Morgana lay, sprawled naked on her stomach, the bed clothes a soft mess of silk beneath her, hair a wild tumble over her shoulders.
“Do you think she’ll be much longer?” she asked idly, arching a little as Lily’s hands slid firmly up a knot of muscles on her back.
Lily sat across Morgana’s legs, equally naked. Morgana’s body was so much stronger than it had been when she’d first arrived, but she still tired easily at times. They’d been riding earlier that day and now her back was protesting vehemently at the exercise. Lily had offered to rub some soothing oils into her skin, although they’d admittedly got a little distracted as she’d helped undress Morgana and were only now getting round to the actual treatment.
The nature of their relationship remained undefined, and the longer it went on Morgana rather liked that to be honest. Lily was her friend, that much she was clear about. The fact that she’d also happily bring her such pleasure was a bonus she was content not to question. She didn’t really want to think about the future. She was comfortable with Lily and the young woman made her smile. Nothing else really mattered. Why complicate things?
“I don’t know, my lady,” Lily admitted with a shrug. “You know how difficult King Cenred can be. He expects much for even the slightest risk.”
Morgana had told her a dozen times that she didn’t need to call her ‘my lady’ when they were alone, but Lily never listened.
Morgana scoffed. “He should feel honoured to have her presence at all. She’s far too good to be dealing with the likes of him.”
“So protective,” Lily cooed teasingly, bending down to press a kiss against Morgana’s neck.
Morgana couldn’t help but shiver at the feeling of the other girl’s breasts pressing against her back.
“She’s my sister,” she said without hesitation, trying not to get too distracted. She wasn’t exactly in any fit position to protect Morgause and nor did she really believe that her sister needed her help, but Morgana cared for her fiercely all the same, wanting to keep her safe. And untouched by such hands as Cenred’s.
She almost protested as Lily suddenly got up, leaving Morgana’s back exposed and suddenly cold. She felt oddly alone without Lily’s calming physical presence. But the girl immediately held her hand out, drawing Morgana to her feet and leading her to the comfortable armchair instead.
“She is also completely dedicated to our people,” Lily said, kneeling down in front of Morgana and stroking her thighs as she positioned her legs apart with easy familiarity. A few weeks ago such an action would have had Morgana dumb with nervous anticipation. Now she was entirely comfortable with it, watching the other woman with warm eyes.
“She shouldn’t have to do anything untoward to secure our freedom though,” said Morgana, feeling more than nauseated at the idea of Cenred even looking at her sister inappropriately, let alone…
Lily kissed her inner thighs, mouth moving gradually higher.
“Don’t worry. The High Priestess has ways of making him do what she wishes without so much as flashing an ankle. The promise - even a false promise - of reward is encouragement enough when given properly.”
“Is that what you’re doing now?” Morgana asked wanting to change the subject and unable to resist squirming softly as Lily’s lips teased her. Getting distinctly distracted now.
“No,” the girl grinned. “I deliver on my promises most willingly.”
Her tongue found that spot she’d taught Morgana about and the sorceress quickly slid into bliss, fingers curling possessively into Lily’s long, blonde hair.
“It’s the defences that are most difficult,” Morgause mused, long fingers playing idly with the silk of her skirt as she sat at her dresser, the tiny movement the only true outward sign of her agitation. She was eyeing her reflection in the mirror critically, as though she was searching for the fault that had caused her to fail so far.
Morgana could see no trace of a blemish.
Her sister had only returned that afternoon from her long days away courting Cenred’s favour, sweeping in with an air of discontent and frustration. Apparently things had not gone well.
“The walls are too high and the citadel too well guarded,” she continued, thinking the issue aloud for at least the fifth time since she’d returned. Lily was running errands in the village and so Morgana had tended to her sister, fetching her food and wine whilst she changed from her riding clothes. Morgause insisted that she didn’t have to but Morgana brushed the small protests aside. She wanted to be useful in any way that she could. She had an overwhelming urge to care for her sister.
“Cenred’s army could take them in a prolonged siege.” Morgause sipped at her wine between thoughts, seeming highly displeased by this troublesome obstacle. “He could starve them out eventually and against the force of his army even the Knights of Camelot would stand no chance. But that would be long and costly and no amount of persuasion will make Cenred risk it. He fears incursion from his rivals if he’s away from his lands for too long.”
“He always has his own best interests at heart.” Not that she really thought he owed them any loyalty. “Is there no way to use magic to weaken the defences?”
“There is,” Morgause replied. “But no way to see it done. It would require someone trustworthy inside Camelot itself.”
Morgana hesitated for just a moment before she spoke. She had no desire to return to Camelot but if Morgause and their people needed her assistance then it seemed only right that she give it.
“If it brought Uther down…”
Morgause turned and looked at her in askance briefly before realising what she was offering.
“No,” she said firmly. “It carries great danger. Besides, I think there would be difficult questions if Uther’s lost ward was seen wandering the castle. We cannot risk you being spotted.”
Morgana felt a twinge of disappointment at that, wondering why Morgause thought her unable to carry out the mission. Was it her lack of magical competency, or did Morgause not trust her resolve? Was all Morgana useful for fetching her sister’s tea?
Morgause, so intuitive as always, rested a hand on hers.
“You are too important to risk on such an endeavour, sister. I will find another way. Patience has always been required. You must heal and, in time, you’ll take your proper place at my side.”
Later that evening, Morgause put aside the problems posed by Camelot’s defences for the night and spent her evening teaching Morgana instead. They made flowers bloom and fade, Morgause’s going from dry and brittle to lush petals with a mere whisper of the right words. Morgana’s wilted and perked up again on command, not quite as impressive but progress none the less.
“That’s it. Feel the magic within you. Imagine it as an extension of your fingers. A stream of-“ Morgause suddenly stopped her explanation, a troubled frown coming over her face, as if she sensed something on the air that Morgana was blind to.
Morgana had the suddenly sick feeling that something was dreadfully wrong.
She went to ask her what was the matter, but Morgause immediately silenced her with a raised hand. Instead, Morgause stood and crossed to the window, looking down on the courtyard below. Morgana joined her to see a group of men arriving, a wrapped bundle over one of their horses.
Morgause hurried to meet them, the full seriousness of the High Priestess etched on her face. Morgana followed her without question. Something wasn’t right, she could feel it like it was clawing at her.
“What is this?” Morgause demanded as she walked down the well worn steps, the guard at once turning to her, bowing their heads.
“I’m sorry, Priestess,” the man at their lead said, looking a mixture of ashamed and upset. “A boy from the village came to get us but it was too late.”
Morgause’s gaze bore into him, fire burning behind her eyes. She pushed passed him, stepping up to the horse and drawing back the blanket, having no patience for his delicacies.
It was Lily. Her head had been bashed in, her once bright eyes open and sightless.
Morgana had never fainted in her life and even when she felt the floor beneath her, she didn’t realise that she’d fallen until she saw that she was looking up at people. Slowly the faces of concern faded, only a pretty blonde haired girl seeming to remain.
Morgana had awoken a good ten minutes ago, finding herself in the lower study, laid out on the sofa. But she couldn’t speak for a long time, just stared into the patterns of the drapes, trying to wrap her mind around what had occurred until the words finally came.
Lily was dead, that much she knew.
And she couldn’t sob, as much as she wanted to. Like it didn’t seem real.
Morgause sat by her side, stroking her head and holding her hand. Her face was a troubled mixture of tender and dark.
“A mob,” she explained grimly. “A woman in the village had been accused of sorcery and they wanted her disposed of. They were worried she’d bring the Knights of Camelot to them and more would die. Lily protested and paid dearly for her kindness.”
Morgana frowned, not really understanding. The sorceresses had always been kind to the people here as far as she knew and they’d never had any problem with them before.
“News spread quickly of how Prince Arthur and his men killed the druids at their camp,” Morgause explained, seeing her confusion, “and since your disappearance his intrusions have been more pronounced and aggressive.”
On Uther’s orders no doubt, Morgana reasoned. He was probably most aggrieved by the embarrassment of losing his ward. After all, if he couldn’t protect his own then how was he supposed to protect the kingdom?
Regardless of his motives though, one thing was clear to her…
“It’s my fault…” she whispered numbly, feeling like her heart was cracking. Nothing she had personally done but if Uther’s latest bout of cruelty was sparked by her disappearance then in the end it came down to her nonetheless.
Lily was gone because of her.
She hadn’t been in love with the other woman, she knew that, but she’d still loved her. She was a sweet, caring, kind girl who had done so much to help her in these last few months. And she’d been beaten to death by a mob out of fear. She’d deserved so much better than that.
“No,” Morgause insisted firmly, leaning down and kissing Morgana’s forehead. “This is what Uther and his kind do. This is the true cost of his hatred.”
And Morgana cried, truly understanding the personal cost at last.
Lily was buried in the grounds, a calm and beautiful spot that Morgause had picked out herself. The girl had liked it there, had sat there often after her grandmother died, finding peace. It seemed fitting.
As High Priestess she carried out the ceremony too but, to her own shame really, she was far more focused on her sister than the woman they were laying to rest. She’d been well aware that Morgana and the girl had had an…ongoing liaison. She didn’t detect any sense of deep attachment from her sister but she knew Lily was a sensible, kind girl and her attentions would help Morgana to heal. To trust again. That would be important if she was truly to take her place among their people.
Now she’d had that taken from her and Morgause was saddened for her.
Lily’s sacrifice was a tragedy and an affront to their kind - that people could think they could attack someone living under the care of the High Priestess - but the warrior in Morgause knew that the best she could do now was try to use it to her advantage. Morgana had been afraid before, scared of returning to the world outside the castle. As she herself had said, she was hiding here and Morgause had been happy to let her do so.
But now, once her tears had dried, she was angry. Dangerously so, her comments in the last few days showing a fierce bitterness rising. Her hatred for Uther growing by the day to something that would make her the strongest of allies. And Morgause couldn’t deny that Morgana could be extremely useful to their cause.
However, she’d quickly come to learn, her sister was both guided and blinded by her tumultuous emotions. They made her both strong and fiercely determined but extremely unpredictable. Morgause couldn’t involve her in her plans whilst she remained so conflicted. Twice she knew her sister had been in a position to end Uther’s life and twice she’d held back. And even if her hate for him was absolute and unwaivering now, there were still others to consider. Arthur and this servant girl she spoke of, this Guinevere. Morgana remembered them kindly, choosing to recall pleasant things about them rather than the fact she’d felt the need to hide her true nature from them. Morgana’s conflicted feelings for them would have to be dealt with before she could be trusted with the plan that was forming in Morgause’s mind.
She would not allow a crisis of conscience to put her sister’s life at risk. She needed her absolute loyalty. She wanted it. Not that she would ever lie to her.
Why would she need to when the truth would suffice?
“Did I tell you about Igraine?”
Morgana didn’t look up, too comfortable laying in her sister’s lap on one of the large drawing room sofas. Morgause’s fingers were soft and soothing in her hair. They’d spent many an evening like this of late, Morgause having stayed home since Lily’s death. She seemed disturbed by the turn of events, and Morgana couldn’t blame her. She’d spent a lot of time thinking about it herself.
A lot about how she missed the girl - her sweetness, her praise and her attentions - but mostly about the injustice of it all. It was a travesty for such a kind young woman to die in such an unfair way.
Something needed to be done about it although she wasn’t sure quite what yet.
“Arthur’s mother?” she asked with a curious frown, although she was certain there was no other with such a name in the kingdom.
Morgause nodded, still stroking her hair. Soothing and somewhat possessive. She’d been acting increasingly like that since Lily had been brought back. Not that Morgana minded. “Did you know her?”
“Vaguely,” Morgana said with a slightly troubled expression. “She was kind. She had a gentle face.”
Morgana had only met her once, when Uther and Igraine had come to her father’s home in the months before her mother had passed. Uther had frightened her a little - her mother’s wary reaction not helping - but Igraine had been sweet and warm to her. She’d made Morgana smile.
“Everyone was sad when she died.”
Morgause dropped a kiss into Morgana’s hair. She seemed relaxed but Morgana could feel the tension in her body.
“I don’t suppose Uther ever told you how she died?”
A frown crumpled Morgana’s forehead again. “She died in childbirth. That’s why Uther turned against magic - it couldn’t save her and he blamed it for her death.”
The story was well known, all about how one man’s terrible grief had been the death of so many others since. In years passed, Morgana had felt a measure of pity for him, had understood that everything he’d done had come from the pain of lost love rather than an overall malice. Now she felt nothing but derision, bordering on something far stronger and more destructive.
Morgause’s short laugh held no joy at all.
“Such a pretty lie that he’s spun all these years. To make himself look so innocent in it all.”
This time, Morgana did sit up.
“What are you talking about?”
Her sister was clearly leading to something, and she’d rather just be told bluntly than play this game of words and intrigues.
“Uther and Igraine had been married several years,” Morgause explained carefully, as though this was the most important thing she had ever told Morgana. “He had no son. No heir at all. And carrying on his battle-won legacy was far more important to him than anything.”
That much was true. Uther had taken Camelot by force and had no birthright to it. The security of a throne depended on an heir. And men always wanted their bloodline to go on as tribute to them. But why was Morgause telling her this?
“He used magic,” her sister stated bluntly. “To ensure that Igraine conceived even though she was seemingly barren. But you cannot create a life from nothing. And so, when the time came, Igraine died in order for Arthur to live. That was the price of Uther’s legacy.”
Morgana was quite simply stunned, speechless and frozen as she took that in. Everyone knew that Igraine’s death had turned him against magic, but this… This terrible, murderous hypocrisy…
“Did he know…?” The words almost stuck in her throat.
“That she would die? I have no doubt that he knew there’d be a cost,” Morgause said, shaking her head in something akin to disgust. “He knew magic well enough to understand that the balance must be preserved. But he was arrogant enough to believe it would be inconsequential to him. And coward enough to blame others for his own failings.”
Morgana was silent for a very long moment, barely able to comprehend what that meant. Everything had been built on a lie, that much was clear. Every death, everything Camelot stood for was because one man had made a terrible, arrogant, selfish mistake and couldn’t face it. Innocent people had died horribly for his cowardice. Her people.
And she had been made to feel a monster when he was the greatest one of all.
“Everyone should be told,” she said quietly, almost numb. “They should know the man he is.”
Maybe then they would see what she did; he was not fit to be king.
“What, and leave the kingdom to Prince Arthur? A boy with a head for nothing more than wielding a sword?”
Morgause sounded distinctly unimpressed.
But Morgana wasn’t so certain. Arthur was a dilemma she was still unable to fathom out. On the one hand he was arrogant, bullish, brash and far too impressed with himself. He’d done some ridiculous things at his father’s insistence and to preserve his own honour. Yet, at the same time, she’d seen him display courage, bravery and loyalty. She’d seen a man of promise who would do what was right and damn the consequences. She’d tried to encourage that man once, but the more she’d become convinced of her magic, the more she was afraid to be around him, in case she were to open up, spill her dark secrets in a fit of madness and ruin everything.
Morgause frowned at her, looking confused herself.
“Do you have a higher opinion of him than I do, sister?”
“He’s a better man than his father,” Morgana replied cautiously, not wanting to disagree with Morgause but at the same time not convinced that Arthur would be their enemy. Or he shouldn’t be, even if the fact they were trying to kill his father would hardly make him kindly disposed toward them. If it was done right, if magic was not automatically suspected, then surely Camelot could be different under the reign of King Arthur? Maybe there could even be peace again.
Morgause looked pained, reaching up and caressing Morgana’s cheek almost as if she was sorry for what she was about to say.
“You truly trust him, don’t you?”
“I could,” she reasoned, worried by her expression. “He could be a good king.”
“He’s too loyal to his father,” Morgause dismissed, taking Morgana’s hand gently.
“He’s helped our people before,” Morgana explained. “I know he’s upheld the laws of Camelot, but he’s the crown prince. It doesn’t mean he thinks they’re right or-”
“He knows about his mother.”
The revelation was blunt and abrupt, as though Morgause didn’t want her to continue on a false belief any further. Like she was protecting her from a lie.
Morgana shook her head, suddenly uncertain. More not wanting to believe it than thinking her sister wasn’t telling her the truth.
“I told him myself,” Morgause explained, still holding her hands as though she understood this would be a deep blow. “I hoped he would be the honourable man he seemed on our first encounter. That this could all be solved with justice and then a new, wiser man on the throne of Camelot. But I told him and he did nothing about it. He lets his father continue to rule and upholds his barbaric laws even though he is fully aware of what they’re based on.”
Morgana didn’t know what to say. She’d always considered Arthur to be somewhat misguided, a good man trapped behind a veil of misplaced loyalty. But this was something else entirely. He knew what Uther had done and had simply ignored the matter. What kind of man did that?
Morgause drew her into an embrace.
“Forgive me,” she murmured. “I know the two of you were once close.”
“I have you now,” Morgana whispered hollowly, her mind too busy re-thinking near everything she’d thought she’d known.
Unseen to her, Morgause smiled.
Morgause awoke to the lightest knock on her bedroom door in the deep of night. She wasn’t a heavy sleeper in the slightest, always on alert and so she sat up instantly, no trace of sleep on her and called for the person to enter.
When her sister slipped in, closing the door quietly behind her, Morgause relaxed the grip she had on her covers. She would not have let the Blood Guard see her in her sleepwear. Morgana walked across to the bed, her pale skin highlighted by the cool moon glow that poured through the window. The white silk dress she wore clung softly to her shape, showing how much healthier she was looking now. And how thoroughly beautiful she was, Morgause thought.
She shifted over on the bed, holding out her hands for her sister’s and encouraging her to sit.
“What’s wrong?” she asked kindly. “More dreams?”
Morgana’s prophetic visions could be a powerful tool of theirs but Morgause knew it would be some time before Morgana would be proficient enough in magic to have any essence of control over them. Until then, even though she knew Morgana would do it if she asked, she wouldn’t allow her to take the bracelet off. She needed her sleep and Morgause could never be so cruel to her for any gain.
Still, that didn’t mean she didn’t get nightmares of a more mundane nature. She’d been through a great deal in the past few years and that was bound to strain anyone.
Morgana shook her head though.
“Camelot needs to be brought down,” she said, as though she had come to a great decision. “Nothing there is worth saving.”
Morgause felt a shiver of delight inside her as she saw that steely determination in her sister’s eyes.
“No one?” she pressed, testing almost. “Not even your maid?”
“The people can be given a chance,” she reasoned simply. “A chance to stand alongside us and see justice done.”
“And those who don’t?”
“Are our enemies.”
Morgause’s smile was a mixture of pleasure and pride. She pressed a brief, joyful kiss to her sister’s lips, cupping her cheek after before holding her hands again.
“What do you propose, sister?” she asked, feeling invigorated. Giving Morgana chance to be a true part of this as she had always wished for her to be.
“You said your plans with Cenred will work if you have an ally inside the castle. Who better and who less likely to be suspected than Uther’s lost ward, utterly relieved to be away from the bandits who took her?”
Morgause frowned a little. “I cannot ask you to do that.”
She knew Morgana had no desire to return to Camelot, nor did she want to lose her company.
“Is there another way?” Morgana challenged.
Something had changed in her, that much was clear. Lily’s death, the reveal of Uther’s true reasons, of Arthur’s betrayal of her belief in him…There was a hardness to the glint in her eye. It excited Morgause to witness the possibilities, even if she had a strong, instinct to protect Morgana from the coming storm. She wanted this for her sister, for her to feel powerful, to take her rightful place among their people. To stand at her side. But she couldn’t bear the thought of anything happening to her.
But Morgana was right. There was no one more perfect for the job she had in mind. Certainly no one she trusted so much, especially now that look of determination was on her sister’s face. It worried her a little though. Morgana could be so reckless…
“You must promise me one thing,” she insisted. “You will do exactly as I instruct. For your own safety. Do not try to deal out your own justice to those you think deserve it.”
“Like Merlin?” Morgana suggested, both syllables of his name dripping with the same kind of venom he’d made her drink.
“Like Merlin,” Morgause confirmed pointedly. “Be patient, my sister. When Camelot falls to us, he will get his just rewards I swear. But he’s only a servant and will not dare trouble you again.”
“As you wish,” Morgana said with a small smirk. Morgause trusted her though. “What of Cenred? Surely you don’t mean for him to rule Camelot?”
Morgana’s disdain for the man seemed to have only grown. Morgause could understand why in some ways. He certainly had a reputation for being an uncouth brute with little honour. But he amused her no end and his support was invaluable.
Just as Morgana’s near jealousy was touching.
“Of course not,” Morgause dismissed.
“So how do you intend upon making him give it up once his army takes the city.”
“He knows what will happen if he displeases me.”
Morgana grinned slightly at that.
Morgause kissed her sister’s cheek again and drew her down to lay beside her.
“Rest,” she insisted, wrapping her arms lightly around her as though she were the most precious thing. “In the morning I will begin preparing you for your task to come. My own, my sweet sister…”
For the first time in her life, Morgause realised, she had someone that she trusted entirely. The sensation was freeing and it left her drifting into a peaceful, relaxing sleep.
Dreaming of the victories to come.
PROLOGUE | PART ONE | PART TWO | PART THREE | PART FOUR | PART FIVE | PART SIX | PART SEVEN