And now, the epilogue, where you can find the answer to the last question that hasn't been neatly wrapped up: whatever happened to Morgause after she vanished from the battlefield? Although I have to warn you one more time, if you don't want the happy ending spoiled, don't read any further.
The ruined fortress, an abandoned garrison on the outskirts of Escetia, loomed ominously against the backdrop of a fiery orange sunset as the man rode up. He cast a dubious look around him as he passed through the crumbling gates into an equally decrepit, shadowy yard; her summons had been very clear on where they were to meet, yet he couldn't picture her in this rundown, forsaken place. Tying his horse to a wall - he didn't dare put it in the stable in case the roof fell in, leaving him without transportation - he proceeded cautiously into the gloomy building.
"My lady? Are you here?" At first only the echo of his own voice, muffled by dust and cobwebs, answered him, but farther in he heard a weak, raspy voice calling him. He followed it to its source, and there she was, resting on a rickety cot in the barracks. "Queen Morgause!" He couldn't keep the astonishment out of his voice; this gaunt, wasted figure, with her lank, lusterless hair and her glamorous gowns replaced by drab brown rags, was barely recognizable as the regal woman he knew.
"I am no queen any longer," she husked, forcing herself to sit up. It was hard to move these days, now that one side of her body barely worked. "That…little bitch…has taken everything from me - my kingdom, my strength…even my beauty." She turned her head so that her face, which had been half hidden in shadow, was fully revealed.
Her ally barely managed to stop himself from recoiling. Half of Morgause's face was seared off, flensed from the bone, leaving a grotesque mass of raw, torn meat; her teeth were exposed in a monstrous parody of a smile, her ear had melted into a misshapen blob, and her eye was gone altogether - a dark, empty socket stared back into his horrorstruck face.
"Morgana will pay dearly for betraying me… But first, tell me what is the situation in Camelot."
"Uther has lost his grip on power - a strange mental affliction. He lives, but in a wretched state, your majesty."
"Good." Morgause peeled back what remained of her lips in a vicious grin, so that for a moment the two sides of her mouth matched.
"Arthur has taken up the regency, but he is an inexperienced, hotheaded boy the nobles do not respect. I believe undermining his leadership will be easy."
"Then you must see to it. Go to him under the pretense of offering support and advice while he adjusts to the…heavy burden that has fallen on his young shoulders. As his uncle, you should have no trouble leading him astray, Agravaine. Then, when he is proven incompetent and the nobles are desperate to get rid of him, you can place a new candidate on the throne."
"But who, my lady?" Agravaine was not stupid enough to point out that Morgause would probably not survive long enough to see Arthur deposed. There was only one person other than herself she might want on Camelot's throne, but… "I was under the impression that Morgana had thwarted the prophecy, and you will not be able to make her son your protégé after all."
"True. Morgana will not bear the child of prophecy, thanks to an old dragon's meddling," Morgause growled. "But all is not lost. You may recall how I had Merlin in my grasp for a short time?" Agravaine nodded. "During that time, I had the foresight to take some of his blood - I did not know why at the time, but I suspected that the blood of the most powerful sorcerer on earth might one day prove useful. Now I have found a use for it; with the aid of certain potions and dark enchantments, I believe I can devise a way to bring about what my traitorous sister sought to avoid."
Agravaine was openly skeptical. "You really think you can create a child from a mere vial of blood, my lady?"
"I saw allusions to such procedures in the archives on the Isle of the Blessed, before that old hag Nimueh banished me. The treatment was originally intended as a remedy for infertility when the fault lay with the husband, but it was discontinued and reclassified as dark magic because the results were…unpredictable."
"And the mother? Shall I procure a girl?" Kidnapping a young woman from among the peasant families who worked his lands would be easy.
"No! My plans were already ruined once because the girl in question refused to play her part! I will risk no more interference!" Morgause's rant was interrupted by a coughing fit that left her gasping for breath. When it subsided, her voice was only a brittle whisper. "This time…I will…see it through…personally."
Agravaine wanted to question the advisability of subjecting herself to such risky magic, especially in her fragile state, but as he looked into Morgause's ravaged face, he realized she didn't care about unpredictable results; her time was running out, and she was desperate to exact revenge any way she could. Somehow, she had decided this was her best option, and the consequences, even to herself, didn't matter.
She confirmed this with her next words. "Of course, the old experiments…were all carried out with healthy women. I doubt I will survive long after giving birth; in fact, I may have to use a potion to…accelerate the process so I can carry the child to term before I die. Once I am gone, my son's upbringing will fall to you, Agravaine. Can I depend on you?"
He swallowed hard. "My lady, should it be necessary, I promise to watch over your son as if he were my own, and when the time comes, I will see that he carries out your revenge on the Pendragons and claims the birthright that was unjustly denied you."
"Thank you, Agravaine." With a long, tired sigh, Morgause leaned back against the wall and closed her eye. "Tomorrow we will…travel to the ruins of my castle…and retrieve Merlin's blood so I can begin brewing the potions…but now I must rest. Leave me."
"Yes, your majesty." Agravaine turned to go, then paused. "My lady…should your plan succeed, have you decided what name you will give the boy?"
"Oh…" A frown twitched across the intact side of Morgause's face; she hadn't given any thought to what the instrument of her vengeance would be called, but she supposed he would need a name, and as his mother, giving him one fell to her. After a moment's consideration, it came to her. "Yes. His name will be Mordred."
If you're reading this, you're probably wondering whether there will be a sequel since this ending definitely leaves an opening for one. I've given it a lot of thought, and I'm ambivalent about it - I do have ideas for a possible sequel, but I don't know if anyone wants to read it. Honestly, if someone else were writing this and gave me an ending like that, I'd be pretty upset and maybe I wouldn't want to read any more, so I'm going to let you decide if I continue or not. I'm going to put up a poll on my profile, and after a week I'll let you know my decision according to how the majority votes.
Before you decide how to vote, a few things I feel I should tell you in the interest of full disclosure, so you know exactly what you're getting: first, the sequel, if there is one, won't be a happy, fluffy story. In fact, it will be downright miserable in places, and awful things will happen to your favorite characters - seriously, if you thought Morgause and Agravaine were bad just now, you ain't seen nothing yet…but I'm also not in the habit of writing unremitting doom and gloom. My stories typically have fairly good endings, if you can stick it out long enough to get there.
Second, since I've gotten some inquiries about this, there will NOT be any Mergana babies. Ever. That was never on the menu even before I explicitly ruled it out, because happy family fluff is not my thing. If it's your thing, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but again, I don't want anyone to ask for a sequel because they hope it'll be something different from what I have in mind; that doesn't seem fair to anybody.
So now that you have all the pertinent information, don't forget to vote, and again, thanks for being such a great audience. You all played a big part in keeping up my enthusiasm for this story; without you, it might not have made it past chapter 1, and it certainly wouldn't have lasted this long.