So as you guys have probably noticed, the updates on this story have been pretty slow lately. Honestly I'm not sure how much interest this story has anymore now that the show has ended, and I have another multi-chapter I'm in the middle of who's fandom is a lot more active at the moment. I'm not going to abandon this story completely, as I personally think it has one of the best plots I've ever written, but updates at the moment are going to be pretty scarce until I have less on my plate. Just wanted to let you all know.
The Kingdom of Essetir was vast and beautiful, despite its castle's menacing and unwelcoming nature. Its darkness contrasted greatly with the city's color and warmth, leaving Morgana to feel rather out of place once the King's guards had escorted them inside the walls of the palace. Despite her discomfort, Morgana kept her head high and her gaze purposeful, alluding to a strength she so desperately wished she had in that moment.
The Ward's heart beat heavily inside her chest as they made their way to the throne room. Despite Nimueh and her sister's assurances that Cenred would be more than willing, Morgana could not help but fear the possibility that they may have come in vain. If that was the case, Morgana was uncertain who they could turn to in his stead. Their options were few and they had a very small window of time to accomplish their ends; should they need to find another King willing to ally against Camelot, they would be wasting precious time.
The large oak door was pushed open by their escorting guards, the hinges squeaking beneath its weight. King Cenred sat upon his throne, his eyes finding the three women who had disturbed the previous silence of the room. His eyebrow quirked and intrigue colored his expression. Morgana assumed Cenred was not accustomed to female visitors he did not call for himself, let alone three of them at once. Bathed in the finest silken gowns, they must look terribly displaced from the norm, yet Morgause had insisted they dress for the occasion, as Cenred's lust was his greatest weakness.
As his gaze blatantly drank up each woman's appearance in turn, Morgana could not deny that they had made the right decision with their attire. It was clear their physical appearance was more than pleasing for the man.
"My Lord, these women have come—" the guard tried to announce, yet he was silenced by a wave of Cenred's hand. He clearly did not care why; he only cared that they were there. The details, it seemed, were irrelevant.
The guard looked a little perturbed by the dismissal, yet said nothing as he bowed his head in acknowledgement. After he had left and the door closed behind him, Cenred rose from his throne. "Nimueh," he assumed, looking straight at the witch who stood between Morgana and Morgause. "The most wanted woman in all of Camelot." Cenred looked almost impressed by Nimueh's reputation, which would at least give them a slight advantage towards their proposal. "I had wondered how long it would take for you to come to me. I must admit, I would have thought it'd be much sooner than this."
"I see my reputation precedes me," Nimueh responded, though did not make a move to meet Cenred halfway. There was power, after all, when one is forced to come to you, no matter how slight.
"Oh, yes," he affirmed, drawing closer to them. "The woman who started the Great Purge; you are a legend."
Morgana glanced at Nimueh out of the corner of her eye, hoping that did not draw offense. It was not something Nimueh was proud of. However the witch did not even bat an eyelash at Cenred's words; it was as though she almost expected them. And perhaps she should have, but it still made Morgana feel badly for the woman. What had happened all those years ago was the last thing Nimueh had ever wanted.
"I assume," Cenred continued, "that you are here to negotiate an allegiance?" His eyes flickered to the two women that stood at Nimueh's side. His lips turned up into a smirk. "I must say, I am impressed by the gifts you have brought me. This one in particular…" Cenred's hand rose to touch Morgause's face but the blonde grasped his wrist firmly, offence making over her delicate features for being assumed a whore.
"Touch me again and you will soon find yourself a cripple."
Nimueh looked amused at Cenred's shocked expression. "A gift has been brought to you, yes, but not the one you so pompously assumed."
Despite being spoken to by Nimueh though, Cenred was still looking at Morgause. It seemed that after the shock had passed the blonde's fire seemed to intrigue him even more. It was as though Morgana and Nimueh were completely invisible and Morgana tried not to let it bother her; this was what they were hoping for, after all. It was just that the Ward wished Cenred would've take an interest in Nimueh and not either of them, but perhaps it was stupid to have hoped for anything else. Morgause was the most beautiful woman Morgana had ever set eyes on; she should have expected that everyone else would feel the same.
Nimueh did not look too pleased with being ignored either, but mostly because she was trying to speak with him. Her voice grew louder. "We are the three faces of the Triple Goddess; the best weapon one could ever desire to have in battle."
That, at least, redirected Cenred's attention. He looked at Nimueh, then over towards Morgana. "So it is all of you then, who seek an allegiance?"
Morgana was growing tired of standing in the shadows during this conversation so she took a step forward. "Actually, it is I who wish to stand with you." Nimueh did not look very happy by the dismissal, but in the end this was not her fight and she knew it.
"And who are you?" Cenred demanded.
"Morgana Pendragon," Morgana answered him, her voice strong and certain as she recited a name she hated, yet embraced for its power. "Daughter of Uther Pendragon, second in line to the throne of Camelot."
Cenred looked as though he did not know how to take that information. "Uther has no daughter," he scoffed finally, deciding to be disbelieving of her claims.
"Uther has not publicly acknowledged me, but I am his by blood," Morgana told him. "I believe even you, can understand why. Do you really believe my father would be so quick to admit that he had a hand in creating the very thing he despises the most?"
That made Cenred pause as he considered the possibility. Uther's hatred of magick was well known, so it was not unreasonable that he would deny having a blood connection to it. "Even if you were," Cenred began, "your story would need witnesses if you ever wish to claim your birthright. Until then, your title means nothing."
Morgana did not think of that. Most of the people who knew that she was Uther's daughters were sorcerers, which in Camelot did not fare as reliable witnesses. But it was Nimueh who spoke. "The Court Physician, Gaius, knows of her lineage." Morgana's eyes went wide at that information and she turned to face Nimueh. Gaius? She had trusted him and all these years he had been keeping Uther's secret? Lying to her? The revelation made the pit of Morgana's stomach churn with sickness.
"It was how I learned," Nimueh explained. "We were… friends once. He confided in me." It was clear it was hard for her to admit to that, seeing as Gaius' loyalty now lied with the King. "Llamrei, of course," Nimueh continued, now looking towards Morgause, "was informed by your mother, but I do not believe her assurance would have any standing within Camelot."
Pushing her personal feelings about Gaius's betrayal of trust to the side, Morgana stepped forward. "It is of no matter anyhow," she assured them, wishing to just push past the issue of acknowledgement. It was not something that she felt comfortable discussing, as it wasn't just an issue of royalty to her, but one of family and lack of trust. It was personal. "Once we've taken the city, I will make Uther acknowledge me himself. I deserve to hear the words fall from his lips and I will see to it that I get my wish."
"You speak as though I have already agreed to this," Cenred reminded her. "But I fail to see what's in it for me. Though Camelot is not as strong as it was before the Purge, it is still impenetrable. Only a fool would go against Uther Pendragon when his kingdom still stands tall."
"Nothing is impenetrable," Morgause told him, finally coming into the conversation. Once she spoke, all of Cenred's attention was on her. It was almost sickening to watch, but Morgana endured his desire for her sister as it was what she was expected to do. They needed Cenred.
"And I thought what we were offering was obvious," Morgause continued, speaking to him as though he were feeble minded and yet it seemed her attitude only furthered his lust. A masochist, perhaps; or maybe Cenred wished to break someone as strong as her. Either way, it was working and Morgause knew it. "Once Morgana has taken the throne, she will be in need of a King. That is where you come in, if you are willing."
The thought sickened Morgana, but as it would never actually come to pass, she did not dwell on it. They were planning to double-cross him, and the chances of Cenred even surviving the end of the battle were slim to none. He viewed women as objects; he would never see it coming. He probably didn't think their gender was capable of such an act of betrayal, let alone be strong enough to carry it out.
Cenred looked intrigued by the prospect, but didn't even look at Morgana, who he should be considering for his future queen. Instead he continued to study Morgause, as though he were trying to figure her out. "I still have not been allowed the pleasure of an introduction," he said, extending his hand to her. "I would love to know the name that accompanies such a rare beauty." Morgause took his hand to be polite, but looked unimpressed by his charm.
"I am the Lady Morgause; High Priestess of the Old Religion, half-sister to the future queen of Camelot."
At a second mention of Morgana's possible queenship, Cenred finally turned to look at her. Morgause untangled her hand from his and stepped back, a look of disgust on her face now that Cenred's back was turned. Morgana felt badly that she had to endure such attention, but there would be time later to wash away his touch.
"I will admit, that is something I would not be opposed to," he began. "But as I said before, only a fool would go up against Camelot in its current state. For you to assume the throne, you must not only defeat Uther but his son as well. Even with my great army, I do not think it would be worth the lives it will cost to achieve your ends."
Morgana was beginning to grow impatient. Uther had said once that Cenred was a coward and it was starting to show. His overly cautious nature was not what they needed right now. "Then we will find a way to weaken it first," Morgana said, without thought to a solution before she spoke.
Morgana hesitated, but it was Morgause who spoke in her stead. "Give us time. It would be unreasonable for you to expect us to devise a battle plan in a day; at least, one that would work. If we wish to seize Camelot, we must be smart about it."
Cenred, at least, seemed to agree on that point. "Of course," he conceded. There was a slight pause before the topic switched rather abruptly, becoming the polite expectation one would assume from any King with visitors. "In the meantime however, I insist that the three of you stay in my castle as my honored guests. I will have my servants make up your rooms and we will speak more on this in the morning."
"Thank you," Morgana replied, bowing her head slightly in acknowledgement, "for your hospitality, King Cenred. We are most grateful."
As the three women turned away from Cenred, Morgana found herself torn between relief and worry. The King at least seemed interested in their proposal, but Morgana was unsure what they could do to weaken Camelot before the attack. Whatever they decide though, they must do so quickly, for as Morgana's eyes found the window and saw the first bit of winter's frost tainting its glass, she feared snowfall would come before they were ready.
And all three of them knew they could not afford such an obstacle.
"We need a plan."
"Yes thank you, dear, for stating the obvious," Nimueh bit back, her relentless pacing back and forth beginning to make Morgause feel rather dizzy. The blonde held her tongue but her eyes rolled in the back of her head as she let out a long breath of frustration. It would do no good to argue right now.
Morgana came up from behind her, wrapping her arms around Morgause's torso as she watched Nimueh try to formulate some sort of idea of how they could weaken Camelot's defenses. She sighed. "Part of me wishes that I had never left now; it would've been much easier to bring down Uther from inside the castle."
"If you hadn't left, you would probably be dead by now," Morgause told her, the statement harsh, yet honest. She slid her hands over her abdomen, covering her sisters' which rested there. Morgana nuzzled into the back of Morgause's neck, needing to feel the connection between them after watching Cenred practically drool all over her. Morgause didn't blame her.
She was very much not looking forward to toying with Cenred's affections towards her, but if it furthered their cause then so be it. Some things just mattered more.
"Isn't there some sort of spell we can use?" Morgana asked. "Perhaps, I don't know, if we were to put something into the water supply so that the knights' strength wanes?"
Morgause shook her head, a small sigh escaping her lips. "Getting close enough to the city to do so would be incredibly dangerous. I don't think it would be wise of us to take that kind of risk."
"She's right," Nimueh murmured as she lightly chewed on her thumbnail, deep in thought as she looked out the far window. "Besides, if we were to get close enough to the water supply, it would be more pertinent to just poison it."
"No." Morgana's face was fierce at that suggestion, in disbelief that Nimueh would ever suggest such a thing. "I will not risk the lives of my people. Weakening them as a whole is one thing, but genocide is quite another."
Nimueh didn't even try to suppress her eye roll at Morgana's sentiments. "This is war, Morgana; we must do what is necessary, no matter how much you may dislike it. If lives are lost to achieve our ends, then so be it. In the long run, there will be many more that will be saved."
"Have you always been this much of a self-serving imbecile?"
Morgause's eyes widened at her sister's blunt statement and Nimueh whipped around to fully face her, face masked in offense at Morgana's less than polite choice of words. But Morgana wasn't done.
"A Queen is nothing without her kingdom. A kingdom is nothing without its people," she told her, voice growing stronger with each passing word. "Though Camelot's common folk may not have magick in their blood, though they may not seem special to someone like you, that does not make them irrelevant. They are my people and they will not become senseless casualties just because you believe we could rebuild Camelot and repopulate it with sorcerers."
Nimueh's eyes narrowed and Morgana continued, "Yeah, I know exactly why you do not care about them, Nimueh. I'm not a fool. But as I am the one to become Queen, I believe the decision of their fate rests with me, not you. Is that understood? My word on this is final."
Nimueh exhaled a long breath at Morgana trying her patience, but she did not argue. In the end, it was Morgana's decision, whether Nimueh liked it or not. "Of course, Your Majesty."
The title was said with the utmost sarcasm, but Morgana did not take the bait. Fighting amongst themselves would do no good and she knew it. It made Morgause smile; the woman her sister had become was someone she respected more highly than words could ever hope to describe. She tightened her grip on Morgana's hands, silently letting her know that she approved of her words. Her sister squeezed right back, grateful for her support.
"Perhaps it would be best if we put our focus into strengthening Cenred's army instead," Morgana suggested, getting back on topic. "If we give him a guarantee that he could not possibly lose, perhaps he would begin to see things our way."
Nimueh waved her off, her impatience growing with each failed suggestion. "There is no such spell that can guarantee something of that magnitude. The only thing that would make his army impenetrable would be the Cup of Life, but that has been lost for centuries."
The Cup of Life.
The Cup of Life.
Something clicked inside of Morgause suddenly and she pulled away from Morgana, stepping towards Nimueh. She was beginning to grow excited, the reality of a solution getting closer and closer as she realized something that could very well change everything. But she had to know for sure before she gave them hope, so she first asked, "The Cup of Life… it's a large golden chalice, is it not?"
"Yes, with small dragon figurines around its base," Nimueh answered, her eyebrow upturning by Morgause's tone. It seemed she could not fathom why Morgause looked so eager to hear her answer, but then again, Morgause would never expect her to. She could hardly believe it herself. "But as I've said—"
Morgause interrupted her. "I've seen it."
Both women questioned her simultaneously, their disbelief apparent in their expressions. Morgause continued, "Whilst on our journey to the Isle, we sought shelter in the Druid's camp that lies west of Camelot. Their leader, Aglain, tended to my wounds in his tent. It was there that I saw the chalice, I knew there was something familiar about it at the time but I couldn't place it. The Druids must have been chosen to protect—"
But Nimueh wouldn't let her finish. A fierce purpose filled her eyes as the information gave her a new determination. "We must get it, by any means necessary. If we were to possess something of such power—"
"Slow down for a moment," Morgana ordered, holding up her hand to stop Nimueh mid-sentence. "You're becoming overzealous again. The Druids are peaceful people; we will not go stomping into their camp demanding that they turn it over to us. Despite being in the midst of war, we are still civilized and they are still our allies. If we wish to go that route, we will ask to borrow it for a short reprieve before returning it to where it rightfully belongs. It would not do for us to make more enemies when we have so many against us already."
"And should Aglain decline?" Nimueh challenged, her eyes hardening at how delicately Morgana always chose to go about things. She obviously did not approve.
"Then we will find another way!"
"There is no other way, don't be foolish!"
"Stop yelling, the both of you!" Morgause demanded, her head beginning to pound from their shrieking tones. This was not helping by any means. She turned to Nimueh. "Morgana is right, we need to keep the Druids as allies. It would be disastrous to our cause should we stack more enemies against us." She sighed a little before hesitantly admitting, "Yet all the same, I share your concerns about our request being declined; if we do not get the cup, I fear Cenred will not help us."
"And his army is what we need, above all else," Nimueh stated, as if she were making some grand point that Morgana could not argue with. It seemed that hope was foolish, however.
"What we need above all else is to not turn into the same kind of murderous, self-serving bastard that Uther himself has become!" Morgana told her fiercely. "I will not condone taking the cup by force, not when they helped us when we had nowhere else to turn."
Nimueh looked like she was about to start arguing again so Morgause cut in with, "In all fairness, we may be worrying over this for nothing. I'm sure the Druids share our same hope that one day our people will not have to live in fear. If this is to further our cause, perhaps they would be more than willing to help. Provided," she added, "that we see it returned to them. If they were chosen to protect it, it was for a reason. We need to respect that."
Nimueh still looked unconvinced. "That may be true, but if it isn't then we will need to come up with a sufficient alternative and thus far, we have not. We do not have all the time in the world; winter is almost upon us and no army in their right mind would march in those conditions. We could just end up wasting time that we do not have. I'm unsure if that's a risk worth taking."
"I believe in what we're doing," Morgana told her strongly. "If what we are doing is truly right, is truly just, then the Gods will find a way to make it come to pass. Have faith."
"Faith is for the foolish."
"That is your opinion," Morgana told her, not fazed by her assessment. "Let us at least see if the option is available to us before we seek an alternative solution, for if it is then we would've just been wasting time coming up with a plan we did not need. And as you pointed out before, we do not have a lot of it."
Nimueh was silent for a moment, her lips pursed into a tight line as she stared at Morgana. Finally she exhaled a long sigh. "Fine," she relented, although she did not seem too happy with her own agreement. "But I truly hope they help us, because I do not see this ending well if they will not."
Morgause tended to agree, yet kept herself silent. Like Morgana said, they had to have faith. Besides, she knew Aglain. He cared deeply for the safety of his people and if Morgana's reign could bring about that guarantee, he needn't have to worry any longer. Was that not something they all wanted? After all, the desire for freedom was, above all else, the thing that bound those with magickal blood together.
They just had to pray that Aglain would see that.