Fire

You see fire.
Everywhere.
Wherever you go, it follows you. Haunts you. Licks at your heels as run.
But you can never escape it.
No matter how far you flee.

It was there in the heat of your triumph, when you lifted the sceptre and heard the crowds cheering your name, your title, a thousand different cries of Sire and Your Highness. You smile out across their heads, a vast sea of blurred faces, meaningless save for one thing: you have won. You have driven chaos from the land. You are king.

It's there when you court Igraine, when the polite compliments and empty smiles deepen into something you never dreamed possible. You never expected to marry for love, yet the hand in yours is not the cold, unfamiliar hand of a princess far from home; it is Igraine who stands opposite you, Igraine who smiles gently at you and vows to stay by your side for as long as you both shall live. The fire roars in your veins and you're almost light-headed with happiness.

It's there when Igraine is taken from you. You stare down at her body for an eternity. You don't see anything. What is there to see? You did not love the shell of this woman; your love was not for the long golden curls and pretty blue eyes which are still in front of you, still here with you. The life has gone, Igraine has gone. Bile rises in your throat and you turn away, hot tears stinging at your eyes. You cannot love a corpse.

Of course it's there when you have your revenge. You stand on the royal balcony and watch as sorcerers burn; witches and warlocks and wizards and enchanters, all of them sentenced to death because their vile art cost you the life of your beloved. Smoke rises in ugly black plumes against the grey sky. Vaguely you notice that there hasn't been a sunny day since the queen's death, and that, you think, is only fair. You stand there until it begins to rain, and the last dwindling remains of the fire die out. You step inside and leave the charred bones of your enemies to be washed away.

It's there in Nimueh's eyes, vivid blue burning with an unnatural rage as she spits and snarls, curses and threats and promises like you'll regret this and this isn't the end. You don't doubt it. You call for guards, though you know she'll be long gone by the time they arrive. You're going through the motions, just like she is, playing the part of the cold-hearted king. She grabs your hand before she leaves, her fingernails digging in as she looks you in the eye. One day, Uther, she vows, and then she's gone, the air barely stirring with her disappearance. You glance down at the imprint of her nails on your palm and abruptly shake it, trying to rid yourself of the ghosts of the past. But you know they will never let you go.

And it's there in the sword which pierces your armour, the magic-laced sword which impales you. Shock, confusion and then the sudden hot flare of pain engulfs you. You stagger. Dimly you're aware of Arthur's stricken cry of Father! and a dozen choruses of Sire! before you hit the ground. There's nothing slow or graceful about it. You lie there, your life's blood seeping across the cold stone floor, and the fire which has been with you all your life curls at the edges of your soul, welcoming you into its familiar embrace. You manage to grasp at your son's hand, one last comfort, hoping to convey everything with that single gesture. Trying to tell him all the things you should have said everyday: I'm proud of you and you'll be a fine king and I love you, son. He's crying, you realise, gazing up at him through your fading vision. You summon every last bit of your strength and forge it into a smile - for Arthur, you think fiercely when your body tries to ignore its commands. And you manage. Somehow. You smile, and he holds your hand tightly as you succumb to the flames. You die. You see Igraine. Finally, you live again.

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