Immortality is most certainly a curse, cruel for eternity as it holds a facade of a forgiving nature. People die and die and die and yet you live on. Eventually you succumb to the grim realization that you are alone and all your hope is fleeting until, after a century or three, you have none at all. You find that time doesn’t fly, it swims in a blur of never ending swirls of sheer existence. There is no break from it, not even dreamless sleep lasts long enough to feel like a respite. Merlin’s case, however, was even crueler. He knew, instinctively, that he could die by any mortal means barring age. He’d graced death’s very doorway often enough to know that he would not actually live forever even if he had to wait until the end of the world itself to finally die. The thought of dying often crossed his thoughts and he knew there was nothing physical holding him back from simply ending it himself, but this was precisely his predicament. Nothing physical.
After merely a few decades of study, Merlin knew that somehow, in some way, that his destiny had not been forfeited in the moments of Arthur’s death. He could not imagine how this could possibly be, since it was foretold that Arthur and Arthur alone would bring about Albion as long as Merlin guided him to it. He’d recently considered that the legends could have simply referred to the rise of England, but he couldn’t see how Arthur’s influence could’ve possibly lead to this. Having travelled nearly everywhere he possibly could barring the New World, Merlin didn’t really think England was all that special. It was just another country to him, but he supposed it was possible that his weariness with existence in general clouded his perception. However, more than anything, Merlin had learned to be in tune with his own intuition and the innateness with which he knew certain things.
He was adamant that his and Arthur’s destiny was neither concluded nor foiled yet. All he had to do was wait, for there was truly nothing else for him to do to help Arthur anymore. And yet, he had waited for over one thousand years and his memory had dulled to the point where his life, when a life it had been, was nearly impossible to recollect. He no longer remembered the faces of his loved ones, and sometimes he wondered if he only remembered their names because there was a variation of his story out there told like a fairy tale. As the legend went, he had already been old upon meeting Arthur. To be fair, Merlin had been a very old man for most of his existence, so it was an understandable mistake. He’d stopped aging at around his 80s or so, a fact he was extremely grateful for. He didn’t remember what youth quite felt like, and as such didn’t mind the inconveniences which came with his physical age. They were just there, constantly, reminding him that he was in fact still alive.
It was a shock, the first shock he’d experienced in centuries, when he awoke without pain in his joints and his eyesight was incredibly improved. He sat up, easily, and looked down at himself. His hair and beard, both of which were rather long, were black instead of white. He held his hands up to his face, seeing that they were no longer wrinkled, and felt that his face was smooth. He launched out of bed before he realized what he was doing and began to run only to stumble and fall due to the fact that he hadn’t realized he could run. He grunted upon hitting the floor and noted that his voice definitely didn’t sound the same as it had the night before. He scrambled to his hands and knees and finally came to the realization that he was, in fact, young again. The next thing Merlin realized was that he would have to pack up and leave right away since no one would recognize him. He didn’t interact with people often, but he was in Morocco and knew that he had not been passing by with little notice as an incredibly old, obviously European man. It wasn’t a ritual he was unfamiliar with, since he was constantly moving to avoid suspicion, but the reason for this move didn’t feel real to him yet. It seemed like an enchantment that would soon slip away.
He gathered his belongings and enchanted himself to become old yet again so he could easily leave, which felt particularly strange after so many centuries, and made his way to England. He had not set foot there for four centuries, but upon contemplating where to go, he felt that he would find answers there. Though his sense of curiosity, as well as many other feelings, had been made very dull by time and he felt no need to know why he was suddenly young again, Merlin had the inclination to think that time was pressed. Unworried and unbothered by this, his shock having faded away rather quickly, he concluded that it must be his sharp intuition telling him to travel there. He followed his whims.
One of his whims was to cut his hair and shave. Once gathering a small portion of the wealth he’d accumulated over time so as to travel easily and to live in stupor when he didn’t feel like doing anything at all for a decade, he decided to be young. The more time he spent with all of that hair everywhere, the more irritated he became until he simply cut most of it off. His head felt ridiculously lighter than it had, and his face felt foreign to him. It had been...well, probably centuries since he’d been clean shaven. He couldn’t remember if he’d ever bothered with it at all. He’d bought transport to take him to the nearest port and then boarded the boat that was leaving for England the quickest.
It was while he was boarding this boat that he saw his reflection for the first time since he’d become young again, and it was then that he realized that he’d forgotten what his own face had looked like all those years ago too. Now, memory stirred within him, taunting him with vagueness. The memories felt like they were just beyond his recollection, but he started to remember the feelings that came with these memories and spent most of his journey on deck staring at the water. Simply staring at the waves as though what he wanted to recall was hiding from him beneath the waves.
To Merlin, the journey to Lymington lasted almost no time at all and nothing of note happened. He stepped off the ship amidst the much more relieved travellers only to realize that his attire was distinctly not English. It was Moroccan. He wore a beige tunic that fell down to his knees and off white trousers. He owned a cloak too, but had decided to forego it during the journey and it was in the single pack he brought with him. However, it was raining, so he dragged it out and pulled it over himself, not caring in the slightest that his attire greatly stood out and drew attention to him. Instead of caring about things he considered trivial, Merlin took in his surroundings. The buildings seemed somewhat similar to the buildings he had seen in the twelfth century, though they were much larger and had more definition to them. They were also more numerous, with buildings running together with few gaps between them. He wandered the streets aimlessly, not bothering with finding a place to stay quite yet, and reaquainted himself with the area.
He made it his business to live near ports and knew that he had lived in the area during the twelfth century. Usually he would steer clear of places he had lived before, but now he was here with a purpose and it had been over four hundred years anyway. He would see no one that would possibly recognize him, even if he had still been old.
Then of course, he instantly stumbled across someone he recognized.
There was a young boy who appeared to be around the same physical age Merlin was and the familiarity of him was overwhelming. Merlin stood rooted to the spot, staring at him, knowing that he knew him but failing to remember how. It couldn’t be someone he recently knew or he would remember the boy, but how could the boy be so far back in his memory and still be alive? Was he immortal as well? Figuring out this puzzle seemed monumentally important to Merlin and he rediscovered an ancient drive to simply know within him that he scarcely remembered ever existing. He was doing and experiencing so many things for the first time since he could remember, and he found himself feeling drunk on it. He barely held himself back from running to the boy as he shoved people out of his way to reach him. The lack of control and restraint merely dizzied his head further.
The familiar boy was walking away from him, with nearly as much purpose as Merlin strode towards him, and Merlin felt he could cry at the thought of not reaching him.
‘Don’t be such a girl,’ whispered voiceless in his head. Somehow, Merlin imagined an exasperated tone. Rationally, he knew the thought was his, yet it felt like it wasn’t and he stopped to concentrate as hard as he could on asking himself where that came from that his head hurt with the effort. Even so, he failed to remember, and the answer slipped away. Panic jolted his every sense when he realized he couldn’t see the boy. Now he ran, hunting for the sight of the boy’s blond hair. People were muttering at his madness, but he most certainly didn’t care when he found the boy had turned right and wasn’t yet far away. Merlin slowed as he reached him, desperation barely held in check at all anymore. He grasped the boy’s shoulder and for a brief moment felt the phantom sensation of chainmail, while in reality the boy was wearing a plain loose tunic under a leather buff-jerkin.
“Wait,” Merlin said breathlessly. Apparently, whatever magic made him young didn’t bother to put him in shape, “Wait.” He coughed and straightened to look at the boy’s face. He had the look of someone who was distinctly a prat, stirring feelings of deep annoyance and affection in Merlin at the same time, which he didn’t understand.
“Do I know you?” the boy asked, and of all things it sounded snotty. His face was conventionally handsome, something Merlin wasn’t ashamed to admit, though not when he was crinkling it in the manner he was at Merlin. His annoyance deepened, but nonetheless, he smiled widely.
“I was gonna ask you that, actually.”
The boy appeared bewildered as he slowly shook his head. “No,” he drew out the consonant, “I think I would remember someone looking like you.” Merlin scoffed slightly and shrugged, not knowing what the boy meant by that. The boy picked up on it, so he continued as though Merlin were an idiot, “You’re dressed like a foreigner.”
“Ah, right,” Merlin still didn’t care about that, “I just got off a boat from Morocco.”
“Morocco,” the boy repeated incredulously.
“Right,” the boy rolled his eyes, “well, I’m busy and it’s raining, so I’ll be off if you don’t mind.”
Merlin smiled again as he responded confidently, “I’ll accompany you. What’s your name, by the way?”
“Why do you want to follow me?” the boy asked as he began walking away. He seemed annoyed at Merlin tagging along with him, but unworried about his presence.
“Well you may be busy, but I’ve nothing to do and you know, the more you talk the more I’m certain I know you from somewhere. Seriously, what’s your name?”
“It’s Arthur, and I don’t have anything to be handing out if that’s what you’re looking for.”
Merlin nearly stopped short, but he had the sense of mind to ask, “What?”
Arthur laughed, “If you’re looking for food or coin or free lodging or whatever, go bug someone else.”
“No, no, that’s not what I meant,” Merlin explained, “I mean, it’s-your name is Arthur?”
“Yes,” Arthur answered, obviously irritated.
“Your last name,” Merlin clarified.
Arthur replied huffily, “Of Lymington. Why do you want to know?”
“Because I think I know you, clotpole.”
Arthur made a face expressing how stupid he thought the word was, “Clotpole? What does that even mean?”
Merlin shook his head, “I don’t know, but it reminds me of you. Everything of you. It is the essence of you. You are a clotpole. If there were a definition out there in some old forsaken dictionary, there’d be a drawing of you taking up the entire page. This and this alone is enough to describe the function of the word clotpole and I rest my case on that notion.”
Arthur shook his head in disbelief, but didn’t say anything. Silence fell between the two. Merlin was actually much more accustomed to silence and, mystery or no, was wondering why he hadn’t been able to shut up. He was starting to feel more than just physically young. It was as if the burden of years was lifting up off his shoulders, just being around this familiar boy named Arthur. He couldn’t possibly be Arthur, and yet Merlin couldn’t stop thinking it. If only he could actually remember Arthur’s face, even just a little, and know for sure he could put his fantasies to rest. The boy could not be his Arthur, but he couldn’t help but to hope he was, and he was actually very reluctant to let his childish hope go. Either way, he was drawn to this Arthur for a reason and he had a responsibility to find out why.
Eventually, Arthur broke the silence, “So what’s your name then?”
“Emrys,” Merlin replied without hesitation.
“Emrys,” Arthur repeated in a way which was obviously mocking the name, “What kind of name is that?”
Merlin responded slowly, “It’s...a Welsh one.” He didn’t actually know, of course, but was completely guessing. In all his years, he never felt the desire to find the sources of the Druid’s prophecies. Emrys sounded properly Welsh to him.
“Welsh,” Arthur didn’t seem to believe him.
Merlin scoffed, “Yeah. By the way, do you always repeat what people say or is that just for me?”
“It’s not my fault, you know. You’re the one that’s...it’s not perplexing, that’s certainly too grand for you.”
“Come on then, describe me. Please, I’m sure it’s very flattering,” Merlin speaks with so much sarcasm that he risks tearing reality.
Arthur seems to consider this for a short time, before he comes up with, “Dollophead. You’re a dollophead.”
“That’s my word,” Merlin casually replies before realizing the implications of this and repeating more reverently, “That’s my word.”
“No it isn’t, I’ve just made it up.”
Merlin fixes his gaze on him intently, “No, seriously, that was my word,” he bites his lip, “Arthur, I’m just going to come out and ask you this and I want you to answer me with honesty. Do you believe in magic?”
“Yes?” Arthur drags the word out, “Everyone does.”
“Do you,” Merlin’s voice breaks, “do you think magic has the potential to be good? Or do you think all of it evil?”
“What does this have to do with anything?”
“Answer me, please,” Merlin begs.
Arthur shrugs, “Well how should I know? None of it matters and by the way, we’ve reached my place, so would you please just go be mad somewhere else?”
Merlin points, “That one, is it?”
“Yes, now-hey!” Arthur objects as Merlin grabs him by the arm and begins steering him towards the door. His slimmest hopes seeming to be confirmed, Merlin was very surprised to see that it was a house which looked exactly like all the others. Perhaps less ratty than the ones closer to the harbour, but definitely the same size. Arthur easily breaks out of his grasp, but Merlin simply keeps walking till he reaches the door. There was no lock on the door, further proving to Merlin that Arthur was truly not of noble birth anymore As he opened the door and strode in, Arthur continued to object. Once Arthur came in, telling him to get out, Merlin flicked his hand and the door shut. “What the hell,” Arthur stared at the door, which appeared to have obeyed Merlin’s command.
“Look at me,” Merlin commanded. Arthur, beyond perplexed now, complied as he still obviously felt alarm. Merlin looked around and saw several candles on a small table. He waved his hand and this time Arthur saw his eyes flash unnaturally as the candles lit.
“What are you?” Arthur hissed. Nervousness bubbled up within Merlin as he began to feel echoes of shame and betrayal from the first time he revealed his magic to Arthur. Despite knowing that he wasn’t a monster, Arthur’s condemnation left him feeling sickened by his own existence. He once again felt as if he could cry, but his voice was low and even when he spoke again.
“Hoppaþ nu swilce swá lieg fleogan,” he chanted, and the candles began floating through the air as a result. Merlin moved them to float around his head.
“Are you some sort of, I don’t know, spirit? Or something fae?” Arthur began to back away from him, alarmed, but the lack of running away or attempting to kill him was encouraging to Merlin.
“A sorcerer,” he answered.
Arthur appeared confused, “Is...that bad?”
Merlin tilted his head, “What cause would you have to believe me if I said it wasn’t?”
“Fair point,” Arthur agreed, “You seemed harmless enough, but it could be a trick.”
“You know, you were much angrier last time,” Merlin observed.
“We’ve never met,” Arthur repeated himself from earlier.
Merlin sighed, “Look, really, if you could just accept that I know more than you and we skip all the skepticism, that’d be great. To begin, I know you from the distant past. Say a thousand years, give or take a century or two. Time period’s a bit fuzzy to me now.”
“A thousand years,” Arthur laughed incredulously, “Do I look a thousand years old to you?”
“Do I look a thousand years old? No, I don’t, and believe me I am quite aware that I don’t, but I am,” Merlin retorted. He flicked his hand forward and the candles shifted to settle near between the two, “Do you truly believe me to be mistaken about you?”
“Yes,” Arthur insisted, eyeing the candles nervously.
Merlin chuckled, “I really don’t think it matters for now. Either way, I’ll be sticking around here no matter what you believe.”
Arthur gestured to their surroundings, “You mean here? As in my home?”
Arthur blinked and shook his head before saying, “Not that I want to deny anything to someone who is obviously a magical entity who could kill me for doing so, but why do you want to stay here?”
“To protect you,” Merlin stated what was obvious from you.
Arthur's eyebrows raised to a nearly impossible height with incredulousness as he deadpanned, “From what, exactly?”
“You’re destined for great things, Arthur. There are many who will seek to utterly destroy you before you can fulfill your destiny.”
Arthur sighed, “Alright, whatever.”
“What?” Merlin asked.
“I said alright.”
“Yeah I got that. So you actually believe me already?”
Arthur raised his eyebrows, “Do you seriously expect me to say no to a sorcerer who could fling me aside like a ragdoll?”
Merlin scoffed, “Oh come on, it’s obvious you barely know what a sorcerer is. Don’t pretend you have the slightest idea about whether or not I can fling you around like a ragdoll, you presumptuous twat.”
“Can you fling people around like ragdolls?”
“...Yes,” Merlin admitted reluctantly. Arthur nodded, satisfied that his point had been firmly made at that point. He moved away from the candles and settled in the nearest wooden stool. Merlin shifted awkwardly as Arthur had decided to ignore him for the time being, it seemed. However, after only a few moments of a rather loud silence, Arthur began glancing at him every now and then. At the mark of roughly a full minute, he decided that Merlin was existing too obnoxiously to ignore.
“Are you seriously just going to stand there?” he asked irritably.
Merlin gave him a deer-eyed expression before defending, “Well it’s your house, isn’t it? You haven’t even told me where you want me to be.”
“Are you serious?” Arthur asked incredulously.
“Yes, I am. I’m your guest, I don’t want to impose and just lounge around wherever. That would be rude. See, I’m considerate,” Merlin insisted.
“You’re not a guest, you’re an intruder. Why should I exercise manners?”
“I don’t know, maybe the thousand year old sorcerer will throw you across the room in retaliation.”
“Well since you’re pulling that card, maybe the thousand year old sorcerer should have some agency, hm?”
Merlin scoffed, offended, “I have agency.”
Arthur seemed quite willing to express his exasperation for someone allegedly afraid of being thrown aside like a ragdoll, “Go wherever you want, I don’t care.”
Instead of responding, Merlin took his surroundings in. There was really only one fairly sized room on the first floor and there was a set of slim, narrow, and uneven stairs in the far right corner. There were two windows, though only one had glass in it while the other appeared to have linen strung up in the frame. The entrance gave way immediately to a kitchen area in which Arthur was currently seated. The furniture was sparse and simple, though it was in truth a bit more than what most had. Then again, Merlin wasn’t too sure on that since he hadn’t been to England in four hundred years. As such, he wasn’t quite sure what was typical anymore. Nonetheless, he was immediately unsatisfied with Arthur’s living situation. Of all nobility he’d ever met, Arthur was one of the few who deserved a wealthy life, and as such his current living situation was not suitable. This was not fitting for his king. Fortunately, Merlin had a simple solution.
“Do you want to live here?” he asked.
Arthur simply looked at him blankly, either not understanding the question or thinking it was too stupid a question to answer.
“Hm, you may want to gather personal belongings and items of sentimental value,” Merlin continued.
Arthur then seemed wary, but he still asked, “Why?”
“We’re moving out tomorrow,” Merlin cheerfully informed him.
“What do you mean?” Arthur squeaked, now alarmed once again.
Merlin smiled as gleefully as a trickster, “I’m getting you some more suitable accommodations for your stature. Thankfully, and believe me when I say you should be thankful, I am a ludicrously wealthy man. We’re going to get you a castle.”
“A castle?!” Arthur repeated, still squeaking.
“Ah, you’re right,” Merlin considered, “Castles are kinda out of style now, aren’t they? A palace then.” He nodded as if Arthur had given him any confirmation or consent, then promptly whirled around to leave in search of a palace.
“You don’t just get a palace, Emrys,” Arthur shouted as he got up to stop the sorcerer, “They have to be built over a course of years and furthermore, that’s for the rich nobles. There’s no way you have the money for that.” He grabbed Merlin’s shoulder and spun him around.
Merlin was perplexed, “Why do you say that?”
“You are quite obviously not a noble,” Arthur hissed.
“No,” Merlin replied gleefully, “but you are.”
“No I’m not. You and I will never see enough money to furnish a palace room in our lifetimes, much less get the whole thing built.”
“Do you seriously think I did nothing for a thousand years?” Merlin asked.
“Not sold on the thousand years thing, actually. And frankly, the fact that you’re still ignoring the fact that building palaces takes years is confirmation to me that, supernatural being or not, you are a madman. Even if you could get a palace built, we couldn’t possibly be moving into it tomorrow, idiot,” Arthur insisted.
Merlin furrowed his brow, “Ah. Yeah, that is a bit of a problem, but in all fairness I have very little concept of what a year even is anymore. To me, a few years feels like a pathetically short amount of time. Would you settle for a rather fancy abode?”
“You know what,” Arthur threw his arms up in defeat, “sure. If you can actually do that, of course. And if my soul is part of that deal, then we’re forfeiting it. I’m not selling myself out for wealth.”
“What, do I look like I have horns? I’m not a demon,” Merlin took offense, “You won’t be giving me anything. I shall be giving to you. A gift. From me. Your friend of magical persuasion.”
Arthur jabbed a finger into Merlin’s chest, “I blame you for any and all seemingly strange or unnatural misfortune that should fall upon me from this point onward.”
“Hey, I’ll be the one keeping you alive, you know. A life of misfortune or not, at least you’ll have a life. Congratulations, you get to exist longer because I ever so benevolently decided to humble myself-”
“You’re dressed in ratty foreigner’s clothes that look like they’re at least a century out of fashion. You have the general appearance of a madman wandering the streets.”
“Humble. I humble myself to be in your servitude.”
“What, like a manservant?”
“No, get a new one.”
Arthur merely stared at him, finger still jabbed into his chest, before saying, “Should I just ignore every weird thing you say or risk constantly asking you questions about what the hell it is that you mean?”
Merlin smiled, “Ah, well, this one has an easy answer. I used to be your servant, but now that you know that I’m a sorcerer I don’t really have to bother with that anymore. I shall be serving you in other ways now.”
“I’ll be off now, then. While I’m gone, don’t die. Dying isn’t allowed. We will be having absolutely none of that in this household. Understand?”
Arthur raised an eyebrow, “Didn’t you say you were sticking around to protect me?”
“Has anyone ever tried to assassinate you before?”
Merlin smiled, “Then the likelihood of that occurring in the short period of time I shall be parted from you is scant enough to be worth risking.”
“Doesn’t your presence kind of draw attention to, I don’t know, other magical beings?”
Merlin nodded, “It can. However, I know how to mask my own signature and have done so for centuries. Other than you, there is not a single creature in this world who knows that Emrys yet lives. There couldn’t possibly be anyone who would want to kill a mad foreigner and a, er, what is it you do again?”
“I’m a cordwainer,” Arthur revealed with a slight hint of pride.
“You make shoes?” Merlin asked, unimpressed.
Arthur took offense, “It’s a fine craft!”
“Whatever. No one will see a reason to kill some random shoemaker,” Merlin waved a hand dismissively.
“Cordwainer,” Arthur insisted.
Merlin chuckled, “Yeah, alright. Bye then.” He sped out the door with fervent energy. Arthur attempted to stop the man, who he still wasn’t completely convinced wasn’t mad, but the sorcerer had already disappeared from sight by the time he reached the door and scanned the streets outside. He muttered about magic and fools whilst realizing that he wasn’t nearly as perturbed by recent events as he felt he should be. All of the peculiarities of Emrys were wrought with familiarity, putting Arthur at ease. Despite the fact that he was adamantly ignoring the sensation, he did feel at least some suspicion that he did in fact know Emrys. He quickly came to be at peace with trusting the man, closed his door, and went along with his business as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened at all