Chapter 1: Part I: Of Dragons and Devils
Uther took Merlin’s face in his hands, the wizard’s seafoam eyes churning in color like a cat’s eye marble. “For the greater good of the kingdom, my dear. To solidify a united Britain, to bring peace. You said that was worth any sacrifice.”
“Perhaps I was wrong. Why don’t I feel like I’ve done the right thing?” This wasn’t right, normally Merlin was the calm one and Uther was the font of emotions...but ever since the thing with Igraine, Merlin was turning it over again and again in his mind while the king just talked about the whole thing like he was ordering a sandwich, and if the wizard was completely honest, it pissed him off. At least sometimes. “Why can’t I get her eyes…their eyes out of my head?” Igraine’s frightened and betrayed gray eyes, Morgana’s teary eyes already full of hate and vengeance at such a tender age. Gorlois’ dead, unseeing eyes. They came to him in some perverse slide-show, every time his own eyes closed into the darkness.
“When the child is born, you will change your mind.” Uther with all his strength pulled Merlin into his embrace, who went with little protest. “What is the meaning of this, Uther?”
“Where is the light in your eyes, old friend?” Merlin looked ashen, almost as if he were a corpse and not a living being. He’d become even thinner than he was previously, his eyes were glassy and dull from lack of sleep. Even the moonlight was disappearing from his hair, Uther tried to sound confident but in his heart despaired as he was helpless to do anything about it.
“There is none...the priests said there never was, and I see now they were right. Poor Igraine. Uther...we will burn in hell for this.”
“We shall, dear heart. We shall burn together, and it shall be glorious.” Uther sunk his teeth into the soft skin of Merlin's neck, earning a most delightful whimper. The king chuckled against his throat before latching on with his lips, sucking hard enough to leave a bruise. “You were never concerned about such things, what is the problem now? There’s nothing to fear. Even if we do go to Hell, I don’t fear a thing if you are by my side.” Merlin huffed out a laugh. “Easy for you to say, cariad. You’re a dragon...fire cannot kill a dragon.”
“Neither can it harm a demon, or a half-demon specifically. They thrive in it. They are born of Hell, fire is their native element. So you see my love, we are both safe. We will dance in the fire, and be cleansed.”
“Not my idea of a baptism, but…”
“Shhh.” Uther pressed surprisingly gentle lips to Merlin’s silver-gold curls. “It’s over, let’s not think on it now. Neither Death nor Time nor Hell itself can keep me from you. So if it goes down as you say, we will face God and walk backwards into Hell together.”
Those were the words that the High King…former High King had used to comfort his lover during his moments of doubt. Merlin was as amoral as they came, the man had the stomach for deeds that sometimes even Uther himself would turn away from...and anyone would tell you that it took a lot to turn Uther Pendragon’s stomach. He’d no clue why the wizard looked so concerned, so guilty after helping Uther win the beautiful Igraine. There was nothing more wrong there than there was in many of the other things they’d done, plus he was a king. He’d a right to have any lady in the kingdom, no laws were being broken. When the child was born, a boy that they’d called Arthur, Uther was quite pleased to find that Merlin had indeed seemed to change his mind. He fell in love with him almost instantly and spent all his time with the baby, almost as if he were his own son rather than Uther’s. He was a little amused when his men came back to him and reported that it was with great reluctance that the infant was given to Sir Ector to be fostered, that he’d nearly had to be pried from Merlin’s arms. If the boy had been a man, the king almost would’ve been jealous of the amount of his lover’s attention that Arthur received. He’d gotten to see his son before they’d handed him off and the child was beautiful. Uther was more than pleased to see that he’d had his Pendragon blue-black hair and the shape of his face, but the storm-cloud colored eyes were entirely his mother’s. Merlin had expressed disappointment that their “dragonling” didn’t have blue eyes. “Then he could’ve been ours.” Part of the king suspected that he was also disappointed because these were Igraine’s eyes staring back at him, a constant reminder of what they had done, the price that had been paid for this little life.
“He is ours.” was all Uther had said, squeezing Merlin’s hand. “We made him, you and I.” That always brought a smile to the wizard’s face, even if nothing else did. Things had been so much simpler then, they merely had to put on a confident air and look to God and one another for strength.
Now, all the strength in the world wouldn’t have helped Uther Pendragon in any case and he was in the most powerless state he’d ever been in his life. How had it all gone so wrong? It had been a routine day, they’d come back from one of their many visits to Arthur with Merlin all aglow. Oh, my love! He’s your exact image, how he’s grown!”
“I already have to beat these other men and women off of you, do I have to worry about my own son now?” Uther had teased, Merlin rolled his eyes and playfully shoved him. “Of course not.” “My lord! My lord!” A knight stumbled into their chambers and flung open the door, Uther turned to him not leaving Merlin’s arms but a very annoyed look flashed across his face at the interruption. “Ulfias, what is it?”
“Morgan le Fay has raised an army in Cornwall and they march toward the royal keep...she’s declaring herself queen and has put out quite a sizable bounty to whomever can capture you and Master Merlin. Alive.”
“What?!” Uther had demanded. “Are you certain?!”
“Absolutely certain, Sire! Our scout barely made it back alive, he also says that the crests of Orkney and Garlot can be spotted among the Cornish number!”
Merlin turned to his lover, eyes wide. “So she has help from her sisters. I knew it...I knew this would come back to bite us in the ass, I knew…” Uther took Merlin’s hand and brought it to his lips. “We are the Dragon of the North and the High Wizard of Britain, why do you fear? You, who fought at my side when we first claimed the crown from Vortigern. You were fearless then, Merlin and I need you to be fearless now.”
“I don’t know if I can. I had visions, I’ve foreseen what could happen to Britain...to us. I fear that vision coming true.”
“The future's not set in stone and it can always be changed...you told me so yourself, remember? Darling, what’s so different about these visions from all the others that they leave you pale and trembling?”
Merlin’s gaze was intense as his eyes met Uther’s. “Because back then, I didn’t fear losing you. Or Arthur...my heart is in this now.”
“You will not lose me, and you will not lose the prince. She’s a little girl playing with toy soldiers, you taught her everything she knows and you’re far more powerful than her by half. We’ll be victorious as we always have been...now come, we have battle plans to draw up.”
They’d severely underestimated her, and her power. Their men held an excellent line, Uther had led the charge himself and Merlin with his battle-mages were clearing the field with devastating elemental spells. It was awe-inspiring and a fucking turn-on, seeing his lover unleash his raw power in such a manner...his mind had never been more blown, he’d never been more proud and his britches had never been tighter. When they were done here, he was going to drag Merlin to the nearest room with a locked door and fuck him senseless. That had been the plan, anyway...but something had gone horribly wrong. Morgana and her forces had started to overwhelm them, everything had turned so quickly that Uther could hardly remember most of it before they’d been absolutely crushed. One thing he did remember, one thing he wished that he could purge from his mind were the memories of Merlin’s screams as the ropes they used to bind them both after their capture made contact with his skin. The king was given ordinary hog rope, but what the wizard was tied up with was no ordinary rope. Morgan had explained to them that she’d enchanted them herself and that Merlin’s were infused with blessed cold-iron...the substance that repelled demons, burned faeries and blocked magic. When he heard those screams, Uther struggled against his own bindings. “Stop it! You’re hurting him, you bloody dogs..!” before being cut off by a heavy metal-gauntleted hand striking him across the face. Merlin’s voice, hoarse from screaming: “Leave him alone!”
“I’d worry about myself if I were you, little wizard. Bring these dogs to Queen Morgan.” One of the knights commanded his lessers.
“Queen?! She will never be queen, not while I still live!”
“If Her Majesty has her way, that won’t be for very much longer Sire.”
“Uther.” Merlin said weakly, bleeding from his wrists. “Darling, don’t antagonize him. We need to live to fight another day.”
It was quite a different feeling entering your own home and seat of power as a prisoner in bonds rather than walking freely through the gates. When you entered with the crown on your head and triumph in your step, it felt like you were on top of the world. Entering like this, Uther felt like he was being dragged through the pits of hell. A feeling that only intensified as they approached his throne room and were greeted by Satan herself...I mean Morgan smiling at the two of them as if she were greeting old friends. They took in the sight of her, like Igraine with dark hair. The crown of Pendragon perched lazily on her black curls, the air of victory that draped her like the finest silk gown. With gray eyes she turned to the fallen king, no trace of that frightened little girl he’d last saw in Tintagel. No, this was a woman on the warpath, a woman with nothing more to lose. She was a dragon given female shape and she would burn all who dare oppose her.
“Hello, Your Majesty. Remember me?” she asked sweetly.
“Of course I remember you, Morgan le Fay. However could I forget?” She then turned to the wizard. “Remember me, old master?”
“Yes, I do remember you Morgan.”
“Good, then there is a just God. If you remember me, then you certainly remember my mother, the Lady Igraine. And by that leave, you remember the circumstances that led up to this nice little chit-chat we’re having right now. Because I do...I haven’t forgotten.” The sickly sweet smile dropped off her face to reveal a murderous expression. “I haven’t been able to, and neither had my mother. So I think it’s only right and proper that you don’t get to forget either.”
“Why are you doing all this?!” Uther demanded as if he were the one still upon the throne instead of Gorlois’ daughter.
“Come now, Uther...surely you’re smarter than that. You know exactly why I’m doing all of this, and if you truly don’t then no need to worry. I’ll be jogging your memory soon enough.” Morgan straightened up to glower down at the two of them, in a cloud of fury she resembled Zeus about to strike them down with a thunderbolt. “You two have gotten away with your crime for far too long. My sweet mother and my dear father are no longer here to deliver the justice that you so richly deserve, so that’s why I’m here to do it for them. You took everything away from my sisters and I...our parents, our home and my mother’s peace. Our stability, our childhoods. Like a vulture, you swooped down to feed on death and decay, eating our livers and our lives.” Every word was a dart, and Morgan’s slender hands tightened their grip on the throne’s armrests until Merlin could see how white her knuckles had gone. “You took my life from me, the both of you...you did it together! So now I take from you, your lives and your home. You will not escape justice anymore.” Her eyes were now ice as she turned them back toward Merlin. “I suppose I should thank you, Merlin. The magic lessons came in handy, but unfortunately wasn’t enough to cover your debt.”
“I’m aware of that, you wouldn’t be satisfied with the toll unless it was paid in blood.”
“At least one of you has some brains remaining in his head. I shall grant you a wizard’s death then, to show my gratitude.” Merlin’s stoic expression melted into the one Uther had seen when they’d first gotten news of all this going down, the fearful one he’d seen far too much of these days. “A wizard’s death?! What the bloody hell do you mean by that?!”
“For fuck’s sake Uther, do you never stop shouting?!” Morgan turned to the retinue of knights that were standing around the two men. “Take the prisoners away, but I want you to put Master Pendragon in a cell at the top of the castle...the view is the most excellent and after all, a king must have the best seat in the house. Also, do make sure he wakes early tomorrow.” She looked straight into Merlin’s eyes with a hollow smile as she spoke. “We don’t want him to miss the big show after all, it’s a very special occasion and I heard Beltane is one of the most excellent times of the year for a bonfire.”
“A bonfir…” Uther turned to Merlin, the color draining from his face as the meaning of the words sunk in, his face twisting into an expression of absolute horror. “No! Anything but that! For God’s sake...if you must kill someone, kill me! I’m the one you want, just spare him!”
“It’s touching...pleading for the life of your beloved. Don’t worry Uther, I will kill you so you shall get your wish. But first, I want to make you suffer. You are going to witness the destruction of that which you hold the dearest in the world, just as I had to do. It’s only a shame I can’t steal your innocence like you stole mine. I can, however, steal the boy’s. He’s a bit older than I was, maybe I should dig him up from whatever hole you’ve hidden him in and make him watch.”
“You don’t touch my dragonling, he has nothing to do with this!” Merlin shouted.
“It’s cute that you think you’re in a position to be making demands of me...he’s not yours, you used underhanded means to create him and then you stole him from my mother. Secondly, he has everything to do with this, Merlin. He’s the reason you helped your master defile my mother, for his birth. But I would never harm him, not physically anyway. He’s part of my mother after all, so I shall allow him to live. You two on the other hand, you don’t get that courtesy.” With a nod of her head, king and wizard were hauled to their feet and dragged down the corridor to the dungeons.
So that’s how he’d ended up here...that’s how Merlin had ended up here, locked in the dungeons of their own castle awaiting their fate. Morgana was a cruel mistress...not that she’d not had reason to be, but Uther liked to think that he’d never imprison someone’s lover in a cell that was far enough away where they couldn’t see each or touch other but close enough to where they could hear every foul thing being done to each other. He could hear Merlin’s cries from wherever they were keeping him, and he knew it wasn’t any easier for his beloved. Knights came in near-daily to beat him, but oftentimes Morgan preferred to come in and do it herself. Sometimes with the aid of her magic, sometimes she used her bare hands and even someone as battle-hardened as Uther wasn’t immune to the effects of pain. He’d tried to hold off on screaming, he didn’t want Merlin to hear such things. To have that sound echoing in his head, but Morgan always knew how to draw them out of him. Thoughts of Merlin were the only thing that kept him from totally breaking...oh, what he wouldn’t give to be able to see him, just one last time. He got his wish on Beltane Eve.
Some heathen holiday to welcome the first of Spring, or so Merlin would say. He’d often go off to his childhood home in the woods to celebrate it with his sister and mother, or when he couldn’t he’d do some of the customs in the keep. Normally Uther’s Christian court wouldn’t tolerate such things, but this was his lleuad a sêr, and so he was weak when it came to indulging him. Plus, a slightly tipsy and very merry Merlin was always a good thing. Merry was the furthest thing from what the wizard looked like when they'd laid eyes on one another again.
“It’s time.” Morgan’s voice echoed, Uther didn't know if it had been days or weeks since they'd been locked up here but it had to be midday or earlier judging by the sunlight filtering in through the window. Shortly after the "Queen's" announcement they’d brought Merlin forward from the dungeons, shackled in cold-iron to keep him from using his magic. “Any last goodbyes?” Morgan had asked, stopping him in front of Uther’s cell. “I am a merciful queen, after all.” Uther surged forward and clasped Merlin’s hands...well, as much as he could through the bars. The wizard’s wrist-irons got in the way a bit, but that didn’t prevent Merlin from trying. ”Uther.”
“My treasure...forgive me! Forgive me for not being strong enough to protect you!” Uther knew he’d have wept if there were any water left inside him, but he seemed all cried out. “You’ve protected me for so long, and…”
“Hush, my dragon. It isn’t your fault.” He took a lock of the king’s hair in between his fingers since he couldn’t touch his face.
“I don’t deserve to be called that. Not after how badly I’ve failed you. What kind of dragon can’t protect his hoard?”
“It’s not your doing alone, it’s both of us. You shouldn’t have done it, and I shouldn’t have helped you. This was going to happen eventually because of us...forgive me for not having the strength to refuse you then. I should’ve said no.”
“There was nothing you could’ve done, you know me. I’m the type who’ll get what he wants one way or another, this would’ve happened either way. I only wish that I hadn’t gone to you and asked you for help...my selfishness has doomed us both! I beg your forgiveness.”
“You never needed it, there’s nothing to forgive.” Merlin turned his head and Uther’s stomach seemed to fold in on itself... half of his face was absolutely mottled in black and purple, how badly had they beaten him?! “Mother of...what have they done to you?!”
“It’s alright, they only roughed me up a bit. And they’ve done the same to you, it seems.”
“No, Merlin...this is not alright. This is the furthest from alright as it can possibly be! I…” He clung to the wizard as if he were floating away on so much water. “I can’t bear the thought of you being burned alive, I can’t! You were right, you were always right and I should’ve heeded you…” He was cut off by Merlin’s hands stroking his. “There’s nothing to fear, as long as we have each other. Remember what you always told me? From one of your Bible verses?” Uther smiled sadly up at him as they spoke together. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil...for thou art with me.”
“And that’s what I need you to believe now, my dragon. I believe it...we will be together again soon, so I’m not scared. Not for my life, or for my soul...for both have belonged to you for years.”
“You shouldn’t be the one comforting me, I’m not the one going to my death now.”
Morgan interrupted the conversation, impatient. ‘This is all very cute and sickening, but don’t you have anything to say, Merlin? Perhaps beg forgiveness from your Maker...your mother would be very disappointed to hear you speak now, I’m sure. She went through all that trouble to get you baptised and give you a shot at heaven, now it seems like you don’t give a damn.”
“I don’t. We swore to each other long ago, we’d follow each other anywhere...and that wherever we ended up in the next world, the other would never have to go alone. If we are meant for Heaven, then we shall ascend with the angels to the airy above. If Heaven’s gates are closed to us, then we shall face God and walk backwards into Hell, together.”
“If the price of Heaven is leaving your side, then I do not want it...saints be damned.” Uther whispered. “We are a demon and a dragon, fire cannot hurt us.”
Chapter 2: Part II: Baptism By Fire
Uther’s last line actually came from me thinking about Naruto and Zabuza’s badass speech to Gato. “It’s the other place for you and me! There’s demons of all shapes and sizes, we’ll fit right in!”
Every word she listened to made Morgan’s blood boil, so much so that there was a flush blooming across her skin. They just stood there, unrepentant as if they were the only two people that mattered in the bloody world and damn everyone else to hell. She wanted to scream, she wanted to stamp. Red bloomed behind her vision, she wanted to bring this whole accursed keep down around their ears! She wanted to forego the executions and just kill them both, tear them to pieces by her own hands! How dare they! How dare they act like that the only people they owe an apology to was each other, as if they were the victims here! What about her mother, the real victim in this scenario?! Does she not matter?! Why weren’t they begging for forgiveness from Igraine's spirit, or Gorlois?! Why weren’t those two miserable wretches throwing themselves at her feet and begging her forgiveness at what they’ve done to her and her family?!”
“Enough!” Morgan growled, turning to the guards. “Take him away, and make sure you bind him nice and tight to the stake. Remember Merlin, you’re only half-demon. The other half is mortal, and I’m sure that half is very susceptible to fire.
“NO!” Uther clutched at Merlin’s hands as tightly as he could, but he didn’t have the strength to keep them pulling him away. “Merlin! Merlin!”
She then unlocked Uther’s cell, letting two of her knights inside. “Hold him, make sure he doesn’t turn away from the window or shut his eyes.” Her green and white gown rustled with every step, as well as the red ribbons braided into her hair...Beltane colors. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a fire to light.” With that, Morgan turned on her heel and walked away, Uther listened until her footsteps faded into silence. What followed...he can’t even speak of it. Merlin had been calm until it became too much, he’d met his fate as bravely as any soldier. He’d even cracked a joke as a peasant woman threw a rock at him. “No need to be so hasty, madam! I’m already dying and you want to throw stones at me? Come on, that’s not nice!” and Uther couldn’t even be strong for him. He couldn’t stand firm in the face of the fire swallowing him, he couldn’t be strong against the horrid and ghastly smell in his nose, his lover’s piercing shrieks in his ears even as they were drowned out by his own screaming. He couldn’t bear any of this. This wasn’t watching his men fall around him on the battlefield, this wasn’t even being injured and near-death himself. This was...this was hell. This was absolute hell, and the devil was tormenting him. He didn’t know when it happened, if a knight had hit him too hard but he was mercifully glad when the darkness finally pulled him under.
“GAH!” Uther bolted up with a gasp...so that was their game, was it? Kill his love by fire and then drown him by water? So he could die a slow death twice?! He lifted his hands to grab something, anything for purchase to pull himself to shore but...there was nothing. He wasn’t in the ocean, he was still lying on the floor of his cell, with a key difference. He was wet, dripping wet from head to toe...water droplets even falling from his beard. “Ya fain’ed.” one of the knights laughed, they never took off their armor or helms but this particular one wore the Orkney crest on his tabard. The other knight held an empty pail in his hands...that would explain why he was wet now. Uther pulled himself to his feet, glaring at the men who had forced him to witness...no, it was too painful. The loss was still too fresh, he could still smell the smoke in his nose. “Look, Lysander! He’s fixin’ ta cry!” The guffaws were muffled somewhat by their helmets, but it didn’t muffle their impact. “Dragon of the North, pathetic! More like the Lizard of the Rocks!”
Uther took a step forward toward them, stumbling a bit before taking another one. This was folly, he couldn’t take on two fully armed knights with his bare hands, especially not in the state he was in. But he honestly didn’t give a damn if they killed him now, there was nothing more they could take from him.”You animals! You’ll pay...I’ll make you pay with your bloody lives!”
“Slow down there, little king...a breeze could knock you over. We don’t need ya dyin’ ‘fore the Queen wants it, she’s got somethin’ real special in store fer ya.” Instead of beating him or reaching for their swords, one of them tossed some sort of bundle at him. He nearly doubled over, even though it wasn’t particularly heavy. “We don’t need you catching a chill and dying just yet.” Uther assumed that it was some sort of rag that they were giving him to use for a blanket, but when he held it up to the light...his heart all but stopped in his chest, his knees hitting the stone floor. “Where did you get this?” His voice was hoarse from screaming, he hated how non-threatening he was now. They’d successfully defanged him, took away his fire. He really was just a lizard now. “From the demon’s bedroom, where do you think we got it?”
“You went through his things?!” Uther was furious...those sons of bitches had the nerve to touch Merlin’s things?! Put their filthy hands on his clothes, his books?! Invading his space...their space. “You had no right!”
Before the knights could respond, footsteps once again echoed through the stone. “The Queen!” Morgan sauntered in and peered down at the huddled form of the once high and mighty King of Britain in Pendragon’s cell, she almost felt sorry for him. Almost being the key word. “Are you afraid of staring death in the face, Uther? Is that why you tremble?”
“No.” His voice was low and raspy as his gaze remained distinctly not on her, which only served to irritate Morgan further. She dismissed her knights with a wave of her hand and went into the cell herself, grabbing Uther’s chin. “Look into my eyes, you treacherous viper! You owe me that much! Why do you look away, if not from fear?!” Uther finally tore his eyes away from the cell wall and stared into Morgan’s gray ones. The ones that had belonged to Igraine. “What do I have to fear from you, or from anyone? I fear neither death nor time nor Hell itself, not anymore. The thing tying me to this world is gone, burned to ashes on your bonfire. So take your revenge, little sorceress. I will make no move to stop you, not that I’m able anyway.”
“Don’t worry about Merlin...you’ll join your beloved very soon. In hell, after a good drawing and quartering of course.” Uther ran absent fingers over Merlin’s cloak, the gold embroidered stars glinting in the low light. “What have you done with him, afterward? Cast him to the winds after murdering him? Into the sea? Or perhaps you’ve left him for the crows, if there’s any left.”
“Oh, trust me. All of those things have crossed my mind...but Ganieda stayed my hand. You were out for a pretty long time, so you would’ve missed it.”
“She’s a very dear and trusted friend of mine, you see. So it was no hardship to return her brother’s ashes, she has him now. And I see you haven’t changed, still unable to take the blame for what you’ve done. You point the finger in the wrong direction, Sire.” The mocking in Morgan’s tone upon using his title just felt hollow to his ears. “Merlin’s murderer isn’t me, you can find him in the mirror.”
“Liar!” In addition to the “loving attentions” of her knights, Uther’s eyes were wild and red, his fingernails dirty and broken with dried blood...apparently from struggling against her knights, to get away from witnessing the burning. Perhaps some futile attempt to save Merlin, who knew? He looked like a madman...but Morgan knew he was broken. Very well-broken, but not quite broken enough. She wanted to see him shatter. She reached an absent hand into one of her dress pockets, the miniature portrait of a smiling Igraine between her fingers. Mummy, this is for you. You’ll finally be able to rest easy soon. “You caused all of this.” A liquid puddle of silken green pooled out around her as she crouched to the bars in order to see him better, his crown winking on her dark hair. “You had it all in the palm of your hand, everything a man could ever want and you achieved it. A united country, loyal subjects, a secure crown. Victory in battle, wealth in your coffers...a good name, a good reputation, and a lover who adored you. But that wasn’t enough for you, you had to have my mother as well. You had to rip my family apart, your own kingdom to shreds just to have her. You orphaned me and upended my life, my sisters’ lives and for what? For your bestial lusts. Part of me actually felt a little bad for Merlin, only a little bit but it was still there. When I confronted him about his hand in your violation, he said he did it for Britain and for you. And surprisingly, I believed him. The tricky old bastard actually could feel something for another human being after all. You should’ve listened to him, Pendragon. You should’ve listened to your men and your generals when they told you to let the matter alone. Your actions are what brought you to this state. You woke the dragon, and when you enlisted Merlin to help you in this endeavor and he agreed, you both put him in the line of fire together. You are the reason that he’s dead.”
“Yes! And deep down in the charred black remnants of your pitiful soul, you know that I’m right!” Her face coiled up in disgust as she tossed a paper at him, it fluttered at his feet. “Wh...what is this?”
“I found it in Merlin’s cell when we took him. I wanted to burn it along with him, but I decided that it would torture you more to allow you to have it. I don’t know how he got his hands on paper and ink, it’s a mystery to me and whoever gave it to him better pray I never figure out who they are. Even knowing the end that awaited him, his thoughts were of you. You won’t miss him for too much longer, as I’ve said already. You’ll die tomorrow and I will relish every moment of it.” With that, she was gone again.
Uther held letter and cloak to his chest, opening the makeshift seal with trembling hands. “Forgive me. Forgive me, my moon and stars.” With each word he read, his eyes filled more with tears until his vision became so blurred that he could no longer read a single thing. He wept himself to sleep that night, hoping to will his mind into blessed nothingness...but the screams and the flames and the smoke that filled his dreams told him that God wasn’t inclined to grant him that particular favor. He’d had a sleepless night and he would get no rest that morning.
“It’s time, Uther...I hope you’ve had a good heart-to-heart with your God.” Morgan was wearing crimson this time, the color of blood...she seemed rather cheerful, her tone was that of a child receiving a long-awaited Christmas present. “You seem happy.” was all he said, tone flat and betraying nothing.
“Of course I am! There’s so much to be thankful for: the sun is shining, the birds are singing, my worst enemy is going to die a horrible, brutal slow painful death. My beloved mother will finally get her justice for what you’ve done to her and my revenge will soon be complete.”
“So, are you going to swing the axe yourself?”
“Later...after you’ve been strung up and watched your entrails be ripped out of your body. Oh, and they burn them right in front of you! Musn’t forget the fun part after all. The last sight that the traitor sees is his own beating heart being pulled from his chest, if he’s still conscious. And you will be conscious, I’ll make sure of it. Then the head is severed and the body chopped into quarters, that’s where I come in. Do try to clean up a little bit Uther, you have an audience very shortly...my sisters will be arriving for the grand finale and I don’t want to disappoint them so look alive. Oh wait, you won’t be alive. That’s right.” Morgan’s peals of laughter sent a shudder through the former High King, a shudder that hadn’t completely disappeared by the time he was hauled out of the cell, clapped in irons and dragged down to the gallows. The sunlight scorched his eyes after being exposed to very little light for days, and it took him a painfully long time to adjust. With all his strength, he shoved away the knight basically holding him up. “I can walk myself.” he hissed. This was all real...this wasn’t some horribly realistic dream after all. Everything was real, the noose, the hangman, the table on the gallows laid out with various sharp implements. The Queen of Garlot...Elaine he believed her name was, lunging from her chair to attack him only to be held back by her sister the Queen of Orkney was definitely real, he wouldn’t have dreamt of such a thing. At least it proved the thing about red-haired women having hot tempers to be true. They were all such little and innocent girls then...now they were women full of venom and vengeance. Like fat, hungry spiders come to devour Merlin and himself. Merlin. If this was all real, and this wasn’t a dream then...Merlin’s death was real. His screams were real...the fire had all been real. “Oh God!” Uther choked out, shutting his eyes as he felt the tears prick again.
When he was forced to open them up, he was before the people that had once been his subjects such a short time ago. Morgan clambered up onto the scaffold to stand near him in her queenly robes, addressing the crowd. “Good ladies and gentlemen of Britain, the man you see before you was once your High King! Feel no pity for his former status, for he has disgraced his noble office with deplorable acts unbefitting of a leader! He stands here to answer for the crimes of high treason, sexual assault, betrayal, conspiracy, theft, murder, and other such filthy and sundry charges! As is the law of the land, the charge of high treason is death! I sentence you, Uther Pendragon to death by hanging, drawing and quartering! Do you denounce this sentence?”
“I do not.”
“Do you have any last words to say to the crowd?” Morgan pressed.
“I do not.”
This nonchalant attitude got her hackles up, and Uther gave a bitter smile. If he was going to die anyway, he may as well get some petty satisfaction in his last moments. “Do you at least repent for what you’ve done?! Even a little bit?!”
He directed that grin straight at her. “I do not.” All the color seemed to drain from her face at those three tiny words before it all came flooding back until she quite resembled her gown. Her eyes sparked thunder as she turned to the executioner, a grim fixture in his black hood. “Hang him, do it now.” she grit out. “But don’t kill him yet, I want him to be alive for the rest of it. I want him to suffer.”
“Yes, my lady.” Uther was silent as he was yanked up and dragged to the raised dais, the noose slipped roughly over his neck. Taking one last look around the world, he’d long decided that he wouldn’t miss it anyway...the only hope he’d had as the breath was forced out of his lungs and his vision swam to black was that the dark was mercifully free of noise.
”You always did have issues with punctuality, darling” Uther bolted up, looking around for the source of the voice and assuming that they were going to get to the part where they slit open his stomach and ripped out his bowels. But all he could see was endless, swirling, inky black. “Wh..who’s there?! Who are you, and where am I?!” The voice merely tsked at him, sighing indulgently. “I think that they may have cut off a little too much oxygen, gave you brain damage.” Uther slowly recognized that voice...but it couldn’t be. Could it? He hoped against all hope...could it truly be?
“Merlin?” he whispered into the black with a shaky voice. “My love? Is...is it really you, out there?” Balls of silver light appeared before Uther, floating briefly in the air before merging together to indeed reveal the form of the wizard...unbruised, he looked just as he had before their capture. “Honestly, Uther.” Merlin laughed. “We’ve been together for this long and you can’t even recognize m...mmph!” He was cut off by a sudden press of lips to his own, Uther embracing him so tightly that smoke probably wouldn’t have been able to escape. Merlin sighed and moved into the kiss, arms around the king’s shoulders. “I thought...I thought I’d never see you again.” Uther pulled away just enough to whisper against his lover’s mouth, tears gathering in his eyes. “I saw you burn, I saw the fire…and yet you’re standing before me, whole.”
“Shhh...yes you did. Just as I saw you get hanged. And drawn, and quartered...and castrated, and now you are whole and returned to me.” Merlin tangled his fingers in Uther’s hair, who slipped an arm around his waist in turn. “So, Morgana made good on her threat, then?”
“She made more than good on it...I couldn’t bear to watch it, I wanted to look away.”
“Why didn’t you?! Why did you put yourself through that, I wouldn’t have wanted you to see such a thing!”
“Because you weren’t allowed to look away when they tied me to the stake...if you could bear all of that for me, I could do the same for you.”
“But Merlin, that’s the thing...I couldn’t bear it. I wasn’t strong enough, I fainted.” Uther let out a sob before pressing their foreheads together. “They ripped my heart out of my body long before the executioner’s knife ever pierced my chest.” The king’s face looked as if something had just dawned on him. “Executioner...we’re dead, aren’t we?”
Merlin blinked back his own tears, looking up at the void around them. “Yes...we are dead, my dragon.” Uther looked around, expecting something. “There’s no staircase.”
“I was always taught that when you died, you walked up the staircase to heaven and God would let you in.”
Merlin chuckled lowly and shook his head, giving his lover a wry smile. “Heaven? After everything we’ve done?” He was cut off by a cracking sound, and then a crumbling of what sounded like rock. The acrid smell of brimstone and volcanic ash filled their noses as a slash of orange-red grew out of the black, slowly widening into a hole. A hole wreathed in flame. “It’s the other place for you and I, my love. That’s where we’re going.” Uther turned pale...Hell? He always knew it was a possibility, but he’d hoped against hope and now that he was confronted with the reality…
“Don’t chicken out on me now, don’t you remember what you said to me? What we’d promised each other?” Merlin reached over and squeezed Uther’s hand. “That if it came down to it…”
“That we’d face God and walk backwards into Hell...together.” Uther let out a rattling sigh, squeezing back. “I did say that, didn’t I?”
“Several times, I might add. There’s no need to worry, remember? I’ve got family here, nothing will happen to you. I haven’t seen my old dad in ages. Plus, I can’t wait for you to meet my Uncle Bee.”
“Beelzebub. You two would get along fabulously. And unlike Morgana’s bonfire, this one won’t hurt.”
The former High King looked pensive, staring from the flames to Merlin’s face and back again. Finally, he placed a kiss to Merlin’s hair and tightened his grip on his hand. “We’re a demon and a dragon, fire cannot harm us. We’ll dance in the flames and be cleansed, plus the place is filled with dragons and demons of all sorts of shapes...we’ll fit in perfectly.” The pair smiled at one another before turning their backs to the portal, looking up at the blank and unopening sky. “Count of three, my treasure?”
“Of course. One.” They took a step backwards. “Two.” Another step. “Three.” With that, they were finally at the edge. “I think this is the part where we jump in.”
“You know what, darling? I think it is.” Holding tightly to one another’s hands, they took that final backwards step and plunged, disappearing into that swirling vortex of flame. Anybody who came upon this spot even a second later wouldn’t notice a trace of anything, just perfectly unbroken, swirling black.