Title: The Witch's Dawn
Pairings/characters: Morgana/Morgause, Morgana/OFC, Vivienne, Arthur, Merlin, Cenred, Gwen, Uther, Gaius, Leon, Gwaine
Word Count: 32,221
Warnings: Adult situations
Summary: The day Morgana was poisoned by Merlin, everything changed for her. The day she found out Uther was her father, everyone in Camelot became her enemy. But when Cenred takes Camelot from her and her beloved Morgause, Morgana is forced to work with those she believes hate her in order to save it.
Author's notes: This was certainly a labour of love (much labour involved!). Many thanks to tassosss for her really rather brilliant beta skills. And, of course, massive thank yous my lovely artist shan_3414for making me squee with delight over her creations.
Artist's notes: Thanks so much to doylefan22 for crafting such an amazing story to work with. There are so many
scenes that stood out in my head, so I wanted to try to bring some of those to life a little; each graphic represents a different scene, one for each section of the story.
Disclaimer: I don't own any of this. Damn.
When Vivienne was a little girl, no more than five, her father decked his armour, kissed her head and walked out the door.
“Be strong, little one,” he said with a sad smile before disappearing into the dark corridor.
It was early, just before dawn, and Vivienne was sleepy and unable to understand what was happening. Frightened, she cried out for her nursemaid but to her surprise her mother rushed in to her insisted, gathering her into her arms. She cradled Vivienne closely as she carried her through to her own chambers, answering her fear-filled questions as gently as she could. They were being attacked, a lord much respected in the kingdom had invaded her father’s lands. Even from here, Vivienne could hear the shouts of men and the clashing of swords. It was all too loud and too sharp and it made her cling tightly to her mother's nightgown. Her father was honourable and brave, her mother said, staying to defend his tenants and his family when he could have fled to safety.
He didn’t come back.
The neighbouring land owners had declared him weak, she later learnt, and so lent no aid. He was mocked and scorned at worst, pitied at best, and, despite his courage, he’d lost, overwhelmed by brute strength. The invader killed dozens of innocent villagers, beat Vivienne’s mother for weeping over her husband and raped her older sister, threatening to have all the children put to death if he was not obeyed.
Vivienne tried to be strong, like her father had told her to be, when she was eventually dragged down to the great hall and placed in front of the invader. The man was sitting in the seat her father once had, where she'd once been bounced on his knee and tugged playfully at his beard. The newcomer was a large, imposing man and he frightened into silence, leaving her trembling when he spoke to her.
"Will you obey me girl?" he demanded in a booming voice that made her want to cover her ears. "Or do you need lessons like your mother?"
She glanced briefly up at her mother's bruised face and shook her head, unable to muster any words. She was shaking too much.
The wedding passed by in a haze of confusion, Vivienne not sure why her mother was marrying the man.
She asked her over and over, not understanding the world around her and needing so desperately to know why the father she loved had been taken away and how this cruel man had so easily assumed his place. This wasn’t like one of the stories she’d been told where good triumphed over bad. In the world she suddenly found herself in, the strong triumphed and the weak fell with no one to help them. Goodness didn’t come into it at all. It was a lie. It was a veil of weakness itself.
Years later, a woman grown, Vivienne recognized in Uther Pendragon what she’d come to know in her step-father. He was a man that other men admired and respected. This didn’t mean that he was a good man.
And now Uther had come to visit, forcing her to find a strength she wasn't sure she still possessed. Vivienne leaned heavily on her dresser as she lowered herself to the stool. Her own breath was loud in her ears and she felt as if she had just run up a flight of stairs, body aching and weary, feeling like that of a woman much more advanced in her years than she actually was. She reached out, trying not to look at the paper thin skin on her hands, willing strength in them still. She drew a necklace out from the small chest on the dresser. It was a beautiful piece, a dark gold highlighted with onyx and amethyst. The flowers and leaves they created were belladonna, supposedly the flower of beautiful ladies. Those that were loyal to the Old Religion knew it as a symbol of death and deception.
Vivienne’s childhood had been filled with terror. A once bright child, the longer she saw the cruelty of her new step-father go unpunished, the more her belief in a just world had been shaken and the colder and more frustrated she became inside. She remembered feeling helpless as she realised she was no more than a pawn in a game played by men she despised. Men who would use her for their own needs and gains when the time came whether she desired it or not. Vivienne came to hate the world around her and wanted nothing to do with it, preferring to hide in her chambers, pretending to be weak and sickly so she that didn’t have to go out and witness any more brutality.
One dark night she wondered what it might be like to climb out on her high windowsill and take that one fateful step forward. Whether she would feel alive again before the final blow came.
It was the Old Religion that had saved her. She was nearly a woman before she realised her abilities, few as they were: glassware shattered when she was angry and flowers wilted when her tears touched them. She adored plants, almost believing she could hear them singing inside her head, filling her room with them because they calmed her. She recalled the stories her nursemaid had told her about the Old Religion, about the powers that the priestesses and sorceresses held. She almost couldn't bring herself to believe it at first, having felt weak and powerless for so long. When she finally admitted it, her nursemaid had smiled broadly, immediately taking her to see the High Priestess. All would be better now, she promised.
The woman was tall and imposing but in a far different way than her step-father was. She made Vivienne feel safe. She held out her hand and called her 'her child', welcoming her and blessing her. Showing her that there was another way. It had once been the way of her mother too, she was told. Forgotten and neglected as happiness had crumbled around them. As her mother became weak and let others rule over her.
In the Old Religion there was balance; lives were exchanged for lives and nature prevailed. In the Old Religion, women were respected and powerful, even ones with such small abilities and talents as Vivienne came to discover that she possessed. They were certainly not seen as mere political tools, fit to be married off to the richest and most persuasive suitor. It gave Vivienne solace and the means to be strong.
She never stepped out onto that window ledge.
Now Vivienne put the necklace on, finding it gave her strength, her fingers trailing over it as she gazed at her reflection. Death and deception. Not that Uther would realise, of course. He used the Old Religion the same way that he used everything and everyone else: exactly how it suited him and without any consideration. Unlike her husband who respected her ways and beliefs.
Apart from her father, Vivienne had only met one truly good man and she was fortunate enough to have married him. Too often she told Gorlois that he deserved better than her: a softer wife, one who didn’t hold such bitterness and anger in her heart. He simply kissed her cheek and replied that he had a strong wife. One fit for a king.
Those words were once a soft joke between them in happier times but now they made her stomach turn, her face barely able to force a shadow of the smile they’d once brought on. Lately, Gorlois had stopped saying them, leaving her both relieved and saddened.
Still, she thought coldly as she struggled to rise from her dresser, she wouldn’t have to feel anything for much longer. Every day was harder, every morning a greater chore. She’d been so weak after her daughter’s birth that the midwife hadn’t thought she’d survive at all, declaring it a miracle when she awoke two days later. She’d disagreed, secretly thinking that it was a curse, an extension to her suffering when she’d just wanted it at an end.
Her husband had been overjoyed when she’d discovered that she was pregnant, making the secret burden she had to bear all the more painful. Nine months of hell had followed, each moment an inescapable reminder of what had happened, and she’d prayed everyday to the old gods to take her life as she brought her child into the world. A life for a life, freeing her and the infant, giving it a chance to live without such an embittered mother. But when she’d finally regained her senses after the birth and had seen Gorlois cradling the tiny girl, a softness almost forgotten had crept into her heart. It was the best reward she could give him for all his kindness, she decided, seeing that utter happiness on his face. But he could never know the truth and the burden of hiding it rested heavily on her heart.
Things hadn’t been quite as hard as she’d imagined though. When she’d first been handed her daughter she’d tensed, expecting something akin to revulsion almost, tainted by the manner in which the girl had come into being. Yet there was nothing but love, the tiny dark haired bundle settling in her arms and looking at her with the bluest eyes. She saw nothing of her father in her and hoped that she never would.
She had named the girl Morgana. Gorlois had liked it, taking it to mean ‘sea born’ what with their manor being on the coast. Vivienne hadn’t correct him, although she meant it in tribute to The Morrigan, the great queen, the goddess of battle. She wanted her daughter to be strong.
Unlike her mother after all it seemed. Even as the years had passed, Vivienne hadn’t recovered like the midwives had hoped she would. At first Gorlois had spoken of having more children, a son to inherent his father’s lands and care for his sister’s wellbeing. Vivienne had indulged such thoughts, knowing them to be fantasies. She would be lucky if she lived to see her daughter’s third summer and now that was rapidly approaching she knew it to be the case. She could already hear the dark road calling her.
But not yet. There was still too much to do.
Pial, her maid, hurried in, looking flustered. All the servants did these last few days, the King’s visit having sent them into whirlwind of panic, afraid to do a single thing wrong. And why shouldn’t they be? Whispers were rife that Uther had his servants whipped and put in stocks for their errors. Vivienne, although she didn’t know if they were true, did nothing to dis-spell such mutterings. It suited her to have others think ill of him.
The young maid drew breath when she saw her mistress clinging to the dresser for support.
“You should have waited for me, my lady,” she fussed kindly. She was a good decade younger than Vivienne and yet her manner was always maternal somehow. A natural mother. It must be why Morgana was so fond of her.
“I’m fine,” Vivienne lied although her voice sound hollow and cracked.
The girl sighed but continued in her duties regardless, taking a brush to her mistress’s hair. Vivienne flinched with every stroke but said nothing.
She would not let him beat her now.
“What would you like to wear today, my lady?” Pial asked, her tone falsely light and conversational. “You look beautiful in green.”
“The black velvet,” she replied without hesitation. She’d planned it last night.
“Black?” the girl queried with a frown. “But the King is here to celebrate the anniversary of his marriage, black hardly seems-”
Vivienne cut her off with a look.
“Yes, my lady,” she nodded, heading to the wardrobe.
Vivienne reached up, trying to undo the long plait in her hair. She wanted to look her best. Not for Uther, but to spite him. Her trembling fingers struggled a little but she managed it.
Pial returned with the dress, frowning gently at the quivering she saw in her mistress’s hand.
“My lady,” she said cautious as one would handle a nervous horse, “you don’t have to go down. If you’re not feeling well I’m sure the king will understand.”
“He will not beat me,” Vivienne snapped back fiercely, eyes wild and wide for a moment before she sighed and looked at the girl in something approaching apology. “Just make sure I look as well as I can.”
Vivienne stood in silence as her husband greeted the King and Queen. She didn't even flinch when Uther held out his hand for her to kiss in deference. It was the first time he’d touched her since that night, but she was proud that the only time her disquiet showed on her face was when Gorlois lifted up the young lady Morgana to introduce the toddler to the King.
Uther stroked her pale cheek with a gloved hand, and Vivienne’s stomach revolted at the sight making her want to snatch Morgana away. The King looked at her, as if trying to judge her reaction, but she refused to meet his gaze, staring at her husband until she was sure Uther had looked away.
She was grateful that Gorlois immediately took his old friend to speak in private, and Igraine retired to refresh after the long journey. It allowed Vivienne time to recover from standing for so long, her muscles aching and weary with even such a little effort. She took Morgana’s hand and went to the privacy of the balcony outside her chambers, the one that overlooked the gardens. She needed the soothing presence of fresh air and nature around her without the trouble of tackling the steep stairs that led down to the small courtyard.
She also wished to spend some time with her daughter. Easing onto the bench seat, she sat Morgana on her knee and let her play with the ends of her hair, fascinated. So innocent and unaware of what the world was truly like, just as she had been. The urge to steal Morgana out of reach of the King returned, and Vivienne wrapped her arms around her daughter and held her close.
She tried not to think of how she would never see Morgana grow. How she wouldn’t be able help shape who she would become or protect her from the King’s machinations. A living daughter, illegitimate or not, made for a fine back up plan should his marriage never produce children.
It was the only thing that made her consider confessing all to Gorlois when the time came, hoping that he would agree to love the girl as his own regardless. She’d be safe with him.
“What’s wrong, my love?” asked a soft voice, the man in question joining her on the balcony.
His presence both comforted her and left her uneasy.
“Just feeling a little tired,” she said, an effortlessly half lie as she turned to give him the best smile she could muster. If it wasn’t for Uther, she would never have become so adept at fooling her husband.
“And cold,” he added as he lay his hand tenderly over hers, kissing it gently before heading back to their rooms. He returned a moment later with a blanket, lifting Morgana down so he could drape it over his wife. They didn’t speak of her illness and she suspected her husband was in a great deal of denial. He couldn’t yet admit that she was dying.
“If you don’t feel well enough for the feast tonight, simply say the word,” Gorlois said gently. “Your absence would be understood.”
“And risk you having to deal with Uther’s tutting?” she asked glibly.
“For you, my lady, I would face the most determined tutting imaginable.”
For a moment, Vivienne’s face brightened.
“Come, little one,” he said, bending to Morgana. “Why don’t we let your mother rest a while and we’ll go and hunt trolls in the garden, hmm?”
Morgana, always quiet in her mother’s presence, as though she understood the fragility of the situation, nodded enthusiastically and held her arms out to be picked up.
Vivienne could have spent a very peaceful afternoon watching them play in the garden below, the girl giggling as her papa pretended to fight the hoard of trolls that had them trapped. She should have known such peace was not meant to last.
She felt his presence before she turned to see him, her body tensing and her hands removing the blanket even though she missed its warmth. She would not have him see her weak.
Uther’s smile was meant to be charming she supposed, and he overly bowed before he stepped onto the balcony.
“How pleasant to see you again, Lady Vivienne,” he said politely, ever the politician.
Not that polite though, she realised, balking at the idea he’d walked through their private chambers without invitation in order to find her. Uther Pendragon had been too used to doing what he liked even before he was king.
“My lord,” she replied coolly, the slightest inclination of her head the only indication of deference she gave.
A familiar war raged inside her, the conflict between needing to stay in his favour and wanting to rally against him. Bowing to him felt like accepting what he had done. Raging at him endangered her husband and daughter. Uther could be a cruel man and she wouldn’t put it beyond him to take it out on those around her should she displease him.
The king walked further onto the balcony, still dressed in his finery, clearly unable to stop his posturing in the home of his oldest friend. She couldn’t say she was surprised. He always had been very impressed with himself.
Coming forward, he leaned on the railing, a heavy silence on the air and a tightness settling in Vivienne’s throat as she realised that he was watching Gorlois and Morgana play unaware below.
She stood unsteadily, unable to bear any more.
“If you’ll excuse me, my lord…”
She took two paces before he smiled at her, an expression that held more menace than happiness.
“Come now, Lady Vivienne. You liked my company very much once.”
Instantly her temper flared, inflamed by the unbothered manner in which he mentioned what had come before. Like it was a joke to him.
“I thought you were my husband,” she hissed back angrily, cautious even though she knew that Gorlois was well beyond hearing.
Gorlois had been at battle and Vivienne was lonely without him, having grown surprisingly reliant on his kind, patient company. The offer for her to stay at Camelot had not been unwelcome, Vivienne knowing from her childhood what could happen when a home was thought defenceless by a rival. But despite being surrounded by people, a few friends even, she found herself lonely. And when Gorlois had returned to her unexpectedly one night she was so relieved that she hadn’t even questioned it. Why would she? He had looked like her husband.
Except she should have realised when he didn’t speak. He was normally such a talker, his words sweet and tender, making her feel loved as he took her in his arms. Such hard, cold passion wasn’t him, but she had just assumed that the trials of war had left him desperate for comfort.
Until she heard her name cried with abandon. In a voice that certainly wasn’t her husband’s.
Numb with shock, she’d said nothing as the man had made mumbled excuses and left. Moments later and working on more instinct than sense, she dragged on a robe and followed him from the room in secret, through the mostly deserted corridors. Back to the King’s chambers. He didn’t quite make it inside before he staggered, grasping at his chest for a moment as though he felt pain. And then she’d seen the mirage fade before her very eyes, like a fog lifting. She’d seen Uther. And he had seen her, turning as an unbidden sound of despair left her throat. He’d actually had the good grace to look uneasy for a moment before he’d simply nodded and entered his chambers.
Returning hurriedly to her own rooms she’d sat, stunned. Silent and shocked until the screams and sobs had burst forth.
Nightmares, she told the maid who’d come running. What else could she say? It would be her word against the King’s. She’d either be dismissed as mad or as a willing adulteress trying to excuse herself.
She’d known it was magic and that only one person in court could work such a spell: Uther’s puppet sorceress Nimueh. Her choice to serve in Uther’s court had seen the woman ostracised from the Old Religion, the other priestesses angry with the abuse of such powers against loyal devotees all at the whim of an arrogant man. Vivienne had never found out why she served him. Was she enamoured of him? Had she been promised something in return? She’d always liked powerful men and her ambitions knew no bounds.
Either way, she had driven a cold dagger further into Vivienne’s already fragile heart. One that had never shifted.
And now on her own balcony, Uther smiled at her again, as easily as he had ever done. As though his actions hadn’t betrayed his friend in the worst possible way and broken a woman who had just found happiness.
“You tricked me,” she accused fiercely.
“An indiscretion of youth,” he explained lightly, as though it was little more than a minor infringement. “I’m a married and settled man now.”
“To another woman that you stole,” she spat out.
“She was in a political marriage, arranged by her father, to a man she didn’t love. It worked out best for all involved, did it not?”
Maybe so, but that didn’t mean he’d been in the right to take Igraine. Not that Uther ever seemed to consider what was right, just what he wanted.
“And yet you still have no heir,” she taunted, callously, going straight for the only wound she knew he had, wanting him to hurt. “After several years of wedded bliss. How strange.”
She saw the muscle in Uther’s jaw tighten and although she knew it was a danger sign she took an odd kind of pleasure in it.
“A child will come,” he replied. “We’ve proved ourselves capable.”
His eyes wandered down to Morgana, as if trying to bait Vivienne in the way she had him.
She was ashamed to know how easily it worked.
“She will have no father but Gorlois,” she promised him viciously. “I will see to it.”
Uther turned to her once more, that joyless smile on his face again.
“And when you are gone?”
“Forgive me, Lady Vivienne,” he said with false politeness. “You look unwell. I’ll leave you to rest.”
He bowed and left. Vivienne watched him go and knew that Uther Pendragon needed to be brought to his knees. She could not be his end but that she could set his downfall in motion.
The night was clear and moonlit which was both a curse and a blessing. It made it easy to see but also easier to be seen. The corridors had to be negotiated carefully, the darkest routes chosen if she was to keep her secrecy. But Vivienne knew her home well.
Due to her increasing weakness Vivienne hadn’t left the manor in weeks but, to protect her child, a mother could find the strength.
As could a woman with vengeance on her mind.
Morgana stirred a little as her mother entered her bed chambers but she was soon soothed into deep sleep by whispered words in the old language. The little girl didn’t move when Vivienne snipped away a lock of her black hair, not even when her finger was pricked with the sharpest point of a dagger, the resulting drops of blood caught by a handkerchief which Vivienne then wrapped the hair in. She leaned over and kissed her daughter’s head in apology.
In the stables, it took Vivienne two tries to mount her horse and then several moments to catch her breath and regain her balance. Perhaps Uther’s visit had been a blessing after all; he’d prompted her into action and if she’d left it much longer she doubted she would have managed it at all.
Fortunately the animal knew the way well, heading straight out of the side gate and into the forest, following her whispered pleas to take her home. Vivienne wasn’t sure how long it took. An hour or more? Not that it mattered. The sleeping draft she had given her husband would see him peacefully unaware until the first light of dawn and she would be back before then.
The priestess met her outside the vine covered temple, almost as if she knew Vivienne was coming. Two of the Blood Guard stood on duty by the door, making her feel strangely secure. She wished she could have spent more time here. Perhaps things would have been better for her.
“You shouldn’t have come child,” the priestess scolded as she helped Vivienne from the horse. She didn’t seem to be much older than Vivienne but her gaze was ancient and wise. “You are hardly in a fit state…”
Vivienne shook her head, pushing even the well-meant concerns away.
“I have to see the girl.”
The priestess opened her mouth as if to say more but hesitated and then just nodded.
Apparently she couldn’t refuse a dying woman.
She led Vivienne to a doorway that was almost entirely obscured by vines, the plants withdrawing a moment as the woman approached, allowing them both entrance. It was dark inside, lit torches instead of moonlight bathing the corridors in warm shadows.
Deep inside the building, the priestess knocked on a door. A young blonde girl wrapped in a red shawl opened it after a moment. Tall for her age and slender, she had a look of calm curiosity about her, surprisingly awake for such an hour. Almost as if she’d been waiting for them.
“May I come in, Morgause?” Vivienne asked softly.
She may only be a child still but the girl would one day be High Priestess and was worthy of respect.
Morgause nodded and Vivienne stepped in, noting that the other priestess didn’t follow.
“You brought something for me,” the girl said, once the door was shut.
“Yes,” Vivienne smiled, pleased by her insight. Clearly her training was going well.
She sat on the edge of the rumpled bed and indicated for the girl to join her. When she had, she lay the handkerchief on her lap.
“It’s from Morgana,” she began to explain.
Vivienne sighed, assaulted by a mixture of feelings, stroking the girl’s blonde hair with affection for a moment.
“You must always care for her,” she instructed carefully, looking meaningfully into her eyes. “Use this to help find her. To guard and watch over her from a distance. When the time comes she can rejoin you. And together you will do great things, I’ve seen it.”
Morgause didn’t seem particularly concerned with the latter at the moment though.
“Is she in danger?” she asked with a frown, fingertips delicately touching the strand of hair.
“From Uther Pendragon.”
Vivienne nodded warily. “He’s a danger to anyone who might one day prove a challenge to him.”
Morgause’s expression hardened.
“Which is why he wanted me dead and I had to be taken from my mother.”
Vivienne hesitated a moment before leaning across and kissing the girl’s cheek.
“I have brought you a sister,” she reminded her. “Be sure that he never takes her from you too.”
PART ONE | PART TWO | PART THREE | PART FOUR | PART FIVE | PART SIX | PART SEVEN