A Broken Man

"Ah. So someone has come at last to liberate the noble Sir Lancelot. I was beginning to wonder if you all thought as much of him as the bards say. Take off that ridiculous hood, Merlin, I know it's you under there."

"Morgana."

"Yes, that is my name. Speak, what is your business here? Do you mean to duel me spectacularly over the freedom of your precious Lancelot du Lac?"

"If I must, Morgana, I shall. If you free him willingly, much trouble on both our parts will be spared."

"Ha! More like much trouble on your part; face it, you are growing old! Are you still so confident in your powers, old man, still think your wand more stalwart than any man's sword…?"

"I think, my lady, that you know my views on the matter; and that though my magic may be stronger than an honest knight's arm will ever be, the knight holds as much value in my view as any sorcerer. And yet more still people than such as you, Lady Morgana, who have only ice in their hearts, and who value cunning and power above all else. Well are you named the Lady of the Isle of Apples – for you are like the snake on the tree of Eden that the men of Camelot speak so much of – you beguile others to follow your wishes, you calculate to further your own ends with no regard as to the cost to others! And now, my lady, fetch Sir Lancelot at once or you will regret your refusal sorely."

"Well then, if you put it so sweetly, my lord – Boy! Come at once, there's an old friend to see you!

"Hark! The great Merlin is astonished – he cannot form words as he looks on the unfettered limbs of his knightly young friend. And yet, methinks, he dares to misbelieve the proof of his eyes. I recognise that movement of his wand; he looks for spells of illusion and spells of coercion. And look, his face as he finds none! He will speak now, I am sure of it."

"Sir Lancelot, what I see before me grieves me greatly. Speak not – I shall never forgive this betrayal. You, who seemed one of the greatest and most steadfast knights of Camelot – whom Arthur has looked upon as friend and, yes, it must be admitted, whom the lady Guinevere has looked on as lover – No, speak not, or I'll not be able to find it in myself to forbear from cursing you. And as for you, Lady Morgana, it seems your treachery runs deeper than even I had imagined! How many more wounds must the court of Camelot suffer by your hands, before you see that Arthur is not his father, and that the father's sins have nothing to do with the son?"

"You dare! Boy, go, before you are caught up in a battle of sorcerers – we must not mar your pretty face, for Guinevere must continue to look on it with fondness – Go! Go! And now, Merlin, that we are alone, I can give you your proper punishment for your impudence."

"How strange a being you are, my lady, that wounds inflicted when you were but a girl should still excite such passion from a woman grown – that for the mistreatment perpetrated against you then, you should still seek revenge! Oh, how weak your heart must be indeed!"

"So, you know the particulars of my life as a very young girl – why, of course, I shall yield to you simply because you speak of them knowledgeably! I never suspected you of being a complete fool till now. The small horror of my forced marriage to that fool Urien holds no bearing on what I do now – but I will admit that I seek revenge for my poor mother's sake, as well as my father's, and why should I not? Men often seek revenge for the wrongful deaths of their fathers, and are thought the braver for it; yet when a woman takes up such a quest, it is the most weak-hearted of pursuits! How strange is the logic of men! I cannot countenance Camelot, that house of tyranny, staying unharmed; the very idea is anathema to me. The old king was a brutal man, and I shall see his house fall for what he did to my father, and to my mother – and furthermore, Merlin, I shall see you fall for your foolish notions."

"Foolish – aye! Foolish to uphold the very virtues you pretend to hold dear in that speech of yours! Pretty words, my lady, but deception suits you all too well, and I am not inclined to believe that you have any morals whatever in that heart of yours. You pretend to deplore the treatment of women as inferior to men – yet you do very nearly the same thing, by holding the non-magical inferior to the magical. You treat them as mere game pieces, toys to deploy as you wish to affect the outcome of things. You despise Camelot, yet that court upholds every noble thing – and most of all, it upholds the duty of the strong to the weak, to protect them rather than to tyrannize them. How, then, can you call Camelot a house of tyranny? I see no house of tyranny but your own – aye, and a very subtle tyranny at that."

"Aye, subtle indeed, Merlin: you have wit enough to see that, at least. Since I have every intention of seeing you disposed of before midsummer's-day, I cannot see any problem in telling you to what extent you have overlooked things. After all, you would gain nothing in accusing Lancelot of anything; for though you have the respect of King Arthur and his men, Lancelot has their love, and they would feel obliged to take his part in any conflict between the two of you. Doubt not that I made plenty sure of that before I allowed you to come anywhere near me."

"I warn you, I have greater regard in that court than you think; and I have greater allies outside the court than you believe."

"Oh, do you mean that ragtag little bunch of sorcerers, that, what is it called?—oh yes, your Order of Merlin? I fear them not; they are quite powerless against me and mine. Now, where was I? Oh, yes, all that you have overlooked. And it is quite a bit, believe you me. Do you remember that charming pupil of yours, Niniane? You'll know full well that she gained the post of Lady of the Lake – aye, in fact, you saw to it yourself! And of course she raised your dear Lancelot, and had (and still has) such influence with him that he calls himself 'du Lac' for her sake. Is it not, therefore, unsurprising that he came under my power through that selfsame lady?"

"Surely not Niniane!"

"Yes, 'tis Niniane indeed who is my chief ally in my endeavors – my sole adviser and good friend. What a blow it must be to you to learn of this! You were very fond of Niniane, as I understand it; sometimes I wonder if you were not half in love with her at one point – she was always a pretty thing. Tell me of her and you – speak!"

"Niniane – no, I shall not speak! But I must! This is a most foul spell Morgana – I pray you, let me hold my peace – "

"Ah! You see, my point is made – emotion only weakens the will; it is an unnecessary frippery. Speak, you old fool, speak."

"Niniane and I first met when I was living in the wood alone, nigh on thirty years ago perhaps – she and I fell into one another's company there, and though she was but a girl at the time, and I very much her senior, I began to fall for her even then – there has always been a self-possessed charm about her, and such a sweetness of heart – or so I have thought all this time. I taught her a little magic then, in order to have time with her, to see her pretty smiles and to bear witness to her extraordinary mind. We had but a short acquaintance then – I found 'twas time to go to young Arthur, to be his guide, and I had perforce to leave her. But we met later – perhaps a decade after our first meeting – and our (so I thought) mutual happiness was secured once again. Again, I taught her magic, and being much at my own disposal, we were together long enough for me to impart much of my store of knowledge to her. And, as you well know, I secured the position of Lady of the Lake for her; and enchanted the grounds of her home with every protection spell I knew of. For she was my own Niniane, then, and I wished to know that, should I be called away by my duty to King Arthur, she would be secure. What scenes of felicity there were then! We used to take a small boat onto the lake, and lie side by side in it as it drifted; or sit for hours by her fire simply talking, or merely content to sit side by side and enjoy the warmth of the flames and our own happiness.

"How can there be a woman so cold-hearted, so calculating, as to affect all this – to spend so much time professing love to a man she had every intention of betraying? What cruel consolation it is that I had, at least, a time of believing her to be mine – for what is that worth, now, when I know she cared not? Oh, I have despised you before, Morgana – scorned you truly – but not until now have I known such hatred as this treachery has kindled in me. Not content with merely scheming against my best of worldly friends, Arthur, you turn my own love against me – you wound me with the double-edged sword of my regard for Niniane. Oh, now I understand how Man can kill – for were I in possession of my faculties, Morgana, you can be certain you would not now be so complacent. I pray you – release me, that I may return to my liege and forget such scenes as have transpired here – I entreat you earnestly, much as it disgusts me to do so: let me free of this horrid spell!"

"Oh, no, Merlin – I have no intention of letting you go just yet. Before you go, I have another friend in residence who I most particularly wish you to meet with again – aye, here she comes now!"

"Niniane."

"Look, my dear Lady du Lac, he weeps! The mighty Merlin, reputed most powerful of sorcerers, reduced to tears at the sight of his former ladylove! It is almost good enough for a tale – aye, indeed, we shall make a legend of this betrayal, shall we not, my dear? Oh, but of course we'll not speak of that – that is yet to come – Merlin! Look how she treats you, this love of yours – she speaks not, she disdains you utterly. If you ever had any doubts of my telling you the truth let them rest here – I wish you to be truly and utterly broken when I send you on your way. Are you satisfied, my lady? You who know him best should know – a nod shall do – yes, I believe it is time to send you on your way, Merlin. Now, of course, I'll not lift this spell till after you're quite gone from here; be sure of that. Now off you go, Merlin."

"You will pay for this, Morgana, by my troth, you will."

"No, quite the contrary, Merlin – quite the contrary. Soon, you'll be in no position to even make such idle threats."

A/N: This story is sort of a spinoff of my WIP, Tales of Wildwood. I was researching for it, and I came up with all this cool stuff for Morgana and Merlin, and then I wanted to write about them - but of course there isn't much scope within the other fic to show too much of either of their perspectives, and certainly never Merlin in his weaker moments, nor Morgana's sordid little backstory.

A combination of that, an overdose of Jane Austen (and thus of old-fashioned speech) and the Gift of Gab contest (a contest on MNFF in which we were instructed to write a story using only dialogue spoken by two characters) gave birth to this fic.

Here's hoping these two count as canon characters. =D

Also, I extend deepest thanks to Russia (RussiaSnow) for beta-ing, talking over the story, and helping with the summary.