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where it all began
I rode for a while until I found my way into one of the outlying towns and decided that it was as good a place as any to stay for the night. In the state I was in, I wouldn’t have cared whether I slept in an actual bed, on the floor, or on the side of the road somewhere, but I decided that with the rain and the cold weather, it was probably best to find some shelter for the night.
So I stabled Elith in the town stable and went to the inn next door to get a room and something to eat. It was a dark, unwelcoming place, with a surly keeper, but I cared little for it. I was in no mood to do so, and between the sword on my hip and the dark expression I wore on my face, no one seemed eager to give me trouble. I paid for my room and took a bowl of stew and an ale over to a corner table where I could watch the door. I didn’t think anyone would come for me, but I didn’t know. I hoped—oh how I hoped—that Arthur himself might stride through that door; or Gawain or even Merlin, perhaps, and fetch me back to Camelot, saying it was all a misunderstanding.
But it wasn’t. I knew it wasn’t. I knew, I always had from my first day in Camelot, that the price would be a high one to pay, and now I paid it surely enough. But the important part was that I didn’t blame Arthur. I couldn’t, in fact. It wasn’t his fault. The fault was all mine for putting him into that position in the first place. For all the time I had called him father, wishing with all my heart that it was indeed the truth, how could I profess that I loved him so if I had done that to him in the end. It seemed that holding back the truth had only made things worse. I wished through every fiber of my being, that I had told him everything when I had been cursed. If I had, none of this would have happened, and Lady Morgan probably would have been brought to justice long since.
But if I had learned anything in my life, it was that there was no reason to think of things that could never be changed. Perhaps the things Merlin had said of destiny and fate were indeed true, though I had never really believed them before. He had said I was destined to kill Arthur, and Lady Morgan had said the same, but perhaps, after all, it would not be because of the curse she had laid on me, but because I was simply not there. I prayed that was not the case, but I was tied expertly, sure enough. I could not go back to Arthur in fear of killing him under my spell, but could I leave him as he went off to war and to a fate that might very well turn out to be the same? There seemed to be nothing but a paradox about the whole situation, and I found I could think on it no longer else I break myself beyond repair. If that had not already been ruthlessly accomplished.
I finished my supper though I had little appetite and went to my small, dirty room to sleep. I did not think I would sleep, but oddly enough, my body simply seemed finished, and as soon as I slumped onto the bed, I gave in to something deep inside me and I fell into a dark stupor that I don’t think I really cared whether I woke up from or not.
The next morning, I woke before dawn and left with Elith to go farther outside the kingdom.
I traveled for several days feeling very alone after I had been a knight and a comrade for so long, realizing for the first time, how much I really enjoyed the company of my fellows. I didn’t really know where I was headed, I had no real path in mind, but I just knew I wanted to get far away from Camelot and Arthur, even though, ironically, those were the only things in this world that I truly wanted.
During that time, my eighteenth birthday came. I didn’t rightly know when my birthday actually was, nor really how old I was for that matter, but Morgan had counted my birthday to be the day she found me on the streets, and I suppose I had kept that tradition over the years. It had never bothered me not knowing my true age, or where I came from or who my parents were. It didn’t truly bother me now, because I knew that the only father I ever wanted to claim was Arthur. But I couldn’t help but wonder that if I were still in Camelot, would Arthur have had a celebration for my eighteenth birthday since he had made me his heir? I decided not to dwell on it. I had only been his heir for a few minutes before Morgan la Fay had ruined everything. I knew I was in the wrong for not telling Arthur in the first place, but I would never forgive her that for as long as I lived. It would eat at my soul until the day I died.
That day of my eighteenth birthday, I felt strangely compelled in the direction of a small town. I didn’t really recognize it at first, but as I rode Elith down the streets, I began to realize it felt familiar and suddenly I caught a sight of a street and on the corner several children in filthy rags sat begging the passing travelers for money or food and then I remembered. This had been the place where it all began. Where Morgan had found me all those years ago. Fate had somehow led me there, I knew it to be certain, and I didn’t know if I wanted to know why.
I dismounted and left Elith tied to a post at the side of the street and went over to the children who sat there, so thin and filthy, and I knew that at one time I had been just like that. They looked up at me, scared, huddled, and I wondered if I cut that horrible of a figure that I would scare little children. I forced a smile and reached into my pack, producing a loaf of bread I had bought the day before, and a few spare coins I had. They gratefully took the gifts and began eating the bread hungrily, with a vigor that made my heart ache.
I was about to turn away when I felt a presence at my back and almost knew who was there before she spoke.
“So, it seems I was not the only one drawn here this day.”
I turned and there she stood, just as she had all those years ago, beguilingly beautiful, her dark hair tossed by the wind, her dress, as always, blood red. But there was no enchantment for me this time. No, like a man going protected through the Greenwood, she had no Glamour that could trick my eyes and lead me to my doom. Not anymore.
My hand found my sword hilt. How hard, I wondered, could it be to end her right there? I wanted to so badly, but I knew she was more powerful than I.
“Why did you come?” I ground out though my body trembled with some inner fear I couldn’t place.
She smiled slightly at me, coming closer. “For the same reason you did. I was drawn here, Mordred, as were you. We were meant to find each other here as we were all those years ago when you were only a child.”
“I’m not a child any longer,” I told her darkly. “You made sure of that. And I now know the devious serpent that lies under that beguiling skin.”
Morgan’s smile widened into something that made my skin crawl. She stepped ever closer, reaching out to touch the hand I still had over my sword hilt, then brought it up to brush her knuckles over my cheek. I shuddered at the contact, though I tried my best to stand still.
“One of these days, Mordred, you will have to realize that we were meant to be together. This bond we share—it was prophesied. We together, were to take Arthur down and rule Camelot. You could have that power, Mordred, if you will join me.”
I jerked away from her, fear and anger clattering in my chest. “I want none of that. I only want everything you took away from me. My friends, my family. But you,” I stepped toward her now, and she actually took a step backward. I must have cut a fierce figure. “You took it all away from me. Cursed me, twisted me, made me into a monster! You took everything I ever loved away from me!” I was shouting now, backing her against the wall, when suddenly her hand came up and clenched into a fist. I felt that familiar pain, and collapsed to my knees, though I hardly cared. It didn’t hurt now. Not like it once had.
When she released me, I looked up at her as I climbed to my feet, hardly shaken. “You can’t hurt me anymore, Morgan la Fay. The pain I feel in my heart is far worse than any paltry torment you could muster.”
She was angered by this, but she didn’t try anything else. I wondered if I really had shaken her. I hoped so.
“You make me sick, Mordred,” she said, her voice shaking in concealed rage. “You somehow made Arthur love you and even though he drove you away, I think he still loved you more than he ever did me, his own sister, and you nothing but a street brat with no name! He was going to give you his throne, just like that, when it was to be mine since his worthless queen couldn’t manage to produce his spawn. But instead he adopts a boy who comes along at random and actually believes him when he says he’s his son!” She laughed harshly. “I assumed he would have you killed instantly, Mordred. I was betting on it, but you actually succeeded. I just don’t know how. I guess Arthur is just more stupid than I ever thought.”
“He’s a better man than any I have ever known,” I said defensively, my hand returning to the sword hilt. “And you have no right to speak of him. You were a fool to think I would ever actually kill him.”
She laughed again, darker this time. “Oh, I didn’t really think so, Mordred, however, I know well enough that people can surprise you. But now you’re cursed, and you can’t do anything about it.”
“I can kill you,” I said quietly, sliding the sword from its sheath.
“Go ahead,” she said, spreading her arms wide. “If you think you can. It would end everything right here; your curse, the coming war. But would Arthur really take you back? No, and you know that. It wouldn’t change anything. You would still be all alone with nowhere to call home. You might as well join me, Mordred. You’re not going to stop what is already started. This has been written long since, by seers far wiser than any in this day. These events are too set in stone to change now.”
“Merlin told me that nothing is set in stone,” I told her. “Arthur doesn’t have to die.”
She shook her head with a sigh. “Oh Mordred, you are still as naïve as you always were. I almost pity you. Come with me, dear. I will look after you and make sure you survive the war.”
“I will never go with you again,” I snarled firmly. “I would rather die than join you.”
“Then that is how it will be,” Morgan said matter-of-factly, shrugging in a businesslike manor. “You and Arthur are destined to destroy each other, and it seems that that is what will happen. I can say I do regret it a little. What I could teach you, Mordred; you could almost be as great a warlock as Merlin with the time to practice.”
“I don’t want power,” I told her firmly. “I only want Arthur to live through this. Even if it means I die in the attempt.”
“It doesn’t have to be a tragedy, Mordred.”
“It won’t be,” I said quietly. “Not for anyone but you.”
She laughed again. “Your hatred of me, Mordred, is nothing compared to what I feel toward Arthur. Remember that, and we’ll see who wins in the end.”
“Hatred is not the strongest power in this world,” I told her, a small smile flickering over my lips for the first time in a long while. “Love is. And my love for Arthur is far greater than my hatred of you or yours of him.”
She scoffed. “Love will bring you nothing but heartache, Mordred. But I suppose you already have realized that.” She turned, and looked back over her shoulder. “It seems this is goodbye then. The next time we meet shall likely be on the battlefield.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “And I will kill you.”
She disappeared around the corner with a laugh. I headed back to where I had left Elith and mounted up again, wanting to get as far away from this town as I could and never look back.
Only one thing was I certain of now. And that was I would do everything in my power, or beyond it, to prove Morgan wrong, and assure that fate could be changed.
©Copyright 2014 by Hazel B West
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