Author's note: If history is written by the winners, then the King Arthur story is written by Gwenievere and perhaps even Lancelot, further "corrupted" in continual retellings. Let us then re-imagine the story as it might have existed, if the reason Gwenievere betrayed the much-loved Arthur for a reason other than a lonely marriage bed. This story takes many liberties with the tale of King Arthur we are all familiar while also attempting to stay true to the traditions and social standards that existed in that time period. These differences are made apparent pretty readily but in major importance are these: the alteration of the tale to make Gwenievere Arthur's older, manipulative sister, Mordred a girl and her mother, Morgan [le Fay], not related to Arthur. Merlin does not exist although Arthur has many councilors to replace him.
Perhaps if you are too loyal to the original tale, you may, instead, be able to enjoy the tale as a different one altogether.
Please feel free to leave criticism and comments in the reviews.
You will find numbers next to some words. There will be footnotes providing explanations at the end of the chapter.
Stretched out on a guarded caravan carriage top was a young Roman boy, his attire well-cut but faded from travel, his brown hair getting shaggy and long with neglect. Although he would come to be known as Arthur to many, at age twelve the boy was still called Artorius Ambrosius. This was his first time in a country called Britannia1. However, rather than look at the ground, he found the sky just as captivating, the avians, although relatively common in Gaul and Saxony2, were new to him and some were only native to this island. He was a curious little boy but considered slow and distracted by his tutors. Luckily they hadn't followed him here. Although… he did wish for someone who knew the names of wildlife around here.
Decades before, the Romans had already pulled out, removing any reason for the average Roman citizen to be there. But his father and mother were of a different sort. Drawn to Britannia through their ancestor Aurelius Ambrosius3 and devote Roman Catholics, they came on behalf of the Church to start a mission in Britannia, land given to them by the Church who ignored the rights of pagan natives who already lived there. Sadly his parents had died on the way from fever, weakened further by sickness while crossing the channel. His fifteen year old sister, Guennuera4, was determined that they continue what their parents had set out to do and so they did. They came with four Roman soldiers loyal to their family and native slaves given to them by the Bishop. The slaves would be the ones doing the building, of course. The greatest manual labor Artorius had yet achieved was taming his stallion, which was done with his father's assistance and that of the stable-man.
Guennuera popped her head up from the window. "Artorius, get back in here! Drust says we are entering barbaric and uncivilized country."
Artorius laughed, "and what makes it different from the land behind us?"
"He knows a lot more than you do, Art. He's a native. You should know better and trust him."
Artorius wanted to add that Drust was a Pict5, peoples of Northern Britannia who painted their bodies with blue dyes and spoke in a tongue stranger than Celtic, the native language his parents spent a hefty sum having him tutored on. However, his tutor had such a strong Visigoth accent that he had spent more time mocking him than learning.
Instead of complaining, he inhaled sharply with an eye roll, although there was no one to see, and slipped back in through the window. His sister sat across from him looking smug with achievement. She always had a bit of an attitude but she still usually gave the best advice, even if he didn't want to hear it. Next to her sat the Pict looking relatively smug himself, a pair of farmer's clothes impressed upon him for the sake of decency. He kept giving Guennuera looks when she wasn't looking that grated his nerves but Artorius, being twelve, could not say anything without being called a foolish little boy.
Crossing his arms, he forced himself to look out the window at the countryside which seemed repetitive like a minstrel playing the same four notes over and over again. He imagined that every now and then a faun was playing amongst the trees, flute in hand. Then he imagined without much effort that the trees were actually nymphs. They seemed to turn and wave at him after a couple minutes when they were vanishing from sight. He stared after them as they disappeared into the blur of the disappearing forest. They were so vivid he wondered if he really had imagined them. But he saw no more and so left it to imagination.
Eventually the trees melted away to open grassy land plagued with rocks of different sizes and none of them nicely smoothed on the sides. He turned away to see Drust smiling at him. Artorius made a face at him to try and get him to look away. And so he did but only to knock on the panel behind him. It opened to show the driver's boy looking through at them, the driver's back partial visible from where Artorius sat.
"How much farther would you say?" Drust asked, the Celtic language sounding foreign even on his tongue.
"We're stopping up ahead," the boy replied in Celtic, his voice sounded lyrical and smooth compared to Drust. Drust nodded and closed the window, turning to stare back at him with a smile as though he had successfully read his mind. Artorius, however, was still determined to dislike and distrust Drust.
He was glad when it finally stopped that he might be free of Drust if only for a little bit. Artorius bounded out of the carriage as a little boy was wanton, free of the confined space with room to stretch the awkwardly long legs he had yet to grow into. With childish spirit, he sprinted as far from the carriage as he dared and circled back. Stretching his arms and turning his torso back and forth as though he were a flower turning in the breeze, he waited for his sister to come out.
Guennuera stepped out after him as graceful as a Queen, her eyes soaking in the new countryside. She had a sort of hooded expression as though waiting to pass judgment but with a subtle sway towards dislike. "Is this it?" she asked.
The driver's boy looked up at her. "Not quite, Ma'am. It's on the other side of that cliff, there," he said pointing to a hill with a rather peculiar rock jutting up out of the grass at the top.
Artorius turned and looked to where he gestured. "It certainly doesn't look like a cliff. What's that rock doing there?"
The boy grinned but Drust, trying to be helpful, spoke first. "You might have heard of the legend Merlin's Perch? Originated amongst the Roman Soldiers I believe. Regardless, it is a site of otherworldly presence whether you believe in gods or that sort of thing." As Drust was a Pict, Artorius was rather suspicious of the fact that Drust was indeed superstitious - since superstition seemed to be all they ran on - but kept to himself. After all, if he was trying to fit in, not believing in that stuff was helpful.
Guennuera looked over to Artorius to see that curious look on his face. "Perhaps you should say your prayers at the base of it."
"What if it's pagan?" he could not help but ask.
"Then you make sure that you pray to the right god," she retorted, pointing over to it like a mother might when grounding her son.
Artorius, not successfully cowed, sprinted over to it with enthusiasm and had a hard time settling into a calm state of mind for his prayers. He settled onto his knees and straightened the wrinkles in his pants and smoothed down the part in his hair. His mother had always impressed the need to look presentable when talking to God. Crossing himself, he pressed his hands together and began. Artorius always started his prayers with the Lord's Prayer as it calmed his thoughts and channeled them as they should. This time, he made it no farther than fiat voluntas Tua6 before the stone called him away from prayer. It can be compared to the Pictish stones in that it was a large stone of peculiar shape that jutted far above the ground, taller than a full grown man but carved intricately in no pattern he could decipher but nor were they so haphazard as to resemble scribbles. He shook his head and recalled himself from his study back to prayer. But again one eye peaked open and the wind began to blow hard and terrible. Surely punishment was upon this place. He should not pray here. Artorius tried to get up to run but found himself pulled back to the ground by the force of what must have been ten invisible hands. He leaned forward, his head pressed to the ground with his hands braced on either side of him.
The wind funneled into one ear with excruciating pain until finally all was quiet. He did not realize how noisy the world actually was until that moment of complete silence. Then from nowhere he could discern and then suddenly everywhere came a voice whispering to him. Camlann7, it said, Camlann was his to make, his to forge, a capital from which he would guide the world from darkness, all in the name of Merlinus… Merlin. All that was said cannot be disclosed. Over the years there have been many telling of it and only that summation can be said to be true. He came to away from the cliff, standing and facing away as though he had finished and come back. However, the confusion would not sway him from what he knew to have transpired. Quickly, he came to his sister and told her of the transaction between the stone and he.
Guennuera was a logical person but thanks to her parents, her belief in God might be said to have a pagan or fantasy slant. Their belief in God had a touch of the wonder and direct human involvement the Ancient Greek and Roman gods were supposed to have. Therefore, it was not hard for her to accept that Merlin, a character she had no prior knowledge of, had spoken to her brother and was at least a demi-god, a deity of some strength. It could also be said that she had none of the many expected womanly tasks except that to command. Like her mother before her who had led embroidery sessions and guided loomwork but never involved enough to prick her finger, she had not looked forward to missionary work. She had always expected her parents to ensure that she herself would have a comfortable life as an adult, the same she enjoyed as a child. Deciding meals but not cooking them, inviting guests and playing hostess but doing no more except greet and talk, these were her ideas of adulthood and comfort. She always had a servant or slave if not simply a lower-ranked person willing to do a task for her. The idea of ruling instead of spreading Christianity through kind words and charity appealed much more to her sensibilities.
At fifteen, Guennuera was more cunning and convincing than one ought to be, much less suspected of being so. Nevertheless, it could be said she could convince someone to do almost anything and when this was said, it was always in a good way. For no one saw the selfishness beneath it, only the intelligence of a noble lady. "I will see that this is done, Brother," she said. "While you conversed, I looked over this cliff to below, where your Merlin says to build. There is an old Roman villa that must be obscured from below but visible from up here. It has been partially destroyed but the foundations seem visible. I will have the builder redesign based upon it a palace much finer than that of Rome so that with an invitation, it can do as you wish what others require strength and power to perform. If any ask questions, send them to me."
She had not taken long to give him that answer so he could only take her trust and eagerness as the certification of the glory promised and the truth of what he had been told by this mysterious voice that must be Merlinus. He thanked her with glee and shot a triumphant look at Drust as though this had all been done in spite of the Pict.
In the two years that followed, there were very little problems with the building process as though they had indeed been blessed by a supernatural deity. When supplies ran out, more were mysteriously discovered nearby. When the workers grew disheartened and strove to revolt, luck and fortune appeased them. When parents troubled to think of their children, Artorius gathered them and played at warriors, kings, and empires. When flood would otherwise keep them from being productive, the sun came out. When disease struck, it was careful and selective, over almost as soon as it came. That is not to say the workers were not pushed hard nor given good reason to wish to revolt. The Roman soldiers were put to overseeing the work as Artorius dismissed himself from it and Guennuera, for being a woman, was allowed none of it. She still got her say with sly words but never directly. The village nearby often sent someone to spy but Artorius in his games with the workers' children soon caught them and of the young spies, even made allies, given the opportunity for more mock wars. After entreating one of the Roman soldiers to his cause, Artorius and his gang were even taught to fight as though their wooden sticks were real blades of destruction.
It took a little less than a year for the palace to be built. The remaining time within that two years was spent furnishing it and to leisurely building a wall around it and the village nearby, encompassing enough acreage as to not be visible from the palace except by the tallest of its two towers and only then partially. The palace was what one could call a blend of medieval castles which were not yet in existence and the great Roman buildings remembered. It was a clever design of masonry with its two towers blended into the design so well they looked as though they belonged, seeming like giant pillars whose connecting arch had been eroded with time, much like the Ancient Greek sculptures Artorius had seen replicas of. They were however large enough to hold rooms aside from the long winding staircases that led to the top of each. In the middle of it was a courtyard Guennuera had originally designed to be a garden but Artorius turned into a training ground. The gardens she so desired she had to have built just outside the palace. The palace itself while in a rough "U" shape was about three stories tall but divided into two floors, sprawled out far enough that none of them could think of a need for more rooms.
Now thirteen years old, Artorius stood before it, hands on his hips beholding its glory. He was tired of living in a tent and a day before his birthday, this was a wonderful present. He turned around, all the workers were gathered behind him. Some of the villagers and even others from farther reaching places had moved close to the palace. Not to work in it but to live under the protection it foresaw. After all, the valley itself was rather fertile and wonderful for farming. So those with the fortune to have seeds and the ability to plow already had food to eat, give away, and sell to the Ambrosius pair.
Being thirteen and not a very good student, he was not a very good speaker. But he had run over in his head some things to say and he hoped it was good enough. His Celtic was still rather rough so he crossed his fingers that he didn't mess up. He did his best to string together eloquent phrases that made them feel appreciated and did his best to express the need and desire to build the wall that would encompass them. But perhaps the most daring move he made was to release the workers from slavery and offer them instead citizenship in this new nation he was building. Guennuera had given advice on the matter and it had not been to such a cause. Her disbelief was large as he had never before rebelled against her advice in serious matters. She had always assumed that he knew that what she said goes.
Sensing he was finished, the crowd dispersed in a loud murmur. Some lingered chatting to neighbors or familiar faces but Artorius paid them no attention. Instead he smiled with more than just his mouth as his friends came to him. They were the sons of workers and around his age that he had met and befriended during the year. The first was the oldest at sixteen but Artorius 's height with an ego to make up for lacking in the former. The second was fair-skinned and blond, blushed like a girl but with loyalty stronger than a dog's for its master. The third was defended most strongly of the four of them. His right arm was permanently crippled from birth, folded across his body by a bandage sling, hand on his heart. However with his left hand, he seemed truly deadly in wooden sword fights. They were, in order of introduction, Cai Hir8, Gawen9, and Bedwyr10. Artorius held out his hands and gave each of them in turn a manly hug, a slap on the back for each. They of course returned the slap, each trying to hit the other harder. Cai Hir gave him a friendly but slightly aggressive punch to the shoulder after Artorius whispered a comment in his ear. Artorius faked a whimper and rubbed his shoulder to which Cai threatened another. Artorius held up his hands in defense and then they were friends again.
"You're aiming to be a good ole stuffed bore, aren't you?" Bedwyr teased. He was only four days younger than Artorius and he didn't find much pleasure in being the youngest out of the four. He did his best to rile the others up and it was usually with him that all Cai's scuffles took place.
"Oh, and you could had said better?" Gawen commented. Having turned fifteen a couple months ago, he was second to oldest and also the mediator of the fights.
A mock fight threatened amongst the friends which only ceased at the sound of trumpets. There were no instruments in the now small town except for one lute and perhaps some other poorly made but hidden away ones. Trumpets, particularly played in fanfare, were foreign to Artorius. He rushed back onto the platform from which he had spoke and looked out. The crowd gave way to men on horseback, bulky, heavy set men but still muscled, the very picture of earthly power in Artorius 's mind. Young boys walked beside the riders carrying tall flags. All of this, the energy and power behind it, was directed at him. He felt naked and bare atop the platform as the group ambled towards him. In his mind's eye, they surged at him with such a force that collision would be inevitable and disastrous. In spite of himself, he shrunk back.
The party of men and boys stopped before the platform and gave way to a man more burly and muscled than the men before. He had a glorious beard of blond and thick blond hair that came down past his shoulders, somewhat wiry in appearance and only a touch of gray. His dress was native with only the slightest Roman influence in its cording and colors, with all the signs of wealth. His jewelry was thick and fine and placed Artorius in awe. His horse stopped quite literally just before the platform, causing Artorius to step back in fear the horse might climb up onto it.
"You are the boy, then?" the man asked, his brow furrowed in scrutiny.
Artorius did his best not to visibly quake before him. "I am Artorius Ambrosius, son of Ursinus Pythius Ambrosius, and lord of this estate." He had fashioned himself king after the words of Merlinus but in front of this man, he could not put himself to the title.
"I have come to align myself with a giant and find a boy who trembles before me," the man nearly bellowed. Laughs rose from his accompaniment.
"Me? A giant?" Artorius asked. His trembling lessened at the prospect. While short, his legs already promised growth but he had not thought to hope for such height. Despite its fantasy, he was delighted by the idea.
"I have been sent by my court magician to seek your alliance. I know of your future and that we can be of great importance to each other. Should the need arise, you must promise to come to my aid. In return, I promise to you to help you gain your footing and establish yourself."
This man had surely been sent. He was rich, he was powerful, and he knew of Artorius 's future. Again, Artorius began to shake but this time, he could not stop shaking in excitement. It took a sharp jab from Cai Hir to help him find his voice again. "Great sir, if you should help with the building of my lands then it shall be used to benefit the both of us."
It was agreed upon then. The great man was Lord Bors, a king in his own lands. He had, like Artorius wished to do, fashioned himself into a king. Originally a chief of his people, he helped them thrive after Roman occupation as his direct ancestors had done during the occupation. His home had been built in a Roman style but like Artorius 's, it leaned away from Roman designs out of necessity for fortifications. Bors himself was an excellent swordsman as well as mounted lance-man. With that history alone, there was much help he could promise Artorius. The first of which was giving him a more rustic name, Arthur.
Guennuera, however, was no pleased by the situation. Upon first opportunity, she snatched him aside, her face almost purple with anger, her posture reminding Artorius faintly of a crow. "You will no betray me again, dear brother. You must remember it is I who has the family's best interests at heart and it is I who has the more sacred judgment. I was promised to the Church, if you remember, before the death of our parents. I was almost married to God and had many more conversations with He than you. You must always trust my judgment and let me make the more challenging decisions. You have chosen wisely but you must reflect on the times where you did not seek my council and were punished by misfortune."
While he had been prone to laughter and merriment when she pulled him aside, he quickly felt the gravity of her words and felt successfully cowed. "I do not mean to abuse you, dear sister, and promise not to go against your council. But sister, you must do so in private. I am more important than you and they must always think so."
Guennuera was insulted by his reply but knowing he would be faithful to her decided to be submissive to his wishes. Without a man in power whose strings she could pull, she would have no power at all.
1 The early name for Britian
3 Aurelius Ambrosis was a great general of Rome in Britain and considered by some scholars to be the man from who the legend stemmed.
4 The Latinized version of the French name Guinevere
5 Picts were from Pictavia or Pictland, what is today most of Northern and Eastern Scotland
6 fiat voluntas Tua - latin for "your will be done", the Lord's prayer was spoken in Latin like all in religion at this time, although only the wealthy like the Ambrosius' were educated in Latin to know the meanings of the words
7 Camlann is one of the many names attributed to Arthur's castle. He was often recognized as having more than one. Camelot typically being more of a "vacation home". Camlann is being used here as his main castle/home, his only one.
8 Welsh name of the knight commonly known as Kay meaning "Kay the Tall"
9 This is a Cornish name believed by some to be a cognate of Gawain. I have used this in place of the Welsh Gwalchmei
10 Welsh name of Bedivere