|At My Most Beautiful
Author: lovepb13 PM
AU. In a world where things were ever so slightly different, Camelot had a young and beautiful Queen. A beautiful Queen who was married to a cold and aging King. Morgana is not related to Morgause or Uther in this story. COMPLETE.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Drama - Morgause & Morgana - Chapters: 27 - Words: 130,682 - Reviews: 59 - Favs: 33 - Follows: 32 - Updated: 01-11-13 - Published: 06-01-11 - Status: Complete - id: 7042253
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Morgana woke to the warmth of sunlight striking her face and an icy cold feeling deep in gut. Something wasn't right. Her eyes fluttered open and narrowed against the harsh morning light.
Gwen had not dropped the thin blue drapes over the windows as she did early each morning, so that Morgana could drift off to sleep with the light of the moon but not be woken by the light of the early-rising sun. It was strange that Gwen had not been to do it. That alone was not enough to be the cause of such an unsettling feeling, yet it seemed that it might be part of it. Or that it might at least share its cause with the feeling.
Then the memory – crisp as if she was living it again – of Morgause leaving seeped back into Morgana's sleepy mind and, with it, the realisation that Uther had followed through on his threat and come to her after darkness had fallen. He had entered her chambers without knocking. Gwen had been brushing out Morgana's hair but had quickly been dismissed by the King. After that, Morgana remembered little aside from his cloying attempts at reassurance as his rough hands rid her of her nightshift and pushed her to the bed. Her mind was shielding her from the rest. She didn't think she could ever look Morgause in the eye again if she remembered it. Not that she could see Morgause ever wanting her now that Uther had reclaimed what was his – not now that he had taken her and slept in the bed she had shared with Morgause just the night before.
As quietly and carefully as she could, she slipped out of bed. She ached less than she was used to aching after Uther had claimed his rights and she supposed she should be thankful to him at least for that. Finding her nightshift, she shakily pulled it on to cover herself and found that the lace holding it together at the front has been cut by some blade, letting it fall open almost enough to bare her breasts. That was how Emilie found her as she returned from morning market with no inkling that that morning was different than any other since she had become Morgana's maid. She did not speak to Morgana, just wrapped her shawl around her and helped her down the corridor to the small room where Gwen was waiting anxiously for the King to leave so that she might see her to Queen.
Gwen's eyes widened at the pitiful sight and she shooed Emilie off to fetch a tin bath and couple of kitchen girls to swiftly fill it.
She didn't speak to Morgana until her mistress was submerged to her chin in the warm honeyed water.
"I'm sorry," she whispered when they were alone. She had never been sorrier in her life. For the past few weeks, Morgana had been happy. Now she was lower than the worst of times before, and there was nothing Gwen could do to stop it happening again.
Tears ran down Morgana's cheeks. Her eyes did not waver from their fearful stare towards the door. She was shivering, though the water was quite warm. For no reason at all, she lifted her feet from the bottom of the bath and let her head slip beneath the water. Down there, below the surface, everything echoed and ebbed. Every worry was quietened. Nothing could touch her. Nothing could mar her. She never wanted to be anywhere else.
But as her chest began to tighten with need for air, she felt a powerful tug, pulling her up out of the water until her mouth greeted cold air and she could gasp a breath.
Warm shivers of magic flowed over her body and her babes fluttered inside her. When the shivering subsided, her whole body felt new and clean. She closed her eyes and saw Morgause pushing open a tent flap and filling her lungs with the cold morning air, smiling despite the rain. Briefly, she wondered whether it was real, then thought better of it. It was her babes that were full of Morgause's magic, not her.
"You're smiling," Gwen gasped, confused but so very relieved.
Morning was cold on the heather-covered hills north of Camelot City. A frosty wind howled through the tents and made their inhabitants shiver as much as the men who had slept under the stars.
Morgause prodded the ineffectual fire and watched the smoke drift up and out of the hole at the tent's peak. The heather they were burning gave off a pure white smoke and a heady smell that reminded Morgause of the days before the purge.
"Cold?" Gwaine enquired with a yawn.
"Damned freezing," Morgause bit, snuggling further into her own embrace. "The road to Mermering and back was balmy compared to this."
Gwaine sat down beside her and filled a bowl of steaming porridge. "If you think this is cold, you should see the winters where I am from. In my fifth year even the sea froze."
Morgause chuckled. "Liar."
He grinned. "Got me there. It was freezing though."
"The Queen thinks that autumn is taking the year off," Morgause put in, frowning at Gwaine's ability to finish his porridge in several quick gulps. She had no appetite with war on the horizon.
"Ah well, the quicker winter comes, the quicker you'll have a tiny Pendragon to protect. You can't say that you aren't looking forward to that."
An irrepressible smile brightened Morgause's face. She gave the twisted twin cords of magic a tug to make sure they were still there, letting a new awareness of the babes fill her up and warm her cold bones. "All of Camelot eagerly awaits that day."
"That she does," Gwaine agreed. "The war does not seem half as bad with something like that to look forward too."
Morgause could not disagree with that either.
"Everyone knows that any child of our Queen will be a great ruler. It gives us a reason to win this war – to see him rule. That is what Leon said after the feast and every one of us agrees with him." Gwaine rose and patted Morgause on the shoulder. "So no pressure there then." He grinned.
Morgause laughed, swatting his hand away. "I thought it odd there for a moment, you being so serious."
"Nah. What would you all do without me lightening up your lives?" And with that Gwaine disappeared into the morning mist.
"He meant it, though. We all do," Percival said from his dark corner of the tent. He had always been the most thoughtful of the First Company, even more so that Leon or Morgause. There was a book in his lap and a pile more beside him. All on military strategy. The names 'Le Fay' and 'Wilde' were picked out in scrolling gold lettering on two of the books, their broad covers pressed close in a kiss. Percival caught Morgause's gaze on the books and smiled. "She has given us something wonderful to fight for, just when we needed in the most. If Camelot is victorious in this war, it is her Queen we must thank for it."
"I will be sure to tell her that," Morgause smiled, feeling a little surreal. She wished Morgana could hear the men talk of her like that. Then she would have no doubt as to how highly the Knights thought of her.
Pushing up from the floor, Morgause poured her uneaten porridge into the fire and grabbed her cloak. It was a fine morning that she walked out into, despite the cold and mist.
Three more days passed and Uther visited Morgana's chambers every night. He seemed to be almost as insatiable for her as he had been in the months after their wedding, and Morgana had resigned to use it to her advantage. Uther was at his most suggestible when he was newly sated and Morgana found that when he was in this state, she could win some small victories. The second night he came to her, she turned her back to him when he was done, hoping that he would not want to take her again that night. When he did, she let her thoughts travel to Morgause and imagined that it was her knight taking her, lusty from her victory on the battlefield. It did not make her enjoy it but it did make it more sufferable. On that night, she got him to agree to let her sit beside him at meetings with his advisors. For their morale, she persuades him. On the third night, she casually mentioned Elyan and what he had done for the kingdom. Uther agreed to name him royal blacksmith and pay him handsomely for it. It is only what he deserves, she persuades him. On the fourth night, she told him it is twins she is carrying and he agreed that Gaius must take on apprentices who must treat the people of the city free of charge as part of their training. That night, he is more satisfied than any of the previous nights, and she also manages to persuade him to make Gwen her lady in waiting. After all, a simple maid cannot look after her heirs, she persuades him.
By the morning of the fifth day since the knights left, Morgana felt as confident and powerful as she did with Morgause at her side. It was on that morning that news came of a mysterious woman requesting an audience with her alone. Not being the sort of woman to obey strangers, Morgana brought her new lady in waiting with her. And though it was only a title – Uther would not consent to Gwen ever being able to marry into the middle or upper class – Gwen was dressed in the finest Le Fay green. And if others saw the colour was a symbol of ownership, Gwen did not mind in the slightest. Morgana would never mean it that way, of that Gwen was sure. Not the Morgana who taught her to read and write, allowing Gwen to go home and teach her father and brother. No, Morgana could never even fathom the idea of 'ownership' over a person, despite knowing that the King owned her completely and utterly. That was why Gwen was honoured to be wearing green in a sea of red, wearing plainly on her body with whom her loyalty lay.
"May I present," the herald announced, "the Lady Amina Dorren."
The woman who entered the hall on those words was of a beauty that took Morgana's breath away. It was her eyes that immediately drew one's attention – a rich, earthy brown that shone like sunlight off bronze. Like Morgana's, her hair was black as night but was straight and silken down to her lower back, a slim braid running from each temple like a crown. Her skin, far from being pale as Morgana's was, was almost as dark as Gwen's and was made to glow by the saffron and crimson gown she wore with a slit at her waist, showing off more smooth, flawless skin. Her features were unlike those of anyone Morgana had seen in Camelot. She was of the same origins, Morgana guessed, as some of the traders that her father had worked with, but they had all been men and nowhere near as enchanting.
Amina walked in silence towards the throne, stopping at the steps to the dais and falling onto her knees, her head bowed in supplication. "My Queen."
"Rise," Morgana commanded, heat prickling at the back of her neck. She held out her hand for the stranger to take and kiss, as custom demanded, and tried not to shiver when soft, warm lips graced the back of her hand.
"It is the greatest of honours," Amina swore, her accent being of someone who was raised in the far north, "to stand before such a great and beloved Queen. I am not worthy."
"You are Dorren's daughter." It was not a question, but Amina nodded anyway. "That makes you worth a great deal, so long as you have your father's gifts."
"Yes, my Queen. Since his death a year past I have taken over his practice. I hope that I shall not be a disappointment to you."
"I hope not," Morgana agreed. "There is a child that I wish for you to see. She has a sleeping sickness and has been in a deep sleep from which it has been impossible to wake her. If you would, I would have you go to her immediately. She is important to me and you will be justly rewarded should your work revive her."
Amina smiled. "I have always admired women who cut straight to what they want out of a relationship. I will, of course, do as you command. On one condition."
Morgana frowned at her audacity. "Name it and I shall see."
"That you let me examine you when I return. I have many years of experience caring for women with child."
Morgana considered, looking to Gwen for guidance. What she would give to have Morgause by her side instead. It was her magic that she feared Amina discovering during an examination and so it should be her choice. Sometimes Morgana wished that she could defer to her in all things. Then she remembered that she was a Queen and that it was her right to reign over her kingdom and everyone in it, even if she wished for Morgause to reign over her.
"Agreed," Morgana assented finally, holding out her hand for Amina's to seal the promise. "If you promise to stay until my confinement is done."
Amina bowed. "As you command, My Queen."
Marcus Holwynn was, everyone agreed, the best baker in Worcester. He had been offered the job as royal baker less than six months before his kingdom went to war. He refused point blank. There was no job so prestigious that he would entice him to leave his home with his wife for a single bed in servant's accommodation.
That had, on reflection, been a mistake.
Whilst Marcus had recently become a faceless soldier in a makeshift army, the man who had taken his job was safe in the Grey castle kitchens. Fate was funny that way - always having a laugh at Marcus' expense.
Still, it was not all bad. Ignis Valle had promised some small reprieve from their endless marching. Marcus was not the fittest of men and the relentless pace had taken its toll. Bakers generally did not require the service of a horse in their everyday profession. As such, Marcus was making the march on foot, grumbling at those lucky enough to be on horseback. That being said, he was not completely without affection for them.
Worcester horses were stocky things with thick coats and strong muscles, the best horses in the north. They were the reason they were to stop in the valley. Horses needed watering and the Ghilli river broke from the cover of trees just inside the valley and it was the first time it was out in the open for two days ride either behind and ahead. Marcus was planning to feel the water between his toes, or at least the rain. The downpour was coming down harder every minute, falling from the darkening sky like arrowheads determined to ruin his brightening mood.
"How long before we stop?" a boy beside him asked. He looked about twelve. The overly large helmet was taking years off him.
"See that oak tree way over there, that's the point the officers at the head of the column are ordered to stop at." He had to shout to answer.
The boy squinted in the completely wrong direction. "What's that?"
Marcus tried to keep hold of his patience. Did the boy not know the head of the column from its tail? It was too cold for all this shrieking. "What's what?"
Then he saw it. There was something moving in the trees on the east side of the valley mouth. It could just have been the wind, but something told Marcus that was not the case. Trees, generally, did not move quite so much. Nor were they white. Nor…
"Over there!" he shouted. "Riders from the east!"
But it was too late. Percival and his men had already broken through the trees and Galahad was not far behind him. Within seconds, the first soldiers on the outer edge of the column were down, with the raging rain keeping the officers oblivious. The men watering their horses on the western side of the column too remained ignorant. No matter how much noise the attackers made, the rain silenced it.
As Marcus pulled his sword, the first of the horses yet to make their way to the river bolted. In a flash, the mounted soldiers were at the point of stampede. Their work and leisure horses had not been bred for war. They had been bred to run. And run they did, trampling those unlucky enough to get in their way to the ground.
"Turn and fight!" Marcus cried hopelessly. It was no use. He knew that the riders had no more control over their horses than they did the rain. That was the last thought of Marcus Holwynn, best baker in Worcester. Sir Galahad removed his head with a single clean blow, ever gallant.
Night was dawning fast, the sunless sky thundering and weeping. Morgause thanked the gods for the rain.
A calming hand to Dream's neck quietened her from her nervous whickering. She needn't have bothered, for the noise of the rain and the clamour of an infant battle finding its feet below them, their enemy would not have heard even the loudest of her horse's screams. But it was not for the sake of staying hidden that she did it. A nervous horse made for a nervous rider. That was something she could not afford to be.
The call was hers to take, thanks to the toss of a coin. She had to time it perfectly. If nothing else, Gwaine would never let her live it down should they reach the valley floor too soon. Worse, they did not know if their enemies were armed with bows. Too soon could be very costly if they did.
The jostling of the Worcester column was quickly making its way up the valley to where they planned to cross the northbound bridge. If all went to plan – and it was a good plan – none of them would make it that far. Even if they did, they would find the bridge a blackened, broken mess. A torch to it two days past had seen to that.
"Just a little further," she whispered, imploring the gods to grant her one more blessing. "That's it…"
At her whistle, Dream took flight, Gwaine speeding after her. They hurtled down the steeper of the two valley sides at a speed that would have awed any tournament crowd. They were strapped to their saddles and had no chance of survival should their mounts slip on the muddy ground. Out of sheer luck and the gods' favour, none fell.
With a sound like thunder, they broke free of the trees and clattered across the bridge and onto the battlefield, wheeling southwards to meet their enemy head-to-head.
It was a fearsome charge that took out two thirds of the Worcester officers in minutes, seven of them meeting their end at the sharp edge of Morgause's engraved sword. For years after, the knights would talk of that moment with an awed hush in their voices; whispering the names of Camelot's brave fallen few and canonising its heroes.
But the battle was far from over. Eight hundred men fighting for their lives was a mighty force to overcome and with not all their army yet in the fray, the knights of Camelot had to fight their very best not just to keep the upper hand but to survive.
For five hours, the battle raged. Four score of Camelot's knights fell to Worcester swords and five times the favour was paid back to the northerners.
Amongst the battle, Morgause lost her horse to a rapier in the neck and, after cutting herself free, was forced to continue on foot. It was then she did her best work, cutting through her opponents with the grace she was renowned for and the courage so few had been willing to credit her with. Her progress through the army brought her to Percival, holding off three men in the thick of the fighting. They spent the rest of the battle back to back – Camelot's largest and slightest Knights forming the eye of the storm upon which all who approached were felled.
The boy with the oversized helmet had been nicknamed 'Tiny' when he was a child. It had been an unoriginal attempt at irony on the part of his dwarfed peers, that had ultimately proved fitting. By thirteen he had enjoyed his last growth spurt and, at the height of 5ft 4, had slowly learnt to look up. It had been this unwitting training that had saved his life – at least for a while.
Before the rotund man marching beside him had the sense to call out, Tiny was at the river and heading northwards along it. By the time the second of Camelot's attacks fell on his brethren, he was almost at the ford and within minutes of disappearing into the forest. In his last thirty seconds of life, he splashed into the knee-high water and began to feel the thrills of escape. That was when Sir Bors' arrow hit him square in the heart and he fell, momentarily turning the water red, before being swept northwards – towards home. No one found him a week later when he drifted past Worcester's capital, bloated and battered. It was better that way. His mother never knew he ran.
As planned, Sir Leon led the final of Camelot's three attacks, crossing the river ford from the west and coming upon the battle from behind. His force's role in the fight was a bloody one. With no chance of escape, the trapped Worcester soldiers fought ferociously. Someone amongst them had organised a band of archers who fired flaming arrows at the wave of knights. Sir Bors – in a turn of divine irony – was hit and fell burning from his charger.
Undeterred, Leon ploughed through the line of archers, cutting the flaming rag from the top of their torch and quelling any further rains of fire. The arrow that hit Bors had been a lucky one, all others had been put out by the true rain, but it was better not to chance a further stroke of luck.
Despite their tactical advantage, the battle was hard fought. By the time the battle was done, the highest remaining officer, Lord Dollen Trent, had been captured along with twenty of his nobleborn men and two score foot soldiers. Word was that some of the mounted men had gotten away through the forest to the east so, chances were, King Edwin Grey would soon hear of his loss. Leon did not believe that the force they had faced was all that the Worcester army had to offer. The capital was almost twice the size of Camelot and its countryside was more intensely farmed. Its conscripts would amount to at least the initial estimate from the blacksmith's reports. Ignis Valle would not be the last battle of the war.
"How is the child?" Morgana asked nervously, shifting on her bed. Amina's hands were cool on her stomach and Morgana did not know her well enough to be entirely comfortable with being touched by her so intimately. Then there was the worry over Morgause's cousin. Yet it was from the unsettling feeling creeping beneath her skin that had her so on edge. It had begun just after the sun had set. Pulsing like a quickened heart and burning like a flame. It was magic, she was sure of it.
"I have a remedy in mind. It will take some time to prepare," Amina murmured, her concentration elsewhere. She was pressing alternately on Morgana's abdomen with one hand then the other, her eyes narrowed. "I am hopeful."
"How long?" Morgana inquired. She was impatient, she knew, but Eleanor had been ill for so long, it seemed. Surely there should be haste.
"I am inclined to agree with the physician who conducted your initial examination. You've about five months to go," Amina answered thoughtfully, not yet ceasing with her prodding.
"No," Morgana shook her head then corrected herself. "Sorry. I meant for the cure for Eleanor. My words were vague, forgive me. I seem to be a little nervous, what with everything that has been happening of late."
Amina considered her response for a moment, deciding to gloss over Morgana's apology. It had been a little too sincere, like she had apologised too many times before. "It should take less than a week to prepare. The exact time will depend on how long it takes me to gather what I need and what equipment I can lay my hands on here. It was swifter to travel light and answering the summons of a Queen demands swiftness."
"You may, of course, have full use of our physician's stores and equipment. He has amassed a strong collection, I hear. I am sure he will have what you need," Morgana said, hope creeping into her voice. There was a dove caged cooing softly nearby in her rooms, waiting to carry a letter to Morgause, who had its mate. Gwen had offered to sign any letter that Morgana wrote and address it to some fictitious knight, but Morgana did not think even Uther would object to her writing to her guard to inform her of her cousin's health. He had, after all, expected Morgause to keep her company as well as keep her safe.
"The ingredients are not the problem on the whole. I assume yeast, trout and crayfish are not hard to come by in Camelot?" Amina asked, making sure. On Morgana's shake of the head telling her that no, it would not be hard to find such thing, she continued. "It is the extraction process which will require some more exotic substances and specialised equipment. Is there a glass blower in the castle?"
Morgana nodded, closing her eyes to picture the older woman, in order to recall her name. "Mrs Wicks. She took over as glassblower after her husband died. Even Uther had to admit that her work was as good as Mr Wicks'."
"Good." Amina smiled and leant back, gesturing that Morgana could cover herself again. "Just a few questions."
Gratefully pulling the blanket over herself, Morgana nodded. "Of course."
To Morgana's surprise, Amina pulled out a small leather-bound book, a feather pen and a sealed ink pot from the folds of her gown. She set the ink pot down and a removed wide stopper, before opening the book on her lap and dipping the pen into the ink. On the first page of the book, she wrote Morgana's name and titles in a large cursive script, blew on it to dry it and turned the page. At the top of the next page, she wrote the date, Morgana's age and '4 months approximately'. Morgana felt as though she was about to sit some sort of trial.
"Have you felt movement?" Amine enquired, not looking up from where her pen was poised to write Morgana's answer.
"Yes, for the past week," Morgana responded, her nerves rising. "Maybe before that." She stuttered. "I did not want to get anyone's hopes up before that, not until I was sure."
Amina smiled, her dark eyes catching the light and glinting, "That's good." Morgana relaxed a little. "Now, how about pain or bleeding? Have you had either in the past four months?"
Morgana shook her head. "I have sickness but Gaius, our physician, says that it is relatively mild."
"Is Gaius used to dealing with women with child?" Amina asked, not sounding convinced as to Gaius' expertise in the field. She had generally found that even the most skilled physician was flawed when it came to the intimate ways of women.
Again, Morgana shook her head. She was reluctant to admit it, for Gaius had always been kind to her, despite his strong ties to Uther. Though she had never trusted he would keep her confidences, she had never doubted that he would do his best for her and everyone else he treated. "There are women for that in the town and there have been no noble births at court for many years."
Amina's smile turned wry. "Then I will be the judge of your sickness. Men cannot have informed opinions on something they have not experienced. Women neither."
"You have a child?" Morgana queried incredulously. She would never have imagined it, not of a woman like Amina who had such a profession. All the women in the town who helped with births were young women who gave it up upon their marriage or old women whose children had all grown up. Then there was the question of marriage. Surely if Amina had a husband, he would not let her work? "But you're name, its-"
"The same as my fathers? Yes." Amina let her pause linger. "I have never married, yet I have a daughter Alleyah. Does that shock you?"
"Yes," Morgana answered honestly, remembering for the first time that since the exam was over, she could sit up. She needed to feel as much in control as she could to have such a conversation. "Such a thing would be frowned upon in Camelot. It is unthinkable."
"Where I am from too," Amina countered with a teasing edge to her voice, as if she did not think Morgana aware of anything outside the borders of Camelot. "My father was a wise man. He was not like most people. He did not care what people said about us and neither do I."
Morgana's mind was spinning. "Where is she, you daughter? Is she in Camelot?"
"She is with her grandmother in the inn just outside the castle walls. We all travelled south together." On that note, Amina raised her book pointedly. "Now please, Your Highness, back to my questions." The pen once more hovered above the golden paper. "Is your husband favouring you?"
Morgana nodded and neither blushed nor recoiled.
"Is he gentle?" Amina enquired after quickly noting something down.
"Gentler now," Morgana said carefully. She did not want Amina reporting anything critical.
"Then tell him to be gentler still or to leave you be. I believe that you are carrying two babes, Your Highness." She paused. It seemed to her that Morgana had already guessed at it, but she would give her a moment to digest it all the same. "This will put you under a lot of strain and there is more chance of loss. Keeping calm and happy will help but you will need a lot of rest and should not ride or be pulled by horses. The risk with both for accident is too great." There was another, heavier pause. "What about your other lover?"
Morgana's reddened cheeks turned ashen and her body ice cold. "There is no one else. I have a good husband and I am loyal to him."
"Your knight – the one whose magic is flourishing in your babes," Amina continued, undeterred. "The magic is a littler wilder than that of my family but it is kin to mine nonetheless. I can feel it thrumming in you, tasting of honey and a knight's steel and fevered kisses."
Morgana's eyes widened.
"I take it he is at war? You are lucky that the babes are not his. I thought for a moment that they were. But no, the magic is still mingling with their blood, entwining with their souls. It has not always been there. They are definitely not his."
"Then I am lucky," Morgana answered simply, though she thought herself anything but. Lucky would be the babes being Morgause's – lucky and miraculous. There was no mortal magic that strong. Morgause had told her so. "You will not tell a soul of my knight or the magic," she added, her tone warning. "My King would have your life and that of your daughter should I be forced to tell him of your own magic."
"You can rest assured that I will not tell a soul. I came here on your command and it is under you that I serve," Amina promised. "And like I said, my magic is kin to that of your children. One does not turn on kin." She put her hand on Morgana's arm. "You can trust me."
Reluctantly, Morgana agreed.
The torches lining the pathways between the tents set a red glow inside Sir Leon's temporary chambers. The room was large and round with a firepit in the centre and logs surrounding it, on which his Knights sat, drained.
"What damage have we taken?" Leon asked through gritted teeth as a nurse sewed shut the gash on his knee. They had taken near to sixty women with them for cooking, cleaning, mending and tending. Most were unmarried and hoped to find a hero to charm amongst the fighting. So far, it seemed to be Percival, Gwaine and Kay that received the most attentive service. Since the battle, though, Morgause too had her share of women eager to tend to her wounds. She and the other three were heroes. Leon could not have been prouder.
"100 men," Morgause reported solemnly. "Sir Bors, Sir Francis, Sir Cormic and Sir Terrance from our company and the second. Ten more Knights. The rest were all knights." She had perfected the intonation of the capital 'K' early in her career. Mispronunciation would earn a squire a split lip and a blackened eye, if not more. She had only needed to learn that lesson once.
"And our captives?"
That had been Gwaine's responsibility since the battle – rounding up those unable to flee or salvageable enough that a quick death was not favourable. "The count is at sixty four. We cannot hold them all, never mind treat them."
Morgause bit her lip as the woman tending her arrow-wound poured a clear wine-like liquid over her side. The bolt had gone straight through a flaw in her mail and grazed her side. An inch to the left and she would have been in trouble. As it was, it would be healed within the week – a virtue of her magical blood. Her only other wound was a cut on the top of her wrist where a deflection had not gone entirely to plan. There was another girl tending to that, wrapping a cloth bandage around it to stop it bleeding any more than the little it already had.
"Let the commoners go. We can ransom the nobles," Leon decided. "Those too weak to walk can be dealt with by their kinsmen. We will not begrudge them finding help for the wounded at the village downriver."
"I shall have extra sentries posted at our perimeter tonight," Owain suggested, ever cautious. He had lost his brother to carelessness when northern raiders had attacked the city. "Though I doubt forty men will attack us whilst we are so high up and in the open."
"No, but the sentries should be doubled anyway," Leon agreed. "We made a lot of noise in the battle and are sure to have attracted a few unsavoury bands of men willing to take their chances looting our tents." He failed to suppress the grunt that passed through his tightly shut lips when his wound was given one last clean. "We can send letters with the men we free. If one of them gets back to King Edwin, we might just avert all-out war if one of our captives is valuable enough."
"We are riding on then?" Morgause asked, eager for more victory. She knew that they were not about to head home so quickly, even after such a tremendous win. They would only return once they had made Camelot safe.
"One of my scouts came back after the battle with news of a large Worcester settlement near a little village named Haydor just over the border. He estimated a thousand men in that camp and five hundred in another, smaller camp between us and them."
"Then we march until we meet the first camp and hope word has reached King Edwin before we meet the second," Percival supposed.
"And if it hasn't?" Gwaine asked dubiously.
"We will have to pray hard and fight even harder."