldir shakes his head sadly. "Not this year. The season is changing, and it would be too cold for them to travel. They would not make it in time before winter came."
"Then I'll do my best to prepare for them." Merlin intones. It is hard for him not to be serious with him, but he needed to say this. "I promise I'll do everything I can to protect you while you stay here. Uther's reach cannot get here."
The man focuses in on him intently. "You have a kind heart. I do hope you understand the consequences of doing this."
He smiles a little lopsidedly. "I am older than I look. I don't make promises lightly either."
That morning, as the skies crowded and the leaves began turning golden, it was as if the floodgates opened.
Merlin could feel the animals returning to the forest. Birds sang as they flew above. Squirrels danced from branch to branch. They liked to come up and greet him. Following him for a bit as he gathered food for breakfast. He didn't have to go far either. The forest was brimming with ripe food that seemed to last longer than normal.
Besides, his friend was probably busy at the border, and knew of his indignation at being unable to support himself during Ballards-
He stops, aching with abrupt pain. He misses him. A lot. Ballard helped him control his magic, and see the good side of it. He would know how to reassure people. Merlin's not unfamiliar with grief, but this was something close to him. Even if he was expecting his death, it still hurt anyway.
A few tears drip before he scrubs them away. Ballard is resting happily in Avalon now like he always wanted. He feels envious and comforted at the same time. The taste of warm food soothes his aching heart.
He spends the day wandering the woods. Finding a nice clearing to settle down in. Animals surround him in no time, and he warms as a deer settle her head in his lap. "Hello there, my lady." She allows him to stroke her head, flicking her ear.
Vicious shrilling causes the animals to scatter, and he's left utterly confused if not a little annoyed at it. Whatever it is apparently, determinately rushing towards him, and he decides it's more energy to move than it's worth. It comes to a crawl the closer it gets to him, and he spots it staring at him from behind a tree.
"Well? Come on then. You took all that effort to scare my friends away, you might as well come here." A blue, scally paw steps out. Then the other. Inching its way towards him. Chittering lowly.
"Come on." He coxes.
It bounds up to him at that, jumping to one side and the other. It freezes about its paw length away, tail frantically wiping back and forth behind it. It may look like a dragon, but it acted more like a puppy, he muses to himself.
"It's alright. Your friends can come out too if they want." He strokes its head. That was all the others needed to press tightly against him in a huge pile. He laughs, trying to pat them all but is unable to see in the sea of them. There were probably about 20 or more, but he couldn't keep count over them warbling in delight.
He slept with them in a pile that night.
Chapter 4: Growing Community
The warmth drifted around him, peaceful darkness that stretched for an eternity. Drifting, stepping on the seemingly solid floor. Then light. Strands of golden dust filling the black and curling around him. Familiar and friendly. A part of him forever entwined with who he is.
It dances away, a promise to return. At his beck and call, but he is fine to let it go. The static and electricity of that power twirling into circles, then fading away. The air grows chilly. Freezing his steps.
Something is wrong.
The ground begins to incline to the side, his footing slipping dangerously. His heart pounds in his chest as he tries to remain still, yet he still begins sliding farther away as the ground turns into a vertical incline.
His body thumps to the ground, fingers scrabbling for purchase on the smooth surface. For anything, anything at all to grab onto. He screams as the falls. Toppling down into eternity.
Merlin jerks awake, sweating and panting. The ground is solid against his back; curling press of the wyverns around him, shuffling in distress at his awakening. They settle with a low, chitter. The moon settles low in the sky, peaking above the sleeping treetops. The wind disturbing their slumber with the small rustling of their leaves.
He sighs, and curls back on top of the blue hide. It was just a dream. Nothing to be thinking about. He's had dreams where he's tripped and woke up suddenly. This somehow seems different. The unease of the world suddenly tilting doesn't go away. Like it could happen all over again.
He shivers, wrapping tightly into himself. Focusing on the cooling breeze and the rumblings of sleep around him. Yet no matter how long he waited, not even when the rays of sun-splashed across his face, did sleep come. All he could think back to is that dream.
He spends his time wandering the forest, delighting in the animals that come to visit him. Creatures spoken about in legend in the 21 century come in packs. Giant Basilisks the size of modern trucks making their homes in the ground. Sliding around him and hissing at him in greeting.
Griffins and Hippogriffs making their nests in the largest trees possible so it could hold their weight. A delightful time he takes chasing them from the tree branches. Ease filling his chest at the control he has over keeping himself from dropping from the treetops.
Then, when he flutters on the edge of sleep, does he see a rare sight. A unicorn, and a grey man who's carefully guiding the pregnant unicorn as she walks. It's pure, untainted magic. Soft but unyielding.
The dream comes again. This time the golden dust twirls more urgently, as if frantic. It dissipates much quicker now, the cold creeping in and becoming blistering. He has no chance to panic as he falls into the dark sky.
Merlin screams, and the big Momma griffin who has been so kind as to let him sleep in her next squeals in distress. Rubbing up against him with her beak to soothe his trembling. The wrongness doesn't go away, and he's had enough. Maybe the druids would have answers for him. He doesn't trust Kilgharrah to give him a straight answer, not after his manipulations.
The dawn breaks, and he makes his way back to the druid camp. As far as he can tell, they have settled in nicely. The tents have been carefully nailed to the ground. Symbols of the old religion hanged in the entrances of their tents, swirling eerily as his dreams. Then he blinks, and he realizes that it is only his imagination.
As he approaches, the laughter and chattering turn to a whisper. As if sensing his presence and being deeply afraid. Like the silence would somehow have him pass over without finding them. He keeps the frown from his face, keeping it carefully lax as he walks into the camp. This is the very reason why he ran away in the first place.
The air is suffocating and quiet. He can feel the stares on him as he walks, but the druids are too well hidden in the forest with their mundane covered cloths. Yet he can sense their magic as clear as if they were screaming at him.
He tracks down Iseldir sitting next to Kilgharrah in the nearby clearing. The dragon is lethargic stretching in the sun on his back. The giggling of young children running on top of the dragon, using him as a big jungle gym.
The children do pause as they see him, but in their own childish way continue playing without pause. Though it is far more lackluster as if a parent scolded them for doing something wrong. Iseldir gestures to the grass beside in him. "Welcome, Emrys. Please, join us."
He settles down and watches the children slide down the dragons drooped wing. A few of the more rambunctious children tackling others onto the soft grown beneath. Kilgharrah has his eyes closed in bliss, hardly twitching when the children get too rowdy. He doesn't think he's ever seen Kilgharrah be this content in all of his memories of him.
"Forgive me Emrys, but um…" Iseldir doesn't look at him as he speaks, keeping his face carefully angled away. "Do you mind pulling back?"
"Pulling back? What do you mean?"
"You are quite an overwhelming presence Emrys. You're magic… is nothing like anything I've ever felt. I can't imagine what it might be like for those who are not trained to ignore such potency."
"Oh," he mutters, furrowing in concentration. It shifts inside of him like it knows it's being talked about. "I'm… not sure how to do that."
The druid leader seemed oddly put out by his admittance if his shifting tone from serious to mildly shocked says anything. "Really? Well, I thought…"
Merlin sees him sheepishly peering back as if coming to a terrible realization but dare not to speak it out loud. "Iseldir? If I'm making your stay here uncomfortable, I would want to fix it if I can."
"Of course not. We are honored that you have given us protection and have been so generous. It is… well. The prophecy has foretold that you will be our guiding light to Albion, and to the Once and Future King. Seen almost like an all-knowing being."
Merlin rubs the back of his neck, unsettled by the words. Iseldir thoughtfully continues. "But when I see you like this. You are so painfully human. Completely different from how I know you could do anything you wished. I am sorry that I have misjudged you."
Hot waves of shame crash in his belly as he turns so his head is staring at the ground, as ready for the reprimand that would inevitably come. This isn't what he wants. He can't be overestimated like this, it would cause too many problems. He's so far out of his comfort zone that he would like to go back to hanging out with the animals now.
"No, please. Don't do that. You haven't done anything wrong. It's my fault."
The man glances up hesitantly. "Would you teach me? How to pull back?" The dark haired boy fumbles, idly picking at the scabs in his hands. "I admit, there is so much about the old religion that is unknown to me. I-"
He swallows, squeezing his lids shut. "I cannot have my enemies know that I am as strong as I am until I can reveal that to them. I don't want anyone to fear me."
A hand brushes on his arm. The druid leader talks soothingly, much closer than before. "I would be happy to help you, Merlin."
He nods. It's the first time he's said his name without the weight behind it. He concentrates on breathing, and when all of his emotions have settled, he opens his eyes. "Thank you."
"Tonight, we will have a communal dinner. Come if you wish."
Merlin nods again, unable to speak. He hears him getting up from beside him, calling out for the children. "Come on! Time to go home." They give a small whining protest but quietly run along after him as he walks out of the clearing. "Good day, Emrys."
He turns to glare at the dragon, whose lazily watching him from one open eye. "You're a big, cryptic, tub of lard. I hope you know that."
Kilgharrah merely smirks. "I've been called worse. Now," he stretches his body out, yawning and blinking lethargically. "Leave me. I think I've seen your friend looking for you."
He huffs, brushing the grass from his clothes. Muttering, "You could have just told me, but no. Got to be all holier than thou about it. I know something you don't… blah." It doesn't take long for him to find him, or more like for his friend to find him.
Grettir stood away from where he lays, calmly taking in the scene where he lays in the center of the wyverns. "You have people at the border requesting entrance, my Lord."
"More druids?" He rolls over, pushing to his feet and brushing the dirt from his pants. The wyvern's jumble around to let him out of the center, closing tightly in when he's gone.
"Not quite." The unusual hesitancy in his voice has him squinting at his friend. He meets his gaze head-on but didn't say a word else. He shrugs, stretching and yawning.
"Alright. Are you ever going to teach me about teleporting?" He squeaks as the world turns, just able to stay balanced on his feet
In his confusion, the slight man was making his way forward, laughing. "You'll learn!"
The boy grumbles, stumbling on the black rocks beneath up to his side. They weren't near the bridge like last time, but on another, unfamiliar side of the border. Stone gray, steep mountains resided on all sides of him, and he could smell the salt of the sea in the air. "So who are we meeting?"
"My family." It's voiced with such gentle fondness that he almost doesn't catch it.
"Yes. There was more of us, serving under our King. My family was the only one who stayed in service because of our unique ability. I told them I would stay so they could join the rest of our people in the mountains."
Merlin hmms, "If they've stayed living in the mountains, why would they come back?" He stares at his friend, smirk growing at seeing him turn a delightful pink.
"I may have told them about you." He states in all seriousness, "Then I accidentally slipped out your name and what happened, so our leader wanted to return home."
His eyebrows shoot up in surprise. "Really? Ok. They are more than welcome."
"I will warn you, don't be intimidated by our leader. He may act like he is mad all the time, but is a big old softy on the inside. Don't tell him that."
A wry grin makes its way onto his face. He's meet those types of people before so this wouldn't be much of a problem. "Sure."
They walk around a steep mountain onto the beach, white fizzy waves swooning onto the rocks.
Short and stout men and women they are, filled out with thick, bulging muscles. Thick grime covers them in layers, yet they are uncaring. Holding odd bags faces carefully neutral. One man stood clearly from the rest, frowning deeply at him assessing him with grouchy temperament. His hair is a dark orange, covered in dark dirt and a stubble beard.
It takes everything he is to not have his facial expression twitch. Merlin simply smiles and tips his head in respect. "Hello and welcome. I have heard that you wish to return home if I am not mistaken?"
"You're a mere boy. A child." He broaches, "Where's your leader, eh? Or is he not brave enough to face me himself." The smile turns tense on his face.
"Appearances can be deceiving. I am Emrys, the one you seek."
"Prove it." Merlin is taken aback by those challenging words.
But he didn't respond. Simply taking off a thick jacket that seems he peeled his skin off with how much grime there was, but beneath the man is a ghostly pale. As if he's never seen the sun. Yet when he struck, he moved like a viper.
It drew out, both exchanging fast blows and being too fast for the other. It went on for hours until the man collapses from exhaustion, Merlin narrowly avoiding toppling over. It when far on for far too long for his liking.
He gives a full belly laugh where he lay exhausted on the ground. "You put up a good fight boy! I yield, but don't you think I'm letting you off easy for beating me."
Merlin just groans.
After the fight, he offers to set up lunch. They settled against the ground and Thomdeg's servants quickly set up a blanket for them to sit on with food. Merlin made sure to smile gratefully at the two of them, which they couldn't help but to turn away in embarrassment at being acknowledged.
"So," The leader grunts, taking a piece of venison with his hands and tearing into it with his teeth. "Thomdeg is my name. You are Emrys, eh?" He swallows and raises what he now sees is a red eyebrow under all that dust.
Merlin stifles a grimace. It's exhausting correcting people all the time. "Yes, but please call me Merlin." He's given a sharp, knowing smirk.
"A heavy title." His hand gestures to all of him, "Not much to look at, but you've proved your worth."
"Thanks… I guess." Hesitantly, he starts to munch on some meat. Thomdeg seemed to be content eating for a bit, but he has questions stirring in his brain. Grettir in the distance scattering with the servants, so he doesn't want to bother him.
"Can you tell me more about you're history? Grettir told me that you used to serve the Fisher King." Thomdeg, takes a piece of meat and throws it at his chest. He catches it, fumbling and stuttering in surprise.
"Not now. Eat." Merlin frowns and chews carefully. There's more to this than what he is showing, so, for now, he will wait. Once the food is gone, does the red-haired man turn to him.
He explains how they are Dwarfs and their history. They had been a wondering race full of the mastery of crafting but unable to apply it with no experience. It was until the King's family that took them it did they understand what life is. To build and create great structures for the King, but they had to leave once the Fisher King had cursed the land. They moved to the mountains and have lived in wait for the new King to arrive.
"I will not lie to you, I did not believe in Emrys. Yet no one could mistake the power you omitted that day. My people will do everything to ensure that you will succeed."
He almost doesn't want to turn down this offer, but something about this seems terribly off. "Why? You have no obligation to help me. No true reason to follow besides a name."
The short man laughs bitterly. "We have not only stories. We are beings of magic, but we do not have abilities such as you have. The future lays heavily on your choices, and we've seen a brief glimpse into our future. I will not allow my people to be slaughtered because of your mistakes."
Merlin swallows, keeping his gaze steady. "I won't let that happen either. I promise that you that you'll be safe."
It holds for an eternity until Thomdeg puffs and his rumbling voice turning lower in his throat. "You promise too much. Yet I believe you will do your best to do nothing less. I wish you luck."
He grunts, standing to his feet and brushing off his pants. Merlin doesn't comment on how that doesn't help if he's entirely covered in dirt already.
"Now, my people will arrive in a few days. We'll have the material you'll need to start building a proper Kingdom." He turns, walking away briskly and grumbling under his breath. "Everything probably destroyed… all our hard work.."
Merlin couldn't quite catch it. Trying to move out of the way quickly enough for the servants to pack up, and for them to travel back to the mountains. He sighs. That was more stressful than it should have been. Now he would have to go back to join the druids for dinner.
Maybe his dream won't come to him again tonight. Surely Iseldir can have an answer? "My Lord?" He shakes his head, taking in his surroundings. They were already back at the castle. He must have zoned out if he didn't notice them traveling. "Sorry, I was distracted. Thinking."
He doesn't offer any explanation, and Grettir doesn't force him to give any. He simply bows and vanishes behind a tree. Merlin takes care of the castle until the moon begins rising high in the sky, and makes his way back home.
Chapter 5: The Wobbly Surprise
Few days past with Iseldir waking him up before first light. Settling down in a clearing and guiding him. Teaching him to breathe, to straighten his back, and to relax his body. It's difficult for the first few times. Attempting and failing to get relaxed enough. When he does unclench his muscles, the magic around him hums. Crashing as waves against wobbling rocks. A rushing stream that cannot be stopped.
Merlin gasps, dizzy and spinning. He felt his grip slipping, nearly being carried away to the bottomless ocean. Iseldir exhale is prolonged, standing up. "We should try again another day. I can't figure out why that is happening, but If it's anything like I think it is, then we'll need more help than I thought."
He sees the sun shining directly above them. Had it really been that drawn out? It only felt as if minutes passed, and yet an eternity struggling to stay afloat. "Yeah, Sure. We can do that." Merlin gets helped to his feet, swaying in the breeze. The onslaught of the water a background noise, now slipping away as he comes back to reality.
"If you don't mind, could you tell them that Dwarfs are coming? I don't want them to be unprepared when they come."
"Dwarfs? Are they arriving soon?"
"In the next day or so, yes."
The man chuckles, and the boy regards him in slight bewilderment. He hasn't heard that man laugh before, and it wasn't as much of a laugh as it was small puffs of air.
"Oh Emrys, you keep surprising me. It has been said among the druids that there are other, older creatures of magic that had roamed the earth. Long before man. Some say they are closer to beasts than humans." The druid leader shoulders straighten in a rigid line, disquieted.
"They are similar to us but have unchangeable differences. Just like how our magic cannot be separated from our body. They aren't animals, not in that sense. They are civil, kind, even."
"It is alright Emrys. I am not afraid." The warmth of his palm seeps into the fabric of his shirt. " You have done so much for us. I trust your judgment. Come. I'm sure the druids would be delighted to see you again."
The feeling of his body being dragged across the ground, inch by inch. He groans, squeezing his eyes closed. Rolling onto his side because being dragged on his back is uncomfortable. The last thought in his head as he drifts back to sleep is: I am not dealing with being kidnapped, or whatever is happening, right now.
Then waking back up is blissful. Soft and silky sheets and fluffy padding beneath him. It reminds him of the mattress he used to have in his cabin. A Tempurpedic mattress or something of the like, super comfortable and something he never wanted to leave.
He snaps awake. Ridged, and recollecting. To be greeted with thousands of beady, black ogling creatures with green skin. He screams, unnecessarily and panic leaping up into his throat, throwing himself off the bed.
It doesn't get him away from the thousands of small, muscular, and long-nosed beings standing in his room, on nearly everything, to watch him. Patient, watchful, and… laughing at him? Merlin takes a breath, calming down the frantic beating of his heart and resisting the urge to yell at them.
His voice is rather lax but undeniably sarcastic. "You know, I feel like I should launch you out the window. But that would be rude. Like standing in a strangers bedroom. How about: Oh sir! Can I come into your bedroom? I might have said: Why not? But no."
They continue to stare, adamantly waiting. He sighs. The room is completely changed from when he last saw it. He's actually laying on a small, but comfortable mattress. Held aloft with intricate, twisting branches for legs. Picking himself off of the floor and onto his bed, resting his chin in the palm of his hand to look at them.
A raised brow prompts one climb up the bed as if it were nothing, despite being the size of his hand. It stands close next to his thigh and stares up at him. Up close, he notices that the ears are pointed and that they have swamp green complexion. The black of their eyes covers it entirely.
When it speaks, it's a low gurgling croak. Hard to tell if it was a boy or a girl in tone, but a sort of groveling tilt. "Sire, we simply give you gift. Hopeful of all of us, to join you're Kingdom."
They way they speak is odd, as if they don't know how to properly speak. He doesn't think he's ever seen this type of creature in his life. Either they are really good at hiding or had quickly gone extinct. Many creatures have died off because magic was being drained from the world.
"Tell me about you. I want to know what you are, and why you wished to be here." It bobs as if expecting this.
"Yes! We are Wobilnock. At your service! All want to service in great Kingdom. Rich Kingdoms. As this will be. Rich in magic, with Emrys! King Emrys!" The other's bob in agreement, a tinge of excitement rippling through them.
"We ask to serve! And- to be in rich Kingdom. It what we live for! Bring us much joy, to give joy in others." He frowns at their earnest expressions. Showing nothing but the truth. Not even his magic could feel any ill intent. If this was truly the case, then no wonder why they went extinct.
It's not as if he could turn them down. Not really. Not with the way they are all looking at him with big, hopeful eyes.
"Fine," Merlin sighs and jumps at the sudden roaring of cheering around him. They're all hugging and celebrating. Before he knows it, half of the room has vanished, and then all of them have simply… disappeared. Except for the one grinning up at him by his side.
"Thank Emrys! Wobilnock grateful! Will serve you well!" Then it's face pulls down, serious. "Wobilnocks take care of Emrys. Will get Kingly clothes, baths! Food! Emrys will not need worry.¨
He holds out a hand before It could hop off the bed, ¨I… really don't want to be pampered. I can take care of myself, and I don't need fancy clothes. Just… keep it simple? I´m not going to be above everyone else.¨
The expression on Its face grows dark. "King are above everyone else. King help rule, and serve people. We Wobilnocks serve King, so King isn't too stress."
¨I get that, but in the end, I'm born the same as everyone else. I don't need special treatment.¨
It doesn't give a rebuttal, staring blankly at his face. He almost thinks that It didn't understand him if it weren't for the furrowing of grey brows.
¨King get better treat-meant.¨ Stumbling over the complex word, but set as a statement. Then it waves and jumps off the bed before he can stutter out a no. ¨King no worry. Wobilnock take better care of King then King can.¨
When he goes to look for it, the green figure is already gone. Merlin is getting really frustrated with beings constantly disappearing from the conversation.
That day he didn't get a chance to hunt them down, for the Dwarfs had arrived at his Castle with the guidance of Grettir. The druids, at seeing Grettir lead the Dwarfs to the castle, politely moved away. Yet they watched from the sidelines, clutching each other.
Merlin made sure to greet Thomdeg with his best-winning smile. Even as his people dragged large carts full of stone, tools, and a cart full of leather bags. Some of the druids frowned at last cart.
"Thomdeg! I'm glad you made it. Was it a safe trip?"
He grunts, setting down his cart and groaning as he stretches. "Nothing we can't handle, ain't that right!"
The others being him give a warbled sound of agreement. Thomdeg crosses his arms and stares at the Castle behind Merlin with a cutting stare.
"This is what's become of our Creation? Hmmf." He startles the hot by marching to it, leading expectantly. Merlin glances to the lingering group of Dwarfs.
They've already made themselves comfortable on the ground or on the carts; uneasy glances coming from both sides until Carey smacks the side of Aglan's head. Scolding him for starting and telling them all to, "Go talk to them you flock of chickens!"
Sheepishly, the druids do start to move forward and to introduce themselves. They take it with some hesitation but greet each other amicably. Merlin is terribly grateful for that old women.
When he turns around, the red-bearded man is gone. He's waiting a little bit away, scowling at him, tapping his foot. Merlin hurries to his side.
"Sorry. I wanted to make sure everyone is comfortable." This smooths out the harshness in his face slightly, but he briskly marches towards the tower.
"We'll fix this place right up for you. Not a bad repair job, from what I can tell from here." Gnarled fingernails scratch his chin. "We'll take a look at it. I can tell you what we're goin' to do, but can't share details. Building is our secret, and we keep it that way."
"Sure, but, you said that you would 'build a proper kingdom?'"
A hand smacks his shoulder, and he nearly falls from it if it weren't for that same hand grabbing his shirt and pulling him back to his feet. "Eh. Yeah. I'm helping you. You tell me specific things you want, I'll see if its a good idea."
Merlin steadies himself with a small breath. "Alright. How should we do this?"
"I inspect, and you talk."
The inspection passed fairly quickly. Merlin had a few ideas from the modern era that Thomdeg listened too. Thoughtfully humming to most answers, but not necessarily turning them down. Once he was done, they returned to the outside, suggesting ideas for what the city could be like.
It was hard to translate ideas into terms that he could understand, if not completely have them go over his head with the words he uses. A thing like a plane could frighten others, and that's the last thing he wants to do. There are things from the future that he would really like to use and incorporate into his kingdom. Yet if he pushes too far, people could call him insane. It's not too far off from the truth but he can't have other kingdoms go against him. All such little politics he's had the 'delight' of learning from royal families over the centuries.
It's times like this where he aches; a bone-deep hurt that never goes away. Some time periods he misses, wishing to stay there forever; others he never wishes would come to past. More often than not, it was the latter. It's the reason he's even trying at all.
Now that he thinks of it after his mother died, a terrible plague swept over the land. Kingdoms of thousands would go quiet overnight. He did his best to help since he could not be hurt, yet the inky, black blood that spilled from their orifices and too easily become gas in the air. Nothing could stop it.
Humans became lucky, he thinks. Those who had been in villages far away from populated areas had lived, as long as no one traveled. There had only been a few hundred people left when the disease had died out.
He sighs. Maybe, if he does things right this time, he could prevent that from happening. He feels it, something that he knows without words. To maybe… even meet someone important. Someone more important than the sun rising in the morning, or the gravity that pulls the tides of the sea.
In a blink, the sun has created below the horizon, and he's alone. Thomdeg had agreed to think over his suggestions, then left to make sure his people were ok. The world is so quiet, not even wind was stirring. Maybe if he thinks a little harder, the memories will return to him. It's not the first time he's tried to grip onto sand that slips through his fingers.
Again, he can't help but wonder what happened. Was it magic? The essence of the world taken away that caused such fiendish actions against family? Or is it something thatś inevitable?
A low, erratic thumping of his chest. Tendrils of pain spreading and crushing his lungs. He needs to get to Kilgharrah. Even as he runs- without direction- he thinks. Suddenly everything that he's done is worthless. Every step he took. Every life that he's taken under his wing, has died. Will die. That is one thing that has always been inevitable. He will once again watch the world rot and turn to ruin. And he will be alone.
The tears and sweat on his body become apparent as the sudden wind dries them. A shudder so terrible racks his body that he collapses to his knees. It won't stop. He can't still the trembling of his hands and legs, as if he was preparing to run away from reality. All he wants to do is scream. He can't. He won't.
"Breathe Merlin. You'll be alright."
He gasps, dizzy and counting out loud with the brief air. "One, two, three…" Repeating, breathing, and counting until the screams in his eardrums are a little less dim. Until the light around him doesn't burn his eyelids as much.
He wants to tear off his skin so that he can't feel anything anymore, not the raw rubbing of clothes against his skin, the piercing sharpness of scales surrounding him, the burning sun that will turn him into a crisp.
"Breathe, Merlin." He gasps again, muttering clenching and releasing his muscles. The adrenaline fizzing away. Leaving only bone-deep exhaustion that entices him to sleep mid-day. Skull empty of thought or feeling.
"Are you with us?" He struggles to glance up toward the light but sees Kilagharrah calmly staring at him. The boy sighed, pressing his clammy hands to wet cheeks. "Sorry." A strained croak.
"You have nothing to apologize for. Burdens for those carrying them have a price. Rest, take a moment to gather yourself. I will watch over you."
Yet Merlin doesn't rest. All he can do is have a blank mind from the panic that prevents him from thinking too hard. To be painfully aware of the world around him, as if he was a cornered animal. Unknowingly, and even with Kilgharrah best efforts, the trees turned to early autumn. Nearly a month early.
The dragon worries over his little charge. Even if this man is a child right now, and even if he is Emrys, his mind is hanging together by a thread and needles. He fears the day Emry's unravels, but time will come when he will find his other half. Till then, he will do his best to keep him together.
Chapter 6: Preparing for the Worst
It took for what seemed like ages for him to get back up again. Kilgharrah helped him back to his feet. Mouthing what he's sure are encouraging words, but he can't hear. Winter would come, and they were far from starting the process of surviving.
He takes to visiting Thomdeg -who has begun gathering materials and planning the building layouts- if he needed help with anything. The first building that needed to be built as soon as possible was the food storage for winter, and renovating the Castle to be a better fit for winter.
How large the food storage would depend on how large of a population they had, which shamefully he wasn't quite sure how to do, but Thomdeg was too busy organizing and making plans to do it himself. Merlin knew one person who could help him.
He asks around in the bustle of the town, sidestepping large carts of stone and logs, being directed to a natural hollowed out tree on the edge of the forest. It seemed that this forest was centuries year old at times instead of a few months. A twined stick door resting in the front. He heard laughter from the inside and stopped short.
He nearly turned back before the door swung open and Grettir stilled him with a smirk. "Don't run away on my account."
He huffed, playing it off. "I was going to knock."
"Sure you were." He drawled, "You need something?"
"Didn't want to bother you, and I'm sure I can handle it."
Grettir rolled his eyes and opened the door wider. "Come in already."
He walked in with some reluctance, nearly missing the top of the door with his forehead. Being lead down a staircase to a rounded room with branching off doors. Inside was rather quaint, warm lit candles adorned on small shelves scattered throughout the area. A little girl, smaller than half of the chair, waved at him before quickly dashing away.
Grettir merely shakes his head, smiling warmly. "Sorry, my niece is a little shy."
The boy sighs, it's too late to take it back now. "I need help for the upcoming winter. I'm not sure where to start making sure everyone has enough food."
He bows, his lip twitching up. Most likely at the discomfort in his face. "Of course, My King. I am always here to help you."
They begin counting everyone they can, visiting and writing down the families and growing population for some wiggle room. He and Grettir would meet at the end of the day, combining the numbers. A few days afterward, with a handful of houses already built by the dwarfs, they had a total of 627 people. Most of them were the dwarfs, who were hidden away when the purge happened. All he can do is hope the rest of the druids make it till spring.
Night had fallen, and Grettir bid him goodnight. Even if he wanted to, he couldn't sleep. There was still too much to be done. Next was figuring out what types of food they had, and how much they would need to put away.
As he sits on the bed, chewing his thumb and staring intensely at the paper in his hand. There was no way he was going to be able to sleep with how keyed up he was. So he gathers more papers to begin listing the types of food plants they had.
Yet as he scoured the forest, plants that shouldn't even be in Europe grew wildly, and in full bloom; Avocados, Beans, Chia, Potatoes, tomatoes, cranberries, and even chocolate. Not including wheat, rice, barley, and oats that grew like wildfire. All wilting under the cold, yet somehow being preserved by the frost that coats it.
Daylight broke at the end of the list, and he rushed to find Isledir's tent. The world goes by in a blur, and before he knows it he's in front of it. Pulling the curtain aside and yelping as he trips, face-planting to the ground.
"...Merlin…?" A groggy voice greets him, and he feels a flicker of shame for a moment before he gets up to his knees. Iseldir's grey hair is fluffed into a wild nest, tired lines wrinkling at the edges of his eyes as he squints in the morning light.
"Can magic bring plants from other places."
The man blinks and blinks again. "Huh?"
Merlin fumbles with the paper, setting it down to the ground and pointing. "Look. We have the types of plants that we are used to, such as wheat and rice right? But when I actually looked, there were things that shouldn't even be here."
Iselidr glances at the paper then sighs. "Emrys, I can't read."
He freezes. Staring at him for a moment before tucking the paper in his pocket. "Forgive me. I didn't realize." It's a heavy realization, one that's more prominent when it shows up in reality than actually knowing it. Even Iselidr wouldn't have an answer for him should he ask. They don't know that there are other places out there, besides Europe. To them, this is their whole world.
"Have you come for your lesson this morning?"
Merlin clenches his hands but shakes his head. "No, not this morning. I need something from you if you don't mind."
"Of course. What do you need?"
Merlin begins explaining how they needed to gather food for the upcoming winter since the dwarfs were already building. He nodded, and they stepped out of the tent to begin organizing groups to harvest and preserve plants.
As they did, a commotion drew their eyes to a wide circle of a crowd surrounding middle. The crowd separated in a clear distinction of dwarfs and druids. Throwing glowering sneers at each other, and cheering. They shared a worried look before striding over.
At their approach, most quieting and parting to reveal a woman in grey robes and a thinner dwarf man are screaming at each other.
"How dare you!"
"Excuse me, little miss? Are you saying that you don't want to live?
"We have survived just fine without doing such a monstrous thing!"
With a snarl, the dwarf attacks the druid. Everyone around them steps away, fists being thrown as the women struggle to get a leg up. No one seems to want to stop it, too distracted at cheering them on or begging them to stop. Until Thomdeg is the first to reach them, pulling the other dwarf off with little struggle, do they grow completely silent.
"What's the meaning of this?"
Fumingly, the druid women brushes off her clothes as the dwarf man snarls at her with his reply. Being restrained from launching at her again. "She called us Monsters! I won't stand for it!"
She pouts, tilting her chin up and crossing her arms. "I did no such thing. I only said that we, unlike you, do not slaughter animals for food. Nor do we leave a trail of destruction wherever we go."
"Oh yeah? I'd like to see you live until the next summer. Ain't going to do that in that piece of cloth you call a home."
She scowls, raising her hand with the promise of death. "That's it!"
Merlin snatches her wrist in a tight grip, the magic fizzing at her palms sputtering out. Hot, bubbling anger surfaces in his stomach, even as he keeps a gentle grip. Everyone is deathly silent, gaping at him with fear and awe. After a tense moment, he drops her hand and lets her scramble away. He can't imagine what he looks like if everyone is staring at him like that. "Do I need to remind you why you are here?" A few faces turn away, looking ashamed, but most are still sulky or sour.
Merlin glares, "It seems that I must since you are acting like children. We are here, to build a better life for ourselves. A life that doesn't need us to hide away in fear of being hunted, or murdered for what we are." This makes many shift uncomfortably, avoiding his piercing stare. "I will make this clear: I will not tolerate any fighting. We can not afford to be divided in the face of our enemies."
Merlin draws a long breath, shoulders slumping down. Voice turning compassionate. "However, I feel like this will be a future problem. Next time, please come to your leaders if you have a problem with how we are running things. Iseldir, Thomdeg? Would you accompany me to discuss a solution?"
The dwarven leader gives a curt nod, cuffing the back of the smaller dwarfs head. All it takes is a look for the women to sulkily stomp to her tent. Merlin turns to Aglain and Carey. "Please, come get us if any more outbreaks occur."
Turning to the Castle after Carey bows pleasantly. He was hoping that he would not need to use the room in the Castle so soon, but need requires necessity. Up the stairs to the second floor, is a single rounded room, stretching wall to wall. In the middle Is an old rectangular table, chairs resting on every side of the table. On each long side of the table in the walls, are two rustic grey fireplaces.
As he sits at the very end of the table, grinning at Thomdeg slightly above the tall table. "I didn't think you would make this room so soon."
"Well, I didn't think you'd use it for a talkin' room." The bearded man chuckles, settling down in a chair made perfectly for him. The remaining chair, across from the dwarven leader, fits perfectly for Iseldir, who throws him a curious flash.
Merlin smiles cheekily in response. "I wanted to have a place where everyone could feel heard. If there's anything that needs to be said, we will talk about it here. So, Let us begin. Can you tell me what could have caused this?"
Iseldir and Thomdeg glance at each other with unease. The druid leader inclines his head. "Yes, but I had thought my people would respect each other more for our differences, especially after what we've gone through."
The dwarf huffs in agreement, propping his feet on the table and folding his finger behind his head. "Yeah. Thought they would be kinder, but they're a bit on edge with the move and work. They can get a bit stir crazy."
Merlin shifts, straightening his spine to see properly. "What can do to prevent further outbreaks? I want every person being welcomed into my Kingdom to be comfortable, and most importantly, heard."
Thomdeg chuckles, having Merlin raise a brow at him in curiosity. "No offense Emrys, but I think we're both more than willing to do that."
The dark-headed boy gives a tight, but genuine smile. The age in his eyes giving him an endlessly aged impression to him. "It never hurts to be clear."
Iseldir sits forward, folding his fingers together in front of him, leaning on his elbows. "Indeed. I think we all could find some middle ground."
"Well if we're startin' off, there have been some weird things happpenin' to my folk. Odd appearin' meals and the like."
The druid nods, "I've heard the same."
Merlin flushes. "Oops." They both turn slowly to him. He can't help the embarrassment that crawls on his puffy cheeks. "I meant to tell you… I guess I forgot. Uh… Wobilnocks?"
Both seemed stunned, and jump out of their skins when one appears on the table, happily bouncing on its heels. "King Emrys called?" The longer they don't say anything, the more Merlin fidgets in his set.
Then the redhead rolls his eyes, grunting. "What else did I expect. We'll tell everyone after that their bein' cared for by the Wobilnocks."
This shakes Iseldir out of his shock. "Yes, Of course. We'll tell them. They'll be delighted."
Then they began the long process of ironing out the details. One thing he's never been envious of in diplomatic meetings. Once an agreement was met, both Iseldir and Thomdeg left the room, he could only groan and slump down onto the table. His back was aching from sitting up straight and his jaw hurts from speaking so much.
They're cultures they had varied differently. The druids were more or less vegetarians, and wouldn't kill animals unless they needed too, but the Dwarfs relied heartily on meat when their food would grow rotten and they couldn't trade to get more. Dwarfs would use all the material they could to build their weapons, but druids had only used the bare minimum they couldn't regrow almost instantly.
So they came to a sort of… compromise.
Whatever trees would be cut down, two more would be planted in its place. For every animal that was a friend, a litter of them would be made in its place. For the Dwarf materials, everything would be reused to it's best ability but would be scrapped by the druids in a safe location. The treatment of animals is a far touchier subject. The only compromise they could come to was treating the animals with the best respect they deserved before the slaughter. Giving them a proper send-off, and using everything they could from their body as to not waste and disrespect.
It was a start, but it was more than he could ask for. Everyone would be told in the morning. He closes his eyes and breathes through his exhaustion. Something pokes his cheek, and he opens to find a Wobilnock in his vision, tilting its head. "King Emrys need sleep. Have not slept in two days. Wobilnock have food in room, and bed ready."
He picks himself up, and half-heartedly drags himself to his room. After shoveling food into his mouth, he falls into a dreamless sleep.
In the morning, everyone is gathered outside in the Castle courtyard, still half crumbling but most of the damage repaired. What they've agreed on brings few protests from the crowd, but dispersing after all had been said.
Iseldir brought the druids to him, and they all went to the forest so that Merlin could show them how to harvest and preserve the food that they were unfamiliar with. The dwarfs built large pens for the animals they would take care of, settling the chickens, pigs, cows, and sheep separately after herding them from the forest. Everyone taking shifts to work day and night, as no time could be wasted.
That's how the rest of the Autumn went. Waking every morning before the sun to work on storing the food, building homes and the storage, and keeping an eye on the peace. He mostly forgot how to take care of himself if it weren't for the Wobilnocks helping him. Some days he fell asleep outside, only to find himself back in his bed in the morning. Yet even if he found himself unbelievably stressed and tired, things were peaceful. After the changes, everyone worked well together and learned from each other.
When they finished the food storage, he felt proud of the progress they did. Winter would come any day now, but no one would have to worry about starving. They were moving the last piece of preserved food into the rocky storage, and as the last bag was set in and the door closed, cheers ringed brightly in the air.
Everyone was hugging, crying, and so delightedly happy. Everyone had a home, and everyone was safe. Merlin thinks that it was finally settling in for them.
Then one began chanting. "EMRYS! EMRYS." Soon he was bombarded, being thrown on top of the crowd and being settled on someone's tall shoulders. He laughed through his unease as he was taken.
They all moved to the firepit that remained in the middle. A giant metal pot rests over the fire, held up by the rocks. His stomach gurgles for the delicious scent of cooking food. Opened barrels were around the edges of the grassy clearing. From the top he could see a liquid inside, but before he gets a good look he gets settled in front of the fire on a fluffy pillow.
He seems to be sitting at the head of the campfire. Iseldir is sitting on a long stretch of dark blue cloth from his right. Thomdeg sits beside Iseldir, and Aglan and his mother Carey on the other side. Aglan is the first to see him, lighting up and coming over to him with a welcoming hand on his shoulder. "Welcome, Emrys. Please, come sit with us. Be our guest of honor tonight." Merlin tenses under his palm, but willingly goes along.
"Guest of honor? Is this what all this is about?" Aglan hums and sits down on the blue blanket. He reluctantly joins him on what's left of the blanket, just enough room for him to sit comfortably.
"In part. We are celebrating our success, and We've realized that we've been… treating you terribly. You've done nothing but help us, and been generous in your gifts. This is the least we can do."
As Iseldir stood up, everyone quickly went silence and gathered around the fire; sitting with their legs folded underneath. Watchful for them on the blue blanket. Iseldir's voice resonates clearly as he speaks.
"Thank you, for all of you coming. I know times have been rough for many of us. There are still lots of us out there, unable to reach us for the time being. However, we are lucky that Emrys has been so kind to us," Several people turn to Merlin, and he prickles in embarrassment. Warmth rising on the tips of his ears and cheeks.
"But we have been unjustly afraid of him. He has done nothing but give us hope for a better life. I truly believe he will bring magic back to Albon. The balance will be restored, and we will no longer need to run away in fear of our lives. Please, if you could do us the honor of drinking this cup, so our meal will fill us for many days, and the Triple Goddess may bless us."
He gets handed a small cup. His fingers tingle as he holds in, and when he looks inside the liquid is a deep, dark red. He sees his reflection, a neutral, but flushed face. Merlin doesn't see any harm that could come from this, and the druids wouldn't hurt him. He'll take his chances.
The liquid burns as he swallows it. Almost as soon as it hits his tongue, the light of the fire becomes more apparent. Each time the fire rises into the air, he can see the small amounts of thousands of different colors in each spark. The crowd cheers and people begin to gather around a woman who's passing out the soup.
Merlin stares at the fire. Enchanted. Then he looks to the sky. The stars twinkle and wink at him cheerfully. He giggles, feeling playful. The magic inside of him wiggles, and he gives in. Outstretching his hand, he lets the power flow freely.
Golden light dances and swirls out of his fingers. It runs freely in between the druids, who gasp in delight. The children giggle as the gold brushes up against them, shrieking and running as it begins chasing them. A hand on his back takes him back to himself, and he turns.
Carey smirks at him with her gummy mouth. It's not quite that takes his attention away. A faint, a practically invisible light halos around her. "Here deary, eat. You'll need it." His hands become occupied with the bowl and a spoon, and he's reminded of how hungry he is.
With ravenous hunger, he devours the broth. Flavors spark in his mouth with every bite. This, to him, is pure bliss. The bowl becomes empty, and he sets it next to him.
The world blurs and shimmers with community and love.
Chapter 7: It's Here
He admires the winter wonderland around him. Icicle trees extending into the grey sky. Even with the clouds blocking out the sun, the snow beneath him still manages to glimmer like thousands of tiny diamonds in the light. His feet don't sink into the snow, and the world has a blurry edge to it, and he struck with a simple fact. He's dreaming.
He smiles, looking down at his body. No longer a boy but instead his long, limber limbs greeting him. Familiar and comforting. He laughs, dashing over to the frozen ice to see what he already knows. A long face that matured with age, hollowing his cheeks and bringing the sharpness of his cheeks and nose. Black cropped hair falling an inch above his eyebrows and large, elephant ears that fit better with his adult face.
Yet he pauses, reaching to touch the edge of his lid with an angled limb. His usual blue eyes were now only ringed on the outside with blue, the center completely encompassing around his pupil with the color of liquid gold. Constantly swirling, but fading into the rest of the blue. He blinks, but the color stays.
A crunch snaps his head away from his reflection toward the sound. A gasp, and an instinctual leaping sideways. He avoids the large tree crushing him just in time for him to see the tree crack the ice and tumble into unknown depths.
Another crack scares him away, and after a second of confusion, he's scrambling to the window of his room. He shivers, his breath coming in a gust of steam. The frost threatened to climb deep into bury itself in his body, despite a roaring fire at the edge of his room.
Outside he could hardly see past the food storage built into the side of the black rocks, holding steady under the raging wind. The same wind that shook the frames of the makeshift thatch-brick houses. They held steady until the heaviness of snow and wind destroys a house, unheard in the roaring wind.
He runs as fast as he can outside. He slides on top of some ice, but that doesn't stop his momentum to get to the house. The snow numbs his fingers and face, the tumble melting the snow into ice on his body. The wind howled across his already frostbitten ears.
He finds the house quickly, passing by houses that disappear in the fog. The magic inside him bubbles, curling and thumping with the beat of his heart. Yet when he reaches out to lift the house, it fizzles out at his fingertips.
Desperately, he launches himself on top, gripping his way through the clutter for purchase against something, anything. Merlin slips, and yells, irritated. For a beat, he wonders why no one is coming -cursing his small body and lack of strength- then screams.
"Help! Please! There are people under here!"
He hopes that they can hear him over the wind, but no one comes. Futility, he begins ripping away smaller bricks that he can reach. One brick he throws collapses he house even more, and he stops. Trembling, and icicles on lashes. He feels so helpless.
He gasps, twitching violently at the touch on his shoulder. It's only Aglain, tensely clutching and calmly speaking. "-it's alright. Help is here." A stone gets levitated by his head, and he sees several others carefully levitating debris out of the way as most scour the rubble for the family.
Too many emotions wash over him at once. He can't panic now, others would need to be removed from their homes. He breathes once -shoving down his feelings into numbness- and gets to his feet once more. Merlin shouts to be heard. "How did you find me?"
He frowns, muttering a spell under his breath. Merlin wants to sigh in relief as warmth spreads over him. "My Grandma had woken me to tell me of these events, but by the time we had ourselves prepared it had been too late."
Merlin grimaces. "We can still recover the bodies, and save those who are left." Then he looks to the crumbled house. A dozen volunteers using a mixture of magic and heavy lifting carefully remove pieces, calling to see if anyone's conscious. "Are these all who volunteered?"
"We would have had more, but we ran out of time."
"I'll go back to organize another party. Split this group into two. We need to cover as much ground as possible. I trust you to find your way back to the Castle?"
"Go Emrys. We'll do everything we can to bring everyone home safe."
He nods and scurries away. The snow was getting thicker now, making it harder to see what's in front of him. If he didn't know this place like the back of his hand, he would be worried about getting lost.
It felt like hours, trudging thought the white dust. Each door that appeared was frantically knocked, and when he got no response, he went inside to drag the families out of their beds. The trudge began, it already eating part of his ankles. The thick bedsheets they had taken with them did it's best to shelter them from the frost.
Merlin watched them help each other, their magic users doing there best to keep up the warming spell. With only mild, distant, horror did he know that it wouldn't be enough. Some of the elderly in his group had already grown blue. A few children had a glazed over look in their eyes, stumbling along.
Then, an older man fell. The girl supporting him cried out, going down with him. "Dad, please! We can keep going. We're nearly there!" Hysteria trembled in her features, and he came over to try to do something- Anything at all. The magic fizzled out on his fingertips.
She stared at him with wide eyes, the tears freezing halfway down her face. Everyone was looking at him now. Maybe they were just as scared as he was. "We have to keep going, the castle isn't far from here. Can you stand?"
No matter how hard he tried, the man wasn't able to get back to his feet. They didn't have time for this. More people would be lost if they didn't get warm soon. Indecision tore at him. If they tried to carry him, they would have to slow down to keep everyone warm enough. A few minutes more, and he fears they might lose the children.
"We have to leave him." Hollow sobs filled the air, and her eyes pleaded for him to have a miracle. He looked away first and her wails of despair could be heard being choked down.
Carefully, she settled him in the snow, cradling him in her lap as if the world didn't exist anymore. He made himself peer at their faces. The way they smiled weakly at each other and forgave each other in that moment. He turned politely as they argued quietly. Then she stood, defeated.
Nothing more was needed to be said as the group moved forward. They had barely made it inside the castle. It was far warmer inside than it was outside, but there was still a chill in the air. Like you could never truly escape it.
Inside was chaotic. Many huddled together near roaring fires, as hundreds of Wobilnocks scattered about doing various jobs: Feeding fires with wood, serving food, or handing out warmer clothes that they had found.
His group quickly dispersed, searching for their own families. Yet he could see several people grieving and that many faces were no longer here. The worst part of it all was that he was still fine. The threat of frostbite had never even begun for him.
He finds Aglain sitting on the floor next to his grandmother, who looks far older and frail than she once was. It wasn't the time to ask this right now, so he sought out Iseldir who he found in the corner, far from the rest. As Merlin approached, his graveled words stopped him in his tracks.
"There are… consequences to magic. An exchange of equals when the price becomes too high. A life for a life. Power for corruption. Bounty's of food for the coldest winter of all." Iseldir moved from his slumped position, meeting his gaze. "I had been so blinded. I should have known a price would have been paid, but I had been so eager for protection to realize the cost."
Merlin can only stare with a silent ache. "If I had known-" He raises a hand and he quiets.
"We all had been blinded, Emrys. Now we must move on."
It was too quiet then. Anyone who spoke did in whispers, settling down for the rest of the day. He sat down by his side, glancing over the people who were still on this floor. As he was about to ask a question, Iseldir voice rings clear as a bell in his mind. 'You may have lived many years Emrys, but I fear there is much more you do not wish to speak of. Or maybe, things that you cannot speak of. I do understand but at some point, they will tear you apart. All I ask is that you find someone to confide in before it does.'
Merlin says nothing, and the other doesn't force conversation. Occasional moans of grief broke the silence that hung over everyone's heads like a cloud.
Frustration bubbled inside of him. He had thousands of times. He had found people who cared for him and loved him despite who he was. They listened to his stories and his agony and it all never mattered in the end. It still didn't, if today's events were any indication.
During the decades that passed, he had been brutally injured. Can't count how many times he's died and been forced to breathe once again. Or how many times he's lost an arm only to wake to find it never missing.
Merlin sighed. That didn't matter. He didn't matter right now. Even if he did talk about how he felt, it would change nothing. Actions now where the only thing that would help anyone. As he left, he knew a sad look was being thrown at him, but he had to see if everyone was doing alright and was accounted for.
Unfortunately, he had found his friend Algain, sitting next to his grandmother. His gut turned. What could have happened? It didn't look like she was effected by the cold -with no blue lips insight- yet all the color was drained from her skin. Carefully as he sat down, he watched his friend for any visible change. Yet he only held her hand and stared into the distance.
"What happened." He whispered.
"My grandmother is very sick. Each vision now drains her with age. She has taught us so much, and lead us to safety when the land rain of blood and gold. The red clokes taking our lives without a thought. Maybe she thought herself a coward when she ran with us, but we've survived until now. As far as the druids know, the last of the seers."
His voice softened to a rumble. "A gift from the three-headed goddess, usually given to women because of their close connection. Most have visions of the future. The best of them can control when they see, and some even what they see. Few can see visions of the past, linked to an item or a place. Emotions can be a confuser sometimes."
"So, she was the best of you?"
He nods, exhausted by his dialogue. "But with age, or even repression of the visions can be dangerous. It is not a gift anyone can refuse, at any rate. With age, the visions require more magic than women her age has. I'm surprised she's lived as long as she has."
Merlin's hands twitch in his lap, wanting to bring some comfort in the quiet. Yet he merely stays, being a supporter by being next to him.
The weather finally changed after a bit, but not in the best way. The snow came down in sheets, and block their first story doors completely. They only exist. The dwarfs came and apologized to him, telling him that if they had spent the whole winter building, they would have completed the castle to make it larger.
He addresses them from below. "It's alright. We have all made mistakes this year. The storm is not one anyone can predict, but we will have the entire spring, summer, and fall to prepare us for what comes."
They nod, carefully. Merlin smiles and they guide themselves out of the room. He feels ill from all the responsibility in front of him. Yet, he stuffs the feelings down as he goes back to his friend's side. Respectfully keeping his distance from the woman closest to the fire. His grandmother.
In his mind, it felt like this man was so young to him. Just barely the age of twenty and having to take over his mom's role as a protector of the community. His mom played a special role in keeping everyone safe by her visions. The strongest ones in her sleep, and as far as the druid community knew and heck, even the dwarfs, the last of her kind.
Yet eventually, he had to leave. His friend hardly acknowledged him as he left. Many of the sick had been moved to the warmest room in the castle, which was the floor right with his room. After everyone had been counted and recounted to make sure he wasn't mistaken, only 542 people were left alive. As the day went on, a few of the sicker ones died.
He knew there was more. There used to be more, but anyone that was still left outside had surely died by this point. There wasn't too much they could do for the dead with the weather, so they carefully wrapped them and settled them into a room. They deserved a proper burial.
When night came and the snow was still coming down as hard as it was before, everyone settled down in wait for the morning. He hid in his room, staring down at his hands. It made no sense as to why his magic didn't work. Shakily, he attempts to warm his hands. Hot white flames burst from his palms and it somehow hurts to stamp the flow of magic to get it to stop.
All that time when he trained meant nothing. Now, he was even farther back from controlling his magic. The one certainty that it at least worked now was now gone. How could he protect anyone now?
When the light came back, the clouds still stayed. The temperature was well below freezing, but the snow had stopped. They had to wait longer before they could rebuild once again. The days of waiting stretched far longer than they had anticipated. Days turned to months, but It wasn't safe for anyone to be out longer than an hour, so no one could leave. They needed the sun to come out. It made people irritable, being in such close quarters all the time.
The death and stress around him only made him numb. He could not manage to be more sympathetic to the grieving families, even if he knew he should have been comforting all of them. He was just so tired. Then thanked him in some way for giving them a better life despite everything, and the guilt festered. He couldn't help but know that he hasn't done enough. Not yet. Maybe not ever. The nightmares that plagued him were nonsensical, and he could never remember what they were about when he woke in the morning. Just a general sense of unease following him through the day.
He made up for it by creating plans to prevent this from ever happening again. Preventive measures for houses and for ways people can stay warm when it became too cold. They would need to make thicker clothes, and shelter the animals properly. The list of plans was endless, but he was distracted from the unhappiness that scratched. Several millennia of grief yawned in his stomach as if disturbed. The same pain that made him stay deep in a cave underground for a while.
He froze at his counsel desk, trembling as the memories crashed over him.
It was a chilly winter. Yet Merlin didn't attempt to count how many times he's ventured into the cold to hunt for food. Digging in the dirt for sleeping animals to give to his friend. When he returned, dragging a surprisingly large bundle of animals behind him in a net into a cave.
There was Killigarrah, withered and aged. Lying on his side, taking rigid breaths and settled next to several low set fires. Quickly he set to get the fires roaring again, before nudging his nose. "Come on, wakey-wakey."
The dragon groaned, opening one eyelid to look at him. Rumbling in greeting and lazily opening his mouth. Merlin chuckled. "Another one of those days huh?"
He dragged a bear into his large maw, the warm breath washing over him for a moment as he backed away and the teeth slammed down around the corpse. He forced a grin as he pats his snout.
Kiligarrah shifted, staring at him and keeping him in place with his tail. Merlin stiffened. He couldn't speak anymore, but they still could chat. 'Merlin.' Dread called up his spine. 'The end is fast approaching.'
The man sat down without seeing. "Not yet. I can't lose you too."
The dragon sighed, deeply through his nose on Merlin. He could feel the last dredges of magic wash over him.
'My last gift, and a warning.' Merlin could only stare with tired eyes as his friend took his last breaths to help him. 'Magic will no longer be in the air, or in the world. The last of us dragons are fading because of it. Not just here, but all over the world.'
The rigid man frowned, struggling to understand. So many questions, and the moment he finished, Kiligarrah lids slipped closed.
Something in him urging him to build a wall and get twine. Apparently a final gift from his old friend. Trembling, his finger guide him all on their own into making something he's never seen before.
A wall laying flat on the ground tightly woven together, with one singular thick branch supporting a thick cloth that waved in the wind. The frothing, cold sea awaiting him. Adventure a guarantee. So many different places to see.
Something in him urging him to build a wall and get twine. Apparently a final gift from his old friend. Trembling, his finger guide him all on their own into making something he's never seen before.
A wall laying flat on the ground tightly woven together, with one singular thick branch supporting a thick cloth that waved in the wind. The roaring of the sea greeting him as it slowly flowed on the sea before him. As adventure laid before him.
He couldn't do it. Trembling he shoves his boat into the cave Killagarah resides in. He runs across the beach to find another cave and run as deep into it as he could. He couldn't leave everything he knew behind. It was his whole world. Anything that was on the other side could wait. If he couldn't die, he would rather rot away with his memories.
So he found a corner of warm dirt and stayed. He can't recall how long it was, but he knows he's been a coward for longer than he's been comfortable to speak of.
"Merlin?" A quiet, warm voice speaks. Tears brim in his eyes as he glances away. He forces his squeaky teen voice to be steady. "Sorry." He pushes the chair back ready to hide in shame.
He feels a hand on his shoulder and looks to see the other man smiling at him kindly. "Do you wish to… talk about it?"
His gut twists at the thought, and he frantically shakes his head. He feels ill. Then, Aglain sits in the chair next to him.
Merlin feels a burning blush coming to his cheeks, so he ducks away to wipe at his tears. Oh no. He was kind of afraid of this. He forces his attention away to moving away to the door. "I will be back. I need to see how everyone's doing."
He ignores the saddened look that is surely being aimed at him as he slips away. His only solace being his room, in the night when it's quiet, and everyone's at rest. No one could disturb him in his recollections of eternal darkness and lack of sound, as he fell asleep.