“Merlin!” Arthur yelled in both relief and disbelief. Gwen, Gwaine, Leon, and Percival all ran to Merlin’s bed, where he was yes, awake, but barely so. Each one of them said their own hello, like: “Oh, I’m so glad you’re back!” “You really had us worried there, mate.”
Merlin gave a small smile (or maybe it was a grimace), but his eyes were sad. “I’m -” he coughed - “not alright. You-” he coughed again- “still have reason to worry.” As the smiles slid off of each one of his friend’s faces, he felt guilty for not reassuring them and greeting them, but he had no time for either.
“I’m dying.” They empty, sad, dark word bounced around the room, silencing the briefly hopeful individuals. The sun had been rising, shining brightly for a small moment, before illuminating the dark clouds outside. The difference between their dark, lonely, unimaginably horrible night and this new morning was almost indistinguishable.
Arthur was the first to speak up. “No, you’re not.” He said with fake bravado. “You’re fine Merlin, why else would you be awake?”
Merlin let out a small breath (because he had only inhaled a small amount as well). “If Morgana wanted to kill me, do you really think she wouldn’t want me to suffer through my final day?”
Each one of them thought, “So it was Morgana.” And yet, none of them had the heart to say something after what bad news they just heard.
Merlin knew that the Caillech was very powerful, and that as Morgana had opened the veil and unleashed the Dorocha a few weeks ago, the Caillech would be loyal to her. He knew that this curse was of Morgana’s doing: it had her name written all over it. But he had a feeling it was the Caillech who had carried out this deed upon him, and her magic could not be broken by even the most powerful of sorcerers.
However, he didn’t want to explain this to his friends, and he actually couldn’t because his breath was short and weak. He did cough a few times, but that was all the noise that could be heard in the room.
“T-take me to the lake. Lake Avalon. P-please.” As his lungs struggled to get air, and his heart pumped along as fast as it could go, Merlin started to feel the real weight of what had been done to him. His body was slowly but surely failing, until he would simply fade out of the world. And he was scared.
Gwaine looked incredulous. “Lake Avalon? Why there?” But a small look from the rest of the group said not to disrespect the wishes of a dying man. Guinevere saw all this going on, and she broke into a fresh wave of silent tears.
Arthur turned to Merlin to tell him to pack his bags and ready the horses, but he found that ever constant figure by his side back on the bed, as he had been for the past twelve hours. He simply bowed his head and signaled to the other knights to prepare for the trip.
Guinevere and Gaius stayed with Merlin. Gaius gave Merlin a sleeping draught, to keep him asleep and out of his misery for a while, while he and Guinevere hugged and exchanged small stories and memories of Merlin. Soon, when Percival came back up to tell them it was time to leave, Gwen picked up her bag as Percival carried Merlin out of the castle and onto one of the horses.
Gaius stayed behind, looking out one of the windows and locked his door. He would not be helping anyone today.
Merlin slowly woke up again, about an hour later, leaning on the back of a horse trotting through the woods. Arthur, who was on the horse on his direct left, gave him a small smile. “How are you feeling, Merlin?”
Merlin chuckled and said, “Like death.”
Arthur frowned. “That’s not funny, Merlin. I-I’m worried about you.”
Merlin gave a confused grin to Arthur and replied, “Not like you to talk all about your feelings like that.”
Arthur stared forward, hard, and murmured, “And it’s not like you to be sick and dying.”
There was a small silence, and then: “Why do you want to go to Lake Avalon?”
“There was this gi -" He stopped himself, and then started again quickly. "Um, it’s a very beautiful place and that is where I’d like to die.”
Arthur had nothing to say to that, but a long time later: “The horses are getting tired. We have no time to rest them, so we are going to leave them here and walk the rest of the way.” He felt bad, for Merlin’s sake, but he helped Merlin off his horse and gave him a shoulder to lean on as they hobbled on.
Merlin was breathing fast and sharply, the exercise exhausting him. He gave a long sigh and said, “Bloody hell. This is one curse.” Arthur gave a short laugh, spurred on by Merlin’s everlasting smile, and they soon made it into the clearing where Lake Avalon was.
Merlin let go of Arthur’s shoulder and stumbled on for about two feet before quickly collapsing into a heap on the shore. The others stayed behind, watching his sad figure rest his hand in the blue water.
“Could-could you give me a moment alone? I will need some space - a lot of space. I really need this.”
The knights and Gwen nodded, confused, and soon they had retreated well out of earshot into the woods, where they started a fire and made quiet conversation.
Once he knew he was alone, Merlin called out to Kilgharrah: “"O drakon, e male so ftengometta tesd'hup'anankes!" Within a minute, the Great Dragon was resting on the bank.
“What is it, young warlock?”
“I am going to die. This is my goodbye to you, Kilgharrah.”
“I am sorry to see you go. You are a great and powerful being, Merlin, and deserve more time than you tell me you have.”
"Tell me, Kilgharrah. Is this really the time I die?"
"I cannot foresee everything, Merlin."
Merlin shuddered with a gasp.
“You should go now, Kilgharrah. I’m sorry that our goodbye was so short, but my friends will not be happy to see you.”
“Goodbye, young warlock.”
As the Great Dragon flew away, into the mountains and disappearing, Merlin felt what was like a fire licking in his chest, keeping him from breathing. With all his might, and all his strength, he pulled himself up onto his arms and bellowed, “Arthur!”
Soon, Arthur appeared with the rest of Merlin’s friends.
“Goodbye,” Merlin rasped. “Thank you.” And soon, his limp, cold body fell to the ground.
Arthur rushed to his side and put his hands under Merlin’s head, lifting his best friend’s lifeless body up. “No,” he whispered, tears streaming quickly down his face. “No, Merlin, please.”
He hugged the boy’s head into his chest and cried. He had told Merlin long ago never to waste his tears on another man, and yet, here he was, giving all the tears he had to the poor servant boy.
“I’m not ready to say goodbye,” he whispered.