By the time Merlin reached the bottom of the stairs leading up into the tower, Morgana was nowhere in sight. He assumed she'd gone back to her chambers, or to find something to eat if she hadn't lost her appetite, and refrained from pursuing her. She needed time to calm down before he talked to her about continuing her magic lessons, so he would wait until the following day before bringing it up.
Unfortunately, the next time he saw Morgana she was in the company of Arthur; there was no way they could discuss her magic in front of him.
"Ah, Merlin - just the man I've been looking for!" The blond wrapped his arm around Merlin's neck in what could either be a friendly gesture or the beginning of a chokehold. "I heard something very interesting, Merlin. A little bird told me you were in the tavern yesterday, and since no one saw you all day, you must have spent quite a bit of time there."
"No, I didn't. Honestly, Arthur, you should know birds aren't a reliable source of information. If a bird told you I was in the tavern, someone probably enchanted it so they could have some fun at your expense."
Arthur rolled his eyes. "Of course I would know better than to listen to a talking bird if there were such a thing. What do you think I am, an idiot?"
"It was a figure of speech! The point is that if you wanted to go to the tavern, you could have asked your friends if they'd like to go along."
Exasperated, Merlin threw Arthur's arm off. "I wasn't in the tavern, Arthur! I haven't gone anywhere near the tavern in weeks!"
"That's not what Morgana said."
"Morgana told you I went to the tavern?" Merlin raised his eyebrows at the lady, who seemed to be trying to melt into the scenery. "I wonder where she got such a ridiculous idea."
"Well, I…I may have been…mistaken. I just saw Merlin going into the town and assumed he was heading for the tavern," she fibbed, "but I never actually saw him enter it. He could have been going somewhere else."
"So where were you going if not to the tavern?" Arthur demanded.
"Nowhere special. I just wanted to be alone. It's hard sometimes, being the prince, everyone watching every move you make. Sometimes I just want to get away from it all." That was the truth, even if it wasn't true in this particular case.
Arthur nodded understandingly, but his disapproving frown didn't go away. "Well, you could have at least told me where you were going. I could've gone with you."
"I said I wanted to be alone," Merlin repeated slowly. "Taking you with me would have defeated the purpose."
"You still shouldn't run off without telling anyone! It's very irresponsible, not to mention dangerous!"
"Worried about me, Arthur? I never knew you cared. Now if you'll excuse me, I need a private word with the Lady Morgana."
"I shouldn't let you do that. You and she aren't really supposed to be alone together until after the wedding," Arthur said somewhat awkwardly. Now that he'd come to know Merlin fairly well he believed Morgana's virtue was safe with him, but it was still his duty as her chaperone - the proxy for her guardian - to ensure that her honor was beyond reproach when the time came for her to be married.
"Well, you can stand here and watch us if you want," Merlin said impatiently, "but I really need to speak with her." He took her arm and pulled her a few yards down the garden path, out of Arthur's earshot but still within his sight.
"You need to reconsider what you said last night."
"I said many things last night, so I don't know what you're talking about."
"When you said you were done with magic - you need to reconsider that."
"No. I mean it, Merlin; touching my magic was- It was terrifying. I never even wanted to practice magic in the first place, and I refuse to put myself through that ordeal again!"
A middle-aged lord and lady strolled past, pausing their lighthearted banter about the beautiful weather to greet their prince. Merlin's reply was polite but brief, making it clear he wasn't in the mood to chat, and they moved on. Once they were at a sufficient distance, he leaned closer to Morgana and asked in a low, forceful voice only a notch above a whisper, "Was it more terrifying than nearly being burned alive in your bed? Was it worse than causing Gwen to get hurt when she stepped on the glass you broke? If you don't learn to master your magic, accidents like that will keep happening. You'll keep hurting people, until one day you hurt yourself!"
"Stop it!" Morgana wanted to turn away, to block out what he'd said, but he had a tight grip on her upper arms and wasn't letting her move an inch. "You're scaring me!"
"I'm sorry, Morgana; I don't want to scare you, I just want to make you see that this is something you need to do." He was on the verge of stopping there - she hadn't given any sign of agreeing with or even considering his position on the matter, but all he wanted to do was soothe whatever pain he'd caused her and reassure her that everything would be all right - but then Nimueh's words came back to him. Your feelings for her cloud your judgment. She was right, so he steeled himself and went on, "If I have to scare you in order to do that, I will, just don't ask me to stand by and watch you get hurt. That's the one thing I refuse to do."
"I won't get hurt," she argued with all the certainty of the blindly faithful. "You'll protect me."
"Damn it, I can't protect you from this! If it were a monster or something else I could fight for you, you know I would, but I cannot control your magic! Only you can do that! Believe me, Morgana, if I could take this all away and let you live as a normal girl I would do it, no matter what price I had to pay, but you know it's impossible. I can't fix this."
Morgana couldn't bear to see him look so sad, so…frightened? He was actually afraid for her? She hugged him and, standing on her toes to put her mouth up to his ear, murmured, "Very well, if it's truly so important to you, I'll give magic another try."
"You will?" Merlin was visibly relieved when she nodded. "Great! We'll meet Nimueh in the tower again tonight."
She almost regretted consenting to another lesson when she heard that Nimueh would be part of it, but the enthusiasm with which he returned her hug made it all worth it…until Arthur butted in. "All right, I'm glad you've resolved your lovers' spat, but that's enough."
"For pity's sake, Arthur, it was only a hug. It's not as if Merlin was about to deflower me right here in the garden!"
"Oh, I have no doubt of that; I was just afraid I might vomit if I had to watch your little display of affection any longer. I mean, since it's you."
"Poor Arthur - it must be hard realizing you're not the only man in my life anymore," Morgana mocked him.
"I really couldn't care less about that. I just can't figure out what a sensible, upstanding fellow like Merlin sees in you."
That night, Merlin and Morgana made the exhausting climb into the castle's tallest tower once more. Once again, Nimueh was waiting when they got there. "We're going to try something different tonight," she announced briskly. "You have already learned how to touch your magic; now we must bring it under your control. To do that, you need to visualize it as something less threatening. Last night you reported that it manifested in your mind as a raging fire - tonight you will tame that fire."
Nimueh explained what she wanted Morgana to do; then they all sat down to meditate. Morgana let herself sink into the deepest recesses of her consciousness again, but this time she was ready for what awaited her there. When she found the golden flame that was her magic, instead of heeding the petrified inner voice screaming at her to withdraw, she pushed herself closer to it. It isn't a real fire. It's all in my head - it's a part of me - and it can't hurt me unless I let it. I am the mistress of my magic, not the other way around! She reached into the blaze and found to her delight that it didn't burn her. Instead she felt a profound sense of joining with a missing piece of herself, as if a limb that had been torn off was reattached. Only now that she had it back did she realize she hadn't been complete without it. Merlin was right; magic was in her very soul, and trying to deny that simple fact was as futile and stupid as cutting off her own hand. This was who she was.
She drew a thin thread of fire out of the inferno, just enough to light a candle, and pulled her mind back to the physical world, keeping a tight hold on the thread. Her eyes flashed gold as they opened, and the candle sitting on the floor in the middle of the circle she, Merlin, and Nimueh formed when they sat down lit up.
"You did it!"
Looking around at her companions, Morgana concluded that they hadn't been meditating at all; they had been watching her but pretending not to so as not to make her feel pressured. She was well accustomed to feeling eyes on her, of course, but never in circumstances like these, so she was grateful for their thoughtfulness. "It seems I did," she agreed, sounding far more subdued than Merlin. Her brain felt like a wrung-out washrag. She did, however, manage a tired smile for her prince.
The candle sputtered and died, and so did Morgana's smile. "You were too quick to congratulate me, Merlin. I may have lit the candle, but I couldn't keep it burning."
"You don't have to keep it burning; a sorcerer can keep a fire alight with only their mind, but mostly we just use our magic to set fire to a candle or kindling and then let it burn on its own. That way uses up less of your energy."
Nimueh nodded her agreement. "Morgana wasn't able to sustain the spark long enough for the wick to catch fire. Her magic must still be too weak to affect the world around her."
Morgana's face fell further - Nimueh had just made her feel even worse about her abilities.
"Lighting a candle was not the objective, though; it was only an outlet for the magic you summoned. The true purpose of this exercise was to help you see how your magic bends to your will once you begin to assert control over it. You felt that, did you not?"
Morgana nodded, her spirits lifting as she remembered the exhilaration of finally feeling at one with herself, of not fearing the power inside her.
"Good. Now we can begin teaching you how to use it. You may not be able to impose your will on the physical world yet, but you have shown yourself capable of mastering your own mind, so we'll focus our efforts in here-" Nimueh tapped Morgana's forehead with a long, perfectly manicured nail "-starting with your Sight. Let's see if we can't stop your nightmares for good, shall we?"
The tower room underwent a change the next night when Nimueh gathered all the dust and cobwebs of the past seven decades (there was a substantial amount of both) with a wave of her hand and transformed it into several large, fluffy cushions. "How did you do that?" Morgana gasped, wide-eyed with amazement.
Merlin was significantly less impressed. "She's the High Priestess, Morgana - she could do a transmutation like this in her sleep, with both hands tied behind her back."
"Then why hasn't she done so before now? It would have made the room much cleaner, not to mention making us more comfortable if we'd had these to sit on."
"We don't need soft cushions to sit on," Nimueh said with slight disdainful sniff, "but I was quite certain you would balk at lying on a dirty stone floor."
"You want me to lie down?"
"That was implied, was it not? You said you have only had visions while you sleep, so for this lesson you will have to be asleep or in a similar state. Most people find it difficult to fall asleep while sitting up."
Morgana cast a dubious look at the grouping of cushions. "Even if I can get to sleep here, there's no guarantee I will see anything. Some nights I just have ordinary dreams, and on a few blessedly rare nights I have no dreams at all."
"Well, tonight you shall learn how to have visions whenever you want them, which should reduce the unwanted ones. I cannot promise you will never have another unasked-for vision - the Sight ebbs and flows like the tides, and those of us who have been blessed and cursed with this power can no more exercise total control over it than we can the sea - but once you understand your gift better, what visions do come to you unexpectedly should be less frightening. You don't have them every night because untrained seers typically only foresee momentous events, or those that will alter the course of their own lives, though there are some who are never able to see their own future."
"I have seen things that affect me," Morgana put in.
Nimueh barely acknowledged this information; it wasn't terribly important what kind of seer Morgana was. "Lie down, child."
Morgana obeyed, first sitting on the cushions and then hesitantly lowering herself onto her back and gazing up Nimueh and Merlin. It felt strange and even somewhat discomforting to lie on the floor with them hovering over her. How was she supposed to relax enough to sleep?
"Begin as if you were meditating, but when you touch your magic, do not attempt to draw it out. Maintain your contact with it and relax," Nimueh instructed her. "Open your mind. The Sight is so deeply woven into your nature that I'm sure your magic will show you something if you allow it to."
"What will it show me?" Morgana asked breathlessly. She was not eager for another of the glimpses of battle and bloodshed that her Sight usually inflicted on her.
Nimueh shrugged, her shoulders shifting under the thin straps of her dress. "Who can say? Now close your eyes. Merlin, give her some space - she won't relax with you leaning over her."
He started to pull back, but Morgana's hand shot out and grabbed his. "Don't go, Merlin. I want you to stay."
He smiled and laced their fingers together. "As you wish, my lady."
Satisfied, Morgana closed her eyes and descended a third time into the now familiar meditative trance. Getting in touch with her magic was initially unsettling, though this time it was easier to push down the instinctive, irrational surge of terror and step into the blazing gold light. She noticed that while her magic burned as brightly as ever, it seemed less like a wildfire, less frantic to consume her than it had the first time she sought it out. Now it approached her like an animal wanting to be petted and enfolded her like a warm blanket.
She let it wrap around her, not making any effort to tamp it down or spin it into manageable little threads, just letting it flow through her mind however it wished. Show me something. Anything. Her magic didn't respond, and she recalled Nimueh telling her she had to passively open her mind and allow the visions to come to her. Passivity had never ranked among Morgana's strongest qualities - she was a woman of action, and just letting things happen to her had never been her way, but she tried. She forced herself to be calm and accepting, not demanding.
After a while of this, just when she thought she might truly fall asleep - at least she would come out of this lesson well-rested for once rather than mentally exhausted - she noticed that the ethereal light of magic surrounding her had changed into plain old sunlight. She sat up and found that she was in her bed. It was morning, and the opening door signaled the arrival of breakfast.
Gwen entered, walking a little gingerly as if her feet were still sore but wearing a smile brighter than the morning sun. "Good morning, my lady."
"Gwen! You're back?"
She nodded happily, her dark curls bouncing. "It's good to be back." She set the breakfast tray down and crossed over to the bed to hug her mistress. "Come on, Morgana, it's time to get up…"
Morgana blinked. It was suddenly dark, she was lying on her back again, and Merlin was shaking her. Gwen was nowhere in sight.
"Did it work? Did you see anything?" Merlin asked.
"I should hope so, as long as we've been here," Nimueh said dryly.
"How long has it been?" Morgana inquired, still struggling to get her bearings. It was often hard to reorient herself after a prophetic dream - they were so vivid that the line between premonitions and reality became blurred.
"We've been at this almost five hours," Merlin replied.
Five hours. So it was still the same night. Morgana's face broke into a huge smile as she realized what had happened - after years of being afraid of them, taking potions and doing everything else she could to shut them out, she, Lady Morgana, had intentionally had a vision.
Well, here we have Morgana making some progress with her magic, and I hope you guys don't think I'm moving that along too fast. My reasoning is that she's supposed to be some kind of magical prodigy - she had useful (when they weren't just scaring the living daylights out of her) visions without even trying, once she started learning magic her powers were on a level that let her live through fights with Merlin and even hold her own somewhat, and she mastered the aging spell, which was apparently a great magical achievement (though not in my story, because I can think of cooler uses for magic than making yourself look like an old geezer). Seriously, I can just imagine that magic lesson:
Nimueh: And now that you've mastered precognition, telekinesis, transmutation, and the enchantment for perpetually tangle-free hair, we'll move on to the next level…turning yourself into a doddering old lady!
Morgana: Um, why the hell would I want to be wrinkled and arthritic? I get how it could be useful as a disguise, but it's not like I'm trying to, oh, infiltrate and take over Camelot or anything.
So yeah, no aging spells here. Anyway, my original point was that Morgana is a powerful witch, so I think it makes sense that she would advance quickly, plus I didn't want to write a lot of her trying, failing, and getting more discouraged and soured on the idea of learning magic. I want to keep this thing moving forward.