Title: I watched my life burst into flame, and all I felt was relief
Characters: Hunith, baby!Merlin, OCs
Summary: Merlin's birth came at the most inopportune time. How could Hunith ever hope to keep his special gifts hidden when he could slow time before he could even talk?
A/N: Bonus points to anyone who knows where Ty Glas actually is.
Hunith's baby was the wonder of the village. With bright blue eyes and the unruliest mop of black hair anyone had seen on a child, Merlin had mastered the art of charm by two months old when he gave his first gummy grin. A plague having just passed, and the war for Camelot's succession not five years over, the birth of Merlin was a welcome blessing to the residents of Tyglas. Hunith could not have been happier or more proud.
In the spring, after the harshest winter on record, King Uther's witchhunt finally reached Tyglas. Merlin was four months old. Knights of Camelot ransacked every house in search of spellbooks, charms, potions or amulets. Hunith huddled with the other villagers in the central square as they searched, Merlin clutched firmly in her arms. She could only pray that her darling boy would remain peacefully asleep, would not wake and – bored and hungry – summon his toys or apple preserve to him, cheeky grin innocent and eyes glinting gold.
The Knights found just one practitioner of magic in a village of thirty-nine. Though shocked and apprehensive, Hunith could understand her King's reasoning. Rumour had it that the beloved Queen Igraine had perished at the hand of magic; besides, the sorcerer the Knights discovered in Tyglas was a repugnant, lecherous old man named Rolf, who would often cause a wind to blow up the skirts of young girls. Surely if the Knights rooted out the worst warlocks, those that abused their powers, Camelot would become great again?
It was hard work building the pyre with an infant strapped to her back, and Hunith had no wish to stay and watch the gruesome death of a half-blind old man. That morning, she huddled with Merlin in her hovel, pressing her hands over his ears so he wouldn't hear anything. There was nothing to be done about the stench of burning flesh. Squeezing her eyes tightly, Hunith whispered a fervent prayer to any listening deity that Rolf's death would be quick.
It was never clear to her, afterwards, whether God or Merlin (small, so small, surely too small to understand her) answered her prayer. The wind picked up all of a sudden, from a gentle spring breeze to a bluster more familiar in late autumn. Over the rattle of branches on the roof, Hunith could hear added voices, not wailing in the throes of death but panicked nonetheless, and they were coming towards her.
"Hunith!" bellowed Gabe the carpenter, her close friend since childhood. "Hunith, get out!" Hunith's blood froze. Oh God. They had discovered Merlin's abilities. Surely they wouldn't – He was just a baby! She would never let them take him! She would – She could –
There was an almighty crack the likes of which she had never heard even in the worst thunderstorm, and a groan as of a dying dragon. Outside her hovel, the villagers screamed. And then the roof caved in beneath the weight of a massive, flaming oak. Hunith squeezed Merlin tight and knew instantly that they would both die.
Merlin's eyes flashed gold. Hunith saw it. And then she realised that neither of them were crushed under the tree, nor writhing in fire. She looked up, and there was the oak, falling inch by creeping inch, flames licking along its sides like orange butterflies. Smoke danced in the slowed wind. Watching the fire and the fall with glee, Merlin giggled. It was that which spurred Hunith to action. Quickly she gathered Merlin in her arms and clambered out of the small window at the back where no one could see.
The tree crashed into the house the moment Hunith and Merlin were free. Hunith stumbled and fell to her knees, felt the thin skin break and didn't care. Her hovel was made entirely of wood and it went up like dry kindling. The heat was immense, a wall of scorching air at her back that all but shoved her to her feet. Eyes stinging from the smoke, Hunith tightened her grip on Merlin and dashed around the corner.
A bucket line had already formed from the brook, villagers and Knights both battling the blaze. Though her house was a lost cause, the rest of the village could still be saved. Gabe pulled Hunith further from the burning building.
"Are you well?" he asked, his hands firm on her arms as he looked over her soot-stained countenance for signs of injury. Merlin giggled and reached for Gabe's bushy beard.
"We are," Hunith said, and immediately began to cough.
The fire lasted well into the evening, fanned as it was by the unnatural wind. Hunith stood and watched it rave her home, and felt strangely detached. All her worldly belongings, all her foodstores, all the toys she had fashioned for Merlin, burning in front of her eyes, and she couldn't even work up the energy to be thankful they weren't dead. At least the Knights had ruled out any practice of magic in her household, for why would a sorceress let her own house burn to the ground?
Her baby boy's secret gift, however, was not safe here, and though Hunith had every faith in the grace of her King, she would not gamble on Merlin's life. There was no choice to be made. It was too dangerous to stay in Uther's kingdom, the land of her birth, when Merlin could move objects and slow time in a passing whim.
A Knight approached, his gleaming armour covered in ash. He seemed reluctant to meet her eyes. "Good woman, I offer my sincerest apologies. My men will assist you in rebuilding your home forthwith." Hunith shook her head, offering a wan smile. Merlin, fast asleep on her shoulder, huffed a tiny breath of warm air against her neck.
"No," she told the Knight, "that won't be necessary, though I thank you for your kindness." He was curious, she could tell by the set of his eyebrows, but he merely tilted his head once to her and left, spine somewhat stiff at the rejection. Hunith turned and walked in the oppositie direction without a backwards glance.
A full week of walking brought them to the border with Cendrid's kingdom, and the village of Ealdor. It was marginally larger than Tyglas, with several children chasing chickens in the square and women clustered by a communal washtub, scrubbing the laundry as they gossiped. They silenced when Hunith approached, Merlin perched on her left hip.
"Greetings," she said, awkward and highly conscious of her sooty clothing and bare, blistered feet.
"Well met," said a portly woman with masses of hair spilling tangled over her shoulders. "You are new to these parts."
"My name is Hunith."
"You hail from Camelot." It was not a question, and the gazes of the women swept over the evidence of fire in Hunith's recent past. She blanched.
"Yes. My home caught fire in an unlucky breeze, and I seek to find a place in any village that will welcome us." She jiggled Merlin in her arm; predictably he giggled, grinning wide and delighted at his mother. The faces of the village women melted.
"It's tragic that the boy has no home. I'm sure there's a place for you both here." They all nodded at once.
"Thank you, thank you so much," Hunith all but gushed.
"But," the first woman spoke, "we live a quiet life here in Ealdor. We are far from Uther, but equally far from Cendrid. Do you understand?" She gave Hunith a hard look.
"Yes. I promise, there is no trouble following us. We just want to fit in."
"Hmm. Well, make yourself useful, then. Wash these rags for me whilst I get to know your adorable boy. What is his name?"
"Merlin," Hunith answered, handing the baby to the portly woman and kneeling by the tub.
"Well hello there, Merlin my lad. You're about the same age as my boy Will. I'm sure you'll both get up to all sorts of mischief when you're older," the woman cooed. Merlin giggled and clapped his hands, and for the first time in what felt an age Hunith could breathe easier.