Mordred is born with an excess of water in his lungs – he is cold and clammy to the touch, and as his wails pierce the still air, the basins and basins of muddled water by his mother’s bedside warp and dance to his cries.
The midwives stare in shock – Agni runs through Orkney blood, flickering and hot and deadly. This is something else, some other spirit has inhabited the child, lodged and made itself home within the small body.
Morgause looks away from him, ashamed.
There is a sword in Arthur’s hand, a sword that he, in his ignorance, pulled out of the stone fissure, unknowing of the crushing weight of prophecy and destiny entwined with it. He stares in horror at his father and brother before him, the way they had crumpled to his feet, prostrating themselves before him.
“Kay,” Arthur’s voice quivers – he hates it, he can’t stand the sight of Kay (proud, rash Kay, as brilliant as the fire that burns and dances from his fingertips) bowing to him. It’s Arthur’s duty to follow Kay to the ends of the world, and further than that too. He wants to tear out his hair, and he begs and begs for them to stand.
“Avatar,” Ector says, his forehead still brushing the ground, Arthur can see that he’s trembling. His father is – is afraid of him. “Please, take Kay in as your advisor, Avatar, please–”
Excalibur falls into the mud, a musical note ringing as it touches the earth, as Arthur drops to his knees, weeping bitterly into his hands. The river swells and lashes out, the earth trembles, the wind a sickly howl in his ears, and heat explodes around Arthur as he begins to scream.
Gawain’s laughter rings clear, like a bell, like the first rays of sun over the horizon, setting everything ablaze. The others rouse with it, chiming in, happy for Gawain’s attention that has grown limited the older he gets, the stronger he grows, as responsibility begins its descent upon his shoulders. Gawain wears it with pride and bears it with grace.
Agravaine wonders if his brothers are aware of Gawain’s too-big shadow, if they know they are entangled with the whisper of Gawain’s triumphs, that they will one day be choked by Gawain’s brilliance in the way that Agravaine has become accustomed to.
Firebenders may rise with the sun, but the Orkneys and the people rise with Gawain, glassy eyed with devotion as if he were Agni himself.
(Even little Mordred, Mordred who is curiouser than Agravaine for the tide’s call in his blood, Mordred who bashfully weaves a river and dances lightly on his feet at his brothers’ cheers. But Mordred who still belongs, a sanctity that only exists amongst benders. )
“Agravaine!” Gaheris calls, waving his hands, “Agravaine! Come here! We’re playing a game!”
“Alright, alright,” Agravaine replies back, turning his back to the sun and taking one step closer to Gawain’s light, staggering when Gawain’s heavy arm is thrown over his shoulder, at Gareth’s crushing embrace, at Gaheris’s crows, and Mordred turns to him and beams.
(It tastes like ash in his mouth.)
Lightning crackles in between Kay’s palms, the smell of ozone permeating the air, and the hair on the back of Bedivere’s neck rises, every instinct within him screaming at him to take a step back, to run away, to hide – dangerdangerdanger, please I’m so scared, please don’t do this, please –
Instead he inches closer to Kay, his own hands a few scant heartbeats away from Kay’s and the destruction that lies between them. Bedivere brings his forehead to rest against Kay’s, breathing heavily.
“I won’t let it hurt you,” Kay vows, his eyes are impossibly luminescent, almost eerie. It seems as if Kay has soaked up all the light in the entire world, as if he himself is one big electric shock. It hurts to look at him, but a good pain, like the sting of dirt upon Bedivere’s palms after a good spar, like when his muscles ache from swinging boulders and rocks into a tornado around him. “I’ll never let anything hurt you.”
Bedivere closes his eyes, “I believe you.”
It’s not that Arthur doesn’t like Merlin – the old man has proven himself to be invaluable, his wisdom unparalleled, and Arthur likes the fact that Merlin does not treat him like he’s too young, too inexperienced, too blinded by the fervid brush of youthful idealism to truly see the matters laid out at hand, the twisting, sloping curves and laughs and quaint little daily actions of politics amongst the rich and wealthy.
“Raava,” Merlin breathes, brushing one finger down Arthur’s cheek and Arthur stills.
(Arthur has never been afraid of Merlin before, but there is something else now in Merlin’s gaze, something ancient, something terrifying, something that threatens to devour all the good and glimmer and the gold in the world. Arthur feels as if he’s pinned down, a rabbit that has walked unknowingly, unflinchingly, willing, into a snake’s snare.)
Something deep within Arthur calls, an unbidden shadow, a whisper of a flame, a flicker — a voice that is not his own but is , melodious and achingly familiar, a stranger that is so woven in with his soul that the thought of parting from them hurts —
Vaatu, the voice says and Arthur forgets to breathe.
Bors eyes the two boys before him, quiet, contemplative.
They’re whispering to each other, giggling, their heads bent towards each other as they swap stories looking as if they are not on a journey, a quest to the impossible, lost somewhere in between here and there, but the two children they are, the two children they should be.
Percival and Galahad are both awkward in their storytelling, Percival stumbles over his words, red-faced, awkward with the attention, and unused to the spotlight. Galahad speaks clearly, but he pauses every so often, asking Percival if he’s still interested in what he has to say. Bors has never seen Galahad’s posture so sloppy, his shoulders slouched, as if with every word exchanged with Percival, Galahad unravels, no longer looking quite so grim, not as old, and nowhere near as manic.
Percival looks at Galahad when Galahad’s not looking, Galahad does the same to Percival when his gaze wanders. Bors groans into his hands.
I’m a glorified babysitter . He thinks to himself not for the first nor the last time.
“Are you alright?” Galahad asks, sitting up straighter as he addresses Bors.
“It’s just really humid,” Bors replies, tongue biting back sarcasm.
Bors really should have expected the twin blasts of air to his face.
(It’s okay, he retaliates by bending the ground that the boys sit on, launching them into the air, and as Percival and Galahad float back down to the ground, laughter bubbles up Bors’s throat, and he throws his head back and grins.)
“You are my kin,” Arthur explains as he sits behind Culhwch and begins to run the comb through the boy’s hair. “It would be my honor to cut your hair for you.”
Culhwch turns around and beams, and hesitantly, as if he had not in ages, Arthur smiles back.
It is easy to love Culhwch – he is strong with youth and just as bright-eyed and bubbly as Arthur had been before it all. He’s a breath of fresh air in court – both literally and figuratively. Arthur has not known him long but he loves him fiercely, intensely, as if Culhwch was his own.
(Perhaps it is easier to love Culhwch in that he is an airbender, perhaps it would be different if Tui and La favored Culhwch like they do Mordred. Mordred is Arthur’s distorted image, right down to the looks, right down to the element. Arthur after all, was born a waterbender and lived as one for years before Excalibur. To see that Mordred wields the element that feels most like home as well, fills him with dread, fills him with shame as he recalls what happened many moons ago when Mordred was just out of his infancy, on an uncharacteristically cold May morning.)
“I trust you,” Culhwch says, unknowing of the weight of his own words. “Just, um, make it look nice?” His voice jumps an octave as he plays with the fabric of his orange and yellow robes.
Arthur parts a section of Culhwch’s hair, catching the boy’s eyes in the mirror. “For your little earthbender?”
Culhwch’s face is red. “Yeah,” he says simply. “For Olwen.”
The roar of sliding rock echoes in Gawain’s ears and he watches, spellbound and stupid as Lancelot moves – lithe and nimble and with frightening agility. He doesn’t move like any earthbender Gawain knows. Earthbending, from what Gawain’s picked up from Bedivere and Bors, is sturdy and unyielding, broad movements and stable footing. Lancelot is like a dancer, almost delicate despite the tons of earth and stone that he controls. He moves like someone Gawain knows intimately because they are his own flesh and blood, because Gawain has seen these same movements echoed time and time again in drills, Gawain knows –
– Lancelot, despite being an earthbender, moves like Mordred.
The very thought is enough to distract Gawain from the spar and he yelps as he finds that the earth has slid out from beneath him. He jumps in shock, but a mass of dirt compresses against his ankle and yanks him down to the ground. Pain explodes in the back of Gawain’s skull and fire streams from his hands – it’s a sloppy move, and Gawain knows it. Gawain has never been sloppy, his form and technique are perfect, but Lancelot is something else entirely. Panic sinks into Gawain’s gut as his hands are covered by cold dirt and his flame extinguished. Only his torso and head remain above the ground.
“Do you yield?” Lancelot asks. He is bent over Gawain and –
– Gawain looks up at him, eyes very wide. He desperately wishes to reach out and touch Lancelot’s face. “Your bending, you…” He sputters and this is also new. Gawain is Arthur’s heir, Gawain is the most powerful, Gawain has danced with dragons and leapt amongst flame and let the fire tickle his skin and hair until he felt free as smoke and twice as wild. Gawain has never known panic nor incoherency.
Lancelot’s eyebrow quirks up.
“Waterbending,” Gawain breathes. “You move like a waterbender.”
Lancelot’s face shutters and he quickly stands up, releasing Gawain.
“I meant no harm,” Gawain says quickly, something like bewilderment and pain blossoming in his chest at Lancelot’s pinched expression. “My brother, Mordred, he’s a waterbender. You remind me of him.”
“Mordred?” Lancelot blinks. “Mordred is of Orkney? But your family–?”
“Yeah,” Gawain grins up at him, taking no offence. “He’s special. He’s had classical waterbending training, mother and father insisted of course. But sometimes, he moves like a firebender. Probably picked it up from trying to copy all of my drills.”
Lancelot stares at him and quietly sits down, closer to Gawain than he has ever been before. “I didn’t know. I assumed wrongly that everyone of the Orkney lineage were firebenders.”
“No,” Gawain says. “Agravaine’s a nonbender. Don’t tell him, but he’s the most crafty out of all of us.”
Lancelot nods seriously. He opens his mouth as if to speak, closes it, looks off to the side, and then after taking a breath, as if to summon courage, glances back at Gawain. “My mother...she’s. A waterbender, of sorts. She taught me everything I know, she–”
Gawain rests his hands against his cheek and lets Lancelot’s voice stream over him, like a bubbling brook.
Guinevere haunts the halls.
She knows what they speak of her, the crude whispers behind her back, the simpering giggles and snorts, the jabs at her heritage, at her upbringing, at the fact that she is a nonbender.
They don’t dare lay a hand on her in fear of evoking Arthur’s rage, but Arthur knows just as well that a physical blow would hurt a lot less than what is constantly thrown at her face, spat out and chewed, spit and bile and thrice as poisonous.
Guinevere haunts the halls – she knows that one day they will no longer be able to contain her or her fury. She is patient, she can wait. She can temper flame, cut through stone, wait for the air to cease billowing, and for the river to dry up – Guinevere has time on her side and she plans on utilizing it.
Arthur is calling for her. She spins on her heel; she can’t leave him waiting.
Mordred remembers the cold. Above all, he remembers the frigidity of the air, the biting of the icy water against his skin, the shrieks and cries that rose up around him.
It was May.
It was May but it was so cold.
The water had lapped against Mordred’s skin, threatening to consume him in the way it had devoured the lifeforce of dozens of babies.
(But Mordred’s different.)
(Morgause never told Arthur of what Mordred was – Mordred doubts it stemmed from maternal protection. Perhaps all her thoughts of him had vanished, evaporated into the air just like her love had. Perhaps, his mother never told his uncle-father due to the fact that Mordred never orbited her mind.)
(Mordred doesn’t know why it still hurts.)
The water was hungry that day. The water stole all the little May children away. The spirits were well fed. That’s what the people say. The people are wrong.
Mordred returned, the prodigal son.
“Olwen,” Culhwch smiles. “I’ve come for you, I’ve done all that you have asked.”
Olwen slides her palm into his outstretched hand, interlacing their fingers together. They breathe together as one, finding balance in between them: Culhwch as if his feet were planted squarely on the ground, and Olwen as if she could fly through the starry night.
Mischief twinkles in her eyes as she regards him. “I have just one more request.”
“I know,” Guinevere says softly. “The circumstances of your birth. Who you are. What your mother is.”
“My lady?” Lancelot balks back, adrenaline coursing through him. He wills his hands to stop shaking but they can’t, they won’t listen to him, he’s been found out.
“I never would have guessed. The son of the Moon Spirit, here in our own little court.”
An earthen clay pot breaks. Lancelot stares at it in horror of his lack of control.
Guinevere stares at the broken pieces dispassionately before swinging her gaze back at Lancelot who has grown wan, like the new moon eclipsed by the encroaching darkness.
“How did you find out?” Lancelot whispers, defeated.
“People underestimate me,” Guinevere says simply, voice low as if Lancelot is a particularly skittish animal. “I can see what they think is hidden. Benders are always so sloppy. Always thinking that their little dramatics and flair can hide the truth. It works well, but not to those who know where to look. What to press.”
“What do you want?”
“People always want something,” Lancelot spits out.
“People do,” Guinevere agrees. Her eyes are like a supernova, collapsing upon itself in the dazzling light of a dying nebula. “I’m not like most people.”
Her name is Isolde and she’s the most beautiful woman in the world.
(She is to be married to his uncle and Tristan is to ensure her safe passage to the Earth Kingdom and – )
– and Tristan loves her.
(The worst part is that she loves him back.)
They drink from the potion and Isolde staggers, fingers coming up to clutch at her chest, and Tristan’s flame flickers inside him, revolting at the poison that enters his system, shocking him to his core.
(It doesn’t matter, it’s for Isolde. The Kyoshi warrior who beat his ass at combat, who threw her head back and laughed at the look of amazement and awe on his face, who gets seasick as they voyage across the ocean but bats him away when he tries to help – all of it, it’s for her. )
Isolde, Isolde, Isolde.
His name is Galahad.
Lancelot has a son .
(A son that is his own spitting image, a son who is blessed by the wind and the twinkling chimes of birdsong. A son who is akin to what Mordred is to Arthur.)
“Father,” Galahad repeats, bowing low. “The Nomads have spoken to me of our meeting, of this day, of what is to come. It is an honor to meet you. Grandmother has appeared to me in pools of water before – ”
Lancelot feels as if he is going to be sick. He turns and runs away.
Yvain knows that voice, how could he not? He had only conquered because of her aid, because she had given him her fan, a Kyoshi warrior fan that had turned him invisible and had allowed him entry into the fortress. A face that is dearer to him than any other – a face that he hasn’t beheld in a long time.
The collision of their embrace causes them to stumble and they laugh happily, grinning from cheek to cheek.
“You got your firebending back!” She says, hands cupping his face. “And a..dragon? I thought they were all extinct.”
“Apparently not,” Yvain says, stepping back and appraising her new robes, the Kyoshi warrior makeup, the shining hair pieces. “It’s a long story.”
“Well,” Luned drawls. “I hope you have time. For an old friend.”
Yvain’s eyes soften, “Of course. Anything.”
Lancelot’s head jerks up, interrupted from his measly hour of sleep. The fire has grown low, only faint embers glow, fluttering like the heartbeat of a dying bird. He is still a long way from home, from returning disgraced, and he thinks, once more, of running away back into the cool waters, and hiding out once more amongst the stars and the cheerful calls of his mother beckoning him.
“Father.” The voice says again and Lancelot knows this time he has not imagined it.
He turns his head and there is a specter of Galahad flickering in an azure light. Lancelot yelps in shock, skittering backwards. “Galahad ?” Or some vengeful spirit of the forest, here to tear down the last few crumbling block of Lancelot’s sanity.
“It is I, not some malicious spirit,” Galahad says softly, his voice like a far-off whisper that hangs discordant in the still, heavy air. It is an eerie sound, an unnatural noise, something that dances along the line of line of should-not-be. He sounds like a spirit.
(He sounds like Lancelot’s mother.)
They had spoken their goodbyes a week or so earlier, embracing on the shallow shore, leaving behind the boat that had brought father and son together. The two of them had wept bitter tears, Lancelot embracing his son at last, and Galahad, shoulders tense, had attempted to remain stoic, but tears had cracked through the facade like a fault line on the earth before a mighty explosion.
“Galahad,” Lancelot breathes. “Galahad, what is the meaning of this?”
“In times of great distress, airbenders can project their spirit outwards,” Galahad explains. “Father, I am approaching my destiny’s call. All that I have trained for, all that the Nomads have taught me, all that I was born for is within reach. I can hear the Great Spirits already singing, I can see them out of the corner of my eye, and they beckon to me.” Galahad swallows, voice shakey.
Lancelot can only stare, stunned.
“I’m scared, Father. What if the Nomads and Sages were wrong? I-I don’t want to die.” Something like shame crosses Galahad’s face.
Lancelot reaches out to grasp Galahad’s hand but in his folly, he forgets and his arm passes through his son. The air is frigid.
A brittle smile breaks Galahad’s face in two and he has never looked so young, so scared, and so terrified. “Father, please, I don’t want to do this, please help me, I’m – ”
Galahad’s spirit flickers once, twice, and then he is gone. The fire dies out. It is so cold.
Lancelot screams. The earth beneath him splinters and cracks.
“What do you mean you’re staying?” Bors demands, slamming his hands upon the table. “You can’t stay, we have to return home!”
Percival stares back at him – his eyes are dull, his face withdrawn, all the flush of his life has been extinguished from his face.
(He’s looked like this, as if he was a moving corpse, as if a spirit had taken over and burrowed itself into Percival’s body, going through a sick imitation, a ghastly pale mimic of life. Bors has seen it in himself, seen it in the mirror when he dares to look.)
(Bors does not look in mirrors or in the waters often. He sees Galahad behind him. A mocking specter.)
“Home?” Percival’s voice cracks from disuse. Bors stares at him. Percival has not spoken in days. Not spoken since Galahad died.
“I have no home,” Percival continues, voice steady. “I have no one left – everyone has left me, gone to the great ether beyond.”
“Camelot. You have Camelot. You have me .”
“Camelot does not deserve the honor of being called my home.” Percival pauses. “There is an Air Temple nearby. I intend to live there for the rest of my days. To understand, perhaps, what it was, what drove Galahad, why this had to be.”
Bors reaches out to grasp Percival’s hand, desperate. Percival rips it out of his grasp, as if he were stung. He rises in a fluid motion and he looks at Bors – he looks at Bors as if he sees right through him, as if Bors isn’t even there , as if Bors is the restless spirit that haunts them instead.
“Percival,” Bors begs, tears in his throat. “Percival, come home. Please.”
Percival turns away; he does not look back.
“Take me away from it all.” She pleads with him. “I can’t do this, I can’t take it anymore. Please.” Guinevere’s hands shake as she clutches at his arm. “Lancelot, you’re the only one I have in the world. Please.”
“No, Uncle!” Gawain snarls. A river of tears leak from his eyes, and his expression is twisted, ugly. Gone away is Gawain’s finery, his broad shoulders, his pride and his glory. His cheeks are gaunt, his eyes alight with madness, sweat sticks to his brow, and he burns as if he is in the throws of fever. Sparks and flames crackle outwards from his fists – there is no semblance of control, Gawain does not even try. Gawain stands before Arthur and he is no longer Agni’s cherished one, no longer fire and ash reborn into this life in human form. He is washed in the light of revenge, of bloodthirst, and heartsick with grief.
(Arthur has never been afraid of Gawain.)
“Gawain,” Arthur says, firmly. “I can’t, I can’t let you do this. What Lancelot did is wrong, but what you intend to do –”
A scream of anguish and a bolt of fire arcs towards Arthur. Arthur counters it easily.
(Gawain has never raised a hand against Arthur.)
“Gawain,” Arthur stares at him in shock.
A sob rips through his nephew’s lips and he collapses onto himself, a dying star. Arthur catches him easily and lowers them both to the ground. The floor to Arthur’s chambers are cool, temperate against the raging inferno beneath Gawain’s skin.
“He killed them,” Gawain weeps into Arthur’s arms, leaning into his touch as Arthur proceeds to stroke his hair. “He killed my brothers. They had no chance, they could not even speak, or beg, or plead for their life. They loved him and Lancelot killed him and betrayed you, betrayed us, betrayed me.” A pause. “Uncle, Uncle – what if it was Kay? Would you still let him walk? Please, answer me this.”
“Uncle, I have never asked anything of you. Please do not deny me this.” Gawain raises his head and Arthur jerks back. Gawain looks like a corpse, already half-dead. “I want Lancelot’s head.”
Tristan is dead. Tristan is dead. Tristan is dead and he has taken all the sunrises with him. She doesn’t know how long she’s been here, the sand biting into her knees, and the ocean lapping at her ankles. The saltwater stings the abrasions on her wrist and she wails and wails, like an ocean spirit who had foolishly drowned her mortal love.
It is beautiful, the sun is strong and shining and warm. But Tristan is so very cold beneath her, frozen and stiff, and she shudders.
The potion has long worn off, but Isolde’s devotion hasn’t. It won’t.
Her hands do not even tremble as she reaches for her sword.
She can almost see the whisper of Tristan’s smile, the flame that flickers behind him with a flick of his wrist, can almost hear the shape of his lips as he utters her name, the feel of his hot hand in hers, and the drowning, endless affection he has for her, constant and living and everlasting as the great fire.
(So this is love, Isolde thinks before she drifts off.)
Bors returns alone. There is no fanfare, no celebration to be had. Camelot is preparing for war and each and every one of Bors’s footsteps reverb deep into the ground.
(Bors is a relic from before. Bors has no place here any longer.)
Arthur looks at him, and there is pity in the Avatar’s eyes.
Bors looks away, disgusted.
(Percival was right.)
“Face me! Fight me, you coward!” Gawain screams and screams and screams, flames licking along the side of the fortress’s walls. “Lancelot, show your face!”
The ground rumbles and Gawain turns. Lancelot appears out of a small fissure in the rockface, and after a moment, the stone coalesces into one, smooth and sturdy and impenetrable. Lancelot’s face is shadowed but his eyes widen in horror when he catches sight of what Gawain has become.
“Lancelot,” Gawain hisses, spit and fire billowing from his mouth as if he were a rabid dragon. “I challenge you to an Agni Kai.”
Arthur dreams of Gawain.
His nephew is somehow more dazzling than he was in life, his laugh is like a solar flare, his eyes brighter than the sun, and flames flicker alongside his body. He is immolate and he is a sight to behold and Arthur bows deeply before him, awe and shock silencing him.
“Uncle, you know you don’t have to bow to me,” Gawain says, amused.
Arthur’s head snaps back up for this is the Gawain he knows, this is the firebending prince who had followed at Arthur’s heels, yipping like an overexcited polar bear pup. This is Arthur’s pride and his heir and his legacy.
“Gawain,” Arthur says. “Is your spirit restless? Why have you appeared before me?”
Gawain smiles and Arthur weeps for the sight is too beautiful that it hurts his chest. “I have come with a warning, Uncle. Please, heed my council one last time.”
Lancelot dreams. There is Gawain. Lancelot awakes. There is Gawain. Lancelot —
— Lancelot screams until his throat is hoarse, flings rocks and dirt and stone at the spirit.
— Lancelot loves him and Gawain is dead.
(Lancelot killed him.)
Gawain reaches out, arms bathed in fire. “I loved you too.”
“Mordred.” Arthur calls across the clearing and his voice rings with the power of infinite lifetimes.
Around them are the broken bodies of men, benders and non-benders alike. Of men who fought for belief, for unity, for a twisted ideal of love that had been forged and broken and lays on the ground in tatters between father and son. Arthur had ascended to the Avatar State when he had seen Mordred bloodbending, when Mordred had turned that dark art upon Kay and Bedivere and had tortured them, spitting venom and bile from his teeth with his horrid words.
(It should have impossible, it was not even the full moon and yet – )
( – Arthur had always been right to fear Mordred.)
“I never called you what you really are,” Mordred spits, his hair matted to his forehead and slick with sweat and blood. “Father.”
Arthur’s face grows alarmingly pale. “Mordred.”
“Even now,” Mordred continues, pacing towards Arthur, an arc of water slicing through the air encircling the two. Their mother element, Tui and La weeping as their two sons fight like caged vipers to the death. “Even now, you mock me. You underestimate me. You think of me as nothing more than rot beneath your shoe.” Mordred’s expression twists, his handsome face turning ugly. “You can’t even bring yourself to deal with me in the Avatar State, even though I am your biggest foe. I, your bane, I, the inverted reflection of what you are and what you tried to hide.”
“NO!” Mordred screams and spears of ice are flung towards Arthur. Arthur is weak from days and days of fighting and he cannot block them all. He feels a cut on his forearm, his cheek, and there is a shard aimed above his chest.
(Arthur can barely breathe.)
“You never loved me,” Mordred continues inching closer, the shard of ice presses against Arthur’s flesh. “You never loved me, not even a little bit, did you? All you saw was Gawain. But look where that got him, Father, you killed my brother. You let them all die for your sake.”
Arthur stares in horror. Kay is attempting to stand, but his body betrays him, exhausted and wrong after having been tortured not moments before.
(The sight is permanently seared into Arthur’s brain, he can see it every time he blinks his eyes – the sight of Kay convulsing on the ground, his body bent in impossible angles, mouth open in a silent scream as Mordred stood over him and twisted his hands savagely in the air and Kay’s body had cracked.)
Kay slides back to the ground, but he continues in his attempt to sit up, fingers trembling in the mud, his voice hoarse.
“You don’t know what you’re doing, Mordred,” Kay continues. “You can’t kill him, he’s the Avatar. Mordred come here, we can talk this over – ”
“I’m not killing the Avatar,” Mordred snarls, tears running down his cheeks. “I’m killing my father.”
Kay’s eyes widen and he gapes.
The shard of ice impales Arthur’s heart. Arthur gasps, and he reaches his hand out, to caress Mordred’s cheek, to touch the face of his son in a way Arthur has never done before –
– an ice shard slices through Mordred from the back. Mordred stares in shock, eyes very round. Arthur grins back, mouth bloodied as Mordred begins to crumple.
(Before he fades to the black, Arthur realizes that Mordred had leaned into his palm, the way he trembled, and the crushing weight of the unforgivable that spanned between them in that infinitesimal moment.)
Arthur dies with Kay’s screams ringing in his ears, Bedivere holding him back.
“Guinevere, please,” Lancelot begs on his knees. His hands shake but his grip is tight on the bottom of her robes — Lancelot has not once reached out to Guinevere first. Until now. Things are different now. “Don’t do this, don’t turn me away, please. I threw it all away for you, didn’t I do everything I could to help you? Please, you’re the only friend I have left.”
Guinevere stares at him. “You cannot hide who you are from me. I’ve seen you, I know you. And I cannot spend my life waiting again — waiting for something that will never come, waiting for the promises to break. She watches over you, even now, and she can wait until the sun grows cold and the moon is absconded by fire. I cannot.”
She is gone with a flick of her robes, leaving Lancelot on the ground. He weeps, willing for the earth to swallow him whole.
It was Morgan who had come. Morgan, Arthur’s sister, Morgan of the dark arts, Morgan the bloodbender who had borne Arthur away upon a raft into the murky river.
Kay and Bedivere sit by the banks. Not a moment before the Moon Spirit had appeared in the filthy water, her lovely face lined with sadness and Bedivere, trembling, had handed over Excalibur.
(“You are neither my nor Kay’s Great Spirit,” Bedivere had said. “But please, my lady, look after us in our time of need.” The Moon Spirit had wept and kissed their brow before dissolving into foam.)
They have been sitting by the banks for a long time. The stench of blood and death and decay hang above them. Bedivere feels as if it will never leave them, that he and Kay will forever walk with these restless ghosts and memories behind them. Reminding them of their ignorance and their faults and of a time long passed of soft light and Arthur’s childish smile.
“I’ll find you again,” Kay vows, breaking the silence. “I’ll find you again, and I’ll protect you, and I’ll do it right this time.” He bows his head and dips one hand into the water. “Arthur, whoever you are now, whoever you will become, whoever you are reborn as, wait for me. I’m coming to get you.”
Arthur does not know if he is asleep or dead, awake or alive, but there is Raava, and Raava turns to him and —
(Raava is the only thing that matters.)
“I’ve been waiting so long to meet you.”
Ambrosius Aurelius and Uther Pendragon stand side by side, staring uneasily at the man before them. Merlin is a madman, raves of prophecy, that the great spirits have spoken to him, that Merlin knows what is to pass.
Merlin smiles and the sight of it is wicked. “Do you want to hear a story of the Pendragon Avatar?”
Ambrosius Aurelius flinches back, the flame in his hand growing weak from his shock. Uther Pendragon leans forward, enraptured.
In the dark of the chambers, Vaatu’s laugh reverbs.