Title: The Burning
Character/s: (In this section) Gwaine, Leon, Gaius, Merlin, Arthur, Uther, Agravaine, Morgana
Summary: The time has come for roast sorcerer...
Word Count: 1816
Prompt: 88 Breathless
Author's Notes: Not betaed, sorry and apologies for being over the word limit yet again. This is the next part of 'His' and 'The Cold Light of Morning'
It had always been a risk, coming to Camelot.
For a few moments it had seemed that it all might be worth it, that Merlin had found a mate who understood and accepted him for what he was. But it was just a lie, a typically arrogant assertion by the prince that he knew all about everything when in fact he didn't have a clue. All the unflattering things that Merlin had assumed about Arthur when he first met him were turning out to be correct after all. Arthur was going to be just like his father, blinkered and prejudiced about magic users, and uncaring about others once they'd provided him with whatever he wanted. Even his soul-bonded omega.
Perhaps that only worked if you had a soul in the first place, Merlin thought bitterly.
He let the guards lead him away, not bothering to even attempt to get away. His heat was cooling, but there was still no sign of his magic returning. Not that it mattered. Arthur had rejected him and he didn't really care what they did to him because inside he already felt as if something had died.
They led him up long corridors, down a flight of stairs, and then suddenly he was out in the courtyard where a large crowd had gathered, milling around.
One of the knights barked an order, and the crowd parted swiftly to let them through.
Ahead of them Merlin could see the firewood heaped high around the stake that was set in the middle of the courtyard. He reached for his magic again, but there was still nothing there, not even the faintest spark.
He started to struggle, but had no chance against the strong alphas and betas that made up the knights and guards of Camelot. They dragged him kicking and fighting ever closer to his doom.
Arthur wasn't really sure what was going on in his life any more. It was as if everything had been turned on its head in the past 24 hours. He had an omega, a life mate that he felt closer to and more at ease with than any other person he'd ever met. And now that omega had magic, which was everything his father had taught him to fight against all his life. Taught to always act decisively, suddenly Arthur had no idea what to do because whilst his head was telling him it must be an enchantment, every instinct in his body was telling him to run after Merlin and cut every last one of those guards to pieces if that was what he had to do to free his mate.
Merlin couldn't be evil. He just couldn't.
The old physician raised an eyebrow, and Arthur knew he was probably surprised that Arthur was even asking. He must have known how much Arthur was drawn to his mate even with the heat gone. "Go. Stall things. Merlin's magic is bound by his heat. It's a cruel trick of nature that makes magic-using omegas more submissive when they're first mated, to give their alpha more control over them. He'll get his powers back at any moment but you need to cause a delay until he does."
"Magic isn't evil," Gaius snapped impatiently. It was treason to even think it, but Arthur supposed they were all too deeply involved for it to matter.
"You can't let this happen," Gwaine told him, pushing a sword into his hand and giving him a little shove. "Go!"
Arthur was too conflicted to protest. He looked to Leon, but the taller knight appeared just as confused as Arthur was. Living in Camelot since his early teens, he was as indoctrinated as Arthur was into the belief that magic was wrong.
"We'll be beside you," Leon managed. Arthur knew it must have cost him a lot to say that.
"No, we three should leave Camelot immediately," Gaius told them. "Merlin should be able to get himself and Arthur out, five would be too many and Uther will be looking for scapegoats when that happens. Just delay it, Arthur, however you can. Now go! Run!"
He ran, ignoring the pain that spiked through his body with every step.
Physically Merlin was no match for any one of the guards. They bound him to the stake, easily dealing with his struggles. Again and again he reached for his magic and found nothing. Sometimes it had let him down before but never anything like this.
There were crowds of people in the courtyard, all gathered there to watch him burn. He could hear snatches of their loud conversations and knew that word had spread about who he was, what he was to Arthur. Many seemed to think he deserved everything he got for daring to aim so high above his station. But if they had been hoping to see the prince begging for his omega's life they were going to be disappointed, Merlin thought bitterly. Arthur wasn't there. It wasn't as if they'd even restrained him, he'd just stepped back and let Uther take Merlin.
Uther was up on the royal balcony, watching him grimly. And that other man, the one who had suddenly appeared at court overnight, he was with him. He looked as if he was enjoying himself. Merlin had no idea who he was. Beside him there was the lady Morgana, pale and drawn, gazing down at him. He thought he could see both fear and sympathy in her face. He stared back, finding it easier to look at the one possible friendly face than at all the sea of curious or angry faces surrounding him. Morgana flinched, but didn't look away.
One of the knights had brought a flaming torch and was standing at the foot of the pyre, awaiting Uther's signal. The king stepped forward, leaning over the edge of the balcony and glaring down at his victim.
"Merlin of Ealdor, you have been found guilty of practicing sorcery..."
Merlin supposed he must have missed the trial. There was a commotion at the back of the crowd, distracting people. Uther looked angrily across at the disturbance, then continued:
"...Of ensorcelling Prince Arthur and others..."
The commotion grew worse. There was someone pushing through the crowd, shouting at Uther to stop. Merlin didn't need to catch a brief glimpse of Arthur's distinctive and familiar blond hair to know it was his one true mate striving to reach him. He struggled fruitlessly against his chains, no longer listening to what Uther was saying, intent on Arthur. Rapidly the crowd parted to let Arthur through. The prince didn't hesitate, clambering up the pyre before the startled knights realised what he was doing.
"I'm sorry," Arthur whispered, panting heavily, holding him close.
Merlin had the feeling that would be all the apology he would ever get, but it didn't matter because Arthur was there now and hadn't abandoned him.
"Arthur! Get away from him!"
Merlin watched, slightly in awe as Arthur ignored his father. Uther shouted again, but it seemed as if it were very far away.
"I won't let him burn you," Arthur promised. "He can't, not while I'm here. And I'll never let you down again, I promise."
Merlin rattled the chains that were binding him. "I can't get free."
Arthur sniffed the air. "Your heat's gone. Gaius said you'd be able to use your magic again."
"I can't!" Merlin stared at him, seeing his own panic reflected in Arthur's eyes. "I don't know why. It hasn't come back!"
Two of the knights were trying to climb the pyre, but Arthur was in the better tactical position and held them off easily.
"You can't hold them off forever," Merlin sighed. He could see the way Arthur was favouring his right arm whenever he could. That was his sword arm. He could sense how close Arthur was to collapsing from exhaustion. Getting out of wherever the king had held him, getting down to Merlin before and now once again... it was going to be too much. The king's men were all a little afraid to hurt him because he was the crown prince, but that wouldn't last once Uther lost patience and ordered them to pull him down no matter what.
"Arthur!" Uther was shouting again. "You've been bewitched by that sorcerer. Get down."
"You'll have to burn me too!" Arthur yelled back at him. The smug, far too pleased with himself look that he gave Merlin told the omega that Arthur didn't think that would ever happen.
But the dark-haired man up on the balcony was sidling up to Uther, taking him aside, whispering to him. Uther's expression darkened further.
"This is treason! Get down from there this instant or you can burn along with your sorcerer!"
"Arthur..." Merlin hissed. "He'll do it."
"Of course he won't, I'm his son," Arthur told him confidently.
And that, Merlin thought as he looked sadly between the two alphas, was the problem. Neither was going to give way, though surely Uther would never burn his son. The dark-haired man leaned forward again, but this time he didn't speak. Merlin gasped as he felt the distinctive power of a charm being used. The crowd had gone completely silent, stunned by what was unfolding.
"Do it!" Uther ordered the torch-bearer. The man hesitated, looking up at Arthur then back at Uther. "Now!" Uther roared.
Arthur's shock was almost palpable. Merlin watched what little colour was left in his face drain away, but felt himself being gripped tighter as the fire was lit. True to his word, Arthur wasn't going to leave him again.
"The man with the king is using a magic charm to influence him," Merlin whispered. "Your father hasn't made the decision, not really."
"He's the one that's been enchanted then," Arthur hissed. "Merlin, your magic... I don't care how subservient it wants to make you, now would be a really good time for it to reappear and get us out of here."
Still Merlin reached for it without success. The fire was starting, the wood or at least some of it couldn't have been dry enough and threw up a lot of smoke, partially hiding them from view, their eyes streaming.
"We'll choke to death before the fire ever reaches us," Merlin gasped. "You should get down, save yourself. Camelot needs you."
Arthur shook his head, starting to cough. "No. I think I know what to do."
"Arthur, please, I can't watch you die!" The smoky air was swirling around them. He could hear people in the crowd coughing too.
"Listen to me." Arthur took Merlin's face in his hands, tilting it towards him and speaking in the alpha command voice Merlin had never yet heard him use. "Use your magic. Get us out of here!"
And that time, when Merlin reached for his magic, it was finally there.