The Willow Tree
Arthur didn't want a sister. He didn't want a cousin. He didn't want a companion. But the steely glare in his father's eyes stopped him from arguing and the small dark-haired girl followed the young prince dutifully from the Throne Room.
They walked in silence through the corridors of the castle eventually reaching the entrance. Arthur paused and turned to the silent girl beside him.
"I could show you my tree if you want." He offered graciously. Morgana shrugged which annoyed Arthur immensely. "I don't have to show you, you know." He snapped but when she didn't answer he pouted sulkily and began walking. As he expected, Morgana followed him.
Arthur's tree was in a clearing in the thick woods behind the castle. He led the way in confidently, not bothering to check that the girl was following him but knowing instinctively that she was. When they reached the overhanging willow tree; a loner in a group of old oaks he stood below it proudly and defiantly turned to Morgana.
"This is my willow tree." He announced. His childish face was open and proud, expecting the strange little girl to say something. After all, none of Arthur's friends knew he had his own tree. Morgana should be honoured that Arthur had showed her.
"Well?" He demanded childishly. Morgana's wide green eyes glittered but then she spoke quietly in a high, thin voice.
"Can we climb it?"
Arthur hesitated. He hadn't really climbed the tree before. It had been enough for him to stand and survey it from below. But there was something in Morgana's eyes; her amber eyes that sparkled in a challenge and he found himself reluctant to say no.
When he nodded she did not smile but her eyes widened slightly and she approached the willow determinedly. Arthur watched her warily. He knew he would be punished if his new 'sister' fell and hurt herself. And what if she started to cry?
But Morgana hauled herself up with heaves and pants and when she was settled in the crook of the strong upper branches she called down to Arthur to join her. Wanting to show her that he could climb as well as her Arthur grasped the branches and began to pull himself up, his feet dangling dangerously whenever a thin branch broke beneath his feet. When he got high enough Morgana leaned down and helped him despite his protests. Then they sat together in the branches, hidden from the world by the willow's leaves.
Arthur thought he should say something to comfort the girl. After all, his father had said that her own father had been killed and she had no mother, just like him. His tutor and the king were always reminding him that no matter how young he was, he still had duties and responsibilities as the prince. Maybe his father would consider Morgana one of Arthur's duties?
When he had decided to say something Arthur turned to face Morgana awkwardly. She stared at him. "I'm...sorry, about your...father." Arthur mumbled, blushing in case she thought he was being soft. He regretted his words a moment later when tears filled her oddly green eyes. No! He thought wildly, what should I do?
"I know Uther has only taken me here because he wants my father's land and money," Morgana mumbled, her voice marred with tears. Arthur avoided her gaze but awkwardly patted her long hair. "He'll keep me here until he can claim everything and then he'll marry me off to some old lord from nowhere and I'll cry myself to sleep every night." The tears were still falling and Arthur was desperate to make them stop. This, he thought, is why I didn't want a sister. Then he remembered Morgana was not really his sister and an idea came to his young, naive mind.
"You can marry me if you want." He suddenly offered. It worked to his delight; Morgana stopped crying for a minute and her eyes met his incredulously.
"You?" She asked.
"If you want." Replied Arthur beginning to feel a bit embarrassed in case she started to laugh at him.
Morgana seemed to consider it for a moment before smiling timidly. She nodded slowly and startled Arthur by reaching for him and hugging him tightly. "Do you promise?" She asked seriously.
He nodded firmly. "On my honour as a knight."
Now she giggled a little. "But you're not a knight!"
He stiffened a little insulted. "I will be one day!"
She smiled. "Then you'll have to promise again when you are one."
They became the best of friends after that first afternoon in the willow tree. They argued and fought like wild animals and bickered of course but after a few months Arthur began to forget what life had been like before Morgana had come to Camelot. They went to the willow tree every day if they could...it was their secret place and Arthur had made Morgana swear solemnly she would never tell anyone about it.
"Why does your father shout at you so much?" Morgana asked one afternoon whilst they sat at the bottom of the willow tree. They had sneaked out of their lessons and had escaped to the woods as was their habit. Sometimes they talked...sometimes they fought or played and sometimes...they sat and listened to the wood living around them.
Arthur shrugged. "I'm not good enough. He wants me to be worthy to be his son and I'm not."
Morgana was surprised; her girlish lips open. "Don't you mind?"
"No." But that wasn't true. When the two of them had done something particularly naughty or sneaked off for a very long time and Uther had yelled himself hoarse at them (they stood before him, heads bowed and hands clasped in each other's) they would be sent to bed and told to go to sleep. When it got dark Morgana would crawl into Arthur's room and they would lie in his bed, curled up together. Morgana might cry and Arthur would hold her hand. Sometimes Arthur would cry, remembering the look of disgust and disappointment on the king's face...but he would never let Morgana see. They would fall asleep together letting the nurse find them in the morning.
On one such night they weren't tired and Uther had been so angry that Arthur thought he might hit him. He had clutched Morgana's hand so tightly she winced but she didn't let him go. When it was over they ran away and this time Morgana saw the tears in Arthur's boyish, bright blue eyes.
"Don't worry," She murmured. "He still loves you."
"No he doesn't." Sniffed Arthur quietly. "He never does."
"Wait until you're big and win tournaments and kill monsters then he'll love you." Reasoned Morgana with an eight year old girl's logic.
"That won't be for ages!" Moaned Arthur burying his face in his pillow half in hurt and half in shame. He could sense Morgana's pity and he hated it.
They lay in silence for a few minutes. Arthur felt Morgana shift and then her hands were on his forehead, smoothing it gently. It was a strange, alien gesture to him but he liked it. She hummed softly, tunelessly; a comforting sound. He felt his tearstained, bitter eyes close but just before sleep claimed him, he asked Morgana (it was the sort of question he would only ever dream of asking Morgana), "Is this what my mother would do?"
"Yes," Whispered Morgana gently. "My mother used to sing to me when I was little too."
"Will you sing something to me?" There was such raw desperation in his voice that young as she was, Morgana didn't have the heart to tease him. Instead she began quietly singing; an old Irish lullaby that her Gaelic mother had sung in the warm years before her death when Morgana was five years old.
And as Morgana sang softly by Arthur's head and the unknown words in the rich, faerie language entered his dreams Arthur knew he loved Morgana and that he always would.
Morgana would sing and she had dancing lessons as well as the academic ones she shared with Arthur. For a girl of ten years, she was an extremely accomplished dancer and musician according to her music teacher. Arthur snorted rudely when he heard this and Morgana swatted at him.
"Well Morgana, as you've proven yourself so dedicated to this," Beamed Uther proudly. "What would you like for a reward?" So it had always been. Uther couldn't deny his pretty little ward anything. At first Arthur had resented this but when Morgana always asked for things she could share with him he stopped feeling annoyed and glad that his father so obviously adored the girl.
Morgana was still his best friend...his sister...his love. To ten year old Arthur it was the most natural thing in the world to love Morgana...she was real and solid and ordinary; he didn't know how to not love her.
They still visited the willow tree when they could but it was harder now. Arthur had begun sword fighting lessons as well as archery, horse riding (something Morgana also had) and was being trained to take up his place as a knight of Camelot in less than six years. Morgana had her dancing lessons, her singing instruction and embroidery sessions which she hated. She was never happier than in a borrowed pair of Arthur's shorts and a shirt climbing the ever present willow tree on a summer afternoon. Years later when she remembered her childhood, she would always remember the eternal sunshine as she and Arthur clambered around the tree, faces burnt brown by the summer and legs strong from exercise...laughter in the air and smiles in the earth.
Thinking suddenly of the willow tree Morgana answered Uther, "Could Arthur and I have a day's holiday?"
Uther frowned, considering. Arthur looked up, expectant and hopeful. Seeing his son's eager expression Uther laughed and agreed to the children's delight. They ran out of the castle, whooping for joy and headed for the sanctuary.
"Thanks!" Called Arthur as he reached the tree first and swung himself up. Morgana reached the branches a little later, panting but with strength enough to follow Arthur swiftly up into the heart of the tree.
"We haven't been here for a long time!" She remarked breathlessly looking around in the green foliage.
"Guess what!" Arthur suddenly remembered something. "My father said he might assemble a junior tournament for all of my friends and me!" Expecting Morgana to be impressed he was surprised and a little irritated when she laughed mockingly.
"What's the point of that?" She asked scathingly. Arthur bristled. Why did she always have to do that? Make out that anything he thought was good actually wasn't.
"To test us, obviously."
"So...why do you need to be tested?"
Arthur rolled his eyes. "Honestly Morgana, are you stupid? I know you're Irish and a girl but..."
He didn't get any further. Morgana's green eyes flashed with fire and she pushed him violently. "What do you mean; I'm Irish and a girl?" She demanded angrily.
Arthur smirked. "Well...Irish people are famous for not being very clever. And girls don't understand anything that matters to the kingdom."
With a growl Morgana leapt at Arthur and suddenly they were suspended in air for a second before both plummeted to the ground with a loud thump. Both had the breath knocked out of them and Arthur's back ached horribly but then Morgana was hitting him, shrieking and shouting wildly.
They had always fought like beasts by the tree and it was not the first time they had fallen out of the tree for fighting. They kicked and punched and poked and pinched and whacked and bit and scratched. Arthur pulled Morgana's hair causing her to cry out in pain so she bit his arm and he whimpered as her teeth left raw scarlet marks on his white skin.
They would fight until they were exhausted; as they did this time. Both slumped to the ground breathing heavily; sweat drenching their faces and redness, blood, bruises and swollen lumps adorning their bodies. There was hardly ever a clear winner but Morgana knew she was right this time. As she always did.
"Apologise." She demanded when she got her breath back.
"What?" Arthur laughed.
"Apologise!" She shouted. "You insulted my country and me! I'd rather be in Ireland than here so there!"
"Everyone knows Ireland's inferior to Albion." Insisted Arthur quoting a council meeting he'd overheard once.
"Take that back!"
It looked dangerously close to a fight again but then Morgana sniffed primly and turned away from Arthur.
"Your father told me that knights always apologise to ladies after confrontations." She taunted subtly. Morgana knew Arthur hated to think he wasn't worthy to be a knight. It worked. He stiffened, swallowed and held out his hand to Morgana who observed it haughtily.
"I'm sorry Morgana," He began quietly, avoiding her gaze. "Irish people aren't stupid...and you're all right...for a girl."
Satisfied, the victorious Morgana shook Arthur hand heartily. They smiled at each other warmly, the best of friends once again.
"Do I have to Father?" Moaned Arthur. Uther had told him that Morgana wished to sing for them that evening; she'd been practising for weeks apparently and the music teacher had professed her singing to be magnificent.
"Yes Arthur!" Ordered his father as Morgana entered the great hall happily to the applause of the court. "You're thirteen; act your age please."
Arthur scowled; his adolescent frame awkward and gangly but his face still holding the remnants of childishness with his too full lips and soft skin; a feature he was determined to rid himself of as soon as possible. Soft skin was for ladies and children; not the future king.
Morgana had her music teacher play the piano as she began the song. Within the first few words, Arthur was smitten. The song was hauntingly beautiful; melancholy and passionate; ethereal (dare he say magical?) and simply perfect...simply Morgana.
When it was over and the adoring court applauded her stunning song and voice she smiled happily; giving Arthur a small grin. He had had no idea she was such a beautiful singer. No idea at all.
"Well...what did you think?" Morgana hissed as she took her place and Uther stood to begin the banquet. Arthur had no words to describe how her voice had touched his soul and claimed it forever...so he shrugged and took a sip of his goblet.
Hurt and surprised that he didn't even say anything Morgana looked away. She was strong...so she forgave him but despite all the praise and compliments showered on her singing by the knights and ladies of the court...Morgana vowed never to sing again. And she did not.
"Race you!" Laughed Morgana to the wind as she sped past Arthur on her new horse. He laughed and urged his stallion forward. They thundered down the path and through the woodland; hooves pounding mercilessly on the dry, cracked brown earth. The gleaming sun filtered through the green leaves of the trees; making Morgana's skin glow in the airy light. Arthur couldn't help noticing as he cantered behind her although he tried valiantly not to.
Morgana won the race of course. She trotted on her beautiful mare Honour to the shimmering lakeside, bordered by the tall, proud fir trees in the hidden depths of the dark oak wood. She and Arthur had discovered this lake about a year ago and had used it for swimming ever since. Sometimes she wished they hadn't; she missed the willow tree but they hardly seemed to go there anymore now they had even more courtly duties to attend to and the pleasure of the lake competing with the familiar comfort of the tree.
She dismounted gracefully as Arthur skidded into the clearing on Bolt; his muscled, soldier-like stallion. He jumped off the horse, tied him up next to Honour at a nearby tree and gazed out over the lake.
"Not the same as the willow tree is it?" He remarked abruptly, turning to gaze at Morgana pensively who smiled.
"Just what I was thinking." She replied. "Maybe next time we should go back to the tree?"
"Mm." Agreed Arthur. "If we ever get the time again."
"We will!" Insisted Morgana optimistically. "Uther can't keep us locked up all of the time." They laughed and stared out over the water contentedly.
Morgana moved to her bag and she stood, waiting for Arthur to turn around so she could take her gown off. He didn't notice; staring out over the lake still. Morgana cleared her throat pointedly and he started; his gaze turning to her.
"Arthur, would you do me the honour of turning around?" She laughed teasingly.
He rolled his eyes and turned his back on her so she could change. "Don't worry Morgana I have no particular wish to see you naked anytime soon."
She laughed but told him to be quiet. He obeyed her and the only sound for a few moments was the swish and stumbles of Morgana as she unclipped her skirts and put an extra under shift on over her day one. She coughed when she was ready and Arthur smiled wryly.
"Now can you turn around?" He asked dryly.
Morgana raised her eyebrows. "Arthur, believe me...I was just about to." She turned and he swiftly stripped down to his breeches. He was almost sixteen now and proud of his muscled body. A few years ago; in the awkward stages of early puberty Arthur would never have let Morgana see his thin, bony chest but now all his training had paid off.
Arthur made his way to the water and waded in quickly until it was up to his thighs. The splashing sound alerted Morgana that he was ready and she turned too; racing to the lake and splashing in noisily to match Arthur. Laughing like the little children they once were they held hands as they plunged further and further in the bracing, clear water.
Suddenly Arthur ducked under the lake and emerged shivering; his blond hair plastered to his head with water and droplets clinging to his eyelashes. Morgana laughed hysterically until he began to tickle her and she collapsed into the lake. For a moment it was confusion; the flickering under the water, the far off sounds of Arthur's muffled laughter and her own thoughts inside her head...then she surfaced; the freezing water collecting on her face like a second skin. Her shift was stuck to her skin so she pulled it away impatiently not noticing Arthur's eyes on her.
Morgana turned away and began to swim into the middle of the lake; the harsh movements countering the cold water slightly. Arthur followed her until they couldn't stand and they tread water, facing each other content to be silent until there was something to say. Then Arthur thought of something that he had not stopped thinking about for some time. Something he had promised to do when he was eight years old. Something he needed to remind Morgana of.
"Morgana?" He began hesitantly...what if she'd forgotten? It was a long time ago.
"I'm to become a knight on my sixteenth birthday."
"Yes I remember Uther telling me." She'd always been beautiful to Arthur and the rest of the world but now she was as a goddess; long, drenched raven-black hair drifting like seaweed around her pale, bare shoulders...serious green eyes (the ones he remembered from childhood) surveying him lazily.
"Well...I will be able to say...on my honour as a knight then." He finished quietly leaving his pride in her hands. There was silence but when he looked at her; her eyes were full of the innocence of childhood.
"So you will." She replied carelessly, meaninglessly but her eyes were dark with remembrance and she smiled tenderly at him before a wicked glint entered her expression and she pushed a wave of water at him before pulling away, laughing.
He laughed too and they had a water fight like they always did but the darkness of her eyes haunted his mind. He loved how intense it had briefly made her look; how it had made him feel as if she might possibly, ever love him in return.
They still slept in the same bed sometimes. But now it wasn't because of Uther but because of Morgana herself. When she was about eleven she had started having nightmares. Uther assumed it was because of her father's death and Morgana did not contradict him. She would scream in the middle of the night; Arthur would wake and would come to her wanting only to make her better. She would ask him to stay with her and he would always say yes. So he held her as she drifted back to sleep, relishing the feel of her warmness and softness and the way she fitted perfectly in his arms but never saying anything.
They never spoke of Morgana's nightmares in the morning; she didn't want them to darken her days as well as her nights. And Arthur always made sure he had left her room before her maid came to wake her...he knew they were not ten years old anymore and if his father knew...it didn't bear thinking about. But then Morgana had a new maid; a quiet, dark-skinned girl called Gwen who arranged flowers, brushed Morgana's hair and washed her dresses to Arthur's eyes but did so much more. It was when Morgana accidentally mentioned how much Gwen helped her at night with her dreams that Arthur felt the cold, sharp shock of realisation hit him: he had been replaced.
"We'd better go back." Morgana's voice interrupted his musings. The water was still cold and he was uncomfortable now he realised; the sun had gone behind a cloud and it must have been later than they thought. They swam out of the lake, dripping and drenched but happy. Automatically they turned away from each other to get dressed and dry before mounting their horses and riding quickly back to the castle. They talked on the way back...about nothing, about everything. Morgana had always loved talking to Arthur; he could be arrogant, conceited, big-headed and annoying but when he wasn't; he was perfect.
"Morgana...wake up!" Hissed Arthur. It was the middle of the night; everything was silent and dark. She mumbled in her sleep but did not wake. Impatiently he shook her arm and she sat bolt upright, abruptly awake.
"Who is it?" She demanded.
"It's me, Arthur." She visibly relaxed.
"What is it?" She asked swinging her legs out of bed and standing next to him, peering up into his face; lit by the pale moonlight.
"Come and see this." He took her hand and began to lead her out of the room but she resisted.
"Let me put my shoes and cloak on."
He nodded and she quickly did so before following him out of the room. As she had suspected they came to the castle doors; slipping out and sneaking to the woods. They'd done it before; gone to the willow tree in the dead of night but not for a few years. She smiled as they reached the tree and he knelt by it, beckoning her to do the same.
There, engraved in a small heart were their initials; A + M. Stunned into silence Morgana stared at the letters inside the heart carved with Arthur's knife. She didn't know what it meant; if it meant what she thought it might mean.
"Oh Arthur..." She sighed tenderly eventually. He perused her face anxiously.
"Don't you like it?" He asked.
"I do like it." She answered honestly. "It's beautiful."
"Morgana...tomorrow...you know it's my sixteenth birthday."
"The day you formally become a knight." Morgana finished for him. Arthur nodded silently. "When you can give me your word as a knight," She smiled slightly. It seemed like an age away that he had promised she could marry him. It had seemed like the underlying promise behind all these years; the moment they had both been waiting for. Morgana did not think she could name a man she would rather marry than Arthur...could not name a man who knew her better or who she loved more but she did not want him to think he had to promise himself to her. She did not want him to feel trapped.
The next day was all that it had promised to be. Morgana stood on Uther's left and watched proudly as Arthur knelt before the king and finally, was knighted. He rose, Arthur Pendragon; Knight of Camelot and Defender of the Kingdom. He gazed gravely, proudly round at the court that applauded him but for Morgana, he grinned nervously.
That evening there was the feast in honour of Arthur's birthday and knighthood. Morgana was forced that afternoon to endure the company of the ladies whilst they discussed the day and the highly eligible prince.
"Who will you go to the feast with Lady Morgana?" Asked the foolish, giggling Lady Elena.
Morgana stared at her in surprise. "With Arthur of course." She had always gone with Arthur. It was their unspoken agreement to always go together; so they would never be alone. "Why would there be someone else?"
Lady Elena giggled. "This is different, Morgana! The prince will be expected to take a lady who he might possibly marry one day! He can't take his father's ward to his sixteenth birthday feast!"
Morgana was going to argue but decided against it. It wasn't worth it. But as the ladies gossiped and mused about who Arthur would ask a needle of doubt pierced her. What if Arthur asked someone else? What if he didn't want to ask Morgana? What if she was left alone whilst he was with Lady Elena or someone equally as ridiculous?
Panicking suddenly, Morgana stood abruptly and left the chamber to the surprise of the court ladies.
Meanwhile Arthur had been talking to his friend Sir Leon; a boy he had known since Sir Leon's father Sir Davis had come to Camelot when Leon was eleven. He was a year older than Arthur but respected the boy as his future king. Leon had been knighted a couple of months ago and had been Arthur's source of information concerning how he should act now he was a Knight of Camelot.
"So who will you ask to the banquet?" Arthur asked curiously. Leon had previously expressed interest in a girl called Lady Selena but she had left Camelot for Mercia a few weeks ago with her father.
Leon considered. "If I didn't think your father would mind too much, I would have asked the Lady Morgana. As it is, I'll probably ask Lady Ana."
"What?" Arthur demanded, shocked.
Leon stared at him in surprise. "Don't tell me you don't think she should ever have any male company either. You know what the king's like."
"You wanted to ask Morgana?"
"Well...yes," Admitted Leon. "She's very beautiful. Even you must have noticed."
"That's not the point," Arthur was almost shouting and had the sudden desire to stab Leon through the heart. "You know I always accompany Morgana to banquets."
"You won't be with this one though will you?" Asked Leon in confusion.
"Everyone expects you to take someone like Olivia or Elena or Viola. One of the ladies who have a good chance of being the queen one day."
Arthur was silent as he digested this. He smiled wryly. No one knew that the only lady he could ever think of as his queen was the one they all thought he would discard.
"Does Morgana know this?" He asked.
"She's with Lady Elena isn't she?" Arthur nodded in confirmation. "Then yes, she will now."
Sickly dread filled Arthur's heart. If Morgana thought Arthur wouldn't ask her she might have accepted someone else already. If Leon thought she was beautiful then that meant other men would think so too. Abruptly Arthur left the room and stormed down the corridor leaving Leon in complete confusion.
As Morgana wandered through the castle she came across young Sir Louis. She smiled at him and made to walk past but he stopped her.
"My lady?" He called.
She stopped and walked back to him curiously. "Yes?"
He swallowed as though he was nervous. He was about eighteen with long brown curly hair and sharp grey eyes. His features were sharp and his lips were thin but he was a good-looking man.
"I was wondering if you would do me the great honour of accompanying me to the banquet." He blushed a deep, painful red and she pitied him. She was just about to refuse him kindly, saying she was already going with somebody but then Lady Elena's words raced through her head, "The prince will be expected to take a lady who he might possibly marry one day! He can't take his father's ward to his sixteenth birthday feast!"
Smiling warmly at the eager Sir Louis she inclined her head gracefully, "I would love to." His eyes sharpened in delight and he pressed his dry, thin lips to her hand before bouncing off. Watching him leave, a ghost of a smile on her tired lips, Morgana wondered why it felt so much like she was betraying Arthur.
Arthur had not been able to find Morgana and the time for the feast was here. Ignoring the mounting feel of iron dread in his heart he attempted to convince himself Morgana would have waited for him. But the worst feeling was, he didn't know if she would or not.
He entered the banquet hall with his father as the guests smiled and clapped. Inclining his head Arthur scanned the hall for Morgana but he couldn't see her.
She was a little late but what he saw when she entered the hall made his heart stop. She was on the arm of Sir Louis Redcrow. The unworthy, skinny little idiot, Arthur thought furiously watching them feeling white hot anger pulse through his veins. How could she? How could she...
Then she caught his glance and he held it, his eyes showing what he felt. She had the grace to blush but did not come to him. Fine. Arthur stormed over to the simpering Lady Mora. She was generally considered a pretty girl; she was seventeen with soft, white skin, thick dark red hair and wide light blue eyes that had lashes that curled beautifully under. He forced a genteel smile to his mouth as he approached her. Her stupid friends giggled and the lady herself pretended to blush.
Arthur fought the urge to grimace. "Lady Mora, I know it's late but would you accompany me?"
As he had expected she swooned a little and giggled a lot but finally accepted and took his arm with her claws. Morgana pretended not to watch as Arthur pretended not to watch her. In the end all night long all they did was watch each other.
That night Morgana had a nightmare. She'd been lucky recently; she hadn't had one for months but this one was particularly vivid. It was Arthur, of course it was and she had murdered him...purposely, deliberately, cold-bloodedly. She had woken shaking and weeping calling for Gwen before remembering it was the night Gwen slept at her home in the lower town. Suddenly she remembered nights in another life when she would go to someone else for comfort from her dreams. Arthur had held her and she had felt safe enough to sleep once more.
Before she could think she had left her room and was hurrying down the corridors to the once familiar room that was Arthur's. When she reached his chamber door she paused, her brain finally catching up with her heart. But her heart won and the door creaked open as she pushed it open carefully.
Arthur's breathing filled the room completely. It was always a comforting sound for Morgana. He was always real and solid and it had been completely natural for her to love him since she had been eight years old. She came to his bed and stood, looking down at him for a moment before bending and whispering his name.
He was a light sleeper and woke immediately. Morgana's face was illuminated in the moonlight and he swore she had never been more beautiful (unless at that day in the lake). But then he remembered the evening; her betrayal of him and her choice and his heart hardened.
"What do you want?" He demanded.
She flinched at his tone but began to speak. "I had a nightmare..."
He was silent. "Arthur...it was...it was horrible."
"It was just a dream Morgana. Go back to bed." He settled back in his bed again, turning away from her. Her heart was pierced with the pain of a thousand arrows. She contemplated screaming at him but the cold, empty silence of the night and rejection chilled her and she shivered but she could not scream. Silently she left. Arthur, tears sliding down his face and soaking the pillow did not sleep. He doubted if he ever would again.
The morning was rainy. Morgana did not want to wake; if she slept she could pretend that last night had been a horrible dream...that the past five years had been a dream and she was now waking up and she was ten years old again and she loved Arthur simply because he was Arthur not because he was a man and not because she loved him and not because she thought he had loved her –
"My lady?" Gwen's voice, soft and kind as it had always been, was intrusive but Morgana smiled.
"Good morning Gwen." What a lie.
"How did you sleep?"
"Oh, it was all right." Another lie.
"I thought of you all night!" Poor, sweet Gwen. She began to arrange Morgana's clothes for the day and pulled back the curtains to show the grey, bleak sky; matching Morgana. "I didn't get a wink of sleep myself!"
"Gwen, don't worry about me." Insisted Morgana. She got out of bed and stretched before taking her gown behind the screen. She began to dress, calling out to Gwen who was making the bed. "I was fine, really."
"I know but I hate to think of you here on your own in case you do have a nightmare."
"Your father must hate me, taking you away all the time. Keeping you here."
"No, he doesn't. He's proud of me for this job."
Morgana sighed but smiled sadly. Gwen was such a humble, modest, kindly, gentle girl. She'd been Morgana's maid for about two years but Morgana felt like Gwen was her best friend already. Now that Arthur –
"Gwen?" No, she was not thinking about Arthur today.
"Yes, my lady?"
"Are you all right?" The question had sprung from nowhere but now that it had been asked Morgana realised she cared a great deal about whether her maid was all right.
"Of course, why wouldn't I be?"
Morgana pulled her dress into place and stepped out from behind the screen. She sat at her dressing table and Gwen began to comb out her long curls. "I just wondered."
"My lady...if you don't mind me asking, are you all right?"
Startled, Morgana met Gwen's concerned gaze in the mirror. "Yes Gwen, I am very well." Some things Morgana didn't want Gwen to know.
"Oh good." Gwen smiled happily and carried on styling Morgana's long dark hair.
Morgana didn't see Arthur at breakfast; according to Uther he'd gone out early for a training session. Not that she cared. He'd made his choice and she'd made hers.
After breakfast she felt empty and so lonely she decided to go to the one place she'd always felt happy. Maybe it was because she'd always gone with Arthur but Morgana wondered if the willow tree would help her now when she was so desperately unhappy.
Her memories were carved in the wood, her laughter whispered through the leaves and her love was the very roots of the trees; tying it all together. But as she approached the tree Morgana had the sensation she was not alone. Then she rounded the corner and she was not alone. Arthur was slumped against the willow tree, his head leaning next to the heart that bore their initials.
He hadn't seen her yet so she tried to quickly back away but at the last minute he caught her. "Morgana?" Cursing herself silently she came back round to his sight and sat down opposite him, staring at the floor.
"Are you all right?" The question was so limp, so empty that she rolled her eyes.
"I'm fine," Replied Morgana. "No thanks to you." She added.
"Was the dream very bad?" He murmured.
She scoffed. "What do you think?"
"I'm sorry I told you to go." He answered after a long pause. His voice was cracked with pain and his eyes dark with grief. "That was wrong of me."
"I needed you Arthur." Morgana replied bitterly. He winced but she could not pity him. "We have always argued and fought and I still have the scar from where you hit me with your wooden sword on my head and the scar on my hand from where you got your dog to bite me but we have always forgiven each other and always been there for each other."
"I know." It was such a small answer but Arthur had never been talented with words like Morgana was. She knew that. Still she did not speak. At last he spoke; quietly but he poured all his grief, pain and love into it. "Morgana, you know that things have changed."
"Yes, of course they have." She answered. "That doesn't mean you abandon me." She waited. "Do you remember when I sang to the court that time?"
He nodded; even as she reminded him he remembered the rush of raw passion that flooded him as she sang like an angel.
"Do you remember I never sang again after that?" He did remember. He could never understand why she did not; but it was one of the forbidden things...like her dreams.
"I never knew why you didn't sing again." He replied truthfully.
"It was because of you." She answered. He raised his eyes to hers in shock.
"I asked you what you thought of my singing and you shrugged." Arthur flinched. "You hurt me so much that no matter how many people told me how talented I was that night; I vowed I would never sing again. Because you didn't think I was good enough."
He sighed deeply and bowed his head. "Morgana...I said nothing because I had no words powerful enough to describe how perfect your singing was." Her eyes widened; she had not expected this. "I couldn't give you enough praise, so I gave you none."
There was silence. Then Morgana asked him, "Would you have asked me to the banquet or not?"
Finally, thought Arthur, an easy question. "Of course," He answered with every truth he could think of. "Of course. That was the whole point; taking the lady you wanted to marry."
Morgana gasped. "You want to marry me?" It was not like Arthur to speak first.
"Yes," It was painful but he knew if he did not speak then he would never be able to speak again. "You already knew. Don't you remember when I promised you we could marry?"
Morgana smiled sadly; an afternoon with Arthur in strange Camelot, worrying about Uther and grieving her father. A rash promise from a little boy and hope. "We were children Arthur. You don't have to keep that promise."
His face fell. "You don't love me?"
She sighed. "I love you more than anything else in this world. But you say you will marry me because you think I expect you to say it. And I want you to know Arthur, you don't have to."
He knelt in the ground, moving slowly towards her. "I want to!" He insisted.
"I've been waiting since I was eight for my sixteenth birthday when I would be a knight and able to promise on my honour as a knight that you could marry me."
Morgana stared into his open face; his lips were still full and his eyes were still the bright blue of summer skies and childish innocence they always had been. But he was different. His face was thinner, his hair lighter, his nose longer and he was tall. But it was still Arthur and his eyes were blue with love as he watched her study him.
She opened her mouth carefully. "I think Uther wants me to marry Sir Louis one day," She began. "But I don't want to."
Arthur smiled slightly, knowing what he had to say; knowing he finally had the chance to say what he had been waiting what felt like his whole life to say.
"You can marry me, if you want."
"Do you promise?"
"On my honour as a knight."
Then he kissed her and it was sweet and innocent but rough and passionate with tenderness. It was pure and untainted and either did not think they had ever been happier. They broke off, breathless and content. Arthur sat next to Morgana and she rested her head on his as they both gazed at the willow tree which had their initials engraved on it in a heart. People would come and go, Arthur would become king and Camelot would change in many ways but their feelings would remain unchanged...as would the willow tree.