I am Mordred
Destiny. It's what drives all men to evil and greatness. It tears apart and brings together true love, family. It determines who's remembered and how. It plays a cruel hand in the fate of man. It tests and tortures us until were nothing but bitter bone. And it is driven by one question alone; who are you?
I know this question well. It is a question I have asked myself all my life. Who am I? I have asked it every time destiny has changed my life. Every time I've been pushed into a corner. Every time I have lost something precious to me. Who am I?
I am Mordred.
There's no going back once you've been chosen…
I awoke before the sun rose. I always do. It's not that I'm much of a morning person, but I tend to have weird dreams that always brought me back to reality before I really needed to wake up. It's irksome but an accepted part of my routine. I always dreamed the same thing; a snake strangling a dragon. Over and over again I dream this. There were other dreams about fire and wizards and drums but the dream of the snake and the dragon always returns. I don't know what it means.
My mum thinks it means I'm special. No normal farm boy dreams of war. No normal boy is set off in a wicker basket and found again unless they're some kind of hero. She thinks I'm like one of those heroes from those roman stories that are always being told. She thinks that one day I am going to do great things but I'm not so sure. I just think it means I'm insane.
I never liked the story of my abandonment. It touches something deep in me. I mean I love my adoptive parents more then anyone. They raised me as though I was blood. But I always catch myself wondering who my real parents are. Why did they abandon me? I'd drive myself crazy wondering all the while knowing that I'll never find the answer. I'm better off not thinking about it.
So for a moment I lie in bed and ponder instead the dream. The dragon was so much bigger then the snake. He was golden and regal, proud and strong. I respect the dragon and yet I always get a feeling of sadness of the beast. Sometimes even… and I might be imagining this… relief at death. The snake meanwhile is rather piteous. It's small and black and nothing compared to the dragon. It was down to earth and in my minds-eye just as noble and sad as the dragon. I like to believe that the snake doesn't want to kill the dragon… but it's just a dream so I shouldn't dwell on it.
I close my eyes and think of my day ahead; work, boring work as always. My body has been built in proud sinew from the labor but my mind has been left to wonder aimlessly, cursed with longing. Don't get me wrong, I like the work. It feels good to do something, to put an effort in and yield its rewards but my gods the work is so boring. It's repetitive and thoughtless and it gives me entirely too much time to daydream. When I daydream I think too much about what's beyond Fenwood. I want to go. I want to travel and see this vast magical world but I can't. My family needs me. My father injured his back and I'm the only one that can plow the fields.
I jerked up suddenly in bed, suddenly remembering something I should have remembered sooner. Today is market day. With the thought sunlight beamed in through the windows and my day seemed suddenly brighter. I grinned wryly and got out of bed.
A few hours later after I had done my morning chores I sat at breakfast eating my breakfast as fast as I could. My father gruffly scolded me, saying that I should be careful or I'd swallow my spoon. Everything about my father is gruff; he's a big burley man who's been left too long to bake in the sun. But my mom and I both knew that he was soft as freshly baked bread in the middle. He smiled his wry half smile, something I like to imagine I inherited from him, despite the fact that we weren't related.
My mom meanwhile was the kindest person in the world. Mind you that isn't to say she didn't know when to be firm. She's been known to hit people with her long wooden spoon when they were being too stupid for there own good but she always had a good reason. She was stout and proud and truly my mother no matter what.
I loved them both. They were my true family.
The moment that I finished my breakfast I was up and out of there. I gave my mom a swift kiss on the cheek got the coin bag, cat the cart and out wares. Got the pony, Sedel, and was soon riding of into town to work in the only interesting thing to do in town.
Market day; the air was riddled with all the finest smells, roasting meat, tanned leather, rare cinnamon spiced nuts brought from the south, and so many other things meant to entice you and spending every last penny you had. The streets were lined with colored banners also meant to draw you in and of course people everywhere. Everyone came out at market day, even the traders from the farthest flung corner of the world. It was always worth coming out on market day because that's when the real world gets closer.
I could hear the story weaver now; "the giant had ravaged the village. He was a fat and contented as any beast could be after a feeding. King Arthur saw him over the dale and knew he was in trouble. The beast was big as any mountain and just as strong. Arthur he would have to be clever to defeat this foe. 'Wit will always defeat brawn' he told his fellow knight…"
I always enjoyed listening to his stories, especially the one involving our king. But I had work and wares to sell like all the other merchants and besides I had to meet someone. I eyed the crowd and found her. Helene Emrinel, the most beautiful orchard worker in all of Camelot, was selling apples next to an empty booth.
"Saved me a spot did you?" I smiled at her, jumping down from the cart and strolling towards her. She laughed coldly at me but smiled warmly back.
"Who ever said the spot was for you?" she said wisely. We always played this game. "That booth is reserved for my bridegroom. I can't give to any ol' ruffian asking for it."
I put my hand against my chest pretending to be insulted, "Ruffian!? Me? I am an honorable business man. How 'bout I pay for it?"
"The price it more then you could possibly afford." Helene said coyly.
"How 'bout with a kiss then?" I declared boldly. "Surely that is worth the price of you booth."
Helene laughed and turned her back to me tossing over her shoulder, "my booth is not so cheaply won."
"Cheap!" I was highly offended now, "these lips are as virgin and rare as the golden apples of Ieley. They are hardly what one would call cheap!"
Helene laughed again, "then why has it been said the have tasted the lips of one Astoria Medlin?"
I scowled, "Astoria is a pig next to your fair beauty. No one can compare to you splendiferousness, your pale skin, your jeweled eyes, your hair like…"
"Would you just shut up and kiss her already," Dane, Helene's older brother, said as he passed. We both scowled at him.
"You're supposed to object to the tarnishing of your younger sister's virtue!" Helene said stamping her foot. I laughed a little. Dane scowled and set the basket of pears he was carrying onto the table to be sold.
"Not when she's flirting insufferably instead," he said making fun of our tendency towards the larger words. That was another thing me and Helene had in common. We both loved to read. "Besides," Dane continued. "He's you betrothed. What's so un-virtuous about that?"
"We're not married," Helene said flustered. "If dad caught us, Mordred would be…"
"Then I suggest you stop flirting like a couple of love birds in the middle of town," Dane interrupted. Helene blushed red and I laughed again. She glared at me getting all surly. It was true that Helene was my betrothed and I didn't mind one bit. I'd known her my entire life and had loved her for just as long.
"I still haven't bought that stall," I said coyly and leaned in to kiss her…
Only to be run over by a passerby. Caught off balance, I fell face-first into the booth, my foot catching on the man's cloak and making a horrible ripping noise. I landed on my knees in the mud with a bruised chin and a growing feeling of guilt and embarrassment as I looked up toward the man with the torn cloak. I swallowed hard. He was a noble man.
The man glowered at my face going progressively redder. He was tall and blond with the physique of a rider. He was dressed in rich fabrics with gold fastenings, and his cloak looked to be worth more then my house.
"I'm sorry," I said almost immediately. Whether it was an accident or his fault didn't matter. You do not mess with the noble. The man only glared.
"Do know what you just did?" he asked in a dangerously quiet voice. He grabbed a handful of my dark hair and dragged me painfully to my feet by my scalp. I winced, tears coming to my eyes. It was funny how I could get my entire leg stuck in a spiked pit trap and shrug it off but I would cry like a baby if my hair is pulled. It would have made me feel slightly more embarrassed if how embarrassed I felt was relevant at that moment. But I was preoccupied with the fact that this man might kill me.
The man let go of my hair and backhanded me with the weight of a flying brick. Dane saw and tried to step in, grabbing the man by the arm. What happened next happened very fast. I wasn't sure my eyes were working properly but I swear the man barely touched Dane and yet my brother-to-be was thrown as though he had been tackled by a full grown man.
"Did you just touch me!?" the man's voice rose. I saw something reflected in his eyes that scared me but still I threw myself in front of my friend to stop him. The man growled cruelly but I met his gaze steadily, putting every ounce of willpower I had, to tell him to back off.
The man suddenly froze and blinked in surprise. "Who are you?" he asked ruefully.
"I am Mordred," I said not letting my voice waver. "And I will not let hurt him."
The man's head tilted ever so slightly as though he didn't know what to make of me. He seemed to have stopped hitting people though and that was enough to make me feel better for standing up to him. That is, until he grabbed my wrist and bent down to look me right in the eye as he said, "fair enough, I will let your friend go this time. But as payment you must accept punishment for the both of you. Will you do that, Mordred?"
It occurred me that accepting some unknown punishment doubled over was a bad idea and that I would probably be better off kicking this man in the shin and running. But idiot that I am I choose to ignore my instincts and do the noble thing instead. I nodded.
The man smiled but it a twisted one. Again I got the overwhelming sense that this man wasn't quite human. I glanced back at Helene and Dane who were both staring at me as though I were brave or stupid. I'm not sure if the 'help me message' I tried to send them was received as a 'don't worry, I've got this' look but they didn't try to save me. I suppose I can understand, on account of the whole counter-acting the brave thing I just did but still that meant I was being dragged away by a large scary man who clearly had anger issues.
I tried not to show fear for he seemed to respect that but even as he pulled me out of the market place and out of the village I couldn't help but feel fear. It was when he pulled me towards the forest that I decided we had gone far enough. I dug my heels in and refused to go further. The man turned to leer at me but I wouldn't move any further.
His lip curled grotesquely, revealing very white sharp teeth, but I refused to flinch. When you're with a girl like Helene, stubbornness is the first thing you learn. "Listen here, boy," the man spat, "my name is Kane. I am one of the most powerful wizards in all of Camelot and I do not take insult well. You are lucky. I see magic in you. I sense a great destiny around you so I've decided to give you a little gift to assure your allegiances later. But I do not like it when people don't listen to me. I have ways of making them listen," he squeezed my wrist tighter and my nerves screamed. I felt as though my bones might crack. "Know you can either come with me calmly like you promised or I can show you them."
I pressed my lips together, not trusting myself keep from screaming. I nodded. Braver men then I have suffered at this man's hands. I don't know what his 'gift' was or how it would assure my allegiances to him but I didn't like that sound of it. I didn't like his talk about my destiny either. I can't do magic.
I knew I was in great danger. We walked deeper into the woods then I have ever been, of the trails and into the underbrush. I was scared; I'm not ashamed to admit it. We showed no signs of stopping until we reached a little beaten hut. It looked like it had no right being out in the middle of nowhere like this and it didn't appear to be too happy about it either.
The man put his hand against the door and I got the feeling that he was unlocking it. I suppose he wasn't lying about the whole wizard thing. That only made things worse. He threw me in and locked the door behind himself. I knew that I wouldn't be able to unlock without anything short of a miracle.
It took me a moment to notice the room around me because I was having trouble take my eyes of the man for paranoia but when I did my jaw dropped open. The hut was bigger on the inside. There were no words for the size of this place. Every thing was clean and shining mahogany. There was an endless supply of books and tools. A number of work tables with projects laid out neatly in preparation for what ever magic he was planning to do. There were also a number of bubbling pots in cauldrons around the room.
I pulled my legs up to my chest where I sat on the hard stone floor and tried not to touch anything. Amazed as I was, I wasn't stupid enough to stop being afraid. The man made his way across the room and started a new work space placing all sorts of bottled and jars across an empty table. He was planning a punishment for me so this couldn't be good. He was obviously making a potion.
He poured different powders into a jar including something that smelled like sulfur. Even from across the room I could smell it. The he lit a small branch on fire and dropped it into the mixture with a small explosion. Despite myself I was strangely fascinated by the art. I wondered what the potion could do. Would it turn me into a toad or a worm? Would it make me burst into flames? Would it simply kill me? The more I thought about it the more anxious I got. He was pouring liquids in now; black water, think golden tonic, purple… something. I did not want to drink it.
Finally the man pulled a black snake from a jar. It reminded me of the one from my dream and I immediately felt sympathy for it. It was obviously in a similar situation and it was struggling to get free. I flinched when Kane cut the poor animals head off and poured its blood into the jar. I glared at the man angry at his cruelty. I can take punishment but pulling poor animals into things was just wrong. I didn't even eat meat, much to my father's displeasure. That's why I was so skinny. I just can't stand harming coming to innocent creatures.
The man ignored me and instead drew a line across his palm with a large silver knife and poured the blood into the jar. My stomach flip-flopped. His blood was almost black and I could have sworn there was smoke coiling off it. My mind told me this wasn't possible but then none of this should be possible. Dark magic was forbidden in the kingdom of Camelot and that was definitely what he was using.
Kane finally turned to me. He smiled. He crooked a finger in my direction, and my feet were suddenly moving on there own. I struggled against the magic but it was impossible. My legs had gone out of my control. Panic started to set in but I tried to block it out. Don't show weakness to him, I shouted at myself but I was weak. There was nothing I could do against him. Tears welled up in my eyes and I struggled on.
Kane exhaled derisively through his nose as if silently laughing at me. I glared through my pathetic tears. That was all I could do, glare. "Hold out your hand," he said coldly and I had no choice but to do it. He sliced my hand with the same knife he used on himself and it felt dirty. He turned my hand over the jar and my blood spilled in, the shining red joining the black toxic mixture.
The man smiled a little wider gave it one last stir and then held the jar out to me. "Bottoms up!"
Every fiber of my being screamed in resistance. My will fought the wizard's in a bloody battle to the death and I was losing. In my hands it was and slowly approaching my face. No! No! My mind screamed as the drink came to my lips. NO!
And I downed the contents.
The effects were immediate. All the light in the world rushed away from me and there was only darkness and a voice, a laughing voice. I fell screaming in pain as the darkness burned with in me. It was wrong it. It was evil. The man had made me drink pure evil. There was nothing beyond the pain and darkness. Nothing but that laugh.
Then the voice came and the pain seemed to fade slightly and the darkness seemed less dense. It was like standing in a room at night, when all was dark but your eyes could still make out the darker bed frame. Before me stood a creature, all shadowed, and though it seemed human in form I knew it was a monster.
So you are to be my new master, it laughed. Its voice is hard to describe; it was like the skittering of mice in the barn or the feeling of goose pimples rising on your skin. It was cold and light. It crawled over me.
"I don't understand…" I said into the darkness. My voice seemed muffled. The creature seemed to hear me fine however.
No, I suppose you wouldn't it leered. I could just tell that it was leering. I'll make it simple for you then. Defeat me in battle, tame me and I will serve you forevermore. Fail to beat me and you will die. It's that simple.
My heart pounded in my chest. "I just want to go home…" I admitted.
The creature shook its head at me. There's no going back once you've been chosen. You have no choice but to fight me. If you lose I'll be free.
I stared at the shade and somehow pitied it. It had a home it wanted to return to, too. "Fine then…" I accepted and the creature didn't hesitate.
Its long fingers wrapped around my neck. Panic raced through me and I was powerless against it. I froze and I was having the breath squeezed out of me. My heart beat was slowly growing louder in my ears.
You're going to have to do better then that, the monster taunted. My heartbeat was so loud in my ears. Ba-bump, ba-bump. It was slowing. Ba-bump… bump… bump… The beast was winning and I was dying.
Then a sudden realization struck me; I was dying without a fight. That thought lit a fire inside me and I felt power roar out of me. No! No, I will not die that easily thank you very much. With the force of a cannon I blew the creature off of me.
The creature slammed into the wall and did a forward tumble into the floor. It moved slowly, as though it were in pain, and it stared up me suddenly afraid. No, it gasped. This isn't possible. You're just a child. No child is this powerful…
But it never got the opportunity to finish its thought for I fired my powers at it again. a moment later I awoke on the floor of Kane's lair.
"Impossible!" the man gasped staring at me as though I were some kind of freak. I had no idea how long I'd been there but he had clearly moved on from his creepy snake juice. I could tell that he hadn't expected me to wake up. He had expected me to lose my battle. So much for believing I had a great destiny. This was some gift.
I glared at him. I wasn't afraid. I was pissed. "Open the door," I put it simply.
The man laughed, excidedly. "Amazing!" he said. "Simply amazing. So much growth in so little time. You are remarkable. With a bit of training you could…"
"Open the door," I repeated louder, my power echoing in my words. He blinked startled by my force and he tried to put his will on me. But this time my will was stronger. His powers didn't even lick me. The man laughed again nervously this time and then he went and opened the door.
As he ushered me out he promised that we would meet again. I would do all in my power to make him break that promise. The moment that I was away my anger melted and was replaced with exhaustion. I made it to the village before I passed out and when I woke up the power I showed was but a memory.
"Are you okay?" Helene asked with concern. Someone had found me passed out and taken me to her house which was closer then my own. I lay in Dane's bed while he leaned stonily against the door frame. Shadows were lurking in every corner of my eye. I answered the girl honestly.
"I don't know."
Helene's eyebrows came together and I could see Dane sharing an equal level of concern. He had never liked me much but apparently today that changed.
"What was the punishment?" I could see unwarranted guilt in the boy's eyes now. He was blaming himself for what happened but all he tried to do was stand up for me. I rubbed my eyelids with the back of my hands trying to clear the images but it was no good.
I didn't know how to explain what had happened to me. So I didn't respond. This seemed to alarm Dane more. "We need to check you for injuries," he said earnestly. "if we don't know what happened to you we can't help.'
Helene smiled at this. "Take off your shirt," she said plainly. I couldn't help but smile a bit at her clear motive. I peeled of my shirt and to my surprise all was not well across my chest. On my chest, to the left, just under my collarbone there was black mark in my skin. It was a brand and the skin around it was still red and angry. I hadn't felt it until a saw it until I saw it. My skin protested the brands presence and I could have sworn the mark itself had a heartbeat. The brand was of a snake biting its own tail, an ouroborus.
My friends stared at the mark in horror. Slowly, Helene reached out to touch it. My heartbeat speed up and I felt the snake tense under my skin. When her fingers moved to close it moved faster then sight and struck, biting her. Helene flinched back holding her hand startled.
"It bit me," she gasped. Already the snakes poison was going to work. The finger that it had bitten was turning black. Dane moved forward mouth slightly open, his eyes not believing what they were seeing. He took her hand in his careful not to touch the wound. The darkness was turning translucent, like shadow, until the immediate flesh was gone and the darkness spread down her hand. Helene was disappearing.
We were all terrified. Helene was crying and Dane seemed to be close to panicking if not for the numbness of shock. My mind was just tumbling the words what did I do? What did I do? over and over again. The snake felt warm against my skin. God what did I do?
Dane gasped in surprise and let go of Helene's hand. He must have forgotten that he was holding her hand. The poison had spread down to where he was holding and it had infected to him. Dane looked sick with fear and he whirled to me. "What did you do? Fix it. Make it stop."
I was helpless. "I don't know how! This must be the punishment he talked about," my voice broke, "I'm sorry. I don't know what to do. I'm sorry."
"Fix it!" Dane screamed. I shook my head, tears coming.
"I don't know. I don't know," I repeated. He had said it was a gift but this wasn't a gift. I didn't know what was happening. I didn't know how to stop it.
"FIX IT!" Dane screamed and he moved to shake me. Everything seemed so too loud and fast. I was crying and he was yelling and they were disappearing. The moment he touched me things went silent. Dane disappeared completely. One moment he was there the next, thuwp, he was gone. A shadow passed over him like a blink and he was gone.
The snake writhed on my flesh. Everything had gone very quiet. Helene seemed to have lost the ability to talk. We stared at each other in a moment of solidarity terror. The venom continued to move up Helene's arm. Most of her forearm was gone. Finally quietly, Helene said, "you need to go."
I stared at her, heat in my cheeks and I closed my eyes. Her words broke through the animalistic reaction and got to my sense. I had to go. I had to run. If I stayed they would hunt me. The villagers feared magic. They would see my curse and kill me to protect them selves. Helene was right. I needed to go. I need to run before I hurt anyone else.
I sprang out of the bed and went for the door but Helene's voice stopped me.
Her voice was sad and scared but still full of concern for me. I turned towards her to see her light blue eyes shining. She moved towards me and pressed a gentle kiss to my lips and then she too was gone.
I stifled a sob and I moved out of the room. I was alone.