Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Voices Beneath: Chapter One--Mordred

Author's Note: And here is the first chapter! Please read the Introduction before starting to find out more about the story. From now on, each new chapter will be easily accessable by clicking on the poster for the story to the right --> And you can also access the entire table of contents under the "Stories" tab above. Let me know what you think!

Story Info:
Genre: Retelling, fantasy, historical
Rating: PG-13 (violence, angst)

chapter one

I had no recollection where I had come from, except that my name was Mordred, and that my parents had died in a fire when I was only a babe. No one knew
their names, and I suspect that the one I carry was not the name given to me at birth. But it mattered little, when all was said and done, for it would be the name of Mordred that would be remembered. But it would be a long time before that would happen, and many things must be explained before the telling of those events.
            I had lived on the streets for as long as I could remember. I don’t recall who had cared for me as a babe and small child after the death of my parents, but they obviously cared little, for even my earliest recollections held no kindly adults looking after me, but only squalor of streets, other filthy children I was grouped with begging there, mostly invisible to the passers by, and starving for want of nothing more in life than a simple crust of bread.
            Until she came.
            I still remember that day with the utmost vividness and will until I am on my deathbed, partly with the awe I felt on that day, but mostly with a shudder that I knew to adopt later once I had discovered the full meaning of our fated meeting.
            She was always the kind of person who can take charge of a room, or any place she decides to go—I will have to always admit that to her favor. Her presence was mesmerizing, and her smile was the same, but could so easily turn chilling when she chose. Or when you knew what lay behind it. But her presence was why she caught my attention that day when I was begging in the market. She carried herself like a lady as I suppose in her own right, she was, and there were few ladies who came to the small fishing village I lived in. I was about five or six at the time, though my real age was never truly determined, and I remember wondering what had brought her there. How strange and horrifying it would have been to the filthy child I was to know then that it had been me who brought her there.

            She did not seek me out straight away, though her eyes did meet mine as she passed and she offered a smile to the poor orphan who stood, filthy and half frozen on the street. It was not until the next day that she came back to speak to me. I was startled, for no one, especially ladies, ever spoke to the street rabble. If they wanted to be kind they would toss a scrap of food or a farthing, but never would they stop to speak, but this lady did.
            “What is your name?” she asked me.
            It took me a moment to reply to the uncommon question and find my voice. “I am called Mordred, my lady.”
            She smiled at that. “My name is Morgan la Fay,” she told me in return. “Do you have anyone to care for you, Mordred?”
            I shook my head. “No, my lady.”
            “I’m in need of an apprentice. I like the looks of you. Would you like a home, a bed and food?”
            I didn’t know what to say. Of course I did, but the fact a lady was offering it to me…I should have taken caution, but I was only a child, and I was hungry and cold, and she was uncommonly beautiful to the eyes of a naive boy, so I simply nodded. She smiled again and took my hand.
            And with that one gesture, she changed my life in so many ways, both for good and for bad, and sometimes for the most horrid reasons, but even now, I have to think back on it and a part of me, however grudgingly, has to thank her. For even though she brought me the most utter torment of all, she also brought me my life and my family and though it was not in her plans, I was grateful for that, and also happy that I had been able to spite her for the rest of her life. But as I have already said, that all must come later.
            At first, it was not bad at all, in fact, it was the happiest time I had had up to that point, which wasn’t saying much since I had lived on the street, begging, for the short time I had been on the earth. I had been only slightly disappointed to find that my lady was not in possession of a castle, but a simple cabin in the mountains, far away from most everyone, except the occasional traveler or tinker. She was quite alone there except for me and the horse, but I never raised the question of why that was and she never gave me an explanation. As far as I could tell, she practiced with herbs, and also incantations, and other strange magics that I had never seen performed before, but like everyone else had heard tales of the great sorcerers and was enraptured by my guardian’s skills. The first five years I spent with her were all good. She taught me about herbs, and I even learned simple magics that could be used for every day things. There was nothing—at least nothing apparent to a young boy—that gave indication of the cruelty to come, but later I came to realize that had probably all been in the plan. In any case, after the five years passed, and I was now in what I guessed to be my tenth year, news came to us that changed everything in an instant.
            We did get news from passing travelers, and sometimes Lady Morgan and I would ride into one of the nearby towns to fetch supplies we couldn’t hunt for ourselves, and it was that year that we heard about the death of Uther Pendragon and the inevitable crowning of his son, Arthur.
            This news changed Lady Morgan instantly. She darkened, her raven hair making her face look darker still, and her green eyes roiling like a stormy sea. When I asked her what was wrong, and why she was not happy at the news, or at the very least indifferent, she yelled at me for the first time and I was so frightened, I fell over backwards and scurried into a corner. I half expected her to apologize, but she did not, and that confused me all the more. She had been so kind to me up to that point, and I was to find that this was the end to her kindness, her little charade that she had put on to gain my trust until it was too late for me to run from her, already devoted and wanting to gain her favor in any way I could. But the mask came off that night, and I was finally able to see the evil that hid under it. An evil I had never known could possibly exist in a human being.
            I cowered in my bed that night, listening to her rage while she incanted vicious spells that I didn’t know, and didn’t want to. I was scared, not knowing what was happening, or what would happen in the future. I did not understand why the news of Arthur Pendragon’s coronation would have caused such rage in my guardian. The next morning, she told me of her own accord.
            “Arthur Pendragon is my half brother,” she said, and I was still trying to digest that information when she carried on. “I was the illegitimate daughter of Uther Pendragon, and thus could never show my face in my rightful place. Oh yes, Uther made sure I was provided for, brought up by a good family, but that was not enough. I should have been a princess of Camelot, should have stood there at his side with Arthur, but that was not to be. He was ashamed of me, and would not claim me as his own even though everyone knew. I could have stood that derision if he had only claimed me. But Arthur got all the glory and honor as his only legitimate child, and now he is king and I mean to take that place from him. I did not get the chance to ruin Uther, but I will ruin his son. And you are going to help me, Mordred.”
            I was shocked, and frightened. I had never met Arthur, and I had never been to Camelot, though I had heard much about it, as had everyone. I found I could not share Lady Morgan’s hatred without knowing more about the situation, and the thought of helping plot treason, murder, or whatever she had in mind was not something I wanted to do at all, nor had I ever expected her to consider something of the sort.
            “I…I don’t know what you want me to do,” I said miserably, and she was on her feet and in my face, frightening me with that same flashing look as the night before.
            “You will do what I want you to, Mordred.” And before I could say anything in reply, I felt a blinding pain grip my heart and I fell out of the chair, gasping for breath I couldn’t breathe and wreathing in the agony of the unexpected pain that held me. It stopped as suddenly as it had started, and I gasped, curling into a ball and sobbing in fright. My whole world had been turned upside-down in the course of a single day and I didn’t know what to do with it, or with this new version of Morgan la Fay that I had never known existed, and never wanted to.
            “Get up, you pathetic whelp,” she snarled at me and kicked me until I sat up. “I’ve spent long enough giving you a soft life, now it’s time to repay me for my kindness. You and I are going to work on a plan, and at the end of it, you will kill Arthur Pendragon.”
            And thus, the next six years of my life were spent. Not calm and gentle like the first five, but hard, painful, and horrible years which tore me apart and made me so low, I sometimes missed my life as a street urchin. She used those years to bend me, both mind and body, to her plan, one where I would go to Camelot to become a knight, gain Arthur’s trust, and murder him. The plan was as cruel as Lady Morgan herself, for I was to play a part, an unfailing card to get me into Arthur’s court. I was to masquerade as his illegitimate son, and use Arthur’s apparent kindness as a way into the castle and his confidence. It was well known by then after six years, that Queen Guinevere was barren and Lady Morgan thought that perhaps if an unknown son were to pop up, illegitimate or not, Arthur would take him in as an heir. I utterly hated this plan, but every time I protested, or fought against it, against Lady Morgan, she would hurt me, sometimes so badly I wouldn’t be able to move for several days without pain. Perhaps I was a coward to give into her for just my own safety and wellbeing—for she had no one else to hurt, no other body to torment but my own—but I was a
boy, and the pain she inflicted upon me, both mentally and physically were too much to bear and six years of continued torment had made me into a shell of the happy boy I had been when I first lived with her. I had fallen into the mindset of a slave who had no hope of escape from a cruel master. But there was still some fight left in me, and though I knew—as much as I hated myself for it—that I would do what she wanted of me in the end, I made sure that she knew I was not happy about it, and I did not approve in the least.
            And that was how, on the eve of my sixteenth birthday, I took the horse, and a set of armor and a sword she had given me, and set out on my journey to Camelot and King Arthur, with a resignation that I hated to find in my heart. Little did I know then, that as much as my heart hurt at that moment, its torment was far from over.

©Copyright 2013 by Hazel B West

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