Wounded by Mordred, Arthur lay in the blood-drenched mud of his final battlefield. He had dispatched the loyal Sir Bedivere to return Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake. The knight had demurred twice before finally carrying out the King’s orders. Loth to leave me, Arthur mused. Afraid he will miss my final breath.
A patch of air shimmered and shone and a silvery apparition stood over the ailing king.
“Sire,” a voice came from nowhere. The gleaming figure bowed its head.
“Merlin!” Arthur gasped. “Old friend!”
The shape took on the form of the wizard, beard and hat and staff and all, its edges smoky tendrils like a will-o’-the-wisp.
“It looks like I rocked up just in time!” Merlin chuckled. “Let’s have look at you. Tell me, where does it hurt?”
“Where doesn’t it?” Arthur grunted. “There is nothing to be done for me. It is finished.”
“Tush!” Merlin scolded. He stooped over the king’s pronate form and inspected his armour. “Someone’s opened you up like a can of beans!”
“Never mind. Listen, Wart lad: I can take you far from here – far from now, to be more precise. The miracles they can work! They have no need of wizards and magic. They’ll get you back on your feet in no time at all. Then you can return and live out the rest of your reign in peace.”
Arthur frowned. “Where is this place of miracles? Or are you spinning me a yarn to distract me from the grim reaper’s call?”
“I’m not blagging you, bro,” said Merlin. “In Albion, a thousand years hence, there is a place, a host of places, where lives are saved, where bodies are healed, and minds are soothed. But we must go quickly, for even they cannot bring souls back from the dead.”
Sir Bedivere returned to find an eerie light bathing the king.
“My liege!” he cried, drawing his sword and running forward. But the light shrank to a pinprick and winked out, taking the body of King Arthur with it. Brave Sir Bedivere dropped to his knees and wept.
“Shit!” said Merlin, dropping to his knees in the car-park, but not from the weight of the dying king in his arms. “They’ve done it! Those damnable fools!”
“What?” Arthur grimaced in pain. “Who? What has happened?”
Merlin shook his head sadly and lay Arthur on the tarmac. “I am sorry, my King. These fools – so capable of wonders and compassion – have done the unthinkable. They have chosen as their leader an unspeakable hag and she has closed these temples of miracles, these A and E departments.”
The question why formed on Arthur’s lips but he was dead before he could give breath to the word.
Merlin wept. He turned to light and vanished, taking his friend to the mystic isle of Avalon for burial.
What a waste, he mourned. What a terrible waste.