As he looked at the cold, pale form on the floor Arthur found it impossible to stop tears from cascading down his cheeks and a hard lump of ice welling up in his throat. There he was; Merlin, the young boy who had been by his side for so many adventures, was dead right in front of him. His eyes were closed – Arthur would never see that mischievous blue glint or worried glimmer again.
He stayed there for some time, staring blindly at his friend, unable to accept the truth.
A few minutes later, the door to the workshop suddenly opened and Uther appeared, looking dubious. He caught sight of Arthur, slumped on the floor with that servant of his huddled in his lap. Neither boy looked well, Arthur’s face was drained of colour and there was no mistaking that the servant was dead. Uther was curious but he had no care for a servant. All that had his attention was Arthur, who no longer had his eyes closed and even though he was grey faced and an utter mess, he was not writhing in agony as he had been for the past days.
Arthur slowly turned to him with dull, empty eyes and climbed to his feet.
“Thank the heavens! Arthur, my son.” Uther ran to him and embraced his son, but the young prince did not move and stood, looking at were Merlin lay. “Arthur, are you really and truly fully recovered?” The king asked, awkwardly releasing his stiff son.
“Yes, father.” Came the reply in a hollow voice.
“Let’s get you back to your chambers. You need rest. You’ll need it to be prepared for our next tournament.” Uther tried to move his son but Arthur stayed there, “Arthur, are you alright?”
The prince wasn’t supposed to cry. Not in front of his father anyway. He had to be brave and a great warrior but at that point, Arthur was absolutely broken.
His heart was crying.
“He saved me. Merlin gave his life instead of mine.” Arthur choked.
“Well, he’s a good servant.” Uther said carelessly.
“He’s not a servant! He’s my best friend! Don’t you understand that?” Arthur yelled but then was forced to calm down. He was still weak and he felt sick for a moment. “He’s my best friend,” He repeated, “and I have no idea how I can save him from this.” Arthur looked down at Merlin’s cold face, “I can’t do anything to save my best friend.” He whispered, biting his own lip, trying to stop the tears from falling.
“Best friends with a servant indeed! I never heard such-“ The king began.
Arthur turned to him, his eyes flashing with absolute fury.
“Don’t you dare.” He spat in a dangerously quiet voice.
The king looked taken aback by this sudden ferocity but quickly hid it under a cloak of command.
“You can’t stay here forever! You’re the prince of Camelot.”
“I don’t really care about Camelot right now.” Arthur snapped back. Uther looked at his son but said nothing. “Even when he thought I was going to die, Merlin never gave up on me. He saved me. I’m staying with him, it would be an insult to his memory not to. I wont disappoint him.”
“Then you are going to disappoint and disobey me.”
Arthur looked at his father, the tears were there, on his cheeks but that didn’t matter, not anymore.
“Don’t make me choose, father, because I’m not leaving. Not until I find a way to…to…” Arthur faltered. How was he supposed to return Merlin to life? Were all his feeble ideas of somehow resurrecting Merlin just a stupid dream?
The king snorted.
“Arthur, you grow far too attached to things-“
“Merlin is not a thing!” Arthur snarled.
“Fine, have it your way. It’s not like it matters now he’s dead.” The king waved a lazy hand disrespectfully at Merlin, “I have business to attend to.” He said and with that he strutted out of the room, leaving Arthur in a worse state than he had been in before.
Unable to stand any longer the prince slumped to the floor, exhausted, and looked down at Merlin’s still form with a hard blank expression on his face. His eyes overflowed with emotion at the sight of his friend’s white pallor and he had to look away as his heart tripled in size and flew to his mouth. He took a deep strangled breath and buried his face in his hands, his shoulders beginning to shake uncontrollably as he sobbed quietly to himself.
This was unbearable and for a moment he wished he were dead as a wave of crushing bitterness trampled over him, relentlessly hammering his already smashed heart.
Arthur heard a voice and snapped his head up, furiously wiping away the tears on his face and casting his gaze around the room. Only he and Merlin were in Gaius’s workshop. There was no one else.
This time the prince recognized the voices. They belonged to the cube – he remembered them from the temple. His eyes roved the floor for the box and saw the dammed thing sitting a few meters away, just under the table.
“What?” The young prince spat sourly, hugging his knees and glaring at a spot in the floor in front of him.
“You want Merlin alive. We can bring him back,” The voices hissed. Arthur looked up with sudden interest, “but only if you help us.”
Sceptically, Arthur looked away again.
“Shut up.” He said angrily but secretly he was slightly curious.
“Help us and we will return his soul.” The cube repeated itself.
“Help you with what?” Arthur asked, his lesser instincts getting the better of him.
“That’s none of your concern but we promise we will return Merlin to you.”
Arthur thought this over. He was upset – far too distraught to see that the cube was obviously lying. His friendship for Merlin blinded him.
But then he heard it.
“Arthur,” He knew it was Merlin, “trust in me and destroy it. Everything will be fine.”
“Merlin?” Arthur croaked in a small voice, looking around but seeing no one.
“Destroy the cube.” Merlin’s voice said again, “It wants to hurt more people. Don’t listen to it.”
Arthur’s head was beginning to spin. His best friend had died, he had voices in his head and a mysterious, clearly magical cube for him to either destroy or aid.
Was he going mad?
“Destroy it!” Merlin said again with a sense of urgency.
There was a pause.
“Merlin, please, come back.” Arthur choked, “I need you.”
“Kill it, Arthur.” Merlin said after a moment, his voice the epitome of sadness.
“Will that make you live?”
An unsettled silence filled the room.
“Its not fair.” Arthur sobbed and buried his face in his hands again.
“I know.” Merlin said quietly, “But if you don’t destroy the cube it will hurt hundreds of more innocent people.”
“Yes, you’re right.” The prince finally managed to say.
“Don’t do it!” The other voices suddenly spoke up.
Arthur ignored them and looked around for something, anything that he could use to kill it. A bread knife on one of the tables caught his eye and he scrabbled to his knees. He crawled over to the table and grabbed the blade as the voices warned him again.
“Don’t do it!”
Arthur ignored them again and dragged himself over the floor to the small wooden box that had caused so much trouble. It had killed Merlin, ruined his life and now he had to stop it from hurting anyone else.
“Goodbye, you idiot.”
Trembling, the prince raised the small knife in front of the cube and using all the rage he found inside himself, he finally stabbed the dammed thing.
Burning light shot out of the crack in the wood as the knife drove right through the box. Arthur thought his head was about to explode with the sheer power that gushed out of the thing in waves. He was crushed flat to the floor and suddenly a tremendous explosion sent him to the edge of the room, leaving him dazed but alive. The light was gone in a matter of seconds and he saw the cube, cracked in half, completely broken.
It was destroyed.