Tales as Old as Time
The Price of Destiny
He pulled himself quietly to his feet, picking up Excalibur as he made his way towards them. Morgana, he pitied her more than feared her, all these years and he could not forget the strong beautiful woman she had been, before he and destiny had played her false. Even now as she crouched over her brother waiting gleefully for his death, he couldn't do it, knew he couldn't.
He had never been able to, but then again she had never really tried to kill him and perhaps that was a fact that lent itself towards him staying his hand, he who had wronged her the most, had hurt and betrayed her and yet even after she had discovered his secret she had merely sought to take his magic not his life, and then she had left him in the crystal cave, despite it being the only place where he had any hope of retrieving his lost gifts.
So no he couldn't kill her, but he still had to try and save Arthur.
He snuck up behind her, hearing her cold, cruel, taunting as she knelt at her brothers side the sword held loosely in his hand already knowing he would never use it against her.
"...I'll stay with you til the wolves gorge on your carcass and bathe in your blood."
"No, the time for all this bloodshed is over... I blame myself for what you've become... but... this has to end." He looked deep into her eyes, which over the years had dulled with the madness in her mind and soul, and saw a spark of something he couldn't place deep within their depths.
"I am a high priestess, do you really think you can kill me?" She asked him and he could see it as the challenge it was, they both knew he wouldn't, couldn't.
"No," He whispered with a shake of his head, "Swefe nu." He caught her body as it fell and gently lowered her to the ground, brushing a stray lock of hair from her face, "Goodbye Morgana."
"You did it... you've brought peace to the kingdom at last." His head jerked up, eyes meeting those of his king and realised what Arthur was thinking, how could he tell him the truth, especially while he was looking at him with a small proud smile on his face. He felt an uncomfortable clench in his guts but he couldn't regret the decision he had made.
Leaving the sleeping Morgana where she was he made his way over to his king, slinging one arm over his shoulders and pulling his friend to his feet. With one last glance back at the woman sleeping peacefully on the forest floor. She looked so innocent in her sleep, however false it was.
He sat on the shore of Avalon, his tears dried up making the skin of his face feel tight, staring blankly out across the water.
He had failed. It didn't matter what Kilgharrah said, he knew the truth, his inability to bring harm to either Mordred or Morgana had cost him Arthur's life. It was supposed to have been his destiny, that together they would bring about peace and a golden era for all, and yet he had accomplished nothing, not even keeping Arthur alive and safe. So dress it up however you will, it did not change the fact that... He. Had. Failed.
Yes, Arthur may have in a way brought peace to Albion, creating treaties with kingdoms that before had been all too keen on Camelot's destruction, but he had not brought them under one rule, the rule of a high king, under Arthur's rule, and Magic had remained banned, it's people still killed, so... no... they had not brought about all they had hoped to achieve, and Merlin knew that this was all his fault!
He could never return to Camelot. That was a simple and heartbreaking fact.
What was the point?
Without Arthur his life had no purpose, and now that Arthur was gone, he wasn't sure what he was supposed to do with himself. He had spent so long just living for Arthur dedicating his everyday to the king... and now...
He blew out a heavy breath. Bringing his knees up and hugging them tightly to himself, he let his vision glaze over as his internal thoughts consumed him, as his grief ate away at him.
He didn't know who he was without Arthur.
Her eyes snapped open as a deep pain flooded her chest, making it hard to breathe.
She was disoriented at first, wondering what could have caused such a deep pull on her emotions when usually she kept them locked up tight, for fear of having to face all that she had done.
It took her only a moment to remember what had happened and as soon as she did she realised what the pain she was feeling was. She recognised it, though she had only felt it once before... and wasn't that strange?
She knew in that moment that Merlin had failed in his quest to save Arthur... That Arthur was dead, the same pain she had felt when Uther had passed. The one thing she had wanted for so long, fought for for so many years had come to pass... and yet she felt no victory... only a pain in her chest and an emptiness.
If this was how she was feeling, she wondered how Merlin must feel. She kind of felt sorry for what she had put him through, even as she couldn't help but wonder why time and again he had put Arthur first, even though they were the same...
And she wondered why even so close to the end he still hadn't killed her, hadn't even tried to harm her... and yet she had felt the magic within the sword he had held in a loose fist and known that should he have wished to he could have easily ended her life... and yet he hadn't. He had once again spared her.
What did that mean?
She needed to go to him, even though she knew now would be the ideal time to take the throne. She found that there was something she wanted to do, something that meant more. Why was it only now that she could so easily set aside her long fought for goal? If she had seen, if she had known...
It didn't matter now.
Getting to her feet she easily managed to follow Merlin's trail to a clearing where it abruptly ended.
Was this where Arthur died? Where had they gone?
Looking around some more she found a large area of flattened grass and recalled the tale of a dragon attacking Agravaine and her men outside of Ealdor. She tried to think of what was nearby, where Merlin would have been going with his king, and found the path came easily to her, though she had never trod it before.
Reaching the shores of Avalon, even in the darkness, she could make out Merlin's form, broader than he had been when she had known him, though you couldn't tell now with the way he was hunched in on himself.
She seated herself a little away from him, giving him the space he obviously needed though he did nothing to acknowledge her presence, she wasn't even sure he was aware that she was there. Still she felt a little better offering him even this silent and unknown comfort.
She would stay as long as it took, she had nothing else to do, and no-one else with whom to share... well she wasn't sure of that either. All she knew was that the last of her blood kin was dead, not technically by her hand but through her orders, and now she wasn't sure where to go. She was just as lost and confused as the man sitting a few short steps away from her, and though she didn't know what came next, she felt no inclination to move.
She was unaware of the passage of time further than knowing that time was indeed passing as normal beyond their little bubble, she was however brought rudely back to reality by the sword that appeared at her throat, making her stiffen in surprise and a little trepidation. It had just been her and Merlin for so long... was it Merlin?
She raised her head slowly, careful of the sword pressing against her flesh, only to see Merlin still in the same position he always had been since she arrived. She followed the line of the sword up a well muscled arm, and before she was even half way up the forearm she knew who it was... Percival. Easily distinguished by the thick corded muscles of his arms.
She met his eyes, saw the hatred burning bright within and her heart stuttered in her chest remembering the last time she had seen the giant of a knight, tied between two trees as she tortured his brother. This could not be good.
He didn't say anything, but the blade cut a little deeper into her skin and she felt blood blossom up in its wake. She swallowed hard causing the blade to sink a little deeper, while her eyes remained fixed on his.
"Stop! Percival... No!" Merlin's voice cut through her melancholy.
"What?... Merlin?" Percival's blade withdrew slightly, the pressure on her skin easing and more blood trickled out.
"Just... It's not worth it, it won't accomplish anything."
"She killed Gwaine! And where's Arthur?"
"... Arthur's d-dead. Please just..."
Percival's sword had completely moved from her neck now and she took the opportunity to look at Merlin and take him in. His hair was a disheveled mess, dark rings around his red rimmed eyes, eyes which were dulled from the vibrant blue that she was so accustomed to. Dirt smeared his face and clothes, he looked pitiful, weighed down and full of grief and yet she felt a kick to her heart and thought that he had never looked so appealing, that he was here... pulled out of his grieving solitude... defending her, well perhaps not that, but still, protecting her...
"Why, Merlin? Why shouldn't I, why haven't you?" Percival asked, all his attention now focused on Merlin.
"...Because..." He started, then stopped seemingly thinking of reasons that would stay his friends hand, and what he said next was not what she expected at all, causing tears to course down her own cheeks, "It is not what Arthur would have wanted. She will leave Camelot alone, just please, Percival, you won't see either of us again... please?"
Arthur wouldn't want to see her dead...? Really? And what did he mean by saying he would never see either of them again? Did that mean...? Would Merlin...? She didn't dare let herself hope that perhaps she need not be alone any longer, although the thought warmed her to the core.
"What? Merlin, Camelot's your home. You would throw that away for... her?"
"Camelot is no longer my home Percival, I can't go back there." Merlin drew in a shuddering breath, "I have magic... And... Arthur is gone. There's nothing for me there."
She saw Percival flinch as though Merlin had struck him, and the tension that had been thrumming through the knight was released in a breath of confusion, his whole body sagging with Merlin's confession, until he looked no more than a lost little boy, waiting for someone to tell him what to do. She supposed that made sense, he was a knight and followed the orders of others and now he was unsure.
Merlin took a deep breath, running his fingers through his dishevelled hair, he himself was just as uncertain, but he had meant it about returning to Camelot. He couldn't and well, Morgana, he was unsure in this too but the fact that she had remained here, sitting with him and sharing his grief... it had to mean something, right?
He lifted his eyes back to Percival, "Return to Camelot and inform the queen of Arthur's... passing. Please, Percival."
"...What am I to say when she asks of you?"
Merlin winced, he could already picture Gwen's heartbroken expression, how her hurt would worsen with the knowledge that he didn't believe she was enough of a reason to return, to mourn with his family. But he couldn't do it, couldn't face them all knowing that he had failed and perhaps here... he had hope, he could atone for his failings in this, at least, with Morgana.
He had long been ignorant to the meaning of the name Emrys but not any longer, he was immortal as was she, perhaps neither needed to walk this land alone.
"Just tell her... I'm sorry."
For that was all there was to say, he was sorry. Sorry for being a coward and a liar, sorry for failing Arthur, sorry that he would never return to Camelot.
Sorry for everything.
Afterwards, when they had watched a dejected Percival leave, they stood together in a comfortable silence. Neither knowing what the other were thinking but content to let the silence be, as they both bade a final goodbye to Arthur. Then as one they turned away from the lake and made their way back into the forest.