Once upon a time...
For that is how all fairy tales begin, whether they be happily ever after or dark and haunting.
Once upon a time there was a boy who lived with his uncle in a cottage at the end of the world. Well not really the end of the world, just on the edge, where the sea meets the cliffs and there's salt spray in the air.
The boy didn't know much of the world beyond his little cottage and the woods surrounding it. Not even the village down in the cove was familiar to him. He was magic, you see, and the people in the village were like people everywhere. They were afraid of what was different and unknown and the boy was different. They all knew it. There were stories told by mothers and fathers to their children telling them not to go to the sea house for they would be turned to stone or into animals that would run away and never find home again. And the stories were all lies and mistakes that built and built on themselves for the boy was no danger to anyone. None at all. Yes, the magic in his fingertips could open up the skies and bring down rain and lightning and wind, but all the boy ever wanted it to do was make birds sing him songs and have flowers grow in the palm of his hand. But the villagers didn't care because the boy was too pale, his hair too dark, and his eyes too big and blue and as endless as the sea that crashed at his door. Surely he was unnatural because everyone said so and words once spoken can never be taken back even if you try to trap them in your hands and swallow them back down.
Down in the village there was another boy who was as golden as the other boy was dark. He climbed trees and always had friends around him, a trail of boys following his every move for he always had the best stories and was toughest of them all. The boy's father was mayor of the village and the one that told the loudest lies. Sometimes the boy believed his father as all good boys should, but sometimes he wasn't sure for he was still young enough to believe there wasn't something so evil in the world that a kiss from his nurse and a sweet treat couldn't fix. The boy also loved adventure and excitement so it wasn't any wonder when he decided one day to sneak away from the village and find the dark haired boy that could crack open the sky.
He made his way up to the end of the world. The closer he got the more worried he was that he just might fall off the edge because when he looked back home seemed very far away. But the boy was stubborn, so stubborn that it overrode the fear of what was ahead of him. When he got to the last bend in the path and the cottage came into view he quickly ducked behind a tree, out of sight because although his stubbornness was great it could only carry him so far. As he watched the cottage he thought he could hear laughter above the dull hum of the sea. He wondered how that could be for he was quite sure that evil things didn't laugh or if they did it surely didn't sound like a song; light and carefree.
The boy sat on the ground and leaned his cheek against the tree as he continued to watch the cottage. It wasn't long before an old man leaned out an open window and tossed a bucket of water onto the grass. The boy thought the old man looked friendly and not at all one to eat children like the villagers liked to claim. In fact, the old man smiled and looked kind as he called out a name. The boy's eyes grew wide when the dark haired boy ran out of the woods towards the man at the window. It was his laughter the boy had heard; happy and sweet. The dark haired boy skipped when he ran and butterflies flew out of the grass wherever his feet had touched. The boy stayed hidden but he was filled with wonder.
And he wanted more.
He kept watch for the rest of the day, until the sun began to tire and fall toward the horizon, and it was only the thought of a sound beating from his father that forced the boy to leave. He'd been captivated the entire day long. He'd seen miraculous, glorious things he was sure couldn't be evil at all. He began to doubt his father that day. Just a small tiny seed, but it was there, and you know what is said of seeds; even the tiniest of them all can unfurl and grow into a vine that can split apart a boulder as strong as a mountain.
The golden haired boy returned as many times as he could and always stayed hidden, or so he thought. Then one day the dark boy sent sparks of flashing light from his fingertips and he gasped out loud, clear and without thought. The dark boy smiled and turned to look straight at him.
"Do you think you might come out today?" the dark boy asked.
He panicked for a moment but then the other boy smiled again and he knew he wasn't ever going to stay hidden from him again.
"My name is Arthur," he said as he stepped out from the bushes.
"I'm Merlin," the dark boy said.
"How did you know I was there?"
"You glow," Merlin said. "Like sunlight through the leaves. I can always see you when you're here."
"I glow?" Arthur asked in shock as his arms shot out from his sides and he looked at them up and down.
Merlin laughed. "Only to me. I see what's inside people, their true selves, it swirls around them in colors and light."
"What color am I?" Arthur was fascinated and forgot to be afraid.
"You're golden and warm with strings of red running through you."
"Is that good or bad?"
"Are you worried it might be bad?"
Arthur was. He was worried because sometimes he did bad things. He didn't always say 'thank you' and sometimes he hid Nurse's favorite slippers and every single time he'd seen Merlin he'd doubted his father more and more and he knew only bad people thought their fathers wrong.
He shook his head. Yes. He was worried.
"You don't need to be," Merlin said. "You're everything that is good. Terribly good, in fact."
"I'm not always good." Arthur admitted.
"Only good people know that they're not always good."
"You sound very sure."
"I am." Merlin nodded as if that concluded the truth of Arthur's goodness.
Arthur, growing ever more bold by the minute, stepped forward and asked Merlin if he wouldn't mind making the butterflies rise up from the ground and swirl around him as he'd seen him do before. They were his favorite.
"Not the sparks of light or the squirrels that fly?" Merlin asked.
Arthur shook his head and blushed. "No. I like the butterflies best."
Merlin took Arthur's hand and smiled. "So do I."
And just like that butterflies of every color filled the sky and Arthur spun in a cyclone of color and the soft tickle of wings brushing against his bare arms. He'd never been quite so happy before.
Every day after that Arthur would sneak away from his father and Nurse to join Merlin at the edge of the world. There were adventures for them to explore and kingdoms for them to build and before long neither one knew what to do without the other and the world begin to feel unsteady and unreal until they stepped upon it with the other at their side.
The games of boys, those filled with scraped knees and childish delight, turned into the beginnings of youth, those years filled with change that began to stretch away from the fingers of boyhood and toward the breadth and beauty of the future and the men they would become. Merlin grew tall and lean, dark and pale, with a voice full of stories of what Arthur would one day be. Arthur grew tall and broad, golden and sun-browned, with a heart full of moments within which Merlin dwelled.
When one day as they sat upon the sand and looked out onto the vastness of the sea it wasn't a great surprise when Arthur turned Merlin's face toward his own and kissed the lips that spoke all the truths of the world as he knew it. Merlin smiled and pressed that smile into the side of Arthur's cheek as they stayed sitting side by side and the water rushed in toward their bare feet. It was the first, but never the last, only a promise of what they both knew; that for all the days that stretched out before them there would be a kiss to mark the passing off of the sky from the stars at night to the sun in the day. They would mark time this way and form the calendar of their lives.
But as so often happens in fairy tales, there is the time when the heroes are tested and the villains rise up. When the love that makes the reader ache to behold it is grasped in a dark fist so tight it seems as if it will be strangled and all hope will be lost. When hearts are torn asunder and tears fall from the sky in mourning.
It wasn't any wonder at all that there were rumblings in the village, rumors rolling like thunder across a darkened sky, shuddering up through the feet and into the chest of everyone who listened, that the mayor's son ran away from him every single day to dance at the edge of the world with the dark boy with even darker powers. They loved Arthur and feared he'd one day fall off the edge of the world and never come back to them. They feared for what the dark boy might do to him, would he curse him so that he too shot fire from his fingertips and could call down the darkness upon them all? Did the mayor not see what was beneath his own nose? They all feared and they all rumbled but none would speak the words of their fear to the mayor so it took him a very long time to see what his eyes had failed to bring him.
If only he had seen and understood long before he did the sadness that followed wouldn't have been filled with murderous pain, the kind so deep and slashing that it tore a soul in two. But his eyes didn't see though they were open for many, many years and his unseeing eyes gave time to the love that twisted together two hearts and souls into an unsolvable, unbreakable knot. The boys that had grown into young men now breathed as one and to sever one from the world was to stop the air from reaching the other.
The old man that had kept Merlin safe in his cottage at the edge of the world saw this, saw it all, and warned the boys of the evil the world summoned forth where ignorance and fear were allowed to fester. The boys listened but did not believe. Merlin believed only in the slope of Arthur's neck and the fierceness of his heart, and Arthur knew only the blue of Merlin's eyes and the hum of his wondrous thoughts. Their love was a gift but it was also a curse that made them just as blind as those who would not see for who could see darkness looming when there was sun-warmed skin and lips that tasted like rain to behold instead?
The mayor, when he had learned of his son's deceit, cursed the dark boy and all the worlds beyond this one for stealing his son away. His only child, his only boy. He roared and the village trembled once again, not with the thunder of rumors, but with the terrible earthquake of love-fed hate. Afraid to do otherwise the villagers followed the mayor, believed the venom he preached, and marched in time with him toward the the edge of the world. Every step they marched made their fervor grow and the things they were not so sure about while safe and sound at home became hard-spoken truths, the kind which trample all others into the ground.
The sun was bright and deceptive so when they came upon the boys Arthur was reading to Merlin a book about the secrets of the earth while Merlin made the tall grass around them ripple in smooth, soothing waves. The birds were singing, the air warm and careless, heavy with laziness like a lullaby. So when the mayor shouted, angry and hard, the moment shattered around the boys like a shards of glass. Each piece stinging and cutting.
Arthur rose and held out his hand, cried out to his father. Stop. You're wrong. But anger and ignorance once left unchecked is impossible to stop through words alone. Merlin, though he could do all the things they accused him of, those things they feared, held his hands at his sides and did nothing because he would not lower himself to what they were. He knew where his power dwelled and it was not in the darkness but the light and there is where it would remain or he would cease to be the boy that Arthur loved and then he would be nothing at all. The tail end of a thought never formed that disappeared into the air before it had a chance to become.
Through the shards of broken day falling around them and the sound of Arthur's voice Merlin remained calm and let the chaos fall upon him. There were weapons of iron and stone and wood, so many weapons for one boy alone. Nothing about it was fair at all and Arthur charged forth with the injustice of it all firing inside of him, but what is one boy, though strong of heart, against all that iron and stone and wood? It is no match at all. And as it is with all things, it was only after the surge when the people watched Arthur fall to his knees in despair and heard the keening moan of a heart broken and dying, a sound that everyone at the edge of the world that day would hear in their nightmares before death was kind enough to lead them home, that they realized the mistake they had made. What were they thinking? All of them against one boy closing his eyes to their hate and another trying with every breath inside him to be his champion.
Two boys. That was all they were.
The people were ashamed and backed away from the mayor, putting distance between what he wrought and hoping they could be forgiven. But things are never so easy and as they watched Arthur hold Merlin in his arms as he cried out the sky that was once bright with the joy of the sun turned dark and roiling as lightening flashed and thunder sounded. They watched as the sky cracked open and rain fell down on them, harsh and lashing, and they were thrown into confusion. They didn't know what to fear more, but slowly, one by one, they began to realize that it wasn't damnation raining down on them but Arthur's pain and the true fear was the loss of love which was more sorrowful than anything they had conjured up in their imaginations.
Their imagined fears, all those dark and evil creatures, were nothing, nothing, compared to having to watch the fading of a dark-haired beautiful boy as one of their own faded alongside him. Though fade may be too kind of a word, there was nothing kind in Arthur's fading. They watched as pieces of him fell away one by one and bled into the ground, a viscous, messy departure playing out before them and showing them all they had brought down upon themselves.
And the mayor, the mayor was left to watch right along beside the people he'd whipped into a frenzy and brought with him into this nightmare. Seeing his only son melt away severed the heart of him and he felt himself collapse from within. This he did not fight against because this he deserved. And as he collapsed in on himself until he disappeared entirely he hoped he would suffer wherever it was he was going because his penance should never come.
Once the mayor had disappeared into nothing and Arthur and Merlin had sunk together into the earth the sky returned to its mocking sunshine and the birds began to sing again. The people blinked at the sudden brightness like those led out of a deep, dark cave, and they held their hands to their ears to block out the beauty of the birdsong for not a single one of them felt they had any right to hear it. The old man, who had been left weeping in the arch of the cottage's door, shooed them all away from him, from the edge of the world, and told them never to come back and were they happy now with what they had done?
None of them were, of course, and regret lasts far longer than fear.
No one ever spoke of that day and soon the old man disappeared and the edge of the world was uninhabited, barren and sorrowful and the end of everything.
It wasn't until many years later when a brave little boy and a headstrong little girl dared each other to go once more to the edge of the world, a place not visited since their great great grandparents made the sky rain sorrow, that rumors once again began to rumble. Although they did not rumble as they had the last time. There was no ominous thunder, but a rolling thrum of relief because the little boy swore and crossed his little heart that the cottage was not empty. It was filled to the brim with happy laughter and a golden glow. And the windows, oh the windows, they had strings of red curling out of them in long, wondrous spirals laced with blue waves like the sea. The people could hardly believe it but the little girl crossed her little heart too and promised she saw two boys, one dark and one light, race from the cottage hand-in-hand and leap off the edge of the world together. Side by side. This made the people gasp and they felt the ache of loss twist through them once more until the little girl smiled and told them not to worry.
"They didn't fall off the edge of the world," she said, "they flew."