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Land of the Dead

The Smoke

It took three days for the fear to wear off. Then the guilt settled in. In those three days, Arthur had gone through every Nazi book, every Nazi pamphlet he’d been given. Description after description, and warning after warning. There was so much information about Jews. But no matter how hard Arthur tried, pulling at every memory he had of Merlin, he couldn’t make any sense of it. Merlin was none of the things mentioned in the books. He didn’t match any of the descriptions. It wasn’t even close.

Arthur paced up and down the hallway in front of his room, reading through one of the shorter pamphlets for the 100th time, when he ran into Morgana. She was about to yell, then noticed what he was reading.

“It’s about time.” She muttered, then turned to go into her room.

“Wait!” Arthur yelled. She stopped, turning back to him. “I have a question.”

“Alright.” She said, though she sounded slightly annoyed.

Arthur held up the pamphlet he was reading, showing Morgana the text inside.

“It says that Jews are greedy, and that they only destroy Aryan culture.” Arthur started. Morgana nodded. “Aren’t there exceptions? They can’t all be like that, right?” He asked.

Morgana looked at him curiously for a moment. She turned to look down the staircase to the first floor foyer, where several soldiers, including Klaus, were standing outside father’s office. When she turned back to Arthur, something in her eyes had changed.

“No. They are all like that.” She said. But her voice lacked the usual power it held, and her eyes, which usually lit up with pride when discussing matters of the Nazi party, just looked defeated. She silently slipped into her room without another word.

* * * *

On the fourth day, Arthur returned to the fence. He wasn’t sure what to expect when he returned. He didn’t even know if Merlin would still be there. But as he reached the top of the hill, he could see Merlin sitting there, just as he always did. Merlin didn’t say a word as Arthur took his usual spot in front of the fence, just stared at him. Arthur had expected Merlin to yell, or swear, or just leave, but he had not expected this. Not quite sure what else to say, Arthur took the package of food from his bag and handed it to Merlin through the fence. He looked so hungry that day. In Arthur’s panic, he had forgotten how much Merlin relied on him for food.

“I’m an idiot.” He said after a moment.

“Yeah, a bit And a prat.” Merlin agreed.

“I’m sorry. I’ve been told so many things about Jews my whole life. I’ve been raised to fear them at all costs. But I don’t believe it. Any of it.” Arthur continued. “They’re all just stupid lies, that’s all they are.”

After a moment, Arthur added, “I really am sorry.”

“I know.” Merlin whispered.

* * * *

Things between Arthur and Merlin quickly returned to normal, or as normal as things could get given the circumstances. Merlin seemed eager to put the incident behind them, and Arthur was immensely grateful for that. Still, things were far from easy.

Visiting Merlin every day was getting more difficult. School would often last until almost nightfall, and while Arthur blew off most of his school work, the little he did to get by without his father making a fuss was taking up most of his time. There were more soldiers around the house, too, it seemed. Slipping unnoticed into the garden was not such an easy task anymore. None of this discouraged Arthur, though. Merlin needed him. Arthur couldn’t let him starve. But there was something else, too. Arthur couldn’t stop thinking about the boy behind the fence, with his soft, blue eyes and gorgeous smile. Arthur couldn’t stand to be away from him. He didn’t even really know why he felt that way, he’s never felt that way towards anyone before.

Maybe it was just the whole fucked-up situation they were trapped in.


* * * *

Arthur raced through the forest, clutching to his chest a bag full of every morsel of food he could swipe from the kitchen when the maids weren’t looking. It was the first time in days Arthur had been able to slip away to the garden, and he was determined to make up the lost time (and food) to Merlin. Arthur didn’t notice the freezing rain or the bitter wind that blew through the forest that day. Nothing could ruin Arthur’s happiness today, he was going to see Merlin.

He reached the fence, and tossed the sack of food over to Merlin before taking his usually seat on the ground. Merlin didn’t seem to notice the bag beside him, or the boy sitting in front of him. He remained curled in a tight ball, focusing intently on the dirt below him.

“Hey Merlin.” Arthur said cheerfully, but received no response. Merlin stayed silent. A few moments past before Arthur tried again. “Hey Ni…”

“I’m leaving.” Merlin whispered, cutting Arthur off.

“What?”

Merlin hugged himself tighter, not taking his eyes off the ground. Arthur wanted nothing more than to hold to, protect him, do something, but the fence remained in his way, humming a soft warning of its deadly nature should he touch it.

“I’m being transferred.” Merlin continued, finally meeting Arthur’s eyes. “I don’t know where.”

Arthur tried to speak, but he couldn’t form any words. Merlin couldn’t leave! What would become of him without Arthur? He was weak as it was with the extra food, he’d surely starve somewhere else. And what would Arthur do without Merlin? He was the only friend he had.

“Have you any idea where you are going?” Arthur asked quietly, finally finding his voice.

Merlin shrugged. “Maybe another camp. Maybe just another part of this camp.”

“What do you mean?” Arthur asked. “Another part of this camp?”

“I think most people here are transferred to the other half of the camp, where the big chimney is.” Merlin explained. He looked back to the ground. “I don’t know what they do there.”

“Father says they burn the rubbish there.” Arthur said, remembering the last time the black smoke had blown over to the house. “They probably just need more people to help manage of the waste from the camp.”

Merlin nodded, as if to say “oh”.

“It’s a farther walk, but I could still visit you.” Arthur said, looking to the other end of the camp. It didn’t look to be more than a kilometer or two.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Merlin whispered.

“Why not?” Arthur asked.

Merlin seemed unsure of a reason. “Well… um…” Arthur waited.

“There’s uh… probably more guards there. You could get caught.” Merlin said quickly. Arthur could tell he was lying, but he didn’t push it.

“Anyway, I still have a few more days.” Merlin added.

“I’ll bring a feast, every single day we have left.” Arthur promised.


* * * *


It was a terribly cold morning, any hints of sunlight swallowed up by the clouds. A thick fog rolled over the land and a strong wind blew in from the north, carrying an awful stench that washed over the yard, and the house, and the garden. Arthur recognized the smell, it often hung heavy in the air around the fence in the field, but it had never reached the house with this intensity before. He simply didn’t understand how rubbish could smell so terrible

Arthur sat silently on the front porch, a deep scowl on his face. He was missing one of his last days with Merlin, all because of some stupid meeting his father was holding. It seemed every Nazi in the country was at his house that day, or walking around the grounds. Sneaking away would be impossible with so many eyes watching him (and incredibly stupid to try). So Arthur was stuck on the porch (the meeting in the house was top secret, so he was kicked out) in a sour mood.

“Hello Arthur.” Someone said from behind him. Arthur turned to lookup, just as Klaus sat down beside him. “You look cheerful.”

“It is cold, I’m stuck outside and I’ve got nothing to do.” Arthur said bitterly.

“You and me both.” Klaus said sadly.

“Why aren’t you in the meeting?” Arthur asked, still bitterly so Klaus wouldn’t think they were friends. Every since the day they had met, Klaus had been trying to be friendly with Arthur. Arthur really didn’t get why, maybe it was because he was the only one close to Klaus’s age, but whatever the reason, Arthur wanted nothing to do with him. He was nice enough to Arthur, but he had heard how Klaus talked about the people in the camp. He was brutal, and bloodthirsty, and seemed to have no problem with starving children to death, in fact it made him laugh. Arthur also suspected that he fancied his sister, Morgana.

“Only senior officers allowed.” Klaus explained.

“Oh.” was all Arthur had to say.

A gust of wind blew through the yard, carrying the awful stench from the camp.

“Honestly, I don’t understand how anything can smell this awful.” Arthur muttered, choking on the air.

“They smell even worse when they burn, huh.” Klaus said with a chuckle.

Arthur froze. “What?”

“Jews smell awful when they are burned.” Klaus said more slowly.

“What do you mean when they are burned?”

“You didn’t know? That’s what the chimney’s for, really that’s what the whole place is for. It’s not called an extermination camp for nothing.”

Klaus laughed again, but shut up when he saw Arthur’s face. A bizarre combination of rage and confusion, then finally fear.

“The people who are sent there, are they all burned?” Arthur asked, his voice shaking.

Klaus laughed, though somewhat uneasily. “Why are you freaking out? They’re just Jews…”

Arthur didn’t wait for Klaus to finish. He had already leapt off the porch and was halfway across, racing towards the garden as if his life depended on it. To hell with anyone who was watching, Arthur didn’t care anymore.

“Where are you going?!” Klaus called after him, but Arthur was already out of sight.

Arthur tore through the garden and practically flung himself out of the small window in the shed. He could hear faint shouts in the distance as he hit the forest floor with a thud. He scrambled to his feet, his heart racing and his hands trembling. All he could hear was the pounding in his ears. Everything seemed to be spinning as Arthur stumbled through the forest, tripping over his own feet in his confusion and rage. He broke out of the forest and dragged himself across the field. He had no idea what he would do when he got to the fence, he had no plan and no way of breaking Merlin out even if he made it in time, but he didn’t think about that now. All he could think about was Merlin.

As Arthur approached the fence, the smell grew worse. The air hung heavy with ash and smoke from the camp, making it hard for Arthur to breathe. What if he was too late? What if it was Merlin swirling in the air around him? The thought made Arthur want to vomit, but he pushed the feeling away and kept going. He had to get to the fence, he had to get to Merlin…

Arthur froze. There was the fence, standing tall in front of him as it always did, the land behind it was empty. There were no children working, no materials piled haphazardly around the field, and no boy sitting, waiting, in front of the fence. Everything was gone.

Everything seemed to stop. Arthur couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move, couldn’t make a sound. This couldn’t be real. This couldn’t be happening. Another gust of wind blew through the field, and this time Arthur really did vomit. His leg gave out and he fell to his knees in front of the fence, choking on the air and choking on his tears. From behind him, something grabbed his shoulder and threw him back several feet.

“What the hell are you doing?!” Klaus shouted, towering over Arthur, who now was on his back in the dirt. Klaus reached down and pulled him to his feet roughly.

“Arthur! What the hell…”

Arthur finally found his voice. “How could you?!” He screamed. “You murderer! You disgusting piece of filth! They’re people! They haven’t done anything!”

“Calm down, Arthur!” Klaus shouted, still grabbing Arthur by the shoulders.

“Let go!” He hissed, then slapped Klaus across the face. “Let go!”

Arthur started throwing punches. “They didn’t do anything!” Kicking and screaming and trying to hurt Klaus in anyway he could. Something cold hit him across the face, and Arthur collapsed to the ground.

“He didn’t do anything. He didn’t deserve this.”

Everything was spinning, slipping away. Blood dripped into Arthur’s eyes, but he couldn’t feel any pain. Klaus stood above him, gun in hand, the handle stained bright red.

“We need to go. You can’t be here.” Klaus said softly, pulling Arthur to his feet. He started leading him back to the woods, as Arthur struggled to stumble along. He didn’t fight back, he didn’t care anymore. He just felt numb as Klaus dragged him along towards the house.

“I won’t tell anyone where you were.” Klaus said. “I can say you were in town.”

“Why are you helping me?” Arthur mumbled.

Klaus stopped, and turned Arthur around so he was staring into his eyes.

“You know nothing about the smoke, or the chimney. You don’t know anything about it, ok? It’s a secret, and you know nothing about it.”

“You weren’t supposed to tell me.” Arthur said, finally starting to understand.

Klaus turned him back around, and kept leading him towards the house.

“We’ll both forget everything that just happened.” Klaus said.



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