THROUGH THE GATE OF MEMORY: PART ONE

AN UGLY SHADOW

"I get up and pace the room, as if I can leave my guilt behind me. But it tracks me as I walk, an ugly shadow made by myself."
(Rosamund Lupton)

-x0x-

She had saved his life – or so it seemed.

Standing at the window, he could feel her move behind him; smell the perfume on her hair and hear the whisper of her breath. But there was nothing in his heart. Not any more, he lied, and forced the tear to halt before it fell.

She had saved his life and he had brought the snake to Camelot.

I wish…

Like a fool, he had fancied himself in love. Not for the first time, but never that deeply. Did they know him so well, then; the witch and the false knight? To trap him and twist him and tear him apart, using a golden-haired lure with a pair of bright eyes? She was beautiful and he had told her everything. A knight of Camelot defeated by his own weakness. There was no escaping it; the fault was his, and his alone.

I am alone. The world moved on around him but he saw it through a shadow now, and nothing looked the same. Every smile, every glance had its own significance. Every kind word hid a quiet accusation, heard by his guilty mind: Gwaine… was it worth it?

I wish…

He had served this honourable king, this royal friend of his, without regret. In the blink of an eye he had changed his whole life, just because he yearned to be a part of something so important that it took his breath away. In Camelot, he thought he had become a better man. I did, he insisted grimly, digging his nails deep into the palm of his hand. I am.

Yet now here he was, the betrayer again – by choice? By necessity; call it that, then. Gaius had been gentle. Gwen had been dismayed. Neither one had blamed him openly – they were far too kind for that – but there had been no doubt about the need for him to set it right. As if one false act could cancel out another. No, he thought; there has to be a better way. His king was dying somewhere, lost and alone, with only Merlin – God, if Merlin knew! – protecting him as always. I would take Arthur's place in a heartbeat, Gwaine thought. I would steal his death, if I could, like Lancelot. I would face the witch with my bare hands, and tear her to pieces, and see her suffer for this thing that she has made me do. This legacy is not the one I longed for.

I wish…

I wish that time would turn around and start again. I wish I had a noble heart.

I wish my king were here so I could beg him to forgive me.

Here, in the kingdom he loved, there was only unhappiness left for him. But when the deed was done… When the golden head was still and the bright eyes shone no longer…

When I am free to ride, I'll set this guilt behind me on the saddle so that it can spur me on. And then I shall make this right.

He turned and offered a heartless smile to the woman who stood before him.

"What is it? Tell me," she pleaded.

"Can't…" he sighed, and everything he felt was in that single word.

-x0x-

A/N: I recently finished a re-watch of Merlin. One particular thing (out of many) that really struck me about the Diamond of the Day was the fragmented nature of Gwaine's story, and I would love to 'fix' that by filling in some gaps. This is the first in a series of short pieces, based on his role in that last double episode. Not all of them will be sad, I promise – this is Gwaine we're talking about, after all.

By necessity, the last two lines of dialogue in this story come from Part Two of the finale.

The title of my series comes from the same poem as the phrase 'the diamond of the day'. It's by Edwin Muir, a Scottish poet, and it's called 'Merlin'. Here it is, in case you're interested:

"O Merlin in your crystal cave
Deep in the diamond of the day,
Will there ever be a singer
Whose music will smooth away
The furrow drawn by Adam's finger
Across the memory and the wave?
Or a runner who'll outrun
Man's long shadow driving on,
Break through the gate of memory
And hang the apple on the tree?
Will your magic ever show
The sleeping bride shut in her bower,
The day wreathed in its mound of snow
and Time locked in his tower?"