Medraut watched Arthur leave from the edge of the gardens. He sat tall on the back of his stallion with a handful of the knights and young men behind him. He did not wear full armor but he certainly was not dressed for casual riding. Towards the back of his small entourage were the servants and squires with horses and ponies carrying the knights' armor. They counted on Arthur's charisma in the hopes of an easy win. But just as many were hoping for a fight to make a testament of their bravery and valor. Many of the other knights and young men had already brashly run off in search of the cup when Arthur had not waved off the pursuit as folly. Some had not even waited that long.
She tried not to pick at her nails nervously as she watched him go. All of her feelings and her attraction, and eventually her love for him, all had screamed inside her for him to stay. But it was because of her love for him that she let him go, even though as he left, she felt so did her armor. Without him, in Camlann, she felt vulnerable. He went in search of a cup when monsters still lurked here, ready to lunge out and grab her.
Her skin pricked in its almost supernatural way. She spun around to see what company she had acquired. King Bors bowed shortly, given his superior rank, and closed the difference so that he stood at her side. He offered her his arm most politely which she took. King Bors was still the same broad man that Arthur had met as a little boy. He still kept in good shape, his arms and legs well-structured with muscles, that she could only imagine he had quite the tailor. His belly was round as well, from ale, good food, and soft pillows. His hair had gone almost silver, only easily identified as blond in direct sunlight. His beard was more blond than his head, only a thick strip on either side of his chin was white on his full beard. His age would seem to be the only thing stopping him from getting up on a horse and following right behind Arthur.
"Men of his age and stature are often on the go," he said casually as he picked a path through the gardens at an amble. "Like the stallions they ride, they'll only bristle if kept cooped for too long. It is better to let them stretch their legs so they might hasten back."
Medraut, although nervous, took great risk in responding to him in an informal fashion. "You sound to have quite the experience, Milord."
He smiled, easing her nerves which she felt leave as her shoulders slackened. "My wife has had quite the turns with these things. She is apt to remind me of her strengths, of the braveries of wives." She smiled back, feeling comforted by his words while trying to squash the lingering niggling feeling in her bosom. "Milady, may I be frank with you?"
"I do encourage your honesty, Milord."
"To that I am grateful," he said with a nod. He turned them down a quiet, isolated path. "There is a feeling a man gets when he must lead his steed through dark waters. It is to this shore I see you are approaching. A woman's mind is not as skilled as a man's with politics, not coming to it readily. Nor has your education prepared you. In these regards, I should like to make myself your ally. These waters are dark indeed, the creatures who prowl these depths darker still. Should you need, you may call upon me to act as your advisor, as I do for Arthur on many an occasion."
"Thank you, King Bors. Your generosity brings me vast ease and happiness," Medraut said with a courtesy. She had to steel herself against telling just how frank he had been. In the end, he offered to help her fight this battle that was already on the rise. Even if a part of her wondered if it was from being slighted as a leader in Arthur's absence. "It is… to this end that you stayed behind?"
He shook his head, still smiling politely. "That is a fight for younger men. Also, with my presence, I offer protection as well. My army, although disbanded, can easily be called upon to stand at the ready against invasion. As well, I know fully of our king's intentions in regards of marriage from conversations with both the king and your brother, Dinadan. He told me of the great care you offered my daughter. Even without loyalty, such actions would have indebted myself to you."
Somehow, just the fact that he said it, made Medraut immediately forgive him for his explicit frankness. He was, in every way, trying to be helpful. And an ally was something that made her more comfortable just in her own skin.
The one thing she had to be thankful for was a real room and a different one from the time before. The armoire she had admired so much had been placed here but it was about the only constant from the previous. She settled herself on the bed in her nightgown, her hair down in a braid over her shoulder. Crossing her legs, she brought out her amber orb and set it before her on the bed. Ursula, who had become practically her only friend, took the liberties granted to her to scoot herself onto the bed next to Medraut.
"Shall you be reaching into the veil today?" Ursula asked curiously.
That was what she called it, the layer that separated the present from the future that Medraut's mind reached through with her orb. Although Ursula was a sensitive, she had never witnessed magic performed. Medraut's hands hovered over the orb in rubbing motions although she never actually touched it except when moving it. There was just something about touching it that felt like sacrilege to her.
"Not today," she said. "I just really wanted to bask in its presence, if that makes sense. To… to remember that feeling."
"The feeling of magic?" Ursula asked. The trust that had opened between them when Medraut began telling her things like she was a human diary had given Ursula the freedom to talk back.
"Something to that effect. There has been a lot to weigh me down."
As King Bors had seemed to predict, she did find herself in dark waters. Guennuera had taken Arthur's seat in the grand hall, rather than a seat beside it as was custom for both regents and queens. Guennuera and Medraut had been made joint regents in Arthur's absence, although without going through the proper channels and receiving the proper approval. Guennuera by blood was next in line for the throne. She used these channels and her own blood to take up Arthur's seat and as a result, put herself before Medraut in power.
As royalty were the only ones allowed to be seated, perhaps Medraut may have won points by seating herself. However, having felt Guennuera's malice, she had only similar feelings to return. She felt sitting down in the regent's seat would only be giving way to Guennuera. So instead she stood beside the throne. In any matter, she was given no voice. Guennuera settled every matter until she tired of it. Then, wishing to resume her normal activities, she excused herself with no apologies - as was her custom - and left. Medraut was more surprised that she left Medraut to finish hearing cases presented before the throne. She had not expected it.
"Bors," she said to Ursula, dropping his title as they spoke in private - she had been offered an additional maid but had refused - "told me in confidence that Arthur had been encouraged to acquire the artifact to solidify his throne before settling. It was easy enough to know whom made the suggesting."
"But is it not sound advice?" Ursula offered.
"Many would advise the production of suitable heirs and a sound line of succession before a king risks his life for adventure," Medraut pouted, her hands back in her lap.
"Is that why you have not been eating, Milady?"
Medraut raised an eyebrow at her maid's suggestion. "No, indeed, my stomach has just been in upset from my nerves. I can't look into the future because I know it will not calm them. As you know, I cannot foresee my own future. There are two reasons that I cannot predict another's: if their future entwines with my own or if in the future I am brought to, they are dead. If I looked and saw nothing, I would only be more anxious about which future the darkness is shielding from me.
"So instead, this orb shall work for me like a salve for my homesickness. It shall remind me of all of my accomplishments and my happy memories as well."
Ursula smiled and excused herself to leave Medraut alone.
Guennuera sipped her tea in her sitting room with only Angus to keep her company, playing his lute to drown out their conversation. Although it had only one window, the sitting room had many sheer curtains draped around it in soft pastels to make it more inviting and feminine. It was a room Guennuera greatly treasured when she wasn't more or less patrolling the gardens with her ladies in tow. Almost reaching summer, it was getting too warm for velvet. But she took full advantage of the cool spring air, wearing her dress of dark green with its velvet bodice and matching velvet slippers. She had a slight headache that kept her from her usual early mornings and her normal crowd of gossiping women. There was something comforting about their innocent gabbing that normally kept her quite content. Today, it would not do. As to the lute, she would have foregone it as well had she had no need for precautions. She could not afford to be overheard.
"My queen," Angus began, feeling the timing right. "I have news of very peculiar proceedings."
Guennuera felt her eye twitch, knowing he spoke of the witch. Had Angus not kept her jewelry charmed, she was sure the witch would have cursed her and ensnared her in her little game. Even now, she had to contain her anger. She had warned Angus to protect her brother but obviously it had not worked. He was back in the witch's grasp.
"The priest invited her to accompany him as he gave last rites to some of the prisoners." Although she tried to sip her tea dismissively, he knew she was giving him her full attention. "Of the prisoners, there was one, a young boy who had been caught stealing. As to why he didn't simply loose a hand and be done with it is beyond me. When they came upon him, she became quite interested in his case." Guennuera put her tea in her lap, grasping it with both hands and trying to hide their shaking. "She gave the boy a pardon."
"Does she have that kind of power?" She burst out, perhaps rather too loudly. She collected herself, her teeth clenched. "It was only for stealing," she said calmly, trying to dismiss it.
"The boy is an orphan," Angus continued. "This is said to have originated from the fact he is not completely human."
Guennuera shuddered and crossed herself1. "God has been gracious to my brother and to myself. These acts will displease him." She resisted the urge to bite her thumb. Even if Arthur's reign had been encouraged from her avid dislike for nunneries, she still considered herself a good Christian. "The witch must not be allowed to subvert the people."
"Thy will be done." Guennuera might have noticed the sacrilege of that statement if her mind hadn't already begun its scheme.
"Lady Medraut, daughter of King Gorlois and princess of Pieran, do you know why you have been called before us today?"
Medraut tried not to simmer as she stood before Guennuera at the bottom of the steps to the throne where the villagers stood. Guennuera, of course, had arrived dressed in formal dress and robes as though she were the queen and sole ruler. Angus stood in the shadows behind the throne but Medraut picked him out easily enough. King Bors stood among the advisors off to the side, whose roles were often silent and to serve as witnesses. None of their faces seemed readable, for or against her. Guards stood on either side of her, dressed in full armor like she might assault them, like she was a dangerous criminal.
"You have been charged with witch-craft and heresy. In our Christian realm, we consider these crimes as treason. Your proximity to the king makes you a danger to those around you. For these reasons, you are to be arrested and placed in the dungeon until a trial can be arranged," Guennuera boomed, her voice carrying through the hall with authority.
Medraut squared her shoulders and steeled her gaze. Of course, none were given the option to speak in her defense. At least not now. But while she was in a cell, who could she reach out to to give testimony? Who could she trust to be beyond the manipulation of Guennuera? Her mind raced as the guards roughly took her by the arms and guided her out of the hall and down those winding stairs.
As the guards placed her in the dark stone cell, Guennuera came up behind them with Angus. She waved them away and stood in the frame of the cell door. "I do not know what you planned to do to this kingdom but I shall not suffer to let your kind live. You shall not pollute us."
There were so many things wrong with that statement and Medraut had been in such a bad place for so long, she could not keep her emotions in check. She reached out her arm and jerked her hand from its relaxed position to rigid and open and then relaxed again. The flames of a nearby torch burst out like an explosion and struck their clothing just outside her cell. Guennuera released an ear-retching shriek but Angus put it out as she knew he would.
Guennuera still looked shaken while Medraut released what she had just done. Angus worked a spell beside Guennuera while she closed the cell. Guards appeared but made no move to assist as nothing appeared wrong. "Just know, your sentence has already been passed," Guennuera said, her voice cracking with nerves.
Medraut tried to keep herself together, her hands clenched as she strained to hear Angus' words. She could not make them out. As he finished, he smiled smugly at her before leading Guennuera away.
Medraut felt it like a weakness then and sank to her knees. Her mother, Morganne, had always been so in love with the people of her grandfather's kingdom, the Fae, that she had forgone spell-casting. She had insured the same for Medraut, locking away any scrolls of spells she possessed - Medraut wasn't even sure she had any. As it was, spell-casting was not an easy task and required a great deal of energy. For all of Angus' confidence, he would feel the pains for it later: magic took its toll out on the body. This feat was one she would have never thought another would risk. He enchanted the cell to drain her magic. She would be purely mortal in here, awaiting a trial that condemned her for being more.
There was only one irony, one amusement she could secure from her fate. Perhaps now, Arthur could be assured of his sister's malice. She would not wish to turn one sibling against another, to cause him pain as it will, but nor did she wish for evil to continue flaunting its mask as it corrupted for the vain and conceited.
She drew herself off the straw, feeling her knees like butter, and took a seat on the thin straw cot in the corner. She knew from her other visit that not all of the cells had them. The changeling she had met in the town had been caught for stealing. The priest, who knew the boy, had convinced the guards to postpone his sentencing - the loss of his hand - until the next day. He knew Medraut would take sympathy and brought her to see him. Only, the priest didn't realize the real reason she took sympathy. The changeling may have been a thief; she couldn't speak for his innocence. But she did know of his kinds' apprehension of iron. Instead, she convinced the guard to pardon him on her authority and promised to find a family to take him in and give him an occupation. In her good fortune, the priest knew of a farmer who would be glad of the help.
The boy's cell had been like her's, with straw strewn over the stone floor and a chamber pot in the corner that smelled like it had never been dumped. The walls were damp like they were close to water and there was even an irritable dripping noise like water was leaking from somewhere, destined to keep them from sleep. The cot, a nice addition as it was, would do little to bring her comfort. She didn't even have a window to look out, her vision limited by the torch outside her cell. When the torch burnt out on her second day, it was almost a whole 'nother day before it was relit.
On the fifth day, King Bors came to visit her. He appeared very indifferent as he looked down on her in her cell. She stood up slowly, meeting his stoic gaze with a worried one. He sighed and signs of compassion inched into his face. "I sent a messenger after Arthur some days ago. There is no telling if the messenger should ever reach him." Despite his warning, Medraut only felt the relief it offered. "I shall try to use my influence as I can but I have never had much sway over our Lady Regent."
She almost cringed at the title. Was that what he was calling her or a title she had taken for herself? "Thank you, King Bors. If I were not behind these bars, I would be more capable of displaying my gratitude. But I fear in my situation, words are all I can offer."
He attempted a smile but it felt out of place so he stopped. "Your thanks are more than enough. I shall be true to my friendship to the king of us both and to the love I have for my son-in-law2, your brother.
"I do not wish to offer you only gloom. I feel every confidence that I can delay a trial until Arthur returns or we may free you. The only suffering you must maintain is that which this cell offers."
"As long as the guards are not convinced to go against me, I shall not suffer much," Medraut replied offering a real smile. She didn't have the heart to tell him she only received bread and very small bite-sized and aged portions of anything else. As she implied, she would get by, strengthened by the promises he made her.
"Are you sure it will hold her?" Guennuera asked again, her voice on the verge of shrill as she paced up and down her sitting room. It was beyond indecent for a man to see a maiden, particularly of her rank, in her dressing robes, but Guennuera had little care for that now. As it were, she gave little care for whether or not Angus was drowning out their conversations with his lute as they spoke. She was so caught up in her actions and the possible repercussions that could come her way. She wanted the entire matter to be over with as soon as possible.
"They will hold," he said. "My protection is beyond her magic." He carefully avoided putting himself in the same category of sorcery as Medraut. Guennuera was not entirely sane of late.
"I need… I need to get the matter settled. I need new jurors." She had done her best to design a trial much like those from Ancient Greece but in a more modern fashion and with her particular sway in mind. She had gone so far as to choose men who seemed impartial. The only ones she could acquire other than old men of the court and advisors were villagers. They seemed easy enough. But when she gathered the twelve she had chosen, they would not come to a verdict. They were too afraid of making a decision of one placed in power in Arthur's absence. Already a rumor had been spread he was returning. They were adamant the judgment should be postponed until he arrived. Guennuera couldn't afford to even think about his return.
"The court has been privy to your selection of a jury. If you collect a new one, they will only grow suspicious." Angus warned.
Her sanity was really becoming a pressing issue. He had wormed his way into her council and trust to influence her. He wanted to rule the way she ruled, by pulling the strings. But he had not come as close as he had hoped to controlling her. Right now, she was veering off the path. While he privately believed that Medraut's absence and even death would help him gain another step up, he desired to accomplish it discreetly. He was afraid Guennuera would do something drastic in this delicate matter. As it was, he kept Medraut's newest matter from her as it would only ruin the situation further.
"She was sent here to drive me mad," Guennuera seethed, her pacing never-ending. "If I cannot sway a jury, then it may be my neck that becomes endangered."
After nearly three months of imprisonment, Medraut didn't give much thought to why they started feeding her soup with her bread. A part of her dared to think but the rest of her mind had gone numb. After that many days, there were only so many things left to think about. If she hazarded a thought to the soup it was only because of her condition. It wasn't hard to tell, as long as it had been, but with her hands on her stomach, she could notice a difference. She hadn't received a change of clothing either. In the court of the High King, her princess status wasn't high enough to afford her real privileges, especially when convicted of what Guennuera declared "treason". It made her condition all that more noticeable. Medraut couldn't even contemplate why she hadn't lost it. Her thoughts, while mused on the idea of having a child fondly, could not pull to true happiness. Her position in the dark cell did not afford it.
She recalled with half a laugh - it was only two weeks ago - when Guennuera had brought a bishop. He had performed prayers over her cell, trying to expel the demon that surely lived inside of her. He prayed until he broke a sweat and declared that the demon was fighting him too strongly. Guennuera fretted about it quite visibly. Medraut had been quiet then but later she had laughed. She wasn't possessed. Magic was hers by birth and it came as a blessing from the earth, as natural as water.
Medraut sipped her soup slowly, making it last. She smiled. At least this time someone had added salt.
When Arthur returned, the darkness of the town hit him like a fog, settling itself around him on his shoulders like a weight. Everything seemed different, the people quiet and whispered. When they saw him enter the town on the path to Camlann, they all cheered and shouted his name in joy. But the dark weight did not leave him. The urgent plea from the messenger to return home only troubled him more. He had left knights in pursuit of the relic, though it panged him, riding into town with only Cai Hir and Dinadan beside him. They pressed closer, feeling it as well and seemingly trying to shield him against it.
As he rode past the inner gates, he left his horse at the stable, still feeling intensely confused. The darkness still pulled at him but everything seemed to be normal here. He could already see and hear conversation carry as normal. Nothing seemed out of place. Arthur shook himself to be rid of this pressing weight.
They strode into the grand hall so that he could expediently solve this matter that required his return. As he entered, all of the men standing in the advisor's wing emitted looks of surprise, shock, and horror before they dropped to their knees in reverence. He knew all of them well-enough to be thrown off by their gazes. He in amusement checked himself to make sure he wasn't a ghost. Dismissing them, he continued his long strides to the throne, squinting his eyes to try and make out all the seats, while his men continued at his back like his own personal armor. Guennuera, sitting in his seat, seemed to wither before him, a look of terror. She clutched the arms of the chair until her knuckles turned white and her face managed its mask of confident calm.
"Welcome back, my King," she said. "I hope you will find that I have ruled well in your stead."
"Where is Medraut?" he asked simply as he climbed the last step before the throne.
She took to her feet and offered him the throne coolly. "She found herself better-suited elsewhere. Think not of her. I am eager for you to resume your seat. This man before you…" she gestured to the man at the bottom of the stairs Arthur had strode past without a single glance.
"Where is Medraut?" he asked again, worming out the weakness he felt. "This elsewhere you speak of."
King Bors seemed to almost materialize out of nowhere, bowing before him. "I will take you to her, my King."
Arthur nodded his consent and followed. Cai Hir and Dinadan followed him with apprehension. They felt his uneasy mood and despite their freedom to leave, they stood by him. There was some part of them that also felt the disquiet in the air. They clutched their swords as his mood worsened, taken down the dungeon steps. As they arrived before a poorly lit cell, Arthur's body seemed to shake a little.
"Open it," he said simply, a quality to his voice that even Cai Hir found frightening.
"Don't!" Came a feminine voice, the sound of soft slippers slapping against stone barely audible. Guennuera tried not to pant as she caught up with them, Angus behind her in the shadows where he could not be seen. "Don't open it. The demon is contained but the bishop cannot remove it."
Arthur's face contorted into an almost crazy expression before he regained control. He turned back to one of the guards that had followed them to the cell. "Open it. Do as I say."
The guard, eager to get away from this violent atmosphere, fumbled with the keys in his enthusiasm. Finely getting it open, he moved to escape.
"Light," Arthur said, holding out his hand expectantly. The guard retrieved a torch while Guennuera pressed herself to the opposite wall in unrelenting fear.
Arthur trembled as he looked down at the body. Even if the face looked peaceful, it was sunken, the body thin, and an overwhelming odor permeated the air. Medraut was dead and had been from some time. Arthur rocked on his heels, dangerously close to collapsing as he was torn between grief and anger.
"You!" He boomed, his voice shaking in anger as his eyes filled with tears. He drew his sword and pointed it at his sister. Guennuera slid down the wall to the ground, trembling as tears ran freely down her face. He seemed unsure, his breaths long and angry as his sword arm shook. Although he wanted to, he couldn't kill his own sister. "Leave." He said quietly. She didn't move. "Leave!" He shouted moving his sword to point towards the stairs. "Leave this place. Leave Britanni. There is no place that is too far away. Should I see you again, there will be no forgiveness in my heart. For your own sake, leave!"
Guennuera, who had never seen her brother so angry, who had never experienced his anger on a personal basis, could do no more than scramble to her feet and flee, although her whole body went cold and numb from fear. Even in her room, his anger kept her from having a cry, although shed tears she did.
Arthur knelt by Medraut's side and took her into his lap, although he knew it could offer her no real comfort. "I'm so sorry," was all he could say. And he knew it would never be enough. He kissed her forehead and rocked back and forth as he cried.
Herle Annwn stood on the shore of his island, his new kingdom. He felt the life leave his chosen mortal son as he lay on Herle's own bed in his palace towards the island's center. For Herle Annwn, it was but breathes ago that he whispered to a little boy on a cliff about what he could become. Now, it had all darkened. The boy would be buried with Herle's granddaughter underneath a rowan tree of Herle's choosing, who had expressed her gratitude at being chosen. He looked out over the waters and smiled, even if it verged on bitterness. He raised his oak staff and gathered his will, squaring his shoulders. As he exhaled, he firmly stomped the staff back onto the ground, its ripples of energy scattering off into the world. Their time had ended …until they would be called on again.
1 Crossing oneself is a prayer in and of itself, typically said "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit" as the hand moves from forehead, lower chest (although I, myself, was taught middle chest), left shoulder, to right shoulder, all with the right hand. It has been used throughout the ages as a way Christians, particularly Catholics, ward off evil.
2 the term was not used until the 1300's but I used it for how it reads. So much better than "son by marriage" or a similar but more era-suitable substitution
A/N: Thank you so much for reading. I do feel sorry to end it on a sad note but as I essentially hinted in my opening note/summary, it was destined to end in tragedy. I feel bad that it took me so long to write it. That is, I wrote it all today but it took me almost two months to get the inspiration. I myself did not look forward to writing its tragic conclusion. There's definitely some parts that need to be rewritten, which I can only look on at with great pain and no enthusiasm. But I hope you enjoyed this version as it exists. It was a pleasure writing it :)
...and rant time...
In the older versions of the tale, Mordred was never connected to Arthur by blood. Of course, he was more or less considered a bad-guy. Morgan Le Fay didn't exist (at least not as Morgan of the Fay) and neither did Lancelot, unless you accept him as the son of King Angus, the king of Scotland who was one of the three kings to witness Arthur's crowning, and Lancelot as a French corruption of his name. Also, King Arthur's time has always had a bit of magic to it so I wanted to tell a story that told the passing of magic into the world we know today, a world we still hope has some magic to it.
To all those who say the tale of King Arthur shouldn't be retold, I feel the need to say in comparison to the pre-French versions, the tale we know today is a retelling.
Thank you :)