Hey guys :) just something I've been working on for a little while, hopefully you'll like it.
The first chapter doesn't give much away about what the rest of the story will be about, so I'm hoping you'll stick with it for a bit.
Just a heads up - Uther isn't dead, and a bunch of other stuff is going on that might not necessarily be canon, but the basics are pretty much the same. Oh, and this will be told through the eyes of a bunch of different people, in different locations (bear in mind I have literally no idea about what Britain was like in the fifth century, so most of it is pure imagination...)
Arthur Pendragon, Crown Prince of Camelot, strode into the empty throne room. The household servants had all finished their duties, and were busy getting prepared for the evening ahead. Richly-decorated tables lined the grey stone walls, their gold and silver platters ready to be filled with the best culinary delights that Camelot could offer. It was to be a night of extravagance, of splendour, of celebration.
He continued up the aisle, along the thick tapestry carpet which had borne the feet of countless other members of the Camelot royal family. The floor had been filled with rows of wooden benches for their guests, with cushions for the members of the noblest families; the walls were hung with the Pendragon crest. Three gilded chairs stood higher than the rest on a raised platform at one end of the room, and it was to these that Arthur headed. In front of them stood a tiny wooden cradle, decorated with fairy-tale carvings of heroes, fairies and animals. It had been in the Pendragon family for centuries. He stepped up onto the platform, glanced back towards the large wooden doors – which were closed – and, after hesitating for a moment, sank back into the middle of the three, the largest, and most decorative, one.
As he looked out across the big empty room, which in a few hours would be filled with friends and strangers alike, he thought of how much his life had changed in the past two years. There had been so much loss, and he knew the worst was still to come, yet he felt the happiest he hadever felt in his life.
The doors creaked open and he shot up from the throne with a start. Gwen entered the room and grinned as she saw her husband.
"I thought I would find you in here," she said with an understanding smile, as she saw him hovering over the king's chair.
Arthur looked slightly sheepish. "I was just…making sure everything was in order." He knew she had seen him sitting on his father's throne. "You should be resting."
She joined him on the platform, and took hold of his hands. "It's fine to be thinking about that, you know," she murmured, nodding towards Uther's throne. She ignored his second comment – Arthur had been rather overprotective of her in the past few days. "It doesn't make you a bad prince, or a bad son. It will be yours someday, and you should be thinking about it."
"Hopefully not too soon," he replied, returning her smile. "Let's just get through tonight, shall we?"
"You say that like you're not looking forward to it," Gwen teased. "In a few hours we'll be back here, with all of our friends and family around us."
"Yes," he nodded. "Let's not think about such morbid things as my father's inevitable death."
Gwen grimaced. "Well, when you put it like that, it does sound a bit grim."
Arthur laughed, and swept his wife into his arms. "I love you, Guinevere Pendragon."
"Under vow I think I'm supposed to say that I love you too, and honour, keep and guard you. Oh, and be an obedient queen."
Another voice replied, causing both husband and wife to start. "I think we can count on you being a very disobedient queen."
Arthur and Gwen whirled around to see Merlin, smirking as he leaned against one of the wooden benches.
"Merlin!" Arthur glowered, as he and Guinevere sprang apart. "Have you never heard of knocking?"
"Believe me, I knocked. You two were just a little bit busy to hear me."
"What do you want?" Arthur demanded.
"Gwen, I've been sent to fetch you. Apparently they're not quite finished with you yet."
Gwen sighed and rolled her eyes, squeezing Arthur's hand once more before stepping off the platform. "Thank you, Merlin," she smiled as she passed him, trying to ignore the smirk which was still plastered on his face. "I'll leave you two to it."
Arthur waited until Gwen had left the throne room before turning on Merlin. "You should think twice about behaving like that around the future king of Camelot and his wife. Not a wise move."
"Oh yeah?" Merlin scoffed, clearly unperturbed by Arthur's reaction. "Well maybe you should think twice before doing – whatever you two were doing – in the throne room. I don't think the king would be very impressed with your usage of his chair."
"Go find something useful to do, Merlin," Arthur growled, stalking past his manservant and trusted friend.
"Like what?" Merlin called to him.
Arthur stopped, and turned back to face him. "My boots need cleaning."
Merlin's face fell. "I did them this morning."
Arthur grinned maliciously. "I know you did. And they served me well for when I went out riding a few hours ago. But they need cleaning again."
He didn't have to see Merlin's expression to know what it would look like. Without another word, he left the throne room, and his best friend, behind him, in search of something to do before the celebrations began.
In a dilapidated castle on the other side of the kingdom, Morgana Pendragon was feeling unsettled. Nights had been sleepless ever since the death of her sister, Morgause, and thoughts of all that had happened in the past few years never ceased tormenting her. Only once in all that time had she risked travelling to Camelot, under cover of both darkness and disguise. She had caught sight of her father, Uther, on the battlements of the castle, but with little strength and no allies, her plans to remove him – and Arthur – couldn't be rushed. Morgause was dead, Agravaine gone, along with all those who had helped her so long ago. She was biding her time, picking up snippets of news here and there, and waiting for an opportunity to strike.
Unable to remain inside the crumbling walls any longer, she pulled on her black travelling cloak and headed outside. It was dusk, and the sun sat large and low over the forest that surrounded the castle. Her horse, cross at being awakened at so late an hour, neighed his annoyance as she climbed onto his back and gave him a rough kick in the flank.
The pathway through the forest was narrow and shadowy, but Morgana had no reason to feel spooked by whatever lay amongst the trees. She galloped for over an hour, distancing herself from her castle hideout in the hope that, for just a little while, she could escape the memories. As the path emerged from the forest it widened into a road, once used by the inhabitants of a local village to gain access to the rich resources of the forest. Now the village was long gone, its smouldering remains home only to starving ravens and other pests looking for scraps of left-behind food.
Morgana suppressed a shudder as she passed the abandoned houses, crumbling with age. She could almost hear the screams of those who had fled the Dorocha over two years ago. The village, Malcourt, had been one of the worst affected by the merging of the spirit world with the living – perhaps that had been why Morgana had been so drawn to the castle nearby.
The road veered off to the right towards the next village, the lights of which could still be seen glowing against the darkening sky. Morgana slowed her horse, and used the cover of the shadows to enter the streets undetected. Despite the lateness of the hour, there was much evidence of activity – people were gathered outside of the tavern, uproarious laughter mingling with the sounds of some musical instrument. Morgana passed a young man and woman, meeting clandestinely round the back of a blacksmith's shop. She threw them a disgusted look, but they were too absorbed in each other to notice the pale, dark-haired witch and her horse.
Reaching a public trough, she allowed her horse to rest and slid quietly from his back. Tying him tightly to a nearby post, she rearranged her cloak so as not to be recognised, and headed back towards the tavern. Underneath her hood, she glared at the group of people who stood between her and the tavern's entrance, and as if they had seen her green eyes flash the colour of fire, they stumbled drunkenly out of her way. Morgana lifted a black-gloved hand to push open the heavy wooden door of the tavern, and a wall of raucous noise hit her as she stepped inside. A large fire was burning merrily in an open grate, filling the room with warmth. Those closest to the entrance felt the gust of cold air as the door opened, and their eyes followed the mysterious hooded figure as she slipped quietly towards a solitary table at the back of the room.
She scanned the entire room, searching for a familiar face that would catch her out if she were to reveal herself. No, she recognised no one, and she never forgot a face. Hesitantly, she lowered the hood of her cloak. She was disgusted at her need to be so careful – here she was, heir to the throne of Camelot, acting no better than a common criminal. Her gaze shifted towards a particularly rowdy group of men – men made up the majority of the tavern's customers, she noticed – crowding round the bar. One of them, having noticed her glance in their direction, leered toothlessly at her. Morgana had a sudden urge to punish her drunken admirer, to curse him right out of the door, but she couldn't. No, she didn't want to risk exposure, not now. Not now she'd worked so hard to get away from her old life. If she were to be caught now, no powers in the world would save her from being hauled in front of King Uther, Prince Arthur and his new wife.
Thinking of Gwen used to make her feel sad, and nostalgic. Now she just felt cold, bitter hatred towards the woman who would one day have her crown. The vision of her former maidservant sitting on the throne that was rightfully Morgana's made her blood run cold. No, she couldn't act now. But she would get her revenge one day.
The tavern door banged open again and an old man burst in, wearing thick woollen cloaks to keep out the cold. He was certainly one of the common villagers, yet the way that all heads turned towards him made Morgana sit up straighter. This man had clearly earned a lot of respect from his fellows.
"I bring great news!" he exclaimed, and as he strode towards the bar a path naturally formed in the throng of men gathered around it. One offered him his stool and he sat down gratefully. Almost immediately, a tankard was placed ceremoniously in front of him by the innkeeper.
"What is it, Caradew?" someone demanded impatiently, as the old man took a swig of his drink. He finished the tankard in one gulp, smacked his lips appreciatively, and set it back on the bar.
"As you all know," he said, addressing the crowd. They had all gathered around him, those who were standing outside had come back in, all in anticipation of Caradew's news. "As you all know, I have been making my annual journey to Lymors."
Morgana sat up straighter in her chair. Lymors was a town not far away from the big castle, the court of Camelot – what news could this old, common peasant have from there that was so important?
Caradew beamed around at his fellows. "It has come!" he cried. "The day we have all been waiting for! Princess Guinevere has given the prince a child!"
Gasps of excitement spread throughout the crowd.
"A child!" repeated a young woman – one of the few women present – in apparent rapture. "What is it, Caradew? Do tell us."
"Yes, come on, old man," a handsome boy grinned, patting Caradew on the back. "That's not enough news to satisfy the girls at home!"
"A girl, I believe," Caradew answered, as the innkeeper poured him another drink. "Not much more to say, I'm afraid. I'm sure we'll hear more soon enough."
"Oh," the woman sighed dreamily. "What if she were to marry the duke's son? That lad would be perfect for a princess."
The young man laughed. "Come off it, Laudine. Our duke's never going to be good enough for a daughter of that prince Arthur. She'll be lucky if she's let out the castle at all!"
Everybody laughed, and began to drift away from the bar as the innkeeper announced it was time to close. Morgana paid no attention to the excited rabble around her. She sat motionless, frozen in fear and resentment, bitterness and hatred for the baby girl, her niece. If Caradew's word was true, then she had another contender to her throne. It just wouldn't do.
"Time to go, ma'am," the innkeeper woke Morgana from her reverie. He was hovering by her table, unsure of what to make of this strange, mysterious woman he'd never seen before. Morgana blinked, and noticed that everybody had left.
"You able to get home all righ'?" the innkeeper asked, hinting heavily now. "It's a nasty place out there, 'specially for a pretty young thing like ye'self."
Morgana lip curled into a snarl, and she bit back a retort. She just wanted to get out of there. Still, she had gotten her news – that was what she came for, wasn't it? Still, it wasn't the news she was expecting, or hoping for.
She flounced out of the tavern, black cloak billowing behind her as she lifted her hood over her long raven hair. The young man who had spoken to Caradew was still outside, leaning cockily against the tavern's stone wall. Morgana stalked past him, and she heard his footsteps against the cobbled street.
"Hey, you!" he called out, quickening his pace.
Morgana slowed, taking a few more strides before stopping altogether. She didn't turn around.
"Can I help you?"
"You tell me," the man smirked, stopping several paces behind her.
"I don't think I can," Morgana replied, starting to walk again.
She felt pressure on the back of her arm, and the hood fell from her head as she suddenly turned around.
The man was too close – she could smell alcohol on his breath, and could see his scrubby beard in the moonlight as he pushed himself closer to her. "You shouldn't be out here alone," he slurred, keeping his grip on Morgana's arm.
"Get off me," she snapped, trying to prise her arm away. He held on tightly despite his intoxicated state. "I said, get off me."
"I don't think I want to, lady."
Morgana had had enough. With a quick glance to check that nobody would be witness to what was about to happen, she took a deep breath.
"Have it your way," she murmured, and gathered all the power she had inside of her, concentrating it on the arm that was the man's captive. A wave of energy was forced out of it, and she watched with wicked amusement as his expression changed to one of absolute terror. With a crash, he was thrown backwards several metres, landing on his back on the cobbles, groaning in pain. Morgana stretched out her now-free arm, checking it for any sign of injury. With a final, revolted glance at the man – who by now was writhing about in agony – she hurried away in a billow of black fabric.