Title: In me, in you
Summary: Merlin learns a new skill.
Warnings: Graphic description of violence
Word Count: 783
Prompt: #8 Burn
Author's Notes: I swear, one of these days I'm going to write something happy. Many thanks to keire_ke for the beta.
Merlin had these dreams.
He is pushed and pulled around by angry, bewildered people. They throw accusations and curses; he is chased, and jeered at, and spat on.
No words can make it better. Nothing can make them go away.
They carry timber from all over the castle and build a giant, magnificent pyre. Fit for ten people, Merlin thinks. Fit for a king.
He doesn’t protest and doesn’t run when they shackle him and drag him upwards. He stares at the sky, endless and blue and beautiful, while dry wood cracks under his feet. They force his hands backwards and tie them securely around the pole.
A bird flies overhead. A lark maybe, or a swallow. He can’t tell at the distance—
The king steps in.
His face wavers in and out of Merlin’s vision. Sometimes it’s the face of an older man, trying to hide his pain beneath senseless rage. And sometimes—sometimes it’s someone else.
Merlin shuts his eyes and listens, wordlessly, to the judgement.
Fire is set. He hears them first – the crackling of flames. Then he feels it.
The heat is pleasant at first – nothing worse than the sun on a hot summer day. But it gets worse quickly. Fire dances over the pyre like a living thing, licking at his boots. The skin at his bare hands prickles and then breaks.
He tries to open his eyes but the pain is unbearable. He thinks he might be crying but he has no tears left. His mouth is completely dry; he can’t breathe.
The smoke forces its way down his throat. It’s almost enjoyable. Welcomed. Suffocation, thinks Merlin, his thoughts unexpectedly clear. What a wonderful way to go.
The fire ate through most of his clothes by now, but human body is tougher. Merlin wishes it wasn’t.
There are words in his head, just waiting to burst out and end all this. He reaches for them, desperate, but then realisation dawns on him. There’s no magic that will come to his rescue now, when his world is reduced to pain.
He could be screaming, had he any breath left.
Blackness envelops him slowly, blocking everything: agonising pain and terrible, overwhelming fear. He throws himself into it, wraps it around himself. It’s not his skin that is charcoaled, Merlin sings in the darkness of his mind. Not his flesh, with its terrible stench, that feels as if it was melting of his bones. Not his lungs that are drowned in heavy smoke. Not his eyes, as dry as twigs.
I’m not dying. I’m not—
He woke up.
The air burned. There was no other word for it. The first few breaths were a struggle; his throat seemed to be on fire. Merlin raised his hands and pressed them to his neck, then to his face. His skin was damp with sweat.
He pushed away the duvet and reached the window, forcing it open. A wave of fresh air hit him, blessedly cool. For a moment he just stood there and breathed, before weakness overtook him and he dropped down, his back against the cold stone wall.
It wasn’t the first time he had that particular nightmare, not that it’s a shock that a pyre would be on his mind, given where he lived and whom he served. But there was something more there, something he couldn’t quite grasp at first. But now he knew. It wasn’t a nightmare – it was a memory. Not his of course, but countless others’.
He sincerely doubted many sorcerers were actually burned alive during the Purge. It would have been a waste of timber if nothing else. But some must have been, and their agony left an imprint on the walls of Camelot.
Merlin looked down at his hand. It burst into flames.
There was no pain; the fire yielded to his will with hardly any effort on his part. He watched, fascinated, as they danced and flickered over his skin and all he had to do to keep them at bay was not to let it hurt him. The fire climbed up to his elbow, and Merlin made it curl in swirls around his wrist and forearm. He watched the whirls for a while, mesmerised, and then, not even thinking about it, drew a flaming symbol on his palm.
The fire seeped into the cup of his palm, leaving behind only a faint, golden-red outline of a dragon. Merlin watched it fade as well, and then sat in the darkness.
A smile spread on his lips. He was glad there was no-one in his tiny room to see it, because—
Merlin knew how to burn. There was nothing anyone could do to him.