Title: Drowning In You
Summary: Someone is drowning young women in Camelot. With no motive and no suspects, Morgana must work out who the murderer is before she becomes the next victim…
"Morgana! We shouldn't be in here."
The ten year old girl turned to her companion, little fists on her hips.
"Then go away," she whispered fiercely to him. "I didn't make you come. If you're too scared about what Uther will say then you can leave." She turned back to the archive shelves. "Baby."
"I am not a baby," the boy hissed, and pinched her on the arm.
"Ow!" She pinched him back harder.
For a moment there was an all out war, as the two children desperately tired to win the battle of who exactly was in charge. That was, until the young boy stumbled back from a particularly vicious pinch into one of the bookshelves.
For a moment the wooden case wobbled dangerously, hundreds of old leather bound books creaking on the shelves, threatening to topple over and crush them. Morgana sucked in a breath and held out her hand to steady them.
A shower of disturbed dust drifted down…and then the bookcase righted itself.
"Arthur!" Morgana murmured, trying not to sneeze. "Look what you almost did."
The boy prince merely crossed his arms, his hair grey with grime. "It was your fault."
"Is anyone there?"
Both children froze at the sound of the archivist's voice. Geoffrey's slow, measured footsteps echoed close by.
"Come on, this way." Morgana pulled Arthur along as they crept further into the bowels of the Archive Room, until the archivist's footsteps had died away.
"Where are we going?"
"You'll see." The young girl flipped her hair over her shoulder and scanned along the bottom shelves, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth.
"What are we looking for?"
Morgana ignored him, found the back wall of the room and counted twenty paces to her left. She dropped to her knees (recently scabbed from falling off her horse last week) and pulled out a book as thick as a man's thigh, stained the colour of rust and fading at the edges.
"Grimacre's Folktales." Arthur frowned, reading the front cover. "But why's it in the forbidden section?"
"Because-" Morgana stopped suddenly and pressed a finger to her lips as Geoffrey's footsteps sounded nearby.
Silently, the children carried the book between them and hurried out of the Archive.
"Mine's closer," Morgana urged. "Hurry."
It didn't take long for them to reach the bedroom as they scurried down (thankfully) deserted corridors. Morgana toed open the door and they slipped inside. She pushed it shut again, lit the candle left on her dressing table, and motioned towards the large oak four poster bed in the corner of the room.
The children dropped to the floor and crawled under, pushing the book between them. Morgana reached for the candle and brought it with her illuminating the dark recesses under the bed. In the flickering light they eagerly flipped the cover open and began to flick through the pages.
"It's forbidden because it's got really nasty pictures in it," said Morgana excitedly, her head touching Arthur's as they both leaned closer to get a better look. "I heard Gaius talking about it last week with Father Markus. He called it in-inflaty-inflamaty?" She wrinkled her nose. "It was really bad anyway. Apparently, the man who wrote it disguised it as a children's book but it was really all about demons."
"What happened to him?"
Morgana picked at a scab on her knuckles (made from punching Leon in the face last week for daring to call her a girl) and shrugged. "Don't know. They didn't say." Her attention swiftly distracted she pointed at one of the illustrations. "Ew."
Arthur tilted his head to one side. "Looks a bit like Aunt Margareta in the morning."
Morgana giggled. "Except your aunt has a longer beard."
Arthur turned back to the contents page and ran his finger down the endless catalogue of disturbing creatures. "Banshees, cherufes, cockatrices, dwarves, fossegrim, goblins, kobolds, nixies, senmurvs, tikbalangs, trolls, wyverns…"
He flicked on a few pages. "Here look at this one. A Bishop Fish." Arthur traced a finger over the illustration of a bearded priest with scales on his lower body. "No wonder Father Markus didn't like it. It kind of looks like him."
Morgana wrinkled her nose at the next picture along. "That's disgusting. It looks like the cabbage we had for dinner."
"If the cabbage had fangs, pincers and was covered in guts," Arthur pointed out. He ran his finger back over the contents page and frowned. "They've missed one out."
"What? Which one?"
Arthur grinned. "I can't see any Morganas mentioned."
She shoved him playfully. "Ha-ha. They've probably got a whole book on you. The Arthur demon. Smells really bad and looks awful." She grinned. "Squeals like a girl when confronted."
Arthur was just poking his tongue out when the bedroom door swung open on its hinges.
The young girl groaned and blew out the candle. "Maybe she won't see us in the dark."
"Morgana. I can hear you whispering. Come out now. And Prince Arthur. It's time for bed."
Arthur wordlessly pushed at the loose flagstone under the bed. Beneath it was a large hole filled with things they'd stolen; a silver spoon, one of Gaius' specimen jars full of harpy toenails, a squashed butterfly and a piece of Arthur's birthday cake from last week, wrapped up in an old tunic. Arthur dropped the book gently into their treasure hole, and then pulled the flagstone back.
"Children. If you don't come out this second, I'm coming under there for you."
Arthur and Morgana shared a look and wriggled out from beneath the bed into the light of a candle, held aloft by the formidable figure of the children's Nursemaid. Nanny Edda peered down disapprovingly at them.
"What were you doing under there? Morgana, you've got your dress all dirty." She turned to the boy beside her and clucked her tongue. "Prince Arthur, you're filthy. Your father's going to have a fit."
There was a light tap on the door and Sarah, the children's waiting maid put her head round. "I thought I'd find you all here." She held out her hand for the prince. "Come on, let's get you cleaned up and ready for bed."
Arthur frowned, debated having a tantrum, glanced at Morgana and then decided it wasn't very princely. Especially now he was eight.
He took his nursemaid's hand unwillingly.
"Say goodnight," said Nanny Edda.
And then Arthur was pulled out of the room, his face showing his displeasure, even as he was powerless to do anything to stop the slow progression to his room and his bed.
Fifteen minutes later, her hair brushed and face, hands and feet scrubbed clean Morgana lay tucked up in bed.
"But I'm not tired," she yawned.
Nanny Edda merely shook her head and eyed the hole that had appeared in Morgana's day dress. "Of course you're not," she replied evenly, her figure framed in the doorway. "Now go to sleep."
When Morgana was sure her Nanny was long gone down the corridor, and the room was only lit by the shafts of moonlight slipping under the curtain, she crawled out of the sheets and hung her head over the side of the bed.
She slid back under the covers and twirled a piece of hair between her fingers. She yawned loudly.
"I'm not sleepy," she muttered, and went to sleep dreaming of rescuing Arthur from a bog troll.
Thirteen years later...
"Arthur! I'm going to wring your stupid neck!"
The prince merely laughed breathlessly as he ran down the castle corridors, followed at a distance by his father's irate ward.
"Come back here you coward, so I can strangle you properly!"
Arthur laughed even harder, bumped into Merlin and clutching at his shirt dragged him with him as he raced along a corridor.
"What have you done this time?"
Arthur grinned. "Remember Lord Bedworth and his children Bridget and Thaniel? They visited several years ago - Bedworth had a beard you could've hidden small children in. His son had the unfortunate face."
"Not the one who had the really high voice and all that..." Merlin motioned vaguely to his face, unable to help the faint grimace of disgust that appeared in his expression. "You know..."
"It wasn't pretty," Arthur agreed, skidding round a corner. "Like a mountain range had erupted across it."
From behind them there was a muffled curse as Morgana bumped into a servant carrying towels as she pursued them. Clean bed linen flew everywhere.
Merlin winced at the angry shriek but it seemed to make Arthur smile even wider. "What exactly have you done?" He asked tentatively.
"Father's invited them to visit again. And I may have accidentally added a postscript to his letter telling Lord Bedworth that Morgana is madly in love with his son and desperately wants to see him."
There was a scream of outrage from far down the corridor.
"How did she find out?"
Arthur smirked. "Apparently Father mentioned at breakfast that Bedworth's reply had been somewhat unusual, in that he was looking forward to uniting the House of Gorlois and the House of Dunheny. Apparently, he also inquired whether Morgana wanted a spring or a summer wedding."
Neatly dodging a maid carrying flagons of wine, Arthur suddenly pulled Merlin round the final corner and into the cool recesses of the Manuscript Archives.
"But the last time he visited was five years ago. What if his…" Merlin grimaced. "What if his face has changed?"
Arthur ran his fingers over the dusty tomes stacked end to end and let out a bark of laughter. "For the better? It would take a miracle. He had a face only his mother could love. And she's dead. Now for Thaniel to get uglier in five years. That I can believe."
"Still." Merlin hesitated. "It does seem rather unfair to Morgana."
"Don't tell me you're taking her side?"
Merlin was saved from replying by Geoffrey's greying head appearing around a bookshelf.
"Sire!" The archivist frowned, bowed and then frowned again. "Whatever brings you to the manuscript room?"
"Oh, just looking for some reading material. You know."
Geoffrey's brows rose. "Reading material?"
Arthur scowled. "Yes, reading material. Or perhaps you think I can't read and that I'm an idiot."
"Wouldn't be the first time," Merlin muttered quietly. It wasn't quiet enough, as Arthur clipped him round the head.
"No sire! Of course not! It's just that you've never been in here before and I was surprised," Geoffrey hastily apologised. "What can I interest you in?" He began moving away down the aisles of tomes. "We have some excellent Histories of the Ages by Father Angelotti or perhaps A Treatise upon the Founding of the Middle Empire in the Time of…"
"Go and see if Morgana's gone," Arthur whispered to Merlin as the archivist continued to list book titles.
By the time Merlin had returned, Arthur was holding a stack of books and clearly regretting using the manuscript room as a hiding place.
"No sign of her."
"Good." Arthur thrust the books at Merlin, who staggered under the weight, and hurried out of the room. "Come on."
They had almost made it back to the prince's room when Morgana suddenly appeared around a corner. Arthur hastily backtracked…into a wall. Realizing he was trapped he crossed his arms and tried to look nonchalant.
"Aren't you too old for practical jokes?" she snapped.
"Oh come on, Morgana. It's funny." When her expression remained unchanged his smile dimmed somewhat. "You used to be able to take a joke."
"Yes," she retorted, "when you weren't writing foolish love notes in my name. Bedworth's coming thinking I'm madly in love with his son. Do you realise how embarrassing that is for me?"
"I'll just go and wait over there," Merlin motioned. He was ignored.
"You just don't think, do you? I have hundreds of men courting me. I don't need you offering any of them encouragement."
"I'm so sorry to have inconvenienced your love life." Arthur rolled his eyes. "And who are these poor sods anyway?"
"You know most of them," she retorted. "Your knights seem to make up the vast number."
"I had no idea," replied Arthur, in surprise. "I'll have a word with them. They have no idea what they're letting themselves in for."
"You're obnoxious," Morgana scowled. "And don't you dare speak to them. Everything's fine until you get involved. I'll be having them asking Uther for permission for my hand next." She put her hands on her hips. "What if Thaniel asks me to marry him?"
"Then say no. No-one's forcing you to marry the man, Morgana."
"Father wouldn't marry you off to Thaniel."
"Why not?" Morgana began to tick off points against her fingers. "We've known each other since childhood, he's rich, titled, and it would be a good alliance. Besides, other women my age are married now with children."
Arthur had suddenly turned serious. "He wouldn't."
"Well Lord Bedworth certainly seems to expect there'll be a wedding."
It began to rain heavily outside, great drops of water thudding against the window panes rapidly. Morgana stared out through the glass, and for a moment as the light reflected it looked as though the rain was slipping down her cheeks. She turned back to Arthur, her voice clipped.
"Perhaps you can tell him it was just a joke." And with that she turned on her heel back down the corridor.
She didn't turn round.
Arthur balled his hand into a fist and smacked the stone wall. He hissed as pain flared through his fingers.
"Shut up, Merlin."
The House of Dunheny arrived exactly in time for dinner that evening, as the wind howled around the courtyard and the rain battered against the ramparts.
"Lord Bedworth," Uther greeted as his guests were ushered into the entrance hall, and the servants stripped them of their dripping cloaks. "I hope your journey was an easy one?"
Bedworth spread his hands, his fat fingers glistening with gold rings as he greeted the King.
"Easy enough, easy enough," he agreed. "Damn weather didn't help, but not much you can do about that!" He roared and slapped his thigh as though he'd cracked the greatest joke in the world.
Uther let out a weak chuckle and rested his hand on his son's shoulder.
"You remember my son, Prince Arthur."
Bedworth smiled and bowed, though his stomach wouldn't allow him to bend too far. "You were just a stripling when we visited last. How old were you- ten, eleven?"
"Sixteen, my lord," said Arthur dryly. "I have grown since then."
"Of course, of course." Bedworth smacked him heartily on the shoulder. "I bet you're chasing all the serving girls these days. That's what we used to do in our day, eh Uther?" Bedworth chuckled and leaned in closer, so that his bushy auburn beard tickled Arthur's nose. "They always put up a bit of a fight but they could never resist my charm."
Behind them, Merlin shared a look with Gwen. They hid their grins behind their hands.
Bedworth then turned and bowed to the woman standing beside Uther.
"And this vision of loveliness must be the Lady Morgana. You have only grown more beautiful, my dear."
Morgana curtsied, though her smile grew somewhat fixed as he winked at her.
"I have someone here I know you're dying to see." Bedworth turned and suddenly pushed a young man forward. "My son, Thaniel."
Morgana little by little began to lift her head, prepared to have to all the embarrassment of having to be pleasant to the dull witted, crusty faced, bulky teenager she remembered, whose face had been pitted with spot scars. She slowly inched her eyes away from the floor, where Bedworth's beard trailed and tried not to think that she might have to marry his troll of a son. Tried not to imagine having to look at such a face above her every night.
She looked up.
And forgot how to breathe.
The young man standing in front of her was tall, taller than she remembered, so that she could rest her head neatly into the crook of his neck. His face was strongly defined, with a Roman nose and razor sharp cheekbones. His skin was smooth and unblemished; a dark shadow of stubble graced his jaw. His black hair, still damp from the rain outside curled slightly.
Arthur's eyes narrowed as Morgana casually wet her lips.
"I thought you said he was hideous?" Whispered Merlin. "A face only a mother could love, you said."
"Shut up, Merlin," the prince warned, even as his father warmly shook the younger man's hand.
"Thaniel." Uther smiled. "I hardly recognise you."
Thaniel bowed gracefully, and Morgana couldn't help but watch the play of his muscles beneath his tunic shirt that was still damp from the rain, despite his cloak.
"It has been five years, sire. I had somewhat of a growth spurt."
"Well, you've become a fine young man," said Uther approvingly and Morgana couldn't help but blush as Uther looked between the pair of them.
He turned finally to the dumpy young woman beside Bedworth, who was struggling somewhat impatiently to free herself of her rain sodden cloak.
"Bridget. You're looking well."
Bridget nodded distantly in recognition, finally wrestled her cloak off, tossed it to Merlin and then crushed Morgana in a hug.
"Darling! How are you?"
"Well, thank you." Morgana smiled even as she tried to get her breath back.
"It's so good to see you again! When Father mentioned we were coming to visit for three weeks I could barely contain myself. We have much to catch up on."
"Yes," interrupted Uther, barely managing to suppress a smile at her enthusiasm. "But perhaps you might like to talk about it over dinner? I'm sure you're hungry after your journey."
"An excellent plan!" Cried Bedworth, slapping Uther on the back. The king merely smiled long-sufferingly and began to head towards the Great Hall.
"My lady?" Thaniel held out his arm. "May I escort you to dinner?"
"Thank you, my lord." She tucked her slim fingers in the crook of his elbow, but not before turning back and blowing Arthur a kiss, a smirk very much in place.
"Well, your plan backfired spectacularly," observed Bridget, as she took Arthur's arm.
"What plan?" Said Arthur innocently.
"I read the letter Uther sent father. And your addition." Bridget smoothed down the thick wavy auburn hair she'd inherited from her father with her free hand. "I can tell your handwriting a mile off- you didn't disguise it very well."
Arthur scowled. "She's so..."
"Infuriating?" Offered Bridget. "Exasperating? Annoying? Perfect?"
"Perfect," Arthur nodded absently. Then he realised what he'd said and scowled at the woman beside him. "Bridget," he warned. "Morgana is hardly perfect. Infact, she's as far from perfect as it gets. She's rude, arrogant, self absorbed-"
"Listing your character traits again Arthur?" Morgana called and turned her head. "You missed out petty and stupid."
Arthur glowered, and opened his mouth to retort but Thaniel had already engaged her in conversation.
"Sexual tension. Knife. That's all I'm saying," Bridget murmured.
Following behind them Gwen hid a smile behind her hand.
"I like her," said Merlin whispered quietly to the servant girl. "She's …" He paused thoughtfully, searching for the right word.
"Got balls?" Offered Arthur. "Remember Merlin- whispering means being quiet so others don't hear you."
"Remember Arthur-thinking before you speak means being less of a prat." Bridget smacked the prince on the arm. "And I prefer to think of myself as gutsy, thank you very much."
His reply was cut off by the sudden commotion as the front of the group entered the Great Hall.
Merlin and Arthur shared a look before pushing through the group of nobles, servants and guards to get to the front. Bridget grabbed Gwen's hand and tugged her along.
"Come on," she said. "Can't let the men have all the fun."
Gwen was helpless to do anything but let herself be led inside the Great Hall.
Inside the courtiers stood, backs against the walls, even as several knights clustered around the King. There was something in the middle of the stone floor but Bridget couldn't see what.
"What's going on here?" Uther asked.
"We found her, floating at the edge of the lake," said one of the knights. Merlin felt a flicker of recognition as he looked at the weary, rain soaked man. He finally placed him - Sir Leon.
"What's happened?" Asked Bridget, as she and Gwen finally made it to the front.
Morgana moved wordlessly to the side and pointed.
The woman lying flat on her back in the middle of the Great Hall was soaked, her thin brown cotton dress sticking to her bruised body, her lank blonde hair plastered to her waxy white face. Morgana couldn't help but notice that the dead woman's lips were tinged a pale blue grey.
The exact shade of Arthur's eyes.
"Get them out of here," Uther waved to his knights, who began to escort out the horrified courtiers. "Why on earth did you bring her in here?"
"I'm sorry my lord, we didn't think…"
"No you didn't, that's the problem." Uther pinched the bridge of his nose. "I assume someone has summoned Gaius?"
"Yes, my lord. He's on his way."
A gloved hand touched Morgana's elbow. "My ladies? Would you come with me please?"
"I'm the King's ward," she replied stubbornly. "I'm going nowhere."
"Me neither," said Bridget, frowning at the blonde haired, blue eyed knight. "Sir whoever-you-are."
"Sir Bedivere, my lady."
"Well, Sir Bedivere. I choose when I leave and with whom."
The knight wavered, before looking to Uther. The King opened his mouth even as Bridget crossed her arms. He sighed and nodded.
"Let them be."
Morgana shared a small smile of victory with her friend, which soon dimmed when she glanced back down at the corpse.
She had been pretty in life, her face a pale slice of new moon, now death bloated, the skin goosepricked and rough. Her awful, empty eyes started blankly up at the beamed roof, even as her lips were curved into a smile that was practically obscene.
There was the sound of shuffling footsteps and then Gaius arrived as the last of the courtiers left. The physician closed the great double doors behind him.
"Gaius," Uther greeted solemnly. "I'm afraid we're in need of your skills. With the dead rather than the living though this time. Can you tell what happened to her?"
Gaius knelt down beside the body and began to examine her. His hands skated lightly over her head even as he muttered his findings to himself. "Foam from the nostrils and mouth…" he wiped some away and then pressed down lightly on her chest. More of the pink tinged foam appeared. "Over inflated lungs, haemorrhaging in the ears…some head trauma but that could be due to buffeting in the water." The physician removed his hands and looked at the king.
"She drowned, sire. Of course, I would have to conduct a proper post-mortem to establish that exactly, but I am quiet certain that is the case. "
Uther nodded. "An accident?"
Gaius frowned and discreetly lifted up the material of the corpse's high necked dress. He pulled it back slightly and peered underneath. "There are a ring of dark bruises round her neck and shoulders where someone held her down."
He smoothed the top of her dress back again and sighed.
"This was murder."
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