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death bell tolling
We met Morgan la Fay at the gates as soon as she was pulling up on her horse. Arthur was there already with the other knights to meet them as I ran up with Merlin; our hands on our sword hilts and my belly as cold as ice.
Lady Morgan swung down from her horse in a flurry of cloak and skirts, not seeking help from her vassals, and simply strode purposefully over to Arthur, pulling long black gloves from her hands.
“My dear brother,” she said and took a surprised Arthur by the shoulders, kissing his cheek mockingly. “How kind of you to come and greet me.”
“Morgan,” he said slowly, his brow furrowed in many expressions I could hardly name. “Why are you come here now?”
“We have many things to discuss, brother,” she told him, still using his familial title mockingly. Then she turned her cruel, dancing eyes onto Merlin and myself and gave a slow, jeering smile. “Ah, Merlin, it seems I could not hold you after all.”
“Yes, it appears that I am still stronger than you, Morgan, contrary to popular belief,” the sorcerer said, a small smile flickering on his own lips. “And I am notoriously hard to kill. That’s why it’s my duty to protect the king.”
And then there was a horrifying, breathless moment when Morgan la Fay turned to me and gave me a smile so cold, it froze me to the spot. “Hello, Mordred,” she said as if condemning me to all the demons in hell.
I would have taken the fiends over Arthur’s face when he looked at me with confusion and disbelief and then back at his sister, but he didn’t say anything. I wanted him to, I wanted everything out, and I knew in my heart that it would be by the end of the day, but it seemed to want to lurk a while longer and torment me for my deception. It was nearly too much to bear, but I had to bear it all the same.
Arthur turned back to Morgan. “If we have much to speak of, let us not stand out here with the storm coming. We shall speak in the hall.”
As we proceeded to the castle, the first roll of thunder pealed across the sky and I shivered, as it seemed to mark my doom. Guinevere was waiting just inside the castle as we came in and Arthur cast her a silent look as he made his way toward the council chambers. Guinevere followed, and I noticed she glanced toward Merlin for explanation before she saw Morgan and fear quickly replaced by understanding washed over her. I wished I could comfort her, but I was in no position to offer comfort to anyone at that moment.
Once in the hall, Arthur climbed to the dais where his throne was, but did not sit on it. Guinevere and Merlin were on either side of him, and I took my place below the dais, in a respectable line of the other knights between Gawain and Percival. Morgan and her men stood before us in the place people usually stood to seek the king’s help or to be condemned. Looking at the confidence in Morgan’s stance, I began to wonder who really had the upper hand in the room.
It seemed like the silence would go on forever, but finally Arthur spoke up. “Merlin tells me you wish to have war, Morgan,” he said calmly, slowly. “I have heard rumors of it. Is that why you are here? Or do you come to make truce and seek peace.”
“Truce?” Morgan laughed in a very unwomanly fashion, throwing her head back, the sound deep in her throat. She flung her hands to her sides as if appealing to her half brother. “I will accept a truce, Arthur. As long as it comes with your throne and your head on a pike.”
Guinevere looked like she was going to speak up, the anger clear on her features, but Arthur squeezed his hand over her shaking fist gently to calm her as he turned back to face his sister. “Morgan, it grieves me what my father did to you. He should not have thrown you out, no matter the circumstances of your birth. We should have grown up together and strengthened each other as brothers and sisters should. If there is anything I can do to repair what he has done, I will do my best to do so.”
“You coward,” Morgan said, startling us all. The knights reached for their swords, before a look from Arthur stopped them, though grudgingly. I was seething. “You will try to buy my silence, my peace, but that’s not going to work. I want what is rightfully mine. And I will have it. Your mother was never supposed to conceive, you were never supposed to be born, and I should have had the throne. Uther doted on me when I was young, but then you came along and as soon as Uther was given a son, I am suddenly worthless; a disgrace and disgusting; a an unwanted weakling to be drowned before it brings shame.” She sneered. “Uther wanted nothing to do with me after that. Threw me out like filth!”
“Our father made mistakes,” Arthur said gently, trying to calm her. “Everyone does. I did.” He looked ever-so-quickly in my direction and I had to turn my eyes down, the weight of my lie weighing so heavily upon my shoulders. “So please, Morgan, let me repair what my father did to you. Let me help.”
“Help with what?” she snarled and then laughed in a manic way, her eyes flashing with hysteria. “There is only one thing that will please me, Arthur, and you know it. You might think this can be made better with a few choice words and sweetness, but it won’t. Not for me. You did not have to endure the looks of hatred, of utter disgust every day. You didn’t even notice it because you were always no obtuse! You have always seen too much good in people, Arthur. I’m flattered you see it in me, but I don’t want you too. I want you to see me for who I am, because I will kill you to get what I want if you don’t give it freely.”
“Morgan, this is madness,” Arthur said, starting to get angry. “I cannot just hand over my kingdom.”
“At the cost of all you hold dear?” Morgan asked darkly. “The cost of your people, your men—your lovely queen?” Arthur stepped closer to Guinevere and I wished I could kill Morgan then. I saw Merlin’s deadly glare and wished he would say a spell to strike her down. “Because I promise you one thing, Arthur. If you don’t give me my rightful throne, I will ruin everything you hold dear, until you are so miserable you will be begging for death.”
Arthur stood up straight and faced her with anger clear in his every line. “There is no need for any of this, Morgan,” he said. “Kill me if you want, but I will not let you have my throne, and I will not let you hurt my people. I’ve spent the last few years since I was king repairing everything my father broke in this kingdom. Camelot has flourished because of just rule and loyalty born of love. If you seek my kingdom out of greed and hatred, it will never thrive. Camelot will surely fall and you will be to blame, and you will never earn the respect you crave.”
“Fear is respect,” Morgan spat. “Something you don’t seem to understand.”
“I don’t?” Arthur snapped, his hands fisting at his sides. “I watched my father rule with a hard hand and the wars he had to fight because of it. I am not afraid to do what needs to be done, Morgan. But needless tyranny never earned loyalty. I wish you understood that, Morgan, and I don’t know how to make you see it.”
“Then tell me you wouldn’t have done the same thing if you were in Uther’s place,” Morgan said, a smile creeping upon her lips. “What would you have done, Arthur?”
He was silent for far too long. I began to feel uncomfortable, knowing something was about to happen, and I began to shake. Gawain cast a worried glance at me, but my eyes were locked on Arthur, unable to take them off of him. Finally he spoke, low and quiet.
“I would do what is right,” he said and suddenly his eyes turned to me and I froze, my breath catching in my throat. Without breaking my gaze, he said louder for everyone to hear, “Mordred is my son, and I wish to claim him as such in front of all of you, because I love him, and I hope that one day he will take my throne and be a just king.”
All eyes turned to me, but I could say nothing, do nothing. Guinevere’s face was one of shock but I could not tell whether it was good or bad. Gawain and my fellow knights all looked at me as if I had suddenly sprouted horns. But then Morgan’s cold laugh brought them all back. She strode forward slowly.
“Oh Arthur,” she said, shaking her head. “That just goes to show how much of a trusting fool you are. Mordred isn’t your son.”
“No, he is,” Arthur said quietly. “It was a long time ago, but it is true. He is my son.”
“No, dear brother,” Morgan said sweetly. “No, you see, that is the story I told him to tell you when I sent him here, because I knew it would speak to your bleeding heart.” Everyone was staring at her now as I felt everything breaking inside of me with each word she uttered. “He’s my pupil, my little spy.” Her eyes found mine now, and a cold smile flitted across her lips. “And I sent him here to kill you.”
And with those few words, my world shattered. Something broke deep inside of me, and while no blood came fourth, it was the most grievous wound that I had ever been dealt. I just knew with the horrifying realization that nothing would ever be the same again. The die had been cast, and there was no turning back now.
©Copyright 2014 by Hazel B West
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