Author Note: Hey guys, it's been a while since I added any more chapters, so I apologise if this chapter seems 'out of sorts' or the characters seem 'out of character'. Anyway, this is, as the chapter title suggests, the beginning of the end. Morgana was warned by Morgause (in a dream if you remember back to one of the earlier chapters), that she had to make a choice between Dante and Mordred, because one would betray her, whilst the other would see her rise to greatness. Well, it may seem like Morgana has already chosen, and the betrayal has already happened...but has it really? Or did she make the wrong choice and cast the wrong servant aside?
She's about to find out.
Gwen was awoken sometime during the early hours of the morning by the sounds of distant fighting. It took her a few seconds to register the sounds, in her sleepy mind, but once realisation dawned, she was up and out of bed in an instant, running for the window even as she threw a cloak about her shoulders.
Down in the courtyard below, fighting had indeed broken out, between the knights of Camelot and a band of warriors wearing colours she did not immediately recognize.
A fierce pounding on her bedroom door caused her to jump with a start and turn away from the window. The hammering continued, growing more and more frantic with each passing moment, matching Gwen's frantic heart.
Running to the fireplace, she grabbed the fire iron, gripping it tightly in both hands as she moved into the middle of the room. If they wanted her, they'd have to come and get her. And she'd not make it easy for them. She may not exactly be a skilled swordswoman, but she could certainly hold her own if needed.
As the door burst inwards and a figure charged in, she swung the iron down with all her might, fully expecting the metal rod to connect with skull, or flesh, or some other part of her attacker's body. At least, she hoped it would. She was completely unprepared, therefore, when it struck against the blade of a sword.
The impact jarred her arm, and she cried out in pain.
"Majesty, it's me! Mordred!" The figure called out as he stepped into the moonlight flooding through the window of the otherwise darkened room. When she saw it was him, she breathed an audible sigh of relief, gingerly rubbing her arm where it had been jarred with the impact. His sword was bloody and he was panting, clearly having fought his way up to her room in the first place.
"Mordred! What's happening?!" She gasped, pulling the cloak tighter about herself and tugging on a pair of leather boots. She was still in her nightgown, but there was no time to stop and change, now. This would have to do, until the opportunity came to change into something more appropriate.
"We're under attack, Majesty," Mordred panted, as he ran to the window and checked the situation beyond. Then he turned and ran back to the door, checking to the corridor beyond.
"Quickly, come with me. We have to get you to safety!"
She didn't need telling twice, and followed him as he started from the room.
"What of the others?" She gasped, as she ran behind him, still clutching the fire iron in one hand, and her cloak closed with the other.
"I sent other knights to get them," Mordred explained as they paused at a junction and he checked to make sure the coast was clear, before they hurried out into the joining corridor. "They'll be escorted to safety, don't worry."
"Good," Gwen nodded. "Who are these attackers? What do they want?"
"We don't know," Mordred explained as they slipped down yet another deserted corridor. "They came out of nowhere. We thought at first they were more of the same men who came for Dante."
"And are they?" Gwen asked, suspiciously. Something about all this didn't feel right. She had a terrible feeling that something was so very wrong. But she couldn't put her finger on WHAT exactly.
"No," Mordred said as a group of Camelot knights charged round the corner. "They're not Dante's men...they're mine!"
He threw his hand out and the four knights were thrown off their feet, each slamming backwards into the wall with sickening thuds as their heads rebounded off brickwork.
"What - ?" Gwen started, stunned. Mordred rounded on her then, grabbing her arm so forcefully that she dropped the iron in surprise. It clattered to the floor and he kicked it aside, out of her reach.
"Come with me, and no harm befall you," he hissed, shouldering open the door to the throne room - she hadn't noticed where he'd been taking her, until now.
"Mordred, let me go! What is the meaning of this?!" Gwen protested angrily, trying to tug her arm free as he dragged her into the room. A handful of Camelot knights were standing inside, bloodied and beaten, surrounded by the invaders at sword point. A little further into the room, the other Kings and Queens were being held at sword point too, along with Gaius. Merlin was not there - although this was no surprise as he'd gone with Arthur, the previous afternoon.
In front of the throne, Mordred threw Gwen unceremoniously to the ground, then stood over her, his bloodied sword gleaming in the moonlight that streamed through the windows.
"You're beaten, Guinevere," he sneered, as two guards moved to stand either side of her. "You're my hostage now. Arthur will have no choice but to surrender Albion to me."
"You must be joking if you think he'll do that," Gwen snapped, trying to scramble back to her feet. But the two guards took her arms and kept her firmly pinned on her knees. She yelped as pain flared across her shoulders, but Mordred merely smirked.
"Oh, he will surrender to me, I assure you," Mordred nodded, his confidence sending a cold shiver down Gwen's spine. "IF he survives my little trap, that is. Because you see, the Lady Dante may have been in league with Morgana, but she never truly knew what I had planned. She caused a wonderful distraction, I'll admit. Very helpful to me, in fact. It got Arthur out of the way and allowed me to set this whole plan into action." He waved a hand about the room, although he wasn't just indicating the room itself, but the devastation that lay beyond, as well. "But she never knew what I had in mind. Neither did Morgana, come to think of it."
He smiled, clearly amused by this prospect, even as the witch herself swept into the room, dressed in her familiar dark robes. Gwen envied her then, for the briefest of moments. At least she'd had the time to stop and dress first.
"Mordred?" She asked in confusion as she walked up to him, eyeing Gwen on the floor, and all the strange men holding everyone hostage. "What's going on?"
"Morgana! Just the woman I wanted to see!" Mordred beamed as he motioned to Gwen, still kneeling before him. "I have a gift for you. The Crown of Camelot."
"What?" Morgana frowned.
Mordred motioned to Gwen, deflating slightly as he was forced to explain. "The Crown of Camelot. You always said you couldn't stand the fact a simple servant sat on your throne. Well, now I've removed her. The throne is yours."
"Are you mad?" Morgana spat, rounding on him, her eyes sparking furiously.
Mordred seemed taken aback by this response, and Gwen realised that what he'd said about the witch was true. She'd had no idea of his plans, at all. She'd clearly been so busy making her own, that she hadn't given any thought to him - hadn't even considered the possibility that he might have plans of his own.
"Morgana, just a few days ago, you forced her to try and kill Arthur. You wanted her dead. Now I'm offering you her head and you're refusing it?"
Gwen blinked, struggling to keep up. Were these two on the same side? Were they against one another? What the hell was going on?!
A sharp crack echoed about the room, and those of Mordred's men who hadn't already had their swords drawn, drew them in an instant. Mordred back peddled, blood seeping from his split lip.
"How dare you strike me," he hissed, dabbing at his lip with the back of his hand. "I am your king!"
Morgana stared at him incredulously for a moment, then laughed. "Only in your very deluded dreams! Arthur is King of Camelot! And when he is dead, I am next in line. Not you. You will NEVER sit the throne of Camelot. Or any other throne, for that matter. You are nothing but a commoner. A druid in knight's clothing. You're nothing."
"She's right!" Gwen piped up then, unable to stay quiet any longer. If she was going to die, then so be it. But she would not die quietly. "She is the rightful Queen, if my husband is dead. But you forget, he's not so easy to kill."
"Oh, I wouldn't be too sure about that," Mordred grinned a sly, malevolent grin that warned her he knew something she didn't - but perhaps should have. And then his earlier words dawned on her.
"You've set a trap for him," she realised, with growing fear and dread.
"Indeed I have," Mordred nodded. "Arthur must pass through Camlan to return to Camelot. My men lie in wait, ready to meet him head on. My men outnumber his, five to one. He does not stand a chance."
Again, Morgana laughed. "You underestimate my brother," she sneered. "You forget Mordred, I've been trying for eight long years to kill Arthur. He has proved an incredibly resilient foe."
"Careful Morgana, one might think you've grown to respect the man," Mordred growled, turning to her. His bloodied sword now stood between them, a threatening gesture, warning her to back off. But Morgana was not so easily intimidated. She held his gaze steadily.
"Perhaps I do," she said after a long, tense pause. "Which is more than can be said for my feelings towards you. This was never part of the plan, and you know it."
"Oh yes, the plan. I forgot about your master plan! But tell me, Morgana. Where in this grand scheme of yours, do I fit in? Because from what I remember, it was YOU who supposedly takes the throne after Arthur is defeated. You and that obnoxious bastard you call a fiance. YOU take all the glory and the power. And what did I stand to gain out of it? NOTHING!"
"I was going to return magic to the realm!" Morgana exploded, and Gwen flinched, fully expecting her to lash out at Mordred again. But she restrained herself - just.
"I can do that too," Mordred retorted. "What's the matter, Morgana? Someone beat you to it? Oh, suddenly it's no fun anymore, is it. When someone comes along and cuts the strings to all your little puppets."
"How dare you!" Morgana's fists clenched tightly. "What gives YOU the right?!"
"I have just as much right as YOU!"
"I'M A PENDRAGON!" Morgana virtually screamed at him. "That throne is MINE!"
Gwen blinked again, in surprise. That was the first time she'd ever heard Morgana willingly admit that she was of the same blood as Arthur. And it was also the first time she'd ever admitted to being of the same blood as Uther, also.
"Well then," Mordred said, after lengthy consideration. "The Pendragons are my enemies. I guess you must be, too."
He raised his sword to strike her, but she was faster and blasted him backwards with a wordless spell, her eyes flashing gold with her fury as he was hurled through the air. All hell broke loose within the hall then as the others began to fight back against their captors, and when Morgana dispatched of the two guards holding Gwen captive, she wasted no time in jumping back to her feet again.
The two women stared at one another for a long moment, both sharing a common desire to escape this situation. Morgana was the first to speak.
"Are you alright?"
"Nothing I've not suffered before," Gwen replied coldly as she rubbed her aching shoulder. Morgana nodded, took one look at the chaos in the hall, then turned for the nearest door. She paused after only a few steps, however, then turned back to Gwen, just as Gaius and Eira hurried over to her.
"Come with me if you want to live," the witch said simply, before turning on her heel and hurrying through the door, vanishing from sight.
Gaius, Eira and Gwen looked to one another, uneasily, weighing their options. If they stayed here, they were sure to die. If they went with Morgana, they outnumbered her, at least. But would that be enough to stop her, if she turned on them? She did have magic, after all.
But then so did Mordred. And he also had a whole army of angry men. Morgana really was the lesser of two evils, right about then.
Their minds made up, they all ran after the witch, hoping to catch her up before she vanished completely.
"So just who's side are you on, exactly?!" Gwen pressed as the four of them hurried through the corridors of the citadel and down towards the stable block - via a detour to Dante's chambers, so that Morgana could collect something that she said would be of great importance, during the coming days. What it was, Gwen had no idea, but it was a thin bundle of purple silk which Morgana tucked into her belt for safekeeping.
"No-one's," came the reply, as two of Mordred's men ran at them and Morgana held out her hand, twisting it. The two men flew backwards, crashing against pillars, and fell to the floor lifeless, allowing the four to pass by, unhindered.
"Do not make the mistake of thinking that because I am aiding you, I am on Arthur's side."
"Dante told me once that you were willing to put your differences aside, in light of your common enemy in the Saxons," Gwen retorted, stopping to grab one of the fallen men's swords. She threw it to Eira, then took another for herself.
"Dante tells people lots of things," Morgana replied as she marched on - a woman on a mission. "Does not make them true."
"You mean how she told Arthur she was guilty of what happened?" Gwen guessed. Morgana said nothing, but her silence was enough confirmation for the Queen. She glanced at Gaius, but he was having a hard enough job just keeping up with the rapid pace that Morgana was setting, and could not speak just yet. Still, he nodded to Gwen to show that he had been thinking along the same lines as her, regardless.
"She did not deserve what happened to her," Morgana spoke eventually - and there was no heat to her words, no malevolence. If anything, her tone was nothing but incredibly sad and regretful - a complete contrast to the evil, smirking witch that they were all used to.
But her tone angered Gwen.
"If you love her so much, why did you leave her in the dungeon?! You could have sprung her out long before now and Arthur would never have found her. He'd have stayed here and Mordred would never have taken over by force!"
"Oh he would have," Morgana assured her. "I should have seen it coming. I learned long ago never to trust anyone, but I let my guard down with him."
Gwen wanted to argue back, but for a moment was at a loss for words. They had reached the stables by now, anyway, and whilst Eira and Gaius kept guard, Morgana and Gwen fetched the horses. There was no time to make four of them ready, so they settled for Gwen's own horse and Dante's horse, Vixen. Morgana was surprisingly gentle towards Vixen, Gwen noted.
"So why did you leave her?" She asked after the silence became too unbearable.
"Because Dante is a stubborn creature. If I had opened the door to her cell, she'd have closed it again, just to spite me. She'd have remained sitting in that cell, with the door wide open, all night if she had to, just to defy my own actions. It was better that I let someone else rescue her and lead her to believe that I had nothing to do with it."
Again, Gwen wanted to protest, but again she was unable. Because the more she thought about it, the more she realised that Morgana was right. Dante was a very stubborn young woman indeed. She would purposefully do the opposite of someone, sometimes, just to spite or annoy them, and after what had happened, it was not surprising that she had turned against her cousin.
"So why are you helping us?" Gwen asked, as they led the horses to the entrance.
"I am opening the door of your own dungeon, Guinevere," Morgana said curtly as she swung into the saddle and Eira jumped up behind her. "What you do with this opportunity is your choice. I urge you not to make the same mistake as Dante."
"The further the distance between myself and Mordred, the happier I'll be," Gwen retorted as she climbed onto her own horse and helped Gaius up behind her.
There was a shout, and then the alarm bells began to sound as Gwen turned in the saddle to look back the way they'd come.
Morgana dug her heels into Vixen and galloped off across the courtyard as Mordred's men filed out of doors and archways on all sides, weapons drawn, intending to surround them and prevent them from escape. Gwen had no time to do anything other than react as Morgana had done, and turn her horse for the drawbridge. Gaius clung round her waist for dear life, as Eira did likewise to Morgana. Arrows zipped past them as Mordred's men opened fire, and Gwen ducked as the arrows came closer and closer to hitting their targets.
The two women steered their horses off the dusty road as soon as they were free of the confines of the Citadel walls, and galloped into the thick, dense forests as fast as the horses were able to, under such treacherous terrain.
The sounds of pursuit soon filtered away into the night, and Gwen finally allowed herself a slight smile as she realised that quite possibly, they may have escaped Mordred's clutches, after all.
Now all she had to do was find Arthur and warn him about the trap.
As she glanced over to Morgana, galloping along beside her, however, she let out a cry of shock, and reigned her horse to a halt. Morgana, taken by surprise, pulled Vixen up sharply, and gave Gwen a quizzical stare. But the stunned Queen could only point towards Eira.
"The poor girl," Gaius muttered, quietly horrified.
Confusion etched its way across Morgana's face as she glanced over her shoulder.
Eira was slumped forward, her eyes glazed over and a small trickle of blood running from the corner of her mouth. A crossbow bolt was buried deeply in the back of her neck.
The Princess was dead.
"She died to save me?" Morgana asked quietly, unable to believe what she was seeing.
"It was unfortunate, but I do not believe she died for you," Gaius corrected quietly.
"You don't understand," Morgana argued. "She insisted on sitting behind me. She would not sit in front. She begged me to take the reins. I did not understand why...until now."
Vixen pawed the ground uneasily, starting to get nervous. The sounds of their pursuers steadily grew in volume.
"We can't stay here," Gwen hated to spoil the 'epiphany' that Morgana seemed to be having, but someone needed to keep their head, or they would all share Eira's tragic fate.
Morgana hesitated a moment, then reached behind and pushed Eira's lifeless body from the saddle.
"You can't leave her here!" Gwen started to protest, but Morgana silenced her with an icy glare.
"I am not riding all the way to Essetir with a dead girl clinging round my waist!"
"How can you be so heartless?!" Gwen snapped, even though deep down she knew that if she'd been in Morgana's position, she'd have done exactly the same.
"I will mourn her passing, when we are out of danger!" Morgana snapped back.
"But you cannot leave her to those dogs!"
Morgana looked like she seriously wanted to protest, but eventually gave a frustrated sigh and threw out her hand. A jet of orange flame darted from her fingers and quickly engulfed the Princess' body.
"There. A funeral fit for a queen," she said, tugging on Vixen's reins. "Now if you want to stay here and get caught, then be my guest. But I'm going to find my betrothed."
And she galloped off into the dense forest of trees, quickly vanishing from sight.
Gwen could not take her eyes from the burning pyre that was all that remained of Eira, but Gaius's voice in her ear finally brought her back to the present.
"We need to keep going, child. And as much as it pains me to say this, we should go with Morgana. She is searching for Lot. And wherever Lot is, Arthur will surely be close by."
"I suppose there is safety in numbers," Gwen agreed reluctantly, as she also urged her own horse on into a steady canter, picking up Morgana's trail soon after.