Disclaimer: I do not own "Merlin" nor any of its characters.
Author's Note: My first foray into "Merlin" fic. This is a one-shot, focusing on Morgana and Arthur. Set pre-S1 and vaguely extending into S2 time frame. Thank you for reading.
She had been exquisite; the first time he had seen her.
A small and lone figure standing before Camelot's throne, clad in a dress of pale lavender silk, her sheath of glossy dark hair falling about her shoulders and down to her waist, small and pale hands clasped daintily in front of herself as she had gazed at his father with the most impassive expression he had ever seen on a child. She had seemed incredibly wise and uncommonly elegant, almost as if an adult, to his childlike gaze; and yet, he knew now, she'd been nothing more than a slip of a girl…
He had stood beside his father, wearing a neatly pressed red tunic, as King Uther of Camelot had welcomed his new ward and presented her before court; watched as the King had pledged in the Pendragon name to care for her as he did his own son, had vowed to protect her as her own father would have.
She was Morgana, only daughter of King Uther's oldest friend, and she had come to live with them; he was Arthur, King Uther's only heir to the throne, and he had been seven-years-old.
The crux of it all, though, had been that she was daughter of his father's dead oldest friend.
She had come into his world, his castle, and been immediately cosseted, pampered, by all. Servants and gentry alike catered to the little girl with no mother and no father, who was far from home in a land that must seem strange, who had such a quiet voice and such impeccable manners.
A little girl, who had been shown such favor by their hard-hearted King.
She was two years older than him and had been two inches taller too. Nine-years-old, slim and poised with eyes almost too large for her face; big and gray, they'd been solemn and unflinching. It had unnerved him, the way she would stare at him, the way he could absolutely not see what she wanted or what she thought. In the village, the children he saw were in awe of him, there is the little prince, they would say and he knew not to look—because he was royalty, his father said. Inside the palace walls, the children he saw sought his favor, play on my team, they would call and he knew not to bestow it—because he was a prince, his father said.
The implications had been lost to him.
The solemn eyed girl had intrigued him.
Shall we play a game? He had offered her on one rainy afternoon when he'd been restricted to indoor activities. She had been in his castle for nearly a month's time by then, and he had yet to become accustomed to her quiet voice answering his father's questions at dinner.
There were maids now, who meticulously cared for her frocks. Tutor's to instruct her in embroidery and painting. Handmaiden's who were assigned to carefully style her long, dark hair.
And still, the solemn look never faded from her gaze; still she had yet to quirk her lips in a smile, and he had thought—when he remembered too—that she would likely look pretty when she smiled.
She had answered him in that quiet tone; simply and unequivocally, no.
She had denied his offer; had not even lifted her head from her book to do so.
And he had been quite suddenly, and wholly, swept up in a fit of passion. Because the castle servant's allowed Morgana free reign to roam where she saw fit, despite the boundaries of class they imposed upon him. Because the seamstress had been there thrice for Morgana to select fabric and patterns of her own liking for her gowns despite the colors of Camelot. Because he was Arthur, the Prince, and was not to be denied by anyone despite her title of Ward to the King.
Because all his father did at dinner now was inquire after Morgana's lessons despite his lessons being far more significant.
He had snatched the book from her hands and thrown it across the room, the pages fluttering in air, the binding slamming against the far wall.
And he had not known enough then, to fear the look in her eyes when she had lifted her gaze to his.
She had enunciated perfectly, her voice quiet, as always.
He had glared at her instead and though he had never done so to anyone before— he commanded her then, to play with him.
She had stared at him for a moment; a flicker of something passing into her eyes, something not solemn at all, something fierce and wild and savagely angry…
He had an instant to fear it; to know this girl would never be commanded by him…
Before she had leapt from her seat, her hands fastening around a clump of his golden hair as she had yanked him towards the far side of the room to where her book lay.
Retrieve it, she had hissed and her voice was not the same sort of quiet it had always been.
He had fought back, of course; growled, no, as his fingers wrapped around her arm, his nails digging into her skin. She had kicked him, slapped the side of his head, and he had gotten his own grip on her silky hair...
They had ended up rolling around her chambers, clawing and pulling and biting at each other in a display not fit for village children, let alone nobility— though neither one screamed.
It was only the toppling of two chairs and a bookshelf that alerted servants to the mayhem occurring in the young Lady Morgana's bedchamber.
He had been awoken for an entire fortnight an hour earlier than usual for his daily swordplay instructions.
Morgana, had been seen to by the court physician, Gaius, and instructed to remain abed until the bruises faded.
Arthur had decided then, that seeing as how the Lady Morgana had a life so pleasant and tranquil, he would take it upon himself to liven it up a bit… to make her eyes flicker with that wildness again…
When she'd been embroidering, he had waited for the tutor to be turned away before dashing past and tangling her threads with a swipe of his hand. He hadn't looked back to see her expression, but her hiss of anger had been enough.
During her deportment lessons he would come bounding through the room and accidentally into her path. Her paints would mysteriously become dry; the lids removed when she'd been certain she closed them. One time, he had cut all the strings of her gowns and another let three pigeons loose in her bedchamber. He'd ensured her books vanish from where she'd leave them and at meals he'd subjected her to unending questions—his father, he recalled, delighted that his son took such interest in his ward.
There were no flashes of that wildness in her gaze though; flashes of irritation, yes, of something sly and cold he was too naïve to understand, yes. She would turn to him at times, expression flickering on the borders of something more than impassivity, but the challenge, the burst of light he had seen in her eyes on that rainy afternoon did not reappear.
On a spring day, just two months after her arrival in his castle, he was summoned into his father's presence. The young Prince Arthur received a great many instructions on a variety of subjects, swordplay and riding, tracking and scavenging, history and protocol, and of course, geography. The assignment had been to lay out Camelot's borders. It was, he'd always known, important to know the borders of one's own country and he had stayed up late, meticulously outlining in shades of red the outlying borders of Camelot.
The map laid out before his father by his tutor, the map his father raged and ranted over, you are the future KING for godssake, was not the map Arthur had created. He knew this; he stared at it with wide eyes, his seven-year-old mind flipping frantically through the memories of the past week. He had drawn every line to perfection, hand steady and mind certain—he knew where Camelot's borders lay.
He had been dismissed with a harsh reprimand; was to remain an extra hour daily for the next month with his geography tutor—a circumstance that set back every other class and resulted in a late supper and simply put, no free time whatsoever.
It had been on his way to his rooms, lost in thought, that he had come upon her; dark hair elaborately braided with intertwining flowers, pinafore a delicate rose color with a volume of history clutched in one thin arm, she appeared as she always did— sweet, calm, oddly somber— and he had paid her no mind; walked right by her without a word.
The words had frozen him— and completely innocuous though they were, had filled him complete and utter certainty— she had done this.
He'd turned then, to face her, and found her eyes brimming with anything but sweetness, calm, or solemnity; it was there, sheathed behind restraint no nine-year-old ought to have had, that wildness…
Unabashed glee at what she had done shone in that gaze.
It was a declaration of war if he'd ever seen one.
You'll be sorry.
He had threatened. And she had almost smiled then.
He'd been wholly unprepared for all the tricks Morgana had up her delicate silk sleeves. He was the rambunctious Prince and she the consummate Lady—it had an oddly even battlefield. When it came to meddling in the other's lessons, Arthur's pranks could not hold a candle the Lady's. It would take him years to figure out she had had the help of the staff in getting in and out of his chambers, in sabotaging his assignments and waylaying his messages from the King.
Still, it wasn't until the day he arrived for his early morning practice and found all his armor missing that his delight in this war, this game as he'd come to think of it, faded. He had stormed to her room and barged in without a care for what state of dress she might or might not have been in so early in the morning. The maids had scurried around her, told him that was no place for the young Prince, until Morgana had asked them to leave and stood before him, alone and still in her nightdress, those long tresses spilling out around her shoulders.
He had shouted at her to return it, that in this there was no game to be played.
Your weaponry is perfectly safe. Calm yourself.
She had instructed him, tones a dulcet song, eyebrows carefully arched as her gray eyes had studied him intently.
You're just a girl, what would you know of armor and weaponry.
He had shouted it at her, all little boy rage and superiority.
And her eyes had narrowed then; halting him in place— he knew that look now.
He had been flooded with a panicked exaltation, a delighted fear, because there it was, shining in her gaze— the flash of wildness, unsheathed.
A week later, King Uther indulged in the young Lady Morgana's request to join Prince Arthur for weapons training.
It had proven to the court that there was indeed little that the King would deny his ward. It had proven to Arthur that the Lady Morgana needed to be destroyed.
An endeavor more easily decided upon then taken about. The King's ward, it turned out, had an aptitude for swordplay. She was taller, all long limbs and leverage, full of quickness, moving with grace, and she was driven— three weeks and she had him on his back looking up at the tip of her sword. It was humiliating and it was exhilarating— because the eyes looking down at him were glinting with that ferocity he'd glimpsed once and she was smirking at him.
He had grinned at her, bright and delighted, and when she had relaxed her stance, he had kicked her feet out from under her.
She had landed on her rear and her startled gasp had turned into a screech of war. She had tackled him, the breeches she was given leave to wear during practice, allowing her freer reign. It had dissolved into a replay of their previous scuffle in her rooms. In every way, but one— when brought before the King, the Lady Morgana requested the same punishment as the King's son— to be awoken an hour earlier than usual for their daily swordplay instructions.
For a moment, the King had balked; had studied her young face, the delicate contours of her cheeks, the wide eyes framed by long, curling lashes and everyone, Arthur included, had seen him hesitate, had seen him think she would be best in her chambers, kept safe from any potential harm. But there had been sparks in her eyes then, a tilt to her chin that had not been seen since her arrival at the Castle, and the King must have enjoyed its presence as much as the Prince did, because he gave his consent.
And in having her share Arthur's sentence, the King had set her free.
During the fortnight of early morning practice sessions, Prince Arthur and Lady Morgana set loose their animosity. Day after day of fighting and being fought with, of defeating and being defeated, of biting comments on his footwork and mocking glances at her handiwork.
You are insufferable!
She had screeched one morning after the tutor had forced her to align his feet correctly—and he had kicked dirt into her face.
You are wicked!
He had accused after he'd been instructed to line up her grip appropriately—and she had dropped the hilt of her sword on his foot.
He had not allowed her to beat him again; had not made the mistake of going easy again. She had been a forceful sparring opponent, challenging his every move, pushing every opening he didn't cover; and he had fought back with everything he'd known, used all the skill he'd amounted in the year of training he had over her. Savored every win over her like he never had against the boys his instructors usually pitted him against.
He was the Prince, and the Lady did not care.
She had burned vivid in the practice arena. The early morning sun glinting off her sword, her dark, glossy hair braided tight and coiled at the nape of her neck, her gray eyes heady with animation, lips pressed tight with concentration or puckered with satisfaction— her gaze had blazed with brilliance. And he had wondered, could no one else see this? See she wasn't sweet or calm or solemn at all, but vicious and strong and fierce.
Their walks back inside the castle had been silent; their steps carrying them inside slowly, bruised and sore, sweat trickling down their backs and arms heavy with fatigue. A walk of tentative truce, an admiration, an odd friendship blooming between them; lessons were taken uninterrupted the, battles reserved for the Green.
He'd had a summer cold that year, the first year, she had been in his castle; been restricted to his chambers and excused from all lessons for an entire week. The memories of the week were hazy, dulled with fever and time; all except those of her, of her eyes, wide and carefully blank, as she peered down at him with brows slightly drawn together.
Fevers kill people, you know.
He had told her to go away, had pulled the covers over his head.
It will not kill you, though; you are the Prince.
She had amended when he had failed to add further insults to his request for her departure. She had stayed though, he remembered, had watched him so intently as he'd shivered with cold that he had felt the weight of her gaze even with his own eyes closed. It had been night, and he had had the suspicion she was not supposed to be there. He had been correct.
He remembered too, he had asked her, after a maid had come to offer him water and put a cool cloth on his forehead, if that was what mother's did. He remembered it, because he had only ever asked Morgana that sort of question.
And because he would never forget the way tears had filled her eyes then, the way they had spilled without any provocation whatsoever, the alarm that had slammed through him, had startled him into a sitting position and dislodged the cool cloth—because he had never seen Morgana cry before. He knew now, her mother had died of an infection, fever wasting her away, when Morgana had been eight years old. That day he had not understood what he had done to make her cry or why she had climbed into the bed with him.
But she had. And she had made him lie down. And she had placed the cloth back on his forehead. And he had closed his eyes to her small, soft fingers stroking his hair.
Yes, Arthur, mother's do that.
She had told him very softly when he'd coughed his way into complete wakefulness hours later.
What else do mothers do?
It would be the only time he would ever ask that question.
Mothers tell you they love you and mean it more than anything else. They hug you tight until you want to go play. They're warm and soft and they have the prettiest smiles…
She had told him, her voice faint with reverence.
He had stared at her in awe and he had loved her then— loved her for being wild and fierce, for tripping him during practice and arguing with him during sparring, for the smirks and the eye-rolls and the exasperated expressions; for knowing more than him and being there with him.
Your mother would have loved you as insufferable as you are.
She had teased gently; and she had smiled at him then, sweet and calm and solemn, had slid closer to him, lain her head on his pillow and closed her eyes. He had fallen asleep watching her, wondering if his mother's smile would have been as pretty as Morgana's.
In the morning, she had been gone.
And when he had been well enough to find her, she had seemed not to remember her clandestine visit to his sickroom.
Still, sometime after that, she had come to him before dinner and pointed out that Dedric, a soldier's son who had oftentimes trained with them, could be taught a lesson or two. They had done something to that poor boy. Something malicious no doubt; but all he could remember of it, was the pitch of Morgana's laughter when their plan had clicked into place.
They had worked together then, harmless fun; but Morgana's condescending favor with servants and gentry began to fade as she pitilessly tricked and swindled one person after another. They shared adventures in the turrets and sat through royal events admirably. Those inside Camelot's Castle walls had learned to fear a grinning Prince Arthur and a smiling Lady Morgana.
And then one day, she was no longer two inches taller than him. Nor was she allowed to train with him. Nor was she given leave to wear britches.
One day, he blinked, and she had become, truly, Lady Morgana.
Sixteen and unquestionably intelligent, strong-willed and accustomed to obedience, beautiful and accustomed to deference, she had caused the still young Prince Arthur to blush and fumble with his words. Her smiles had turned smug then, but her eyes had been kind. She had loved him then too, he knew now; had loved him with tenderness and ferocity, had taken him to her bed with the intent to care for and please. Their love had been unmarred then, protective and deep-rooted; both so young and inexperienced, they'd come to one another with lust and artless kisses, had been pure and raw—roles cast aside, had been simply Arthur and Morgana.
When things had changed, he could not quite see; a swirl of years and experiences—dancing, courtships, nightmares, Gwen, Knights, beheadings, nightmares, skirmishes, druids, magic, hangings, Merlin, tournaments, crowning, magic, dungeons, chains, nightmares, deathbeds, jousting, magic, nightmares, magic— so much magic, so much terror. Each a mounting threat, a new edict, a silent choice made— and then they were a man and woman, facing each other across an ever expanding divide— the reign of King Uther.
She had grown into a beauty, no doubt— regal and dignified, though he could always see it still, the wildness, sheathed, in her gaze.
And they'd been friends, he knew; lovers and friends and rivals and siblings—but there was a law in Camelot and he had sworn his allegiance to his father. He was the future King; but not the King yet—to stand against his father was to tear his kingdom, his people in half. It was to fail his purpose in life.
The sight of the band of young druids brought before the King by the guards had chilled his heart; and had little to do with the death sentence his father was sure to hand down to them. They were not innocent by any means, practitioners of the dark arts, they had killed the King's men; but even if they had been, the sentence would not have changed.
He had felt Merlin stiffen behind him, had purposefully kept his gaze straight ahead, refusing to see the savagery flash in Morgana's eyes; pale and nearly frail looking, the wildness in her gaze had remained increasingly unsheathed as of late. A frenzy in their gray depths that twisted his insides and made his mouth go dry. Let it be, he wanted to tell her; bide your time, he wished he could say. But he could not and even if he had, he knew she would not. He did not know what drove Morgana's panics, what lit that frenzy in her eyes; but he knew, he should not have sought out Sophia; he knew he should not have fought the Questing Beast.
And he knew she would be in the dungeons tonight; because in the morning, the druids were to hang.
Merlin had questioned softly when Arthur had commanded he dress him in his armor so late in the evening. Merlin, he was certain, always knew more than he let on; could always be trusted to offer truth, to advise well.
He had not asked for Merlin's advice. And when Gwen had attempted to waylay him in a hallway, he had ordered her to stand aside.
He knew where Morgana would go and he had gone there directly.
And he had waited.
This is treason.
He had said to her when she had appeared on the wooded trail; startling and halting her in her tracks. She had whirled towards, clad in a cloak of hunter green, dark tresses falling loosely and long around her shoulders, face pale in the moonlight, eyes steady and dangerous. He was armed, had his sword; but so was she—and they outnumbered him. She had held them back with the motion of a hand, lifted her chin high when she spoke, voice calm and solemn.
These men have families.
He replied in kind. No longer an awed little boy nor a fumbling adolescent.
These men are murderers.
They were protecting themselves.
They know the laws of Camelot.
So they should be put to death for who they are?
For what they are.
And if it is one and the same, Arthur? If there is no distinction between who and what? Would you have them die for it?
I would have them follow the law.
The law is wrong!
That is treason, Morgana!
Then I am traitorous, Arthur!
And the divide yawned its cavernous maw between them; their words echoing in the night. By all rights, she would hang with them for those words, for these actions— and that is why he had come alone.
"You will leave with them," he commanded her then. Stepped forward, extended to her a bag he had brought, hidden in his own cloak.
She blinked; incredulous, shattered, incensed. "You would banish me?"
"Never," he answered without hesitation, lowering the bag, "I would see you safely away, before harm comes to you, Morgana. You cannot keep on as you have." He paused, carefully, "And I know there is more to this than you say—I… Camelot is not safe for you. Not yet."
And she stepped towards him then, the hood of her cloak falling away. The moonlight setting her hair aglow and he drank in the sight of her as she moved closer to him.
"This is treason as well," she said softly, her voice of the girl he had known once.
"No," he answered firmly, meeting her gray eyes with his blue, "This is keeping a vow made to you in the Pendragon name." He would see her safe, would love her well, and what she could do, who she aligned herself with, did not change who she was—Morgana, Ward of Camelot's King.
Her gaze is so intent on his face, he would swear it presses against him, probes to the innermost layer of his soul. "You're going to be a good King, Arthur," she whispered finally; and then stretched towards him, pressed a kiss to his mouth, "But you are already a good man."
He stared at her, it wasn't a compliment— it was a prediction and a statement. She was close enough to kiss again, when she added affectionately, "Though a touch insufferable."
He swallowed hard, the wisp of their childhood like a punch in the gut. "I—" he fumbled with the words and that brought a small smile to his face, he shook his head a bit, touched her cheek gently, "Thank you."
She nodded, once.
There would be talks and whispers and rumors tomorrow; scouts sent out to seek the Lady Morgana's whereabouts. She would be thought kidnapped, lost, and finally treacherous; painted in an unfavorable light, the villain betraying the arms that had welcomed her in; a viper lashing out at the hand of a King who had favored her so. A girl unworthy of all she had been given.
But the Prince knew the truth, knew a King's favor was fickle, knew lights could blind you to the facts; he knew the spite of a grieving girl, the tears of a saddened one, the glee of a mischievous one, the tenderness of caring one, the delight of an aroused one, the beauty of a wild one…
And as she took the bag he had brought for her from his fingers and slid gracefully away, her cloak billowing around her, her druids falling into place behind her, her hair shining in the pale light— he knew the Lady Morgana would return to Camelot one day.
He could only hope it would be ready for her when she did.