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Rexque Futurus

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Arthur sleeps
in the green isle
under the skin of the world 

As he lies quiet
The world's dreams shape him 
into more than he ever was

Mould the warlord who defied
the ending of his world 

Crown him with a distant hope
Future king of ten thousand tales


 

Red sunrise breaking across a wide land wreathed in mist. Standing high above the lowlands, a single hill topped by a tower, washed golden by the morning light. On the grassy hill below the tower, a grey statue lies, arms folded, all in mail. A work of art, perhaps set upon the grave of some great lord. The warm dawn light falls on the figure’s calm face and colours it almost to the shade of living flesh. 

And then the eyelids flutter... 

***

 

A feeling of vague discomfort, of having lain too long in one position. Then a glimmer of light, the sound of distant birdsong. A hint of warmth from the sun on his face. He shifted, felt the familiar pain, sharp where the sword had bitten deep. 

It felt... better. Still there, but a little distant, as though it was an enemy who had retreated from the attack. He remembered it all-encompassing, a red ragged darkness that made it hard to move, hard to think, a hole in the world through which his life ran down into darkness. Now, it was almost bearable. 

He opened his eyes. He was outdoors, lying flat on something cold and hard -- a great stone, slightly hollowed in the middle. All around was the short green grass of an open hillside. With an effort, he hauled himself up to a sitting position. Movement was exhausting, and he had to pause, while his head swam and red dots burst across his vision. 

As he moved, something that might once have been a very good chainmail shirt fell and crumbled into reddish dust. He brushed at it ineffectually, and the woollen tunic that had lain below the mail tore and shredded away into nothing. Underneath, his skin was grey with dust from the disintegrating fabric. There was a great scar where the wound had been, red and crusted along the edges, but it had been stitched shut, and it was starting to wrinkle as wounds did when they were healing. Good. 

He was alone on the hillside. Above him, the hill rose in a green curve across the blue sky. Below, the land was hidden by a white sheet of mist, glowing in the light of the low sun. It felt like early morning, and he shivered a little, feeling the stone under his hand wet with dew. In the distance, he could hear a sheep bleating and overhead, there was a lark singing its joy at the opening of the day. The name of the place came into his mind.

“Avalon.” 

“Yes” said a voice from behind him. “Avalon. That was one of its names, once. You’d remember that, I suppose. And what else do you remember?. ” 

A small person climbed onto the stone slab, and sat squatting next to him. He was only about four feet tall, with a huge nose, and between the large pointed ears, a very lived-in face; mobile and expressive with brown leathery skin etched with many wrinkles. The lines on that face told of laughter, but there was something else there too, sorrow, and perhaps even a hint of cruelty. He did not look trustworthy. 

“You’re ... you’re a bucca. I thought you were a fairy story.”

The Bucca, if you will,” said the small person, clearly a little offended. “ Or the Puck, they call me now. And you are a fine one to be talking to anyone about fairy stories, King Arthur Pendragon.” 

“What do you want?” he said, suspicious. Creatures like this had to be treated with great caution. At best they were capricious and strange; at worst, terribly dangerous. He looked around for his sword, but it was nowhere to be seen. Not that a sword was much use against magic, but it was better than no sword. 

“Well!” said the Puck, “I reckon you made better company when you were asleep!” He wiggled his bare hairy feet, hopped down from the rock and rummaged in a leather bag. “Still, it must be hard to wake here beyond the world. It’s true, there were some of us that couldn’t abide salt, or running water or cold iron, or the sound of bells, and you can’t be too careful of that sort. But I’m Puck! Here’s bread, and here’s salt. Eat with me, that’ll show you the sort of person I am.”

He pulled apart two small loaves and scattered them with salt. The yeasty smell of them on the morning air was delicious. 

“I don’t think so.” Arthur deliberately leant back, away from the Puck and his bread. “They say you should never eat or drink anything that a fairy offers you. That’s how they trap you inside the hills, and when you finally go home it’s hundreds of years later.”

Puck looked at him with bright blue eyes over the edge of his bread, his bristly eyebrows raised. “I’ve no need to trap you, Arthur Pendragon. And if I did, I’d not use salt. Salt carries no enchantments, you should remember that — for all that most folk nowadays have forgotten it.”

Arthur considered, and took the bread. It tasted wonderful. He felt amazingly hungry. When had he last eaten? Last night? His wound had hurt too much to think of food. 

“Where is everyone?”

“Ah well,” said the Puck and he looked very sad. “They went away. All the People of the Hills are gone, ‘cept for me. They took you and they stitched you up and made all sound. And then they laid you on the stone, and and they bound you here safe in time and place. But now they’re gone. They laid it on me to stay and watch and wait, in case the time came at last for you to wake, and then they went away. “

“I meant my people. My knights. Guinevere. Merlin. Merlin brought me here, he must be about somewhere?” He looked around wildly at the green grass, the sky, the mist. “

“Gone.” said Puck. “Half-legend, now. Names blowing in the mist they are. Like you. Merlin, now there’s a name out of legend. I do remember him, I do, calling green lightning from the sky as the Wild Hunt ran from West to East and all wise creatures hid themselves, and me alongside them. But that was long ago. Haven’t seen him in a long time.” 

Arthur could remember Merlin calling lightning from the sky too. The memory was not a reassuring one. He decided to ignore it. 

“What do you mean? How long?”

Puck looked at him sidelong, and changed the subject. “You’ll be wanting clothes, I’m thinking. Those old things, shredding apart, aren’t they? They weren’t too good on the practicalities, the People of the Hills. They caught you out of time, but they they never thought you’d need something to wear. Now, me, I’m the practical type. Give me lambswool to spin or a barn to sweep and you won’t see the job done better anywhere from here to the Pennines. You’ll be wanting a wash too, all dusty as you are. There’s a spring down here behind this bush, come.”

The water in the small bright pool was clear, and bitterly cold. Arthur, cautious not to twist and pull at his wound, knelt and dipped his head. The icy water cascaded across his shoulders, carrying away the dusty remains of his shirt, and there was no doubt at all now that he was nothing but wide awake, and still here.

 

***

 “You’re telling me that everyone I ever knew is dead?” Arthur was clean and dressed in clothes of fine-spun lambswool that Puck had brought him, and was also utterly taken aback. 

 “Don’t know, do I? I’m still here, same as I was when you was crowned a king, and long before it too. But human beings... they don’t last like I do, not as a rule.” 

 “That can’t be true. These stitches aren’t even healed yet.” 

 “No way to let things heal, when you were caught out of time. But you have slept an age of the world away, believe me. I was here, whiles and whiles.”

 “But why ? Why heal me and then make me sleep until everything’s changed? Why not just let me die? What did I ever do to the Sidhe, that you’d do this to me?” 

 Puck was looking worried. “You were supposed to sleep in the Hills, until you returned again to save the land in its hour of greatest need. Nobody said you’d be upset about it.”

 “Upset!” Arthur took a deep breath, and began again, in a deliberately calm voice. “Well then, what is this ‘greatest need’? How can I do anything about it? There’s only one of me.”

 “I don’t know,” said Puck. Deep wrinkles sat on his leathery forehead. “When King Arthur awakes at last, then the hour of greatest need is at hand. I thought you’d know all about it. It’s your destiny, or so I was told. I was just supposed to help you on your way.”

“Can’t you help me get home to my own time instead?” Arthur asked, desperately, “You’re a Sidhe, you have magic, don’t you?” 

 Puck looked indignant. “I’m not Sidhe. No god nor spirit nor sorcerer, am I. I’m just one of the Old Things of the land. And I don’t know how to send you back through time to Camelot, not to stay and live there.

“I could let you See and Hear the past. But you don’t want that, do you? You want to go back altogether, your living self, and that I can’t do. I could take away your Doubt and Fear, but I’m thinking you’ll need the strength of both of those with the task that’s ahead of you. And when it comes to kings and destinies? I don’t know where to begin with that. That’s work for gods, that is, and I was never one of those gentry, not even in the beginning. ”

“Right.” Arthur closed his eyes for a moment, grappling with the situation. The wound in his side ached, and the physical ache bled into the hollow feeling of loss. “I have no idea what I’m doing here. My world is gone. I can’t go home. I shall just have to find someone who does know what this ‘greatest need’ is and... and just go on from there. It appears that is all that I can do. Do you know where my sword has got to? If I’m going out to face the greatest threat the land has ever known, I’m going to need it.” 

“It was in the keeping of the Lady of the Lake,” Puck said. “Steel, see? It couldn’t come up into Avalon Isle. T’would rust away like your coat of rings. But where it is now I can’t tell you. I’ve not seen the Lady for many years. She may have gone away with the People of the Hills, perhaps.” 

“The Lady of the Lake... the lake that lies around the isle of Avalon? Well, surely my sword can’t be far from here, if it’s in the lake. ” 

“Ah, but there’s no lake any more. They drained the Levels...” Puck waved vaguely at the sea of mist beneath them, which was starting to thin under the morning suns, revealing hedges and fields grey with dew. “I heard she went away West, somewhere. I don’t know whether she took the sword with her. ” 

“So. No sword, no armour, no friends and no idea who the enemy is, if there is one... It almost seems like someone is trying to make this difficult. I’d best get started, then. It can’t be more than a day’s walk to Camelot.”

Puck shook his head gently. “I don’t think they set much weight by Camelot any more, though it’s long and long since I was last there. You’ll be wanting Bristol, maybe, or London town. But the town under hill is just down there, at the foot of the hill. They call it Glastonbury now. ” 

“Where?” Arthur said, straining his eyes westward. The land beyond the hill seemed strangely hazy and vague, even though the mist had gone. 

“I’ll have to let you out of the Hills,” Puck said. He hesitated. “You’re sure you want to go off right away? That hole in your side’s still hurting, from the look of it. You could stay a little while maybe? T’will be strange here without you after all this time, for all that you’ve not had much to say till today.”

“If I’ve been called back from death for... whatever it is, it would seem rude to risk being late” Arthur said grimly. 

Puck bowed formally, so low that his head almost brushed the ground. Then he took three fresh leaves from his pocket, and holding the small things delicately in his brown hand, he made a strange, extravagant gesture, as if he were drawing a doorway in the air. Then he gestured to Arthur to walk through the imaginary door. 

There was nothing there that Arthur could see, but he walked forwards anyway, and as he walked the world changed. There was a different scent on the air, and the fields down at the bottom of the hill shimmered and came into focus, the lush green of fields and hedges at midsummer under a clear blue morning sky. 

There was a town there, too - no a city, a huge city with many large buildings, all with fine roofs of red or gray tiles stretching off into the distance. You could hear it humming with noise; voices, the sound of carts grinding along the roads, and yet it looked strangely empty too. 

Arthur stared at it for a moment before he realised what was so odd about it. For all the size and obvious importance of the place, there was no smoke hanging over it, and unlike any town he had ever seen, there was no distinctive smell of woodsmoke or horse dung. It was as if the people of Glastonbury lived without food or waste. There was no castle visible within the town, but there were several vast roofs like palaces. No town walls either. 

Arthur blinked at it. “This place does not look to be prepared for attack. Unless the enemy is coming with dragons, I suppose. I see they don’t use thatch: perhaps they fear attack with fire from the sky.” 

He looked back at Puck to see if he had anything more to say, but he was nowhere to be seen. Where the Old Thing had stood, a paved path ran up the hill to a tower on the hilltop. The great stone on which he had woken was gone too, and in its place lay a couple of broken boulders, and an ugly bench of some rough stone. 

Down on the lower slopes of the hill, he could see two people making their way up the hill, with a black and white dog running ahead of them. They were oddly dressed in tight, bright clothes , but they seemed to be unarmed. That, along with the lack of town walls might be a hopeful sign. Perhaps this land was at peace, and the enemy was still far away. 

Well, there was only one way to find out. He put his hand to his side, where his sword should have been, and found it empty. No point worrying about that until he could do something about it. He set off down the grey-dewed hill. 

 

****

The brightly-dressed people with the dog spoke some language that he had never heard before. It sounded a little like the language of the Saxons, but it flowed and jumbled incomprehensibly. He could pick out a few words that seemed half-familiar, but they were distorted and their meaning was unclear.

“Never mind,” he said to them, frustrated, and went on, heading for the town. 

The town was certainly not expecting attack. There were no guards, no gates: nobody stopped him and asked his business as a stranger to the place. The streets, paved with some dark smooth substance, were oddly empty. No chickens or pigs or dogs wandered between the houses: there were no water-carriers, no-one out in the early morning to milk the cow or deliver the daily bread. Only from time to time, a great horseless cart would swoop quietly along the road at the speed of a cantering horse, but quieter. The first time it happened he jumped nervously, but soon he was used to them: they were everywhere. 

The other thing that was everywhere was writing. Everywhere there were signs, triangular or rectangular, arrows and circles, brightly coloured things filled with strange words in that not-quite Saxon tongue. 

What kind of town was visited by so many people who were able to read and write, that it was worth putting up signs, yet needed no guards? The signs must be for visitors, for the residents would surely not need signs to tell them about their own home. 

Arthur frowned at them, but they told him nothing of his task or of his enemy. He went on. 

***

Merlin had come into the library to use the Internet. He had to admit the system was handy, but he just couldn’t get comfortable with it enough to want it about himself all the time. The idea of constant contact, of being deluged with news, of never being alone... well, it was amazing, but you probably had to be born to it to find it comfortable. 

He checked for messages: nothing much new there. He dipped briefly into the BBC news website. There were human tragedies and personal dramas, the usual political wrangling and a story about the seemingly-endless war in the Middle East, but there was nothing major, nothing that had a magical air to it. All calm then. 

He had just begun to browse the British Beekeepers Association forum when he was interrupted. 

“‘Scuse me, but I don’t suppose you speak Norwegian do you?” The bushy-haired, woolly-jumpered librarian was clutching her long string of turquoise beads anxiously. 

“Norwegian?” Merlin raised his eyebrows dauntingly and gave her his best grumpy old man stare. He had discovered long ago that this was often enough to stop people fussing around him. Sadly on this occasion the librarian seemed too flustered to notice. 

 “Well, we think Norwegian. It might be Latvian. Or somebody said it sounded like Welsh,” she said. “There’s this man who’s come in to the Town Hall and he seems to have something on his mind, but nobody can work out what language he’s speaking. He doesn’t seem to have any English at all - or German, Polish, or Romanian, they’ve already tried those, apparently. I remembered when you asked about how to make the keyboard do the a with the little ring on top, you said you had friends in Scandinavia? So I just thought I’d ask if you might be able to do a little translating?” She looked hopeful and determined. 

 “Hm. I do speak a little Norwegian, as it happens. And Latvian too.“ This was quite true, although his Norwegian was several hundred years out of date and would probably sound rather odd to any modern Norwegian tourist. His Latvian had been picked up only sixty-odd years ago though, so should be in pretty good shape. 

 “Would you mind terribly popping down to the Town Hall and just — see if you can have a word? Try to see what he wants? Only the town hall clerk is getting rather worried. He’s really ever so polite, apparently. But he just won’t go away! I can reserve the computer for you, so it’s free when you get back...?” 

“Oh, all right then,” Merlin said ungraciously. He pulled his woolly hat down over his ears, picked up his bag and pulled his shabby coat around him, and headed off, down the High Street in the morning sun, past pleasant little cafes just opening for morning coffee, past the small shops with quirky names like the Magickal Box and the Wobbly Broomstick. 

 Merlin loved those shops. There was only as much magic there as in a handful of dried leaves, but still, there they were; cheerful and unashamed, with their charms and crystals on display for the whole world to see, customers bustling in and out, peaceful and prosperous as if magic was as ordinary and wholesome as a loaf of bread. They always cheered him up. 

 He was smiling by the time he got to the Town Hall. He walked up the steep stone steps and peered in. Yes, there in the lobby was the Town Clerk, wearing a strained smile and standing in a pose that suggested extremely polite yet uncomprehending listening, while a blond man who was standing with his back to Merlin bent over her, talking earnestly. 

There was something about the way he stood that looked familiar, somehow. Familiar in that way that something you’ve almost forgotten can be utterly everyday, and strange at the same time. That voice, clipped and authoritative. And the language, the language was... Merlin stepped forward through the open door, and the blond man turned his head. 

Merlin dropped his bag on the floor in shock. 

“Arthur” he said, in his first language, the one he hadn’t spoken for time out of mind. “Oh no . What are you doing here?”

Arthur narrowed his eyes against the light coming through the open door, frowning at the strip of face visible between beard and woolly hat. 

“Do I know you?”

Merlin opened his mouth wordlessly and then closed it again. 

“Yes.” he said finally. “It’s me. Merlin.”

Arthur gave him a long, doubtful look, squinted at him, and finally, nodded. “Right. This is some sort of magical disguise, is it?” He waved vaguely at Merlin’s face. 

“What? No, it’s just a beard. And a hat.” 

“Oh good!” said the Town Clerk, in the new language that suddenly sounded strange and harsh to Merlin’s ear. “You know each other. Well, I’ll just... let me know if there’s anything I can help with...” she said as she vanished with the surprising speed of the practiced bureaucrat. 

“Now where has she gone? “ Arthur asked half to himself “Not that it matters, she was no use, I don’t know why those Romans sent me in here.”

“...Romans?” Merlin had imagined Arthur’s return many times over the long centuries. He’d never imagined being this confused when it happened though. 

“They spoke pretty strange Latin. But I’m sure they said they were Romans. I thought the Romans had all gone away years ago. ”

Light dawned. “I think they may have been Romanians,” Merlin suggested. 

Arthur looked baffled by this distinction. Merlin considered the problem of explaining the development of post-Roman successor states in central Europe, and quailed. And anyway, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to remember the details without Wikipedia. Maybe those mobile internet thingies were a good idea after all. 

"You know what I need?” Arthur said. “I need a drink.”

***

 

The bar of the White Hart was empty at this time of day. The long low room with its small misty-paned windows and dark wooden tables seemed gloomy after the bright sunshine, and the few customers were drinking coffee at tables outside. Nobody was likely to interrupt them here. 

The barman raised an eyebrow at the demand for two pints before ten in the morning. Merlin was not in a mood to discuss it. He paid for the drinks with the credit card, remembering afterwards to add some extra money to his balance. Credit cards had made things so much easier. All you had to do was magically adjust a number, and there was all the beer money you might need. He didn’t really understand it, but you didn’t need to, to just make it work. 

 “Merlin,” Arthur said unexpectedly as Merlin put the glass in front of him. 

 “What?”

 “Oh, just testing... that you’re really you. That beard is beyond ridiculous, you do know that, don’t you?”

 “It’s a great disguise,” Merlin told him. “Nobody looks at you. They only look at the beard and the hat and the white hair, and they think ‘oh, just an old man’ and they ignore you. That can be really handy.” 

 “You’re living in hiding?”

 “Well, not really. Not as such. But it gets complicated when people know you’re an immortal sorcerer. It’s just easier this way,” 

 “Still lying, then?”

 “Why break a winning streak?” Merlin said lightly, with distant memories of old tensions. 

 “Immortal sorcerer. Sounds so unlikely.” Arthur stared darkly at his beer. 

“Well, I can’t say it didn’t come as a surprise to me too. Well, the sorcerer bit I knew about of course, but the immortal bit I really wasn’t expecting at all, it just sort of happened...” Merlin caught himself gabbling; something that he had no longer thought he could do, and stopped himself with an effort.

 “I don’t know if I am immortal. All I know is that I haven’t died yet.” 

 “This beer has bubbles in it,” Arthur said, tasting it. 

“Yes.” Merlin refused to be distracted. “Arthur - not that it’s not good to see you again...but why are you here now? I thought you were supposed to return in Albion’s time of greatest need.”

“So I’m told,” Arthur said, frowning. “But you don’t think this is it?”

“Well, it doesn’t seem like it. Everything’s so...prosperous. Comfortable even. People don’t starve, there haven’t been any major plagues for ages. Magic is legal.” 

Arthur’s eyebrows went up at that, and Merlin hastily qualified his statement. “Oh, I don’t mean it’s a land of sorcerers. They’ve... sort of forgotten how magic works and there aren’t many people born with much talent. Most of them don’t believe in it. There’d probably be panic if they actually saw sorcery and knew what it was. But it’s not illegal .” 

He sipped his beer and looked at Arthur, that sharp, mobile face, improbably here at last. 

“There were times... quite a few times, actually... when I thought to myself; surely this is it. Surely this time, he’ll come back. When Camelot fell at last. When the Saxons came swarming in and our cities died and our people were thrown back to the hills to scratch a living out on the heather... When the Vikings were raiding all along the coasts, burning and taking slaves. When the Normans invaded - that was bad. That was really bad, for a while. I was so sure you’d come back then, I went and camped by the lake for a while. Or for the Wars of the Roses, when they tore each other to shreds all across the land until there was almost nothing left....

 “A king who knew how to rule would have made such a difference then. Or during the Civil War... So I came back to Avalon and I waited and watched, but there was nothing .” 

“I didn’t get to choose , Merlin.” Arthur said. “I wasn’t lying there thinking, hmm, this bit looks tricky, I think I’ll give that a miss.”

Merlin glared at him irritably. “Glad to hear it. So, you didn’t get to watch? History, I mean. I wondered if you would. Thought you might get a clearer view of it than me, living inside it.”

“As far as I’m concerned, I arrived at the lake of Avalon yesterday, with you. Dying, or dead, I’m told. I’ve still got a whacking great hole in my side.”

Merlin was alarmed “Seriously? How bad is it?”

“Healing,” Arthur said tersely. “Someone stitched it, I don’t remember that either. Doesn’t look a week old. Yet apparently, everyone and everything is gone... Hard to take in. How long was it, really?” 

“About fifteen hundred years,” Merlin told him. 

Arthur’s eyes widened, “Fifteen HUNDRED? No wonder their clothes and ... and everything is so different.” He looked Merlin squarely in the face as if confronting an unpalatable truth and took a long swig of his beer. “They’re all Saxons, aren’t they?” 

“Well, not exactly. They all speak English now - it’s a sort of dialect of the language the Saxons that we knew used to speak, but it’s sort of ...changed. Quite a lot. But the people - the people themselves are a mix. There are people here whose families have lived around here through fifteen hundred years, even though they don’t know it themselves. And there are people who came in as conquerors, and people fleeing persecution, and they’ve all married and settled down - same as the Romans did, I suppose. They’re all muddled up together now.”

“Hm,” Arthur said, thinking. Merlin wondered if he would accept this, or if he would dismiss the invaders as still intrinsically alien. He tried to think how he might have felt about it, if he hadn’t lived with them all this time. How would he, Merlin, feel, if he had come back to discover Camelot fallen and his land full of strangers? He wasn’t sure that he could have forgiven it. But Arthur, it seemed, was able to make the adjustment. 

“Hmm. That’s something, anyway, if our people are still here. I’d hate to think I’m destined to fight to save a bunch of Saxons who’d wiped my own people out. But I can’t see how I am supposed to achieve anything now. These people don’t know me, I don’t know them. We don’t even speak the same language. Surely they must have their own knights and their own king? I don’t even have a sword.” His voice dropped in doubt.

“Well, they ... sort of have knights. And they have a queen. Not like you though. Look, it’s ...complicated.”

“I’ll bet.” 

“Maybe that’s the reason?” Merlin wondered. 

“What reason?” 

“The reason that nothing’s happening yet. On the hour of greatest need thing. Maybe you get some time to learn the language and get to know the lie of the land before ... whatever it is happens.” 

Arthur’s eyes narrowed, thoughtfully. “Perhaps. And maybe there’s another weapon I need to know how to use. ”

“Weapon?” Merlin looked blankly at him. 

“You need to tell me exactly what you can do with sorcery, Merlin. It looks like that’s the only advantage that I’ve got.” Then Arthur suddenly looked unsure, and added, slowly, “If you do want to help me, that is.”

“What do you mean?”

Arthur gave him a long, level look. Merlin rubbed his white beard self-consciously. 

“I’ve been gone for, well, more time than I can imagine, or so you tell me. You certainly look like it’s been a very long time. You’ve lived after Camelot much longer than you ever lived in it. Even back then, you didn’t tell me anything about the magic: nothing more than you had to, even at the end.”

“Well, yes, but...” Merlin said, but Arthur interrupted him. 

“Look, when you first turned up at that hall place and saw me, you weren’t pleased. I understand. It was a long time ago for you. I’ve let you down.” 

“Oh, not really,” Merlin began, uncomfortably.

Arthur interrupted him. “I did. I made a lot of assumptions that have turned out to be pretty stupid. I didn’t ask questions that needed to be asked. You risked everything, even though I wasn’t someone you could trust. For some utterly baffling reason you stuck by me anyway, but no sane person could have blamed you if you hadn’t. So. I need to know where your loyalties lie now. If I can’t rely on you any more, just tell me.”

Merlin looked at him, this impossibly young man from the impossibly distant past. His friend; his king. Preparing to stand alone against who knew what threat, without even magic to help him. Merlin had forgotten how it was to know exactly where his loyalties lay. Forgotten that sometimes things could be so uncomplicated. 

“Well?” Arthur said, impatient, and Merlin realised he had not spoken aloud. 

“Arthur, you are still an idiot,” Merlin told him with deep affection. “I’ve waited fifteen hundred years for you! Of course you can rely on me. Something awful—even more awful than all of that stuff I just mentioned—is about to happen. If you’d seen the wars I’ve seen, you’d know why I’m not too happy about that. Who would be? But of course I have to help you. 

“I’ve seen kings and queens come and go, and there wasn’t one of them that was a match for you. I know you’ve never leave a war raging and people dying if you had any choice about it. You would never let anyone down.

“And apart from all of that, you are my friend, and there is no way I’m letting you walk out of here on your own.”

Arthur smiled. “Good,” he said “Because I didn’t have a clue what to do without you. But still, I had to ask. You’d better start teaching me this weird Anglish language.”

“English”

“Whatever it’s called.”