Chapter 33 Ever Be the Same Again?
Arthur could only stare at the man lying on the bed. Not believing his own eyes. Merlin was dead. As much as Arthur wanted to deny the truth, his feelings were all too real. Arthur felt severed. Like something important had been cut from him. Arthur didn't know if even Gwenevere could help ease his pain. Only two people held such a place in his heart, and one of them was missing. Merlin went somewhere he couldn't follow. The man who was always so full of life, gone.
Arthur's mind wandered to the night his father died. Remembering the grief embedded inside him, how he didn't feel ready to assume Camelot's throne. A whole weight upon his shoulders with out knowing how to bear it. Now this happened. This death, was simply too much. Even though he wouldn't admit it back then, Arthur knew he felt closer to Merlin rather than his own father. Merlin would always listen, inspiring him to do what he thought was right. Merlin taught the value of other's advice, where his father taught him to rely upon himself to make decisions. Arthur had been alone before Merlin came along; and now, it seemed he was alone again.
Arthur didn't even notice the knights leave him once more. It wasn't till the door clicked shut did he look around. Noticing the empty room, Arthur sat heavily back down on the chair beside the bed. Grasping Merlin's already cold hand, the tears finally flowed. "No man is worth your tears" a tiny voice echoed in the back of his mind. "Merlin is worth them," he told it.
Arthur briefly wondered if this is what Merlin felt when he died from Camlann, before deciding it was worse. They had become closer then when he first died on the banks of Avalon. Arthur was full of fear from Merlin, until the last moments. Now that Arthur really knew all what Merlin has done for him, Merlin had gotten to be his true self. Grabbing Merlin under his shoulders, Arthur pulled him closer. Sobbing into his brother's chest.
Arthur let the tears fall. Crying until Merlin's shirt was wet. Unknowing how long he had been crying for, Arthur felt emotionally exhausted. Completely empty. Arthur swiped aside the raven hair that had fallen in front of Merlin's eye lids. Lying him back down onto the bed, Arthur turned and slowly walk towards the door.
"We'll take him back to Camelot" Leon spoke.
"Not to Camelot." Arthur said startling everyone. His knights and Iseldir were talking to Thondiair, Asiniell at his side.
"Sire?" Leon asked a confused look on his face.
"We're not taking Merlin to Camelot." Arthur spoke with no emotion in his voice. "We will take him to Avalon."
Leon nodded in understanding, "Of course Sire."
Within the next hour, Arthur carried Merlin in his arms once again. Merlin was placed in a fresh white shirt. Thondiair and Asiniell led the way, Iseldir and the knight's behind Arthur. Their footsteps seemed heavy to Arthur's ears. Echoing off the stone halls. When they arrived at the top of the steps, Arthur saw all of the elves gathered at the courtyard. The women wore white long gowns, while the men had silver robes. Each one held a candle. Their wicks ablaze with a bright flame, the candles were place inside a circular coaster. In the center of the courtyard, there laid a cot, supported by two poles. One on each side. Arthur followed Thondiair and Asiniell down the steps. The two elves stood to the side. Arthur felt all eyes on him as he gently laid Merlin down onto the cot. A last gesture, Arthur wove Merlin's fingers together as they rested on his still chest. Once satisfied, Arthur nodded to his knights. Gwaine came first. He stood next to Arthur on his right. Leon came next as his place was behind Arthur. Percival behind Gwaine. When they were ready, the four of them bent down synchronized. As one, they straightened up again. Careful not to jostle the precious cargo. With heavy hearts, the four of them began to lead the way to the lake of Avalon. The elves close behind them.
They didn't stop. Thondiair had told them the best way to the lake before they left. That was the rout they took. Arthur knew the journey would have been quicker with horses, but Arthur felt this was a more deserving ceremony. The journey was a silent one. All that was heard, was the crunching footsteps of the forest floor.
It was early evening when the lake was in sight. Arthur spotted a wooden boat on the bank, as if waiting for them. Once on the lake's shores, the four knights cautiously brought the cot down. Relieving them of their burden. The elves gathered behind. Their candles still burning. Arthur saw this as he picked Merlin up. Turning his back on them, Arthur went to the small boat. Placing him inside as Merlin had done for him. Kneeling beside it, Arthur said his last goodbye.
"I'm so sorry Merlin. I failed you. I was supposed to protect you this time. Of all the times you have saved me, when it was my turn, I couldn't do anything. For that I am sorry. You are, the bravest man, I have ever known. Even till death.
I know, you said I'm not alone, but you don't understand. The prophecy said: one cannot be whole without the other, and it's true. You are my other half." Arthur put his hand behind Merlin's head. "Leon's right, there will never be another man like you Merlin. I can only say this. Be at peace Merlin. Be at peace." Drawing Merlin's head closer towards him; Arthur kissed Merlin's brow. It was a soft kiss, not a kiss like he would give Gwenevere, no. This was different. It came with a sense of peace, and serenity. Laying his head gently back down again, Arthur took one last glance at the man who has changed him so much. The man who make him a better king. Arthur stood, his hand trailed the edge of the boat. Taking a few steps backwards, Arthur nodded for his knights to approach. Allowing them to say their farewells.
Arthur waited patiently for them. He could see conflicted emotion passing over Gwaine's face. Arthur could tell he was struggling not to break down then and there. Gwaine stood by Arthur as Leon and Percival said their good bye's. Iseldir was the last. The elves watched from the bank, a respectful distance away. They saw as each knight took his turn, speaking words they could not hear. When the last was done, Thondiair and Asiniell moved forward. Both holding their candles.
Arthur watched them come. Thondiair glanced him in the eye, as they passed. They didn't say any words to Merlin. Arthur and the knights saw the two elves place their candles into the water. As they stood gracefully, Arthur saw the rest of the elves walk towards the lake. Each of them placing their candles on the water's surface.
The candles decorated the shallow water. Arthur and the knights gathered around the boat. Arthur at the stern, Leon and Percival on the left, while Gwaine and Iseldir on the right. The five men easily pushed the boat into the water. Wading up to their knees so the boat will not catch on the sand below. With heavy hearts, the men allowed the boat to drift away from them, slowly making its way out onto the water's depths. Some of the candle's following it. Arthur silently watched the boat float farther and farther away.
Thondiair passed Arthur a long bow. The wood was strong, but bendable; the bowstring made of horse hair. Arrowhead wrapped in oil, the tip was set aflame. Arthur drew back the string, before letting the burning arrow fly. Hitting its mark, the boat easily caught fire.
Suddenly, a chorus of voices arose around them. The sound was captivating. Arthur looked back as he saw the elves, they were singing. The words were foreign to him. Words of the Old Religion.
"What are they saying?" Percival asked the question Arthur was thinking.
"It is a song of mourning" Iseldir answered. "A song the elves sing when a loved one has passed into the next world. I will translate it for you. They sing…
Here Emrys lies to rest at the lake of Avalon,
Today, a great friend and protector of Albion has fallen.
Though his spirit has passed on into a world apart,
His legacy shall live on forever in our hearts.
Tis sad when one is lost who only gave and never took,
To see all he hath given one must only look.
Up to the sky, the stars and moonlight,
Shining so strong, pure and bright.
And ye shall see,
This is where our great protector be.
Watching over the world that he once knew.
The world he loved and once belonged too
Forever looking down upon all the people of our great kingdom.
On this day, we mourn the loss of one so great
Who never lost sight of his destiny, and fell victim to fate.
Yes, here a loved one lies to rest the lake of Avalon
Thy spirit hath risen to the heavens above, and we shall carry on."
Arthur couldn't stop the tear that fell as the song had ended. The sun began to set as the last note drew out, filling the air along with it. Then the forest grew silent again.
"That was beautiful" Percival said.
"Aye. Hardly any have heard an Elvish song. Even a song so sad. This song, was for Merlin."
Arthur didn't say anything. He only watched as the boat burned.
When the boat had been turned to ash, Leon, Gwaine, Percival and Iseldir went back to the shore. Only Arthur remained in the water. Still staring longingly at the lake. The lake that held many burials.
Leon went up to Thondiair, and Asiniell. "Thank you for all of your kindness and hospitality. I wished to have parted under lighter circumstances. However, we must return back to Camelot."
"Yes, I understand. You do not have to thank us Sir Leon. It was our pleasure to be hosts for you and the king. I only wish we could have done more." Leon knew Thondiair was talking about Merlin.
"I will have your horses brought to you." During the walk to the lake, the horses had been brought along with. Trailing behind for them to take instead of going back to El Paran.
As Thondiair and Asiniell turned. Leon faced Arthur. He was still in the lake. Sighing softly to himself, Leon motioned for Gwaine, Percival, and Iseldir to remain on the beach as he went to get the King. Wading back into the lake, Arthur did not acknowledge him. "Sire," Leon tried. No answer. "Arthur, we need to go back."
Leon was surprised at the question.
"Back to Camelot. Gwenevere will be worried by now."
"I can't leave him Leon." Arthur spoke so softly, Leon had to strain to hear. "I can't leave him alone."
"Merlin is not alone Arthur."
This time, Arthur looked at Leon. Arthur's face was streaked from tears. His eyes red from crying.
"Merlin's not alone Arthur." Leon repeated. "He's with Freya."
Leon placed a hand on his king's shoulder.
"Yes Arthur. She will take care of him. They are married after all."
That seemed to make Arthur smile. He unexpectedly felt a weightiness lift off his shoulders; knowing Leon was right. Yes, Freya would take care of him. Merlin would be happy with her.
"Let' go home" Leon said.
The ride back was a quiet one. None of them felt like talking, they all wandered in their own thoughts. The only comfort Arthur had, was the last words of the Prophesy. Albion's Coin will once again, be awoken. That meant he would see Merlin again. He didn't know how, he didn't know when. All he could do was wait. Then that's what he'd do. Just as Merlin did for him.
So on they went. Each man listening quietly to their thoughts as they rode back to Camelot. Without Merlin.