Character/s: Arthur, Uther, Merlin
Summary: Arthur thinks himself a coward.
Word Count: 380
Prompt: 126 approval
Author's Notes: none
He never forgot his first execution.
Hand cruel on Arthur's shoulder, his father towered over him and whispered of witchcraft and cunning and never letting down his guard. Of how magic was evil, and the young girl below, screaming as her body began to crisp and melt, her hair a living torch, was an illusion made to confuse the naïve.
All he ever wanted was to make Uther proud of him and so he stood there, shivering, trying not to vomit. His father didn't even notice. Instead, Uther told him that, as prince, he would be the one to light the pyre next time, that he would need to show the people of Camelot that they were united in the battle against magic, to show that Arthur was not a coward fearing the sorcerer's powers but a Pendragon, strong and hard and merciless.
Below, in the courtyard, the screaming stopped. What was left, bone and cooked meat, collapsed into the flames, sending sparks and soot into the air.
With that, hand tightening, Uther shook him a little, waiting for Arthur's reply.
All he could do was nod.
Later, in his room, he sobbed out his horror in his nurse's lap. But there was no reprieve. The king was adamant and the next time a sorcerer was discovered, Arthur was the one to light the pyre.
It never got easier after that.
He tried to make a joke of it, saying to any who would listen that he'd been trained to kill since birth, hoping somehow that if he said it enough times, it would become true. That he'd finally be the killer he knew his father wanted him to be.
So he hacked and stabbed and filled the kingdom with blood, for Uther's sake, and tried not to feel a coward for wanting something more.
Then came a loud-mouthed peasant, argumentative and clumsy and rather ridiculous, but whose faith and loyalty finally gave Arthur a chance to see beyond his father's hatred, to see that there might be another way.
And when that time came, when he finally became king, he hoped he'd have the courage to find a different, gentler path. He hoped he'd be worthy, not a killer but a fair and just ruler at last, for Camelot's sake and… for Merlin's.