Warning: minor death in the beginning (but I don't think you'll mind too much), weird magic, large amounts of info to process, and Morgause is a huge jerk.
Morgana opened her eyes to the soft glow of candlelight, which confused her - her most recent memory was of riding through a forest in broad daylight. Her confusion sharpened into dread when she saw that the unfamiliar place in which she found herself wasn't lit by candles because it was nighttime, as she had initially assumed, but because there were no windows or doors through which sunlight could enter. Although the room appeared to be a luxuriously appointed bedchamber, Morgana's intuition told her it was actually a prison cell.
"Hello?" she called out apprehensively. There was no answer, and her fear transformed into anger. She was the Lady Morgana, ward of the king of Camelot and soon to be the princess of Dagon; how dare someone kidnap and imprison her, then have the audacity to ignore her? "Hello! Show yourself, you coward!"
"There's no need to shout." Sirenia of Stonecliff appeared seemingly out of thin air, her lips curled into an unpleasant smirk. "How nice it is to see you again, Lady Morgana."
"You! How-?" Morgana was almost dumbstruck; she'd once suspected the red-haired witch of plotting to poison her, but when she turned out not to be behind that attempt on her life, Morgana had decided Sirenia wasn't capable of aggressive actions on such a grand scale. "How did you manage this?"
"I had a little help," Sirenia reluctantly admitted.
Another woman entered by the same mysterious means as Sirenia, a gorgeously regal brown-eyed blonde whose appearance sent shivers up Morgana's spine. "It was more than a little help. She is not the architect of your present situation, my dear. I am."
"Who are you?" Morgana whispered. Her reaction when Morgause introduced herself was similar to Merlin's, though for different reasons; he knew Morgause as a ruthless warrior and witch, whereas Morgana only knew that Escetia was an enemy of Camelot, perhaps even its worst enemy now that Camelot and Dagon were on better terms. On a personal level, that made Morgana and Morgause enemies as well.
"You needn't fear me, dear girl. I would no sooner harm you than myself."
"You mean to say you intend to keep her locked up in this tower forever?" Sirenia asked, perplexed.
Morgause rounded on her, snarling, "What I do with her is none of your concern!"
Sirenia shrugged. "You're right, I don't care what happens to her as long as I get what you promised me. I've done everything you asked - I've spied for you and even enchanted one of Merlin's idiot servant friends to make him suggest taking Morgana on a ride-" She sniffed, offended at having to waste her magic on a worthless, smelly servant who stank of horses and ale "-and now I want my reward. You still haven't told me how you plan to make the stupid prince marry me and do away with the old dragonlord so I can take the throne of Dagon."
By now Morgause was grinding her teeth so hard her jaw ached, something she'd done so often since enlisting her latest spy that she was amazed they hadn't worn down to nubs - she had lost count of the number of times she'd had to endure Sirenia's petulant demands. Fortunately, with Merlin and Morgana in her grasp, she didn't need to endure them any longer. With a flash of her eyes, Sirenia's neck snapped so violently that her head ended up facing backward.
Morgana clapped her hands over her mouth to stifle a cry of shock and horror; although she could have happily murdered Sirenia herself after hearing her say those vile things about Merlin and Balinor, she hadn't been prepared to see Morgause do it, especially not since she and Sirenia were supposed to be in league.
"Please forgive that interruption," Morgause said politely, casually nudging Sirenia's corpse aside with the toe of her gold-embellished shoe as she came closer to the bed where Morgana sat. "The little wench won't trouble us again."
"Why are you doing this? What do you want with me?" Morgana asked, fighting to stop her eyes from filling with tears. How had she gone from an idyllic afternoon ride with Merlin to being trapped with this cruel woman? What had she done with Merlin and Gwen? Were they even still alive?
"I want you to join me in bringing about the fall of Uther Pendragon."
"Why would I do that? Uther took me in after my parents died; he's been like a father to me." She was still furious with him over his role in her parents' deaths - he was directly responsible for her mother's execution, which, thanks to Merlin, Morgana now understood had not been in the interest of saving Vivienne's soul or serving any other sort of greater good, and the blame for Gorlois' death could be laid at his feet as well since the pain of losing his wife, even after she'd betrayed him, had slowly killed his spirit. Uther's failure to provide reinforcements in time after ordering Gorlois into battle had been the final blow, though in the years after her father's death Morgana had sometimes wondered if he could have survived if he'd only fought harder, which he might have done if he'd had a wife to come home to. However, Morgana had decided that if and when she struck back at Uther, it would be on her own terms. She certainly wasn't interested in joining Morgause; Sirenia's swift demise had shown that Morgause viewed her allies as disposable assets who should not be allowed to outlive their usefulness.
"Is that so? Then why have you not confided your dreams to him? Deep down you must have sensed that his attachment to you is not so strong; if not, you surely know it now. What sort of father sells his child to his enemy for his own gain?" Morgause asked slyly.
Morgana wasn't listening; she was frozen in a combination of astonishment and fear. "How do you know about my dreams?"
"A prophetic talent as extraordinary as Lady Vivienne's must have manifested in at least one of her daughters."
"My mother had only one…daughter…" Morgana's voice trailed off as Morgause sat down beside her and folded her hands in her lap. Her sleeve rode up slightly, and her bracelet caught Morgana's eye. "Where did you get that? Why do you wear the symbol of my father's house?"
Morgause glanced down at it with some surprise, as if she had forgotten it was on her wrist. "This? It was given to me by Nimueh, High Priestess of the Old Religion. Originally a gift to Lady Vivienne from her husband Lord Gorlois, it was given to Nimueh for safekeeping, as was I, and she passed it to me because she thought it might ease the pain of exile if I had some token by which to remember my mother - our mother, Morgana."
Morgana recoiled. "Liar! You stole that bracelet, because my mother could not have given birth to you as well! I don't believe it!"
"I understand what a shock it must be to discover you are not an only child as you always believed," Morgause said sympathetically, "and I do not expect you to take my word for it. There are others who can verify the truth of my parentage."
"I'll ask Nimueh if you are telling the truth, then. I'll go to her at once if you would be so kind as to show me a door by which I might leave this room."
"I'm afraid that is impossible. You will see Nimueh when you and I take our rightful place as queens on the Isle of the Blessed, but for now it is safer for you to remain here. Escetia can be a dangerous land for outsiders." Morgause rose and made to leave.
Morgana leapt up as well. "Wait! What of Merlin and Gwen? Are they safe too?"
Morgause turned around and caught Morgana's chin in a powerful grip, stroking the younger girl's cheek with her thumb. "You needn't worry about Merlin, my dear. Uther was cruel to force you into an unwanted engagement with a stranger, but you are free of him now; you are free of all the men who sought to use you as a means to their own ends. It's best if you just put them out of your mind." She had never heard of the second person Morgana asked about, so Morgause decided that Gwen, whoever she was, must not be important. After all, she knew the names of every noteworthy sorceress and noblewoman in Albion, and there was no Gwen among them.
After Morgause left, there was nothing for Morgana to do except ponder her outrageous claim that they shared a mother. It was utterly ludicrous, of course - Morgana would know if she had a sister - yet there was a resemblance; Morgause's blonde curls were exactly the same shade and texture as Morgana recalled Vivienne's being in the days when she had perched on her lap and run her fingers through the silky tresses, dreaming of the day when she would grow to be as beautiful as her much-admired mother. Morgause also had Vivienne's grace and noble bearing, which Morgana herself often emulated. It wasn't definitive proof, but it was enough to sow a seed of doubt in Morgana's mind.
Additionally, Vivienne's extramarital affair was a well-known fact although she and her paramour must have tried to be discreet despite Gorlois being away on a long campaign in the distant northern plains at the time. They had to have been exposed somehow, and an illegitimate child would certainly have done that; the bastards of noble families were frequently sent away to be fostered far from their parents' homes, so that would explain Morgause's comment about living in exile too.
Queen Morgause could very well be my half-sister, but there's only one way to be certain. I must ask Nimueh. She wasn't willing to wait for release from her opulent prison, though, as she had a feeling she would be waiting a long time. Fortunately for Morgana, someone with her gifts didn't need to be physically near another person to talk to them. She had never before attempted mind-to-mind communication over such a long distance, but she needed to know if Morgause was telling the truth, and perhaps Nimueh could help her escape so she could search for her friends.
"Permitte mihi loqui ad mentem, quam turpis quaero!" As she understood it, this spell would give her a sort of vision - she had become quite skilled at controlling those - of Nimueh, but she would be able to speak with her instead of simply watching as she did in her regular visions. Morgana had scarcely finished the incantation when the room started to spin, and she felt herself falling… Then she was upright again and she seemed to be looking down at herself, sprawled in a tangled heap half on and half off the bed. Then that disconcerting scene dissolved and she found herself in another unfamiliar bedchamber, but unlike the one she was trapped in, this one was open and airy.
It contained only a bed, various magical objects, and a vanity at which Nimueh sat, brushing her hair. Morgana was amazed; somehow, she had never pictured the High Priestess doing something so ordinary. She hadn't pictured her living in a place like this either. It isn't quite the austere, ominous fortress I imagined.
Nimueh pivoted on her low, cushioned seat, her eyebrows lifting slightly at the spectral form of Lady Morgana hovering in the air before her. It wasn't the strangest sight she'd ever beheld, but it was certainly unexpected. "Wherever did you get the idea that I lived in some dreary fortress?"
Morgana's ghostly mouth opened, but no sound came out; her words entered Nimueh's mind rather than her ears. You heard that?
"You are speaking to me through your thoughts, child; of course I hear them. If you didn't wish me to hear everything that passes through your mind, you should only have sent certain thoughts my way rather than projecting your entire consciousness, but I suppose such subtlety is still beyond you. This is an impressive accomplishment indeed for such an inexperienced witch, though," Nimueh grudgingly admitted. "I sense you have traveled far from your physical self."
Yes, I'm in Escetia - Queen Morgause kidnapped me, along with Merlin and Gwen, and she won't say what she has done with them!
Nimueh shot to her feet. "You are all in grave danger, then - at least Merlin is. You may not be, and your maid is of no use to Morgause, so she has probably already killed Gwen."
No! Morgana's astral form blurred and wavered, her distress disrupting the concentration necessary to maintain her spell.
Nimueh added some of her own magic, stabilizing Morgana's mental projection. "Hold yourself together, girl! There is nothing you can do for Gwen now, and you'll be no good to Merlin if you go to pieces! Now, obviously she isn't keeping the two of you in the same dungeon-"
But I'm not in a dungeon. She's put me in a luxurious room; I wouldn't even know I was being held prisoner if not for the absence of doors and windows. She said I must stay here for my own protection, Morgana scoffed.
"Yet she comes and goes as she pleases?"
Yes, she and the Lady Sirenia - at least she came and went freely until Morgause killed her.
"I'm pleased to hear it - according to Merlin she was quite unpleasant. I hardly knew her, but I did not like her either. Now, were you able to see the means by which Morgause entered your cell?" When Morgana shook her translucent head, Nimueh said, "Then the door is there, but hidden from you." She gave Morgana a spell to reveal it, and another to help her break enchantments designed to prevent her from passing through the door, if there were any. "You can remember all that, can you not?"
I…I think so. It's getting hard to concentrate.
Nimueh nodded sagely. "You've tarried here too long. Separation of the mind and body is fraught with even greater dangers than the obvious problem of leaving your body in a highly vulnerable position. Go now, and do not use this enchantment again unless your need is dire."
Wait! There was something else Morgana needed to know, a burning question she hadn't asked yet. Morgause…Morgause claimed to be my sister. She said you know the truth of this. Tell me.
"Her claim is only half true. Vivienne gave birth to both Morgause and yourself, but you were not fathered by the same man." Sensing Morgana's anxiety and guessing the reason for it, Nimueh said, "Of course you are the daughter of Gorlois, else you would have been sent away like your bastard half-sister. How could you doubt it when you look so much like him?" She gestured at Morgana's thick coal-black hair and jade-green eyes, almost a perfect mirror image of Gorlois' most striking features.
Morgana relaxed; after discovering that she had the queen of one of Camelot's most pernicious adversaries, and a kidnapper and murderer to boot, for a sister, she didn't think she could bear any more disturbing revelations about her family. It would have been devastating to learn that her beloved father was not, in fact, her father. In her heart she had always felt that he was, but finding out about Morgause had cast a shadow of doubt over everything she thought she knew. Whatever else she felt toward Nimueh, Morgana was grateful to her for removing that shadow. And her father?
Nimueh sank back onto her stool, idly picking at an imaginary bit of fluff on her skirt. "He is already known to you. Morgause's father had to be a powerful man indeed, to tempt Vivienne into betraying her husband, though I never understood what she saw in him myself - in either of the men in her life, to be perfectly honest. Gorlois was a good man, but I found him dull and far too honorable, leaving his wife alone to fight his king's battles as often as he did. It shouldn't have come as a surprise to him that she ended up in the arms of another man…one whose own marriage was troubled by his wife's inability to provide the heir he craved…" She glanced up at Morgana's face to see if she'd succeeded in piecing the clues together.
She hadn't; by now it was taking all her concentration just to stay there. Give me the wretch's name! she snarled.
Nimueh shook her head slowly as if pitying Morgana for her poor reasoning skills, but her mouth twisted into a cruelly triumphant smile as she spoke two words that would create an irreparable rift between Morgana and one of the most important men in her life. "Uther Pendragon."
The name penetrated Morgana's mind like a sword driven into her gut, shattering her tenuous grip on the magic that held her in Nimueh's room, breaking her into a thousand jagged shards of disbelief, horror, revulsion, and pain as she struggled to comprehend the extent of Uther's vile betrayal. He had sent his closest friend away, taken the opportunity to seduce Gorlois' lonely wife because he was dissatisfied with his own, then callously used the affair as an excuse to have Vivienne executed for her magic, all while escaping consequences for his villainy. The product of his indiscretion, Morgause, had been brushed aside as easily as he had cast off Vivienne when he was through with her, allowing him to carry on as if nothing had happened. Then, on top of everything else, he'd had the gall to take Morgana as his ward, acting like he was doing her a great kindness when he was to blame for her being orphaned in the first place!
As the scattered pieces of her consciousness reassembled and she opened her eyes, her mind once more anchored in its cage of flesh, blood, and bone, a single thought, a promise, an unshakable commitment took shape there: even though he didn't know it yet, Uther Pendragon was a dead man.
She couldn't worry about him right now, though, and pushed him to the back of her mind. Right now she could only think of Merlin, who Morgause could be torturing this very instant, and Gwen, who according to Nimueh was most likely… Morgana shook her head frantically to banish that unbearable notion before it became inescapably real. "No, she can't be," she sobbed. "Gwen, where are you!"
"Here, my lady." Gwen popped out of nowhere, looking somewhat the worse for wear but very much alive.
"Gwen!" The two girls seized and embraced each other within an inch of their lives, almost crying with relief. "I was so afraid that you were- That Morgause had-"
"I was afraid she was going to," Gwen confessed, "but she said you'd need your servant. She left me in some awful dark, dank cell - I could hardly see anything but I'm sure I heard rats - and said I was to stay there until you had need of me. I didn't know how I was supposed to attend you when there was no way out, but then I heard your voice and next thing I knew I was here… Morgana, Queen Morgause has magic," she added in a terrified whisper. "We've been kidnapped by a witch who's taken us all the way to Escetia, and nobody knows where we are, and what are we going to do?"
Morgana hugged her tighter. "Don't be afraid, Gwen, I won't let her harm you. She wants me to join her in conquering Camelot."
Gwen's jaw dropped. "That's absurd! What about Arthur, and all the innocent people who'd get hurt? How could she even think you would turn against people you've known all your life for her?"
"Because apparently, she is my half-sister." Morgana told Gwen what she'd learned about her mother's affair with Uther, leaving out the part where she had communicated with Nimueh via magic.
Gwen was thoroughly scandalized. "What a horrible thing for Uther to have done, and with his best friend's wife too! Oh my…this means Morgause is Arthur's half-sister as well. Poor Arthur!"
Morgana raised her eyebrows. "Arthur isn't the one trapped in her castle. Still, he'll be upset to learn of his father's infidelity, though if Morgause has her way I doubt he'll live that long. She means to take the throne of Camelot, and Arthur is an obstacle in her path." There was a horrified gasp from Gwen. "We must stop her, but first we need to find Merlin."
"How can we do that when I'm locked in my cell and you're in here?"
"I have a plan."
On her next visit, Morgause found Morgana looking much more composed. "Did you rest well, my sister?"
"Indeed. I wish to apologize for my behavior when last we saw each other. I was intolerably rude - I shouted at you and called you a liar." Morgana lowered her head, peeking up through her lashes as though she was too ashamed to look at Morgause head-on. "I saw the truth in a dream, and now I know you truly are the only family left to me in this world. I only hope you can forgive me for not trusting you at once…sister."
Morgause blinked to rid herself of a sudden burning sensation behind her eyes. She hadn't shed a tear for anyone in ages, but she was unprepared for the onslaught of emotion Morgana's acceptance brought on. They were sisters, the daughters of Lady Vivienne, the heirs to her powerful magic, so it was only right that they should stand together against the Pendragons' tyranny; Morgana also had connections within Camelot that could prove valuable for purposes of infiltration, therefore Morgause had sought her out and tried to win her over. She hadn't bargained on feeling anything for the girl - it had been so long since she had cared for anyone except herself - yet it seemed she did.
She didn't rush to embrace Morgana, but she did squeeze her hand. "There is nothing to forgive, my dear."
"You've been so good to me, taking me away before I was forced to marry Merlin or look upon that sniveling dog Uther again. You even brought Gwen along so I wouldn't have to adjust to a new servant."
"So that is the woman you inquired about? A serving girl? Morgana, your compassion is endearing but misplaced; such concern for servants is beneath us."
Morgana smirked inwardly; Morgause's attitude toward Gwen was exactly what she had anticipated, which made enacting their plan that much easier. "True, but she's been with me for years. Breaking in a new maid now would be most inconvenient. Serving me, procuring the things I need, would be easier if she was not imprisoned, though."
"You're suggesting I permit the girl free access to my castle?" Morgause asked incredulously.
"She is only a servant," Morgana said with a careless shrug, "and not even a particularly bright one. What trouble could she possibly cause you?"
Morgause acknowledged that she had a point - keeping Morgana confined until she was confident that she had the girl's loyalty, or at least until it was too late for her to interfere with her plans for Merlin, was an unfortunate necessity. The maid, however, could do nothing. "Very well," she said at last, "I shall release your maid," and Morgana breathed freely again.
Gwen raised her head at the sound of metal grinding against metal, and her eyes were assaulted by light streaming in through a cell door she was positive hadn't been there before. She could just make out a burly, armored form silhouetted in the blinding glow. The silhouette grabbed her and hauled her roughly to her feet. "Get up. The queen's ordered your release. You have work to do."
"Yes, sir," she babbled, "right away, sir. I know what my mistress wants me to do."
The guard grunted and walked away, and Gwen allowed herself a moment to lean against the damp, slimy stone of the dungeon wall and bask in her relief. Finally she was free of her dim, cramped cell, free of the unseen rats that occasionally bit her fingers and ankles, and now she could help Morgana. She was scared, but her release proved that Morgana was right - Morgause hadn't deemed her a threat and wasn't paying attention to her. Morgana had the harder job, pretending to be on Morgause's side until they were ready to make their escape. Gwen didn't think she could have done it; the sorceress was too frightening, and Gwen wanted to stay as far away from her as possible.
I have to help Morgana get away from her too, before that awful woman forces her to do something terrible. Gritting her teeth, she pushed herself away from the wall and set off in search of Merlin.
1. The wicked witch (meaning Sirenia) is dead! Yes, we've put up with her all this time just so she could be Morgause's spy and then promptly die. My reasoning is that Morgause needed a spy, and there were no canon characters I could use for that sole purpose and then discard, so I created a disposable character nobody would care about. I know some of you were hoping she'd be around long enough to learn about Morgana's magic, which would've been fun, but killing her here showed Morgana how alliances with Morgause can be hazardous to your health, which I thought was more important.
2. Morgause is Uther's daughter instead of Morgana. It's a pretty significant departure from canon, but not the biggest one in this story. Poor Morgana's already been put through the wringer so much that I just couldn't bring myself to add the blow of finding out her beloved dad wasn't really her dad. Besides, in my opinion she and Arthur have a closer resemblance than him and Morgana, so I could believe they're siblings more easily.
3. Morgause's jerky attitude may seem over-sold, but I do have canon evidence: she killed Cenred, and she expressed contempt for Merlin because of his servant status more than once. The only person she really seemed to care about was Morgana, and I've tried to acknowledge that here, but she still cares about her plans for conquest more. Being exiled at birth, she's always had to look out for number one first, so she just doesn't know how to do anything else.
4. There is no #4, except that I'd love to hear your comments on the above issues, and please wish me luck on my final exams. Next time I update it'll be as a free woman, and then we'll find out what Morgause has done with Merlin. Till then, happy summer!