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I was on the stallion again before Gawain could even get over his astonishment. But before I spurred into action again, he found his voice.
“Mordred, what are you doing? Stop!” he commanded.
“I let him get away from me once,” I said, pausing only a moment. “I won’t let it happen again.” And I was away before he could offer any more protests, with only his screaming my name behind me. I knew I was alone now, for Gawain would take Guinevere back first before he would come after his foolhardy squire with the other knights. There was a moment of fear as I realized that I was now alone, for better or worse, but it was soon replaced by anger as I remembered Arthur’s still form lying on the tourney grounds and his blood that still stained my hands.
I galloped after Lancelot, and saw him look back several times, gaging how close I was. Once again, I was gaining on him, my mount far superior, and I knew it would only be a matter of time before I would catch him, and then what? I would have to fight him, and hopefully I would be victorious again.
I never got the chance to test that though, for I was suddenly yanked backwards from my saddle by an invisible force and blacked out for a second. The next thing I knew, I was lying on my back, gasping for air and trying to sit up. My sword was gone, having been lost in the fall and I frantically looked around for Lancelot.
I saw him then, picking my blade up from the ground with a grin. He strode toward me, pressing the blade into my chest to keep me on my back.
“Not so brave now, are you, little whelp?”
“That’s enough, Lancelot.”
I felt my whole body go numb, and it took me a moment to realize I actually couldn’t move, and it wasn’t just my reaction to her voice that had frozen me. Morgan la Fay strode out of the woods, lowering the hood she wore over her head. She was keeping me still with a spell. I couldn’t move a muscle. “You can have him once he has done what I need him to do,” she told Lancelot who had stepped away from me with a sneer. “But he won’t be able to do anything if you’ve beaten him to the point of death.”
“Where’s my compensation, then?” Lancelot asked, and Lady Morgan reached into her robes and tossed him a small bag that clinked like gold.
“Now leave. I have many things to discuss with young Mordred,” she said and turned to me with a wicked smile that made her eyes roil like a stormy sea. She released me from the hold of her magic and I sagged before I hauled myself to my feet, facing her warily, waiting any moment for the pain I knew was coming.
“Again, Mordred, a month passes and you do not send me a single letter,” she said with a sigh, a pout on her lips. “I am disappointed. After all I did for you; the years of caring for your miserable hide, and this is all the thanks I get?” She was circling me now, tracing something into the ground with the end of a stick. “I gave you one small task and you can’t even complete that.”
I tried to move out of the circle she was drawing, knowing it wouldn’t bode well, but she gripped my heart with invisible fingers and I was forced to my knees in pain. When she released me, she was kneeling in front of me, a knife in her hand.
“And Merlin isn’t here to protect you this time,” she said with satisfaction. “He will be concentrating on Arthur right now. As you see, even Lancelot did a better job than you and he wasn’t even destined to kill Arthur.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, wary, and trying to fight the dread that hammered in my chest.
“The prophecies speak of an orphan boy named Mordred who would kill Arthur Pendragon.” I blanched and locked eyes with her, horrified. Had Merlin known? Is that what he had eluded to when he said there were things I didn’t understand about the situation?
“But even prophesies sometimes need a little push, for fate is not always what it seems,” Lady Morgan said, and I barely noticed the flash of her knife as she cut the base of her thumb, then grabbed my hand and did the same. I cringed as she pressed the wounds together, mixing our blood and then pressed her bloody hand over my heart, speaking one word in an ancient language.
The circle she had drawn began to glow, and I felt a lurch of power go through me, her hand burning on my chest so hot, I gasped, and looked down to see if it was burning a hole through me. She spoke more words of magic, dark, black magic that, though I didn’t know the meaning of the words, chilled me to my bones. And then suddenly she snapped her head up and locked my eyes with hers and I was physically unable to look away.
“Mordred, you are bound to me by blood now to complete the mission I have given you. You shall kill Arthur Pendragon, against your will if so be it, and he shall die by your hand.”
“No!” I screamed past the pain in my chest that kept me rooted to the ground.
“It shall be done,” she said finally. “His blood will be on your hands.” And then she yanked her hand away and I fell onto my side, curling into a ball and waiting for the buzzing in my head to subside, but it only seemed to get worse. I felt her boot in my ribs as she turned me onto my back and I gazed blearily up at her smirking face, hating her even more now if it were indeed possible.
“No there’s nothing you can do about it, Mordred,” she said sweetly. “I’m afraid his doom is on your head.”
“No,” I whispered, not having the strength for more. “Please…”
“It’s too late for leniency,” she told me, and walked away. “I hope to see you again soon with better news, Mordred.”
I wanted to go after her, but I had no strength left; the buzzing in my head was overcoming all my senses, and I simply slipped away without the strength to fight anymore.
“Mordred! Mordred, are you all right?”
I forced my eyes open, waiting for them to focus before I recognized Gawain and Percival standing over me in the dimming light. I sat up quickly, and instantly regretted it as my head swam. Gawain put an arm around my shoulders.
“Easy there, lad, it looks like you took a knock to the head. What happened?”
“I—I, I think Lancelot spooked my horse and made him rear and I fell off and hit my head. He—He got away again.”
“No matter now, Mordred,” Gawain said kindly and helped me to my feet. “Right now let’s just get you back to the castle. I was worried sick about you when you didn’t return, and Arthur demanded I go out and find you. Merlin was quite insistent as well. I haven’t seen him so unsettled before.”
“How is he?” I asked anxiously.
“His wound was not as bad as we thought,” Gawain said, relief obvious in his voice. “Nor do I think yours is. A good night’s rest and a warm supper will fix you right up.”
The ride back to the castle seemed to take forever and it was nearly dark when we reached it. Percival went off to inform the others that I had been found and that Lancelot hadn’t, and Gawain took me to the castle to see Arthur.
“He wanted to see you when you came back,” Gawain told me. “I hope you don’t mind. I know you’re tired and your head probably hurts.”
“I’m fine,” I insisted. There was no way I was going to rest until I had seen Arthur in person.
Arthur was resting on the couch in his solar, Merlin hovering at his side, but they both looked up as I came in with Gawain and Arthur’s tired face broke out into a relieved smile.
“Mordred! You are safe!” He held his hand out to me and I had to force myself not to run to him. I was torn between wanting to throw myself into his arms and wanting to run away and never see him again lest I do him harm. But I settled for kneeling at his side and taking the hand he reached out to me. His head was bandaged and I could see the lumps of more under his thin shirt, binding his shoulder.
“I am glad to see you well, my lord.”
I felt Merlin’s eyes on me, and realized with a start that they were focused on the cut on my hand Morgan had made. I self-consciously curled the hand into a fist, and tried to smile back at my king.
“How is the queen?” I asked.
“She is resting; Merlin gave her a sleeping draft to calm her,” Arthur said. “You were very foolish, Mordred, but brave. I have seen the like in you several times now. It is a quality I look for in my knights.”
“I’m sorry I let Lancelot escape again,” I told him.
“No, he slipped through all of us, even Merlin,” he smirked up at his friend and the sorcerer snorted. “It matters not, Mordred. I find you very brave, and Guinevere thinks so as well. Everyone will after what you did today. I think it’s time you start your knightly training in earnest. You must practice for your tests, because if you can pass them, I wish to knight you early, Mordred.”
I couldn’t believe what he was saying. All my emotions were fighting within me, and I couldn’t process the words he was speaking to me. I knew I should say something, but I couldn’t find what. “My—my lord…I…” I began, but then tears streamed down my cheeks and I rapidly brushed them away, shamed that Arthur was watching me crumble. I just couldn’t take another thing that day after all that had already happened. Thankfully Arthur saw that.
“Gawain, he’s had enough for one day, I think it best you take him back to his room to sleep.” Gawain nodded in what I took to be relief for my sake and gently drew me up.
“I hope you feel better, my lord,” I sniffed and Arthur smiled kindly at me.
“As do I to you, Mordred. Sleep well, and have Gawain give you tomorrow off.”
I couldn’t say anything else without the risk of losing my self-control and simply bowed my head and allowed Gawain to lead me out of the room. I felt Merlin’s eyes follow me until Arthur asked him something and the door closed behind us.
Gawain helped me undress that night, much to my protests that I should be doing that for him, but he grinned and continued, patting my cheek kindly, if not gently.
“It’s just for one night, lad. Take it easy.” He washed the dirt and blood from my face and hands and I was too tired to argue anymore, allowing him to tuck the blankets around me. I was nearly asleep by then and he blew my candle out before going to his own room.
I woke later, screaming. The dream had been so real. I had been facing off against Arthur and before I could stop myself, my sword plunged into his chest. But it wasn’t that that hurt the most. It was the look of sadness and utter betrayal on his face that tore my heart to pieces. I knelt and tried to keep his blood from flowing out, but it was too late.
I couldn’t seem to stop screaming and in a moment, Gawain was at my bedside, lighting a candle and gripping my shoulder tightly.
“Mordred, lad, what’s wrong, are you all right?”
I shook my head, starting to shake, and then the screams turned into sobs as I curled into a ball, my face in my hands.
I felt Gawain sit on the side of my cot and his big arms wrapped around me, pulling me into his warm embrace. I collapsed against him and continued to sob, unable to stop myself. He held me tightly and stroked my hair, trying to soothe me.
“It’s all right, little brother, everything will be all right,” he murmured. “Just a nightmare induced from your knock on the head. Nothing more. I’ve got you.”
I wanted to believe him, but I knew that wasn’t true. The scar on my palm burned and I clenched my fist tightly, as if afraid the world would know about it and see if for what it was as I knew Merlin had. What I had seen in my dream was the future, and I didn’t know what I was going to do about it, only that I could not let it happen. I would not.
©Copyright 2014 by Hazel B West
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