Summary: [this chapter] Uther turns his back on God, and Arthur follows in his footsteps
Word Count: 3,021
Pairings: Arthur/Merlin, Uther/Morgana
Warnings: religious themes, but nothing preachy or anything like that. Age differences (Arthur/Merlin – 18/24, Uther/Morgana – 39/26)
Disclaimer: none of this is mine, it all belongs to the BBC and Arthurian Legend.
A/N: First of all, I'd like to give a big GIGANTIC thank you! To my beta dwarfandelf , she is an absolute goddess for putting up with my throwing stories at her out of nowhere, and this story wouldn't be half as brilliant(and grammatically correct/free of bad spelling) if it wasn't for her! :D Secondly I'd like to thank frellen_rocks , who has been my bestest friend, cheerleader, hand-holder and shoulder to cry on/rant at – you're an absolute babe frellen for putting up with my moaning and giving me loads of head-swelling compliments to keep me writing! A giant GIANT thank you to jhava , my artist, who created one of the most spectacular pieces I've seen – I literally couldn't imagine a better piece of art to accompany my story, they were made for each other! I wanna give a big shout out to all the peeps at paperpushers, who have been a great source of inspiration and motivation when I was ready to give up! I'd also like to thank all my non-LJ friends, who had to put up with MONTHS of my moaning, procrastination and blabbering about Merlin! Lastly, I'd like to give a giant thank you to the mods who organised this wonderful fest, you people are absolute stars!
This story was both a joy and a PAIN to write – I've never actually managed to get such a large story written in such a short space of time (I thought I was nearly done at 17,000 words and would just about scrape the 20,000 mark when it just suddenly BLEW up with only 2 weeks to go, leaving me a quivering mess of a writer), and such a personal one too (being Irish and catholic meant that a lot of my personal feelings and opinions ended up in this in one way or another), and I am so glad I decided to take part! This story is quite a lot like life – mostly serious with moments of crack thrown in (the goldfish wake is taken from a RL experience), as I'm unable to write purely in one sort of genre.
Oh and if anyone's interested, Dóchas is the Irish for Hope.
Right, sorry to take up your time! Please read, and I hope you enjoy my story! :D
Arthur's first memories are a mixture of hazy images, sounds and smells, but the one thing that stands out in sharp relief is the image of his father, dressed in his vestments and standing at the pulpit, preaching down at the congregation with determined passion. Arthur remembers sitting at the front of the church with his mother, staring up in awe; not quite understanding the meaning behind the words that washed over him, but being swept away by the emotion behind them none-the-less. Ygraine would wrap her arm around Arthur's shoulder, smile proudly up at Uther and after the service, would always give him a hug and a kiss, and tell her husband that he had done a wonderful job. Those were easy days for Arthur, full of play and church and loving his parents: his mother's serenity balancing out his father's bright passion. That set of memories is one of the best of Arthur's life.
The next set, not so much.
Primarily, Arthur remembers pain and fear, and overwhelming sadness. Then anger.
Arthur was at Sunday School when it happened: Ygraine went to the shop to buy tea bags and biscuits for the women's prayer group meeting, and it was there that a teenage drug addict (Arthur years later found out that her name was Nimueh, and she had attended one of his mother's support groups) held the shop at gunpoint, while she screamed for money to be put in a bag for her. Ygraine tried to talk to her, to calm her down, but the girl was in fits from withdrawal, and it only served to agitate her more. In between shrieks, the girl's hand convulsed and suddenly seized up, causing the gun to go off. The girl grabbed what money she could and scarpered, and Ygraine fell to the ground, her stomach burst open.
Arthur remembers endless days and nights at the hospital on his knees beside his mother's bed.
"Pray Arthur," his father had said, a manic gleam in his eyes. "Pray to God for your mother, that she may be restored and returned to us."
And pray Arthur did. He prayed harder for those three days than he ever did in his entire life, his eyes scrunched up tight, and his lips moving soundlessly. The steady beeping of the machines heralded the passing of time, the monotony broken up sporadically by visitors who brought food and flowers and lots of prayers. But in the end, it was all to be for naught. One day, the beeping sped up, spluttered, and then ground to a dull continuous tone.
"Ygraine? Ygraine darling no, darling come to me, you cannot leave me!" Uther cried out, holding his wife's hand and stroking her face in a panicked manner.
"Mommy?" Arthur asked his eyes wide with confusion. "Mommy what's wrong, are you okay?"
He patted his mother's cheek and shook her arm, while his father sobbed and continued to beg his wife to come back.
"Mommy wake up! Daddy's crying, and you're really good at making him feel better." Arthur pleaded.
The room was suddenly full of people who ripped Arthur from his mother's side and started doing all sorts of strange things to her, while yelling at each other.
"Mommy! Mommy!" Arthur yelled, hot tears of confusion and sadness rolling down his cheeks.
Suddenly, strong arms surrounded him, and Uther murmured to him, "Stay strong Arthur, and pray for your mother."
Arthur and Uther stayed wrapped in each other's arms, and prayed with all their might as the doctors worked frantically to save Ygraine. Eventually though, the hubbub died down.
There was a sigh, and a voice said, "Call it."
"Time of Death, 15.42."
For the next two weeks, Arthur watched in fear as his father fell apart. He refused to get out of bed, refused to eat, and took to heavy drinking. At night, he was storming about the house, ranting and raving.
"I gave you everything! I gave you my life, my love, my devotion, and you take away the one thing I ask you not to! YOU BASTARD!"
Arthur generally curled up in bed, surrounded by his teddies during these times, and would try to block it all out.
One night, Uther crept into the room, eyes feverish and a crazy smile in place.
"Arthur, Arthur my boy, come with me. There's something we must do."
Petrified, Arthur tried to shrink away, but Uther got a hold of his arm, and dragged him out to the back door, where a fire was blazing. Nearby, was a pile of bibles and religious books, and a second pile of Uther's vestments. Uther picked up a bible and handed it to Arthur, who looked at it with trepidation.
"God is evil and cruel and merciless Arthur, we must purge him from our lives."
Not wanting to displease his father, Arthur shuffled even closer to the fire and tossed the book in, wincing as it hissed and crackled. Uther laughed and clapped his hands.
"Well done my boy!"
Encouraged, Arthur smiled and picked up another book, while Uther picked up a robe. Together they threw them in. Uther danced around the fire, and Arthur laughed, delighted to see his father so cheerful. Father and son continued to throw books and clothes into the fire, until everything was gone. Uther stared down at the fire, and then suddenly ripped his collar off, crushed it in his hand and threw it in. He then gathered Arthur up in his arms.
"It's over now son." He crooned. "We're free."
Arthur smiled, nodded and yawned; tucking his head into his father's shoulder as Uther carried him to bed.
The next day, Uther was clean-shaven and looking normal again, minus his white collar. He greeted Arthur as usual, made him breakfast, and then informed his son that they were moving to a new home. Arthur was too happy to have his father back to care, though he did catch himself staring at the man sometimes, wondering what difference it was that he couldn't see. It wasn't until years later that Arthur would realise that the warm passion, which had graced his father, was now replaced with a cold bitterness.
Uther had everything sorted within the week, and that's how Arthur found himself in a tiny blink-and-you'll-miss-it town in the west of Ireland.
At first, things are the same for Arthur – Uther opens a bookshop in the middle of town, and though he no longer wears his collar or vestments, Arthur's days are still languid and happy. However, there are differences.
Come autumn, Arthur must start school, where he makes friends, learns a new language, and for half an hour every day, gets the go to a different classroom for colouring. The teachers never seem happy about this, muttering about how it's, "Unholy, depriving the child of his faith," but Arthur is more focused on deciding what he would draw to think about what they are saying. The biggest change to Arthur's life is that he no longer goes to mass. At first, this is brilliant – no more itchy shirts with tight trousers, no more getting up early on a Sunday. Sure, Arthur feels a little left out when his friends in school all talk about how they sat together in mass and told jokes, but he consoles himself with the knowledge that he has more freedom than they do. This freedom comes at a price though; at age six, when his class is going to make their First Communion, Arthur goes to his father to ask him why he's not allowed to take part in it with his friends.
"Because neither God nor religion has a place in our lives," Uther replies in a cold tone, not looking up from his accounts book.
"Because God is cruel and unjust, and anything that encourages the worship of such a demon is corrupt and vile."
Uther sighs in obvious frustration, and then fixes a steely gaze on his son as he asks, "Arthur, how much did you love you mother?"
"I loved her with all my heart." Arthur replies honestly.
"God knew that," Uther says darkly, taking hold of Arthur's shoulder in a vice-like grip. "He knew that we loved her and needed her, and he took her from us anyway. He left us alone and bereft. That is why you should hate him Arthur, that is why I never want to hear God or religion spoken of again."
"Yes father," Arthur whispers, trying to wriggle out of Uther's grip. "I'm sorry."
"You're forgiven," Uther replies in a monotonous voice, letting go of him and immediately burying his head in his book again.
Like many children, the passage of time to Arthur is such that Ygraine is a nostalgic memory, which he prefers not to talk about. However, once her name and memory are brought back up again, he can't help but weep as he remembers her gentle presence, her smiles and hugs and care that only a mother can give. And, as he remembers how she was taken away, his heart hardens, and he swears never to think or speak fondly of God again.
This time, when he's taken out of class he understands why, and when the teachers mutter, he replies that he'd rather not waste his time on corruptible nonsense, which leads to more muttering and threats to call his father, but Arthur knows that his father terrifies them, and so, continues to provoke them. He takes to drawing himself and the Earth surrounded by black, entitling them, "Alone In This Universe," and tells anyone who'll listen that God isn't real. This quite often leads to Arthur being put in the corner or sent out of the room, but he loftily declares that he'd rather not be around, "fraud believers," anyway.
Arthur is eight when Morgana joins him and Uther; she turns up on their doorstep one night, a pale, drowned slip of sixteen years, who also turns out to be very angry and spiteful. She babbles for ten minutes straight about her father and death and a bunch of nonsense Arthur can't understand, before bursting into loud tears, burying her head in Uther's chest, and angrily declaring God, "an absolute shite," and that she never wants to even think about him. Uther welcomes her to stay, promising he'll take care of her, and so their angry God-hating family is complete.
Arthur learns that Morgana's father, Gorlois, and his, were best friends, and even went to the same seminary, before Gorlois moved to Ireland while Uther stayed in England. Morgana's mother died during childbirth, and Gorlois had used his faith to keep himself and his daughter strong, but when he died from a heart attack, Morgana went mad with grief, and remembering her father tell her about Uther and his own hatred, had run away and tracked him down. Arthur, never having had a sibling, doesn't know what to make of her – Morgana has a sharp tongue and a sarcastic nature – but all too soon, they fall into a natural pattern of bickering and being extremely competitive, while getting along extremely well despite the age difference.
As Arthur grows, he learns the art of sneering and cutting remarks from Morgana, and bitterness and hatred from Uther. His inner dislike of God evolves into outright bullying of anyone who opposes his beliefs. He takes to openly condemning anyone who believes in God or practises religion, so much so that he ends up isolating himself from most of the community. A few boys though, sick of the repressed Catholic nature of the town, immediately gravitate towards him, and the band of boys run amuck through the town, causing trouble and being "unholy terrors." Uther receives many complaints about his son, but simply shakes his head and replies, "Boys will be boys," and later share a laugh with Arthur over his antics. Lately, Morgana has taken to shaking her head and frowning disapprovingly at him. Arthur doesn't know what's going on with her, other than now that she's twenty-two, she's decided to be grown up and mature, aka "shove a stick up her arse."
One day, after Arthur and his friends wrote over the board outside the church so that the sermon of the mass was, "Why bother: God doesn't even know you exist," Morgana turns to him and hisses, "Nach bhfuil aon cineal i do cheann?"
"English only at the dinner table please." Uther chastises, as he dishes out the potatoes.
"Sorry." Morgana apologies. "I was asking Arthur if there was any sense in his head."
"Because of what he and his goons did." Morgana snaps. "Vandalism is cruel and unnecessary."
"Telling the truth is always necessary. Arthur was perfectly reasonable doing what he did."
Arthur smirks and sticks his tongue out at Morgana, who glowers at him, before immediately zoning back in on Uther.
"They don't push their beliefs on us, why should we push our beliefs on them?"
"Mine is not a belief, it is a truth." Uther snaps icily.
"No, to YOU it's a truth, just like to priests, their God is a truth." Morgana replies just as icily.
"Enough!" Uther roars, "You will not speak of that in my house!"
"Just because you don't like what I'm saying doesn't mean you can turn into a tyrant on me." Morgana shouts back. "It's one thing to have a lack of faith and a dislike of God, but to possess an outright hatred of anyone who even says the word is pure madness!"
"I will not stand for this insolence," Uther growls. "Get out of my sight."
"With pleasure," Morgana says nastily, before pushing her chair back and storming off.
"Brat," Uther mutters stubbornly.
"Sycophantic maniac!" Morgana yells, before the door to her room slams shut.
The whole time they have been fighting, Arthur frowns down at his potatoes and tries to inconspicuously eat his dinner. These fights between Morgana and Uther have become more and more frequent lately. They had started about two years ago, when Morgana had, as a laugh, taken up a philosophy module as part of her English and Music degree. Suddenly, she was all about, "opening my mind to all possibilities, to examine everything about myself, to question all I can." It turned out that this questioning included questioning every single one of Uther's opinions and beliefs. At first, Uther was delighted, jumping right into the spirit of the debate, and for a brief, shining moment, Arthur caught a glimpse of the bright, passionate man he thought he had only dreamt of. But then, religion was mentioned. Uther immediately shut up and refused to speak about it, and when Morgana pushed him about it, he roared at her, prompting her to roar back, and the two would be left red-faced and glaring at each other. They could never stay mad at each other though, and Arthur would often find them hours after a fight, hugging or curled up together on the sofa, apologising wordlessly, both too proud to say anything aloud. At first, Arthur found it amusing, but now, he's sick and tired of it, and wishes they would just learn to live in peace with each other.
"Ignore Morgana," Uther says smoothly, after a few minutes of silence. "She's just…being difficult. Women's problems or something like that, I would imagine."
Arthur "hmms," and nods, concentrating on swallowing past the lump in his throat that is the horror of hearing his father utter the words "women's problems."
Father and son finish their meal in relative silence, and as they clean up, Uther clears his throat and in a very awkward tone, suggests to Arthur that perhaps vandalism isn't entirely proper. Arthur bites back the argument bubbling on the tip of his tongue and simply nods. As he's going to his room later on, Morgana's door opens, and she pokes her head out to smirk at him and stick her tongue out, before disappearing back inside.
Most of the time, Arthur thinks that Morgana is a bit of a nut-bag, but there are times, if he's being honest with himself, he admits she's got a point. Arthur has seen Uther go absolutely batshit insane over his hatred of God, and there are times Arthur wonders if maybe Uther's lack of faith has cost him something precious.
When Arthur's sixteen, he's going through some of his father's old things, looking for anything useful for a fancy dress party, when he finds an old photograph of Ygraine, Uther, and his toddler self. His younger self is pulling a face, while Uther and Ygraine are laughing at the camera. Arthur stares at the photo, something tightening in his chest at the sight of his mother, so beautiful and ALIVE, and his father, looking so young and carefree. The Uther in this picture is relaxed and completely happy, and Arthur has trouble reconciling this image with the father he has now, who is constantly frowning, and who's eyes are bitter and slightly dead looking. Looking over the picture, Arthur's stomach clenches when he spies his father's white collar and it hits him: that was Uther when he had faith in God. As stubborn as Uther is when it comes to his disbelief, and as vindictive as he is about his feelings towards God, Arthur truly wonders if maybe Uther was better off with his blind faith. This leads him to wondering what his life might have been like if he had been raised by a faith-filled father. Would he have been happy living ignorant of God's true cruelty? Would he still have felt alone or abandoned, or would he be stronger believing that there was always someone with him? As much as he would like to daydream, or talk to someone about his ideas about faith, Arthur knows what he knows and feels far too set in his way to ever truly change. He does however, stop actively condemning people, and keeps his lack of faith to himself, earning grateful smiles and puzzled looks from Morgana and Uther respectively.