Morgause was exhausted come nightfall, having not taken a moment’s rest in near two days. Arthur had been utterly furious with Merlin, calling him all sorts of names, many ‘idiot’ and many more the sort a high born prince shouldn’t even know let alone use.
Morgause’s assessment was even less kind, knowing that Merlin had somehow got rid of the Cup on purpose to keep it from them. She had no idea how he’d done it and knew he’d have no qualms about keeping it hidden in the castle letting Morgana die. She would have gone looking for it herself but she didn’t dare leave Morgana alone and vulnerable with these people around.
They’d taken Morgana back to her old rooms, laying her on the bed so Morgause could begin the long and difficult process of healing her with magic. There were no guarantees of its success and the first few hours had been agonising as she more than once got the sensation that she was losing her. But Morgana had been strong, heeding her sister’s pleas to fight. Listening to her when she said she needed her.
Come late afternoon, Morgause actually breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, she’d dismissed the Blood Guard and the scorpions, the urge to kill every last person here diminishing. Morgana was weak and needed to recover but she would live.
The physician, Gaius, had come up at dusk offering his assistance only to be met with angry refusal. She remembered all her sister had said about this man, all he’d done to keep her weak and in the dark about her abilities. He’d had no right to do such a thing. To keep her caged and terrified when she should be magnificent.
So how dare he offer his help now? Particularly as a man who’d once followed the old ways and had betrayed them so very deeply. As far as she was concerned, he was a traitor and she’d hissed as much as him as she demanded he leave.
Even if she had to stay awake for days, she promised, as she came back to sit at Morgana’s bedside stroking her hair tenderly, she wouldn’t allow anyone to come near her again.
Arthur arrived outside Morgana’s bed chamber to see a rather flustered looking Gaius leaving the room. The old physician had arrived back not more than an hour ago after Arthur had sent a couple of men to fetch him safely home. He’d wasted no time in making himself useful. There were injuries that needing seeing to and he’d immediately set to work. Fortunately they were mostly minor, and Merlin and Gwen were competently dealing with them so Arthur had asked Gaius to offer his services to help Morgana instead.
It was apparent that that hadn’t gone well.
“I’m sorry, sire,” he said with a heavy sigh. “It seems my assistance is unwelcome.”
Arthur nodded, placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder. He’d suspected as much but he couldn’t not offer.
“Go and get some rest,” he insisted.
“Now why would I do that when there’s others needing my help?” Gaius asked with a dry smile. “I’ll go and check on the king again.”
Arthur nodded once more, this time in gratitude. They hadn’t rescued Uther from the dungeon until well after the battle, wanting be sure that no danger remained before they risked moving him. They’d found him unharmed but… Something was wrong. He wasn’t the same man he had been less than a week ago. It was like his very soul had been beaten.
Arthur didn’t like to think about what that might mean for the future.
Gaius shared his grave look, probably having the same worries, and hurried off.
“All quiet?” Arthur asked Sir Leon, turning to the guard who’d offered to stand watch outside Morgana’s chambers whilst others had their injuries seen to or helped their friends. Arthur hadn’t been sure whether he’d offered as protection for her or to guard Camelot against her, but he’d accepted the assistance nonetheless.
Leon nodded but looked very ill at ease.
“She’s been doing spells in there all day,” he said nervously, clearly referring to Morgause. “The king would not like it. Even using magic to heal…Especially after…”
He trailed off, apparently not wanting to risk speaking out of turn.
“My father’s in no fit state to agree or disagree with anything at the moment,” Arthur replied grimly before knocking on the door.
There was no response but he wasn’t told to leave either so, after giving it a beat, he opened the door and entered. This was his kingdom after all.
Morgause was sitting by the bedside in her undershirt and trousers, armour removed. She still looked fierce though, hand on the hilt of her sword as he entered, the weapon resting ready on the bedside table. She didn’t remove her hand for a long beat, as if judging whether he meant her any harm.
In all honesty, his feelings for this woman were conflicted. She been the conductor of all this; she’d taken Morgana and poisoned her against them. It had been her plan to take over Camelot, deposing his father and leaving himself and his allies on the run. But she’d also proved herself a proficient warrior and if it hadn’t been for her assistance, Camelot would still undoubtedly be under Cenred’s control.
And he couldn’t doubt that she loved Morgana, he’d seen that in her face when Cenred had stabbed her.
“How is she?” he asked cautiously. Morgana looked even paler than normal and his instinct was to touch her forehead and see if she had a fever but he dare not get any closer.
“She needs rest but she’ll live,” Morgause said tightly.
He wasn’t sure if that was anger or a deep distrust.
“She’ll be safe here until then,” Arthur promised.
Morgause’s expression didn’t change. Clearly that meant little to her.
“I’m a man of my word, Morgause,” he added solemnly. “If she’s told you anything about me, it should be that.”
After a moment, the sorceress nodded. A temporary truce of sorts settling between them. Not that Morgause seemed any keener on him or his company.
“Is there anything I can get you?” he asked after an awkward moment of silence.
“No,” she said, quite firm in her denial.
“Anything you need to help her?”
He sighed in frustration.
“Fine,” he relented, tired and not in the mood for niceties now. “If you want to rest or need anything, tell the guard. I’ll have my manservant sent up.”
Morgause barked out a suddenly laugh, a sound so violent and unexpected that it almost startled him.
“Do you think I’d let him anywhere near her?”
Arthur frowned, confused. “I know Merlin doesn’t exactly fill anyone with confidence to look at him and he did lose the Cup but…well, he’s not totally useless.”
“Of yes,” Morgause replied sarcastically. “He’s quite gifted with poison.”
That didn’t help his confusion at all.
Morgause looked at him with disdain and perhaps even a little pleasure in her eyes. As though she was going to enjoy telling him this.
“Did you really think that I’d harmed her?” Morgause asked, almost as if believed she was talking to a fool. “When I took her after calling off the knights last year? Did you think that I’d injured her? That I’d knocked her out, kidnapped her? Or is that what he told you had happened?”
Arthur didn’t like her tone at all. He’d been a victim of her lies before but this…Whatever she was saying…At the time he had assumed that Morgause had attacked Morgana and taken her. And Merlin had said as much. But, now, seeing how she was with her…
“You invaded my home and tried to kill my father,” he said stonily, hating how much she spoke down to him. Wanting to paint her to be the duplicitous villain so he was justified in not believing anything she had to say. “What else should I have thought?”
“I would never hurt her. She’s precious to me.”
Her eyes burned almost as fiercely as if she was doing magic.
“I saved her,” she continued. “He was the one who gave her the poison to drink. Your boy. Merlin.”
Men tried to talk to Arthur as he passed them in the corridors, but he ignored them all, heading with a single minded anger to the throne room where a make-shift infirmary was set up. He didn’t have to enter it to find Merlin though. His manservant was walking along the corridor outside, a bowl of water in his hands. He smiled when he saw Arthur but that expression soon faltered as he saw the look on the prince’s face.
The bowl clattered to the floor as Arthur pushed him roughly through a nearby door.
“Did you poison her?” he demanded, getting straight to the point.
Merlin floundered a moment, gaping wordlessly. That seemed as much an admission of guilt to Arthur as anything.
“Did you?!” Arthur asked again, his voice rising.
This time Merlin found his words.
“Yes,” he admitted, standing up straight. Defiant.
Arthur looked at him, horrified, taking a step back. He’d so hoped that it wasn’t true, that it’d been just another of Morgause’s lies. He berated Merlin a lot, both to his face and in front of others. But the truth of the matter was that he trusted him more than he did most. This just made no sense.
“Because she was the vessel for the spell that was putting everyone to sleep,” Merlin answered, sounding a strange mixture of apologetic and matter of fact. “She had to be stopped or we all would have been dead.”
Arthur shook his head, finding it hard to take this all in. He supposed, in a way, it made even more sense of this whole mess, more pieces of the puzzle falling into place. Everything was suddenly abundantly clear; how and why Morgause had managed to turn Morgana against them so successfully, why she didn’t trust them. Morgana was a sorceress and someone in the court had poisoned her to stop her assisting in the king’s death. A king who hated her kind and would have seen her dead. A king who was secretly her father and had lied to her all these years. He didn’t agree with her in the slightest - thought she was a fool to have kept all this to herself - but it made greater sense now.
He thought he would be angry with Merlin. Knew he should be in fact. But he couldn’t bring himself to be so. Merlin had been trying to save him and his father, that much was clear and Morgana had allied herself with their enemy.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked with a heavy sigh, rubbing at his temples. Maybe he could have prevented all this if only he’d known sooner.
Merlin looked at him solemnly.
“Would you have believed me? Would you have thought her capable of it?”
Once, he wouldn’t have done.
“You should have said something,” Arthur said, calmer now. He understood that Merlin was trying to do the right thing but the way it had turned out… “We might have been able to help her. But now…”
Morgana was angry at them all, that much was clear. And she always had been volatile.
Merlin nodded, looking sad himself as though he’d had that thought more than once. “I’m sorry. For you. I know you cared for her.”
Arthur sighed again, running his hands back through his hair. This was all such a mess.
And he still did care for her, making it all the more difficult.
“Did you know she’s a…that she can do magic?”
Sorceress? Witch? He found it difficult to say either word even if he had known which was correct.
“I suspected it. The dreams she had…”
Arthur nodded. Of course. Morgana’s nightmares where she insisted she saw things that were going to happen. He should have realised himself. Or maybe he had and hadn’t really wanted to believe it.
Magic was evil, after all. He’d been taught that from the moment he was old enough to know words. And wasn’t this just another confirmation of that? Morgana hadn’t betrayed them until she’d found that she had magic. Look what it had done to her, what it had turned her into.
Yet he couldn’t help but wonder what she would have become if the kingdom hadn’t been governed by Uther’s hatred.
Hate bred hate and everything that came with it.
He closed his eyes a moment, rubbing them as if giving himself a chance to gather it all together again.
“You still should have told me.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
Arthur bent down and picked up the bowl that had clattered in with them, handing it back to Merlin. There was so much more that needed to be said but he had neither the energy or the patience for it, not at that moment.
“You did well today. With the Cup.”
It seemed unfair to send him away berated for trying to do the right thing, no matter how badly it had gone. And it was as close to an apology as Arthur was going to give.
Merlin smiled a little at the acknowledgement.
“Despite me losing it, hmm?”
“Well I wasn’t going to mention that but now you say it…”
Merlin’s smile turned into a grin as he hurriedly interrupted him.
“I’d better go and get some more water,” he said, walking to the door.
Arthur called his attention back just a moment.
“Merlin,” he said, “no more secrets, okay?”
A flicker of something passed over Merlin’s face but then he smiled and nodded.
Morgause expected Arthur again when there was another knock on the door a short while later. But he was probably still yelling at his servant - beating him if there was any sense of justice - and it was Morgana’s former maid who entered instead.
“Guinevere,” she said with a nod. There was power in knowing someone’s name.
“It’s just Gwen,” the woman said, shifting uncomfortably and yet the same time her chin came up, determined, like she didn’t really want to be here but wasn’t going to let that stop her. “I brought you some fresh water.”
She placed the jug and two cups on the side table, not that Morgana would be up for drinking for a while yet. But the gesture showed care.
Gwen poured one cup and passed it to Morgause. She took it with a delicate hand, looking down at the contents before sniffing them. Clearly distrustful.
“It’s not poison,” Gwen insisted.
“You can never be too careful in this castle from what I hear,” Morgause said with a little venom. The water was unsullied though, she would have sensed it if it wasn’t.
“Yes,” Gwen said quietly. “I heard.”
And she looked deeply troubled by the fact.
There was silence for a moment.
“She spoke well of you,” Morgause said eventually, not even sure why she was telling the other woman this. Maybe she just wanted to understand what Morgana saw in her. And she had been a little impressed with her that day. She’d been strong where other women would have cowed. The Old Religion had great respect for strong women.
“We knew each other a long time,” Gwen replied, drawing the curtains.
That answer was evasive and it was hard to tell if she was just avoiding praise or there was more to it. The ‘knew’ was quite telling though - clearly she didn’t feel close to her former mistress any more.
Morgause couldn’t say she was unhappy about that.
“It wasn’t just her body your friend Merlin poisoned,” Morgause said.
Gwen didn’t really react to that, busy tidying the room. Old habit, Morgause guessed.
“You’re responsible for the change in her, not him,” she replied. “Everything was well until she met you.”
“Well?” Morgause scoffed. “Living in a prison of fear because of what you are? Not understanding your gifts? Being lied to and deceived by those around and feeling more and more isolated as fear grows? Is that ‘well’?”
“You turned her into a…You turned her against her friends.”
“I didn’t have to. I simply showed her that her ‘friends’ hated her kind.”
Gwen seemed to bristle at that, anger beneath her calm exterior.
“That’s not true.”
“You stand by and let Uther murder them. So many innocent people. Why should she have been any different?”
“Because we love her,” Gwen said.
Morgause looked at her steadily. “And so the lives of all the others meant nothing to you. I see.”
Gwen clearly didn’t like being judged. And as well she might not because like all those in Camelot she would come out poorly in the conclusion. Morgana had told Morgause about her. About how her own father had died, accused of witchcraft, and yet Gwen was obedient to her king. It galled Morgause greatly to see such terrible acceptance.
“You’ve turned her into a killer who hates her friends,” Gwen replied, looking steadily at her, not intimidated.
Such an interesting mixture of meek and strong.
“I saved her,” Morgause reasoned. “And if you can’t see that you’re as blind as your lover.”
Gwen instantly blushed at that and made her excuses to leave.
There were too many images for Morgana to process them all at once.
A funeral, the sky dark and the rain falling. A marriage and coronation, people smiling, celebrations in the street. A table, perfectly round, old words written on it and a dozen swords laid on the surface. Flowers blooming and fading. The sound of children vanishing as though they were never there at all. A man wearied by expectation and duty. A lonely woman brushing her fingertips against another’s and feeling a long forgotten rush of passion.
A battle, bloody and brutal. A tall, pale boy laying dead with a triumphant look permanently etched on his face.
A small boat. Big enough for two.
But she didn’t see the occupants as she awoke.
Back in Camelot.