The black mist curled and weaved as it moved through the cool, stone corridors, becoming almost substantial each time it paused, forming a dark cloak around a living entity that fluttered out behind as the creature moved deeper into the castle. It moved upwards, wisps of its malignancy hanging in the air behind it and making those who passed through those corridors after it shiver with foreboding. It crawled across a high vaulted ceiling to avoid the guards stationed along the corridor from Prince Arthur's chambers. The guards looked to each other as unease filled them momentarily before the sensation dissipated, then shrugged it off, feeling a little foolish.
When it reached the heavy oak door, it thinned to push its way through the tiny gap between the door and the solid frame attached to the stone walls. Slowly it gathered above the sleeping man, deepening until it was a cloak of malevolent darkness slowly floating down upon its unsuspecting prey, its evil intention clear.
The door flung open and Merlin's eyes glowed bright on the threshold as he murmured an incantation, the words drowned out by the sound of wood crashing against stone. Consumed by a flash of light, the darkness was obliterated just as Arthur shot up and stared at Merlin, blue eyes wide from being pulled from sleep so suddenly, unaware of the danger that had lurked above his head until moments earlier.
"Merlin!" he shouted in outrage.
"Sorry. Forget my own strength some days."
Merlin shrugged, placing the breakfast tray on Arthur's lap before closing the door far more gently behind him. Using his own body for concealment, he intoned a quick spell to repair any visible damage to the door, not wanting to add to Arthur's annoyance. When he turned back, Arthur was staring at him in disbelief before he shook his head, rubbed the sleep from his eyes while mumbling about incompetent servants, and looked down at his tray.
"Where's the bacon?"
"Bacon?" Merlin asked innocently, looking under the platter as if it could be hiding there, and earning an irritated slap of his hand from Arthur. "Cook must have forgotten."
Arthur eyed him suspiciously as Merlin thumbed over his shoulder towards the door. "I'll go fetch some."
As soon as he was away from prying eyes, Merlin sagged against a wall. It had been a close call this time. If he hadn't already been on his way to Arthur's chamber with breakfast then he might never had felt the icy fingers of darkness and evil hanging in the corridors and reached Arthur in time. A sense of impending misfortune fell over him and he knew it was a premonition of things to come - dark and ominous. It pulled at his heart as he thought of the arrogant yet honorable Prince who had become so important to him over these past years.
"Merlin!" The shout could be heard through the thick wooden door.
He laughed at the disgruntled yell, quickly hurrying to kitchen to fetch more bacon - and maybe snag a few more pieces for himself.
Merlin watched the world change as time marched on, always searching and hoping. Each summer solstice he returned to the Druid stones and cast a spell as the sun rose on the longest day, hoping it might reveal Arthur's renewed presence in this ever-changing world. His missed his friend, and had hoped he might find Arthur when the whole world fell into first one Great War and then into another, but saw no sign to give him comfort.
In more recent years he'd been forced to disguise himself after the great stones were ringed off from the public to preserve them, using magic to move among the Neo-Druids allowed onto site for the Summer and Winter solstice, many of whom had no bloodline to Merlin's people or had long since lost their magic. He sighed heavily. So little magic remained in the land. The woodlands were cut down and the meadows gone, replaced by concrete and steel, and if ever there was a time when the world needed Arthur - and hope -then these dark days should have counted most.
The solstice was approaching, so he walked along the ancient paths past the old and hidden groves where others of his kind had once worshiped. Modern roads along some stretches made the walking easier underfoot but more dangerous as the motor car replaced carts and horses, flashing past at speeds he could not have imagined even a few decades earlier. Planes filled the skies where once he had taken flight upon Kilgharrah's back.
The Great Dragon had gone, perhaps into hibernation through the centuries as they awaited Arthur's return - or perhaps death had claimed him.
Merlin arrived at Stonehenge the day before the Summer solstice, slipping into the small encampment of Neo-Druids to join in the festivities. He'd always been partial to a good mead and the druids of this new age of man were happy to share. No one questioned his presence and he spent the evening listening to songs and dreaming of Arthur. Though centuries had passed he could still see the handsome face with wheat-gold hair and summer blue eyes. He could hear Arthur's laugh and mocking tone, smiling as he recalled the indignant cries of his name falling from those perfect lips on more than once occasion.
Those golden days would not have accepted his love for Arthur, and his desire to touch and hold, and to kiss those soft lips. He sighed in envy as he watched two young men caressing openly beside a nearby camp fire. At least there was one change for the better in these more recent years.
Before dawn, he discarded his disguise of an old man and stood at the center of the stone circle, looking towards the north-east as he waited for the sun to rise behind the Heel Stone. Others stood around and behind him after a small nudge of magic had made them give up this most precious spot. He closed his eyes as he felt the first shaft of light strike him, tensing in shock when he felt a long-awaited stirring inside that had been missing all these centuries.
"Arthur," he whispered, opening his eyes as a shadow blotted out the sunlight to find a man standing before him, head cocked to one side as a familiar baffled smile rose one corner of an equally familiar mouth. The sun's rays picked up the wheat-gold of his hair as summer blue eyes appraised him, and Merlin could read more than passing interest in the heated gaze that traveled the length of his body.
"How did you know my name?"