A/N: Okay, so, this is really depressing. Don't read it if you don't like to be depressed. Okay, bye.
Merlin watched in distant fascination as the torch was lowered, flames ebbing lazily in languid ripples along the top. It emanated an orange glow, penetrating the dusky shadow of evening, brushing the courtyard in a flickering circle of warm light.
He watched as some sparks caught on a breath of air, and danced on the trail of a cool breeze to land in the tar soaked kindling and hay. He watched as the sparks burst into small patches of flame, and as they grew exponentially until they conjoined in an encircling maze around the base of the pyre.
That was when Merlin truly realized the reality of his situation. It probably should have happened long ago. When he was being dragged from his cell into the courtyard, a crowd of faces watching him intently. When he was strapped to the pole now digging into his spine mercilessly. It should have been the smell of the wood, or of the blood oozing from his bound wrists. Or, the sound of Uther's voice when he sentenced him to death. Cold, uncaring. Justified.
Or, the silence of no one protesting. Even Gaius had been silent, eyes weighed down with grief as they watched the floor, hands folded resignedly in front of him. Merlin had told him not to say anything if he was ever caught.
But now fear had impaled him like a frozen barb, and he wished that someone would have said something, anything to save him from this.
The flames grew bigger. Merlin widened his stinging eyes, staring into the smeared plethora of burnished, glowing shades of blue and green and red. Hot tears leaked heavily down his nose, hissing as the rise of heat evaporated them against his rapidly blackening flesh. Smoke enveloped him a never ceasing flow of dry, sulfurous ash and acrid pain, which scraped against his struggling lungs and scratched at his nose, eyes and throat with invisible, hooked claws.
His chest convulsed and heaved as he struggled against his bonds. His insides exploded in pain with every ragged breath. He raised his face towards the sky, praying for some relief from the burning raking at his skin, tearing deep into his muscle and bone. The flames were rising ever higher, lapping and biting at the wood like some rabid predator. Some frothing, twisting, angry animal, smothering him under a black veil of hopelessness, agony and panic.
The fire was so loud, snarling in the darkness, warding off the cool bliss that night would usually bring.
When the fire licked at his toes, Merlin screamed once. Twice, when they didn't stop. When relief never came. He couldn't breathe, could only hack and shiver as the heat became so much that his body didn't know how to react. His insides burned as smoke nested in his organs, shriveling his veins so that even his blood felt tainted by pain. His mind was consumed by nothing but agony and terror.
One thought rang like a vibrating bell through his head over and over. Arthur will save me. Arthur will come.
If there ever had been moans of dissent from the crowd, Merlin didn't hear them. The world was gone. Nothing was left but him, the darkness, and the fire that was their mutual tether.
Merlin wanted death. He could feel the flames lapping at his ankles, peeling away layers of his flesh, reducing his thoughts to disintegrating wisps of cinder. But oblivion was sore to welcome him.
His body instinctively tried to draw in another breath, despairing for its tenuous hold on life. His lungs seized weakly in response, a stuttering, pitiful cough being all that escaped through his chapped, bleeding lips.
Merlin could feel the cusp of death drawing closer. A vacuuming void of pitch black that pulled him farther away from the pain, and beckoned him forward towards the relief of nothing.
He distantly felt his legs fold beneath him. As the last of his strength seeped out of him in a raspy breath, his head lolled forward onto his chest, dangling limply towards the cruel heat. He no longer had the energy to fight.
The roar of the fire faded into a dull, muffled background. His eyes fluttered shut of their own accord, and his senses were overcome and drowned out by the unsteady rhythm of his stubbornly thumping heart. The rapid, fearful beats no longer pounded at the insides of his skull, growing more sporadic and sluggish by the second. His weakening pulse echoed plainly in his head, till all other sound was completely gone.
The pauses between each beat were inconsistent. Each time the muscle expanded, it was a brief, agonized jolt.
Merlin's breathing slowed. His lungs hitched. The pain faded, and was suddenly gone.
A soft sigh was drawn from his lips, as if by an invisible thread.
And finally. Nothing.
Uther watched as the boy's body gently sagged against the pole, and his limbs quit twitching. A ripple of relief seemed to ebb through the crowd. He nodded satisfactorily. Good, it was the smoke that got to him first. It was always a nasty business when the citizens were forced to watch someone get consumed by the flames. Luckily, this one had only screamed a little before he succumbed to them.
Uther turned to the guard next to him and inclined his head. The guard bowed at the hip, and yelled out an order to the soldiers in the courtyard below,
"Put out the flames!"
They all saluted, then ran to grab the buckets of water lined across the castle wall.
They poured the water onto the flames over and over, which hissed and crackled in protest, until the fire was reduced to embers, and than that into wet, black ashes. The boy, Merlin's, body was wetted near his legs where the fire had burned him some, so that any leftover smoldering flesh was well put out. One guard climbed up the blackened logs and pulled out a knife to saw through the ropes.
Another was there to catch the boy as he slumped forward, free from the bonds of his criminality only in death. Uther snorted. It was somewhat ironic, really. Sorcerers shackled themselves into a prison of evil the moment those twisted words of magic touched their lips.
The crowd dispersed and departed, oddly silent. Uther frowned. Someday, he hoped that his people realized the death of a sorcerer was cause for rejoicing, not solemnity. They still felt humanity for the scum, even though any sorcerer would strike them down without even needing a reason.
Uther sighed, watching as the body was laid on a thin sheet, limp arms situated sloppily at his sides, and wrapped in its folds. One guard tightened a rope around the neck to keep the sheet in place. He did it so tightly it must have crushed his larynx, and Uther mused that that probably would have killed the boy if the fire didn't.
He hoped that Arthur wouldn't take the loss of his manservant too hard when he came back from his patrol along Camelot's borders, near Mercia. He usually brought the clumsy lad with him, but this time, for some reason, had decided not to. Uther had heard him say something about it being too dangerous.
What irony, Uther thought.
Of course, it had been intentional, that Merlin's execution would take place during Arthur's absence. It had only been awhile ago that the boy was discovered for sorcery. Only Uther and Arthur had known of his treachery. Even Merlin himself didn't realize that they knew. Arthur had made some grand case out of it, begging Uther to spare him in private. Uther had seen the look in his eyes, the way his shoulders trembled. And he knew then that killing the boy with Arthur there would be too much of a spectacle. So, Uther had told him that he would grant the boy clemency. He must have seemed very convincing when he laid his hand on Arthur's shoulder and promised him. Because the gratefulness in Arthur's eyes had been utterly sincere.
A month later, and Arthur had finally seemed comfortable enough to leave the kingdom without Merlin by his side. He really did trust that Uther had been telling the truth.
He sincerely wished that Arthur wouldn't take this too personally. It was for his own good, after all. There was no way that Uther could let his son's mind be tainted by the false friendship of a sorcerer.
Shaking his head, he patted his hand on the granite, balcony rail and turned to reenter his palace, thinking more and more about irony.
Someday, his people would rejoice.
Uther watched his son's face with bewilderment. He didn't understand the deep lines of shock and despair, the rise of grief in his eyes. He didn't understand as Arthur's pack slipped from his hand, because it was shaking so much.
It wasn't that big of an event. So, the boy was gone. Arthur could have the pick of any manservant in the kingdom. So, why was he being so dramatic? Arthur began advancing upon him, eyes alight with a fiery rage,
"Arthur, come now, you didn't really think that I-"
Uther's mouth fell open as pain erupted in his middle. He looked down to see the hilt of a blade protruding from his stomach, Arthur's hand wrapped tightly around it.
Uther watched in distant fascination as the sword was retracted from his body, the metal smeared with a glistening red.
And then darkness took him.
A/N: In order to maintain a certain level of creepy, surreal-ness, I made the characters a little OOC. Hope you didn't mind too much!