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22 August 2011 @ 12:54 am
Merlin Fic: The Witch's Dawn (Part Three)  




PART THREE


Queen Morgana Pendragon looked out over her new kingdom with deep displeasure on her face. Camelot was theirs now. Uther was deposed and Arthur had fled in exile. Everything had worked out according to their plans. And yet still things were not right.


Well, technically the kingdom was hers, not theirs. She was Uther’s daughter after all, his eldest child and legitimate heir. It was hardly as if Arthur held any greater claim than she did beyond his gender. He was the product of magic and so who was to say he was even truly the son of Igraine? Nimueh could very well be considered his mother for all intents and purposes, the former queen little more than a vessel. He was a bastard child really. A male bastard which to some was important, but Morgana had never believed that men held any natural superiority over women.


Yes, Camelot belonged to Morgana now, but she shared it freely with her beloved sister. The woman who stood beside her throne and revelled in her accomplishments. Who looked at her with pride and adoration like no other ever had. Her place was always at Morgana’s side, as her equal. After all, what was she without her?


For the moment, at least, she was a troubled woman. For more than a week now she’d ruled. Uther was safely locked away, but Arthur and a handful of his knights outside the citadel were nowhere to be found. Not that they could hide forever nor had they many safe places to go. Uther had had a habit of making enemies and Morgana had made it clear that there would be a rich reward for anyone who could bring the renegade prince to her. No, he was little threat to her now.


And with that realisation, Morgana’s rule should have become more settled. She should be assured and as overjoyed as Morgause was, planning the future for their new kingdom, and yet constant headaches plagued her. The remaining knights would still not yield and her spies told her of whisperings among the people, of secret support for Uther, of those who openly doubted her rights. Who called her ‘wicked’ and ‘evil’.


She would have laughed if it wasn’t so worrying and frankly galling. What was wrong with them? Couldn’t they see the tyranny they’d lived under with Uther? They may have been safe from his pyres but what of their innocent neighbours? Their friends? Were the people of Camelot really so selfish?


Or had Uther really so successfully made them believe his hatred?


No, things hadn’t been easy in the last week, she accepted that, but she kept trying to remind herself that change was always difficult. If they simply gave her a chance she would give them a glorious kingdom of acceptance and peace in return. A place of justice where those who were truly to blame were rightly punished - and she was most saddened that Merlin had escaped with his master and so couldn’t become her first example of that. Her supposed friend. Morgana had no friends in Camelot.


Even Gwen had betrayed her.


The door to her chambers opened but she didn’t look away from the window. The room was guarded well and only one person would dare enter without knocking.


Her sister rested a delicate hand on her shoulder, pressing a kiss to her cheek and standing close behind her.


“You are troubled, dear one,” she murmured softly. The observation was obvious but it was an invitation for Morgana to share her troubles.


“How can they still support him?” she asked, watching the people scurrying below and feeling nothing but derision for every single one of them. “After all he did? The Old Religion was always fair to them and he was a tyrant.”


Morgause put an arm around her waist, comforting and supporting.


“Because they’re weak,” she said, as though the thoughts of such people were entirely inconsequential to her. “Because he poisoned their minds easily with his lies. Because they were safe under Uther and don’t care if others were not.”


“Then why should we even let them live in our kingdom?” Morgana asked, a bitter look on her face. “If they don’t even support our kind.”


“Because without the people there is no kingdom,” Morgause said simply. “And we are stronger when our numbers are greater, when we have farmers, labours, smiths, bakers… Magic cannot and should not do everything.”


“I wish it could.”


Morgana would be far more comfortable in a kingdom only of magic. Somewhere where she didn’t feel like an outcast, like she had to justify her very existence and prove herself. She shouldn’t have to - they were supposed to defer to her. Even now though, Camelot still didn’t feel like her home any more, and she feared that even if she ruled it for fifty years it never quite would be.


But it was her right, as Morgause kept telling her, and she didn’t want to let her sister down. Nor did she want Uther to win. The hate she had for him made her determined to beat him.


Her father. It made her sick to think of it. Even worse when she recalled how little he truly cared for her - how his care was a charade and he would have ended her life in flames if he’d discovered her secret. She wished she could somehow purge his blood from her veins. She felt tainted by it.


Morgause stroked her hair, clearly sensing her upset. Her affections were more pronounced of late, ever since Morgana had fallen down the stairs those few months back and had so nearly been lost. In fact, at times the look in Morgause’s eyes seemed almost beyond sisterly but Morgana never questioned it. She was simply grateful to have her at all.


“Once they see how strong you are, they’ll be proud to follow you,” she soothed. “Once they see that you are a fair queen who rewards loyalty and punishes traitors, they’ll never doubt you again.”


Morgana smiled a little at her.


“You wish them to see me as you do?” she teased gently.


A slightly smirk tugged at Morgause’s lips as though she was sharing a private joke with herself.


“I wish no one to see you like that.”


Morgana wasn’t quite brave enough to ask her what she really meant.


“Is that why you disposed of Cenred?” she asked instead, still a teasing note in her voice. “Because you didn’t like the way he looked at me?”


She doubted it was true, meaning it as nothing more than a jest. The nonw-dead king had apparently only had eyes for her sister and all she offered him. Morgana had been little more than a minor consideration. A means to an ends. She’d only met him once; Morgause hadn’t been very keen for him and her sister to cross paths.


“I would happily dispose of anyone who made even the merest hints about trying to take your throne,” Morgause said, an playful expression on her face. “He displeased me.”


Morgana couldn’t say she was sad to see the back of him.


“But his army will remain loyal?”


“To whoever possesses the cup,” Morgause assured her. “It is bound to whoever places their blood on the outside of it.”


Morgana nodded in understanding. Morgause hadn’t explained that before, not having gone into detail about how the magic worked.


“Wouldn’t it be wise to have the Blood Guard here though?”


She’d certainly noted their absence, surprisingly uncomfortable without them. She hadn’t expected the entire compliment of soldiers, but a private guard seemed wise to her. Someone to protect them whose loyalty was unquestionable.


“It is always prudent to have a fallback position,” Morgause said.


Morgana had learnt not to assume that that meant Morgause expected things to go wrong, simply that she was being her naturally cautious self. Still, it made her think. What if this did all go badly? What would there be for them then?


She couldn’t bear to let her sister down like that, not after all she’d done for her. She would have to get the loyalty of the people of Camelot one way or another.


“Come,” Morgause said, taking her hand and leading her from the window as though trying to distract her from troublesome thoughts. “Even a queen needs to eat.”


**********


Many hours later, a shadowed figure moved into the very edge of the courtyard that Morgana had stared at for so long that afternoon. The moon shone bright and large, silver light making the area easy to guard. But clouds were rolling in, a storm on its way. Only a fool would try to continue on at that moment, coming out of the shadows before the cover of heavy rain made it harder to be seen.


And Cenred was no fool.


That was why he’d had his men capture those druids when Morgause had relayed her plans to him, wanting to know more about this cup she was having him retrieve. More importantly, he wanted to know how to make it his. The answer was that he couldn’t, much to his own annoyance. Even the most heinous torture didn’t get him the answer he wanted. Only those of magic could use the cup. Which was indeed a problem. He couldn’t simply take it from Morgause and use it himself - he would gain nothing but a powerfully enraged enemy. But, at the same time, he was not about to hand over his army and the great kingdom next to his to her and her bastard sister.


Patience was not his strong suit and time had not been on his side. The druids’ dying breaths came quickly but with it other answers he’d been looking for. There was no way for him to enchant the cup, but he could protect himself from its affects and claim it for himself with a simple gift of blood and an amulet held by one of their elders which meant he would be immune to the cup’s powers of control. Apparently it’d been made on pain of death for a king many years before who’d wished to claim the cup for himself, not trusting his sorcerer to use it without betraying him. The parallels amused Cenred although he wouldn’t be as foolish as to put his faith the druid elders like that man had.


Cenred’s very best assassin had removed the amulet from the elder’s severed neck, placing it into his king’s hands mere hours before Morgause had made her grand entrance to say how pleased she was with him.


Fooling her had been easier than he’d hoped, and it almost made him want to reveal himself to her just so he could see the look of dumb disbelief on her face. She was a magnificent woman to be sure, but far too impressed with herself. He’d like to be the one to teach her the meaning of respect.


The ritual had taken many hours, such a vast army to enchant, and it was easy for Cenred to claim boredom and leave her to it. Only to change into the uniform of one of his elite foot soldiers, with their hood and mask, amulet hidden beneath his armour, and slip into the crowd. She didn’t even look at him as she took his blood and performed the ritual. The High Priestess clearly felt no need to debase herself by engaging with the common infantry.


Just as he knew she had no intention of sharing power with him. The only surprise was that she made his own men do it rather than completing the deed herself. He’d put up a good show, fighting back and ‘dying’ most convincingly. He was worried she might decide to do something vindictive with his body but she seemed thoroughly disinterested in him, ordering the guards to prepare to march on Camelot and leaving him on his throne room floor.


She always had underestimated him.


The first large drops of rain began to fall, the vanguard of a torrential downpour, which would be thoroughly to his advantage. Cenred had not become such a powerful ruler by delegating what must be done to others; he was a powerful and proficient warrior in his own right. Unsheathing his swords, he hurried across the courtyard, as nimble as a hunting cat. The guard patrolling by the well didn’t even have a chance to scream before his head was rolling through the puddles. Cenred threw his body down the well, removing the man’s tongue and tossing it away before dropping the head down there as well. He understood that the action wouldn’t kill the guard and he wasn’t sure of their ability to reattach severed parts, but it would be some time before he was in any position to raise the alarm.


Long enough for Cenred to find the Cup, bind himself to it instead and claim back his army. Before claiming his new kingdom.


He smirked to himself as he hurried swiftly into the shadows once more.


Perhaps he’d claim a new bride too. Morgana was beautiful but haughty, just ripe to be broken. And once he’d dealt with Prince Arthur, her children would be the only legitimate heirs to Camelot. Cenred would have to ensure that they were his children.


He might even keep her sister around long enough for her to know about it.



PROLOGUE | PART ONE | PART TWO | PART THREE | PART FOUR | PART FIVE | PART SIX | PART SEVEN