On the morning of the 13th of March, Millicent Fitzpatrick was burned at the stake.
It was a somber morning, in terms of mood more than weather. The villagers of Camelot were met by a cold drizzle, paired with low temperatures that made them shiver in their clothes. It was a day to stay inside and warm your hands by the fireplace.
But the villagers could not. On the King’s orders, they had to go outside and gather in the town square. Their presence at executions was mandatory.
And today, they were going to burn the witch.
It had been a miracle. A soldier, mortally wounded in battle, had been written off by the town physician. He was not going to make it. The man was too badly hurt. The king withdrew the physician’s support, inevitably signing his death warrant. His family had already said their goodbyes, leaving him to face the grim reaper alone.
Instead, what faced them the next morning was a man fully recovered, without a scratch on him, after old lady Fitzpatrick had visited him in the dead of night.
It was a miracle.
A miracle that she would pay for with her life.
“Millicent Fitzpatrick. You have been found guilty of the crime of witchcraft. In accordance to our laws, the punishment for this crime is death.”
The old lady was placed in the middle of the town square, tied up and bound to a large wooden stake. Twigs and firewood rested in a pile beneath her feet. It had been doused in oil. To her left stood the town official, reading her crimes out loud to the villagers. In front of her, a knight. In full armour.
Carrying a torch.
Millicent glared angrily at it.
“Do you have any last words?”
The old woman turned her gaze skyward, towards the two men on the tower’s balcony. When she spoke, her voice was full of venom… and strangely, ominously powerful.
“My last words are this, king Uther. I will make you a promise. Before your heir comes to rule, you will lose your life. Me and my kind will be free from your wretched hatred, and magic will return to these lands. My only regret is that I will not be around to see it.”
The king kept up a calm appearance, but his hands reflexively balled up into fists. He gave a short nod to the executioner. The man took a step forward, towards the bound witch. Then another step. He had a brief moment of eye contact with the old woman, an almost apologetic look lingering underneath his helmet.
Then he lowered the torch and dropped it onto the wood pile.
The effect was immediate. With a hungry roar, the flames consumed the wood beneath, spreading across the pile and igniting everything they touched. Including the wooden pole, and the witch. The crowd watched in horror as their neighbour, their friend, was set ablaze. Gasps were let out. Children were taken away. Eyes were hastily averted.
But they could not close their ears to the sound.
Up on the balcony, the king turned to his advisor.
“What of the boy?”
“No sign of him so far, your majesty. But we will find him soon enough.”
Thirty feet underground, the sound of running footsteps could be heard reverberating against the cold stone walls. Two children, a boy and a girl, fled through the dark corridors as fast as they could. The place was a maze, but the girl knew exactly where to go. Left. Right. Right. Second entrance. Straight ahead. Left. They were both out of breath, but she refused to stop, physically dragging the boy behind her at some point, pushing through and fleeing as if their lives depended on it.
And they did.
Until finally, their destination came into view.
A massive, black stone door, guarded by an equally massive gate. The girl gasped for breath, pointing towards the gate.
The boy nodded. He raised his arm and began to move towards the big, imposing stone door – and abruptly stopped.
“Wait. What about you?”
“Don’t worry about me! You have to go, now!”
He stepped back towards her, away from the door.
“No! Come with me!”
“I can’t! And we don’t have time for this – you HAVE to go!”
“I’m not leaving you behind!” the boy yelled, quickly beginning to panic. “You can’t stay here! You’re not safe, either! And I-I saw what they did to grandma Fitzpatrick!”
“Good – then you’ll know what they’ll do to you if they catch you!”
That was more than the poor boy could handle. A look of shock flashed by on his face, quickly getting replaced by tears. The boy began to sob, burying his face in his hands. The tears streaked down his face and dripped down on the floor.
“No… please… I-I’m scared. I don’t want to. Please come with me…”
The girl stepped forward and placed a hand on his shoulder. When she spoke, her voice was gentle.
“Merlin. Look at me.”
When he did, her face was streaked with tears just as much as his.
“I can’t watch you die, too.”
The boy let out another sob, throwing himself at his friend. She held him there, embracing him for a few seconds.
But it could not last.
“You need to get out of here. I’ll be fine – I promise you I’ll be fine. But I can’t come with you. They’ll chase you to the ends of the earth if I do.”
She gently pushed him away, ending the embrace. Her head nodded towards the exit.
“That door leads to the outskirts behind the castle. Run straight to the shore and swim to the mainland, okay?”
“I-I’m not a good swimmer,” the boy muttered.
“It’s not that far, Merlin. You can make it. Dive straight in and don’t look back until you’re on the other side. Go into the woods and find the druids. They’ll look after you. I know they will.”
Somewhere above them, they could hear heavy doors opening and closing. The thumping of footsteps in the corridors. The children cringed at the sound, holding their breath in fear.
But the footsteps went the other way.
“Merlin. Do it now.”
The boy nodded and thrust out his arm, his eyes glowing with a sudden arcane energy. The next moment, the gate combusted, blasting out of its hinges and disintegrating as the pieces hit the stone floor. The force of it sent a current of air blasting backwards.
It had been loud. Very loud.
The racket would not go unnoticed for long.
“We’re out of time. You need to go now, Merlin.”
The boy nodded, moving towards the door. When he stood before it, he looked over his shoulder towards his childhood friend.
“Promise me we’ll meet again.”
“We will. I promise, Merlin.”
Agonizingly slowly, like the act was causing him physical pain, Merlin turned away from his friend. It was the hardest thing he had ever done. His inner voice was screaming at him, pleading not to leave her behind.
But there was no other way.
Merlin gritted his teeth and pushed against the cold, stone doors. They were heavy. Incredibly heavy. Too heavy for a child – the boy had to resort to magic to do it for him. They opened with the heavy groaning of stone grinding against stone. Another corridor greeted him on the other side – as well as a flicker of sunlight in the far distance.
“Don’t look back,” the girl behind him said. Merlin nodded. He took a step.
And then another. And another.
Don’t look back.
Don’t look back.
Don’t look back.
Later that night…
The sun had set, and darkness had settled in by the time the girl made it home. It had been that difficult to avoid the guards. Quietly, she made her way through the now empty streets of Camelot. Not a single person was outside anymore. The girl couldn’t blame them – Nobody wanted to be outside after an execution.
Millicent Fitzpatrick had been her friend.
The girl quietly entered the royal hall. Despite the late hour, the king and his advisor were still there, in the middle of what seemed like a heated discussion.
“Your majesty, all of our knights are in pursuit of the boy. He will be found before long even without the extra resources-”
“He is a sorcerer, not a mere boy! I want him found and executed! NOW!”
The advisor uttered a “yes, your majesty” and quickly took off, knowing better than to test the king’s temper.
His departure took him straight past the girl, who had been trying to sneak by stealthily.
“My lady,” he said to her in passing. That in turn drew the attention of the king.
His gaze instantly softened.
“Ah. Morgana. I was wondering where you were.”
He beckoned her to come closer.
“Where have you been this late? I was getting worried.”
This was the man who ordered her friend’s execution.
This was the man who forced Merlin to flee for his life.
This was the man who had outlawed all forms magic from the lands of Camelot, on punishment of death.
Morgana raised her head, and gave King Uther a bright, happy smile.
“Sorry I’m late, father! I was picking flowers. What did I miss?”