Arthur shakily climbed to his feet, his heart beating abnormally fast, and looked slowly around the room.
He’d done it. He’d killed it. It was all over now. But that was the problem. It was over. There was nothing Arthur could do to save his best friend. He was going to have to accept that he was gone. But Arthur couldn’t. He couldn’t do that.
He fell against a wall and slowly slid to the floor, a deaden expression on his face as he cast his gaze over to Merlin’s lifeless body.
No more sarcastic banter. No more gawky idiot. No more fiercely loyal friend. No more Merlin.
Right then and there Arthur hated himself for not listening to Merlin. If he’d only put his arrogant nature aside and listened to his friend in the temple then Merlin would be alive – none of this would have happened.
Its all my fault, he thought.
What happened next was so sudden and unexpected it left Arthur feeling almost too shocked to move.
One second he had been lying there, completely still, and the next he suddenly sat up with a jolt, taking a huge deep breath.
Arthur leapt up, mouth agape as Merlin staggered to his feet, gulping in lung fulls of air.
Was this a dream?
Merlin turned around, only just having time to brace himself as Arthur smacked into him with the biggest of hugs. Merlin stopped moving. It was a somewhat new experience but it just felt right and unconsciously he embraced his friend, eyes closing happily.
Both of the boys stayed there for a moment.
“But…I…but…how?” Arthur exclaimed, eventually releasing him but keeping a firm hold of his shoulders as if to keep him safe from anything that might harm him.
“I-I could do with drink.” Merlin said slowly and broke into a wide grin – something that Arthur had sorely missed.
“Whoa, careful there!” The prince said as Merlin’s legs suddenly buckled. Arthur just managed to save him from crashing to the floor by sliding under his arm. He then helped him onto a bench by a table as Merlin began to shiver. Arthur could feel his cold skin beneath his shirt, “Are you alright?” He asked with concern.
“I’m freezing.” Merlin mumbled, teeth chattering.
Arthur jumped up and fetched a blanket from Merlin’s room before wrapping it around his friend’s shoulders. Suddenly he noticed the bandage around Merlin’s forearm.
“What’s that?” Arthur asked, pulling the young wizards arm towards him.
“Nothing.” Merlin said hastily, quickly snatching his arm away and hiding it under the blanket.
Arthur paused for a moment until he remembered the ‘scratch’ Merlin had talked about.
“Did I do that?” He asked quietly.
Merlin’s lip twitched slightly and he nodded slowly. Reluctantly he brought his arm out again and unwrapped a few of the bandages. Arthur’s eye widened when he saw the deep burnt hole.
“It’s nothing, honest. It doesn’t even hurt.” Merlin lied quickly as Arthur looked at it in horror.
“I’m so sorry.” Arthur whispered, unable to drag his eyes away from the wound.
“It was an accident.” Merlin said briskly and re-wrapped the blood soaked bandage tightly over his arm.
Arthur looked at Merlin. Merlin looked at Arthur.
“I’m so glad you’re alive.” The prince muttered and lent his head on his friend’s shoulder.
At that moment the door flew open and Gaius charged in, breaking the tender moment. He almost missed the two young men on the bench but caught sight of Arthur, or to be more precise, how his eyes were open and he looked relatively well.
“Sire? Merlin? What happened?”
“Well,Merlindiedbuthe’sfinenowandyoudon’tneedtoworrybecauseI’mgoingtolookafterhimuntillIknowhe’salright.” Arthur said at a hundred miles an hour.
“What?” Gaius said with a mountainous eyebrow that threatened to become higher if not given what it wanted.
“Merlin died but he’s fine now and you don’t need to worry because I’m going to look after him until I know he’s alright.” Arthur said again.
“You are?” Merlin asked curiously.
“Yeah, what’s wrong with that?” Arthur retorted, cuffing him round the head fondly while Merlin protested with a failing hand.
“I was hoping for something more detailed when I asked what happened.” Gaius said, falling into a chair and clasping his wrinkly hands together.
“Merlin sacrificed himself for me and the cube killed him.” Arthur told him, picking the cube off the floor and inspecting it closely. Gaius motioned for him to go on, “But then I stabbed it and he just…” Arthur shrugged, “came back to life.”
“How did you know what to do?” Gaius said, baffled.
“Merlin told me to destroy it.” Arthur replied casually.
“You don’t remember?”
“Its all a bit hazy…” Merlin murmured, looking into the distance.
“Can you remember anything?” Gaius asked.
The truth was that Merlin did vaguely remember what had happened but he had a feeling it was something to do with magic and he didn’t want to speak about it in front of Arthur, however much he wished his friend knew.
“I can’t really recall anything. It was just cold and dark.” He eventually said but gave Gaius a meaningful glare. Gaius looked non-plussed, “You know it was almost like magic how quickly it all happened.” Merlin added, glaring for all he was worth but then snapping out of it as Arthur gave him a funny look.
Gaius appeared to understand.
“Arthur, will you go fetch something for Merlin to drink.” He said, turning to the prince, “Any type liquor will do.”
“Got it.” Arthur said, standing up and clapping Merlin on the shoulder before sprinting out the door.
“Something you want to say?” Gaius raised an expectant eyebrow.
Merlin looked around for the sheaf of paper he had discovered in the ‘Myths Of the Old Times’ book and saw it on the table behind him. He picked it up and handed it to Gaius who pushed his spectacles onto his nose before peering down at the parchment and reading it.
Many years ago, when magic was not forbidden, The NightmareChild was created. The great sorcerers – Jethro, Koran and Nimueh – for took a secret meeting in the mountains of Berwyn to assemble a weapon. This weapon, The NightmareChild, is believed to have the ability of holding the spirits of lost enchanters, warlocks and sorcerers after they have died. The purpose of this is not yet fully understood but the men of the west think it to bring visions upon whomever the cube chooses. These visions are believed to one-day drive the watcher mad with the horrors they see.
Jethro, Koran and Nimueh cast the curse of Many Deaths upon the cube as well as innumerable other enchantments. No soul knows of a way to unbind these curses once they have taken hold of a living being. It is said to be impossible. Once The NightmareChild’s victim has been established there is no cure. The NightmareChild’s victim will die.
“Yes, what of it?” Gaius asked.
“It says the cube has the ability to hold the spirits of dead enchanters, warlocks and sorcerers.” Merlin said, “I think my soul went there after I died and that’s how I spoke to Arthur. When Arthur stabbed the cube my soul was released.”
Gaius looked thoughtful for a moment but then suddenly seemed to realize something.
“What if Nimueh, Jethro and Koran’s souls have also returned to their bodies?” He exclaimed.
“I don’t think they have. Nimueh died months ago. Maybe it’s too late for them.” Merlin said reflectively, wrapping the blanket further around his shoulders.
“Maybe…” Gaius said sceptically, “I’ll do some more research. Now we know what it is we can find out more about it.”
Merlin nodded as Arthur returned, a silver flask in his hand. He took a seat beside Merlin and handed him the canteen.
“You’re not gonna forget this birthday in a hurry, are you?” He said after a moment with a broad grin as Merlin sipped thankfully at the warming alcohol.
“To be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Merlin replied, his eyes shining with mischief.