This is Camelot from Starz as told from the viewpoint of an original character.
On their way to Camelot, Arthur, Kay and Merlin come across Radja, a young woman who has nothing left to lose...
There was no-one on the streets. There was no-one in the houses. The village was empty.
Something must have happened.
After the first rush of panic, the young woman examined the place more closely and came to the conclusion the villagers had deserted their home in a hurry, leaving everything behind as it were. Following the trails, she came to the river which had been dry all year. A terrible stench made its way through the air and to her astonishment she found the empty canal had been filled up… with their bodies. They were molested, cleaved by swords and struck by arrows; men, women and children all alike. The animals must have fled, for there was no sign of them.
After her initial shock she remembered her duty and began to examine them all, feverishly but determined, until she realised she could be in danger herself. She kept very still for a few minutes but heard nothing disturbing. So she continued, only to find that the arrows had been poisoned and none of them had survived. She then broke into tears and lost all sense of time.
The sound of hooves startled her a couple of hours later, while she was still sitting at the same spot. Stealthy as a mouse she leaped up and hid in the nearest bushes. Three horsemen approached. One of them dismounted and she heard them speaking in anxiety about the finding of the mass grave. The young woman decided she had nothing to lose and made towards the visitors.
"It's no use," she said to the young man who now kneeled at one of the victims. "They're all dead. The arrows were poisoned." And she showed him the blue skin around the wound of an old man.
"Who are you?" asked the man not unkindly.
"I am, as they say, the only survivor. My name is Ni'Haradja, sir," she said, addressing them politely as they bore some air of importance.
"My name is Kay," the young man said, "and my condolences. Is your family amongst them, too?"
"No," she answered, smiling grimly, "I've only known these people for a short time... Who are you? Do you know anything about this attack?"
"We," the youngest of the company said, "are the people who are going to stop this." He dismounted and stretched out his hand. "I'm Arthur."
"Oh, and how are you going to do that?'' Radja laughed jeeringly, for the one whose hand she was shaking looked nothing more than a boy. "Are you going to the king?"
"The king is dead," the third man sneered. He did neither dismount nor tell his name, but the startling effect this had on Radja seemed to have been his intention.
"Dead?" she stammered. "Is that why this attack took place? Because we have no leader?"
"We do," said the man on the horse, who looked oldest and wore a black cloak. "You are looking at Arthur Pendragon, Uther's rightful heir."
"Uther... had no son."
"Yes, he did. We have proof."
Since the men outnumbered her and were fully armed, she decided it was safest not to pursue the subject. She moreover felt no urge to meddle in king's affairs, so swallowing her last bit of pride, she kneeled before the strange man and asked forgiveness. When she looked up, however, the future king looked even more surprised than she was. The oldest man now had come down his horse and announced rather harshly, "Your punishment... will be to come with us." Abandoning all politeness, she broke out in protests. "You do seem to know about poisons?" he inquired, paying not the slightest heed to her objections.
"Why yes, sir, I'm a doctor," she managed to bring out, trying not to sound so much annoyed.
"Excellent. We can use a doctor. All right, back on the horses before the savages get to us."
"But sir – who do you think you – I can't just –" With an effort, she forced herself to suppress her anger and think. "If he's the king, then who are you?"
"They call me Merlin," he answered, which caused her grudge to make place for genuine surprise.
"Merlin? Now that's a name I've heard before." She peered at the sorcerer. "To be honest, I didn't even believe you existed."
Nothing in Merlin's face betrayed that he had even heard what she said as he shifted his attention to Kay, who was wandering amongst the corpses.
"What are you doing?" Merlin asked in a demanding voice. "We have stayed here for too long already."
"These people need a proper Christian burial." Kay murmured, whilst making the sign of a cross.
"They're long past saving..."
"Arthur," Kay said, looking for help at his brother, "tell him!"
But Arthur remained speechless.
"If we stay here, we're a target for whoever did this," Merlin grunted. "Stop worrying about the dead – the living need us more."
Arthur apparently found his voice again, for he said, "Merlin is right. We need to keep moving. We cannot help them now."
The men climbed on their horses again, leaving Radja to stare up at them. She did not know whether to flight or remind them of her 'punishment'. Either direction seemed to have as many dangers as opportunities awaiting. But the men did not seem intent on leaving her much choice.
"Have you ridden on a horse before?" Kay asked, apparently trying to put her at ease, as he stretched out his arm towards her.
She soon decided horse riding was the most horrible way to move one's arse. As she clung to Kay's back while rocking back and forth and desperately trying not to fall off, she could not remember a single reason why she had approached these men in the first place. Though they appeared fairly confident about this legitimate kingship and their good cause, Radja could not shake the feeling off that this journey would lead her into much trouble.
Only late that night, when all her limbs had gone numb one by one, did they reach a village. The denizens eyed them warily and rather unfriendly but Radja knew every people would have reacted this way when a couple of strangers on steeds would pass by in the middle of the night. Merlin seemed to know exactly one man in the entire settlement, whom could offer them exactly one room to stay.
Inside, some sober furniture, mostly made out of wood, was arranged randomly across the room. They lighted the fire and tried to make themselves comfortable.
"Why don't you tell something about yourself?" Arthur began. "I'd like to know a bit more about my future doctor."
"Since you were the ones who captured me, why don't you tell something about yourself?" Radja snapped back aggressively. She was hungry and tired, and being cramped with three unfamiliar men in one small room made her feel like a cornered prey animal.
Arthur grinned apologetically, ignorant of her foul mood. "All right then. Until yesterday, my life and Kay's were just as ordinary as yours..." Radja sceptically raised an eyebrow but, again oblivious, he continued to recount how he had found out he had been a foster child deriving from the late King Uther Pendragon. Then he concluded this was really all he knew and he still had a lot of questions, while looking meaningfully at Merlin. The sorcerer, however, pretended not to notice. Somehow the story had taken Radja aback and she was quiet for a while. Then she said softly, "So... tomorrow you're going to meet your real mother?"
"I think so."
"What about your family?" Kay inquired. "You said they weren't amongst the victims..."
"I don't have any family," she sighted. "Never had."
"How come you survived the slaughter in the first place?" Merlin suddenly brought in.
"I wasn't there – at the time of the attack. I had been in the woods all day, gathering herbs. Only when I came back..." Her voice died away.
"Who taught you to be a doctor?" Merlin asked again.
"I learned everything from the Old Woman. That's what everyone called her; the Old Woman. She raised me."
"What happened to your parents, then?"
The moment Arthur asked, Radja knew that this time she could not refuse to speak. The fresh pain that had shone through the way he had pronounced 'your parents' had not escaped her and after all he had spoken of his own past as well.
"Everything the Old Woman told me about my parents she had guessed, but she often guessed and she often was right. She supposed they were gypsies too poor to be able to afford me, and so they would have left me as a baby at the door of the first house of the first village they passed. It happened in the middle of the night, yet the Old Woman heard and went outside. She picked me up and looked about but she didn't see anybody. When she thought she heard a rustle, she only called out, 'What's her name?' and then somebody cried back – she couldn't even hear whether it was a man or a woman – 'Ni'Haradja!' She didn't know what it meant but she gave it to me as my name. It's my only inheritance."
"And how do you pronounce it?" Kay asked.
She smiled. "Oh, most people can't, so you'd better call me Radja. Everybody does."
After a while, when the men just sat calmly and listened, while sharing some of their bread with her, she finally began to feel more relaxed. Perhaps there were a few decent people left in this brutal world, she mused.
"...if I hadn't come with you..."
"...to curious not to come..."
"...watched you since you were a child..."
"...want me to believe I'm the product of sorcery and rape?"
Radja's eyes flew open. She must have drifted off to sleep after she had lain down, for the conversation had taken a shift.
"Merlin, I want the truth," Arthur said, "Not some story to make me believe in magic."
Radja pushed herself upright. Immense curiosity awoke in her, removing every bit of weariness. More than anything since she had met Merlin she desired to know how this famous sorcerer had upheld his reputation for so long. Surely it had not been by telling easy lies, like she had.
"I don't care what you believe but I've sworn of those powers a long time ago," Merlin said wearily.
"Why?" Arthur asked.
"Because they cost."
"Do you want me to finish or not?"
Disappointment fell upon her; evading the question was something she could have come up with herself. She snorted. Merlin glanced at her briefly.
Deciding to change the subject, Arthur said, "So Uther gave me to you?"
While Radja tried to figure out what she had heard exactly and how this all fitted together, Merlin began to speak of the desired future. Both Kay and Arthur seemed entranced by his speech of glory, hope and honour. A dreamy expression appeared on their faces.
She pointed and shouted, "Attacker from behind!"
Arthur whirled around and parried the blow. He had stung his sword deep into the man's body before Kay and Merlin were at his side. Radja had drawn her dagger and tried to calm the horses, while anxiously peering around for any more foes. It was almost noon and they had been travelling since the first beams of sunlight had punctured the misty streets of the village. The natives had been all too pleased to see them leave, which was a joy the small company shared. Even so, to encounter enemies at their first rest was something that could only increase their concerns. The three men came hurrying back just in time, for the horses sensed Radja's unfamiliarity with the animals and were at the point of breaking away. Without a word, all of them mounted and rode on once more.
"You saved my life back there," Arthur told Radja at their second rest. The mist had completely cleared up and there were only a couple of hours left before Camelot would come into view.
"You're welcome," Radja mumbled. Her yell had merely been a reflex more than anything else.
"Please don't consider your treatment as a punishment," he continued seriously. "First of all, I never really blamed you for anything and secondly, if I had, you just paid your debt, I suppose." When the doctor still did not look very convinced, he added, "You should consider this an opportunity. Haven't you thought of what it means to be the doctor at the King's court?"
At least he listened to Merlin's speech yesterday, Radja thought to herself, but she forced a smile and answered, "I'm certain not to run out of patients, I suppose?"
Bathing in sunlight at the top of the last hill arose Camelot. At the other side, the hill fell steeply down into a cliff, behind which – to Radja's astonishment – a glittering sea reached till the horizon. Inside the castle, though, things looked very different.
"It's a ruin," was Arthur's first reaction.
Radja thought it looked more like a jungle.
Plants had crept up from every thinkable place and rose for more than ten feet into the sky. The floor was scattered with flotsam and jetsam, from where even more vegetation had taken root. The air was almost tangible with moisture and smelled of wet stone. What dismayed Radja most was that there was not a single plant she had seen before. Arthur, however, faced different problems.
"I thought there'd be armies and weapons and servants!"
Merlin would not hear of it and showed them to the Hall.
"There are people waiting."
The fluttering of birds was mingled with the rustle of footsteps and suddenly people came trickling into the Hall from several directions. There were about twenty of them and if they thought it strange to meet their new king in a place that breathed such decay and savageness, not one of them showed it. Merlin called out the names of the allies.
"Ulfius! Leontes! Brastias! Pelennor!"
After they had formally sworn their allegiance to Arthur, Merlin ordered everybody to clean up the Hall. At once, all the knights proceeded to cut down plants with their swords and move wreckages with their bare hands. Radja, who had remained standing at the door, began wriggling her way through the turmoil, saving some leafs from this plant, some roots from the other, in order to examine them later. She had a few chats with the knights, who were curious but friendly and even courteous towards her – which surprised her as much as it pleased her.
When the sun had passed its peak, the Great Hall of Camelot – as Merlin liked to call it – looked unrecognisably decent and proper... if it had not been for the jungle that was still dangling over the parapets and sprouting through the indoor windows. There was no time left for that, and the sorcerer rushed everybody to stand in place before the new company would enter, this time not existing of allies but of enemies.
A cold silence spread when Morgan Pendragon strode into the Hall. Next to her was King Lot of Lothian and Orkney, followed by at least twenty of his knights. Radja entrenched herself at the other side of the Hall and shuffled her feet, uneasy. She had no experience with court matters at all, yet even she could see this would result in problems.
Morgan would not budge for their ideas, not even when Queen Igraine, a beautiful woman with very sad eyes, appeared and announced that she indeed recognised her son, taken from her twenty years ago. Merlin smiled triumphantly but Lot simply cursed and left, followed by his party.
Merlin had the soldiers continuing to clear the castle of its vegetation, but when Radja made to help them, he stopped her.
"Why don't you find yourself a room you think is suitable for treating patients, now?"
Before she could even open her mouth to respond, he had already swept by to give further orders. Slightly annoyed, Radja wondered for the umpteenth time who really pulled the strings at Camelot. Nonetheless, she did not mind exploring the grounds and having some time to think on her own.
She wandered about the castle until dusk, marvelling at its chambers, its attics, its dungeons and pondering all the people she had met and everything she had been through since she had left her village. Camelot seemed so full of promises... Radja had never thought she would ever visit such a castle, let alone live in it. Yet somehow she felt strangely out of place here, having lived all her life in muddy hamlets and rainy neighbourhoods. She found it hard to imagine this would be her new home. There was something threatening underneath this place and its people, who were playing games with each other Radja did not understand or trust. She could be sure that within time, one of them would try to rope her in unavoidably. Part of being a doctor was getting involved in nearly everything, whether she liked it or not.
After Radja had sought out all the places that could be entered without getting hopelessly entangled in one or another plant, she chose one of the first rooms she had visited to use as hospital wing, since she suspected it had served the same purpose before. Though robbed of their sheets, many beds stood on either side of the chamber. At the end was a fireplace, covered in ashes and thick layers of dust. To her delight, she found a door at the left corner in the back that opened to a small room containing just one bed. It would be hers, she decided.
Nobody slept before midnight. Radja removed the greater part of the plants in the hospital wing using her dagger and cleaned her new bedroom the best she could. Once she was done, she went out in search of Merlin, hoping he would at least remember who she was. She spotted him talking with some of Arthur's allies in the Great Hall.
"Sir..." she began wearily. He did not react.
Radja did not have the patience for this. "Merlin!"
He turned round. "What?"
"I found a room to be used as hospital wing."
"Ah. Which one?"
"Good choice." His smile seemed genuine and he made to turn back at the men.
"The beds have no sheets. There's no wood for the fire, the cupboards are empty... There's pretty much of nothing! And..."
"And?" His smile had not yet completely faded – of course he had known all this before, Radja realised.
"I'm starving," she confessed.
She was grateful when he showed her the newly established kitchen and assured her there would be new resources soon.
"...within a few days, if everything goes according to plan. It will be a matter of settling down and then Camelot will be a new home for us all."
Only now that his words were directed at her specifically, Radja began to experience the power of them. Merlin certainly was a sorcerer with words; ever before had she heard a man speak with such fluency and conviction. It must be one of the main reasons he could make people follow him, she pondered as she strolled back to her chamber. No matter how sceptical she was, she could not help feeling a lot more comfortable and safe after their conversation. She grumbled, suppressing a smile – she had better be wary of him.
The next morning she woke in cold sweat, with the bed sheets borrowed from Queen Igraine in a heap on the ground. Yet it was the uproar that had woken her, the shouts ringing through the castle from all directions, mingled with hundreds of thuds from hasty footsteps. In a few seconds Radja dressed, grabbed her dagger and scurried to the Hall to see what was happening.
"They're coming! They're coming!"
"Easy now, quiet everybody!"
"Out of my way, you –"
Distressed, Radja turned, heading to the battlements instead and there she saw. Like ants, lines of soldiers in black were galloping at great speed towards Camelot. There were at least a hundred of them, and they were armed. The host was led by King Lot and Morgan Pendragon.
Like the previous day, Radja took refuge in the backmost part of the Great Hall. The soldiers came in bellowing and clanging their shields but when Lot did as much as raise a hand, all went quiet. This time, however, Arthur spoke up.
"You stand in my hall, in my realm, and you will show me respect!"
It did not help, though. To Radja's dismay, Lot had his men drag a body into the Hall. It was the man who had attacked Arthur the day they rode for Camelot. It was Lot's eldest son.
Next they brought in a woman with a sack over her head. She was whimpering, half-heartedly trying to break free from her guards, but they did not grant her an inch. When they pulled the sack away, the woman cried out in despair but it was too late. Without wasting a word over it, Lot stabbed his sword in her back. Simultaneously, Arthur and Kay rushed forward, cursing Lot and crying for the woman – who had been their mother, Radja realised.
Taking out his sword again, Lot stepped back. "I'm no monster... Five dawns I give you!"
The doctor started to make her way forward to the place of the murder, whilst trying to catch the rest of King Lot's words. When she reached them he had already made his departure but it was clear that in five days they would either have to abandon their cause or fight their first war.
Merlin led Arthur away from his lifeless foster mother and motioned Leontes to do the same with Kay. Both boys were too overcome with sorrow to resist. Carefully, Radja laid the woman on her back and closed her unseeing eyes. For a moment, Radja studied her face. Though dirty with dust and lined with wrinkles, her features were kind and at peace now. Losing a mother might well be worse than never knowing her, Radja reflected.
Rising, she raised her voice and asked Ulfius and Brastias to place the body on a bier. After she had darted into the hospital wing for pieces of cloth and herbs to preserve the body, she followed.
After lighting some candles, she prepared the herbs and oils, and began cleaning the body in silence. Radja never knew this woman but she would get a funeral and would be mourned for, unlike the slaughtered people of Radja's village...
Then Arthur and Kay solemnly entered the chapel, followed by Merlin who paused at the door. Radja rose, muttered condolences and left them to their grief, avoiding Merlin's eyes, which were gazing intensely at her, as if trying to read her mind. He followed her.
"You think I slew her, don't you?"
Lost for words, she could only glare at him.
"You must understand, Radja... This was a sacrifice for the realm –"
"If you had let Arthur be, he'd still have a mother!"
"She was not his real –"
"Arthur doesn't care whether she was his real mother or not; he loved her all the same, and Kay –"
"This kingdom needs Arthur."
"The boy has nothing to do with the kingdom. The only thing he has done since you brought him here, is what you told him to. Why don't you rule yourself? If you think you know what your people need, give it to them and leave them in peace without dragging them into places where they don't fit, into matters they don't understand, into situations they don't want to be in!" Only then Radja realised she was shouting, having let her anger get the better of her once again. Her words did seem to have some effect on Merlin, though.
"I can't rule myself..." he said softly. "Some people –"
"Spare me your petty arguments. It's too late now anyway."
She walked away briskly, giving him no chance to catch her in one of his enchanting stories again.