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“If there is no agreement we can come to, I am finished,” he said sharply, his voice low and dangerous. “If it is battle, so be it. I will meet you gladly on the field.”
“Very well, brother,” Morgan said and motioned for her men to leave. “I shall see you in a week’s time. You will know where when the time comes.”
As she left she smiled at me, and I glared at her with all the hatred I could muster. She stopped in front of me and reached out a hand to stroke my face and leaned close, her breath on my neck, as she whispered in my ear. “Oh Mordred, didn’t I tell you it wouldn’t end well? That’s what you get for disobeying me.” And she leaned in further and kissed my cheek and her lips felt like a death knell.
After the door closed behind her and she was out of sight, Arthur finally regained his power of speech.
“Everyone out,” he commanded. As everyone came back to life, I tried to force myself toward the door, but his eyes caught mine and held me still. “Not you,” he whispered, but I still heard him. I wanted to collapse but couldn’t. I didn’t deserve the pity such an action would gain. I hoped Arthur would run me through. It seemed the only thing that would make me feel better. Perhaps a real wound would keep me from hurting so much on the inside.
Guinevere hesitated, looking between Arthur and me, her hand on his arm, but he gently removed it and spoke to her too softly for me to hear what was said. Merlin stayed by Arthur’s side and I met his eyes, pleading silently with him to do something whatever it might be. He looked to be in great mental turmoil himself, and stared at me as if not really seeing me, but into my very soul.
Everyone was gone now but the three of us, and Arthur finally turned to Merlin. “You too, Merlin.”
“Arthur,” Merlin began but Arthur cut him off.
“I will speak with Mordred alone,” he snapped.
Merlin looked as if he would protest, but he did not. He strode away, past me, and slammed the huge doors of the hall behind him. I felt suddenly very small and young, though I was now nearing my eighteenth birthday, and could only stare at the floor at my feet. The silence was deafening, and finally I could take it no longer and had to speak first.
“My lord,” I began, my voice empty and small in the large room. Arthur spun around, startling me, as every line of him was taught, anger and grief clearly warring inside.
“What do I possibly say to this, Mordred?” he cried, throwing his arms wide. “I don’t rightly know what to think. What am I supposed to say? Tell me!” the last was shouted, his fists clenching as he strode to a few feet of me. I startled at the sudden movement.
“My lord…” but he would not let me finish.
“I called you son!” he shouted. “You, Mordred you called me father! I took you into my house, I made you one of my knights, I was going to give my kingdom to you!” I jerked away as he said it, anguish flowing through me and making me gasp silently.
“Now you made a fool of me in front of my men and my enemies, and above all my queen!” he screamed. He stepped forward and grabbed me by the shoulders, shaking me until my bones rattled. “What did you mean to accomplish? Did you really come to kill me as Morgan said? If so then why by all the saints didn’t you strike when you had the chance!”
“I could never kill you, my lord,” I whispered, feeling the tears threating in my eyes, and refusing to let them fall. I could not allow them to, because I could not let him pity me. I didn’t deserve it.
“No?” Arthur cried, shaking me again, his hands like iron claws on my arms, bruising me. “And how am I to believe that if you lied about everything else?”
He shoved me backwards and I fell, instinctively protecting my face as I expected him to begin to beat me as Morgan had. But when no blows came, I looked up at him and saw him looking down at me with a broken expression and realized with shock that he was fighting back tears himself. I stood slowly, guarded. Arthur watched me and shook his head slowly.
“I loved you, Mordred,” he whispered. “I thought…I never thought I would have a son, and then you…” he stopped, his voice breaking and he seemed to steel himself before he continued, his voice hardened. “But it can’t go on. Not this lie, Mordred. I can’t have it.”
“My lord?” I asked, suddenly frightened. I did not know what he was going to do.
He stepped toward me and grabbed the belt around my waist, yanking it free and taking up the sword I wore, the one he had given me. “I took you into my confidence, I trusted you with my life, and you probably told her everything.” He threw the sword aside angrily; it skidded along the stone floor and clattered against the wall.
“No, my lord, I told her nothing!” I cried.
“How do I know every word you speak is not a lie?” Arthur shouted helplessly. “You lied once, more than once, you can lie again. Every word you speak is likely poison!”
“I wanted to tell, my lord,” I said, my chest and throat aching with the need to sob. “But she would have killed you! I thought that…that if she thought I would do it, then it would hold her off. I don’t want to hurt you!”
“I can’t have you here anymore, Mordred,” Arthur said in a low voice, every word forced from between his lips like poison. “You must…you must go.”
“My lord, please,” I pleaded in a whisper, my arms wrapping around my chest as the pain worsened and I nearly doubled over. “Please don’t. I would rather you kill me.”
“You must leave, Mordred,” Arthur said again, more firmly, but I could see the wetness in his eyes. “I don’t…ever…want to see you again.”
“No, please,” I whispered, my voice breaking. I seemed unable to stand and finally crumpled to my knees, my arms wrapped around myself as if to hold everything together. I felt like I was falling apart, breaking into a hundred pieces.
“I have no choice, Mordred,” Arthur said, a single tear sliding down his cheek. “This cannot go unpunished. Do you see that I cannot just pardon you? That is the kind of thing that has gotten me into this situation in the first place. Too trusting, to weak.” He spat the last word even as his voice quavered.
“Please don’t make me leave,” I whispered.
“You must!” he suddenly shouted, and loomed over me. “Now get up and leave.”
“Arthur…” I choked out.
“Do not say my name!” he cried, but it was more pained than angry. “Just get up.”
I couldn’t move. I couldn’t look at him. I had no strength left. He stepped forward with a sigh and gripped my arms, hauling me to my feet. “Leave, now, and take nothing but what you came with. And never return to Camelot.”
“Please don’t!” I pleaded again, gripping his cloak as he stopped at the door, one hand on the latch, the other still holding me upright. “Please, I beg you!”
“Stop.” Arthur’s voice was only a whisper now. I couldn’t force myself to turn around to face him, but I felt the hesitation in his the hand he still had on my shoulder and clearly heard the waver in his voice. Finally, he renewed his grip on me and opened the door. “Just leave. Please.”
With a sudden decided action, I was thrown out, and landed heavily on my hands and knees, as the door slammed behind me, followed closely by a scream of anguish. I choked on a sob as I seemed unable to move, wanting no more than to lie there.
“Mordred.” Merlin was suddenly beside me, his arms around my shoulders as he pulled me to my feet. I clung to him like a drowning man, and he drew me closer, offering comfort though it did me little good, for I was beyond all human comfort at that moment.
“I will speak to him,” the sorcerer was saying. “Make him see sense.”
“No,” I choked out, pulling back to look up at him. “No, Merlin, it will do no good. He will only throw you out too.”
“He can certainly try,” Merlin said darkly, then hissing, “Damn Morgan la Fay.”
“I have to go,” I told him, trying to pull myself together, every piece played from my soul, even as I felt myself sagging even more. “It was all my fault, and I have paid for it now. Farewell, Merlin, for I doubt I shall see you again.”
“Mordred, you can’t leave,” Merlin said urgently, still gripping my forearms. “If you leave now then your destiny and your doom will be sealed along with Arthur’s. Do you not see that this is what Morgan wanted the whole time?”
“I can’t stay here,” I told him again. “I’m going far away, and I still hold to my vow that I will not kill Arthur. I cannot.”
“It’s not that simple, Mordred!” Merlin cried, but I was already pulling away from him.
“Thank you for all you have done for me,” I told him quietly. “I only wish it did not have to end like this.”
Merlin watched silently as I turned around and headed on shaky legs out to the barracks and the stables. I packed my things and found my old sword again which caused a fresh pain to stab through my chest as I thought of how I would miss the feel of Arthur’s old, faithful blade in my hand. The one I had been so proud to receive; that had made me feel a little like I belonged somewhere. Then I went to find Elith and saddled him up and just like that, I was off the castle grounds and back through the city.
As I rode away, I could not help one look back at Camelot disappearing from my sight, forever now, for I knew I could never stand to look upon her again. It was then that the tears came and I hunched over Elith’s neck and sobbed into his mane. I had truly lost everything now, and I had no one to blame but myself.
©Copyright 2014 by Hazel B West
Next week, there won't be a chapter of Voices Beneath posted because I'm hosting Modern Bard's first official story challenge! I'll post the itinerary this weekend with a bit more info, but I'll be posting the challenge stories all through next week, so I really hope everyone will make time to come and check it out.