The Druids hung a flag when they felt it. Maybe when he died he felt complete, maybe he felt ready to leave without any formal last words, maybe he had no concerns left to address and maybe his list of chores was done for the day.
Maybe, for him at least, his life had been enough.
But maybe it need not always be the dead who remain too restless to move on. The druids felt his passing in every grass blade of the field outside their camp. Every single one that shimmered in the morning dew was glistening with their sorrow for him, and every other one, angled just too far to reflect any light, well. Emrys had died. Destiny was only one of a thousand futures, but it was not the one in action.
They hung a flag not for him but for themselves. Not for his tortured soul, but for Albion’s. For magic's.
Their faces did not entirely show the way the stones that made the walls of their cave crumbled just a bit more easily, as if dehydrated and unlived.
They were not the most talkative of people, but they still held their morning in silence. None of them wanted to speak anyway. Speak of the ache in their bones and the weakness in their souls and how it hurt, god it hurt to breathe the still air.
This was their new Albion.
The dragon only remembered a brief gratefulness for the fact he had not been flying when it happened.
He had been flying when Balinor died, and he had fallen from the sky straight down into the trees, wings curled around him as protection more on instinct than on will, and if you ask him whether he felt every single scrape on his skin or not a single one, he will not answer you with anything more than a nod.
And it was worse, this time. The boy, the warlock was his. There would never be another, but Kilgharrah did not exactly care. He did not want another.
He spat at the sky and its talks of destiny but he was inside and the fire only came right back down, and he cursed every priestess and god he could name that it did not burn quite enough.
What was to come of Albion? Of Arthur?
Training had not been formally cancelled, but it was no shock when the grounds remained empty until the grass had grown a little bit too long and wildflowers grew where there had once been too many falls and slashes and shields for even the dirt to remain wet.
Gwaine could not rest but he was not awake. He had found a home, permanency, but its allure had died. The other knights would never admit they were surprised he lasted three days before disappearing, but that makes it no less true.
While he was there in Camelot’s walls, he was not. He spoke of nothing, never opening his moth, not even for a drink. His eyes were the opposite, though, as they did not close. He kept them red and dry, always widened as though he thought if he looked hard enough, Merlin would be hiding behind a door, stealing some bread off Arthur’s tray before presenting the King with his lunch.
By the time he left, he had been gone for a while.
Percival did not speak either, but he had stayed. He was the apathy to Gwaine’s flight. He hung his head down, his mouth remained closed, and he squeezed his eyes shut with the tiny bit of energy he got from sleeping his days away.
When he spoke, after many long days, it was not of Merlin.
When he fought, after much longer even then, it was not for Merlin.
But when he was alone, when he was laughing, when he was cleaning, when he was living, he thought of his friend a little more often than he’d maybe say.
Elyan was mild. He was supposed to be mild. He was supposed to be gentle and easy and he was, for the most part, but this? This was fury, and it was justified. It wasn’t fair that the most kind, loyal, idiotic boy he had ever met was dead. How was it fair that his sister’s best friend was gone? That his own friend was gone?
How was it fair that he had spent years loyal to only one man and his city just to die before his name reached present-day ears, let alone those of legacy?
The training dummies were not enough. He spent his days hunting. Killing as much prey as he could find, and he knew Merlin would’ve hated it and he hated it too because what was becoming of him?
But he did not stop.
Not for weeks.
Not until his eyes were frozen wide and his arms ached and his chest heaved, and he barely heard the clang of his sword as it bounced against a stone when he dropped it. He did not feel the tree bark under his fingers as he used a branch to steady himself but fell anyway.
He did not feel anything until he was thrust back into reality at the tavern when an inebriated young man threw a punch at him that he was too exhausted to block.
Leon had been a knight quite since he could remember. He had never meant to outlive one King. When Uther died he felt he had broken some rule of the knights’ code. He never thought it would’ve come to this; He never imagined not just one, but two Kings dying while he still served them.
Leon felt lost. He couldn’t even distract himself because he could train but that would rekindle the thoughts of failure and the king and the blood, god the blood that stained his shirt, and Arthur’s dusty armour and the silence.
If not train, he would just wander about the castle. Maybe he’d find himself in the kitchens. Where the chef would have full plates of food, no little pick marks on the bottoms of the bread loaves. Maybe he’d visit the library, but there had only ever been one regular visitor there. Maybe he’d walk to the armoury, but that was just a different kind of painful.
So Leon did nothing.
Gaius was presented with a mandatory leave, but it hardly processed in his mind. He did not leave his house (His. It was his now, not theirs.) for several days in the beginning, and when he did it was only because he had run out of water.
He did not remember the path to the well but he still found himself in front of it a few minutes later, though he hardly recalled walking there. He didn’t remember how to fill the bucket he held in his hand, but a few minutes later it felt heavier and he looked down and it was full and the water sloshed about in his shaking grip with too much life and it shimmered in the high-noon sun with too much light and the world was too tangible and by the time he opened his eyes, really saw out of them, he was back at home.
The temporary healer they had brought in was efficient. She was knowledgeable enough to take the place of Gaius who found himself with less shaky hands as the weeks went on and fewer failed poultices as the days flew by, but was still in no fit shape to work.
Guinevere was quite the picture of erosion. She did not weep when she heard him addressed for the first time with a “was”. She did not break down or beg or throw her bangles across the room, no matter how much she wanted to.
She just straightened the sheets, redrawing she crease until the threads wore thin and her thumb bled. She repolished the serving platters until the metal warped. She refilled her guests glasses always a bit too near to the top, and she wore the skin on her lips down to paper.
She sat on her bed every night and leaned her head back against the stone castle walls, head tilted up to the ceiling, but not seeing it all with her eyes screwed so tight. Arthur never joined her.
In the nights, Arthur would walk into the room silently, and make just as much noise as he gently closed the door. He would sometimes falter as he took off his armour, as though it was someone else’s job. And it was. But then he would blink once or twice and finish changing, just to sit at the table in silence, chin in his hands.
By day he had changed too. Maybe more-so, maybe less, he didn’t quite care. He was short now. In attention, in temper, in thought.
He was passive. He acted less like he ruled Camelot and more like Camelot ruled itself. He did not sleep but that made him more on edge than exhausted. He did not stumble through his day as much as he did hide from it.
He spoke. He had to; he was king. But his words were empty. His voice was metallic, smooth but cold. It felt pre-molded and practiced, like he was reading from a book rather than his mind. But it was not just his voice. What he said, when he spoke, it felt empty. It felt like sorrow and it brought the air in the room to a stand-still and whoever was listening had to stumble back to catch themselves from falling because the king, their king was dead.
His crown still sat on his head, which was still on the throne that ruled Camelot, but his will, his soul, was all in an unmarked grave in a meadow near a lake.
And the servants, however much they gossiped, did not breathe it to another soul if they saw the king sob over a hole in his boots.
Gaius approached him one morning, many weeks later, with a sleeping draught. “Sire,” the old man was gentle, “Merlin is dead. Even if you cannot move on, you must at least accept it.”
Arthur looked up, eyes as unseeing as ever, “As long as I remember his name, Gaius, he lives.”
“And you will remember him, my lord?”
“The very walls remember him, do they not? I see him, Gaius, everywhere I turn, he’s there. He is Camelot.”
“Albion, Sire,” Gaius quietly corrected after a long moment, “I think he would’ve preferred Albion.”
“Albion,” The name was whispered, raw on Arthur’s tongue. “I like that.”