Prompts: For the hc_bingo wild card (poisoning) and for the 100_tales prompt #048 Future
Summary: Morgause imagines a future in which Morgana is queen and forms an alliance with Cenred. To achieve this, not only must Morgana continue to live in Camelot, but Morgause must unexpectedly save a wounded Cenred's life.
"And one day soon," Morgause said softly, "you shall be queen of Camelot."
They were sitting on the grass beneath an oak tree, Morgause leaning against its broad trunk, Morgana cuddled up to her with her head on Morgause's shoulder. Morgause was soothing her half-sister with promises of a better future, stories to keep her spirits up while she lived under Uther's tyranny.
"And where will you be?" Morgana asked, also in a low voice, as if to speak too loudly would chase their dreams away forever.
"At your right hand, of course. Watching over you." Morgause stroked Morgana's hair. She raised her eyes to the almost-full moon, now descending towards the horizon, and repressed a sigh. The night was passing them by so quickly.
"I hate it there," Morgana said. 'There' was Camelot, of course. 'There' was the one place Morgause could not be at her side.
"I know. But it won't be for long," Morgause promised. "Patience, my darling. Patience." She shifted position, and Morgana was forced to move too, choosing to sit up.
Morgana glanced up at the moon and, like Morgause, clearly saw how late it was. She reached for her red cloak and slipped it back around herself. They'd both shed their mantles, finding them unnecessary when their warm bodies were pressed together, but there was a chill in the night air that required extra clothing when walking or riding through the forest.
Morgause got to her feet and pulled on her own purple cloak, fastening it at her throat with a jewelled brooch. She leaned over and fussed with Morgana's hair, making sure it was just so.
"Good night, my sister. Ride safely."
"And you." Morgana mounted her horse and headed off towards Camelot. Morgause watched her go with mixed emotions; love and pride alongside anger at having to send Morgana back to that hateful place.
At a noise from the bushes behind her, she spun, one hand on her sword hilt.
"Show yourself," she demanded, eyes glinting golden as her magic rushed forward in readiness.
A soldier approached her, eyes lowered in deference. "Lady Morgause."
"You're one of Cenred's men," she said, noting his livery. "What do you want?"
"For you to accompany me to his Highness's castle."
Morgause's lips twitched in anger. "He dares summon me?"
"He requests your presence," the man said. She could almost taste his fear. The warriors Cenred commanded had quickly learned not to cross her, woman or not, magic or not – she'd made sure of that.
Morgause nodded. A request was acceptable. She'd had her own affairs to attend to, including spending valuable time with Morgana; Cenred ostensibly understood this, but he would use any excuse to draw her back to him. It had been a week since she'd shared his bed and obviously he was longing for her return.
"We should hurry," he said.
"So as not to keep Cenred waiting?" she asked archly. She never referred to him as King Cenred, something that reminded the underlings that she was above them, equal or superior to their master.
"Lady, he is in need of your services."
I'll wager he is, Morgause thought with some satisfaction. He'd fallen for her without need for her to enchant him, fascinated by a woman who was both a warrior and a witch. It was in equal parts endearing and pathetic. "Indeed?"
"There was a minor incursion at our border. Our king received a small injury, but it has festered. The physician can do nothing to cure it nor to quell his fever."
Morgause nodded sharply. "Then we shall hurry." She strode over to her horse, untying it, and mounting in an easy, well-practised motion. She urged the horse forward slowly through the forest, the soldier following her to the edge of the forest where he'd left his own mount. Then they rode for the castle at full gallop.
Cenred, you idiot, Morgause thought. It wasn't like him to be heroic so he must have underestimated his opponent. She knew that Cenred was a decent swordsman but not nearly as good as he thought he was – and when he thought he was winning, was reckless to boot. She'd warned him often enough when they duelled to watch his flank.
As long as he was alive when she reached him there was a good chance she could save him with her healing arts – unless, of course, magic was already involved. That would make things more challenging. With any luck it was a simple infection, simple enough for her to cure at any rate.
Not that it mattered, not truly, if he died. He meant nothing to her.
Liar, a small voice inside her whispered.
He provided her with certain resources, that was all.
You appreciate more than his material goods, the voice said traitorously.
He was a means to an end – an attractive means, true enough, she admitted before the internal narrator could taunt her about that too.
He still had value to her and she'd do what she could to save him.
The voice had no argument with that.
They slowed when the horses tired, finally stopping near a river for them to drink and rest. Morgause hated the delay, but there was no point pushing the animals too hard and risk killing them. A dead horse would be a terrible pity, for her horse was a fine, noble, creature; and it would only hinder her further.
The solider – she hadn't asked for his name, didn't care to know it – wrapped himself in his cloak and took advantage of the pause to sleep. Morgause did the same, but propped upright against a tree trunk, feeling safer that way.
The sun was rising toward the tree-tops when she woke. She stepped away into the forest to take care of personal business and then wandered down to the river to wash her hands and face. Feeling refreshed she returned to the makeshift camp where the solider handed her a little over half of his supplies. Nearly stale bread and some cheese wasn't much but it was as welcome as any feast to her in her hunger and while she could have foraged for edible fruits and plants there really wasn't the time. She washed down the meagre meal with half of her waterskin and they set off again.
She hoped the Old Gods would let her reach Cenred in time. He has value to me, she told them silently, and hoped they would listen.
Morgause strode through the stone hallways as if she owned the castle, cloak sweeping the floor behind her. No-one dared to stop her; rather they made sure to stay out of her way, either deferential or fearful.
She reached Cenred's bedchamber and flung the door open. The physician, crouched on a small wooden stool by the fire, almost leapt out of his skin. She glared at him and he stood, summoning as much dignity as he could muster beneath her contemptuous gaze.
"Lady Morgause." The tone didn't match the words of respect but Morgause hated the man and his words had no sting. He thought himself learned, he thought himself skilled and he thought of magic as evil – and women as weak. In truth he was a mediocre healer who'd inherited his position from his far superior predecessor. That he'd been unable to heal Cenred didn't surprise her in the least.
"Morgause?" She turned at Cenred's weak utterance of her name and went over to the bed.
"I'm here," she said, softening her voice and expression. His skin was pale and damp and there were dark circles beneath his eyes. She brushed a strand of hair back from his face, noting the heat that was burning through him. "What happened?"
"Several days ago," the physician began.
Her eyes flashed gold and she swept her gaze over to the physician, her magic sending the stool he'd recently been sat on flying across the room with a fury that made the man duck instinctively. "Silence, charlatan! I did not ask you."
"Lady," he began through gritted teeth. He had more guts than she'd given him credit for, but she hadn't the patience to deal with him.
"Get out," she said and her tone made it clear that obedience was the only option. He gave her a look of contempt but he left, slamming the door behind him.
Morgause unfastened her cloak and threw it to the floor. She climbed onto the bed, kneeling at Cenred's right side.
"What happened?" she asked again. "The messenger said you were wounded."
He nodded as best as he could and put his hand to his chest. "It was little more than a scratch."
Morgause raised one eyebrow. "I need to see it." She pushed back the blankets and carefully drew up his nightshirt. A narrow, but angry red line, the length of her palm marred the flesh just below his heart. She began to tell him this was his own fault for letting his guard down but forced the words back down. Later, when he was in a condition to listen, perhaps.
"It's infected," Cenred said.
"No." Morgause let her fingers trace the area around the wound. Cenred closed his eyes, maybe in pain and maybe even just a little in pleasure at her touch. "More like poison. Many warriors lace their blades with toxins so even a minor wound can cause a lingering death later. Not very noble but certainly effective. Your fool physician has been treating the wrong ailment."
He swallowed painfully. "You can help me?"
"I can try." Morgause shook her head. "Why did you not send for me earlier?"
"You were visiting Morgana. I wouldn't draw you away from her without good cause. In truth it didn't seem that serious an injury at first."
That he recognised and respected the need for her to be with Morgana was unexpected. Despite her promises to herself about the level of involvement she would allow with this man, Morgause's heart warmed at his consideration.
"And I wondered," he went on, despite the effort it required to speak, "if you would even come." A faint smile graced his lips, presumably glad that he'd been proven wrong, before he closed his eyes.
"Well, I am here and probably just in time." Morgause placed one hand on his shoulder and the other just below the wound. She closed her eyes and concentrated. The power welled up within and she focused it with her intent to heal.
In a low voice she recited one of the strongest healing spells she knew, repeating it over and over, three times; then again and again, thrice times three making nine, her voice growing louder and stronger with each repetition. Her hands grew warm and she could feel Cenred's heart near her right hand, feel the poison in his blood being drawn to the surface, feel the magic infuse every part of her. Her eyes flew open on the last syllable of the final repetition of the spell. She lifted her hands, half-turning to point them at the fire. The flames leapt high as she disposed of the tainted energy into their cleansing, destructive, embrace.
She took a few deep breaths to steady herself. It was a powerful working she'd undertaken and she was exhausted but triumphant.
"Cenred," she said, returning her attention to him. Without her attention he would almost certainly have died, but there was a risk that the spell had put too much strain on his weakened body and killed him just as surely, merely more swiftly.
She put one hand on his cheek. The fever was gone, though the dark shadows beneath his eyes remained. He blinked, forcing himself awake, and managed a smile.
"Thank you." He closed his eyes. Morgause smoothed his nightshirt back into place. Let him sleep. He'd recover much faster that way.
She tugged off her boots, dropping them to the floor, and then climbed under the covers, pulling the blankets up around them both. She lay on her left side, cuddled up alongside Cenred, her knees at his hip, her head on his right shoulder. It reminded her of how Morgana had lain on her for support and comfort and she pushed the thought away. She didn't want to think about Morgana now for she hadn't the energy to worry about her beloved sister. She needed sleep almost as much Cenred did. She draped one arm over his chest and closed her eyes, giving in to her exhaustion.
Just before dawn the next day, Cenred woke with a jolt, bringing Morgause awake instantly.
"Cenred," she said, quickly assessing the situation for danger and finding none. She moved her hand slightly, felt his heart pounding against his ribcage. "It's all right."
He nodded. "I was dreaming."
"A side effect of the poison," she said reassuringly. That vivid, even disturbing, dreams might just as easily be attributable to her use of magic to heal him wasn't something he needed to know. "Are you feeling better?"
"Yes." He reached for her hand and pulled it to his lips, kissing her palm. "Blessed healing hands of my beloved lady."
"Such lyricism," she said. "People will think the poison has damaged your mental faculties, such as they are." The insult let her veil her delight at his devotion.
"You saved my life," he said, refusing to be baited. Exchanging barbs was something they often indulged in, but it seemed he wasn't in the mood. He moved to lie on his side, propped up on one elbow. There was lust in his eyes as his gaze travelled down her body. "Let me thank you properly for that."
Morgause smiled and sat up. She began to remove her clothing. Cenred tried to assist or at least it started out that way. His insistence on caressing and kissing every newly exposed path of skin made her disrobing prolonged and difficult. It both excited and frustrated her and she was glad to be finally naked.
She sat, bold and unashamed, and watched with barely disguised need as Cenred slipped off his nightshirt in one simple movement. Morgause bent her head forward to inspect the wound. It had faded significantly, now a pale, slightly raised mark against his skin. It might scar, but she doubted he'd mind that – men often saw scars as badges of honour and she respected that opinion. She ran her fingers over it and then slowly, teasingly, pressed her lips to the imperfection.
Two, three kisses and she'd covered the cut with her lips, only to then flick her tongue against the damaged flesh, drawing a gasp from Cenred that was certainly pleasure and not pain this time. He had his hands in her hair, pressing her closer to him and Morgause knew he wanted her tongue on other parts of his body – and knew she'd oblige him but at her pace.
She wrapped her arms around him, one hand at his back, one at his taut buttocks. "You will pleasure me first," she whispered.
"I shall please you," he said fervently.
He hadn't let her down on that front yet, and despite the fact he was still not at his best, this time was no exception. Once she was satisfied, Morgause willingly gave Cenred the attention and affection he craved from her, bringing him desperately close to climax.
Finally she sat astride him, taking the position of power, determined to not only give him his release but to take a second moment of ecstasy for herself.
When it was over she was almost as exhausted as after working her magic. They were both tired, but this time from the pleasure their bodies had worked for rather than the strain they'd recently experienced. This time however, she didn't huddle alongside him. Instead she got up, the flagstones cold beneath her bare feet, and picked up her discarded clothing.
"Are you leaving?" Cenred lay on his side, a small frown creasing his brow.
"I have other business to attend to."
"Stay." He patted the bed alongside him. "Give me a moment to recover and I will make it worth your while."
She laughed. "You need to fully recover your strength, not keep spending it," she said. "I'll come back."
"What if I relapse?" He flung his head back melodramatically and closed his eyes.
Morgause shook her head as she struggled with her dress. "You are insufferable," she said.
"But you'll stay?" he asked slyly, through half-lidded eyes.
"One more day. Just to be certain you're well." It was a mistake to give in to him, and the reasoning was a lie, but Morgause wasn't too concerned with either of those things right now.
He was a means to an end, but she had grown rather fond of him. And he really did try to please her. There were worse qualities in a man.
She sat on the edge of the bed and he moved to put his head in her lap. She stroked his hair as one might a favoured pet.
"Tell me the future," he said drowsily. He knew she was a seer but what he most wanted, she knew, was to hear of his success. And the more often she told the tale to the people she most cared about, the more likely it seemed that this was the future that would come to be.
"One day soon," she said, in a gentle voice, "Morgana shall be queen of Camelot. And the kingdoms of Camelot and Cenred shall be united as if by blood, and together we shall be unstoppable and will conquer all of Albion…"