The End is Just the Beginning
Merlin stares down at the lifeless body of Morgana, allowing the glamour of “Emrys” to fall away from him at last. She had died never knowing his true identity.
He wishes he could say that he felt regret for taking the life of someone he’d once called “friend”, but he couldn’t. Not anymore. Too much had happened; too much bad blood ran between them for Merlin to feel anything but relief. Long ago, Morgana had made her choice to throw away the love and affection of her friends and her brother in favor of a selfish bid for the throne of Camelot and a forcible return of magic to the land. Merlin, of course, understood her motives, but never her brutality and hatred.
Wearily, he turns to crest the hill that had hidden their epic magical battle from prying eyes. Merlin feels as if he ages fifty years as he gazes out across the wasteland below. As far as the eye can see, a sea of blood, death and destruction dots the rolling hills surrounding Camlann. Merlin might not be able to see them, to pick them out of the great mass of corpses before him, but he knows…knows with a certainty he can’t explain that they’re all dead: Leon, Percival, Gwaine. The best of the brave and noble knights of Camelot were no more.
Even the dragons… Aithusa is dead from the mortal battle with Kilgharrah, and Merlin can sense that the Great Dragon won’t last the day, either. He can feel the life force slowly draining away from the great and noble creature in agonized slivers. After today, he will no longer be a Dragonlord, for there will be no dragons left to command.
The stench of the horror that’s spread before him roils Merlin’s stomach, making him swallow the acid in the back of his throat painfully. The plain looks more like the entrance to the gates of Hell than a field in Camelot.
Then the distant clang of swords draws Merlin’s attention…and what he sees makes his blood run cold. Down the slope to his left, Arthur and Mordred are locked in mortal combat, a carbon copy of the vision he’d been shown months before. The King is bloodied and battered…exhausted from battle; the young knight’s strength and murderous intent is fuelled by the icy fury of betrayal.
Before Merlin even has time to react—to intervene—Mordred’s sword finds its home between Arthur’s ribs, the sickening crunch of metal through bone echoing across the otherwise silent field.
“No!” Merlin screams, and all his horror and agony fills the word as it carries across the clearing. Mordred flinches at the sound and inadvertently allows Arthur the chance to drive Excalibur through his murderer’s heart with the last of his waning strength.
Arthur’s eyes connect with Merlin’s for a poignant moment before they roll back in his head. The King of Camelot collapses to the ground, gasps his last breaths, and falls still.
Merlin’s knees give out beneath him as tears stream down his cheeks. He grasps at the grass beneath him, tugging at it as if it were the hair on his head; his hands come away smeared with blood. The unearthly keening that echoes on the wind ends abruptly in retching as Merlin empties what little food and bile he has left inside of him onto the ground.
Merlin realizes in that moment that he has failed in his destiny; failed to bring back magic; failed to unite Albion; failed to save his friend’s life…everything he was meant to do and be…all of it failed.
Guilt and grief nearly consumes Merlin’s entire soul…and then something breaks inside of him.
This wasn’t how his and Arthur’s story was going to end…he wouldn’t let it.
And so Merlin, with the blood of innocents seeping through his trousers at the knees, raises his arms to the sky in both supplication and demand…and the skies obey. Clouds form, thunder rolls and rain falls, the howling wind whipping it into sheets as lightning flashes and crackles all around him.
Then, with his head tilted to the sky and eyes glowing brighter than ever before, Merlin utters one guttural scream. Blinding white ripples away from him in waves. Time itself bends with the force…and sputters to a stop. Lightning stops mid-strike and fat raindrops are suspended in midair; even the leaves on the trees hover impossibly horizontal on the frozen breeze.
Merlin clambers to his feet; his eyes still molten with raw power, and allows his intent to fill him. His last blast had stopped time; this one would push it back and he would follow it into the past. He would start again...start over. He would get it right this time.
He closes his eyes and clenches his fists as if preparing for a physical battle, but before he can release his magic, a familiar trio of voices surround him and call out in unison, “Stop!”
Shocked into awareness, Merlin feels the magic sliding back into his breast as he opens his eyes to face his accusers: The High Priestesses of the Disir.
Each one of the trio speaks in turn, finishing each other’s thoughts:
“You have not…”
“…the right to change…”
“… what you have chosen.”
And then they all echoed together: “This is your destiny.”
Merlin glares at each of them. “I did not choose this! This is not what I wanted!”
“Each of your choices…”
“…led you to this…”
“…moment in time.”
“You may not have chosen the result…”
“...but it was your choices…”
“…that led to it.”
Rage makes Merlin tremble while his eyes shine so bright, they are almost as white as the stars. “I am Emrys; the most powerful sorcerer to ever live!” he bellows, and his voice reverberates eerily in the emptiness between the seconds. “I am what your Goddess made me! How dare she? She who gave me this great burden to bear... who tasked me to single-handedly save Arthur, save magic, and save Albion? And now she questions the way in which I seek to bring it about? Without me, without this…” Merlin let his magic flare, and it dances in sparks all along his skin, “magic will never be free, the Once and Future King will die, and the Golden Age will never be!”
Merlin’s chest heaves and his heart pounds as he awaits the Goddess’ verdict.
After a long moment of deafening silence, the three Priestesses speak in disturbingly perfect unison.
“Very well, Emrys. The Triple Goddess shall bless your plan. But, again you must choose.”
“What must I choose?” he asks in confusion.
“You may knowingly change only one thing; only one moment in time may be altered. For the rest of your life, you shall bear the consequences of your choice. Once your choice is made, you shall retain no memory of this life; of what has gone before…so choose wisely, Emrys.”
Merlin closes his eyes and sighs deeply. There were so many moments, so many wrong decisions he’d made over the years…how could he possibly choose just one? How could he know whether he was choosing the right one?
So instead of trying to reach the answer logically, he listens to the quiet of his soul...and almost immediately, he knows. His eyes snaps open, confident and sure.
“…may the Triple Goddess be ever with you…”
“…and guide your way to the light.”
Each Priestess of the Disir lifts her staff over Merlin’s head until the tips touch. A white hot flash blinds Merlin as he throws up an arm to shield his face…
…and when he opens his eyes, Merlin is back in Camelot, in Gaius’ chambers… and before him stands a very frightened young woman reaching out to him for help.
“What?” Merlin gasps, shocked at how terrified and vulnerable Morgana sounds, how light and beautiful she once was.
“I’m your friend; you know I wouldn’t make this up!”
Merlin nods, “Of course.”
“Then you believe me?”
Merlin’s hesitation makes Morgana desperate and she begs him, “You think it’s magic, too! Please, Merlin! I just need to hear someone say it, so I don’t have to keep feeling like I’m imagining it!”
This was it…the moment where it had all started to unravel, Merlin knew. It was the first time that he’d ignored what his own conscience told him to do; the first time he’d taken Gaius’ and Kilgharrah’s word over his own intuition. He’d been wrong to listen to anything but what his heart told him was right.
The Merlin he’d once been would never have knowingly let a friend suffer if there was anything he could do. As he stared into Morgana’s terrified face, Merlin realized that he wanted to be that person again.
Kilgharrah was mistaken in his understanding of fate and destiny…neither one was set in stone. Merlin had learned that painful lesson the hard way: he’d been destined to usher in the Golden Age of Camelot and fated to bring back magic…and had failed at both quite spectacularly.
So perhaps…if she was given the right kind of support in the beginning from people who truly cared about her, Morgana might also fail at her fate…and in this case, that would definitely be for the better.
At least, Merlin thought wistfully, it was worth a try. Destiny or no, Morgana was his friend...and he believed she was worth saving.
Reaching out, he captured both of Morgana’s shaking hands with his own. “Yes,” he murmured, “But I don’t think it…I know it.”
Morgana leaned in closer and clasped Merlin’s hands tighter, trying to draw courage from his words. “How do you know?”
Merlin’s heart was pounding in his chest and he felt lightheaded…but, in a small way, he felt exhilarated, too. Leaning his forehead against Morgana’s, he stared into her eyes and admitted in a whisper, “Because…I have magic, too.”