Author note: Well, I finally got round to getting this up and running. I have to say I'm curious about the new series, and can't wait to see how the little spoilers and snatches of info that have been released work into the series, so it will be interesting to see. Some of the things, I've tried to incorporate into my writing, giving them my own spin, or playing them out as I'd imagine them to happen - doesn't mean that's the way it WILL happen though...this is just my interpretation.
Anyways, for those of you who may not know, this is the sequel to my other Merlin story "Duel of the Fates" and I strongly suggest you read that first, before you start upon this one.
And for those of you rejoining for this second part, welcome back! I hope you enjoy this just as much as part 1.
A few things you should know before you begin reading...
1. Part 2 is set three years after the end of Part 1, and much of what happened during those three years is explained by the various characters at some stage or another.
2. There are some things, however, that cannot simply be explained in a paragraph tor wo, so I have written flashbacks for those particular scenes. These flashbacks are written in italic, to help you tell the difference between the past and the present.
3. For those of you who may have already seen the image for this story (and even for those who haven't, yet), it features a female rider wearing armour against a red sunset. That rider is Dante, (just like it was Dante gracing the cover of "Duel of the Fates"). Whilst she does not, as yet, wear armour like that...well, look at it as a vision of the future. At some point she will don armour and ride a white charger, rather than her faithful Vixen. But how will she gain the armour, and why? That is something to keep you guessing for a while, hehehe.
And now, on to the story...
A sudden shout and clatter of heavy bolts in the distance woke Morgana from a long and miserable nightmare in which she'd been dreaming, once again, of Emrys - her destiny and her doom.
She woke with a gasp, hanging suspended from shackles where the guards put her every day. The cuffs round her wrists were metal, attached to chains, and if she wanted to, she could have broken them easily with her magic. But they had their own 'magic men' as they called them, in their horde, and the shackles were enchanted with magic equally as strong - if not stronger than her own. No matter what spell or incantation she'd tried, she simply could not break free. Now she was utterly helpless as she hung there, suspended a few feet off the floor, wallowing in her own misery.
And on top of that, the routine was worse than the torture. They would take her down once every five hours for a ten minute walk. She could use a chamber pot and drink as much water as her stomach could hold. Sometimes they gave her food, but not always. And all the time she was supervised by their 'magic man' plus another ten men armed to the teeth, in case she tried anything. By now, however, she'd simply given up trying. But still, they were taking no chances.
When the ten minutes were up, she was dragged back to her cell and hung up, arms outstretched between the locks, legs dangling a few feet off the floor, wearing the same black robes she'd been wearing when she had been captured...whenever that was. After the first week, she'd lost count. Her outer cloak, boots, dagger and healing bracelet were nowhere to be seen, however, and she doubted she'd ever see them again.
The guards never told her anything – never uttered a single word to her. She could tell, though, that they regarded her with contempt.
A witch...a woman...an associate of their enemy. She deserved no better.
That she was still alive puzzled all of them. Her continued existence drained their patience, as well as their resources. They surely had better things to do, such as fighting this war with her brother.
But they followed orders to the letter, like good little soldiers, and that meant that someone, somewhere, wanted Morgana Pendragon alive.
She could only hazard a guess as to who that might be, and why.
The Saxons knew she was a relation to their most notorious 'enemy', Arthur. Albion was, for the moment, remaining firmly out of their grasp, thanks to his efforts at combining the Kingdoms under one common cause. It only made sense that if the Saxons could find any weakness in their defence, they would exploit it. And apparently, they were hoping that Morgana would give them the answers they were looking for. But even under the cruel torture sessions, Morgana still refused to speak. Why should she tell them that, in her eyes at least, Arthur Pendragon was undefeatable? He was stubborn, determined and courageous - She should know. He'd beaten her on several occasions now.
What made these Saxons think they would fare any better against him?
Perhaps their leader Cor, son of Cordin, was determined to force the information from her before she died?
Still, every time the guards came near her, she expected that her time had come, that they would take her down and execute her right there, with a single blade across the throat, or to the chest. Or perhaps a mace to the back of the head? An axe to cleave her head from shoulders? An arrow to the heart?
At least that, she thought in her darkest moments, would be a kind of release.
Her throat and lips were parched. Her head and arms ached. She could barely feel her fingers because the locks held her so tightly round the wrists. Dried blood snaked its way all over her body from the various tortures they had inflicted upon her, her legs were numb and had transcended past the pins and needles stage long before. Now, they were completely numb and felt like lead weights, pulling down on the rest of her body.
She was breaking.
She had nothing left to lose, yet her body still refused to give in and grant her the eternal peace that she was now so desperately seeking.
As she heard voices growing louder outside the cell, heading in her direction, she successfully fought the urge to despair. Instead, she raised her head and looked around. The other cells, visible across the vast dungeon, were empty. Her guards were momentarily absent. If she'd had any way of freeing herself, now would have been the opportune moment.
Even if she escaped the restraints, the cell, the dungeons and even this castle (at least she assumed it was a castle) or wherever it was they were keeping her, would she be able to escape the Saxons completely?
And more to the point, would anyone still be waiting for her? Her little band of mercenaries. Or would they have given up by now? Assumed she was dead and moved on? Were any of them still alive, even? What if they'd all died because of her?
And what of Dante? What had become of her faithful servant? Did she survive the ambush outside Morgana's hut, so long ago, when she was first captured?
Morgana had heard Dante and Merlin arguing - what Merlin had been doing there in the first place was anyone's guess, and what they'd been arguing about, she didn't know either. But she could guess that it was about her, and Dante's loyalty to her. And then the battle had started, and men had smashed their way into her hut and knocked her unconscious.
She'd woken here, with no way of knowing whether the other two had even survived, though she couldn't help the terrible feeling she got whenever she thought about it. The last time Dante had seen battle, she hadn't fared too well. And this time, she'd had only Merlin to help her. The Acolyte's chances were slim, at best.
Feeling the surge of frustration growing within her, Morgana strained against her bonds, ignoring the familiar agony of the pain that surged through her from her restraints. Muscles stood out on her painfully thin arms. Her wrists were bruised from numerous such attempts. One day, she had told herself many times, the magical enchantment on the cuffs would fade or fail just long enough.
Until then, it was a good form of exercise.
Straining and hoping was better that thinking – about what had happened, or what might be to come. Feeling her fading strength give way, she sagged momentarily, before gathering her last energy reserves and trying again.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," a voice said from the doorway, and glancing up she saw Cor himself walking into the cell.
If looks could kill, the Saxon would have keeled over then and there, thanks to the glare that Morgana unleashed upon him as she continually tugged desperately at her bonds. Then, she thought she felt one of them weaken.
"I really wouldn't," Cor commented lightly, apparently not bothered in the slightest by the evil glare he was receiving from his prisoner. His time in Albion had helped him to perfect the foreign language, so that now he could speak it fluently with barely a hint of an accent. He was one of the few Saxons, however, that chose to even speak what they considered the 'dirty' language of their enemies.
Morgana ignored him and resumed her escape attempt. The locks hadn't shifted a millimetre. The illusion of slippage had come as a result of blood from her right wrist lubricating the restraint on that side. She yanked harder, ignoring the pain, but was as stuck fast as ever.
Exhausted, she sagged weakly in the locks.
"I did try to tell you," Cor sighed, speaking to her like a disappointed parent would speak to their disobedient child.
"What do you want?" she groaned, gritting her teeth against the fresh pain of her most recent escape attempt.
"I just came to see for myself what all the fuss is about. My men tell me that you are growing weaker every day. They're even holding bets to see how much longer you can last..." If he was trying to sound concerned, he wasn't doing a very good job of it.
"Are you surprised?" Morgana snapped, though it didn't come out nearly half as angry as she'd intended it to.
"Well yes," Cor admitted sadly. "I know you Pendragons are strong, but we all expected you to give up weeks ago. And yet now, as I have seen for myself first hand, I find myself hoping that you WON'T give in. That you'll prove everyone wrong and keep going."
"Why?" Morgana asked suspiciously.
"Because I see potential in you. The others – your precious Brother and his allies – they feared you...they never trusted you. But I don't fear you Morgana Pendragon. Your powers – I embrace them. You're a High Priestess of the Triple Goddess, no less. The last of your kind, in fact. Beautiful, rare and deadly. You hold more power than most people can ever dream of having, but I believe in you. I trust you."
Morgana found herself looking properly, for the first time, into the face of her enemy, and what she saw there choked her like an invisible fist crushing her throat.
The face was human.
They were cold and feral yellow, and they gleamed like those of a predator lurking beyond the fringe of firelight.
Stunned with horror, stunned with revulsion, Morgana could only stare at the creature, and looking into those terrible eyes, she saw her future, and what she herself may someday become.
Because Cor had magic. He was clearly the one who'd enchanted her restraints. His magic had consumed him, and now resonated from him in powerful waves. And he did not control IT.
IT controlled him.
This reality hit Morgana like a metal shield, slamming into her and causing her head to explode in terrible pain.
She gritted her teeth and squeezed her eyes tight, praying for the pain to subside.
"I will never join you," she growled after a moment. As much as she hated Arthur, she hated this man...this monster, even more.
"Pity," he shrugged turning away. "You will remain here, then. As my prisoner. I could have taken your pain, given you peace. But you have chosen otherwise."
"You can still give me peace!" She called after him. "Be merciful! Kill me now! I am of no further use to you!"
He paused in the doorway and looked back at her, with a smirk. "When Camelot is ashes, My Lady, then you have my permission to die."
"You're sure this is the right place?" Mordred grumbled as he and Dante crept through the tunnels running beneath the cliff top castle that had once belonged to Lord Eldred of Northumbria.
"Nope," Dante admitted, holding the flaming torch in front of her to light their path. "But you heard Arthur. This is the most likely place Cor would hole himself up as he waited for reinforcements. And besides, over the past three years, we've looked everywhere else. All those castles, citadels, towns, villages, settlements and estates we infiltrated...and still no Morgana. We're running out of options!"
"Doesn't mean we'll find her here, either."
Dante stopped dead and spun to face the knight, who jumped back slightly, away from the flames. "And have you got any better ideas?!"
"Keep your voice down, woman," he snapped.
"Well have you?" she hissed, ignoring his lapse in manners as her voice dropped to an angry whisper. Now was not the time to argue over rank and title, after all.
Mordred opened his mouth to protest, then closed it again and sighed. "No. I haven't."
"Then stop complaining," she warned, before turning to continue on.
"Yes Milady," he spoke to the back of her head, pulling several faces at her without her knowledge. She could be so damned infuriating at times, and more than once he'd considered running her through and claiming the Saxons got her. But then, she was the only other person even remotely interested in helping Morgana, and without her, he wouldn't even have come this far.
She was closer to Arthur than anyone else he knew - except the Queen or Merlin, but they didn't trust him, and he didn't trust them. This meant, however, that Dante had access to information and secrets that no-one else did. Such as these secret tunnels beneath the castle.
She also happened to be one of Arthur's scouts, because she'd badgered and pestered the King for weeks on end, until he'd finally relented and given her a role in this war, just to shut her up. Now she could go where she liked, when she liked, on the pretence of scouting the area.
She'd even insisted that Mordred be her personal bodyguard and protector, giving them both perfect alibis to search for Morgana unhindered, without anyone suspecting the treason that they actually intended to conspire with her.
So alright, she had her benefits...but boy, did he grow weary of her attitude sometimes! Just because she was some high ranking lord's daughter - or some such nonsense. And she happened to be the First Lady of Camelot...so alright, she had power, too. She was a valuable ally, Mordred had to admit. But even so, there was only so much he could stand!
"Down!" She hissed suddenly, throwing the torch on the floor and kicking dirt over it to extinguish it.
Hearing what she'd heard - footsteps and voices heading in their direction, Mordred drew his sword and then crouched down behind the boulder with her, ready to attack, should the need arise.
They melted into the shadows, both glad they'd donned black leather and even blacker cloaks instead of the usual chainmail and red cloaks of Camelot.
As the voices grew closer, Mordred pressed one finger to his lips, to warn her to remain absolutely silent. She nodded in understanding, pulling the bow quietly from her back and knocking an arrow.
And then they waited. The group of Saxons who passed - four huge hulking men in thick furs - were talking in their strange foreign tongue, but Dante and Mordred had been studying them long enough now to understand the general gist of the conversation.
They were talking about a prisoner.
A female prisoner.
Who had magic.
Dante gave Mordred a pointed look, as if saying 'I told you so' as they slipped round the opposite side of the boulder and started down the pathway in the opposite direction to the Saxons. He rolled his eyes, knowing that in this instance she was right. But he'd never dignify this with an acknowledgement of any kind, and she knew it.
Still, an eye roll was more than she usually got when it turned out that she was right and he was wrong.
Finally emerging from a hidden door in one of the lower levels of the castle, the pair glanced around, trying to decide which way to go first.
"The dungeons would most likely be at the base of the castle," Mordred reasoned as they looked between their two options - a corridor leading to a staircase up, or another corridor with a staircase leading down.
"Not all castles are the same," Dante reminded him as she carefully placed the arrow back in her quiver and looped the bow back over her shoulder, freeing her hands once more. "Some have their dungeons at the top."
"Why the hell would you keep a prisoner at the TOP of your castle?" Mordred retorted, clearly not believing it.
"To stop them escaping out a window?" Dante explained impatiently, as if the answer were obvious.
"Yes but at the bottom of the castle there are no windows to escape from!"
"This is a cliff top castle. The last thing anyone wants is for their cell block to be flooded by the ocean and their prisoners to drown."
"They're prisoners. What does it matter if they die?!"
"They're still people, Mordred! Not all of us are crazy insane murderers! And besides, the prisoners may be hostages!"
"They may not be, as well!"
"Damn it, Mordred, stop arguing!" Dante finally snapped, her voice bouncing off the walls of the narrow corridor and echoing loudly in their ears. They both froze for a moment, afraid of being discovered. When no immediate alarm was raised, however, they assumed that for the moment at least, they were still undiscovered.
"Look, we'll work it like we worked the Citadel in Londinium, top to bottom," she suggested eventually, attempting to compromise. "With any luck, we can take a few of these Saxon bastards with us on the way."
For want of a better idea, and to simply shut her up before she well and truly gave them away, Mordred gave a huge resounding sigh and nodded. "Don't worry. I've given up trying to argue with you."
Turning towards the staircase leading up, they vanished just seconds before a Saxon patrol rounded the corner - sent to check out strange noises in this corner of the castle.