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We met with the other knights and Arthur at the gates and set out for the town. We split up to cover as much ground as possible and asked anyone we found whether they knew anything of the whereabouts of Lancelot or his two companions. Several people tried to be helpful, but no one really had any hard evidence as to where the three men went, unless they were lying, though I could see no reason why they would.
By mid-morning, I had spoken to no less than fifty people, and had not found out anything of use. I stopped by a water trough to let Elith drink, and while I stood, stroking his forelock, I happened to glance up and catch a movement out of the corner of my eye. I frowned, then saw a figure step out from behind a corner for a moment and stare right at me.
I felt my heart in my mouth. Was it? No! But it was. It had to be, I could never mistake that face for it haunted my nightmares. It was Morgan la Fay.
I was pulled by some invisible thread in her direction. I could not explain it, and never would be able to decide whether it was a want to end what was between us, or simply her manipulating me with magic. But I left my horse and walked down the alley, away from the traders’ stalls, against my better judgment. Dread filled me, but I was determined to face her; to finally put an end to this.
When I got to the place she had been, I saw no one, and I began to wonder whether she had only been a specter of my imagination.
“Mordred. It’s good to see you.”
I spun around to find her behind me, dressed in a long red dress and black riding cloak with the hood pulled over her dark hair to conceal her features. I stepped back automatically before I steeled myself, refusing to fear her, though my heart was thumping wildly.
“Lady Morgan,” I said. “I did not expect to see you.”
“No?” she inquired, raising one dark eyebrow before she held her hand out to me. “Come. Let us talk; there is much I wish to discuss with you.”
I followed her into a shed off a stable that was filled with bales of hay and feed. She flicked her wrist and the door shut behind us. I was about to speak, but I was suddenly flung backwards, and slammed against the wall. I tried to move, but couldn’t; I was stuck fast with magic. She advanced on me and leaned close to my face, grabbing my chin with one hand.
“You have been here a month, and not one message to me, Mordred. I decided to pay you a visit to see whether you had forgotten or if something had befallen you.”
“I find it impossible to forget, Morgan,” I told her firmly. “I just had nothing to say to you.”
“Nothing?” she asked. “So you have not met with Arthur, and gotten into his good graces?”
“He is a good man,” I replied boldly. “Better than you can ever hope to be.”
She clenched her fist and I felt the familiar agony tighten around my heart, stealing my breath and causing me to wreathe. She finally stopped the pain and let me slide to the ground where I curled over, gasping for breath and clutching my chest.
“You are pathetic, Mordred,” she snarled. “Weak. Did I teach you nothing? I told you that if you didn’t find a way to kill Arthur, I would force you to do it. Do you want that?”
I shook my head, still unable to speak.
“Because I can bend you, and make you do it whether you want to or not. Is it that you care about him? That you have actually come to think of him as a father?”
I was silent, trying to regain my feet. She slammed me against the wall again, and pressed herself against me, her hand over my pounding heart, digging her nails into me.
“Because you know he will never claim you, just as Uther never claimed me. And then you will know what it feels like not to be wanted by your own parent, or at least the person you care for as one. You should kill him now before he can break your pathetic heart. Because you know he will never fully acknowledge an illegitimate offspring.”
“You just wanted the throne,” I ground out hoarsely. “You only wanted your father’s love out of greed. Arthur thinks I’m his son, and he loves me for that alone. He would give me more than I asked for, but I need nothing but his affection, even though we aren’t tied by blood. You just don’t understand that because one must love before one can be loved.” I cried out as she caused the pain to grip me again, but this time, it was cut off abruptly as the door opened.
“Well, well, if it isn’t Morgan la Fay.”
Lady Morgan dropped me to the floor and I choked air back into my lungs, looking up to see my savior was none other than…
“Merlin,” snarled Lady Morgan, clenching her fists.
“Are you all right, Mordred?” the sorcerer asked me, never breaking eye contact with Lady Morgan.
“Y-yes,” I gasped out, trying to get to my feet. Merlin was standing calmly in front of Lady Morgan, that small, mocking smile on his lips, and I could see my tormenter hated him with a passion that could almost rival her hatred for Arthur. It was certain that these two knew each other, though I had never had knowledge of that.
“It is really low of you to pick on boys, Morgan,” Merlin told her. “If you were so desperate for a contest, you knew where to find me.”
Morgan la Fay screamed out a spell, but Merlin countered it lazily, shaking his head. “My dear, you know you have to do better than that.” And then he sent her flying backwards with a careless flick of his wrist as if she had been yanked on a rope, and she screamed as she was buried deep in the piles of hay, scrambling around in a very undignified manor to get out of them. Merlin reached out a hand to me, hauling me completely upright before shoving me out the door in front of him.
“Come then, young Mordred, let us be off.”
I didn’t have time to protest, and just allowed him to haul me out the door and down another back street before he stopped suddenly and spun me around to slam me against a wall. I was shocked and frightened, seeing no more of the sardonic humor in his face, but only a cold, calculating danger.
“What dealings have you with Morgan la Fay?” he asked me in a low voice.
“None, I…” I gasped as he shook me, his hand squeezing painfully into my wound.
“Tell me the truth, Mordred. I think you know very well what I am capable of, and I don’t want to have to force you to tell me.”
I shook my head. I didn’t want that either. So I told him about how Morgan had found me and taken me in and raised me as a son, and how she had turned into a different person with the news of Arthur’s coronation. And then about her plan to get me to kill Arthur. Merlin had let me go by then, and stood back with his arms crossed over his chest, listening as I spoke. I was desperate at the end, finally realizing the enormity of the situation and the fact that I might not be able to stop this course of events after all. Ignoring it seemed not to be enough.
“I don’t want to kill him, I swear, Merlin, I don’t,” I cried, and sunk down against the wall. “And I won’t. I don’t care what she does to me.”
Merlin crouched down and put a hand on my shoulder. “I trust your motives, Mordred. But I don’t think you fully understand the gravity of the situation. There may come a day where she will force you to kill Arthur, whether you want to or not, and I believe you don’t, don’t worry about that. There is more going on here than you understand; ancient stirrings and fates are tangled up in an incredibly messy thread. But, no, I don’t expect you to know what I’m talking about.”
“What can I do?” I pleaded. “I cannot kill him. He has been so kind to me, and treats me like his son. I hate having to lie to him, but I do selfishly enjoy that one, I’ll admit. I’ve never had a father.”
“And Arthur loves you, believe me,” Merlin said kindly. “And I’m rather fond of you myself, lad. You must never underestimate the powers of love and hate; they are the most powerful things in this world, and they are always at war. It is up to you to decide which will win.” His face turned dark and he leaned close, gripping my shoulders tightly. “But I also will tell you this in fair warning. Arthur is like my brother, Mordred, not just my comrade but my blood brother, and if you do him any harm, I will be forced to kill you without hesitation and remorse, do you understand?”
I nodded, gulping. Merlin was like that, I found. He could say how much he liked you one minute and then threaten to kill you the next, but I was glad of his threat, for I knew that if I were to kill Arthur, I would be thankful if Merlin would kill me in turn. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself afterward anyway.
As soon as the dangerous Merlin came, he disappeared and the sorcerer was all sarcastic smiles again. He stood and pulled me up. “Come then, Mordred. It is time we meet up with the others once more. I feared our efforts would be fruitless this day, but that is the way of it. And I do believe you are right. He will be back for you, and possibly for Guinevere as well. You must be careful, Mordred. You have made powerful enemies.” He smiled mockingly and I couldn’t help but say, “You included?”
He laughed but said nothing. He knew that I understood well enough our relationship.
When we came back to the others after I retrieved my horse and Merlin his, having left it with Elith when he came to rescue me from Lady Morgan, we found that no one had heard any news to help our search.
“I think it is time to lower our banners,” Arthur said grimly. “There will be no finding him unless he wants to be found.”
So we went back to the castle, feeling we had failed in our duty. But I had other things, darker things, on my mind now than the disappearance of Lancelot. If Lady Morgan had come to find me here, what other lengths would she go to in order to force me to finish the mission she had given me? I dared not think then, and that night I did not sleep a wink. However, I did have comfort in the fact that one person knew my story, and though, there was a part of me that was not entirely sure Merlin was an ally, I knew he would be on my side as long as I had the best interests of Arthur at heart, which I would keep there until I died.
Or until Morgan la Fay killed me.
©Copyright 2014 by Hazel B West
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