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all laid bare
I woke but only barely. I felt pain ripping through my stomach, something causing even more pain than there was before. I heard shouting, someone pressing me down on my back so hard I could barely breathe. I struggled, crying out. Someone grabbed my hand but only a second before an even greater pain tore me apart and I greeted the blackness again like an old friend.
The next time, I was buried in ice. At least that’s what it felt like. I wished to open my eyes and see if I was correct, but I couldn’t find the strength to do so. I shivered so violently that my teeth clacked together. Someone called out from close by and there was murmuring and cursing in familiar voices that I couldn’t put faces to just then, and a heavy weight descended over me. Someone tucked it around my body and I wasn’t so cold anymore. The close warmth lulled me back into the darkness and I didn’t protest.
The fire came next. No more was I glad of the warmth from before, I was burning up. I thought I had been thrown over a fire and I thrashed and cried out for someone to stop it. Pain ripped through me with every movement and only made me scream harder. And then finally, someone caught my flailing hands and pressed them to my chest, shushing me gently; a wonderfully cool hand on my brow.
“Hush, Mordred. It will all be over soon, just rest.”
I reached out to the voice. I couldn’t remember who it belonged to, but I knew it was safe, and I whimpered like a babe as I felt myself pulled into a strong, comforting embrace and despite the fire still burning me, I was comfortable enough to greet the darkness once again.
The next time I woke I was finally lucid enough to see where I was.
I wasn’t entirely sure at first, for it was dark, and I was still not quite together, not knowing how I got where I was, or what I remembered beforehand. I remembered bad dreams and lots of pain, but not much more. Then I registered the familiar, comforting smell of herbs and once I looked around a bit more in the dim candlelight of the room. I realized I must be in Merlin’s rooms back at Camelot.
Camelot. That thought made me sit up, or try to. I didn’t get far at all. As soon as I started the motion, pain flared across my abdomen and I fell back against the pillows gasping. I moved a shaking hand up to my belly and felt lumpy bandages through my nightshirt. Apart from that, I realized my hand itself was bandaged and clumsy. I tried to flex my wrist but a dull ache pounded there and I decided against it.
How was I back in Camelot? I shouldn’t be there. I wasn’t wanted. Then everything came rushing back to me: Merlin meeting me in the tavern before I had been captured by Morgan and then the curse taking over my body to force me into the fight with Arthur.
I nearly sobbed in relief. I hadn’t killed him. I had beaten Morgan’s curse just as Merlin said. My love of Arthur had outweighed my hatred of Morgan and had won in the end. I had proved her wrong and Merlin as well. I had made my own way, no matter what fate or destiny had written for me.
And Morgan was dead.
I felt nothing. Not for her. Not satisfaction or anger or anything else. I was just simply relieved she was gone. I was not disappointed that I had not been the one to do it either. It didn’t matter now. Nothing mattered but that I had won over her and Arthur was still alive.
But would things go back to being the way they were before? Uneasiness replaced the relief that had previously flowed through my body. How could Arthur forgive all the lies that I had told him? No one could forgive that or ask to be forgiven. Did I even have the strength to face my comrades and Guinevere again with the new knowledge of what I was, and how I had lied? I didn’t know. And Arthur…I knew how much it had hurt him when Morgan told the truth, and I would never forgive the fact that it had come out of her mouth and not mine. But nor could it be undone now. I knew Arthur would want to hear it all from my mouth eventually, and sooner better than later. I dreaded it, yet dreaded the anticipation even more.
A door opened and footsteps sounded through the room. I tried to call out, but no sound escaped my dry throat but a croak. I didn’t have to wait long for assistance though, for Merlin came around the corner of the room and looked over at me, seeing I was awake. He let out a curse then strode the last few paces to my bed and surprised me by bending over and crushing me in an embrace, doing his best not to hurt me.
“Thank the saints, boy, I thought you were dead for sure,” he breathed into the top of my head. “Do you have any idea what I have had to do to keep you alive these past few weeks?”
Weeks? I moaned slightly, hoping he would let go and wishing he would stay for a few more seconds at the same time, but he finally drew back and laid me so gently on the pillow I hardly knew it was Merlin. I saw him swipe at his eyes, but couldn’t discern if there were tears in the dim light.
He seemed to remember something and reached quickly for a pitcher and a cup, pouring the liquid into it. I licked my lips at the sound and he propped my head up and helped me drink. I wanted so much of the lovely water, but he only allowed me a few sips.
“Easy,” he said.
I grunted, but cleared my throat and was finally able to speak again. “W-weeks? How many?” I asked.
Merlin sighed and set the cup to one side before settling into a chair beside the bed. “Yes, three to be exact. Two of which were spent in a bloody awful inn not far from the battlefield because we couldn’t risk taking you all the way back here. Only when your fever broke did I deem it safe, but even then, you were on death’s door. You were barely alive when we pulled you off the battlefield. That was no scratch you managed to give yourself.” He suddenly leaned forward. “Speaking of which, you utter idiot, how could you be so bloody foolish?”
“I thought it was the only way,” I said quietly. “And it worked.”
“Putting holes in yourself never works,” Merlin scoffed. “I was nearly thrashed from my fight with Morgan and then I had to heal you as best I could with all my powers failing. I might be a great sorcerer but even I couldn’t heal you properly and had to do most of the tricky stuff by hand without all my resources. I slept for three days afterward.” I nearly smiled. I could tell that his ranting was a result of his fright. And I saw that he was scared, or had been, by my condition. It sobered me, never knowing before how much Merlin cared about me, and I knew it wasn’t just because of Arthur. Merlin was, for all intents, my uncle, so I suppose it should come as no surprise that he cared for me as much as Arthur did. Especially after all he had already done.
“Thank you, Merlin,” I said quietly.
“Oh, you’ll thank me, boy,” he growled. “You can be sure of that. I ought to tan your hide, but I suppose I can’t do that now. Not when you’re already within an inch of death. I suppose that is punishment enough.”
“How’s Arthur?” I asked hesitantly. I knew I had wounded him, but I didn’t know how badly.
“Far better off than you. He’s getting some sleep though I doubt he’ll be too long from your bedside.”
I was silent for a long time, a thousand questions to ask, and no way to say them. I finally settled on one, after much deliberation. “How…how is he?”
“Arthur?” Merlin asked tiredly, slumping back in the chair. “Exhausted, worried about you, run down as usual. But at least we don’t have a war on any more with Morgan gone. And don’t forget who is responsible for that, thank you very much.”
I smiled genuinely at his grumbling. “I knew you could beat her, Merlin.”
“Granted you did give me a fine distraction,” Merlin admitted with a sly look. He sighed then and sobered. “I’m not going to lie, Mordred, you and Arthur are going to have a lot to talk about. But do know this; no matter what happened, he truly does love you like his own son, that has never changed, and I know that given time he will forgive you.”
“How can anyone forgive the lies I told?” I whispered, my throat closing up from the pain pressing into my chest.
“Everyone lies, Mordred. Everyone. The key is to only tell the cruelest lies when they are for the protection of someone you love. I’m not sure we made the right decision in not telling Arthur everything, but I do know that you did what you did for the right reasons, and that always counts for something. And besides that, you showed that you were never on Morgan’s side. Arthur is no fool. He will see the truth, if he doesn’t already.”
I closed my eyes with a heavy sigh and felt Merlin’s hand on my shoulder, squeezing comfortingly. “Get some rest. Arthur will want to see you in the morning. You’ll be better off if you sleep.”
I nodded, not having the energy to open my eyes again, and knowing that I would need every scrap I had for the conversation that would ensue when Arthur came to see me.
I woke to him sitting by my side.
He looked awful, that was the first thing I noticed. Gaunt, tired, and worn down. I swallowed hard, knowing that I had been the cause of that. Not only of the physical wounds I had dealt to him in that last battle, but also the inner wounds that were not so easily healed. But then, I hardly hoped I would look much better so perhaps we were even.
“Mordred,” he said quietly, his eyes lighting up with renewed hope as mine fluttered open. He did not reach for my hand as I thought he would, but rather shifted uncomfortably. I didn’t know what to think, whether it was him or me, and that made me feel rather awkward.
“My lord,” I replied, deciding that the formality couldn’t hurt.
But it did. I saw it in Arthur’s eyes. The formal title took a little out of their brightness, but he seemed to ignore it after blinking for a moment. “I am glad to see you well. I was afraid that…that you would not come out of it.” His voice trembled but he kept it in check.
“Merlin seems to think I will, my lord. I wouldn’t worry anymore,” I tried to reassure him, offering a small smile.
His hands were clasped in his lap and he looked down at them, seeming not to know what to say and I decided that I needed to be the one to speak first. I would be a coward no longer. It was finally time that I speak the truth from the beginning, I would be clean by the end of the day, all my secretes laid bare, for only then could I truly find peace in myself, no matter the consequences it had on others and my surroundings.
“My lord Arthur,” I began, easing myself up with a wince to better look at him. “There are things that I need to tell you.”
“No, Mordred,” Arthur replied quickly. “You don’t—”
“Please,” I said abruptly and rather rudely, but I would not be thwarted in my confession. If he said I didn’t have to, then I feared I would never have the courage again. “Please, you must let me do this.”
He stared at me for a long time and then finally gave a nod, sagging in the chair, almost relieved. “Very well then. I shall not stop you.”
“Thank you,” I whispered then took a deep breath and began.
I started at the day Morgan la Fay found me when I was nothing but a child. Told of the first years when she had been kind, and how she had changed when Arthur was crowned king. I told him of the torments she had put upon me then, and finally how she trained me and sent me off to Camelot for the purpose of gaining his trust and eventually killing him. I saw Arthur’s hands clenching in his lap as I told this, but he did not say a thing. He never interrupted once through my entire narration.
I related next how I had refused to comply to her words and her visits in correlation with my defiance. I hesitated a moment before telling how Merlin found out, but decided he must already know that the sorcerer had been in on it the entire time; Merlin had likely told him himself. I shuddered when I told of the curse, hating to think of it even now, and could not look at Arthur or I feared I might not be able to go on with the narration.
It was a long time before I had told everything, almost midday, and my voice was nearly finished being so long unused and then put to hours of talking.
“Merlin told me I could beat the curse, he always said I could,” I finished after a slight pause. “But I truly thought I would kill you at the end.”
Arthur was still silent, and I got nervous, wondering whether he was angry, so angry he couldn’t say anything, or just taking the whole story in. He was looking at his hands clasped in his lap and finally he raised his head and looked straight at me. I could not read his expression for there were so many emotions warring in his gaze that I could hardly tell one from another.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked finally, his voice barely above a whisper.
It was my turn to look at my lap, focusing on my splinted wrist. “I wanted to. So many times, Arthur. I just didn’t—I didn’t know how to say it.” I took a deep sigh. “I was going to tell you that night. I had sworn it to myself that I would. That night that…Morgan came. But she told you first, and I will never forgive myself that. I should have told you so much sooner. I was just afraid.”
“Why were you afraid?” Arthur asked.
Tears pricked my eyes but I would not let them fall. I couldn’t let him see the pain that was partly of his own causing. “Because I feared you would…make me leave.”
He was quiet for a long time. So long that I didn’t know if he would speak again, but finally he took a deep breath and turned back to me. “And when you ran away that time…that wasn’t because of me? That was because of the curse? I thought…”
I shook my head, squeezing my eyes shut and once again forcing the tears back. “No, I only ever did it because I was afraid of hurting you. I never meant for you to take it like that. I just thought…I don’t know. I was desperate.” I couldn’t help myself anymore. I reached out and wrapped my uninjured hand around his wrist, looking up into his eyes. “Arthur, I know that I have done unnamable wrongs to you, and Guinevere and my comrades and everyone here in Camelot. I know you can never forgive me for those things. I can’t forgive myself. But I do want you to know that I never once meant to hurt anyone. I only did what I did because I thought it was best. It was ill-advised and foolish, but I never did it out of spite or hatred.” A tear slid down my cheek before I could stop it, and I turned my face aside to try and hide it.
Arthur’s hand folded over the one I had clamped around his wrist and squeezed. “I know, Mordred. I know it. You are so very brave, my boy. Yes, perhaps what you did was foolish but so was I. No one can ever do the best thing all the time. Otherwise how would we learn?” I shook my head, wanting to protest but he stopped me. “No, now it’s your turn to listen. I too have done things I regret. And throwing you out in the first place is one of them. I never should have done that. I was angry and not thinking properly and I will forever have that on my conscience, but I just want you to know how sorry I am for putting you through that, and for not keeping you by my side when you needed me most.” He reached down and took my face between his hands, pulling me around to face him fully. “I cannot forgive myself for that, but I can forgive you for all you have done, and I want you to know that I am still so proud of you, Mordred. I could never love a son more than you.”
“But I’m not your son,” I whispered, not knowing what else to say. “I never was.”
He smiled, and a tear slid down his own face now. “Do you think that after all this that matters to me at all? I will still be your father, Mordred, if you will have me.”
I didn’t know what to say, and even if I did I couldn’t say it for my swollen throat. Tears dripped into my lap and I barely noticed when Arthur shifted to his knees beside the bed to better see my face. He wiped the tears from my cheeks with his thumbs.
“Hush, do I offend you so much, Mordred?” he asked teasingly.
I finally looked up at him and smiled genuinely through my tears, reaching out to grab the front of his tunic. “Father,” I whispered and buried my face under his chin.
He held me close for a long time and after the embrace ended we finally felt reconciled with each other, and I fell asleep, feeling for the first time in so long I couldn’t remember, actually at peace.
©Copyright 2014 by Hazel B West