Title: The Fortress by the Sea
Character/s: Gaius, Arthur, Merlin
Summary: I don't know. I'm in a hurry to get to the bar, lol.
Prompt: New Beginnings
Author's Notes: None.
He visits the tree whenever his work allows. When no one is dying, or too sick to work. He goes when Camelot has been free of battle for a time, when the fallen can rest easy in the earth of their homeland and the survivors are training in the practice yard again, making sport and laughing their way through sword-forms as though they will ward off the spirits of their lost brothers.
The sea wind spits against the enormous oak, peppering it with brine despite the hundred-fathom drop to the water below. The cliffs are white and frozen, as unforgiving as the waves are relentless. He comes here and walks in the memory of that day, seeing again the ships of the northern raiders as they danced over the waves, feeling again the stomach-dropping nothing that tore them away, taking a chunk of the coastline with them. He remembers the light that swallowed his boy, remembers the ground falling away, and the terrified glance he exchanged with Merlin before they were separated by a torrent of destructive magic.
He leans against this tree and stares at the horizon as though it will tell him why the most powerful sorcerer in the world looked so frightened of his own power, as though it will explain the months of silence and relative peace. He feels the remnant of that ground-shredding force, an echo that will not leave the earth or the sky. And he wonders if this is all there is, if this is the other side of Arthur's coin: an empty battlefield and the ceaseless roar of the water and nothing else to mark the absent graves.
He should have heard Arthur approach, but all his thoughts are bent toward the past. He nearly loses his footing when he hears his king call his name, and one mailed hand shoots out to steady him.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“No, no, it’s quite all right. I was just...thinking.”
“About many things, sire.”
Arthur turns his gaze to the sea and his eyes turn icy. “So have I. There is much about that day which defies explanation.”
He can’t help but feel he is at a crossroads, and he wishes Merlin were here. This was to have been the boy’s task. He is not sure what wisdom he can offer Arthur that the young king would heed. He has been reckless of late, masking the ache of his betrayal with a grim belligerence.
“Gaius,” Arthur continues, his voice softening. “I am convening the Council at dawn. There is a question which must be settled. I believe you are uniquely suited to assist the crown in this matter.”
“What matter would that be, sire?” His heart is heavy, and he wonders if he has the strength for this.
“It has become...clear to me...that the laws against magic…” Gaius turns as his king’s voice falters, and he sees indecision and grief clouding those clear blue eyes before they close briefly in remembered pain. “I cannot believe that Merlin meant any of us harm. If nothing else makes sense, if black must become white and white become black then so be it. Something must change. But it won’t be that addle-pated twit of a useless servant. So. Dawn.”
He leaves as abruptly as he came, before Gaius can react properly, before he can even provide the niceties afforded one of Arthur’s station. He stands in stunned silence for many long minutes, before turning back to the castle where his quarters, too empty and too silent, await.
The next time he visits the coast, the tree has vanished.