Title: Ghost Against the Void.
Pairing: Eventual Arthur/Morgana
Summary: AU. Foreseeing the terrible consequences for all those who practice magic if Igraine dies, Nimuë sacrifices another and saves the Queen's life the night of Arthur's birth; unwittingly setting in motion a catastrophic chain of events that will eventually force Morgana to make a devastating life or death decision…
Twenty two years later…
"That boy will be the death of me."
Nimuë looked up from her Grimoire and smirked at Gaius as he leaned against her doorframe, exhausted. "Emrys? Or Prince Arthur?"
"They're as bad as each other," Gaius grumbled, conjuring a chair and sitting in it. "They egg each other on and barely scrape through one dangerous adventure after the next by the skin of their teeth. You'd think they were still teenagers."
"If I recall you and Uther were exactly the same at their age."
Gaius shot her a look. "I'm not sure that that's a reason to allow the next generation to repeat the same follies as their forefathers."
When the only reply he received was the flash of amusement that crossed the sorceress' face, Gaius frowned and tried again.
"I often wondered at your decision to make Emrys the prince's amddiffynnydd. Of all of my apprentices he seemed the least likely candidate."
"Which is why I am in charge of choosing who will be amddiffynnydd and you are not," Nimuë said pointedly. "The boy has potential and a wealth of untapped power. He passed all of the tests I set him with ease." She fixed him with her gaze. "Not to mention his father is also a Dragonlord. When the title passes the boy will be very powerful indeed."
"But he lacks subtlety, finesse, not to mention the basics in wordless magic-"
"All of which can be fixed in time. I have faith," she added when Gaius frowned and pressed his lips together. "Let us speak no more of it."
"Very well," the wizard agreed grudgingly. "I will leave you to your study."
"By the way," Nimuë said as Gaius was almost out of the door. "I've sent for Morgana."
The wizard paused in the doorway. "May I inquire why?"
"I've been thinking of training a successor."
"You aren't retiring are you? You're barely a century old."
Nimuë waved away the flattery. "And I look only a day over thirty, yes I know. But even I need someone to pass my knowledge onto. I won't be here forever, and every King needs a High Priestess."
"And do Uther and Igraine know?"
"I have discussed it with them. They agree with me."
"I can't imagine them having much choice otherwise," he replied dryly.
Nimuë shot him a look, but her eyes were amused. "Morgana will have finished her advanced training now. Besides it's been eight years since she was last in this country. It's time she came home."
"Why do I have the feeling you're up to something and I should be worried," Gaius drawled.
"Because I usually am and you should be."
"That is hardly reassuring."
She flashed him a predatory smile. "Good. It wasn't meant to be."
"So what's your cousin like?" said Merlin. He threw a fireball at the group of enchanted practice mannequins that were bearing down on them in the castle training grounds.
A charred arm whizzed past Arthur's ear.
"Oi! Watch where you're exploding those things!" he called out as he ducked, shooting his friend a glare.
"Sorry!" Merlin grinned wickedly and blew up another.
A blackened eyeball hit Arthur sharply on the head.
The prince's eyes narrowed. "I'll give you sorry."
Merlin conjured a shield and the dagger Arthur had thrown at his heart embedded itself harmlessly into the wood. They both watched the blade vibrate vigorously in the buffer, until Merlin eventually plucked it out and gently threw it back.
Arthur snatched it from the air and pocketed it again in seconds, smirking at Merlin's expression.
"Whose side are you on- mine or the dummies?"
"To be honest the two are starting to blur," Arthur replied, sweeping out his sword and decapitating a mannequin that was lumbering towards them. The head rolled off and bounced over the stone flags, whilst the dummy stumbled onwards, arms stretched out in a blind attempt to collect it's severed appendage.
Merlin's eyes flashed and as a mannequin was shredded he turned to Arthur, watching as the prince hacked his own dummy into pieces. "Well?"
"I can't really remember her- I was only a toddler when she left, so all I have are some very vague images of a bossy girl with dark hair."
"She sounds just like a brunette version of Morgause."
Arthur swung his sword sharply and severed a dummy in two. "Like I said, Merlin, I don't really remember her."
"Nimuë seemed pleased she was coming anyway."
"And since when is that ever a good thing? She's scary when she smiles."
Merlin's face clouded. "She's scarier when she's not smiling. Did you see her expression yesterday when Leon told the King they'd executed that group of Voids who murdered Cenred's uncle last week? She looked like she wanted to tear them to pieces herself."
"The Voids are definitely becoming bolder; it's not surprising she's concerned." Arthur frowned and killed the last remaining dummy, as parts wiggled over the courtyard floor and attempted to reassemble themselves.
"Do you think that's why she's called Morgana back?" asked Merlin, waving an arm to cancel the animation spell. A few more whispered words, a flash of gold and the bodies disappeared and the prince and his bodyguard were left alone in the courtyard. "Do you think she's calling in reinforcements?"
"I don't know," Arthur frowned, fingering his sword. "My Aunt never does anything without a reason…but sometimes her motives are hard to figure out."
"Well that's easy to understand," Merlin shrugged and shot his friend a sly grin. "Brain your size would find anything more complex than what colour shirt to wear hard to figure out."
For the second time that day he conjured a shield to stop the dagger lobbed his way.
The day Morgana arrived a freak frost killed all of the castle plants.
Her boots cracked the ice slicked ground as she dismounted from her gryphon, ivory cloak folding around her, the ermine lining brushing her pale cheek softly.
Merlin trailed a few steps behind his mentor as Nimuë met her in the courtyard. Slim and pale with a river of dark hair and lips the colour of ripe wet plums, the family resemblance to Nimuë was unmistakable and slightly unnerving.
Morgana inclined her head respectfully to them both, though her lips pursed as though she was amused by a private joke.
Nimuë looked her niece up and down and then kissed her on the cheek, her fingers curling round her neck.
They both turned to idly watch the grooms attempt to approach her gryphon and stable it. The beast snorted and snapped at the boys with her beak impatiently.
"I trust your journey was easy?"
"There was some trouble over the Irish Sea with a group of harpies, but nothing Vasily couldn't handle." She shot the hulking manservant behind her a grateful look.
Nimuë looked the giant up and down, taking in his shaved head, heavily tattooed face and thick meaty hands. He offered her a short bow of his head and nothing more.
There was a scream as Morgan's gryphon took a bite out of one of the stablehands.
Nimuë clucked her tongue and summoned over a passing servant. "Fetch Gaius," she said briskly. "Tell him one of the grooms has been injured by a gryphon. Then tell him to fire the boy after he's been treated. If I wanted a bunch of incompetent buffoons running the stables I'd have put Gwaine in charge."
She turned back to Morgana as the servant hurried away. "I've received reports from your tutors. They saw you've excelled in your training."
"I've always done my best."
"Then I shall expect nothing less." She turned to the dark haired man beside her. "Morgana, this is Emrys. He is training to be Prince Arthur's amddiffynnydd."
"Merlin, please. I only get called Emrys by the druids. Or if I'm in trouble," he added hastily when Nimuë shot him a look. "My friends call me Merlin."
"Then I hope we shall be very good friends," said Morgana, giving him her hand and a genuine smile.
He kissed the back of it and absently noted how soft and pale her hands were. There was a frisson of sparks as their magic met, battled, blended and then separated once more.
"You've certainly got quite a job," she carried on as if they hadn't just unconsciously tested each other's strengths and weaknesses. "From what I remember of my cousin he was always getting into trouble. Mostly because I got him into it, but nevertheless." She smiled at him and he was blinded suddenly by her flashing green eyes.
Blushing, he realised she was staring at him, waiting for him to say something. He cleared his throat hastily. "When was the last time you saw him?"
"When I was five…so nineteen years ago. I left shortly afterwards for my training at Avalon and then when I was sixteen I was sent to the Nameless Lands to learn there." She smirked. "My last memory of Arthur Pendragon is of a snotty nosed three year old crying because he wanted my sword and I wouldn't give it him."
"He hasn't changed much," he quipped.
"And what lies has Arthur been telling you about me?"
"He says you bossed him about a lot."
"Hmm, that almost sounds like the truth," she grinned. "I always found the best way to manage Arthur was to make sure he knew who was in charge."
"If you two have finished gossiping," interrupted Nimuë, "may I remind you that there are people waiting for us?"
Merlin had the grace to blush but Morgana merely appeared amused as they turned and began the short walk across the courtyard before entering the Great Hall.
"How is my sister?" Morgana asked as they made their way through the castle corridors.
Nimuë's lip curled ever so slightly. "Breeding."
"Again? This must be her sixth."
"I can only imagine that Cenred wishes to produce his own army," she replied dryly. "Clearly Morgause has no objection to his plans."
Morgana looked as though she was about to say something but they turned the corner and suddenly they were in front of the Great Hall doors.
For the first time Merlin caught a flash of hesitancy cross Morgana's face but it was gone as soon as it had come. Her mask of cool assurance slipped effortlessly back into place, she was striding through the doors following her Aunt and Merlin had no choice but to follow.
"High Lady Nimuë, the Princess Morgana and Magician Emrys," called the herald and Morgana curtsied low and gracefully as she reached the dais where the royal family sat.
"Rise, Morgana, please! We are your family, there is no need for such formality," said Uther warmly, even as Igraine left her chair and hurried down to greet her niece. She grasped the young woman by the arms and pulled her up before embracing her.
Morgana barely managed to mask her surprise at the enthusiastic greeting but submitted to being hugged with good humour.
Igraine pulled back and looked her up and down. "My, how you've grown! The last time we saw you barely reached my knee. And now look at you."
"I was only five, Aunt," Morgana murmured. She shot a sly look at her cousin. "But I recall I was still taller than Arthur."
"You were older," he replied dryly from his seat, "of course you were taller. I think I've grown since then."
"Outwards clearly," she sniped back prettily. "Or has your armour shrunk in the wash?"
Uther cut neatly through any retort Arthur would have given by clapping his hands together and standing.
"A feast tonight! In honour of Princess Morgana's safe return to her family," he called even as Arthur glared and the Court burst into a ripple of excited murmuring.
"There is much to catch up on," Igraine said quietly, taking her arm and steering her in the direction of the private royal doors that led out from the Hall.
"I look forward to it," Morgana replied and Igraine smiled and pressed her hands.
"Good. Now you must be tired from your long journey so please rest in your chambers until this evening if you wish to. Your luggage has most likely been unpacked by now and I've assigned a maid to you to help with your toilette."
Morgana raised an eyebrow. "Vasily is my servant." She motioned to the giant who had somehow slipped unnoticed into the hall and even now was trailing at a discreet distance from the two women. "I have no need for other help."
Igraine's brow creased as she took in the brutish figure standing protectively several paces behind her niece. Her eyes lingered on the swirling black tattoos that ran from his temple, curled around the socket of his right eye before swooping down to kiss the jagged white scar that ran down his cheek and split the corner of his bottom lip. She took in the thick silver rings he wore on each finger and in his left earlobe and eyebrow, and the bear claws on the chain around his neck.
"But he's a man my dear," she replied delicately, "and a lady needs a ladies maid for dressing and attending to her toilette."
"Very well," Morgana replied, even as she hid a smile at her Aunt's discomfort. "If only for appearance's sake. Though I wish for Vasily to be installed in rooms beside my own."
"As you wish, my dear," said Igraine, eyeing the mountain man nervously.
Vasily grinned at her displaying a row of gleaming white teeth and Igraine unconsciously took a step back, swallowing.
"As you wish."
"So what did you think of Morgana?" Arthur asked back in his chambers that evening. He pulled his ceremonial shirt over his head and raked a hand through his hair. "I suppose you think she's beautiful."
"Anyone with eyes can see that."
Arthur muttered something noncommittal and Merlin raised an eyebrow.
"Oh come on. She's the most beautiful woman either of us has ever seen, and you won't admit it because she insulted you so nicely, proving she has sense too." Merlin paused and smirked. "Though I suppose you think she couldn't possibly compare to Gwen."
"Gwen and I are just friends."
"Friends who make sex eyes at each other?" said Merlin slyly.
Arthur threw a pillow at him. "She's my mother's maid and that's all there is too it. Besides I think she likes Gwaine."
"So you're free to pursue Morgana?"
"Yes. No. That's not what I meant," he replied exasperatedly, fixing his belt around himself.
"Well better get in fast," Merlin wiggled his eyebrows suggestively. "I heard Morgana's an old friend of Lancelot."
Arthur ignored the insinuation and checked his reflection in the mirror. "How can they be old friends? She's not even been in the country for the past eight years."
"Yes, but he was brought up in Avalon remember? So they would have spent quite a lot of time together growing up. First love I heard."
Arthur scowled. "You hear a lot of things, Merlin, but then that's not surprising with ears your size."
"You always go for the cheap shot about my ears when you know you're losing the argument."
"I wasn't losing." Arthur paused and looked at his friend. "Are you actually going to get changed at any point? We're going to be late if you don't hurry up."
Merlin rolled his eyes and snapped his fingers. A flash of gold later and he was clad in his dark druidic shirt and trousers, hair freshly tousled and jaw cleanly shaved. He smelled of something dark and vaguely spicy.
"Show off," Arthur muttered.
The Feast was crawling into the small hours of the morning when Morgana finally managed to tear herself away from the jostling crowd of inquisitive courtiers.
She sank down into a chair in a darkened corner of the Great Hall and smiled gratefully as Vasily handed her a shot glass of cold clear liquid. Muttering words in the Old Religion she knocked her glass against his before downing the drink in one smooth practiced motion.
She sighed at the soothing familiar burn in the back of her throat and leaned her head back against the chair.
"Enjoying the feast?"
Morgana cracked an eye open. Arthur's glacial blue eyes were staring at her and she motioned discreetly for Vasily to remain where he was. The hulking man released the grip on the dagger he had in his jacket and relaxed back in his seat.
She inclined her head and Arthur drew up a chair as she crossed her legs at the ankles, her ivory and silver dress shifting higher up her thighs.
She shrugged, running a finger absently around the rim of her glass. "It's been different. Our feasts in the Nameless Lands were very different...nothing so formal." She smiled cynically. "Everyone wants to know all about me."
"You're the absent enigmatic princess. The Court just wants to unravel the mystery of you."
"I'm not sure I want to be unravelled," she replied as Merlin joined them, escaping the clutches of a group of giggling witches.
"Sorry," he said, sprawling into a chair beside Arthur. "It was getting a bit mad out there."
Morgana's eyes glinted with mischief. "I didn't realise you were such a womaniser, Merlin."
"He has quite the fan club," added Arthur teasingly. "A different one in his bed every night and he never remembers any of their names."
"How despicable." Morgana bit her lip to keep from laughing as Merlin began to protest. She shared a grin with Arthur and waving a hand over her own glass with a glint of gold in her eye, produced two more. Topping them up with the bottle Vasily produced from within his jacket pocket she winked at Merlin who was still protesting his innocence.
"Don't worry, Merlin," she interrupted, handing them both glasses. "I like my men wicked."
Merlin flushed further and Morgana let out a bark of laughter.
"You're far too easy to tease," she replied and downed her second glass. "Though if those women are like this now, I can imagine Beltane will be interesting."
Arthur eyed his glass warily. "What is this?"
"Gorzalka. The Gift of the Goddess to us poor mortals," she laughed. "Don't sniff it, just drink it."
Arthur and Merlin shared a look and then shrugged, tipping the drink down their throats. Arthur winced whilst Merlin burst into a fit of coughing.
Morgana just shook her head and refilled their glasses.
"By Avalon woman, it's like drinking paint stripper."
Morgana shared a look with Vasily and said something in the tongue of the Old Religion, something Arthur couldn't quite catch. Whatever she said caused Vasily to smirk at them however and raise his glass to Morgana.
"Doesn't talk much, does he?"
"Vasily is a mute," Morgana replied, licking the drink from her lips. "When he was in prison his cellmate cut out his tongue whist he slept."
"He was in prison? What did he do?"
"I don't know, he's never told me."
"Very funny." Arthur shot her a look, "Morgana, how can you trust him? The man's a criminal-he could be a murderer or a rapist for all you know."
"Vasily saved my life once. I owe him."
"Nothing that concerns you. All you need to know is I'm in his debt, so when he wanted work I offered him employment."
"As your manservant?" Arthur tried to picture a teenage Morgana and the huge mountain man as her servant but the picture didn't quite fit.
"Manservant, bodyguard, another pair of eyes watching my back," she shrugged. "Your mother thinks differently, but I didn't and still don't need a maid when magic fulfils my every need. I had no enemies in the Nameless Lands but Vasily knew once I left the Islands that Voids could attack at any moment and strip me of my powers. He offered a protection I couldn't guarantee for myself."
Arthur opened his mouth to reply when suddenly the candles guttered.
And as Camelot fell dark, the Voids attacked and the streets ran red with blood.
Please Read And Review!
Thank you for your lovely reviews for the first chapter, apologies for the wait for this installment- don't you just hate it when life gets a bit crazy and you get no time to write?
Anyway, frustrations aside, let me know what you thought and how you're coping with your Merlin withdrawal symptoms.
Much love as always to my fellow sailors on the good ship ArMor.