A/N: Fast, as promised, to make up for the cliffie... A pivotal chapter for Morgana.
To the Test
. . .
Leon and Gwaine carry the King to the sickbay. Gwen rushes to meet them. More knights follow his wake, grim as statues.
"Bring him here," Gaius directs them to lay him into an available bed. Within an instant, the sheets are soaked with blood.
"He was stabbed," Gwaine explains. "Sarrum ambushed him in the armoury. We arrived too late..."
But the Queen is barely listening. Hands shaking, she rips open the bloodied shirt to expose a deep gash between his ribs. Tensing at the sight, she bites back a frightened gasp.
"Is it that bad?" Arthur forces out, face coated with thin layer of sweat, his skin ashen.
Gwen won't say a word. But her face shows it all.
Arthur grabs her hand.
"They'll patch me up." He tries to smile, but the pain is too much. "Right, Gaius?"
The physician does not answer, just keeps adding pressure to stop the flow.
Arthur is but barely hanging on.
"I'm afraid he's lost too much blood," Gaius says, grimly, after inspecting the wound.
"Isn't there something be done?"
The whole room stands in mourning. Gwen is devastated.
"I could save him."
A voice in the corner.
Morgana, in her dark robes, has gone unnoticed the whole time.
"No," his brother mumbles, showing actual fear for first time since he's been stabbed... "Don't."
"But Arthur..." Gwen pleads, holding his hand in hers.
The King does not fight back. All that comes out of his mouth are some feverish ramblings.
The knights are silent. As is everyone else.
"We don't have much time," Gaius prompts.
Morgana watches them with an odd detachment. It's almost unreal. Arthur is dying, and she's his only heir.
"You heard her. Let her through," Gwen commands, inviting her closer.
All she has to do is fail...
"You shouldn't trust her. You heard the King," Leon warns, hand on the hilt of his sword.
"Step aside, Leon." Gwen instists, pushing him aside. "I am telling you - as your Queen."
The knight pulls away. There is no more resistance.
This is it, Morgana thinks, as he closes in on her dying brother.
Merlin is not here. He would not blame her if she failed.
Touching his forehead, Arthur's skin feels cold and clammy... and so pale. - Like the marble on their father's crypt, she's visited him, down there, in the catacombs. Looking calm and peaceful, like he never was. And certainly not in his last minutes...
It could easily be two of them now. Two sculptures. Side by side - father and son. She could live with it, could she not?
Just another nightmare in the long list...
"Morgana," Gaius's wakes her from her musings.
Dozens of people have gathered around her in a semi-circle to witness old physician hands her plants used in such spells.
"I won't make any promises," she says and lights the herbs with a spell. The air fills with smoke.
Placing her hands on the wound, Morgana starts the incantation.
The wound grows warmer and responds to her touch - but something is wrong. Arthur's soul is slipping away from her, even as she fights to bring him back, through the numbing white haze... Too early for Avalon, little brother ... it's pulling her, too - like something impossibly heavy - almost too much to bear...
Then, a flash of gold, and it's over.
Arthur lets out a deep breath. Then another. His heart is beating normally.
Following her grand feat, Morgana stands up, shaking from exhaustion...
It's costly, such magic, but exhilarating as well... Having power over lives - by sparing them. Who could have thought?
"My Lady, please..." A voice in the sickbay. A bloodied knight, about to lose an arm. A pitiable sight. "Lady Morgana..." Another one.
With the audience's silent permission, she moves to the soldier, and prepares another spell.
The room is thick with the smell of roses and valerian. Gold flashes in her eyes, burning sensation, like molten lava, rises in her middle and pours out of her hands into the wound.
That's another one healed. Then another. And another...
By the time Merlin returns, she's on the brink of collapsing. Seeing that, he rushes out to her, catching her in his arms.
She feels extinguished, poured out, drained to the last drop... yet oddly accomplished, like never before. Proud.
And so is he, given the way he whispers into her ear, disregarding Leon and Gwaine and Gaius, and all else around them who can hear them.
"What are you doing? Morgana..."
"Fixing things. Now I know how..."
"You've done well. It's enough for now - you have to stop..."
Stepping into the fresh air, they walk to the courtyard, where the men have rounded prisoner's possessions for inspection.
Between them - a crate, she hears a sound - a shriek of a bird or animal in anguish.
"Do you hear that?"
. . .
"What happened?" Arthur demands, waking up on the stretcher. There's but dull ache where there was a gap in his side. Removing the cloth, he sees a golden glow through the fabric. The wound feels warm and... healing.
"Guinevere - what have you done..."
"Shhh..." She kisses his forehead, hoping to calm him. "You're alive, Arthur. That's all that matters."
"No." That's not all, far from it.
He's still the King, and responsible for all their safety. And his beloved wife had gone directly against his permission, against the law itself...
Casting the sheets aside, Arthur stands up, shirtless, half of his side aching and numb.
"Arthur, please... You'll open your wound."
Following the noise outside, he staggers through the doors onto the courtyard, where his men lie stunned on the ground... it's where he finds those two - Merlin and Morgana - with hands entwined. Their blank stares greet him mutely.
Clutching the bannister, he manages to walk closer.
"What's happened here?"
Shards of an iron cage lie at the foot of the bronze statue. Broken by an unknown force. Magic.
He's not willing to believe it, not yet...
"The dragon, where is it?"
"I released her," Morgana states, calmly.
Arthur's face falls, last hope draining...
Fire crackles in the hearth, making dark shadows dance on the floor. In this gleaming show of light Arthur sits in his chair, lost in his thoughts.
"You wanted to see me..." Morgana speaks first.
"If you only knew what you've done," her brother mutters, with considerable effort.
"Spared you and your men? Released a harmless creature who once saved my life?"
"That 'harmless creature' will grow up one day to burn cities, take the lives of hundreds of people, women and children alike."
Morgana swallows, remembering the fields of fire in her visions, the child amidst it all... She brushes them aside.
"As have you, Arthur. Don't deny this. I've seen those shrines Druid's build for their haunted, their restless spirits calling for justice... Yet Camelot is allowed to go on."
Arthur sits down, wounded, and tired. Then rubs his temples.
"I am trying to end feuds, bury the horrors of the past once and for all, yet you keep digging them up."
"Forgetting isn't mending. It's time for you to accept that magic is a part of this world."
"It's not that simple."
"Our powers can be used for good. You all saw it tonight..."
"You're playing with fire, Morgana. You think you're doing good, but in fact you've put us all in danger..."
Morgana snorts, "What do you know about magic, Arthur? Nothing but fear and prejudice."
"I tell you what I know..." Arthur murmurs, and his haunted eyes finally meet hers. "I know my mother died because of it. And so did my father... All because I wanted to believe, because I was selfish - because I wanted to prove him wrong. It's a decision I will have to live with, every day of my life..."
Morgana swallows, guiltily.
"So he died." She can't give up. "Uther was no saint. How many people did he have executed? How many unmarked graves of my kin?"
"We were your kin."
"And yet," she smiles, sadly, "he would have sentenced me just the same."
"I would have never let that happen. I would have stood up for you."
"Like you did for everyone else? All those women and children born into magic... I was no different in his eyes."
"It's not true... Uther loved you."
"He loved what he wanted me to be. His humble ward, forever indebted to him. I once confronted him about my father, he disowned me without a blink. Or have you forgotten the dungeons?"
"We all make mistakes." Arthur shakes his head.
Morgana pauses, reminiscing.
"Do you remember, when I first arrived here... when Uther took me in to be brought up in the palace, when people began to speculate..." She stops, watching her brother squirm. "Do you remember - they called me the Queen in the making?"
"He never actually said that..." Arthur murmurs, but can't meet her eyes like mere moments ago.
Despite all that bickering and sibling rivalry, he can't deny the idea had crossed his mind a few times, accepting it as a remote possibility. Long before he grew to love Gwen.
"That's right. He never said anything. Had it been left to him, the truth would have never been revealed." Morgana forces out a smile, but it comes out all wrong, marred by tears of rage. "He would have rather seen us court each other than reveal my true legitimacy to the throne..."
"Enough," Arthur stops her, horrified. "That's enough... Morgana."
"Truth hurts, doesn't it?" she reflects, remembering another meeting quite the same and yet nothing like this. As much as she like saying that, Arthur is not his father, after all.
Uther would never even listen...
"He was not always right, but he was the King, and he made the laws. Just as I do now," Arthur amends quietly, looking into the fire. It always seemed to ease his mind, even as a kid.
"Then why carry on with his mistakes? Or are you too much of a coward to make your own?" Morgana responds, running out of venom for her foster-brother turned half-sibling.
Arthur stands up and stays silent for a while.
Leaning against the mantlepiece, he speaks, at length.
"No one here is a coward, Morgana. As evidenced by you being here, inside Camelot. But you're right about one thing - there's been grievous harm done to your people over the past. So tell me... even if I allowed magic into my Kingdom, if I tried to make peace with them, would it be enough? Will there be an end for this vendetta, their senseless quests of vengeance? Can you promise me that?"
Morgana lights up at this small victory, but her brother is right. She's not the only one wronged by Uther. There are many others: whole families touched by the Purge, all in search of justice. There always will be.
"I cannot," she admits, truthfully. "From what I know."
"Yeah," Arthur barely reacts. "I know that too."
A/N: In the end, it's all politics...
I was never an ArMor shipper, but the thing that strikes me most about season one is how Uther never seemed to mind people getting the idea that they may be courting, even Gwen thought that Morgana might one day become Arthur's wife. Remember the episode with knight Valiant, Arthur being jealous and winning the honour of being her champion? Granted, Uther had absolute control over who they would marry and therefore stop it from happening, but it's no less wrong to let two (half)siblings grow up misled like that. - I know most likely the show runners simply changed their mind about her parentage sometime before the second season... but still, the facts remain.
Up Next: Just the final chapter and an epilogue. Hopefully very soon ; )