Let me tell you a story.
There was a king.
There are moments before that.
(That is not where the story begins.)
There was a prince with hair gold as the autumn leaves, eyes blue and vast as the summer skies.
Here is what he knew: loyalty (kneeling before the throne and repeating his vows again and again until the wind snatches up his words, tosses them among the trees, until the whole of Camelot sighs in acquiescence, in adoration, because she has waited infinite lifetimes for him – for her king); honor (sparring until the sun gives up her greedy clutch on the day, until the moonlight catches on his blade, because a prince can die as easily as any man – and the knights love him for that: for his mortality); and a crown (heavy and inscribed with a language that the prince doesn’t know but thinks he understands: a future written in the stars, a destiny that he isn’t sure he wants, but knows he’s meant to have).
And here is what he feared: loneliness (a throne so high that it blots out the sun, a title so elaborate and overreaching that it might just be the worst kind of divinity: the false kind); failure (watching Camelot unravel at the seams – the screams and the blood and the twisted, broken bodies, the fire gleaming in his crown of worthless gold – and knowing that it is his fault); and magic (sorcery – sorcery).
And there was a boy who could spin magic with his fingers, could make flowers bloom in the winter, and the sun shine through the rain.
Here is what he hated: hate (witches being burned at the stake, blamed for the poor weather, for this plague, for that famine, and the boy keeping parts of himself locked up tight and throwing away the key because unlocking that secret is the same as knocking on Death’s door and demanding to be let in); injustice (the villages withering with the winter, children growing gaunt, their eyes too luminous in their pale faces, while the lords grow fat in their castles, dreamy-eyed with wine they didn’t work for); and evil (the undiluted kind, the kind that wreaks destruction because it can – you may think that kind of evil doesn’t exist, that there is no such thing as irredeemable evil, but rest assured – there is).
And here is what he loved: the prince (Arthur).
Wait, you may say. The boy loved the prince. But what about the prince? Did he love the boy?
(What a silly question: it’s like asking if the sky is blue, if tomorrow will come as it has every day for years and years, for so long that even Time himself has lost count. It’s like asking if the winters are cold, if a child must learn how to walk before he learns how to run.)
Of course the prince loved the boy.
They grew up.
The prince became a king and the boy became a man.
And the secret grew as well, tangling between them, unspoken, like a dark and terrible knot.
They were never without each other.
Look, the servants would whisper, there goes the king and his sorcerer.
Look, the knights would call gaily, there goes the sorcerer and his king.
They ate off each other’s plates and they never knew which clothes belonged to whom. They looked at each other like the stars must look at the moon: reverent, worshipful, adoring. They touched carefully, like their touches were a code only they knew the key to. They would ride off early in the morning and spend an entire day out of the castle, and they would come back, rosy-cheeked and bright-eyed, young and happy. And then they’d go up to the king’s chambers and the sorcerer would kneel in front of his king and place his hand over the king’s chest, and he would say,
My heart is with yours, always.
But lest you forget, this is not a fairytale.
There was an accident.
The details aren’t important; in fact, if you look in your books, you’ll find that they all say different things. One will say that there was a dragon, and another will scoff at such fantasy, will say that it wasn’t a dragon at all but an enemy warlord. Maybe it was just Weather, playing her devious tricks, splitting Earth apart, leaving her trembling in anger.
Whatever it was – there was an accident.
And the queen nearly died.
You interrupt. You say, but the king loved the sorcerer, how could he marry another?
(Ah, but there are many different types of love, aren’t there?)
Hush, now. Quiet.
The sorcerer loved the queen because the king loved her.
And when the king wept for her coming death, the sorcerer looked down at his hands and thought,
I can save her.
And so he did.
It wasn’t the showy sort of magic that you see nowadays – all glitter and fireworks. There were no flourishes or applause. No, there were just some words and a snatch of air – because that’s all life is, a delicate breath, a soft touch, a fragile word – and it was done.
The queen woke.
And the sorcerer fled.
The king went after him.
(Of course he did.)
They ran for two days and three nights, across fields and oceans, across space and time.
When the sorcerer finally stopped, it was because he was tired of running from what he wanted. Better to fall at the hands of someone you love than to live in hate of yourself, of the whole world.
He went to the king and knelt. He said, I’m sorry and, know that I loved you, always.
And the sorcerer bowed his head and waited. He waited for a strike that did not come.
When he lifted his head, he found the king kneeling beside him.
The king looked tired and miserable, but he took the sorcerer’s cold hands in his and said gently,
This is not where our story ends, Merlin; we are not just a single page in a book but an epic,
for the king loved the sorcerer (Merlin) deep as the seas, vast as the skies, more than he could ever hate.
Is that the end? you ask.
(How you wish it was.)
They lived – long lives or short, it doesn’t matter, because this is a myth.
Or is it history?
The king ruled his lands virtuously, justly. He was loved fiercely by his subjects, and he fiercely loved them in return. He fed the poor with bread from the castle kitchens and spent hours in the lower town, helping patch up houses after the heavy winds. He relied on his sorcerer as if the sorcerer was an extra arm, much-needed and well-loved. The sorcerer was wise, and together, the king and the sorcerer let magic flow back into the kingdom, letting fear be replaced by wonder, despair with hope.
It was a lovely time, as anyone who’d lived back then could tell you.
But it didn’t last forever.
There is another tale, a lurid tale of incest, of betrayal, of patricide.
But ours is a tale about the king and his sorcerer, not a tale about the king and his son.
The king died in a lonely tent with frayed banners.
He wasn’t particularly old, but he wasn’t all that young, either.
He died happily.
(How, you demand, how can anyone die happily? His son killed him, how could he be happy?)
Well. Because this is what happened:
I don’t want to die, said the king. He looked old, older than he was and older than he would ever be.
The sorcerer curled his fingers around the king’s, kissed his dark gold lashes.
Why? the sorcerer said, curious. Why do you fear death?
And the king said, I fear any place where you won’t be by my side.
The sorcerer did a strange thing, here. He smiled, and for a moment he looked like the sixteen-year-old boy he’d once been, a sixteen-year-old boy who’d been in the right place at the right time and met a prince, on the verge of greatness, on the verge of a history so great that it echoed throughout centuries.
The king said irritably, Why are you smiling?
And the sorcerer leaned very close and whispered this, soft as a secret:
Because this isn’t the end of our story, Arthur; we will have more lives than these, other worlds than this.
(Because, you see, the end of life isn’t death.
And the last page of a book isn’t the end of the story.)
And so you may say, That’s a terrible story, to have no end.
But this is what I offer: the greatest of stories have no end.
Because, you see – the king and his sorcerer have the truest of happily-ever-afters.