Title: An Escape
Characters: Morgana, Uther, Arthur, Gwen, various OCs
Summary: Uther had never been beyond playing games, even with his nearest and dearest, to get what he wanted.
Lady Vivian was always a welcome visitor to Camelot and not only because she was the King's beloved cousin. She was a merry woman who had a great passion for feasts and consequently insisted upon holding grand gatherings whenever she visited, much to the joy of all. To assist with this, she always brought with her some of her favourite delights; the finest food and wine, her talented cooks and some of the many entertainers she employed. Uther had been known to comment that, with such extravagant taste, he was surprised her husband's purse wasn't permanently empty. In return, Vivian pointed out that having married a rich man and borne him sons, she’d earned the right to spend his money in whichever way pleased her. And since it wasn't his treasury affected Uther had no reason to disagree.
Morgana enjoyed Lady Vivian's visits too and not only because of the festivities she brought with her. The king’s ward spent her days mostly surrounded by men, with the exception of Gwen, and another woman's presence was always welcome. Vivian had been very kind to her whenever she’d been in need of a womanly ear, understanding that Morgana sometimes found things difficult without a mother, and although the younger woman didn’t feel the necessity to seek advice any more, Vivian’s warm presence was still much appreciated.
As was the presence of so many other people in the Great Hall, she concluded. She certainly much preferred the castle to be lively and so many friends made the occasion all the merrier. Not to mention the ongoing attention of her admirers which always provided enough flattery to cheer anyone.
During the final feast, the one to mark Lady Vivian’s departure the following day, Morgana noted that one man above all others was particularly attentive although he made no effort to speak a word to her. Several times she caught him looking in her direction and she always smiled graciously in return, but he only ever barely acknowledged her before glancing away. Which most other times would signal disinterest in her mind and yet, oddly, he kept looking all the same. It was almost though he was appraising her, taking her to account as if she were a commodity. The whole thing quickly became rather annoying, no matter how much she tried to ignore it, and she complained to Gwen about it numerous times.
She was talking quite merrily with one of the ladies of the court, when the other woman suddenly became very serious, gave a little nod and moved away. Morgana was hardly surprised to see Uther behind her when she turned. He had a way of scaring people off with his mere presence long before he'd so much as asked them to leave.
"Lord Henry's son is a fine young man, is he not?" the king said without preamble, indicating the gentleman who’d been watching her so carefully.
Something in the man’s coldly pleased air made her cautious and she took a moment to answer.
"He’s a typical example of his kind," she finally settled on. It was not a compliment.
"I'm glad you find him pleasing," Uther replied with a cool smile, obviously understanding her words should not be taken at face value yet doing so just the same. “His name is Galmor and from all accounts he is a shining example of nobility. Just the sort of man in fact I would wish you to marry. Unless your interest lies in a more favourable direction, of course."
His gaze was indicating none too subtly towards Arthur who was laughing with his friends and oblivious to the scrutiny.
The issue of her marriage was one she was still trying to avoid, even if she was well aware that it would have to happen sooner or later and that her options were limited. Uther was clearly keen for her to settle upon Arthur and she suspected that was partly down to her substantial dowry and the lands that her husband would inherit, ones that used to belong to her father and which were currently under Uther’s control. He wouldn’t want to lose them, she reasoned. She never doubted that the King was fond of her and didn’t want to see her unhappy, but at heart he would always be a practical man and her marrying Arthur would certainly be in his own best interests.
Probably hers too if she was honest with herself. At least she knew Arthur and had some measure of respect for him, not to mention the fact that becoming his wife would allow her to remain in Camelot. But the notion of being forced into it made her feel quite ill and set into her head the idea that she should fight it. She didn’t want to be any man’s pawn, nor did she want a man to wed her simply because his father told him he had to.
She bit her lip and remained stonily silent, unable to think of an answer that wouldn’t just make matters worse.
“You'll invite him to sit next to you at dinner,” Uther said, seemingly displeased at her silence, nodding towards Galmor.
“Why?” she challenged, typically not capable of going quietly along with the matter.
“Because he is keen to meet you and I told you to,” Uther snapped back, his voice little more than a hard whisper but with a tone she knew there was no disobeying.
“Very well,” she agreed tautly, her blood boiling at the notion of being used so.
Uther smiled at her, but no warmth reached his eyes and there was a sense of victory on his face. In response she turned sharply on her heels, storming her way out of the room like a fury, barging past half a dozen people, including Arthur whose complaints she ignored.
The corridor she escaped to seemed no less oppressive, the few guests milling about and several servants all looking at her curiously. She felt trapped, even in the large castle, and she hurried off down the corridor, trying to keep an air of decorum despite the fact that she felt like running. Further along, she checked no one was looking before she pushed aside the edge of a tapestry and took the exit hidden there.
Morgana had almost walked straight into Arthur as she strode across the room, a thunderous look on her face.
“Was I in your way?” he called sarcastically after her as she rudely left without apologising.
She still said nothing in response and he rolled his eyes in annoyance before trying to suppress his anger as Lady Vivian step up to him.
“More of Morgana’s dramatics,” he explained as the older lady watched the younger one go, although why he felt the need to excuse her behaviour, he didn’t really know. Morgana was quite old enough to excuse herself if need be.
Vivian shrugged a little, apparently unsurprised. “She’s probably just upset that Uther is muttering about marriage again. She wouldn’t be the first strong willed young woman to not like the man chosen for her.”
Arthur raised an eyebrow in surprise. He had no idea the matter was even being discussed and, quite frankly, it left him feeling greatly unsettled.
“Marriage? That ridiculous. She’s too young.”
“Arthur,” the older woman said, shaking her head at him as though he was being unrealistic, “there are girls younger than her who are married and have children of their own. It’s only Uther’s indulgence that’s meant she’s remained unwed until now.”
“Who does he have in mind?” he asked, feeling almost ashamed that he sounded so concerned by the matter.
“Lord Henry’s son, Galmor” she replied, glancing across at the young man in question.
Arthur followed her gaze. In truth he barely knew the other man, but he saw his haughty expression and stern features and decided that he didn’t like him. He was probably the type who beat his servants and was tight with his purse.
“I will have to talk to my father,” he said solemnly, pretending he spoke from some sort of knowledge rather than just a gut instinct. “He’s not at all suitable.”
“He’s to inherit substantial funds, much land and many knights,” Vivian pointed out pragmatically. “As far as Uther’s concerned that makes him highly suitable. And it’s hardly surprising your father would seek an alliance with him. His support would be good for Camelot.”
Which was all true, but the idea of essentially giving him Morgana in order to secure that did not sit well with Arthur.
“I don’t think trading Morgana to a man that lives half a kingdom away is good for anyone,” he said sharply, nodding politely before he left room.
Vivian watched him go with the slightest smile.
Forest surrounded most of the castle but it came closest to the west side, only a few hundred paces away at its nearest. Morgana could see the trees from her bedroom window and somehow they seemed to bring her peace, fond memories of childhood games played there always warming her. That was probably why she fled there now, her feet carrying her along without conscious thought. Stepping only a few dozen paces inside the tree line, the castle behind her seemed to disappear, hidden from view by the thick canopy, and she finally felt like no one was watching her. It was a place she had run to many times before.
She sat herself on a fallen tree trunk that had been lying on the ground there since she was a girl, her fingers gripping at the bark in white anger. She loved Uther, really she did, but at times he could be the most cold and heartless man she’d ever met. How could he do this to her? Essentially try and bribe her into courting Arthur by insisting that she otherwise introduce herself to a man that she obviously didn’t like? Did he think she was a toy to be played with? That she could be so easily manipulated? No, she reasoned, he gave her more credit than that. He realised that she understood his plans entirely and he was brazen about her knowing them. Ultimately the decision over who she married was his. Oh, she could make her choice and ask him to agree with her, but without his approval she could do nothing about it. Except, she supposed, elope. But a strange sense of duty wouldn’t allow her to seriously consider that. Not to mention the fact that she didn’t exactly have anyone in mind to run away with.
It wasn’t as if she totally despised Arthur. He had many qualities that would make him a good husband; he was noble and chivalrous, not to mention undeniably handsome. And yes, he could be arrogant, terribly conceited and wasn’t always the politest person to those he considered lower than him, but he was a good man at heart and could always grow out of those things. She would never have to worry with him, like some unfortunate women did with their husbands. He would always do right by her and never mistreat her. But on the other hand he could still be so cool towards her at times, just like his father. It was often hard to tell if he really cared for her or if he simply did what was expected of him. As someone who hated herself just to follow expectations, she found it hard to warm to others who did. She didn’t want Arthur to marry her because he thought it was what he was supposed to do. How could that ever lead to a happy life?
She sighed in frustration. If only he wasn’t so closed, she could more easily tell what he truly felt, but he’d been taught from childhood to hide his feelings far too well. Sometimes she thought he did feel something for her; that he was affected by her presence, got jealous when she showed favour to other men and genuinely cared for her wellbeing. Other times though he showed an almost disdainful disinterest towards her, his teasing sometimes bordering on unkind and his words insisting that he thought little of her. She still wasn’t convinced that she knew which Arthur was the true one.
She knew that they could probably be considered friends and at least that was a start. It was with a fond smile that she remembered their childhood and how peaceful things had once been between them. They would play together whenever she and her father came to visit. She would be kidnapped by a devious knight or held captive by an evil dragon and Arthur would come to her rescue, fighting his way so dramatically through with his little wooden sword, before declaring he’d saved her and saying that they should now get married. Despite her passive role, she’d always rather enjoyed their games. She remembered being utterly heartbroken when one day, at the age of about eight, he’d abandoned her to go and play with some other boys, declaring that he couldn’t be friends with her because she was a girl. She’d cried for a clear hour and Arthur had been made to come and apologise to her, bringing her a new doll as a peace offering. She laughed to herself now, suspecting she’d never quite forgiven him for making her so upset. Although it was true to say that she still had the doll to this day, hidden in a box under her bed.
Sudden footsteps wiped any smile off her face and she froze, the foolishness of her anger fuelled actions immediately hitting home. Out here, alone in the dark, who knew who she may come across? If she screamed in alarm would the guards even hear her?
She stood carefully and slowly, pressing herself back against a nearby large tree and hoping to stay hidden until whoever was out there was gone, all the while cursing her own stupidity.
For strangest reason hearing Arthur’s voice didn’t make her feel much better and she still stayed close to the tree. He was last person she really wanted to see right now whilst her emotions were still in such turmoil. Not to mention the fact that he would undoubtedly scold her for being out here alone and she certainly didn’t need his patronising.
He stopped just outside the tree line, apparently refusing to come in and get her, and she could imagine him standing there with his arms impatiently folded.
“I know you’re there,” he stated with utter confidence when she didn’t answer. “You always come here when you’re upset about something.”
That threw her a little. How did he know that? She honestly didn’t think he took that much notice of the things she did.
When her silence continued, he gave a long, frustrated sigh that he made quite sure was audible. “It's been a long day Morgana, and I don't need your silly games.”
Still somehow she was reluctant to move, subconsciously holding her breath.
“Fine!” he huffed angrily after another silent moment. “Stay out here! And don't come crying to me when you're attacked by wolves!”
She heard him begin to march away and she didn’t know what made her suddenly decide to reveal herself. She didn’t think it was his mention of wolves; she’d never heard any and she wasn’t sure she believed him. Maybe it was simply an impulse to not just let him leave when he’d actually bothered to come out here after her.
“That's not very chivalrous now is it?” she called after him, stepping slowly around the tree, keeping her voice perfectly calm.
He stopped and whirled back to face her, clearly riled. “And it's not particularly ladylike for you to force me to come out here after you in the first place.”
She frowned in annoyance at that, remembering again why he could anger her so much. “I didn't exactly ask you to,” she countered crossly. “Heaven forbid I should be a burden on your precious time.”
She stormed back towards the castle, marching past him, her skirts gathered so she didn’t suffer the ignominy of tripping. It seemed that nature had no intention of allowing her to escape in a dignified manner though as she only took half a dozen steps more before the heavens unexpectedly opened and the rain began to fall.
She tried to ignore it, hoping it would be just a light shower, but clearly someone was conspiring against her because it rapidly got heavier. The gossamer gown she wore was quickly sodden and her escape slowed as the ground became wet and harder to walk on.
Arthur apparently took pity on her because within a few strides he was at her side, draping his cloak over her shoulders. She tried to shrug it off but he pushed it on her more firmly.
“Trust me,” he said in response to her fierce glare, “I think that dress is starting to become a little see through.”
Baulking in embarrassment she gripped the edge of the material and pulled it roughly around her.
She was sure he could move quicker than she could with her ridiculous shoes, but he stayed by her side all the same. As the rain grew steadily heavier, she tried to quicken her pace but almost immediately stumbled on the uneven ground and his hand suddenly gripped hers tight, keeping her on her feet with the lightest of tugs. He didn’t let go once she was stable again and moments later he grinned at her, apparently suddenly seeing the amusement in the situation. After a pause, she smiled too, anger cooled by the rain. Almost immediately a subconscious agreement was made and they began to run.
It felt good that they were both laughing together for once even if they were now drenched and ridiculous looking.
He tugged her into the small arch of the doorway, barely enough room for the both of them. He reached to turn the door handle but it wouldn’t budge.
“Well this is no good,” he said, although he was still grinning, “the latch must have fallen on the other side.”
Rain water dripped from the ends of his hair, running down over his face. Suddenly he looked much more like the boy he used to remember than the prince she seemed not to know. Only this boy was all grown up and had pleasing broad shoulders and fine, handsome features. He rubbed large hands up and down her arms, trying to ensure she was warm enough. For her part she was just glad it was far too dark for him to see her blush.
“Come on,” he said, after a thoughtful moment, taking her hand again.
“Where are we going?”
She followed him in trusting silence, around the wall and to a different door which thankfully opened. To her surprise though, once in the courtyard he didn’t take her back inside but instead across to a small, half hidden gate, leading to a series of walled alleys. Despite all her years in Camelot she’d never been here before. She resisted the urge to ask him where they were going, somehow knowing this was just meant to seen.
As they’d walked the rain had ended almost as abruptly as it had started and the moon had come through the clouds. It illuminated clearly the place where they finally arrived; a small, private garden, tucked out of sight from any window. It appeared to have once been a very beautiful place yet it was massively overgrown, plants wrapping themselves around the stone benches and statues as if claiming them for their own.
Morgana looked at him curiously, wondering why they were here.
“This place was my mother’s,” he explained simply. “Father didn’t want anyone else to take over care of it when she died so it ended up like this.”
Which was very sweet and romantic, she reasoned, but still didn’t leave her any less confused about why he brought her here.
“Why are showing it to me?” she asked, deciding the direct route was best.
“Do you remember the way?”
“I sometimes come here,” he admitted, as though the confession was hard, “when I need some time to myself. I thought you could use it too. It’s a lot safer than running away to the woods.”
She smiled gently at him, her heart touched by the gesture. She nodded her thanks, not really needing to put them into words, somehow understanding that he knew how grateful she was. Then it was her turn to reach out for his hand.
“Come,” she said, “Uther will be wondering where we are. We don’t want him sending the guards out.”
“No,” Arthur agreed with a slight smile.
They walked back into the castle hand in hand, unclear whether he was escorting her or it was the other way round, but eventually they ended up outside her rooms all the same.
“We should probably both change,” he reasoned with some amusement, indicating his still wet clothes.
“Oh I don’t know,” she joked, “Maybe we should go back like this and cause a scandal. We could tell people we went swimming in the moat.”
“Wouldn’t the notion that you fell in and I rescued you in a daring manner be more likely?” he jested in return.
“How about I pushed you in for saying something terribly rude to me and then I felt honour bound to dive in and pull you out again?” she suggested, still grinning, hands on hips.
“You don’t quit do you,” he said, half way between amused and exasperated.
“Never,” she promised with a smile in return.
He reached out and took her hand again, looking down at it, running his thumb over her fingers. “You know,” he admitted, “I don’t think I’d want it any other way.”
Morgana turned, her attention finally drawn from the man in front of her as Gwen came hurrying down the corridor, appearing harried.
“I’ve been looking for you everywhere,” the girl said, in some obvious relief. “Lady Vivian said you left the feast and- oh, sorry...”
She hurriedly stopped as she caught sight of Arthur still clutching at Morgana’s hand. Feeling a little embarrassed, he quickly let it go.
“I should go and get changed,” he said, clearing his throat. “I’ll see you back at the feast.”
She smiled warmly as she watched him go.
“If I’d known I was interrupting something I would have left,” Gwen said with a smile, opening the door and ushering Morgana inside. “What have you been doing? You’re soaked through!”
“I’ve just been getting to know Arthur a little better.”
Gwen grinned at her.
“Not like that,” Morgana said firmly, although a smile still played across her lips.
“I’ll get you a dry gown,” Gwen said, shaking her head in bemusement as she headed to the bedchamber.
Alone, Morgana removed Arthur’s cloak and laid it across the back of a chair, running her fingers tenderly over the material.
What a strange thing is was that the rain could reveal so much.
Twenty minutes later, Gwen having helped her to redress and fix her rain ruined makeup and hair, Morgana stood in the corridor outside the Great Hall, taking a deep preparatory breath before she entered. It wasn’t until she’d arrived back there that she’d remembered why she’d run away in the first place and her lifted mood quickly soured once more.
Still, she firmly told herself, if she couldn’t go back in, then Uther would have some strange victory over her and she was determined to show strength in the face of his machinations.
She didn’t have to seek out Sir Galmor as requested because he walked up to her as soon as she entered. Uther must have already said something to him, she supposed.
“Lady Morgana,” he greeted, with a small nod. “You’ve changed your gown.”
“I was bored of the other,” she said flippantly, wondering if he would be put off her if she appeared vacuous and superficial. She got the distinct impression however that he wouldn’t be bothered by those traits in a woman as long as his eyes were pleased with what they saw and she afforded him some monetary or power advantage.
Taking a deep breath she opened her mouth to invite him to sit next to her at dinner, revolting at the idea but knowing she had no real choice when Uther had ordered it so firmly. She didn’t get a chance to speak though before a far more welcome voice interrupted.
“Sir Galmor,” Arthur said, all joviality although she could hear the false ring there even if he couldn’t, “how fare you?”
“Very well, sire,” the other man said, thinly veiled irritation in his tone showing that the interruption was not a welcome one.
“Well I’m sorry to have to cause some injury then,” Arthur replied with false regret. “Forgive me, but I must steal the lady Morgana from you. She is to accompany me to dinner tonight.”
Her expression was momentarily a mixture of stunned and relieved but she quickly smoothed it into a mask of indifference.
Galmor nodded, tightly, clearly displeased but unable to do anything about it in the face of the prince.
Arthur offered Morgana his arm and the pair of them walked away.
“Thank you,” she said quietly, when she believed they were out of earshot.
“That’s quite all right,” he said with a smile. “I’m getting quite used to rescuing you.”
Across the room, Vivian stepped up to Uther who was watching the two young people with great interest.
“I suppose you’re quite pleased with your work,” she pointed out.
He nodded, “She will make a good queen and bear him fine sons.” Then he smiled a little. “I pride myself on knowing how best to deal with stubborn creatures.”
“Being one yourself,” she pointed out dryly, “I am not surprised.”
He raised his goblet and smiled, apparently agreeing with that.
“You shouldn’t play with them so,” Vivian lightly scolded. “I’m sure, if it is meant to be, they will come to each other eventually.”
“Left to their own devices they would bicker until the end of time and get nowhere,” he scoffed, obviously deeming that he knew them better than they knew themselves.
“I wouldn’t be so hard on them,” Vivian countered. “She likes him well enough and I believe he feels for her, although he is good at hiding his feelings, like his father.”
Vivian glanced at him then, wondering if she could break into the shell for a moment, but Uther was a closed book as per usual. She suspected however that when he looked upon them he didn’t see a young couple on the verge of blooming love, but Camelot’s future secured.