(also entitled, in Which Morgana Does Not Know What to Do)
I do not own the Arthurian legends, and I certainly don't own the TV show. Those belong to the public and to BBC, respectively.
You may be wondering why it took me so long to churn this one out. Considering how short the story is and how anachronistic the actual series is, I've done a ton of looking up online and in my college library to try to make it fit into something resembling a working context. If you have any questions about things that seem just plain weird, I'd be happy to share my research. I'm trying to place this in the political landscape of the early to mid 900s (you'll see some historical figures if I can get that far before I burn out my resources) but with the technology of the Renaissance; I assume that if a universe has magic to make things easier (coughNOBLACKPLAGUEcoughLESSCHURCHINFLUENCEcough) technology and society in general (particularly pertaining to gender and racial inequality) would develop a lot more quickly. The good news is that I'm done with the majority of my research and thus stuff should be flowing pretty well after this monstrosity of a oneshot.
What was making that sound?
Perhaps she was being called by someone? Her neck felt funny…odd.
"Hmm? What?" Morgana finally managed to pry her eyes open. She could blearily tell that she was in her chambers—at her table, in fact. How had she managed to fall asleep at her table? Why was she at her table at all? A quick look at her less-than-satisfactory "pillow" provided the answer. The book, the pendant—Merlin. Now she was fully awake, and her eyes darted towards the speaker.
"My Lady, I am sorry, but your guardian is dead." Gwen stood solemnly next to the table. "Arthur asked that I come and get you as soon as possible; he wants to speak with you alone."
Ah, so it is come. Morgana squelched her initial desire to laugh with relief as she blinked the last of sleep from her eyes. "Very well, then." She stood slowly, being sure to surreptitiously close the book and unclasp the pendant, palming the jewelry loosely in her hand.
"You already have your white slippers on and I know you have a white kirtle for winter…ah, here it is." Gwen held the garment in readiness while Morgana slipped off her nightgown to leave herself in her shift; she had not taken off her shoes or stockings from the day before, and she was grateful for the extra warmth. They had practiced the winter dressing routine for years, and they now had the timing perfectly down to the point where Morgana was not without a dress for more than two seconds. Morgana sighed as the white samite slid into place over her hips and down to the floor, adjusting the shoulders and sleeves while Guinevere worked on the laces.
"What was that book? I've never seen you fall asleep reading a book before."
"Agriculture during the reign of House Pellinor."
"Ah," Gwen said hurriedly as she laced up the back of the dress. Dear Gwen, Morgana thought, city girl at heart. It was just as well that she had been stopped right there; she really had no idea about farms and plows and other farmer paraphernalia other than that they existed, and she had no idea how she was going to continue that statement had Gwen asked questions.
"Hair time." Gwen nudged her over towards the mirror. "Do you remember if you have a white ribbon? I can pin it in a fillet if it's long and thin enough."
Morgana slipped the pendant into the skirt folds on her lap and fumbled through her ribbon box as Gwen started pinning Morgana's hair in a suitably somber knot. "How is Arthur taking the news?" she finally asked as she passed the appropriate ribbon to her maid.
"I don't really know," she replied grimly. "He happened to see me walk past the room he was in, and he asked me to get you. I don't think he slept at all last night. But I know what it is like to lose a father." She paused in her pinning. "Not that you don't know either, my Lady. I meant that my father died when I was older as well, not that your own father's death when you were young makes it less significant—"
"Gwen, please. It's all right. I know what you meant. Uther's death will affect us all, some more than others."
Morgana saw Gwen's nodding head in the mirror as she returned to work on Morgana's hair in uncomfortable quiet. This routine was normally accompanied with chatter or companionable silence. Today it seemed as if some weighty topic—better not try to conceal it, Uther's death—were hanging between them, waiting to be spoken of but entirely unapproachable.
"My Lady, I am sorry about your guardian," Gwen finally said, pursing her lips. Morgana knew from many, many years of experience that Gwen made that face when she did not like something—be it having to clean a filthy banquet hall floor or having to say something she did not wish to say. Morgana cursed the rules of social nicety that demanded appropriate behavior in times like this.
"Gwen, I do not expect you to pretend that you are saddened by Uther's death."
Instead of meeting Morgana's pale gaze in the mirror, Gwen busied herself with the box of hairpins as she pinned the ribbon into her hair. "My own feelings are not as important as your grief, which I intend to respect."
"That man threatened me with death more than once for protecting the life of an innocent child. You came closer to the fires than I ever did; how can I expect you to summon grief for a man who has done you nothing but wrong when I, who was in one of the best positions to love him, cannot?"
She owed Gwen, her oldest and dearest friend who would never betray her, the truth. Even though Uther had given her a pony when she was ten, the little bouquet of daisies for the earliest birthday she could remember, the worry he had when she had been kidnapped and when she had been "kidnapped," she could not forget that he tried to strangle her in a fit of rage and even had held the threat of death over her head for the last year and a half. He provoked magic into becoming his enemy; it was fitting that he would die by it.
"As you say, my Lady." Gwen patted the last pin into place, covering the ends of the ribbon with dark wavy locks. "If you think you'll be warm enough, he's in the King—I mean, the former King's study."
"Thank you." Morgana hurried past her maid, dropping the magical pendant down the neckline of her gown as she rushed towards Uther's old chambers.
As Morgana made her way across the castle, she saw almost nothing of other people. The few servants she passed were somber-faced with black bands tied around their arms, and they each offered their condolences for her guardian's death. She wanted to scream that Uther's death was the best thing to happen to Camelot since the water system beneath it, but she held her tongue and kept her gaze on the floor. No one ought to speak ill of the dead even if they were terrible in life, even if she wanted to scream for joy. It was not done.
She could hear loud, indistinct voices even before she turned the corner to see Uther's study door ajar. Deciding that discretion was the better part of etiquette, she slipped through the door as noiselessly as she could. True to Gwen's word, Arthur was there, standing at a table across from Uther's long-time aide Sir Leon. They did not even acknowledge her as they were too caught up in what appeared to be a long, tiring, frustrating argument.
Arthur slammed a fist on the wooden surface of the table. "Sir Leon, you can be sure that I am in my right mind and am not sick from grief. My father's edict against magic—it is annulled. Burn the copies of it."
"For what reason? To simply annul the law—"
"Here," Arthur grabbed a quill pen and piece of parchment from Uther's writing desk and scribbled furiously for a few minutes. Morgana did not know he could write that quickly; he was nearly tearing the parchment with the ferocity of his movements. Finally, he slammed down the pen so hard she could hear it snap, took the candle and practically splashed out the melted wax, and stamped his ring on it. After a few seconds, Arthur turned to her and the knight. "Is this sufficient? 'Annulled on grounds of instatement by personal bias and on disservice to the people.' It is instated two hours ago. Have copies distributed among the outlying villages."
"Y-yes, sire." Sir Leon made a dash for the hastily-written edict and was out of the room in mere seconds.
The room was eerily silent once the door had closed. Arthur stood statue-still by the old wooden table, hands resting on a chair back as he pointedly stared at the blank wall before him. Morgana wanted to approach him, pat him on the back, offer him some kind of reassurance. As it was, she was fighting the urge to break down in tears and laughter or some combination of the two. Arthur not king for a whole day, and he repeals the law she feared and hated with every ounce of her being. All those plans from last night were entirely unnecessary. She wouldn't have needed the gifts. Merlin wouldn't have had to leave.
"You weren't there, Morgana." He was talking so quietly that she almost didn't hear him interrupt her silent cataloging, and she had to take a silent step forward to make sure she wouldn't miss anything else he said. "You didn't see him. One simple spell would have fixed everything, and he repeatedly refused to allow people to go seek out a druid or hedgewitch who could have done it. Not that I think anyone would have come even if he had allowed it; the reward for saving my father's life would have likely been a private execution instead of a public one."
Morgana still held her tongue. There was nothing to be said, really; Arthur said everything that she had guessed.
"I watched my father die," Arthur's voice was getting hoarse, "I watched him kill himself with pride and anger."
"I am sorry," Morgana said in a low tone. It was all she trusted her voice to say.
"Are you?" he whispered. "Are you really?" She could see tiny tremors shaking his shoulders almost imperceptibly.
"Yes," she stepped towards him, close enough to put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "Uther was a terrible king. You will be better. But I am sorry for the loss of your father." She hoped that would be enough. She could honestly say she was sorry her dear friend and almost-brother had lost his father, but beyond that she could muster no sympathy, and Arthur ought to know it. Her job right now was to deal with a king on the verge of sobbing, and she really had no idea what to do.
Perhaps this poison ought to be bled out. "You are allowed to cry."
She halfway expected him to protest, say that he wasn't crying and never would. But as prideful as Arthur was, he seemed to realize that protecting his pride around her was like trying to keep the tide from coming in.
"No man is worth tears." His voice was soft but firm as he decisively shook his head. "Not even a king."
"I did not say he was worth tears." Uther wasn't worth manure, but she wouldn't say that. "I said that you are allowed to shed them. You have wasted things before, and this at least may bring you some comfort."
Arthur was shaking his head back and forth as the trembling did not stop. She could have sworn she saw glistening on his eyelashes, but she said nothing and did not move from her position. It wasn't helping, she was out of ideas, she didn't know what to do...
"Lord Ladunet requests an audience," a guard said formally, poking his head in the door.
"Send him in," Arthur said, his voice not betraying the fact he had been fighting tears less than a minute ago. Morgana remembered from the one time she'd ever seen him cry before this (when he was seven or so he'd broken his arm quite nastily slipping down the castle steps after a rainstorm, and Gaius had to set it) that he had received some gift from the Heavens so that his eyes did not get puffy and his nose stayed its proper color after he had teared up. Maybe it was because he had skin that didn't try to compete with milk for whiteness.
Lord Ladunet was by far one of the most obnoxious and ostentatious members of the court as well as Morgana's least favorite, and his entrance did not disappoint her expectations. He was dressed in resplendent black that she was sure violated several sumptuary laws (the only laws Uther almost never enforced on the point that they were "a damned nuisance" to identify), and his polished leather boots made so much noise on the stone floor that she wondered whether he would have had them designed to do that.
Morgana didn't want to spend a single second longer than she had to in the Lord's presence (and didn't want to be around Arthur while he was fighting himself) and curtsied to leave, but Lord Ladunet stopped her. "Please remain. This affects you as well." He turned abruptly away from her to face Arthur.
"Your Majesty, you should wed my Lady without delay."
There was absolute silence in the room. Morgana was blinking so quickly and frequently that the Lord's motions seemed to be a series of paintings. Sudden would have been an understatement.
"You know that his Majesty your Father intended her for you. She is uniquely suited for filling the role of your Queen."
Morgana looked over at Arthur. He was slack-jawed, and his arms were shaking once again. It did not look like the grief earlier, though.
"What if," Arthur said at last, "my interests lay elsewhere?"
"Your Majesty's activities need not be limited by the bounds of law and marriage. If there is one you desire, that person could still be yours as you wish it, especially once the succession is secured."
Morgana hardly had time to be indignant that the Lord was suggesting that Arthur take a mistress in front of the person he was suggesting Arthur marry before Arthur made a dash for a decorative urn and emptied the contents of his stomach into the basin. Lord Ladunet, in what was surely a burst of wisdom and insight for him, took that as his cue to leave.
Morgana was a warrior's daughter, and she had a strong stomach and wasn't afraid of anything. At least, that was what she was trying to tell herself. But seeing her foster-brother get so sick for something so little was shocking. So she simply froze in place. She was getting good at just standing there when important things were happening; it was a good thing to do when she had no idea what she was supposed to do. She was also very good at saying the first thing that popped into her head when she was in a panic.
"I think you just made a rather convincing show that you could not stomach the plan the Council of Lords has made."
"Do you think?" He winced and shakily leaned against the wall. "Is there some water in this room?"
That was something she could do. Morgana ran to fill a cup from the ewer next to the door and brought it back to the shaking King. Once he cleaned out his mouth, he teetered out of the King's study in the direction of his own rooms. Morgana slipped out after him, whispering to one of the guards on duty to find a servant other than Gwen or Merlin to clean up the mess.
When she finally caught up with Arthur, he was sitting on the edge of his bed, staring at his clasped hands with a thoroughly disgusted look on his face. He barely acknowledged her as she came inside and gently closed the heavy door.
Arthur waited a few moments before speaking. "I like to believe that my father was faithful to my mother and her memory. Excepting Catrina, I like to think that he has shared a bed with no other woman. I want to think he always loved her and only her. Lord Ladunet's words came so easily that it is difficult to continue to believe that. Even so, I cannot believe that anyone could mention my marriage vows and plans to break them in practically the same breath."
Well, they at least agreed on something. However, she was still entirely out of her depth. Comfort was required, and she was very poor at giving it. "Do you want me to get Gwen?"
He shook his head vehemently. "Guinevere does not need to see me like this."
"And I do?"
"I don't care if you see me when I am weak. I don't think you could think much less of me anyways."
"You could be the kind of King your father was," Morgana replied bluntly, "and I would hate you even more than I hated him. I love the Arthur who is sickened at perpetuating wrong in the world. " She put her hand on his shoulder and squeezed. "You have been as good as a brother to me since the death of my father."
"I once told Guinevere that I had never loved another," he whispered as if he hadn't heard a thing she had said.
Morgana stayed silent at his confession. Of course she had not missed that her foster-brother and her maid were head-over-heels with each other; if Gwen had not the fantastic ability to blush at the mere mention of him (well, except the one period with Vivian, but one had to suspend the rules when enchantment was involved), Arthur was about as good at being subtle about his emotions as Merlin was (had been) good at carrying pieces of armor without dropping them. But still, she did not quite expect him to tell her outright. Perhaps he only did so because she was the one other person (probably Merlin too, but Merlin wasn't still here, was he?) who thought that Arthur would be lucky to get someone as good as Gwen and not the other way around.
"I don't believe I ever will love another. But I looked up the laws—so many. The wife of the King must be titled in her own right, be the daughter of a landowner. Guinevere's pedigree is as ordinary as they come, and her father did not even own the forge he worked. If I were to even propose to her, she would be guilty of acting beyond her station and would be sentenced to exile. I cannot do that to her. But I will have no other. I would rather cut off my arm and eat it than marry you, no offense. And you are the most tolerable option that is supposedly available."
"Well, that is good, as I'd far rather die a maiden than marry you," Morgana said, trying to find some of her normal humor. "And I can assure you I'd flee to Eire if you married Vivian."
"I have already gotten sick once, Morgana. I do not wish to repeat the experience."
"The only experience you need right now is sleep." Morgana looked critically at her foster-brother for the first time this hectic day. Gwen had been right; he did look as if he hadn't slept all night. Moreover, he was still in his bloodstained clothing from yesterday's accident, which she now noticed were fairly vile-smelling. "Here—tell me where your things are and I'll help you get into bed. No one will begrudge you sleep."
"That's Merlin's job," he said automatically before pausing. "Come to think of it, where is he?"
"Probably off sleeping, like you ought to have done," Morgana answered briskly as she went to get the bucket of water Arthur always kept in his room. She hoped Arthur hadn't seen the flash of sadness and worry cross her face before she could school her expression. No matter where Merlin was—he could be still under the castle or in Rome, for all she knew—she had nonetheless promised to cover for him as long as she could, even though there was no need to do so. "Off with your shirt so I can get that filth off of you."
"I can wash myself," he protested.
"Not like this you can't. And as you won't let me get Gwen who I'm sure would be ten times better at this, you're stuck with me. I give you my word on this—you will sleep, and you will not do so until you are reasonably clean."
He sighed as he slid off his tunic and threw it across the room into what was probably a laundry basket but looked like a small mountain. Morgana took that as her cue of him acquiescing and grabbed a cloth. She mentally hissed at the initial winter-coldness of the water. She suspected the only reason it had remained liquid at all was because of its relative proximity to a chimney. She pursed her lips to try to think of a solution to the problem. It was then that she remembered one of the last things she had read in the book—spells of fire and warmth. Morgana narrowed her eyes at the water as she tried to think of the words for the warmth spell as well as remember if it had been a spell for warmth alone and without fire.
The new feeling washed over her hand so quickly that it felt like many tiny needles were pricking her skin, causing her to drop the cloth back in the bucket. It was all she could do to quell the panic that threatened to flood her body.
"Something wrong?" Arthur asked, looking tired, embarrassed, and impatient all at once.
"Just a splinter. It surprised me; that's all." She managed to keep her voice level, though by what miracle or magic she didn't know. Wiser this time, she used her other hand to reach into the now warm water and grab the cloth.
She worked efficiently to spare both Arthur and her embarrassment and to reduce the chance Arthur would figure out that warm water in a bucket in winter was a luxury beyond what even modern convenience could provide. As it was, he seemed too tired and grief-stricken to register much of the grime or the removal thereof. Morgana grimaced knowing that he couldn't get truly clean without a real bath with soap, but the water at least would get most of the blood and dirt off of his visible skin, and he wouldn't feel so incredibly vile when he woke.
Once she finished, Arthur was quite obviously close to collapsing right where he was, and though she had warmed the water she had not managed to keep him warm as well. What would Gwen do in this situation? What would Merlin do in this situation? Merlin would probably leave Arthur alone as soon as possible, let him have time to grieve once he was too tired to keep up the tough exterior. Thankfully, a nightshirt was lying folded on the pillows; Merlin probably set it up the night before he left. She picked up the shirt and pressed it into his hands. She hoped he had the presence of mind to put it on without assistance.
"Sleep well, my sovereign," she whispered before planting a kiss on the top of his sandy (and smelly) locks. "You'll need every second of it."
His only reply was something between a grunt and a sigh as Morgana fled the room towards her own chambers. Once she locked the familiar door of her bedroom behind her, she allowed herself to feel the terror. How close she had been to using magic publicly…but it was legal now. She wouldn't get killed for using it anymore. But what did she do? She didn't even really think a spell, and yet it happened. She was in way, way over her head.
Merlin, I need you more than ever now. Why did you have to leave? Why did you have to leave me with this mess?
I'm just gonna get this one out of the way because I know a lot of people will want to know this: before Queen Victoria turned ever mourning custom on its head, it was customary for women in the marriage market to not wear full black while in mourning. The highest level of mourning in medieval times was actually all white. Historically, this was used only by queens (there's a famous portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots, in white mourning garb) and women in certain parts of Hungary, but because Morgana is the highest-ranking female in Camelot I felt it would be the appropriate color.