Title: The Traveller
Pairing/s: none really, but Merlin/Arthur if you squint, because all things are Merthur
Character/s: The Traveller
Summary: eventually you will find your way home
Warnings: past canon character death
Word Count: 827
Home. He would know the way with his eyes shut.
The land is more overgrown now, the forest encroaching onto the pastures, eating up up the fields. How long has it been since he was here? Not since before…
He couldn’t go back, not at first. Not for a long while. He has a feeling he promised he would, but he’s not sure, he can't really remember. He was too overcome by his own anguish to deal with the grief of other people.
He’d gone home, back to his mother, and he’d worked the fields and not touched his magic and pretended to be normal, whatever that might be. He wallowed in his grief, letting it consume him utterly, not really noticing as she aged and her body failed her, not till it was too late and his rusty magic could not save her. Not that it really ever could. What use magic when those around you die?
He began his travels then, wandering the length and breadth of the land, meeting new people, learning new ways. He went to the far north, where the people were honest but fierce. He crossed the sea to the west and met the learned monks of Eire and studied with them for a time.
He travelled back east, crossing the sea again, roaming the continent. He met the savage people of the northern lands that his people had called ‘Viking’, and he discovered them to not be as he thought. He found a home there for a while before he travelled with them north again and then east once more.
He crossed Asia as far as he could go, so far from home it seemed like a dream, and met people he could never have dreamed of. He travelled back along the Silk Road, from Japan all the way to Persia, and then he travelled down through Africa. He learnt new skills, he learnt new magic, meeting new people, always learning.
And now, inevitably, his travels have lead him here again, back on the road to home.
There is only forest now, where once there were towns and villages. A little brickwork there, signs of old lives there, to prove he is on the right path.
Eventually, the Traveller sees it, there in the distance. The trees appear to be trying to swallow the castle whole, but the towers are still visible – just.
As he gets closer, the Traveller sees the castle is no longer majestic. It’s once mighty walls are crumbling and green, only one turret is left fully intact. How long has he been gone? His hair is still black as coal, but his eyes lost their brilliant blue shine a long time ago, when his life ceased to have meaning, when he stopped counting the days. This place seems to have been abandoned for centuries.
It is dark as he approaches, the moonlight giving the courtyard an eerie glow. Dismounting, he leads his horse over the cracked and broken paving stones, more grass and weeds than courtyard now. The mighty wooden doors somehow remain intact, and will not open to his touch. He seems to remember casting a spell on them long ago to make the impervious to intruders, that would seem to include both time and the elements and even himself. Raising his hand, he knocks. “Is there anybody there?”
The only answer is a lone raven, flying up from the turret as the sound of his knocking echos through the castle. Someone, or something, is watching him, listening, he is sure. He can feel it. Is it someone he knows? Some other spirit? Good? Evil? He can’t tell how long he travelled. Longer than he thought.
He knocks again. “Is there anybody there?” He imagines them there, lining the great stone staircase, listening.
No one comes, he had half hoped that a friendly head would look out a window and welcome him home, that someone he once knew would fling open the door and ask what took him so long. But in his heart he knows he is too late. He can feel them now, watching him, listening in the gloom.
He raises his fists and pounds on the door, raising his head to look for any sign of movement. Eventually he stops, running his hand against the ancient wood. “Tell them I came.” He’s not even sure who he’s calling out to. “Tell them I came and nobody answered. That I kept my word.”
He turns, and goes back to his horse. He is not welcome here, he knows it in his bones. He was not here when they needed him, and now he is nothing but an interloper, intruding on the silence. Putting a foot in his stirrup and mounting quickly, the Traveller takes one last long look at the ruins of the castle that was only ever his home when Arthur was there, and he turns his back on Camelot forever.
Inspired by The Listeners, by Walter de la Mare
"Is there anybody there?" said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
‘Is there anybody there?’ he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
’Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:—
‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,’ he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.