Title: A Lingering Trace of Smoke
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur
Summary: It's been three hundred years, but the memory still lingers...along with the fear.
Warnings: Major Character Death, Graphic Violence
Word Count: ~ 1k
Prompt: #46 ~ Fire
Author's Notes: My apologies for the lateness of my submission. It was a VERY rough weekend (I had my reverse bang due and I'm still pretty sick).
Flinching as the first flames lick at the exposed skin of his bare feet, the iron band looped around his ankles renders the instinctive move futile. Biting his lip, he tries not to cry out as his skin begins to broil. But, when the slow growing fire curls up round his bound ankles, he can’t help the scream that tears his throat as his feet begin to scorch and smoke.
The parching heat is enough to steal the moisture from his mouth, but isn’t yet a sufficient temperature to scorch the air in his lungs. The pyre was built by an expert; he still has oxygen enough to screech his torment as the flames slowly advance up his legs.
He burns for hours, burns forever. He feels every inch devoured by the hungry flames, the horrible heat eats through his skin, slowly consuming the meat beneath. His flesh blackens, and swells, splitting, peeling and finally curling away as the heat climbs higher, burrowing through a fresh layer to begin the agony anew.
Vocal chords slowly fray from the unending shrieks, but when the fire reaches his genitals, his voice finally splits and shreds entirely, leaving him to heave nothing but harsh, guttural breaths that continue to saw away at the abraded lining of his throat. What sound remains is lost beneath the crackling and popping of the blaze slowly consuming him bit by agonizing bit.
They’ve made sure he’ll feel his body burn all the way from his feet to his face. Cold iron bands at ankle, knee and neck hold him flush to the stake at his back. They force him upright, and ensure the slow and even roasting of his living body. The dread metal binds his magic as surely as it constrains his flesh. For all his power, he is helpless to save himself. He will feel the fire till the last moment.
Pitiless eyes watch as he is consumed, writhing and soundlessly screaming his anguish to the cursedly cloudless sky. The heat is inexorably climbing higher and higher while the eyes are closing in around him, gleaming with cruel satisfaction. The hate is palpable; their rising sadistic glee flays his overwrought senses. They lean in closer and closer to drink in his pain, black maws gaping, red eyes glowing--
Merlin hurtled awake, screaming and clawing at the clinging bed sheets. Strong arms came around him and clamped him close to a broad, hard-muscled chest.
“Shh, Merlin! Merlin! It’s all right. Shhh…calm down. You’re safe, Love. You're safe.”
Continuing to struggle, it takes several repetitions for the words to penetrate the black fog of terror consuming him, but eventually he stops screaming and struggling. He sags into those strong arms.
“I’ve got you, Love. You’re safe, you’re safe. It was just a dream.”
Chest heaving, Merlin struggles to control his harsh and panicked breathing. He looks around the room, taking in the elegant lines of the four-poster bed, the parquet floor and the Adams fireplace.
“Eighteen fifty, eighteen fifty, eighteen fifty,” Merlin chanted to himself, rocking slightly in Arthur’s loosening hold.
“That’s right love, eighteen fifty. That was three hundred years ago. You’re safe now. We both are.”
Merlin shuddered, a captive of his memories. Three hundred years ago, in 1550, in a small village near the Durris Forest in Scotland a mob had formed on a cold November morning. A loose formation of men and women bearing a motley assortment of weapons--mostly farm implements, and tradesmen’s tools-- pounded down the door to Merlin’s cottage and dragged him from his bed. They’d bound him in iron before he’d even blinked the sleep from his eyes.
A hasty “trial” was held in the wide dirt patch that served as a village square, the pyre that had already been erected looming in the background. When they were done, they immediately bound him to the stake and lit the fire. Village records showed it took the sorcerer three hours to die.
They had planned it carefully, waiting until their Laird was up and gone for Aberdeen. By the time he’d returned a month later, Merlin’s ashes had long been scattered to the four winds.
Three hundred years and four lifetimes later, Merlin still woke up screaming two nights out of ten. The smell of his own flesh roasting still lingered in his nostrils. He nuzzled into Arthur’s neck, breathing in his lover’s aroma, letting it wash over and replace the lingering scent memory.
“I’m sorry, Love. I’m so sorry. I should have known. I should have stopped them.”
Three hundred years and four lifetimes later, Arthur still felt guilty for having left Merlin behind when he left to attend the King’s visit to the city. Merlin pressed his lips to Arthur’s to muffle the apology, but he couldn’t stop his own trembling. Three hundred years, yet the dreams remained all too immediate.
Arthur petted Merlin with his hands, and soothed him with his voice.
“It’s all right, love. They can’t hurt you anymore. You’re safe. Never again, they can’t do that anymore, you’re safe now. We’re safe.”
Breathing deeply, Merlin let Arthur’s words sink in to his consciousness. They were safe now, these were more enlightened times. This was urban London, not rural Scotland. No one burned witches at the stake anymore, hadn’t for over a hundred years. Still, as he lay in Arthur’s arms, listening to his lover’s breathing even out and deepen, Merlin couldn’t rid himself of a lingering fear.
They’d never really been safe in any lifetime, more often than not meeting violent or unfortunate ends. This current society’s adherence to an increasingly strict moral code had Merlin feeling uneasy; so uneasy that his nightmares were coming more and more frequently. Arthur was right, Merlin could no longer be executed for what he did with his magic, but they could both be executed for what they did in bed each night.
As he lay curled against Arthur’s side, his lover’s heartbeat thumping reassurance under his ear, Merlin watched the sky beyond the window lighten. He couldn’t help but wonder if there wasn’t a mob coming for them even now, a mob that this time would burn them both.
Notes: So, a little bit of research went into this. I wanted to know exactly what was involved in burning someone at the stake and I've got to admit, I was shocked by what I found. I'd always assumed the victim died of asphyxiation before they endured too much of the burning alive part of the process. Unfortunately, that wasn't always the case. Depending on how they arranged the fuel, the victim often wouldn't die until their head was actually consumed and this process could take hours. In the meantime, they'd feel the rest of their body burn as they stood there. They used iron chains or iron hoops to fix the victim to the stake so they couldn't collapse and be consumed quicker. (This was the method popular in Scotland/England during the period in question.)
Also, until 1861, homosexual acts were a capital offense in Great Britain.