Title: A Bard's Tale
Set: 2x07 and onwards, screwing with canon as I see fit. Shameless fluff because I've had enough of doom and gloom.
Summary: The chroniclers didn't get everything right. This is for all the little stories that were never told. Or not told correctly. There's never been a version of the legend quite like this one.
"Aredian, think carefully about what you're doing. You'll never escape from Camelot alive."
The witch finder sneered and brought the blade of his dagger up to Morgana's throat. "I will if you value the life of your ward, hmm?"
Uther swallowed but could do nothing as Aredian edged ever closer to the window, dragging the woman with him. Arthur caught Morgana's eye, resigned to seeing the terror of the situation reflected in her face; expecting a teary, glassy eyed woman breathing shallowly in shock.
Instead she winked at him.
In a moment Morgana brought her head back sharply, head butting her captor in the face. There was the crack of cartilage as Aredian's nose broke. In his shock and agony he dropped the dagger to clutch at his face. Morgana twisted, kneeing him in the groin viciously. He slumped to the floor, tears leaking from his eyes. He shot her a bitter look and she tasted the bite of lemons at the back of her throat.
"Arrest that man!" Uther called angrily. "Throw him in the dungeon. I'll deal with him later." He turned anxiously to his ward, who hid the grin she was sporting as he took her in his arms. "Morgana, are you all right?"
She watched the guards cart their prisoner off to the bowels of the castle and then turned back to the King. "I'm fine." She rubbed her head ruefully. "A slight headache perhaps, but I feel better than Aredian at least."
Uther barked a laugh of relief and guided her towards the doorway. "We shall have a feast in your honour tonight."
"I'm flattered, my lord."
Arthur watched her go, his sword now hanging uselessly at his side. He caught the glance she threw over her shoulder as she left though. The words she mouthed to him.
I need no man to save me.
"Looks like you're out of a job then."
Arthur turned to his manservant wearily. "What was that Merlin?"
"I mean, it looks like the damsels are saving themselves nowadays. Morgana certainly can anyway." He grinned. "How're you going to woo her now?"
"I'm not planning on wooing Morgana." Arthur scowled. "Besides, I can seduce a girl without having to rescue her first."
"Really? Then how do you normally do it?"
"Well, I… um… there's a lot of…"
Merlin raised an eyebrow.
"Flowers!" Arthur smiled triumphantly. "I always send flowers."
"Right. So do you want me to send some to Morgana?"
"Yes. No- I'm not trying to seduce her!" Arthur glared at his friend. "Haven't you got horses to muck out, or armour to polish?"
Merlin smiled and bowed. "Yes sire."
Arthur had just sheathed his sword when Merlin popped his head round the door. "Lilies are her favourite."
He ducked the book the prince threw at his head.
Morgana gently took the flower from his outstretched hand, tenderly rubbing the soft, creamy petals between her fingers.
"Thank you Arthur, it's beautiful." She smiled and glanced down at the pale gold and ivory silk of her outfit. "It even goes with my dress. Anyone might have thought you'd planned this."
Arthur shrugged nonchalantly. "Coincidence I assure you."
"Mmm." She sipped her wine and peered at him over the rim of the goblet. "So does this mean you're not sore about me rescuing myself?"
"No. In fact I'm quite proud."
"Really?" Morgana's eyes widened in pleased surprise.
"Yes. The head butt and groin kick are offensive moves I taught you."
Her pleasure dissipated instantly. "Arthur Pendragon. You taught me no such thing. I-"
The strains of the musicians beginning a jig interrupted the start of her rant and Arthur took her wine cup from her, setting it down on the table behind them.
"Dance with me?"
Morgana raised an eyebrow suspiciously. "Why? You don't normally dance."
"I just thought you might like to. But if you don't I-"
"No! No." She caught her fingers in his tunic as he turned to leave. "I will dance with you. To humour you of course. And as a thank you for the flower."
"Of course." Arthur nodded seriously as he led her to join the other couples in the middle of the room. When he thought she wasn't looking his face relaxed into a smile.
He caught Merlin's knowing expression across the room. His servant grinned and whispered something in Gwen's ear. The maid beamed and nodded as she gazed at the two of them. Arthur glared and made execution movements across his neck at Merlin.
To his chagrin, his servant just laughed.
"It hasn't worked. Why hasn't it worked?"
Arthur grinned almost drunkenly. "I'm not complaining. That was fantastic. Not as good as my beloved Vivian's kiss though. Ah, her mouth is like the mouth of an angel whose sweet kisses drop like the dew of Heaven upon my li-"
Gwen sighed and tried to tune out the love sick prince. "If you'd stopped panicking and listened to me I already told you Merlin. I'm not the one Arthur truly loves."
"Then who do we get to break the spell?"
"I have an idea."
Five minutes later Morgana was dragged very unwillingly into the tent.
"Morgana!" Arthur smiled. "Let me tell you of the many virtues of my beloved. Her hair is-"
"Not now Arthur." Morgana waved away his effusive descriptions. "So you're telling me this is all a spell."
"Yes," Merlin nodded emphatically.
"And Arthur is not really in love with Vivian."
"And the only way to break it is to have me kiss him." Her eyes narrowed. "Why can't Gwen do it, or any other woman in Camelot for that matter?"
"Well, we already tried Gwen," Merlin explained sheepishly.
Morgana's expression turned frosty."I see."
"I did try and tell him, my lady," Gwen argued. "But he'd made his mind up."
"So now it's my turn to try and make Arthur normal again. Or as normal as he ever was."
"Right, so if you'd just get on with it…"
Morgana folded her arms. "I'm not doing this in front of an audience."
Merlin rolled his eyes. "You're only kissing him for goodness sake. It's not like we're asking you to perform a strip tease."
"Merlin!" Morgana's face heated in fury.
"Did someone say striptease?"
"Shut up Arthur." Morgana's eyes narrowed. "I suggest you wait outside Merlin, unless you'd like to try curing Arthur yourself?"
He shook his head and practically ran out of the tent, pulling Gwen along with him.
"Oh, and Merlin?" Morgana called blithely. "If this doesn't work, I'm going to kill you."
When she was sure no-one was about to come barging in she turned back to the bemused prince and sighed.
"It must be my lucky day," mused Arthur. "I get to kiss all the ladies of Camelot."
"Arthur, just…be quiet and close your eyes."
For once he did as she asked. "This better work," she muttered to herself. "Or I'm going to be queuing up with Olaf if you really are in love with the Lady Vivian."
She pressed her lips softly against his. A small pressure against his mouth at first, a slow exploration of her mouth on his, and then he began to kiss her back, sliding his lips over hers. His hands resting at the small of her back pulled her in against him. Her hands tightened on his shoulders as he deepened the kiss, his tongue pressing against her mouth before he slipped inside.
She was unaware of the whimper that slipped out from her, or of the way her body pressed up against him until she was almost his shadow. She tasted the wine on his tongue as one of his clever hands slid up her back and gently massaged the nape of her neck before fisting in her hair. She arched against him and the low tingling in her belly began. His breathing was heavy in her ear as he broke momentarily from her lips to kiss her jaw and her neck and then her mouth found his again.
Her lips bruised against his hard, because if this was the only moment she was to have before Arthur realised he really did love Vivian then she was going to make a memory she could look back on without regret. There was a last searing moment of her mouth against his and then she pulled back slowly, a gentle lingering touch of his lips against hers.
He stared at her for a few moments and then doubled over as if someone had punched him in the gut. She steadied him, her hands still on his shoulders as his eyes cleared and he looked at her as if he could suddenly see all her secret parts. Knew all of her deepest wishes.
He was back. The spell had been broken.
"Morgana? What's going on?"
He loved her…
She pulled away from his arms and tried to pat her hair down in vain. Her mouth was still tingling. "Merlin will explain everything. I need to go."
Merlin dodged out of the way as Morgana hurried from the tent. He turned back to Arthur.
"Do the words destiny and chicken mean anything to you, my lord?"
"Merlin, what are you blathering on about?
His servant exchanged a relieved glance with Gwen. "Glad to see you back to your old self- why are you leaving?" Merlin hastily blocked the tent door.
"I need to go after Morgana. Now."
"That's going to have to wait," Merlin explained anxiously. "You see, you're in a fight to the death and you're losing…"
"We may return too?"
"You're always welcome," Uther replied graciously, as Arthur blanched.
"My heart will remain and I hope to join it soon."
Olaf dragged his daughter away towards the horses. Arthur nodded tentatively and wiggled his fingers in a pathetic goodbye. Vivian's face however, lit up in a brilliant smile at the gesture.
"Not too soon." Arthur turned away, panic flittering across his expression.
Merlin grinned. "No, that might conflict with your one true love."
"You heard me. Although she doesn't look very happy. Might not be your one true love for very long."
Morgana's face was drawn into a deep frown as she watched Lady Vivian depart Camelot, her teeth nibbling at her lips unconsciously.
"You're going to have to talk to her."
"How can I? She's been avoiding me ever since."
"Ever since what?"
"The incident in the tent." Arthur's tone had taken on the strained pitch it always did when Merlin was just about to push him too far.
Morgana turned and began to trail up the steps back into the castle. Arthur's eyes unconsciously followed the sway of her hips.
"Wait until she's gone to sleep and then go and see her. She can't escape from you when she's in bed."
"Merlin, even for you, that is a monumentally stupid idea."
"I still maintain this is a stupid idea."
"Look do you want to talk to her or not?"
"Fine. But stay out here and warn me if anyone comes."
Merlin raised an eyebrow. "Who's going to be wandering the castle at this time of night? Apart from lovesick fools like you of course."
The prince's retort was cut off as he was abruptly shoved though the door.
Arthur stumbled into the room, the moonlight sliding in through the windows. The fire in the grate was burning low and Morgana was fast asleep in her bed, her dark hair spread out on the pillow beneath her head, her face relaxed and carefree.
"Morgana!" Arthur hissed. She didn't stir. "Morgana." He touched her shoulder and gently shook her. "Morgana, wake up." Her hand flew out and smacked him in the mouth. "Ow!"
"Arthur? What are you doing in here?" She sat up and frowned at him. "Are you all right? You're bleeding…"
Arthur touched his split lip gingerly. "You've got quite a right hook on you."
"You should know better than to go sneaking into a lady's chambers at night."
"Never had any complaints before."
Morgana rolled her eyes. "Fine, you should know better than to go sneaking into my chambers at night." She slipped out of bed and pulled on her wrap, before lighting some candles. "I take it you're here for a reason, or do you just enjoy being hit in the face?"
He sat on the edge of her bed. "Morgana, about Lady Vivian." He watched her stiffen as she lit the last of the candles. "You must understand it was only the spell."
"Then why…I-" He sighed. "You looked upset on the steps this morning. If you weren't worried about Vivian then what-"
"I was worried about Vivian, but not about what you think." She padded back over to the bed and slipped under the sheets again. "I feel sorry for her. She's in love with you and it's unrequited, except she doesn't know that. She thinks she's going to have this wonderful future with you and unless you fall in love with her too she's just going to pine away." Morgana traced a finger along the silk of her bed sheet. "That spell's taken away her freewill. She has no choice but to love you."
"Perhaps someone will break the spell on her."
"Before the spell Vivian loved very little in her life, except herself. I don't think it'll ever be broken."
Arthur took her hand. "I'm sorry, but there's nothing we can do about it."
"I know. That's the worst thing about it. I can only pity her." She sighed. "Perhaps in some way it would have been kinder to have left the spell in place. You would at least have been happy together."
Something fierce passed across his face. "But it wouldn't have been real. We both know that." He cupped her face tenderly. "Morgana I-"
"I'll get you some salve for your lip."
He sighed and let her slip away again. "Are we even going to talk about what you breaking the spell means?"
"No." Morgana opened the wooden box on her dressing table and pulled out a jar of salve. "There's nothing to say."
She walked back over to where Arthur was sat, her eyes resolutely not looking at his face. She sat down on the coverlet, as far as she could from him and still reach his face. She dipped a finger inside the jar and looked up. Arthur was suddenly a lot closer, and watching her intently.
"Did you enjoy it?"
"When you kissed me."
Morgana's expression froze. "You want to do this now?"
She sighed. "Fine. It wasn't really how I imagined my first kiss with you would be."
"You've imagined us kissing?"
"Right." Arthur suppressed a knowing grin. "So, when you were not imagining us kissing, what was it not like?"
Morgana suddenly reached out with her wet finger and dabbed the salve on his lip. Arthur winced.
"Sorry," Morgana apologised, not looking sorry at all. "Did I not tell you it stings?"
Merlin stuck his head round the door. "We need to go. Guards are coming."
"You brought Merlin with you?" Morgana's expression was incredulous. "Are you two tied at the hip?"
"It was his idea."
"Arthur!" Merlin hissed. "Guards. Now. Please."
"Fine. I'm coming." He turned back to Morgana. "Well?"
Morgana shrugged. "I don't know. I definitely wasn't kissing you when you were in love with someone else. You definitely weren't in a fight to the death over another woman."
Arthur scrubbed the back of his head sheepishly. "Once again, can I say, not my fault."
"All right Merlin!"
Morgana pushed him to the doorway and then smiled secretly. "I guess you'll just have to find out for yourself what my idea of the perfect kiss is."
"And how am I supposed to do that?" Arthur asked.
"Practice." Morgana wet her lips and tilted her head up. "Makes. Perfect."
Arthur had just closed his eyes when a hand on his arm suddenly tugged him out of Morgana's room and into the cold air of the corridor. Morgana's door shut behind him but he could hear her quiet laugh through the wood.
The guards passed by, eyeing Merlin suspiciously before nodding in deference to Arthur, who leaned nonchalantly against the wall. He waited until they had disappeared down the corridor before dragging his manservant back to his quarters. In a headlock.
"Merlin. Has anyone ever told you, you have the worst timing ever?"
"Why, did I interrupt something?"
"I was just about to ki-" He stopped seeing Merlin's smirk. "Nothing. Just go and polish my armour."
"But it's one o' clock in the morning!"
"Maybe that will teach you not to barge in at inappropriate moments."
"But there were guards," Merlin muttered under his breath as he walked to the armoury. "You told me to tell you if anyone was coming." He scowled. "That's the last time I ever give anyone any advice."
"Good morning Father. Morgana."
Uther glanced up from the breakfast table and smiled at his son. "Arthur. You're in a good mood today."
"Yes Sire. I had a good night's sleep."
"Excellent." Uther sliced an apple in half. "You're not the only one in good spirits this morning."
Morgana motioned to the letter in her hand and sipped the milk in her glass. "I've had news from an old friend."
"Oh? What's her name?"
Arthur's smile dropped. "He's a man."
Morgana couldn't help but smirk. "Yes. All his life in fact. He's coming to visit soon."
Arthur scowled. "How wonderful." He stood up from the table abruptly. "If you will excuse me Father, I've suddenly lost my appetite."
Morgana watched him go contemplatively. "He didn't let me finish telling him the rest of the letter."
Uther smiled to himself, bit into his fruit and said nothing.
A week later and Morgana found herself in the lake by the wood staring up at the naked sky, which had shed even the modest sprinkling of stars. The water was cold and the weed tickled but she had to admit skinny dipping was rather exhilarating. She smiled. She had to overhear the servant's gossip more often.
Shocked she sank down into the shadowy water. Fortunately her feet found purchase on a large rock beneath her and she crossed her arms.
"Arthur," she hissed. "What are you doing here?"
"I followed you. I wondered where you were sneaking off to."
"Yes well, now you know. So just go away like a good prince and…don't even think about coming any closer!"
Arthur smirked as he slipped off his boots by the edge of the water. "Either you come out, or I come in and make you come out."
"You wouldn't dare."
Arthur slid one hand down his chest and toyed with the hem of his shirt, before slowly drawing it over his head in what Morgana began to suspect was a deliberately calculated move. She unconsciously sucked in a breath. He really was magnificent. In the moonlight he looked like a beautiful carved statue. He toyed with the hem of his trousers and she looked away, a blush staining her cheeks.
"Try me." His eyes flashed, his lips curving into a provocatively dark smile.
She hesitated just a fraction too long and he dived in. She cursed loudly and scanned the water in vain for him. The first stirrings of panic began to well in her. He could be anywhere under the surface. Waiting to- something grabbed her ankle. She screamed.
Arthur exploded from the water laughing. She slapped him. Hard.
"What was that for?" The prince pouted.
"Arthur. I. Am. Naked. Get out."
"I know. Why do you think I'm in here?"
She slapped his other cheek this time, too quick for him to stop her. "Arthur."
The prince merely smirked and rubbed his stinging face. "Think of it as payback for not telling me Lord Russell was married."
"That was your own fault. If you'd waited and not stormed off like a jealous idiot I could have told you that he was stopping off on his honeymoon tour. That he and Lady Beatrice were only married two weeks ago." She splashed him. "You deserved everything you got."
He splashed her back until water was dripping from her hair. Drops jewelled her eyelashes.
Her eyes narrowed and suddenly she lashed out and ducked his head under the water. He came up coughing.
But she was already swimming off towards the shore, giggling to herself. He caught up with her in smooth easy strokes just as she was about to escape out of the water.
"Arthur," she said seriously. "I really need to get out. Could you please be a gentleman and not look."
Arthur sighed. "On my honour as a knight, I promise."
He turned around and waited. There was the quiet noise of her stepping from the water, and he imagined her slender white body-
"Did you hide my towel you intolerable pig?" Morgana's voice was as taut as a bow string.
Arthur smirked, though he still kept his back to her. "Perhaps, my lady."
"Then tell me where it is or I'll…"
Arthur's grin widened. "Or what Morgana? You'll get back in the water?"
There was a beat of silence.
"Tell me where my towel is and I'll kiss you."
"Hanging on the branch of the old oak tree, next to my boots," came the immediate reply.
Morgana towelled herself dry and pulled on her dress in record time, still keeping one eye on Arthur. True to his word though, the prince didn't move.
"All right, you can look now," she said, tying her damp hair up into a chignon, and pulling her shawl around her.
"And my kiss?"
"I'm not kissing you whilst you're…"naked "…wet."
"Then I would ask you too not to look as I get out."
"As if I'd want to," Morgana snapped, turning to face the woods. "You greatly overestimate your appeal to womankind."
"Really?" Came a voice at her ear. She swallowed and tried to not think about the fact that he was naked mere inches from her. She could feel his body heat, and the itch to turn around was getting harder and harder not to scratch.
"Oh put some clothes on will you? I'd like to get back to the castle sometime this week if that's all right with your majesty."
"As you wish."
In less time than she thought it would take Arthur touched her shoulder. "Done."
She turned round and his lips pressed against hers insistently. She swallowed a moan and pressed closer to him as he dipped his tongue into the crease between her lips. She opened her mouth to him and played with the hair at the nape of his neck as he pushed her gently against the tree behind them.
Her fingers dug into his tunic before she slipped underneath the material and traced over his smooth flat chest. Her fingers roamed over the fine dusting of hair she found, as he pressed against her and she gasped into his mouth. His lips slanted over hers and she found herself breathing his name as this time he pulled back.
She cleared her throat and tried to control her breathing as she crossed her arms nonchalantly, pretending and failing she wasn't at all affected.
Morgana shook her head. "Not quite. I suppose you'll have to just keep trying."
"Guess so," Arthur agreed deadpan.
The court broke into enthusiastic applause as the actors finished their Christmas play.
"Well done. Very well done," said Uther, standing. "Another fine performance Alfero."
The head of the travelling group bowed low and beamed in pleasure. "It is our present to you and your fine court of Camelot at this happy season." He bowed again and Uther turned dismissing the court.
"Speaking of presents," said Arthur in Morgana's ear. "I haven't given you yours yet."
"But I thought you'd bought me the locket." She fingered the silver pendant round her neck.
"No, that was from Father. I've got something different to give you." He took her hand and pulled her down the corridors to his quarters.
"Arthur," she warned. "This had better be a real present."
Arthur clasped his chest in playful shock. "I swear I have only honourable intentions…but I do need to cover your eyes."
Morgana's eyebrow raised but she acquiesced, allowing Arthur to lead her. She heard the door swing open, and pulled her hands away.
"Well? What do you think?"
"Arthur that's…that's …adorable. Thank you!"
She picked up the little black wolf cub from the bedspread and beamed, stroking his soft downy fur.
"So you're pleased then."
Morgana's face dropped into her cold mask of indifference. "I suppose your present is acceptable." A muscle in her cheek ticked though and she burst out laughing. Arthur leaned against the bedpost, his Christmas now complete.
"What will you call him?"
"Faolan. It means little wolf." She cuddled the cub and then set him back down on the bed. When she turned round Arthur was holding a sprig of mistletoe above their heads. He smiled expectantly.
"It is tradition, and as prince I am expected to uphold all the traditions of Camelot."
"I'm surprised you haven't tied some above your bed and decided to 'uphold' your tradition there."
Arthur's eyebrows rose suggestively. "You only have to say Morgana. You know you're welcome in my chambers at any time."
"I didn't mean… oh forget it." She planted a kiss on his cheek and picked up Faolan in a whirl of silk skirts and cinnamon scent.
"Is that all I'm getting?"
"I kissed you. Next time be more specific about where you want to be kissed." She paused and eyed the bed. Arthur tried to calm the rising feeling of hope that was creeping into his chest.
"Oh and Arthur?"
"Yes?" He winced. Did he really sound that needy?
"You'll need to get Merlin to change the sheets. Faolan's left his own Christmas present to you on your bed."
"Goodnight, my lady."
"Goodnight Gwen," Morgana murmured, but she knew her maid hadn't heard her. Her head was too filled with Lancelot and his Christmas gift of the pretty silver chain that now adorned her neck, which Gwen kept fiddling with every few minutes, as if to check it really was there. Morgana only hoped he gave her friend a different piece of jewellery next year. One perhaps, which would adorn her finger instead.
Morgana contemplated her own jewellery, specifically the bracelet Morgause had given her weeks ago. It was true that her nightmares (visions a part of her whispered) had stopped once she'd taken to wearing it. She'd been able to get a good night's sleep for the first time in what seemed like a long string of restless nights.
But she couldn't deny that it felt like part of her had been cut off and she was only just realising it. As though she'd had an arm amputated in her sleep and only now was she feeling the phantom pain of separation.
She didn't feel whole anymore.
Taking a deep breath she slipped the bangle from her wrist and set it on the dressing table by the window.
She bolted up in bed; her hands round her throat, gasping for breath, tears streaking down her cheeks. Her tongue was still heavy with the taste of the poison. Ironically for a Seer she hadn't been able to see what was coming for a long while now.
Faolan watched his mistress from his position by the fire, his ears pricked in concern. She flashed him a half hearted smile but the dream had killed any sense of safety or warmth she might have felt.
Morgause had used her…Merlin had killed her…
She slipped out of bed and though she flinched as her bare feet touched the cold flag floors it was nothing to the cold that now seemed to envelop her entire being. She pushed open the door in a daze and began to roam the corridors, with no idea where she was walking until she found herself unconsciously outside Arthur's chambers. She pressed the door open quietly; unsure what she was even doing, or what she was going to do if she found him asleep in bed like any normal person would be at this time.
He wasn't asleep though; instead he was slouched regally in his favourite chair, gazing into the fire. She ducked back but the creaking of the door hinges gave her away.
He beckoned her in and grinned. "So you've decided to take me up on my offer then?" His teasing expression faltered though when he took in her tear streaked face. "Sit," he commanded, pulling up another chair next to him. "What's wrong?"
"I thought you'd stopped having them?" She shook her head. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"I was murdered."
He pulled her into his lap and she let him, grateful he hadn't asked who had done it, or how. Instead he stroked his fingers through her hair wordlessly, as the door creaked again and Faolan's dark head peered round the door. Spotting his mistress he quietly padded in and lay at her feet.
"They're only dreams," Arthur finally ventured.
"No. They're not."
His fingers tightened momentarily in her hair and he sighed very quietly. "I know."
"I'm used to death. I see it all the time. But it was always other people dying." Mostly you she didn't add. "I didn't think I'd see myself. Strangely I thought I was somehow immune." She smiled grimly and took a breath. "So what were you doing up anyway?"
Arthur raised an eyebrow at the subject change but knew better than to press something she clearly didn't want to dwell on anymore.
"Oh, nothing." Arthur shifted uncomfortably.
"You've been up half the night thinking about nothing?" Morgana obviously had no problem with questioning him when he didn't want to talk about something.
"Oh all right. Have your secrets." She smiled half heartedly. "I bet I can tell you what you were thinking about anyway."
An expression Morgana had never seen before passed over Arthur's face before he answered. "I doubt it."
"Hmm," she tapped her chin. "Could it be possibly be about this?" She pulled out the sprig of mistletoe he'd had that morning.
"When did you steal tha-"
Her mouth cut him off as she kissed him warmly, almost desperately. He pulled her further onto his lap and discovered he didn't really care about the answer when she moved against him like that. The mistletoe fell to the floor unnoticed as Morgana pressed hot kisses against his face and held back the tears that threatened to fall.
"I need-" She didn't even know how to finish that sentence.
"Stay?" Arthur mumbled in her ear.
She arched against him as he bit gently on her earlobe. "I should go back to my chambers."
"You're probably right."
She stayed anyway.
"Why didn't you meet me?"
Morgana took off her wrap and draped it over her dressing table chair. Beside her, Faolan was growling, his hackles raised at the mysterious woman who'd appeared in the room moments before. His fur, still lightly dusted with snow from the morning's walk around the castle grounds, bristled.
"I thought not being there would be answer enough." More quietly she added: "I saw what you would have me do."
Morgause's eyes instantly narrowed on Morgana's naked wrist. "You're not wearing the bracelet."
"My dreams are a part of me. I've accepted that." With Arthur's help was left unsaid.
Morgause tilted her head to the left, like Morgana had seen the prince's falcon do as it contemplated prey. Her voice was honeyed when she spoke. "But why should you be burdened with all of that pain?"
"Because maybe I can do something about it."
"And what are you going to do about what you saw?"
Morgause's smile was strained. "What I do is for the greater good."
"You say that, but what you really mean is it's for your own good."
Morgause sneered. "Uther uses violence every day against our own people. And you would turn your back on them?"
"I'm not turning my back on anyone," Morgana finally snapped, her knuckles white over the back of the chair. "But not everything is black and white."
"I can make it so."
Morgana stood still, her voice laced with determination at the threat behind Morgause's words. "I won't let you hurt them."
"And how exactly are you going to stop me?" Morgause's eyes flashed a brilliant gold. "You'll help me achieve my goal whether you're with me or not."
Morgana opened her mouth to scream for help. Instead everything went black.
"Did you sleep well?"
Morgana glanced up frowning. "I don't remember falling asleep…" Her brow creased as she stared at Gwen as she yawned. "Better than you anyway by the look of it."
Gwen smiled sheepishly. "Sorry."
Morgana tuned out the rest of her reply as her maid set about getting her ready. She replayed the conversation and a nasty stab of déjà vu suddenly hit her.
"My lady?" Gwen stopped brushing Morgana's thick black locks as her mistress suddenly jumped from her chair and raced out of the door. "My lady! Morgana! You haven't even got any shoes on!"
She would have hurried after her, if a wave of dizziness hadn't swept over her. "I think I'll just sit down for a minute," she mumbled, seating herself in the now vacant chair. "Then I'll go after her and…" She was unconscious before she'd even finished the sentence.
Meanwhile, finding Gaius already treating Uther for a 'fever' Morgana hurried down to his rooms, taking the only chance she might have to be alone in there without arousing suspicions. Merlin had already left with Arthur on their expedition to see about the rumours of the re-lit fires of Idirsholas but she still had only minutes before Gaius returned and found her raiding his supplies.
She felt like screaming.
"I was so close. So close to the happy ending." She ran her fingers over the bottles on Gaius' shelf, finally closing over the bottle marked Hemlock. "So close I tripped at the finish line." She slipped the poison into her bag. "A last resort," she muttered to herself.
But the cold sense of acceptance she could feel beginning to creep over her belied those words as the day wearily continued and all around her people began to sicken and fall asleep. She'd just propped Gwen up in her bed when Arthur barged into her room, his sword at the ready, Merlin following only seconds behind him.
"Morgana!" Arthur's relief was palpable as he crushed her in his embrace. "You're all right." His face scanned hers before he dropped his arms reluctantly with a glance at Merlin. He gestured around him. "Tell me what happened."
She swallowed. "People were complaining, saying they weren't feeling well."
"And what then?"
"They started falling asleep. Everyone. Everywhere I went." She took a deep breath. "I'll show you to your father if you like."
Arthur nodded and she hurried out, feeling Merlin's eyes on her all of the time.
Whilst Merlin went to fetch servant's clothes to disguise Uther with (or as Morgana knew better- to visit the dragon under the castle - and her shock at that discovery was only tempered by the fact that anything seemed possible now) she was left alone with Arthur.
"Are you all right Morgana? You seem quiet."
"Are you sure?"
She nodded again wordlessly and decided to give into the inevitable. Her hand closed over her bag.
"Why don't you try and make your father more comfortable?" She headed to the small washroom at the other end of the room. "I'll get him a drink of water. Perhaps that will help to cool the fever."
Arthur smiled. "Good idea."
She nodded and memorising his figure as he bent over his sleeping father she slipped into the quiet of the bathing room. She peered around and finally spotted a cup next to the buckets of ice cold water ready for use. She took a deep breath and reached into her bag for the poison, her fingers closing around the corked bottle.
She almost dropped it on the floor. "Yes?" She hated that she couldn't stop the tremor in her voice. She dipped her head back in the room.
"I just wanted to say thank you. It must have been terrifying when everyone started to become ill around you. But… you've really held it together." He smiled at her, the generous twist of his lips that she saw very rarely that made her heart ache just a little. "I'm proud of you."
"Thank you Arthur. That means… a lot."
She slipped back into the room and put her fist in her mouth to stop herself from crying. She poured the poison into the beaker and before she could change her mind she had raised it to her lips.
The door creaked behind her. She whirled, not having time to even bother to disguise what she was about to do.
Arthur's face showed only dawning horror.
"Morgause cursed me. The only way to stop the sickness is to kill the source." Morgana confessed, the words bubbling out of her mouth before she could stop them. She raised the cup back to her mouth and offered him a silent goodbye. "Which is what I intend to do."
Except the cup became smashed shards on the floor, the poison leaking everywhere.
He gripped her hand with all the strength he had left, looking more furious than she thought he could ever be. "How could you even think of doing that?"
"But it's the only way to stop everyone from dying. To stop you from dying."
"There is always another way. Right Merlin?"
She hadn't even noticed the other man had come back, but he was staring at her with something like admiration and shame.
For once Merlin looked unsure. "I don't know!" He raised his hands helplessly. "Perhaps if we could somehow get Morgause to take the curse off Morgana then everything would go back to normal?"
"Did someone call?" Morgause appeared in the room. There was a sudden loud banging as the knights she had conjured began to push ruthlessly at the door. She smiled nastily.
"Take the curse off her," Arthur demanded.
Morgause narrowed her eyes. "No."
Arthur swung his sword so that the point rested at her neck. Morgause watched in amusement. "Take it off."
"Arthur!" Morgana put her hand on his and was alarmed at how easy it was to push the sword down. "She'll kill you."
"You're in love with each other, how nauseating." Morgause sneered even as something dark dawned on her face. She clicked her fingers and the banging on the door suddenly stopped.
"What's going on?" Arthur asked warily.
"I'm being merciful. Morgana thinks I should try it so here's my version. I've removed my knights but I won't remove my curse." Morgause shook her head with something akin to sorrow. "You're no sister of mine." She disappeared suddenly in a swirl of wind, leaving the three of them standing in confusion.
"Sister?" Morgana swallowed and rubbed her head. She'd deal with that revelation later.
Arthur sank down onto the bed behind her, the sickness taking more and more of a toll on him. "Arthur? Arthur!" Morgana shook him but the prince was unconscious and beyond hearing.
Merlin leaned against the bedpost, his magic giving him a slight edge but not much. He blinked, struggling to keep awake. "I don't understand- why would she do that?"
"Camelot is safe… as long as I leave." Morgana murmured to herself. Horrible realisation dawned and the explanation tumbled rapidly from her. "It was always about revenge for Morgause. She wanted revenge against Uther, against you all, until I turned my back on her. She sees that as more of a betrayal because I'm," she had difficulty even saying the word, "family."
"So her revenge is that you can't stay here with yours. If you go you take the sickness with you and everyone here should recover." Merlin surmised.
Morgana nodded and before she could change her mind she kissed Arthur's forehead.
"I love you…so I have to leave," she murmured in his ear. Merlin's eyes had widened. She got up, only pausing as she reached the door. "You're a good friend Merlin. If I never see you again I just wanted to say…thanks and…take care of him for me?"
It was dusk by the time the castle began to stir. Merlin watched as Arthur's eyes snapped open and he sat up, blinking slowly, like a man waking from a dream.
"She's gone Arthur," Merlin said quietly. "She kissed you goodbye and then she left."
It was a testament to how upset the prince was that he didn't object to the arm Merlin wrapped around his shoulders as he wept.
The King Is Dead. Long Live The King.
Arthur sat on the throne; the crown poised above his head in the hands of the Archbishop and wondered how the passage of three years could feel like a lifetime.
"Thou shall keep full peace and accord in God and to the Church to the people and to the clergy."
In all that time and he'd heard not a whisper about Morgana, nothing to tell him how she was; whether she'd removed the curse.
"I shall do."
If she was still alive.
He dismissed that thought from his mind as he so often had in the quieter, darker moments of the past few years.
"Thou shall keep in all these domains rightful and every rightwiseness and discretion with mercy and truth."
And now it had come to this. With his Father gone with the January snow, and Gaius following his king soon after, he had been left to bear the responsibility of looking after a whole kingdom.
"I shall do."
He had his knights it was true, as Merlin kept telling him when he wondered if he could actually do this. He had his friends and his loyal, stalwart servant who'd turned out to be the best friend and advisor he could have hoped for. Not that he'd ever tell him of course.
"Grant thou all rightful laws and customs to behold, and that thou wilt defend and strengthen them."
Faolan quietly sat down next to him.
"I shall do."
He hoped she was proud of him wherever she was.
"Grant thou that thou wilt act as is bef…Sire?... Sire…there's a wolf sitting beside you and it refuses to move. Sire? Sire?"
"Arthur." Merlin's voice resounded in his ear and he jumped and then coughed.
"Merlin," he hissed. "I'm about to be crowned. What is it?"
Merlin glanced to the space beside his throne where the now grown black wolf was sitting. Arthur followed his gaze. A flare of something wonderfully painful and joyful at the same time flashed across his face before he was out of his seat and running, before he even knew what his feet were doing, ignoring the surprised voices of the bishops behind him. The crowds parted for him as the prince dashed down the centre.
He skidded to a halt in front of the ethereally beautiful woman standing at the back of the hall. Her shimmering white dress swept the floors, her hair loose down her back and her head crowned with snowflakes and ruby winter berries. She looked more beautiful so simply adorned by nature than she ever had in all the jewels she'd worn before.
His fingers looped into the blood red belt at her waist as he pulled her into his arms and kissed her.
"You're pleased to see me then," she managed to get out in-between kisses.
"Just a bit," he admitted. "The curse?"
"How? Where did you go? I-"
She pressed a finger to his lips. "I promise answers later."
She looked pointedly at the Archbishop who was still standing by the throne, the crown between his hands, a gently amused smile on his face. "But I think there's something you need to do first."
He kissed her hand and nodded reluctantly, making his way back up to the throne. He sat back down, watching as Morgana went to stand beside Gwen (her fingers entwined with Lancelot's) who hugged her hard, and Merlin who bowed formally, which caused her to laugh, before she hugged him too.
Arthur turned to the longsuffering Archbishop and smiled. "I believe we were in the middle of something?"
It was only when the dawn bells rang out that Morgana realised that everyone else had left the Great Hall hours before, though the coronation celebrations had lasted well into the night. Arthur was tracing the druid markings that curled from her little toe on her right foot up around her ankle, her feet in his lap as he lounged in his throne. Magic flared around her tattoo as he traced the gentle swirls with the tip of his finger, feeling the magic sing from beneath her skin to his.
"What does it mean?"
Morgana lifted her head up from where she'd thrown it back on the pillows that had somehow appeared at some point in the night, trying to think through the haze of completely sinful feelings Arthur's skin against hers was provoking.
"It's a spell of protection. It means love and long life in the old language."
"Is that how you rid yourself of the curse?"
Morgana sat up properly, exposing the soft white skin of her throat as she gazed up at him from her position on the floor. Her feet slipped from his lap as she tucked them neatly underneath herself. Immediately she missed his warmth.
"Morgause died," she said bluntly. "That's why the curse ended."
She knew he wanted to ask how; whether there was blood on her hands, under her fingernails. Instead he said:
"Why?" Morgana raised her eyebrows. "She brought you nothing but misery."
"Because she was your family."
"No, she was my sister but she wasn't family. My family is here in Camelot- you and Gwen and Merlin." She hugged herself. "Her own magic killed her in the end. Black magic takes its toll and the curse Morgause used on me was very dark magic. It wasted her away in the end. That's the way with magic- there's always a price." She touched her ankle markings. "The druids found me eventually and told me. They were the ones who gave me the protection charm. I came back as soon as I could." Morgana ducked her chin and gazed at the floor. "I missed you."
Her head shot back up. She'd expected him to look embarrassed or shocked that the words had slipped out. Instead, the look of fierce longing on his face made her heart ache. Silently she bolted the door with her magic as she slid onto his lap.
"Morgana," Arthur warned. "Don't start something you don't intend to finish." His fingers tightened on her hips as her breath tickled his ear, and she shifted on his lap. Deliberately. Certain parts of his body were now very, very awake.
"Well?" He managed to say. "Tell me yes or no and stop torturing me." He felt Morgana grin against his skin as she kissed his throat, his fingers threading through her hair. After a few moments, she pulled back, her hair deliciously dishevelled.
"I love you. Of course I'll marry you." She grinned wickedly, and Arthur knew at that moment he would grant her anything if she asked it of him. "And I know the perfect way to celebrate..." She trailed off and eyed the throne she was straddling him on.
Arthur pulled her down more firmly against him and his hands roamed beneath the back of her dress. His reply was lost against her lips.
Merlin, only just returning from visiting his Lady of the Lake, hurriedly backtracked and decided to find a different route through the castle to his room. One that didn't involve going past the Great Hall. The moans of pleasure followed him even as he ran in the opposite direction down the corridor.
He wondered why he hadn't thought of soundproofing the hall with his magic before.
"You may as well have sung 'and they all lived happily ever after'," Theofwen scowled, interrupting. "You'll never become a bard spewing this sort of rubbish."
Bedwin clutched his lute closer to him as the other men around the table laughed.
"Try again next year when you've written something worth listening to! You're application to join the Guild of Singers and Performers is until that time rejected. Firmly."
Bedwin stalked proudly from the hall, his instrument to his chest, but as soon as the door closed behind him, he trudged home in the dark frowning.
"How did it go?" Leah turned on her side as her husband slid into bed. "Did they like it? Have you got your license?"
Bedwin shook his dark head ruefully. "They hated it. Apparently happy ending aren't in fashion at the moment. If I'd had Guinevere having an affair and everyone dying at the end they would have loved it." He sighed as Leah kissed his cheek in consolation. "Nobody wants to hear the truth. They're probably singing my tale to a different tune and to different words as we speak."
"Well, I liked it when you sang it for me," said his wife smiling. "In fact, I was wondering if you would tell me a bit now please?"
"Really." Leah's grin turned wicked. She shifted on top of her husband, her nightgown riding up her slim thighs as she straddled him. "Now, how did that part about the throne room go again?"
Please Read and Review! Spread the Christmas love and give a writer a happy warm feeling when they recieve your review!
Every time someone reviews, somewhere, Bradley James gets naked.
P.S - Saw Richard Wilson (Gaius) at the RSC in Stratford playing Malvolio in Twelfth Night in November. He was amazing and as I was only four rows from the stage he was almost within touching distance. He was brilliant. Excellent actor. (Infact whole thing was fab- I'm a Shakespeare girl at heart and I'm glad the RSC did it justice). Not only was seeing him in the flesh great, as I was queuing for the ladies room who should walk past me but Katie McGrath (Morgana). I swear it was her, and I can only assume she'd come to support Richard. She looks even more beautiful in real life! It was quite a night lol.