A/N: Here's a new fic. I'm proud of this one - although, critique it as you will - because it's adapted from my favorite legends and about my favorite mythical character. :D I know that prologues should be short, sweet, and to the point, but this doesn't quite meet the criteria. It's because this prologue is supposed to provide a little background info about the world of Arthurian lore for those that don't know, without going completely overboard and boring those that do. However, if you think you can do without it, feel free to skip to the next chapter, where the story really starts. Don't complain if you don't know what's going on, though.
Disclaimer/Copyright: The idea for the story is mine, along with a good number of characters, but it is adapted from Arthurian myth, so there are things I can't lay claim to. To be fair, neither can anyone else. However, most of the background history I use is from Mary Stewart's Merlin novels, because I think they provide a solid base for such a varying legend like King Arthur. I also take inspiration from T.H. White's The Once and Future King, as well as Nancy Springer's I am Mordred, along with bits and pieces of numerous other Arthurian legends, so these authors deserve major props. ^^ But, just as those authors wrote their interpretations, this is mine, so please do not replicate this work without my permission.
Warnings: Mentions of incest, future slash, historical inaccuracies, violence, mentions of infanticide, and whatever else I can think to throw in. Don't read if you think you can't stomach it. Each chapter has individual warnings, if any.
Summary: To his mother, he is but a tool. To his father, a curse. Mordred lives his life dogged by a prophecy, foretelling his part in the end of his father's empire. A chance meeting with Merlin's flighty yet powerful apprentice leaves him with more than just a faint attraction, but hope. Is it possible to overcome one's fate? It is if you're bound to a Wizard.
The sun shone brightly from its place up in the mid-morning sky, basking the earth with its warmth. A gentle breeze displaced the soldiers' locks and beards, gored with blood though they were. The battle cries of friend and foe dampened birdsong, and the endless sea of green grass was littered with bodies.
Among the living was the High Prince, only heir to Uther's kingdom. He was innocent to the ways of war, beardless and young, but he fought with such fervor and passion that his enemies could not keep him down. It helped that his subjects, so newly found, were fiercely protective of him, and he also gained confidence from the fact that Merlin had promised his survival, promised him eventual kingship. When was the Wizard ever wrong, after all?
"You...are brave," the Prince heard a gravelly voice whisper, and whipped around to meet the face of his father, drawn with age and pain. The man closed in on him and raised a blade, his famous sword, over them both. The Prince's eyes widened in horror, but the man merely swept the weapon over his head, slicing off that of the opposing soldier behind him.
"Thank you, Father," the Prince eagerly supplied, still jarred by what had happened and slightly diffident because of it. The man grunted in reply and did the strangest thing: he handed his brand to his son. "W-what?" the Prince questioned, taking it carefully. Then he noticed the red seeping through the King's sable tunic.
"Take it," Uther commanded, though the words left his lips as a sigh would. He closed his fist over his son's hand, which still rested on the pommel of the sword — it was a gesture both affectionate and purposeful. "It is yours. All is yours."
He turned away, leaving the Prince standing there wide-eyed, and two knights of his own regiment rushed to meet him.
"We must get you back to the palace, my lord!" the Prince heard them exclaim, their worry easily evident, as they dragged the King back to Tintagel castle in the distance. He had no time to waste on such worries, however, because his enemies had already caught wind of his distraction and he couldn't allow them to make use of it. He couldn't allow his father's sacrifice to be in vain.
In the fortress they fought so hard to defend, a woman stared intently into a polished hand-mirror. In it, she could see the Prince, bathed in blood, sweat and tears.
"My," she murmured, tracing her hands over his profile, "how handsome you've grown, little brother."
Queen Morgause of Orkney stood over the extravagant bed of the High King, piled high with blanket upon blanket to fight the dark room's chill. With his father's passing, that was the title the boy would ultimately have. But he was a boy no longer — how could one be, when succumbing to the sleep of a man who'd tasted his first woman? Morgause smiled wickedly, holding an almost loving hand over her still warm belly, where his gift now rested.
"He may be King now, but you and I shall rule Briton someday," she whispered, pulling her gown back on over her nude body, and left the sleeping form of Prince Arthur, to be King in a fortnight, smiling obliviously, completely unaware of the sin he'd just committed.
In another chamber, lost in the throes of sleep, Merlin was wracked with nightmares. He woke up knowing that, on that very day, the rise and fall of Camelot had been created.
The Prince sat upon his throne, head buried in his hands, in the kingdom of Uther Pendragon. Now, however, it was no longer the late King's. His son, Arthur, was left to bear on his youthful shoulders not only the majesty of the Pendragon name, but the crimes his father had committed as well.
"Merlin," the boy cried, finally uncovering his face from his bowed position. He was young and strong, with an honest face set on a lean, wiry body. But his normally cheerful persona was strained with troubles, his verdant eyes red from shedding tears. He looked as if he would be violently ill. "H-how could this happen?" His voice echoed off the stone walls of the audience chamber.
The man he was speaking to was very old, and it was apparent that he had aged gracefully, for he had a flowing white beard and wise gray eyes. Those eyes, usually so enigmatic, now portrayed his every emotion like a mirror. He was the very picture of a man who was disgusted with the world. Even so, he offered the boy — the young man — a comforting smile, the wrinkled laugh lines of around his mouth and eyes becoming more pronounced. He placed a gnarled hand on top of the boy's unruly black locks, ruffling lightly.
"Oh, Arthur," he whispered tiredly. "Oh, my boy. It will all be fine."
"B-but..." the Prince began, eyes tearing up again. His usually tanned face was pale, and tinged with too much green to be healthy, the old enchanter observed. Arthur threw up, the contents of his stomach hitting the mesh of marbled floor and crimson carpeting at his feet, dripping onto his boots. Merlin watched him patiently, face as placid as a frozen lake, fading light from the high windows painting over him chastely. When the boy finally finished, he urged him on with his eyes. "H-how will it be fine, Merlin? How? You are a great Wizard, yes, the best in all the land, but even you cannot save me from this sin. With my own sister..."
Merlin opted to let him ramble, staying silent, and only spoke after it became apparent that the boy would speak no more.
"You will not want to hear this, but it is the only solution. It is for the best." He spoke with determination now, face set like stone, and Arthur gazed up at him trustingly.
"What must I do, Merlin? How can I fix this mistake?" The desperation in his voice was almost wild. Merlin had never heard anyone sound so broken, but he remained passive, offering the boy his silent strength.
"You will learn in time, Arthur, that no man, not even I, can turn back time," he intoned steadily, and the young King, who was beginning to look hopeful, let his face fall in disappointment once more. Merlin looked almost amused when he continued. "But you can nip this problem in the bud, so to speak."
Arthur stared up at him with wide, horror-struck emerald eyes.
"You want me to kill her?" he finally asked, sounding awed. Merlin thought that he might be sick again, and took a calculated step back.
"Does this surprise you, young King?" he asked, bemused. Arthur swallowed, suddenly finding himself unable to speak, and nodded to answer instead. Merlin's kind, crinkled face twisted almost cruelly, far harsher than Arthur was used to. "Well, it shouldn't. After all, I live to serve you, Arthur, and if I could have — if she hadn't fled to Orkney — I would have slain her myself."
Arthur swallowed, eyes as wide as saucers. He was still a child, Merlin mused, only recently having fought in his first battle. The blood on Arthur's hands was tainted with water yet, and visions predicted that he'd be a boyish man for years to come, but Merlin knew that the child before him would someday become the greatest King in Briton. And what Merlin knew always became a reality. For this, for the future of Briton, Merlin would remain by Arthur's side, staining his own noble hands with blood that should have belonged to the King.
"W-what do you propose I do?" the boy finally managed to ask, hating the way his voice wavered. He wanted so much to become a man, so the troubles and mistakes of childhood could plague him no longer. Merlin knew the truth. If only Arthur hadn't been so eager to step away from his childhood — if only he had let adulthood come to him naturally, in time, instead of chasing after it as he had.
"You will do nothing. I, however, shall arrange for Morgause's curse to be eradicated, before he can become a threat to your future kingdom." Merlin spoke with such faith that Arthur believed him to be true. The boy began to hope again. After all, Merlin was the greatest magician in the land — the child of the devil, it was said — and could see into the future. Arthur melted into his newly acquired throne with relief.
"Thank you, Merlin," he whispered with conviction. "Thank you so much. I-I could never do this if you weren't at my side."
Merlin smiled at him, but it was tinged with sadness. The tired youth could not see it, however, for which Merlin was glad. He would bloody his hands for Arthur as long as it was needed.
"It is fine, my boy. Now, why don't you go rest? I shall make a draft of honey for you, and you will sleep sans dreams. That, I promise." His gray eyes twinkled almost merrily at this, and Arthur sighed, already feeling relaxed and completely worn out. He rubbed a grubby fist into his eyes in the same manner as an infant might, wondering if perhaps Merlin had already spelled him, but a yawn cut off the thought, and he nodded, allowing the Wizard to tug him out of his throne and to his comfortable bed chambers, even allowing the man to tuck him in. He slept as quietly as predicted, when Merlin checked on him a few hours later, and the Wizard smiled.
"After all," thought Merlin, "my predictions are always true. I wish, however, that they were always things to look forward to, as well."
Almost a year later, mass infanticide occurred in Lothian and Orkney. By order of the High King, the folks, both peasant and noble, were forced to give up any newborn male child to the High King's knights.
The children, taken from home, were piled together on a boat like so many dolls left by an uncaring tot, and pushed, unmanned, from the shore. Cries of outrage rang from the people as realization dawned. Despondent mothers had to be held back by their men and the King's soldiers alike, some by force, to prevent them from either rescuing their young or fading along with them. It was apparent — the High King wanted their children dead. But what could they do? Their lives, souls, and earthly materials had already been sworn to him.
Miles away from peasant land, in the fortress of Orkney, King Lot's enraged roars were heard. His youngest son had been marked for death by Arthur — who, in his case, would not be upset?
"How dare he, that wretched child King!" he cried, landing another kick into the High King's messenger's unguarded belly, ignorant to the man's pleas. "Why should I, the King of this land, be forced to conform with the same punishment as the peasants? And without even hearing the logic behind this!" This was said to the messenger's face, Lot's hands roughly buried in the man's hair.
His wife, Morgause, placed a dainty hand on one of his muscled biceps. This action seemed to calm him, somewhat.
"Peace, my lord," spoke the beautiful lady with her silver tongue. "My brother will have his reasons, I'm sure. What reason have you to be upset? This child is, after all, a fifth son. You've no need of him." She pressed painted red lips to his cheek coquettishly, before brushing off the mark with an embroidered handkerchief. "Forget about it."
The king allowed her to ease his hands off the messenger, letting the man fall to his knees, and instead wrapped his arms about his wife, tucking her fiery red head under his scarred chin.
"You are a very odd lady, Morgause," he said with a chuckle, voice fond. She pulled away to look up at him, using her most innocent, wide eyed look.
"Why do you say that, my lord?" she asked, as if surprised, and he laughed all the more.
"Well, most women would be mourning at the very word of giving up their infant sons, whether he be the fifth or not, and yet you allow him to be taken? We've been wed-locked for years already, my dear, but you never cease to surprise me." She fluttered her dark lashes becomingly as he said this, and gave a chirping laugh.
"A woman must have some secrets, no? You might lose interest in me otherwise," she whispered coyly, standing up on her toes to speak into his ear. He shivered, shaking his head.
"I doubt that could ever happen, my lady," he said, and the woman giggled upon hearing the throaty quality of his voice. She pushed away from him, gifting him one last bat of her long lashes, and left the room, her many skirts flowing around her effortlessly.
"Take what remains of my sons," she called over her shoulder, "and give them sword practice. Gawain is becoming rather good at it, if what the armory master tells me is true."
The King of Orkney nodded obediently, still unable to take his eyes off his wife, before clearing his throat and shooting one last black look to the High King's fallen messenger. He fled the pastel-colored nursery room, leaving the man gaping after him. He eventually, shakily stood up and looked into a pearl-white cradle, gazing at the infant child housed within it. The child, awake, stared up at him with dark, almost black eyes. The man shivered, lifting the baby into his arms in a swath of blankets, and left the fortress of Orkney.
A woman's cry rang out sharply from lady Morgause's chambers. The woman, a lady-in-waiting for the Queen of Orkney, was wailing over an empty set of quilts. Other ladies-in-waiting watched her with sympathy, while Morgause, mouth tightening, glowered at her balefully.
"What reason have you to cry, wench?" Morgause asked, the words slipping out from between her clenched teeth. She sat upon her crimson-sheeted bed, taming her strands of wavy red hair with an ivory-handled brush, and observed the sea of bullied women from that spot. The lady-in-waiting wailed louder, and her peers crowded together, offering their mistress helpless looks.
"Lady Morgause," one spoke, and she turned, giving the girl her best withering glare. It worked, and she took many long moments before continuing, "...You did just trade off her child to be slaughtered by the High King."
She trailed off, and the lady-in-waiting's wails reached a near-keening pitch, causing Morgause to flush as red as her hair in anger.
"So what? She's now the surrogate mother of a Prince, is she not? The child of a King! And I am kind enough to send her, with guards no less, to our country home in Wales, aren't I? The fresh air should be good for one so recently pregnant — I should go in her place, but no, I am giving it up to her!" As she spoke, her beautiful face grew more and more ruddy. The crying woman, finally noticing this, let her sobs die down into pitiful hiccups. "Feeling better, now?"
"Y-yes, my lady," the woman answered, and Morgause offered her a wicked, foxy smirk.
"Good," she said, in a manner that implied she didn't truly care. "Now, take my child — your child — and go. My personal guards are waiting outside for you. You will leave by boat, and tell no one of this. Don't even speak to the guards, if it's at all avoidable. If anyone should ask, tell them that Queen Morgause, mourning the loss of her own babe, wanted to see no more bloodshed in her home. Thus, she has sent you off to Wales with your child. Understood?"
"Y-yes, my lady," the woman said again, resigned to her Queen's whims. She stood up shakily, lifting a tiny, quiet infant into her arms. He stared at her with innocent mossy eyes, the same shade as the Queen's. But unlike Morgause, this baby was guiltless. He offered her a tiny smile — his first — and made a soft cooing sound. The woman felt her heart pounding inside her bosom, and she lifted the dark haired child closer to her body. His newborn baby smell — of milk and powder — made her flush. She had lost her son, true, but maybe this wasn't such a bad thing. She now had this child in her arms, and no one would take him away from her. For the first time since her son was stolen, the lady-in-waiting smiled. "W-what is he called, my lady?"
Morgause narrowed her eyes in response, turning away quickly, but she replied.
"He is called Mordred," she informed the listening ladies, voice oddly soft, and they wondered if perhaps she would miss the child. But Morgause would never admit it, even if it was true. "Now, go!" she said instead, waving her hands towards a secret exit out of her room, hidden behind a large portrait of her late father, a man slain by Uther. The lady-in-waiting, child clutched to her, obliged and ducked out of the room sneakily, with one last muttered farewell to her companions. Morgause sank into a chair afterward, shooing her servants away, and laughed. Revenging herself on Arthur was far easier than she'd thought.
Arthur was almost eighteen; not quite a man, but no longer a boy. He stood in his balcony, letting the wind play with bits of his tussled dark locks. A storm was brewing and the air was filled with heavy humidity as a result, fighting past his shelter to assault him.
"Was this really necessary?" he asked Merlin, barely more than a whisper. Though he phrased it as a question, his voice was already laced with defeat. He knew it was necessary, or at least that it had already been done. There was no going back.
"Yes," his Wizard answered. Though the wind was strong, he was completely unmoved. More of his magic, Arthur supposed. Magic he couldn't escape from, just as he couldn't escape Merlin's smothering presence — not while his old adviser was standing between the balcony, Arthur's chambers, and the castle farther in, barring him.
"It's such a horrible way to start my rule, though," the Prince replied, foggy eyes staring down at his lands. From behind him, Merlin placed a hand on his shoulder, gently squeezing.
"I know, Arthur. But no one will blame you. I shall claim the blame myself, when Lot's wrath becomes apparent," the Wizard said, utterly confident and unapologetic. Arthur closed his eyes, blinking back tears.
"They were all children, Merlin. They never even had a chance to live, because of me..." He thought of his own son, his cursed son. What did he look like? Did he resemble Arthur? Was he temperate or loud? Would he have grown into an honorable man? Was he already dead, his bloated body nurtured by the sea's cold grasp? "Maybe there was another solution. Perhaps my son—"
Merlin cut him off with an almost painful squeeze to his shoulder, making the young King wince.
"Do not broach this any further, Arthur!" the man demanded, losing some of his epic calm. "The children did not die because of you, but because of Morgause, and you could never have had more with your son. He would have grown to kill you, if we had allowed him to live. Always remember that."
"I see," murmured the young man, but he really didn't. Merlin knew that. But Arthur was still new to his rule, still new to being a man, so he didn't yet know what was best for him. The Wizard did, so he'd do his best to clean up after his King.
"Let us return to the fireside, shall we?" he asked politely, and Arthur nodded. He was docile as Merlin led him in, and pretended to make merry with his new men until nightfall came. Then, the King excused himself to bed and cried himself to sleep. Merlin, a chamber or so away, spelled himself into a deep dream state, trying to gaze into the future. It bothered him when all he could see was darkness.
A/N: What do you think so far? If you're confused about the bits with Arthur and Morgause (though I really hope you aren't, since I tried to hint at it pretty heavily), they're siblings, specifically half-siblings, so their child is incestuous and illegitimate. Morgause tries to pass him off as her husband's. Drama, drama, drama... Where's Jerry Springer when you need him? Oh well, the next chapter will have slash (kind of).
R&R: I hope you'll enjoy this story, since I'll try and make it fun, with a little bit of every genre thrown in for flavor. ^^ Please leave me feedback, so I know you're out there...if you are? I have actually put deep thought into this story's plot, so hopefully the chapters should be quick in coming.