Yeah, this is my first Fanfic. It's a bit awful, but it's been mouldering away in my head for a while, so I thought I'd torment you all with it. Cue evil laugh. Oh, also, if you give me a review, I'd hate you for the rest of my life, because who wants feedback on their first story?
Sarcasm, my darlings. Please review, if you have the time or the inclination.
Also, need I put a disclaimer? As one author so eloquently put it, (sadly, I cannot remember who they are) "if I owned any of this, why would I be writing fanfic anyway?"
I'm entirely sure that you're bored out of your mind if you're reading this Author's Note, so I'll delay no longer.
In all the time he walked, he was numb.
He couldn't feel.
It replayed in his mind.
He was walking through the remote village he had hidden himself in when he heard. Passing a pair of women talking in hushed whispers by a doorway, he nodded hello. They nodded back, and continued the conversation. Gossiping, all too likely, he thought to himself, regarding the village's propensity for it. Then he caught two words. "King", and "dead". He paused, blood draining from his face as dread settled in the pit of his stomach.
Turning to the women, voice hollow and afraid, he asked, " What did you say?"
Glancing in confusion to the other woman at Merlin's terrified face, one woman answered, "The king's dead. A messenger came through last night, saying he was on his way to the outlying lords to tell them the news."
Merlin heard nothing past the first three words. He stood there, face ashen, then whispered past dry lips, "The... The king? Do you mean Arthur?" The woman frowned at the lack of a title, her voice reproving as she confirmed "King Arthur, yes."
The world had gone. Colours, sounds, all had faded to a meaningless hum of grey. All that was real and true and here was that Arthur, King Arthur, his prince, his old, old, friend, was gone.
He took a step back, and his legs disappeared from under him as he found himself supported by the two women who had rushed forward to catch him. His bright eyes stared into the distance, shock and grief leaving them empty. Unnoticed, a lone tear slid down his cheek.
Then, as the gossiping women exclaimed in concern, a curtain fell behind his eyes, leaving them blank and mechanical. His face closed off, and composed itself. He straightened, shaking off the helping hands of the kind women. Giving them a perfunctory bow, he thanked them in a flat, empty voice, and left the women staring after him bemusedly.
He walked through the village, automatically taking the familiar steps to the small hut where he quietly followed his guardian's footsteps, healing all who came to him.
He reached the hut, and automatically started packing a bag. He was mechanically running things through his mind, estimating how long it would take him to get to Camelot, and whether he had enough time before the ceremonial pyre was built and Arth- no, the body- was burnt. He wouldn't let himself think about it, he couldn't.
When a royal died, they were laid out on a pedestal for all to see for five days, enough time for a swift messenger to be sent to all the nobles, and for them to travel back to Camelot. It would have taken the messenger two days to reach the village by horse, switching to a fresh one at every stop. For Merlin, on foot, it would take three and a half. He would arrive on the last day of mourning, the day when they burn the body. He didn't even contemplate using his magic; he hadn't used it for decades now.
And so, he walked.
He stopped for the first time since he set out on the crest of the hill overlooking Camelot, swaying with fatigue. The wall he had built as he walked to contain his despair nearly cracked, as he once again looked on the old home; he caught it just in time. Looking over the city he'd found such happiness and such sadness in, he saw an astonishing sight. Hundreds of people wormed their way along the great roads that converged on Camelot from the four points of the compass. All had come to grieve for the king.
Merlin stood and blankly watched the horde, slowly building up the strength needed to be amongst the mass of humanity. He took the first step.
The deer track he was on merged onto a minor road, which grew and grew until it met the major North Way. Merlin found himself amongst a slow, shambling train of people come to mourn the king, and to partake of the ceremony. He didn't protest; simply let himself be carried along.
Eventually, he reached the gates of Camelot. The city had spread, escaped the walls built to contain it and now lay sprawled over the surrounding hills. He had been making his way through this Lower Lower Town for a while now, still submerged within the mass of faceless humanity. At the gates, his blank eyes saw guards randomly checking those going through. He passed through without bother.
He may not have been bothered, but he was noticed, and the guard had called his partner over to get a second opinion on whether the man with the empty eyes matched the description sent out by the queen. Their instructions were to let him through silently. The second guard agreed with the first.
Merlin kept walking, trudging through the streets that were so familiar, but so changed. He noticed neither the familiarity, nor the change. He walked on.
He arrived at the entrance to the castle, and stopped for the second time in the three-day journey. There was an impenetrable mass of people gathered before the drawbridge, all silent, all looking towards the sky over the wall. Looking for the smoke, he realized with the first distinct thought since leaving the village. He dropped his gaze from the sky to the barely seen gateway into the castle. He had to get through.
And so he walked.
As he walked, people turned towards him, faces moving from annoyance and disapproval to realization and a sad sympathy. Many of them recognized the former servant, and knew him. They parted to let him through. Those who didn't know him took one look at his impassive face and hollow, despairing eyes, and silently moved aside.
He walked, and the people parted for him, and the guards at the gate recognized him and quietly opened the side door into the majestic courtyard.
Here, Merlin looked up, and saw.
He saw people, nobles and servants, all standing on the cold, hard floor of the courtyard, all equal in their mourning for the fallen king. He saw the balcony overlooking the silent crowd, and on it a woman standing regally, a simple crown resting on her dark curls, cheeks stained with tears. Beside her was a young girl, tall, with her mother's dark hand resting on her shoulder. On the other side, a boy, clutching the other hand.
He turned his gaze away from his friend, and it fell on the wooden pyre, crowned with the body of the king. He caught a glimpse of a red cloak, blonde hair, sword, before the Queen gave a single nod and the captain of the knights stepped forward with a burning torch, and the wood flared up, obscuring the body of Arthur, The Once and Future King, forever.
Merlin stood there, on the fringes of the crowd, and the realization hit him. His oldest friend was dead.
The wall he had built to dam his emotions broke apart, and he felt his knees buckle and his face crumple in raging, terrible grief. In that moment, Merlin decided to give a last, final gift to the king.
As the crowd of people looked on at the pyre, tears running down some faces, the sparks from the conflagration began to swirl and twist and dance, forming beautiful, incomprehensible pictures and patterns. For the first time in over twenty years, Merlin used his magic.
Those around Merlin had stepped away, and he stood, arms raised, in the centre of a circle. There were tears falling from his eyes and his face open and empty, as for the first time he allowed himself to mourn.
Merlin fixed his eyes on the burning body of Arthur as he made the flames and sparks twist and turn with the slightest flicks and gestures of his hands. Those closest to him heard him murmuring under his breath; presumably words of the Old Religion, but they were wrong.
Merlin was repeating his friend's name, over and over, as he gave to Arthur the only gift he could, the only gift he ever gave: his magic.
The entire courtyard was transfixed as they watched the haunting beauty of the flames commanded by the warlock burn the body of his friend. They watched in silence as Merlin poured his heart into the magic.
The flames rose to a crescendo and formed a shape recognizable to all: a great, flaming dragon that, as they stood by, spread its wings over the courtyard and tipped its snout to the sky. It opened its jaws and let loose a piercing cry, a vocal embodiment of all the grief for Arthur held in all the hearts of Albion.
The dragon's song echoed mournfully around the courtyard, the castle, the entire city. All who heard it paused, and lifted their heads to the sky, listening to the grief of a Dragon Lord for his friend. Even when the conflagration had died down, and the ashes of the king buried, a faint whisper of the song remained on the wind, as the warlock who'd put the pain of an entire country into the song of a dragon slipped away from the prying eyes and walked.
It was time for a new place, a new name.
And so he walked .
Please do tell me where I've made grammatical or spelling mistakes, as I'm sure to have overlooked something. Additionally, thank you for reading.