Title: To Rescue a Fair Maiden
Author: Sapphire Smoke
Summary: Alternate Universe / As Morgana's sixteenth birthday rapidly approaches, Morgause travels to Camelot with the hope she'll be able to rescue her sister from King Uther before the binding spell on her powers breaks and Morgana finds herself alone in a place where having magick condemns her to death.
A/N: For NaNoWriMo 2012
To Undertake the Improbable
The heat from the early afternoon's sun beat down upon her back with relentless torridity. A near fortnight's journey in the blazing summer heat had left Morgause's skin reddened and raw; an agonizing combination when coupled with her weary limbs and calloused feet. Though her delicate features resembled that of adolescence, the fire in her eyes reflected the determination that only nineteen winters with a singular purpose could project upon the world.
She was going to save her sister.
It wasn't too far off now: Camelot, a fortress bathed in the most beautiful colors to shroud the darkness within its stone walls. Morgause could see it on the horizon and she felt herself take a breath; a real, true, lung-swelling breath of air that made her heart thump and her eyes glass over as possibility came closer to a reality. The knapsack slung over her shoulder that contained everything she owned in this world had once felt like a burden along this tiresome journey, yet suddenly felt akin to a feather on her back. Its weight was nothing compared to the hope that now filled her heart.
And so Morgause trudged onward, her pace quickening in sanguine anticipation.
Llamrei had tried to talk her out of going, but it was only to be expected. After Morgause was smuggled out of Camelot during the Great Purge, Llamrei had become the girl's primary caregiver. Though Morgause affectionately called her 'aunt,' she was more of a mother to the blonde than her own flesh and blood. Though Llamrei understood Morgause's need to free her younger sister from the clutches of Uther Pendragon, she also feared the task was too much for a young girl to undertake. Impossible, she had called it. Morgause thought 'improbable' was a better word, for that merely meant it would just be difficult, of which she already knew. But she also knew it could be done, which was the important part.
Aunt Llamrei urged her to wait a few more years, strengthen her magick and hone her abilities, but Morgause felt as though she had waited long enough. The Gods only knew what kind of horror her sister lived with day after day within the walls of Camelot and Morgause knew she could wait no longer; time was running out and though Llamrei insisted everything would work out the way it was meant to, Morgause was not in the habit of leaving things to fate.
It was nearing the eve of Morgana's sixteenth birthday; the day when their mother's binding spell would cease to contain the magick flowing within the young girl's veins. If Morgana did not already know that she was a sorceress, she soon would; and Morgause feared more than anything else that the rest of Camelot would know thereafter. If she was discovered, Morgana's life was forfeit. Morgause could not allow that to happen. She wouldn't.
In her haste, the toe of her boot snagged on a root and she tumbled forward. Morgause cursed loudly as the fabric tore on her trousers, leaving a deep abrasion on her knee. Inwardly scolding herself for her lack of awareness, Morgause settled back against a tree as she tended to her wound. The thick leaves provided her some shelter from the blazing sunlight and Morgause relented to the fact that she was long overdue for a rest. Her body had been screaming at her for hours now, but it was hard to listen to it over the drumming sounds of hope and determination that filled her ears the closer she got to Camelot. Still, though her youthful ignorance prodded her to move onwards as though she were invincible, Morgause had no desire to crawl into the city because she was bested by the elements. And though the tiny voice in the back of her mind tried to convince her otherwise, she knew that would be what happened if she did not take care of herself.
Morgause didn't realize she had fallen asleep until she had been woken by a voice.
"Are you alright, Miss?"
Morgause visibly jumped as she awoke, looking upon two men bathed in Camelot's crimson as they peered down on her on their horses. Knights, presumably. Had she already crossed the border to the city's territory? The long journey in the summer's heat had distorted time and distance and it was plausible that she did not realize how far she had really come until she had settled down to rest. Though every inch of her body screamed mistrust towards those who dared parade around in Uther's colors, Morgause collected herself so as not to arouse suspicion. Apparently she had taken too long to collect herself however and the tallest man dismounted his horse to approach her.
"Can you speak?" he inquired. Though Morgause seemed to pose no threat to him, he still kept his hand on the hilt of his sheathed sword, not one to be fooled by appearances. "You are injured," he noted, glancing at her bandaged knee.
"I'm fine," Morgause immediately defended, finding her voice. She realized how that came out a bit too late though and attempted to brush it off as nothing. "It's merely a scratch. I had fallen; I've had a long journey and I did not heed my body's wish for rest sooner than it would have liked." She dared not move, not wanting the knights to think she was provoking an attack. Though she was sure that her magick was more than a match for these men, it would not do to arouse suspicion before she even set foot inside of the city. Besides, she was feeling weak and that would more than likely translate if she attempted to use sorcery against the men. It was not worth the risk, in any sense.
"What is your business in Camelot?" the second knight inquired, looking distrustful of Morgause although she appeared as nothing but a frail young woman, weary from the heat and distance she had traveled.
"I've traveled from Mercia," Morgause lied easily, having already thought of a story should she be questioned of her intentions. "Bernicia's army destroyed my village in retaliation against King Bayard's refusal to leave the treaty of the Five Kingdoms and join with King Odin. My…" Morgause looked down, mustering up every emotion she held inside of her to finish her story with a tear, "my entire family was slaughtered. I barely made it out with my life. I seek solace inside the mighty walls of Camelot; to start anew."
Morgause had heard about the incident from a stranger in a pub, when she briefly rested in a town outside of Mercia along her journey. Before that she was merely going to go with the story that she was a runaway, but this seemed much better, in light of how aligned Camelot was with King Bayard. The peace treaty between them was revered and there was no doubt that Uther would allow a survivor of the incident to take shelter in his city. After all, with how tense Albion had been as wars raged between the Five Kingdoms and their enemies, Morgause was not sure how welcome strangers would be inside of Camelot's walls and she did not wish to draw attention to herself.
"Odin," the mounted knight spat, as if the word was bile falling from his lips. "The bastard seeks a confrontation he cannot win. Foolish."
Morgause said nothing.
"I am very sorry for your loss," the first knight said; much kinder than his companion. He knelt before her, extending his hand to help Morgause to her feet. "I am Sir Leon. The city limits are not more than a quarter day's ride and these forests can be dangerous at night; if you'd like accompaniment, we shall see you to the gates."
"Morgause," the blonde replied in introduction, not bothering to lie about her name as she knew Uther believed her dead many years ago. He had more than likely forgotten about her existence in the first place. "And that is very kind of you, but I would not think to sway a knight from his duties; I can fair on my own." It was not as difficult as Morgause had expected, to be kind and obliging. Though the fire raged within her at the thought of being aided by those she hated, it would not due to show it. She had come with a purpose and that reigned above any personal feelings she may have against the knights of Camelot.
"Be that as it may, it would not rest well on my conscience to leave a young woman out in these forests alone, let alone a wounded one." Sir Leon smiled at her while his companion reeked of impatience; it was obvious he did not have the same feelings as his fellow knight and wished to move on. "Please, let us assist you."
Morgause was about to protest again, but found that her continued denial of his kindness may seem suspicious. So instead she forced herself to smile graciously as he helped her onto the back of his white steed, ignoring the other knight's muttered comment about how Sir Leon could never resist playing the hero to a pretty girl.
Morgause needed no hero; especially not one bathed in Uther's crimson. She was to be the hero at the end of this tale, of that she was determined. And if the man who sat astride the horse before her was wise, his chapter in her story would end at the gates of Camelot. Sir Leon was young; he had probably only seen two more winters than Morgause herself, so she knew she could not personally fault him for what had happened during the Purge. He was probably just a boy when it happened, not yet knighted into the Pendragon ranks. However, that did not mean that Morgause would hesitate to kill him if the man stood between herself and her goal: getting Morgana out of Camelot, to safety.
The journey was made mostly in silence, although Sir Leon did attempt a bit of small talk. It was obvious by Morgause's less than enthusiastic responses however that she did not wish to speak with him. She feigned tiredness to explain her aloof behavior and no other words were spoken between them until they reached the gates of Camelot.
The sun was just beginning to set, bathing the city in beautiful hues of orange and yellow that did well to hide the horror that Morgause had always associated Camelot with. Her mind's eye however, painted the walls with the blood spatters that had been washed away more than a decade ago. No amount of superficial beauty would distract her from what Camelot truly was: a plague upon the land, upon magick, and upon her people. The day would come when Morgause would gladly take up arms to bring Uther and his precious city down; to watch everything the man ever loved and prided burn and turn to ash before her eyes, but for now she had other priorities.
Sir Leon's horse halted a few paces past the gate and the man looked over his shoulder at Morgause. "You should get a proper night's rest. You can shelter yourself in the Inn just past the Blacksmith's," he pointed, "until you've found yourself a home in our city."
A home. Morgause hadn't even thought of that. She had very little money; more than likely only enough to provide her shelter for two or three nights in the Inn. After that she would have to take up a more permanent residence, as she doubted she could rescue her sister in the span of two days. Where would she go? Morgause didn't have a plan. In fact, she barely had anything. She just came, without thought or hesitation. Perhaps she should have ventured forth with more than just a knapsack and hope, but there wasn't time for her to think about proper arrangements.
But she would make due; there wasn't any other option.
"Thank you for your kindness," Morgause replied diplomatically as she dismounted from the horse. She winced slightly as most of her weight went on her injured knee, but she knew once she had a proper night's rest her magick would be stronger and she would be able to heal it without much effort. The journey had weighed heavily on her abilities and it left her feeling naked and raw without the feeling of power coursing through her body.
"Think nothing of it," Sir Leon dismissed with a smile. "Any man would feel honored to assist such a beauty."
His companion outright rolled his eyes at that and Morgause had to stop herself from doing the same. The knight's interest in her was not flattering; she knew Sir Leon thought her nothing more than a villager and therefore his flirtatious attitude meant he only wished to bed her. Someone of his rank could do nothing else with someone so common, after all.
Though honestly even if the man wasn't Uther's disgusting little pet, Morgause would still hold no interest; in the nineteen winters she had lived she had yet to find her loins ache at the sight of the male form and she doubted she ever would. However, after living with High Priestesses of the Old Religion for many years, Morgause found that wasn't uncommon amongst her people; most seemed to live their life void of romantic ties, as strong emotions complicated their magick and made it harder to control. There were exceptions of course, but Morgause found that solitude appealed to her more than anything else. Magick was her life and she did not wish to compromise that with something so trivial; it seemed foolish.
"I bid you goodnight, Sir Leon. Thank you again for the assistance," Morgause replied, dismissing his flirtatious attitude with a polite smile before she turned away from them.
As she headed towards the Inn, Morgause heard the other knight jest at Sir Leon's expense for his advances being halted. It was of no matter to her though, for as Morgause walked it suddenly dawned on her that she was truly one step closer to achieving her ends. The feeling warmed her inside more than the fire in the Inn as she stepped through the threshold, and she smiled to herself.
"What about this one?" Gwen asked, holding up a beautiful green gown; one of the Ward's favorites. After a long moment's silence however, it was clear she hadn't even been heard. "My Lady?"
Morgana turned away from the window, her heart weighing heavy as she took in the choice her dearest friend and maidservant suggested. "Yes, that'll be fine," she responded half-heartedly. Gwen's face masked in worry as she took in Morgana's expression, and she put the dress back into the wardrobe.
"Are you alright?"
Morgana had half a mind to lie to her and tell her she was fine, but Gwen had been the closest person to her for nearly five years now and she would be able to tell that she wasn't being entirely truthful. Still, it was not something Morgana wished to speak about; it wouldn't change anything, so she failed to see the point in expressing her feelings on the matter.
It seemed she didn't have to though, because Gwen crossed the room to sit next to her on the windowsill, guessing, "You're not very excited for your birthday, are you?"
Morgana let out a small breath and covered her friend's hand with hers. She nodded, letting Gwen know silently that she had guessed correctly. She knew, by all sane reasoning, that she should be more excited than words could express – like most girls were her age – yet it seemed to be the opposite. Morgana didn't feel like she was about to embark into the freedom of womanhood; she felt oppressed, trapped into beginning a new life that she didn't want for herself. It felt akin to suffocation and the Ward hated every moment of it.
"I'm too young to marry," Morgana whispered, sharing her private fear with the one person she knew wouldn't use it against her. She looked down at their linked hands and Gwen squeezed lightly, trying to comfort her friend. Her calloused working hands were a vast contrast from Morgana's smooth skin, but it was the roughness that the brunette enjoyed; it made Gwen feel more real to her, for some reason.
"Morgana, being sixteen only makes you eligible for marriage," Gwen reminded her gently. "That doesn't mean it will happen right away. It could be years off."
Morgana shot her a skeptical look. "You know as well as I do that Prince Lionel has had his eye on me for quite some time, and his father is in an alliance with Uther. If he proposes, Uther will accept on my behalf without a second thought. It's never about love, it's about politics." Her face masked in disgust, hating the way things were done nowadays. "I'm to be sold to keep Camelot in good standing with its allies, and you know it."
Gwen looked at her sympathetically, but it seemed she had no answer to contradict that. After a moment's silence that had seemed to envelop the room in a depressing haze, she offered, "Well… perhaps he won't propose right away; maybe he'll give you some time."
"And allow some other eligible bachelor the time to get there first? Doubtful. I'll be lucky if he even asks me on a date first."
"Didn't he already?" Gwen reminded her gently, looking a little amused. "You turned him down, remember? I've never seen a man look so crushed."
Morgana laughed quietly, remembering that day. Lionel had come to Camelot with his father last Solstice and offered to take her out riding, but Morgana felt no obligation to impress him and so to amuse herself she made a game of it. "I didn't turn him down directly, no," she responded, smirking. "I made him joust Arthur first, don't you remember? I told him if he won I would go, but he fell on his arse in mere moments; it really was quite hilarious."
Gwen laughed as she mentally replayed that moment in her head. "Right! He fell in his horse's manure and then didn't leave his room for days because he was so embarrassed…!" The two girls collapsed into giggles, leaning on each other as they remembered that day.
"He was so angry at Arthur!" Morgana laughed heartily. "He swore he made him land there on purpose. He gives him far too much credit; Arthur's good, but he's not that good!"
Gwen covered her mouth as she tried to stifle her giggling. "Well, perhaps that is giving him too much credit, but Prince Arthur definitely seemed pleased with himself." She nudged Morgana gently as she mentioned, "He seems to have eyes for you too, you know. Perhaps you won't have to leave Camelot after all."
"Oh, ew!" Morgana exclaimed, face masking in horror. That thought perhaps scarred her even more than the prospect of marrying Lionel. "Gwen, he's like a brother to me! I could never marry him." Gwen just shrugged in response, a slight hint of a smirk upon her cherub face.
"You never know," she started as she rose from the windowsill, untangling her hand from Morgana's, "You may wake up one day and look at him in an entirely new light." Morgana merely looked disgruntled at the prospect and Gwen giggled lightly before heading back over to the wardrobe. "Come on," she encouraged lightly. "Let's get you dressed for the day. There's no use worrying over something that has yet to pass; you have more than a fortnight until your birthday and you wanted to go shopping today, did you not?"
Morgana nodded, then shook her head as if to clear it from the bad thoughts that plagued her mind. "Yes, of course. You're right; perhaps I should just take everything one day at a time. I'm no Seer, I cannot predict what will be so I shouldn't worry myself with the 'what ifs' in life."
"Exactly," responded Gwen as she pulled the green dress from the wardrobe once more. As Morgana began to undress out of her nightgown, sliding the silken fabric down her thighs, she continued, "Besides, having future sight would take all the fun out of life, don't you think? It's better if everything's a mystery."
"Oh, I don't know." Morgana stepped into the intricately woven dress; however her line of sight was out the window, at the world. She so wished to explore it and it seemed that was an impossibility. As Gwen helped her pull the gown and lace it, she finished, "Maybe life would be easier if I knew what was to come."
"Perhaps," Gwen replied as she toyed with the laces, pulling them tighter so as to accent Morgana's youthful form, "but don't let the King hear you speak that way." Her tone held a bit of a warning; one that Morgana knew she would do well to heed. Prophecy frightened Uther; but then again, so did everything related to sorcery.
"No…" Morgana shook her head, hand still on her stomach to allow Gwen to tie it as tightly as she could manage. Her voice held a bit of a sigh however as she finished softly, "No, of course not…"
She didn't know why that made her feel so saddened, but Morgana chose not to dwell on it.