June's song flash fiction is inspired by one of my favorite songs - Mumford and Sons' "Ghosts That We Knew".
I've jumped in the world of my Arthurian series "Albion's Circle" for this one. I've done a few flash fictions in this world, if you want to take a look.
Gut churning sourly, I stared at Guinevere—lying on the bed, frail and fading, almost lost amidst the bedclothes. My queen, my friend, the only one I had left. But soon, she’d be leaving me. Just like the others. Then, I’d be well and truly alone. Left with the ghosts of everyone I’d ever loved.
“Merlin.” Her voice, weak and raspy washed over me as she grabbed my hand. “Please. Please, you have to promise me.”
“I already did,” I reminded her quietly, reaching out to cup her face. “You don’t need to worry. I’ll take care of everything. All the arrangements are in place. Everything wil be as you want it. I promise.”
Her lips curved ,and she leaned into my touch. “I’m tired. I’m ready to be with them again.”
Them. I closed my eyes against the wave of pain thinking of our friends, long gone. Morgana, Lancelot, Galahad and the rest of the knights. Arthur. My throat tightened. Annwyl.
So many lost to us. Years and years of loss—lifetime—until it was just the two of us. We did the best we could—Guinevere ruling the kingdom after Arthur fell in battle, hoping he would be proud of her. He would have, of course. I never doubted that, even if she did, at times. Guinevere had a strength to be envied and had never wavered. Not when she'd lost her husband and king. Not when, years later, she'd lost her lover.
“You will come?” she asked, her thin aged fingers squeezing mine. “It’s time, don’t you agree? Long past time, I believe.”
I opened my eyes and met her weary gaze. Unlike my dear friend, I had not endured the pain of loss so well. In the final battle against Mordred—so long ago, although it was still so fresh in my old mind—I’d lost so muchmore than I’d been prepared to lose. Not only had I watched my king, my best friend ,struck down by our enemy, but my love, my Annwyl had been lost as well. And it had been my fault. My magic that had drained the life from her. Faced with that, I’d gone mad. I’d lost the control I’d always taken such pride in.
Technically, the battle had been won, but I’d retreated. First, without choice. Dragged away by Morgana and Galahad while I raged against the twisted turn of fate after everything we had been through and everything we had sacrificed. Then, I’d stayed away, remained alone, because how could I return? A Camelot without Arthur, without Annwyl was unthinkable. But eventually, when my queen needed me, I’d made the city my home once again. I played the role of advisor and friend and supporter, just as Arthur and Annwyl would have wanted.
In all that time, though, I’d never visited their final resting place. Guinevere had gone against tradition, ignored her council, and refused to bury Arthur with his ancestors. The Circle would be together for eternity, in both life and death, she had decided, and no one would sway her.
Now, she was to take her place with Arthur, Lancelot, Galahad, and Morgana.
“You need to make your peace, Merlin. Before it’s too late and you’re joining us in rest.”
“The rest is only temporary.” I lifted a shoulder lazily, despite the tension stiffening my body. “All too soon, we’ll be back together, alive and well.”
“And back into danger,” she added, dark eyes shining and lips curving.
I nodded. That was the deal we’d struck, after all, to gain the power we'd needed to defeat Mordred and his army. The Circle had been formed. Defenders of the world against Magical threats. Brought back again and again when we were needed. Christ, I was exhausted at the prospect, though my heart raced at the thought of the reunion with our loved ones.
Silence settled over us for several minutes. Guinevere’s grip on my hand loosened, and she closed her eyes. I watched, having to blink back stinging tears often, as her breathing gradually slowed.
Suddenly, her fingers tightened, and eyes still shut, she spoke, barely above a whisper, “You’ll come, won’t you? You wouldn’t deny an old woman her final request, would you?”
“Oh, but I would. Easily.” Swallowing around the lump in my throat, I shifted to lean over her and pressed my lips to her forehead. “But deny a friend? Never.”
I settled back in the hard chair, body aching and feeling every year I’d lived on this earth. Every damned minute of existence. But I would not complain. As much as I dreaded being alone, being the last of our people left, I would see Guinevere though her final journey…of this life, at least. And I would keep my promise.
Three days later, I stood just outside Camelot, where the rest of the Circle had been laid to rest. Still numb with the grief, I traced my fingers over the sun-warned stones marking the newest grave.
“Goodbye, Guinevere,” I whispered before moving down the line. I pressed my hand more fully on the next pile of stones and nearly choked. “Arthur… I saw her through until the end, my king. She was everything you always said she was and so much more. The queen Camelot needed after…after everything.”
I closed my eyes for a brief moment and took several deep breaths. Then, I forced myself to continue, touching Morgana’s, Lancelot’s and Galahad’s graves, silent but my mind filled with memories.
Coming to the final marker, I began to shake. I lowered myself painfully to my knees and pressed my forehead against the cool stones. The shaking intensified, and as I gasped for air, I realized I was sobbing. Unable to hold it in any longer. I was finally as alone as I’d always felt since the moment I lost her. My Annwyl.
“I love you,” I whispered hoarsely. “I never wanted to be without you… My only thought is joining you, love. There’s nothing left for me here in this world, in this life.”
But for now… I sighed and pushed to my feet. For now, I had no choice. I would live with the memories, the ghosts , with my regrets, and with the promise of the day I’d be with Annwyl and my friends again.