Merlin - Season 6
The Return of Arthur – Part 1
Chapter 1 - Avalon
In a land of myth and a time of magic, the destiny of a great kingdom rests on the shoulders of a young man. His name is Merlin.
Merlin looked out across the lake to the boat that carried Arthur, tears blurred his vision. He couldn't bear the thought of telling Gaius he had failed; he'd had such faith in him. How would he ever face Gwen again, Arthur's death would break her heart. He dropped to his knees, the tears falling down his cheeks as the grief took him. He curled up on the bank and cried.
Images flashed through his mind, one after another in quick succession. Percival looking closely at the ground following a muddy trail, he was searching for something or someone. He saw Gwen and Gaius crying, Arthur's tattered cloak lay before them with his own water bottle slashed and burned.
The scene changed again and he saw himself as an older man walking along a strange road. Large horseless carriages thundered past him and the ground trembled. He could not breathe, the sky darkened until all was black and he heard cruel laughter all around him.
The darkness cleared and Leon was in the throne room standing next to Gwen, 'The King is dead,' he said as Gwen tried to hide her grief. 'The King is dead,' the words echoed in his mind and all went dark once more. He opened his eyes and found he was still lying on the bank by the lake.
He heard someone calling him from a long way off and he wondered if he was still dreaming. Turning over onto his back he looked up at the sky, it was completely grey matching his mood. Rain, so light it was almost mist, gently washed away the tears drying on his cheeks. He was soaked to the skin but he didn't care, he closed his eyes again hoping to block out the pain he felt deep inside.
"Merlin!" he heard the voice again in his head, he sighed and opened his eyes once more. He sat up slowly, stiff from sleep and rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand. He had no idea what the time was, the sun was hidden. He looked around the clearing for whoever called him but couldn't see anyone in the grey light.
He heard someone calling him again; the voice was closer now coming from the direction of the water. He looked out across the lake but he could see very little in the dim light. The island was hidden but he could just make out the boat that carried Arthur. There were several tiny lights gliding across the surface of the water. He rubbed his eyes once more but they were still there. One of them broke away from the rest and moved towards him, the others continued towards the boat.
"Hey," he yelled as he stood up. His clothes were drenched and stuck to his body, he shivered. The heat had gone from the day and he felt cold, chilled to the bone. The lights continued to move across the lake, they paid no attention to him.
The light coming towards him became brighter and he lifted his arm to shade his eyes. He could feel the light surrounding him, it was warm and gentle and he felt no fear. As the light receded he lowered his arm and opened his eyes.
In front of him, hovering just above the surface of the water stood a tall woman. She was wearing a white robe and her face was hidden. He walked towards her without thinking until he stood at the edge of the lake. She lowered her hood and her silver hair fell in soft curls down her back, she tucked loose strands behind her ears which were large and pointed. Her skin was light blue and as smooth as the water beneath her feet. Her face was unlined but her large eyes were deep blue, faceted like crystals and Merlin knew she was ancient. Her gaze was piercing but she looked at him with pity.
"Hello Merlin," she said smiling at him, her voice was deep and although she spoke out loud he also heard the words echo within his mind.
"Who are you...? Where are they taking Arthur?" he asked, looking behind her at the boat moving slowly across the lake. He saw a glimpse of another world and for a moment he felt disorientated like he was looking down from a great height. The feeling passed and once again he saw the lake, the rain making ripples and tiny waves on the surface. No rain fell on the woman stood before him, her robe remained dry and she was bathed in a soft light, like that of a summer sun.
"We are elves and they are taking Arthur to Avalon. There they will try to heal his body and give his spirit a place to rest," she replied turning to look at the boat now moving slowly towards the centre of the lake.
"He really is dead then, I failed?" Merlin asked looking up at her. Although she looked strange he felt no fear, he knew he could trust her.
"Your destiny has been written since the dawn of time. As long as you did what you thought was right you could not fail," she said, her voice was strange almost as though she was singing to him. He wondered once more if he was still dreaming or perhaps he had also died and would now be returned to those he had lost.
"It was my destiny to save Arthur, can you help him?" he asked, turning to see if his body was still lying on the bank. The sense that none of this was really happening was very strong. All he could see was the flattened grass where he had been sleeping but it was faint, the area was no longer dry, although light the steady rain quickly soaked the ground. Could these elves help save Arthur? He knew very little about them only the few stories he had heard as a child.
"Come, you are weary and full of grief, in Avalon you too may rest a while. My name is Alba and I will do all in my power to help you." She beckoned him to come with her.
Merlin hesitated for a moment then walked towards her, he had nothing to lose and it was his duty to follow Arthur wherever he may go. She turned and moved towards the centre of the lake, she seemed to fly but he could see no wings. He looked down wondering why he wasn't wading through the lake and saw that he was walking on the water. His boots left little ripples but did not break the surface. The lake was dark and smooth like glass. As he approached the island he realised it was no longer raining. He looked up at the sky and saw it was now blue without a cloud in sight, the sun was shining and his clothes were dry. Looking back he could just make out the far bank through a grey veil. He had left his world behind and had entered the immortal world of Avalon.
Merlin followed Alba to the island. Now he could see clearly it seemed so much larger than he expected it to be. The boat that carried Arthur was pulled up on a grassy bank but it was empty. The other elves were nowhere to be seen.
"Where's Arthur?" Merlin asked looking around him. They were standing in a small inlet with steep embankments on two sides. A white chalk path wound its way through the grass between them to the crest of a hill and disappeared out of sight. Although nothing seemed odd or out of place, nothing felt real. Merlin wondered once again if he was still dreaming.
"His spirit is with my kin, I will take you to him but first I want to show you your destiny," she said turning to face him once more.
"My destiny was to save Arthur," Merlin said, then he sighed and sat on the grass by the boat. Wrapping his arms around his knees he looked down to the water. He doesn't want to hear any more about destiny, whoever decided such things were wrong.
"Your destiny is strong Merlin," Alba said looking at the young man before her and feeling his grief as though it were her own.
"He's dead, even if his spirit may live on in Avalon. I was supposed to save him and I was too late, I have failed." He felt so tired and alone, he rested his head on his knees.
"Far from it Merlin, your long journey is just beginning and soon you will understand that things are not always as they seem. Your destiny is to unite the old ways and the new and bring about a new time, the time of the white and the time of Albion."
Merlin looked down at the grass struggling with his tears. "I cannot do this, not alone. I'm nothing without Arthur, he was my friend and it was his courage and honour that would have brought about this new world not me." Merlin looked up at the woman before him, she was strange and beautiful but he just wished she would leave him alone with his grief. He looked away from her back down to the water and closed his eyes.
"No one can escape their destiny. Not all is as it seems, Arthur had to die so you would bring him here to save him," she said sitting down next to him.
"Gaius said only the sidhe could save him," Merlin said turning to look at her.
"Gaius is knowledgeable and wise but few mortals have seen Avalon and most believe elves to be creatures of myth. The source of the sidhe's power is indeed here at the Sacred Isle but it is not theirs alone. There are many others that call Avalon home and share that power. The elves have lived on Avalon far longer than the sidhe and we are far more knowledgeable in the art of healing." She stood up and held out her hand to Merlin, he hesitated then took her hand and stood next to her.
Alba led Merlin up the bank, following the path between the grassy slopes. There were small blue and yellow flowers in the grass. Here and there flowering bushes climbed the bank, their sweet fragrance filled the air. As they climbed he saw the branches of flowering trees appear along the top of each bank. Even though his heart was heavy he looked around with wonder. Everything seemed so alive; the colours of the grass and flowers looked bright and vivid. Even the sky seemed bluer here and there was no cloud. There seemed to be a hum coming from everything, as though the land was singing to him.
Alba talked to him as they walked, her voice was quiet but he heard every word. The things she told him formed images in his mind. He saw the long years of the immortal races. The patient waiting and watching as men took control over the lands they were once free to roam.
"The sidhe do not care for the children of men, they only care for wealth and power. They use dark magic for their own gain and men used to fear and worship them. They were treated as gods and would enchant or kill those that angered them. Over time men found they could capture them and even kill them and their power over men weakened. They were forced to flee to the only refuge immortals have, Avalon is not of your world and mortals cannot follow them here." She stopped walking and turned to look at Merlin; he looked up at her but did not speak. She turned and started to walk again, continuing her story about the lives of the immortals.
"Elves never wished for such treatment, they enjoyed the company of men and taught them the healing arts, how to speak with the mind and how to use magic for good. Long before the great purge most of us left the world of men and made Avalon our home. The druids still follow our teachings and are able to hear our thoughts. We were sad to leave but we bear you no ill will and will help you if we can."
"You can heal Arthur and bring him back?" he asked. He stopped walking and she turned to look back at him.
"Arthur will rise again, he is the Once and Future King. He has been taken to a place of healing, my kin will remove the shard but the wound was deep and it will take time to heal. Here his spirit can rest while his body recovers but for his spirit to be returned to his body a price must be paid, you know this," she said walking back towards him and putting her hand on his shoulder.
"I will gladly give my life for his if that is the price," Merlin said hoping that he might not be too late. Alba turned and beckoned him to follow her once more. They had reached the top of the hill, the path continued through a vibrant forest. The trees were unlike any he had ever seen, these were far more beautiful. The leaves were the richest shades of green, red and gold, each one was perfectly formed. The trunks of the trees and the branches seemed newly made but ancient. The whole forest seemed to vibrate with a hidden energy.
"Come just a little further, there is something I must show you," Alba said leading him through the forest. He followed her through the trees until they came to a clearing with large standing stones in the centre. They looked like the stones at Nemeton, though these were not ruins, they looked well cared for and far larger. Merlin realised they were taller than he first thought as they were set in a depression in the ground like a huge bowl, with grassy slopes all around them.
They were positioned in two semi circles separated by the path that ran between them. The stones formed three doorways on each side of the path. In the very centre of the circle there stood a stone table holding a huge crystal. It was split into seven spurs, each one pointing at a doorway, the central one pointing to the sky. It was similar to those he had seen in the crystal cave but these were far greater in size.
The path widened at the top of the slope and led down between the stones. It split into two around the table in the centre. On the far side of the table the path joined again and continued up the bank on the far side. The elf walked to the edge of the bank and stopped waiting for Merlin.
As he got closer he felt the crystals power, it hummed and the air around it shimmered. It shined with a white light but as Merlin stood beside Alba it turned dark and the air all around them seemed to darken. For the first time since he had set foot on Avalon he felt afraid. The humming faltered and became screaming voices, he covered his ears with his hands trying to block out the noise. He stared at the crystal as though mesmerized and could not look away. The dark cleared and the crystal shined white again, the screaming faded, the humming returned and the air around them brightened. No longer afraid or paralyzed he turned to look at Alba.
"Here is the heart of Avalon and the source of our power. It is a secret known only to those that live here and those we choose to show. Each doorway is a gateway to another world born of magic. Each of these worlds like your own draws on the power of the crystal. These worlds and the crystal hold the key to the balance."