" -and he got us all a round at the tavern, can you believe?"
"What was 'is name?"
"I gotta hit 'im up, if you know what I mean."
"Oh come off it, Helga, he was far too good-lookin' for you. All dark-haired, roguish grin. 'Sides, Guard and peasant? Noble one, especially? The King would never hear of it."
"I can never know until I try -"
Morgana shuffles her robe more thoroughly around her legs, shaking her head to dispel the red-cloaked guards' idle gossip. In her head she turns over and over the syllables of Merlin's spell, trying to memorize them, feeling their power thrumming through her bones even before intonation. Her hands fumble, trembling nervously around the cords by her neck, and tighten the hood around the crown her head.
With back pressed against the wall, Morgana peers around the corner quickly. In a movement just as swift, she pulls her face back in, heart beating wildly. Against her eyelids she can see two guards, apparently chatting about some young man in the tavern, silhouetted against the firelight of the torch several feet above their heads. To the right, the door, illuminated by the starlight in the open sky above. The walls looming high on either side and the cobblestone, rough and coarse, beneath her scarcely-covered feet in peasant's shoes.
Were Morgana to walk out now, she would certainly be noticed by both guards immediately, intoxicated or not. The strains of conversation continue behind her, rowdy and emphatic. Morgana takes a deep breath, steeling herself, and whispers the spell in the quietest voice possible.
The effects aren't apparent to her, she realizes after a moment of panic, staring at her fully-formed right hand. Of course. Invisibility would be horribly disorienting if it applied to the eyes of the caster. So Morgana just has to trust that her magic and Merlin's knowledge worked. She raises her head high. If worst comes to worst, she can bribe the Guards with tavern money to keep her presence here unmentioned, and projecting an air of confidence would raise less questions.
Morgana's about to stride out and into the mini-square until she wonders, abruptly, if invisibility spells involve sound mufflers and decides she doesn't want to find out the hard way. After one panic-wrenching near-fall, Morgana regains her balance and nigh-on tip-toes forward. With breath caught silently in her lungs, Morgana treads silently across the terrifyingly open area, caught between staring at the guards and the fear that her invisible gaze would attract attention.
But she makes it, silently, and presses herself against the wall to squeeze through the slightly-opened gate. Safely out of the view of the guards, Morgana takes ten more even strides before moving back against the wall, clinging to the shadows. With a quick muttered string of words, she releases her hold on the spell, already feeling its drain on her magic lift and energy suffuse back into her bones. She shakes her head again, dispelling the frisson of anxious fear that shoots through her spine, and adopts a limping shuffle toward the center of the town square.
Not fifty feet in front of her looms Halig's barbaric cage, the moonlight glinting off the top like spears. Morgana takes a deep breath, pointedly not wondering if she would ever face the inside of a similar cage, and walks right up to the bars.
The girl inside is sleeping. Morgana adopts a confident facade, pulling it over her face like a second skin, and whispers "Freya."
The girl wakes with a start, looking around her with wide, pale eyes. Despite the panic clear in her gaze, she offers no defense or startled yelp. "Freya," Morgana tries again, looking for a response.
Finally, Freya's eyes fix on her own. "Who are you?" the girl asks.
"My name is Lady Morgana."
Freya recoils from the title as if the words were knives. Morgana hastens to reassure her. "I am a friend of Merlin's. I am part of Uther's court, yes, but I hold no sympathy for his views." Despite the conviction in her words, an innate fear of being caught lowers her voice.
"Oh," Freya says softly, steel shining in her eyes. "Why are you here?"
Despite the solid, magic- and rust- proofed iron bars that trap her inside, Freya maintains a cool demeanor, not scrabbling backward or making idle threats. Morgana can see why Merlin is so fond of her. She feels a pang of painfully legitimate regret that she will die soon.
She could not tell Merlin what she'd Seen. This girl - this woman - must become the Lady of the Lake. And to do that, she must die at Arthur's hands. Morgana saw her run through on Arthur's blade, Freya's spirit railing against the animal form locked away. Then Merlin's grieving face, normally so cheerful, drawn and keening in anguish.
Upon waking with a hoarse scream from her dream, Morgana fled to the infirmary. She barely checked that Merlin was asleep before pleading counsel.
Gaius studied Morgana's face, still pinched from exhaustion, fear and surprisingly acute grief, and seen in Morgana something that even her formidable powers could not discern. Then, with a heavy sigh, he took Morgana's hand and bade her sit.
She did. For a long while, Gaius stared in the smoking potion on which he'd been working when she'd burst into his chambers, which was turning a deep blue even as he thought. Just when Morgana was about to repeat her question, for fear that Gaius had forgotten she was here, he looked up at her and said that even the gravest of destinies can be tweaked. "Do whatever you think best," he told her tiredly.
Before she left, she saw the barest of smiles tugging at the corner of his lips, his fond glance back toward where Merlin slept, and for a brief moment wondered.
Now, Morgana stands in front of Freya, fully equipped with the knowledge of her demise, and the dagger she offers seems paltry in comparison.
Freya studies it keenly, running both eyes along the polished edge. Morgana took a whetstone to it herself, after returning to her chambers, letting the rhythmic snicks settle her shaking nerves. There, in her chamber, knife in hand and stone in the other, Morgana chose.
"My father made it, before he died," she tells Freya quietly. She's not entirely sure why she's giving this to Freya, except that it feels right. She wonders vaguely if her penchant for helping miscreant magical children is going to get her in trouble one day. Maybe she wants to give back to the magical community that has done her such good. Maybe it's pity, maybe it's empathy. Or maybe it's something farther-seeing, something more powerful than any of those. "I would like for you to have it. I would like for you to look on this blade, use it how you will, and never feel alone."
Freya stares at her, astounded, finally tearing her eyes from Morgana's knife, one of the last relics of Gorlois. "You're giving me a weapon?" she asks in a small, hoarse voice, filled with respect and awe.
All Morgana can say is a truthful "I don't know. Just that I want you to have it."
Freya reaches out with trembling fingers to wrap her hands around the blade. Morgana watches as the blade leaves her hands, fighting down a reflexive urge to snatch it back. "Thank you, Lady Morgana. I promise you that I will never use it for ill."
No. The knife is Freya's, now, and Morgana gives it willingly. For Freya, Morgana manages a smile, warm against the cool night. "I never doubted it. Take care of yourself, and take care of Merlin, Freya."
With another string of whispered words and a last, parting nod, Morgana vanishes.