Merlin walked alone. Alone was how he had been for most of the last 932 years, but who's counting? The lonely street was the same as it had been since the Roman Empire and the Civil War. That same unrest was rising from all over the kingdom.
Time and time again Merlin hoped, prayed that the dead would never rise, but in his bones, he knew that the era of fragile peace had shattered.
His home, the only one he had ever known, bled, and it broke his heart.
Merlin came to the lake where it all ended. The smell of fresh dew on grass and birds chirping made him unnaturally optimistic. It was a good day for a resurrection.
Deep within the crypt under the ruin of Camelot lay the ashes of Arthur Pendragon, First of His name, King of Camelot.
Merlin levitated the cover off Arthur's coffin that his likeness had been carved into. He sat beside the ashes and waited. For how long he sat, he did not know, but his bones grew stiff with impatience and the dust on Arthur's coffin settled around him as he drew shaky breath after shaky breath.
Time passed slowly, so Merlin decided to take out his phone and play Candy Crush. He found it mildly addictive and his current student berated him for always playing it despite his denials that he did. The jaunty jingle played aloud and almost masked a ragged breath whispering:
"Dear God. What is that awful racket?" He looked up from the narrow confines of the box to spot Merlin, looking old and frail, and nothing like he remembered.
"Arthur? Is that truly you?" Merlin asked, now standing and marvelling at the fresh new flesh and skin that was knitting together before his very eyes. He had literally risen from ashes.
"Of course, it's me, you blithering idiot! Help me out of this coffin. Wait...why am I in a coffin?"
"What do you remember, Arthur, about that last battle?" Merlin’s voice was soft as quick images of Arthur dying in his arms flashed through his mind’s eye.
"I remember Morgana unleashing an army, we were struggling to fight until an old man turned up and saved Camelot. I remember killing Mordred. I remember getting stabbed. Dear God! Did I die?"
"Unfortunately for Camelot, yes. For me, however, I haven't had to polish anyone's armour since. It has been a wonderful reprieve." The joy at seeing his best friend alive and well enough to insult him made Merlin glib.
"This is no time for jokes, Merlin."
Merlin helped Arthur to sit up properly. As he hoisted the newly awakened king up, the king took the opportunity to study the wizened wizard. His face was familiar to Arthur like he remembered it, but the memory was fuzzy.
"When did you get so old?" questioned Arthur.
"You know, for those of us who don't die at 27, ageing is a thing. I don't really know how old I am anymore, but I think I'm nearing 950."
"I've been dead for 925 years! You have got to be kidding me!"
Merlin tossed back Arthur's own words back at him, chiding him for making jokes. Albion was in danger and Arthur would soon come to realise it.
"Arthur," Merlin nudged him nervously, avoiding his gaze once he had raked over Arthur’s body, "you must tell me immediately if you remember anything else. And also, you need to put some clothes on." Addressing the elephant in the room, apart from the sudden resurrection, required Merlin to pull out a pair of dark wash jeans, a blue shirt, socks and shoes to cover the very naked nakedness of His Diseased Royal Highness.
"What's wrong with what I'm wearing? And what are those?"
"Christ Arthur, you came back from ashes. You aren’t wearing any clothes. You can't walk around looking like that, you'll get arrested for indecent exposure.
Arthur blushed as he looked down to see his family jewels. He dressed quickly and Merlin tried not to stare at him while getting him into his new clothes. He scratched at the clothes until Merlin slapped his hand away.
"I feel so naked. I want to put my armour back on and my chainmail and my sword," he whined, but Merlin was having none of it.
“Get used to it. This is the future. There are no swords, chainmail or armour. People wear these clothes. It will take some time but you will get used to the changes. For starters, you need to learn the language. What we are speaking is a very archaic version of English. We have to leave this crypt and you need to be smarter than before to survive.”
"Who are you to tell me what to do Merlin? Need I remind you that I am the king?"
"Need I remind you that you have been dead for almost a millennia and are still supposed to be." Merlin walked towards the exit when Arthur grabbed his arm and stopped him.
"Wait," he said, glancing around the crypt, "where is Gwen?"
Merlin sighed and directed him to the statue two down from his.
"She was Queen Guinevere the Just. She kept all you had built alive and nurtured it until it grew on its own into the present-day United Kingdom. Her legacy, and yours, still lives on."
"What happened after I died, Merlin? How did she cope? Did she love again?" He forlornly stared at the statue, hoping that it would blink at him or smile Gwen's cheeky smirk. It was a precise likeness, so realistic that he felt like she was in the room with him. Arthur reached up and brushed his fingers along her icy cheek.
"Gwen was the strongest woman I knew and the longest ruler of Camelot there had ever been. As for after you died: she had me, she had Gaius and all the Knights. We struggled the first year or so, as any new ruler and their court would. Especially as her ascension followed country wide devastation and famine. We made it though. And yes, she did love. But it was only after Gaius' and my urging that she even considered the idea of marrying again. Even meeting suitor was a great struggle because none of them were you. I will answer any other questions when we get back home. We have lingered too long, and the dead hear all."
"Goodbye, my love," whispered Arthur to the statue. He paused following Merlin. "Merlin, where is Home? Camelot? Ealdor?"
"Those places exist no longer. The outside world will surprise you greatly in both good and bad ways. Do not be afraid. Keep walking and follow my lead. I have transportation sorted for us."
Arthur scoffed. "Me? Afraid? In your dreams, Merlin."
Merlin gestured to the stairs leading to the outside. Arthur climbed them tentatively, finding his legs again. He shielded his eyes from the light as they adjusted. The brightness began to dim but the bewilderment grew at the sight that lay before his eyes.
He stepped out into the road, his eyes following the tarmac strip. 'Where are all the trees?' He thought. Arthur turned to Merlin, waiting behind him.
"This isn't too bad, right? Just a road," Merlin asked.
Suddenly, a deep growl emanated from somewhere. Arthur looked around with panic.
"What is coming, Merlin? Dragon? Troll? Griffin? Banshee? Chimera?"
"Stay calm, Arthur. Don't attack it. It won't hurt you. I will explain."
"Merlin, where is my sword?" The growling came closer. "Merlin, give it to me. Merlin, please." Arthur looked around worriedly, searching for a weapon but found nothing he could use. Instead he clenched his fists, walked into the road and faced the sound head on.