With Tintagel's fall, Saxon forces were quick to monopolize on the opportunity and consolidate their forces within, setting up new defensive perimeters and raiding whatever valuables were left in the rubble.
British positions were falling, and Saxon encroachment was accelerating at a rate never before seen.
If the promised child could single-handedly lead the people against the Saxons, the same vein must stand true.
None would know better how to destroy the kingdom than her.
The primary perpetrator of Tintagel's fall watched on with a detached indifference before turning her attention back to the location of a hastily made meeting room flying the Saxon banner of twin axes.
In all honesty, it was less a meeting room, and more a hovel of unruly men piss drunk on achievement and booze led by two towering figures.
They were the Saxon Warrior Brothers, Hengist and Horsa.
Bare chested, Hengist showed off his honed physique, toned shoulders, broad chest, and scar covered abbs. Horsa was more modest but still looked everything like a barbarian warrior in leather gear and animal wolf fur.
Once there was a time Lancer Alter considered them enemies, now, grudging allies.
"Haha, the Black Knight, the guest of honor himself has arrived!" Hengist's boisterous voice reverberated as Lancer Alter stepped into the room.
A wave of ear grating cheers echoed the shouting, causing Lancer Alter to grimace beneath her helm, but she was soon directed to a seat in front of Hengist and Horsa themselves.
"Another round of beer!" Hengist called to the women serving drinks, one of whom resembled Hengist, gave a sneaky glance at Lancer Alter.
Hengist could care less. His good mood was contagious, but it might as well have been poison to Lancer Alter.
Her impression of the Saxons was just the same as before. An unruly bunch of warrior fanatics willing to die for their chance at glory. Hated enemies that helped drive her original rule to ruin.
There were no good feelings here.
"Not much of a talker is he, brother?" Hengist elbowed Horsa on the rib, the more level headed brother grumbling under his breath before shaking his brother off with a knock to the head.
Horsa cleared his throat in the spirit of diplomacy and extended a grateful hand to the Black Knight that was the main contributing factor to Saxon victory.
"Regardless, it's good to have you." Horsa said in earnest.
Lancer Alter stared at the offered hand, and did nothing but stare until awkwardness finally made Horsa withdraw.
"Yes well," Horsa frowned, the clear animosity in Lancer Alter's demeanor not lost on him. No matter. An enemy of an enemy is a friend. "Can you truly annihilate the defenses of Cornwall on your own?"
Horsa brought the topic of discussion directly to the highest priority.
Cornwall was a British stronghold unlike anything the Saxons had ever dealt with. No amount of men and spirit were enough to breach the knights and defensive forts erected in and around the city.
Its fall spelled dire consequences for the security of Morgan's tentatively precarious kingdom.
However, Lancer Alter knew that it would be no easy feat even for herself, but her fury burned colder than hoarfrost.
"It will be done," she said, tone rankled with simmering vengeance. "You do your part and storm the east coast, and I'll do mine."
"But is it really possible? You don't want any help from us?" Horsa cautioned. "Say the word and we will give several men who are willing to die on that battlefield for new glory, venture, and new homeland including ourselves."
"Oh horse sacks, brother! Where's your faith?" Hengist butted in, slamming his beer mug on the tale and sloshing the booze inside. "You said the same of Tintagel, and what of that? It's fallen to the Black Knight alone!"
"Fair point," Horsa sighed, still feeling uneasy.
Queen Morgan's machinations differed from the former King Arthur in that men died in droves to unknown magics and curses.
What could even the Black Knight do alone?
Or was it that his brother Hengist wished for the Black Knight and Morgan to die in mutual combat?
It would be the most ideal for the Saxons.
Hengist winked subtly at Horsa who eventually gave in.
"Apologies for doubting you, Black Knight." Horsa retreated from the conversation as Hengist took back momentum.
"Hn," Lancer Alter didn't particularly mind if she was being used.
She was already a torch, burning brightly until only embers remained.
"A toast to a new era!" Hengist cheered.
The Saxons celebrated well into the night.
The path was set.
From this point on, the march to Camelot would begin at the fall of Cornwall, and the siege of Camlann would return to fruition.
Come daylight, she would renew her assault on Morgan's defensive lines, pressuring her into open confrontation. This blood feud wasn't going to end until one of them was dead and desecrated.
There would be no burial.
Should Morgan wake as a wraith, she'd kill her again.
Lancer Alter silently wiped at her eyes forgetting that she was wearing a helmet in the onset of grief still swelling inside her with nowhere to release it. She felt empty.
Not like appearances mattered anymore.
Lancer Alter was the only one left, Hengist and Horsa having taken the victory celebrations to an open bonfire outside.
In contrast, Lancer Alter was still seated in the same table she secluded herself to after glaring at all who had approached her.
Unfortunately, she was getting ahead of herself.
Lost in thought, her senses only perceived threats, not non hostiles.
Lancer Alter abruptly glanced up as a mug of beer clinked on the table when being placed in front of her by a nervous young woman.
The woman then mustered her courage and took a seat across from her.
The young woman was none other than Natalie, the eldest daughter of Hengist.
She was a soft haired beauty with a courage and mettle within her just as vibrant as any Saxon warrior.
"Sorry." Natalie wet her lips, not knowing what had come over her to comfort the Black Knight who clearly appeared distraught. "I-I just thought you'd like a drink."
Staring at the mug in front of her, Lancer Alter grew incredulous, but softened her demeanor as an old memory came to mind.
Kay once said that alcohol can drown sorrows, or at the very least, numb them.
Gradually, Lancer Alter slipped a hand around the mug and brought it closer to herself, Natalie breathing a sigh of relief on the side.
Noting that Lancer Alter seemed amicable enough, Natalie pursed her lips before she spoke, unable to help her curiosity.
"May I ask what's on your mind, Sir Black Knight?" Natalie asked, legs tensing and ready to run at a moment's notice if she angered the famed Black Knight. "There are rumors saying you're a mute."
Did that mean the rumors were to be trusted?
Somehow Natalie doubted that because Lancer Alter was giving her a hard look.
"I take it that's a yes then?" Natalie laughed uneasily, but she was a daughter of Hengist and had a rather large backbone to take liberties. "Ahem, pardon my ramblings, but you're no Saxon, are you? I've never seen any of us with such black armor, so you must have been local."
Lancer Alter sipped the beer quietly, ignoring Natalie's murmurs. Vengeful as she was, she still abided by order and law. The kingdom's fall was one thing, but the Saxons would be the ones to eventually take over.
"With your skill, you should have been the best of Knights, ah yes, I think they were called the Round Table."
Natalie suddenly mentioned a point that quickly soured Lancer Alter's mood.
"…" Lancer Alter glanced up at the young woman trying to make a light conversation with her, but failed to make her realize she was treading on thin ice.
Morgan's 'Round Table' was taken by Lancer Alter as a direct perversion and mockery of the order of Knights Lancer Alter herself had once created.
"Scary bunch of them. Hehe." Natalie tried to make light of it, considering that Morgan's Round Table was both the enemy of the Black Knight and the Saxons. "They're always giving father and his men a hard time that they shudder at the thought of you joining Queen Morgan's forces."
Natalie froze when she realized the air had gotten suffocatingly stuffy at the mention of Morgan and the Black Knight cooperating.
Lancer Alter was grinding her teeth.
Natalie hastily tried to salvage the situation.
"N-Not that you would! I-I mean that bitch of a queen that knows no better deserves no loyalty or mercy of yours!" Natalie lifted an arm and placed her opposite hand on her bicep. "Give em a good wallop and she'll show her true colors! 'Mercy Mercy Black Knight ~ I've never broken a nail in my life.' Just like that!"
Natalie blinked, staring at Lancer Alter.
She could have sworn that she heard the faintest chuckle as the tension in the air abated.
"True enough." Lancer Alter spoke for the first time. "She'll soon get what's coming to her."
As whatever amusement Lancer Alter had garnered from Natalie's impression of Morgan waned, she became aware that the beer mug in her grip had shattered.
Naturally, Natalie was staring.
Swallowing, Natalie observed the shattered beer mug and Lancer Alter's vacant eyes.
"S-She ugh, must have done something really bad to you, huh?" Only a fool would fail to notice from this point.
A candle of inspiration appeared above Natalie's head.
"Want another beer?"
Natalie didn't wait for an answer and was already pushing her own mug to Lancer Alter. She really looked like she needed it more.
Lancer Alter didn't refuse and carefully drank out of the other mug.
"Was it someone you loved?" Natalie asked, reading between the lines.
Few things can make a person so hateful other than love to turn their back on their own country. Betrayal is targeted, limited solely to the betrayer, but what the Black Knight was doing, was fighting for the entire kingdom's annihilation.
What else could it be, but love?
Natalie had read many stories of heroes and tragic romance spurring them to take arms, but sadly, Natalie felt like she'd never experience such a thing as love. Under her father's say, she would likely be wed for political gain, so it was outside her consideration when she didn't have the courage to rebel.
Still, it didn't stop her from empathizing.
It was like there was a cloud over Lancer Alter's head; the speed in which she was drinking the beer accelerating until she was practically chugging it all down. Hurriedly, Natalie moved to refill the mug, and down it went again, and again.
Lancer Alter felt that her cheeks were stuffy.
She didn't know how much time had passed, but by the time she came to her senses, it was to see several bottle kegs of beer emptied, and Natalie passed out beside her, drunk and whispering of legendary beer dragons.
Beneath her helmet, Lancer Arturia could sense that her features were flushed red, a false spring in her steps brought about by intoxication and indulgence.
"Ugh," groaning, she sat up from the table.
By virtue of her constitution, she wasn't as drunk as she appeared. Be that as it may, a burst of magic energy helped steady her systems and clear her head.
An uninvited nuisance had appeared in front of her again.
Merlin, the Wizard of Flowers wearing a white robe and holding a black staff in hand was somehow sitting beside her. Leaning his staff against the table, Merlin held a mug of beer and idly swirled the alcohol inside with a sense of melancholy.
"Merlin," Lancer Alter grumbled stoically.
She didn't bother asking when and how Merlin got here; there would be no straight answer.
"Getting drunk now, are you Arturia?" Merlin drawled, a sadness in his tone. "I'd never thought I'd see the day."
"I don't get drunk." Lancer Alter said.
"You don't drink either," Merlin placed the mug of beer down, and let the silence draw thin.
Neither side was eager to speak. Both carrying a sense of helplessness and regret that weren't directed primarily at each other.
Yet, fate was putting them on opposite sides of the board.
Merlin pushed an empty mug Lancer Alter's way and quietly grabbed a cup for himself. Waving the tip of his staff, a barrel of beer opened and a mega pint was poured into each cup.
Holding the beer, Lancer Alter glanced from Merlin, to the cup, then back before she downed it in one go.
Merlin followed right after.
"Piss poor drink," Merlin coughed snidely.
Lancer Alter grunted, keeping the silence.
"Is there no way to stop this madness?" Merlin eventually broached the topic he'd brought up time and time again.
"You know who I want. It will end with her." Lancer Alter's answer remained the same. "You're fortunate I don't gut you for working as her court wizard."
"And what of after?" Merlin narrowed his eyes and asked. "The new Queen dies, but will a King step up to pick up the pieces of the kingdom?"
"..." Lancer Alter did not answer.
"And that's my answer. The lesser of two evils." Merlin poured another glass of beer while Lancer Alter listened. "Dubious as it was, I was friends with Uther, and shared in some of his aspirations. If you asked, I would have helped you. But what you're doing now is nothing less than self destruction and ruin. You've given up to your hatred."
Lancer Alter did not answer. She opted instead to pour herself another mug of cheap beer.
Merlin did the same, his cheeks beginning to flush red.
"What is black has turned white, and is white has turned black." Merlin sighed to himself in lament. "At the end of this road, all that will remain is a dreary gray…"
"Another one of your prophecies?" Lancer Alter sneered.
"Oh, mere ramblings of symbolism and irony at their finest." Merlin stopped Lancer Alter from pouring herself another drink. She was doing that to distract herself, but now was no longer a time for distraction.
"Or are they?" Merlin pressed. "'He who draws forth the sword from the stone is the True King of Britain.' Is that still you? Or is it buried too deeply within the bitterness?"
Lancer Alter brushed off Merlin's hand and poured herself another drink to spite Merlin.
"You're here for a reason." She said, wiping the beer stains off her lips.
"And you deflect." Merlin shrugged. "I was your teacher once. Errant student that you are now, there are still things to teach and warnings to give."
The sound of metal clinking echoed as Lancer Alter's hand found its grip on her lance. "Consider your words carefully, Wizard."
Pleasantries were fading as quickly as Lancer Alter's patience. The distinction between calling a friend by name and their title created distance.
Merlin's expression saddened, but he didn't relent.
"You are at a crossroad, Arturia. Your actions now will dictate a new prophecy for the era. It is not yet too late to return to your rightful place as King. I will vouch for you, and many others are merely waiting, unable to come to terms with your sudden change."
"...there is nothing left. I have nothing left." Lancer Alter met eyes with Merlin, and Merlin finally realized that what was once there was truly gone. "Do not lecture me on what should be done."
"Then so be it." He said. "Let me tell you the outcome of your path."
Lancer Alter bit down on her lower lip, but Merlin fell into a solemn trance.
"The tragedy of the first born repeated and a kingdom forsaken."
"Hope will live or die in the innocence of new beginnings."
Merlin stared at Lancer Alter with pity.
"You do not want this prophecy." He advised once more to deaf ears.
A Pendragon's stubbornness was the death of them.
"You do not know this pain." Lancer Alter swallowed, fury flickering over her expression.
"But I know the outcome." Merlin's voice grew soft, his head bowing while he put away all the cheap beer from reach. "...and sometimes, you dunderheaded pupil of mine, pain is better than agony or despair!"
Lancer Alter perked up in realization, features hardening. Merlin had been acting too strangely- too apprehensively.
There was something he knew that she evidently didn't.
"-What do you know, Merlin?" Lancer Alter pressed.
Merlin shook his head, but Lancer Alter's patience was gone, especially as the implication tugged on a possibility that prickled on whatever semblance of longing remained within her. Regardless, doubt was the overwhelming perception.
Lancer Alter grabbed Merlin by the scruff of the neck, but no sooner, the Wizard of Flowers melted into a storm of rose petals.
"Are you telling me to forgive her?!" Lancer Alter demanded, yelling at the swirling petals.
Scattered in the breeze, all Merlin could see was the same darkness that had once tainted Morgan stewing ever darker in Lancer Alter.
To begin with, Morgan wasn't wrong in her jealousy either.
Morgan was the first born cast aside for the youngest, and that resentment consumed her.
"YOU THINK I'LL REST?! YOU THINK I'LL STOP?!"
Merlin finally closed his eyes to personal involvement and resolved to maintain his place as a mere observer.
"Let it end with Morgan." Merlin said to Lancer Alter, voice echoing from the roses.
"As if Morgan would leave the safety of her castle. To get to her, I must break through! Camelot is a fortress surrounded by the best of knights and-"
"She will." Merlin cut in with surety. "There is no doubt that she will, and when have I ever lied to you on serious matters?"
"That makes no sense." Lancer Alter balled her hands into fists. "As if Morgan would do anything like that? There's no logic in it when she currently wields full authority!"
"Time…changes everyone, even priorities, emotions, and character."
Merlin had seen it first hand after he'd finally been able to see through Morgan's machinations, but by then it was too late to do anything.
Still, the Morgan now would much rather settle differences with Lancer Alter in a private setting or a duel-to-the-death away from the kingdom than a siege.
Anything to keep Lancer Alter from entering Camelot and discovering what lay within.
Lancer Alter opened her mouth, but Merlin was no longer having it.
"Call her out. She will listen."
It was the last piece of advice Merlin could give as a teacher to his favorite student, and with that, the last of the rose petals vanished into motes of blue light.
Lancer clicked her tongue in the sudden silence of Merlin's departure.
The subtle mood Natalie had managed to foster and build with Lancer Alter was ruined.
A bitter taste lingered in Lancer Alter's mouth, and it wasn't the alcohol.
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