The hand holding him back was steel, unbreakable, determined. In his ear, Arthur's voice was a sharp hiss, warnings of silence and acceptance - Uther was watching them both - or it would be Merlin on the pyre.
He wanted to vomit. In the courtyard, the wood burned hot; the girl screamed as the fire took her, hair torching bright, skin blistering, melting, a sweet voice broken in sobs and agony, her cries rising, rising and then unbelievably, there was silence. As he watched, what was left of her collapsed into bright flames and ash.
He'd been told that Albion would rise like a phoenix from the ashes of Uther's reign, that it would be a golden age when Arthur became king. That it was destiny.
But all Merlin could see were the eyes of a young girl, terrified and his future king, his friend, he who talked of honour and protecting his people, standing by and doing nothing.
Apparently, to a Pendragon, sorcerers weren't people at all, only scum to be stamped out, to be burned alive. And when it was done, the king would order dancing and a feast and ignored the family weeping in the dark for their lost child.
Merlin would never accept this, couldn't celebrate this, not matter what destiny demanded.
When night came and the castle hushed into sleep, he'd leave it all behind, Arthur, Albion, destiny.
And for the first time since coming to Camelot, Merlin would feel clean again.