Author Note: I'm sorry I left you guys on that evil ending to the last chapter, but finally, 2 broken laptops, a new job and 3 migraines later, I'm back and able to write the next few chapters, which will hopefully begin to bring the story to some form of reasonable and satisfying close, lol.
Now, before I go any further, the last part of this chapter, between Lot and Morgana? Yes, it might be out of character for Morgana, but hey, the poor girl deserves a break! And if you imagine, as I've been doing, that Lot bears a more than striking resemblance to Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones...well. Would you say no to him?
Anyways, enjoy, and let me know what you think.
Dante was spent - both physically and emotionally. She'd not slept at all during the night and had instead cried herself into a state of delirious exhaustion. By the time Arthur had come to her at dawn, she'd had nothing left. It was only when the guards had come to fetch her that her sheer terror at the prospect of facing her own death had awoken some last final reserves, deep within herself.
This last ounce of energy had been enough to carry her on trembling legs, from the dungeons and up to the scaffold, but it was all she'd been able to do, just to remain standing as she'd faced her doom.
And then as the rope had tightened about her neck and the world had vanished beneath her feet, the adrenaline coursed through her and she found herself coming alive once more. Of course, this feeling would not have lasted for long, had the strangers in leather not come to her rescue, but even so - for those few minutes of confusion during her escape, she'd never felt more alive!
Gripping tightly round the waist of the man in front of her, and feeling the wind lashing her face as they'd galloped through the streets of Camelot, she didn't know whether to laugh or cry. In the end, she settled for ducking her head low and praying that she had not just leapt headlong out of the frying pan and into the fire. She had no idea who these people were, after all. By trusting them to whisk her to safety, had she foolishly placed herself in even greater danger?
Still, at that moment in time she could think of no fate worse than death, especially as she could still feel the tight, constricting sensation of an invisible rope around her throat.
An hour or so later, however, the adrenaline had worn off and the inevitable exhaustion had crashed down upon her like a fierce tidal wave, making her entire body feel like a lead weight in the saddle. It was a good job she was sharing a horse, as she'd more than likely have fallen off long before now, otherwise.
Not far from the border of Camelot, the group slowed to a walk - the horses caked in sweat and frothing at the mouths, whilst the men riding them looked all about anxiously for signs of pursuers. But no matter how good the Knights of Camelot were, it seemed that for the moment at least, they had outrun them – having had the element of surprise on their side.
By this time, Dante could not fight it any longer and had slipped into unconsciousness, her head resting against the back of the leather-clad man she was currently sharing a horse with. She had no idea who these men were, and for the moment at least, she didn't care. She was too tired to care. All she wanted to do was sleep.
So she did.
Leon strode into the throne room and each and every head turned in his direction as the various monarchs stopped their idle chatter to see what he had to say. He stopped beside the empty chair to Arthur's left - the one that had formerly belonged to Dante, and bowed to the assembled group, before turning to address Arthur directly.
"There's no sign of her, Sire. My men have searched everywhere. Whoever those men were, they were skilled at covering their tracks. We suspect she's fled back to Arryn, but as it is across the border, we did not wish to pursue without permission first."
At that, he looked directly to Lot, who shook his head. "Out of the question. If I let your knights trample all over my Kingdom, Arthur, there'll be full scale riot!"
"Lot, you're harbouring a fugitive in your lands," Queen Annis said angrily. "Anyone would think you were on her side!"
"Well she admitted she did what she did, in order to give me the advantage," Lot shrugged, sitting back in his seat in a relaxed pose.
"She was not working for you," Arthur retorted, motioning for Leon to sit. Leon hesitated a moment, reluctant to sit in Dante's seat, but eventually did so anyway as he was well aware that most people were still staring at him, and he hated being the centre of attention.
"How do you know?" Lot challenged, sitting forward again.
"Because you stabbed her. Only a fool would help someone who wanted them dead."
"Touche," Lot conceded, sitting back again with a smug grin on his face. "I guess that must mean Lady Dante's an even bigger fool than you first thought, then. Considering she was working for Morgana, and all."
"She was what?!" Several of the monarchs gasped in surprise, but Arthur and Gwen both shared a pointed look, before Arthur groaned.
"I should have known."
"Yes, you should," Lot agreed, enjoying the situation all the more with each passing second. "My betrothed is a clever girl, isn't she."
"You're still intending to go through with the wedding?" Mithian asked, horrified.
"Of course," Lot nodded as though the answer were obvious. "She's smart, beautiful and not to mention powerful beyond your limited comprehension. Why wouldn't I marry her? She'd make a fine Queen, don't you think?"
"A tyrant Queen," Arthur growled.
"Now now, Arthur. She learned from the best. After all, with Uther as her only role model, what do you expect? Besides, just because you are anti-magic, it does not mean we all are."
"You're making a mistake, Lot," Gwen protested, speaking on her husband's behalf. "Morgana cannot be trusted."
"Look around this room, My Lady," Lot said, gesturing to the people sitting around the round table at that moment in time. "And tell me honestly who you can trust, out of the lot of us. We're all the same, you and I, us, them. We're all, when it boils down to it, power hungry tyrants who want to hold the world in the palm of our hands."
"Not all of us are monsters like you," Gwen growled angrily, and Arthur had to place a hand on her shoulder to restrain her slightly - impressed but also a little scared by his wife's sudden change in attitude.
"One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter," Lot shrugged.
"Alright, enough with the insults," King Odin sighed at last. "Lets us get back to the matter at hand, before I fall asleep from boredom, shall we? Arthur, what do you intend to do about this escaped criminal. Bearing in mind that showing mercy and letting her live, weakens your campaign as High King."
"Is that a threat, Odin?"
"No Arthur, it's a simple statement. One you would do well to remember. She made a fool of you. She betrayed you. If you let her escape punishment, you're effectively showing Albion what a poor King you will be. How many others will push the boundaries? How many others will you let escape?"
"And what if she turns out to be innocent?" Mithian protested. "Then Arthur will have killed an innocent woman. What kind of a king would that make him then?!"
"He's already held her trial and found her guilty," Odin shrugged. "Your point is no longer valid, Princess. So why don't you run along and play with your toys whilst the grownups have a grown up chat?"
"You said the same thing to Dante, once," Annis spoke up then, coming to the young Princess' aid. "Is your opinion of us women so low that you view us all as children, not worth your time?"
"Mithian, Guinevere and Dante? Yes. You, Annis? I see you more as an ancient ruler, well past her years. You should retire whilst you still can."
"How dare you!" Annis leapt to her feet, as did Mithian and a number of other monarchs, just as Mordred slammed the door open and ran in, skidding to a halt beside Arthur's chair. He whispered something urgently into Arthur's ear.
"It would appear," Arthur started after a moment in a loud voice that quickly put an end to any arguments that were ongoing across the table. "That Dante has indeed returned to Arryn. As such, I intend to ride out and meet with her in her hometown."
"You cross my borders, that's an act of war," Lot reminded as the other kings and queens sat down again to listen to Arthur. Arthur raised his eyebrows.
"How many times have you and your men crossed my borders, Lot? I'm not going to start a fight in your land. I merely intend to TALK to her."
"And how many men will you take with you to 'talk' to her?" Lot asked, folding his arms.
"Just a small portion of my army," Arthur replied confidently. "Enough to let her father know I mean business and give him incentive to resolve this situation without bloodshed."
"He has over a hundred knights at his disposal," Lot said after a moment. "I'd call that a small army."
"If you are planning on stopping me, Lot," Arthur started, a deadly tone to his voice as he did not finish the threat, but instead let it linger. Lot stared at him for a long moment, then shrugged.
"Do what you like, Arthur. That family have been nothing but a thorn in my side since I took over from Cenred as king. If you want their blood on your hands, feel free. But don't come running to me when things go sour. Because I warn you, Ector's not a man to be trifled with."
"Duly noted," Arthur nodded. Then he turned to Leon. "Prepare two hundred of our finest men. We ride in an hour."
"Arthur's leaving with two hundred of his finest men and the Round Table Knights," Lot said casually as he walked into Morgana's chambers, after the meeting had finally come to an end. Morgana glanced up curiously from the journal she'd been writing in, then snapped it shut and rose from her desk.
"And what of Mordred?"
"He's been left to defend the Queen. She's to take over during Arthur's absence," Lot shrugged as he tugged off his leather gloves then removed his crown and placed both on the table by the fire.
"And what does Arthur intend to do with Dante when he finds her?" Morgana asked as she walked over to join him. He poured two cups of wine and passed one to her.
"He says he's going to talk to her. I warned him that any more than that would be an act of war."
"He's going to talk to my cousin?" Morgana laughed incredulously. "Does he KNOW Dante?"
"Apparently not," Lot grinned. "But this whole situation gives us a huge advantage. How did you know this would happen?"
"I didn't," Morgana sighed, and there was a regretful tone to her voice. "Dante was never meant to get involved. It should have been a simple case of Gwen poisoning her husband, both of them losing the throne and you stepping in to claim total control. But Dante had to play the bloody hero, didn't she! She had to ruin everything! I never wanted her dead!"
Lot frowned. He'd never seen Morgana show this much emotion about someone before, and reached up to brush a surprising tear from the corner of the witch's eye.
"You really do care about her, don't you," he realised. "I just thought..."
"You just thought I was using her," Morgana finished for him, turning away and sniffing as she attempted to collect herself.
"Well, I did have my doubts after the way you reacted in Ealdor," he admitted, setting the cup on the table and stepping behind her, wrapping his arms about her slender waist and resting his chin on her shoulder. She leaned back into him, closing her eyes. "But yes, I'll admit I thought she was just another pawn in this grand scheme of yours. Just as I am."
"I'd never use you," she frowned, her eyes still closed. "You're an arrogant, selfish, pig headed man sometimes...but you're no pawn."
"I'll take that as a compliment," he muttered into her ear.
After a moment, she sighed. "What do you think Arthur will do when he finds her?"
"Probably give her another chance at life," Lot said after careful consideration. "He gave you a second chance, after all."
"But I am his sister. Dante is nothing to him."
"You and I both know that he favoured Dante greatly when she was here. All credit to the girl, she played that part well enough, getting as close to him as she did. Look at the trouble he had during her hearing. Had it not been for her stubborn foolishness, he might have actually let her off, free of all charges."
"Yes, but she refused to name me as her ally and now she's paying the price for her loyalty. I need to help her. It's the least I can do."
"Look," Lot sighed eventually. "Arthur would have found out one way or another, eventually, so that cannot be helped."
He decided not to mention that he'd been the one to actually speak the truth aloud, earlier in the meeting, and instead held Morgana closer to him as he said, "But if she truly means that much to you, then I'll go with him and make sure he doesn't do anything foolish."
Morgana turned in Lot's arms and looked up at him suspiciously. "You would do that? Why?"
"She means a lot to you. You obviously care about her. And I care about you. I don't want to see you hurt, any more than you want to see Dante hurt. So it will be mutually beneficial for us all, if I help her. Besides, then I'll have made amends for the whole Ealdor incident."
Morgana stared up at him for a long time, trying to see the trick, or the lies in his words, or the betrayal in his eyes. Surprisingly, she found nothing but sincerity. He truly meant what he said.
"You know," she grinned, standing on tiptoes so she could look him in the eyes. "Playing the hero suits you. You should do it more often."
He thought about it for a moment, then grinned. "Nah."
She grinned also, then leaned forward and kissed him, pulling him closer and wrapping her hand into his shoulder-length hair. He returned the kiss eagerly, and from the doorway, Eira smiled, unnoticed by either.
Apparently it wasn't just a marriage of convenience after all, then. She backed out of the room, feeling both jealous of and thrilled by Morgana's choice of husband. Because unlike Eira and her husband, it seemed that Lot and Morgana had been able to find some common ground, and their feelings for one another had grown over time. Eira doubted that would ever happen for her. The longer she spent away from her husband, the better.
Still, it didn't really hurt that Lot was devilishly handsome, and Morgana certainly wasn't unpleasant to look upon, either. As a couple, they were well suited. Lot also tolerated Morgana's 'gift' as he called it, and did not outcast her for her magic. He accepted Morgana for who she was. Not many others could claim to do that. In fact, Dante and Mordred were the only other people Eira knew of, who had accepted Morgana's magic, and now one of them, at least, was fleeing for her life.
Perhaps, Eira thought to herself ruefully as she closed the door quietly and turned away, she could send her own husband off to battle somewhere, and he wouldn't return? Maybe if things went sour with Dante, she could suggest that he go to war, for 'glory and honour'.
Completely forgetting why she had gone to Morgana in the first place, she wandered back down the corridor, humming to herself.
An hour later, ten thousand men left Camelot, some of them Arthur's chosen knights, but most of them belonging to Lot's army. The Cavalry rode ahead, with Lot, Arthur, Merlin and the Round Table knights, whilst those on foot were left to follow as quickly as they could, under the command of Lot's most trusted officers.
Arthur had not liked the fact that Lot had insisted on tagging along, but Lot pointed out that Ector's lands and therefore Dante herself, were in Essetir, Lot's kingdom. He claimed that he wanted to make sure Arthur and his men did not breach the peace and commit any acts of war. He didn't mention that he was also there to keep his future wife's cousin safe from harm. But then, Arthur didn't need to know that.
As the army started off, Gwen and Morgana watched from the windows of their respective rooms as the men they loved rode together, side by side, putting their past differences behind them for the time being, in light of a common goal.
Mordred was also watching from another window, and smiled in satisfaction. When the army was finally out of sight, he decided that it was the perfect time to put his carefully prepared plan into action, finally.