Well, I ended up getting this chapter up this week anyway, because I'm not going to be able to finish the Halloween story in time after all. I just don't have time to work on it with the other projects I'm working on (Plus finishing up my reading for this month) and with NaNoWriMo starting next week, I don't want to rush through any writing right now. So enjoy the next chapter of The Voices Beneath instead.
love and hate
I had never been in a battle before, and I had no idea what it would be like. Certainly, the press, the noise, and the tension that was almost tangible in the air were far more than I had ever expected. I could hardly get my breath, and I only wanted to drop the sword and stop, no matter that I might be killed, but I could not. I was not in control of my body. I seemed to be moving as a puppet, Morgan la Fay’s puppet, as I strode across the field, pulled by an invisible force. It had never been this fierce before. I remembered the first time I realized something was wrong, when I had fought Arthur at my knighting ceremony and found out what the curse actually entailed. This was twenty times as powerful as that and every time since had been, and I doubted even Merlin could stop me now.
I cursed Morgan inwardly and outwardly and shouted it for anyone who could hear, even though no one was listening to me. The two armies had met, and I could hear the sounds of sword on sword, metal clashing and screeching together, and the screams of the wounded and dying. But I could not be bothered with this. I pushed forward, avoiding the other fighters, seeming to be charmed in my advance for no one tried to attack me. I was a shadow. I had crossed through Morgan’s army and was somehow into Arthur’s. I saw several of the knights, my former comrades, holding off Morgan’s mercenaries, and wondered where Gawain and Percival and the others who were my dear companions were. Perhaps I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want them to see my betrayal of everyone that I had professed to love dearly. I only hoped that if I killed Arthur one of them would have the mercy to do me in if Merlin didn’t first, or if I didn’t decide to fall on my own sword.
It was then that I saw him. He was mounted on his war horse, in the thick of the battle, because of course he would be leading his men from the front, unlike Morgan who would do her wicked deeds from the back. I stopped upon seeing him initially, he was so majestic and fierce I knew that I wanted to fight beside him, would have given anything for that chance. He had still been the only father I had ever known, no matter what had come between us. But my body would not obey these thoughts. The sword in my hand tugged me forward once more, thirsty, and I knew it would not be stopped until it was sated with his blood.
The knights, the closest of Arthur’s court, his round-tablemen, stood around him, fighting to hold off the enemy from their king and brother. I saw Merlin there too, fighting with sword and magic both, and then Arthur, with his great sword, turned and spotted me standing there and we stared at each other, gauging what the other was thinking.
“Arthur,” I said softly but he seemed to hear me, even though I knew the sound couldn’t have traveled over the fighting. Run, please run I pleaded, but Arthur didn’t. In fact, he dropped from his horse, handing the reins to a knight and came to me.
I tried to back away, to force myself to run if he would not, but my feet were planted. We were out on a knoll above the fighting. There were no men here, and they didn’t seem to notice that their king had gone from the fray. Rain started to fall from the grey sky, and it dripped onto my head and shoulders, sinking into my mail, and it clinked off Arthur’s armor as he drew nearer. His sword was bloody in his hand, but he did not hold it threateningly. He didn’t know. How could he not know? Why did Merlin not tell him?
“Mordred,” he said, stopping several feet from me.
My sword tugged in my hand. I fought with everything I had not to let it move. It would not drink today, not of Arthur’s blood. I clenched my jaw, my knuckles white against the sword hilt and cursed Morgan over and over again, thinking of the many ways I could tear her to pieces.
“Arthur,” I ground out from between my clenched teeth. “Leave.”
He frowned. “Why are you here? Are you with Morgan?”
I didn’t say anything, the pull was nearly too much and I staggered forward a step. Now my whole body was thirsting for the fight, everything but my mind. Morgan would have made certain to keep that my own, so that I could watch Arthur die under my hands as my punishment for refusing her. I imagined wrapping my hands around her throat and watching the life seep out of her eyes.
“Go now,” I growled, straining to keep myself at bay. “Leave!”
Arthur looked angry now, but there was an underlying pain in his eyes. “I did not want to send you away, Mordred. But you understand why I had to. It hurt me to my very soul. You must understand that. You did not need to go to Morgan. Please. Come back, Mordred. We can try again.”
“I can’t!” I shouted, the cry hoarse in my throat. “I don’t want to hurt you, Arthur!”
“You don’t have to,” he said, raising his free hand slightly, a sad smile forming on his face. “Come with us, and you can leave Morgan.”
Morgan la Fay. I wanted my sword to plunge under her ribs and stab the black heart in her chest—if she even had a heart to stab. I lurched forward before I could stop myself. “No, please go!”
“Mordred, stop!” Merlin’s shout came up the knoll as he finally realized what was happening. I choked on a relieved sob, knowing it would be over soon. Merlin would kill me and everything would be done…
“Merlin, I’ve been waiting a long time for this.”
And with that everything fell apart. Morgan appeared behind him and with a spell, threw him several yards across the wet grass. And that was when I knew that everything was lost. All my concentration fell into pieces and I ran at Arthur with an anguished cry as I raised my sword. He was shocked as he brought up his own to block the blow.
“Mordred, what are you doing?” he asked.
“I can’t stop,” I cried out and swiped a devastating blow at his head, forcing him to duck.
“Mordred, whatever she threatened you with, you don’t have to worry. I’ll protect you from her,” Arthur said breathlessly as he blocked another blow but not before gaining a slice across his unprotected thigh.
“No,” I gasped out, thrusting at him and nearly falling to my knees from the lunge. I heard Morgan scream and felt a small surge in her hold on me but then it only seemed to come back twice as strong, and I was on my feet and trading feverish blows with Arthur, pressing him backward more and more furiously. I had never fought like this in my life. I didn’t even know I was capable of it.
Arthur tripped over a stone and fell, bringing up his sword only just in time to knock mine away as I stabbed downward to his chest.
“Mordred, I know this isn’t you,” Arthur said, sounding more as if he were reassuring himself than me. “Please, I know you don’t want to do this. Just tell me what she threatened you with.”
“I can’t,” I sobbed, and I realized I was sobbing. Tears were mixing with the rain streaming down my face now. “I can’t stop. I’m cursed.”
He threw me backwards and I fell, landing on my backside as I skidded across the ground, but still managed to somehow not drop the accursed sword. It was as if the weapon was fused into my palm.
“What do you mean?” he asked breathlessly, wiping blood from a cut across his brow.
“She cursed me to kill you,” I whispered before I felt like I was being ripped apart from the inside. I screamed, and looked over briefly to see Merlin curled on the ground with Morgan standing over him, her gaze settled on me, causing the pain with a powerful spell. I screamed a curse at her, but then Merlin was up and distracting her again and I was once more forced to my feet, advancing on Arthur.
“Kill me,” I told him. “Just strike me down, because I will kill you, Arthur, I can’t stop it!”
He didn’t say anything, but he fought on. I stabbed him in the shoulder though his armor protected him for the most part, and then finally kicked the sword from his hand. He fell on his back with a grunt, and grabbed a dagger from the back of his belt. I stabbed at him with my sword, but he kicked up toward my wrist and I was forced to let go as a sickening crack was heard and numbness went up my arm. I screamed, knowing my wrist was broken. I still couldn’t stop though; I reached for my own dagger and went after Arthur again. He was on his feet now, panting and drenched in blood and rain and covered in mud and grass.
Morgan screamed again, and then Merlin cried out but I couldn’t look back to see what was happening. I stopped, staring at Arthur, both of us clutching daggers now. I could still feel the pull but it seemed to be keeping me still for the moment.
“Do it, Mordred!” Morgan’s voice came and I looked over to see her holding Merlin up by the front of his tunic. The sorcerer looked the worse for wear, and I feared this might be it for all of us. “Kill him!”
I stepped toward Arthur. Then took another step and another. “No. I told you I would not. I will kill you before that.”
Morgan laughed, throwing Merlin away from her. “You are weak, Mordred. You can never beat me.”
“Mordred,” Merlin croaked out, dragging himself to his feet again. “You must not hate. Remember what I told you.”
But Morgan had taken hold of me again and I was only a few feet from Arthur. I couldn’t stop myself. I knew I couldn’t. I went toward him, my dagger raised, tears streaming down my cheeks. “I’m sorry,” I whispered.
Arthur wasn’t going to stop me. I saw it in his face, and I knew I had to stop myself. He still had his dagger held in front of him, and as I was compelled to stab my dagger into his chest, I exerted every last energy I had, not cursing Morgan this time, but looking into Arthur’s face instead as I threw myself against his dagger.
“No!” he shouted as he realized what I was doing, but it was too late. The dagger took me in the belly and I grabbed his wrist that held it, pulling it back out of me. Arthur looked at me in horror and crushed me in his arms. The hand I held my dagger in was above his shoulder. I could feel the pull of it drawing the blade to his back, ready to stab him in the heart, but I wouldn’t let it. I screamed a wordless battle cry, knowing I couldn’t let her defeat me now. Not now after I had made it this far. I didn’t think of Morgan at all. I just felt Arthur’s arms around me, buried my face in his neck, and thought of everything he had done for me. Taking me in, and calling me son.
I felt as if I were coming up through water. I gasped at the sudden clarity, and my hand finally opened, the dagger falling out to land with a squelch in the wet ground. Pain shot through me. I hadn’t felt it before, but now I collapsed against Arthur and he went to his knees with me, as Morgan screamed in rage.
“No!” she screamed. “No!”
Merlin came up behind her and didn’t bother to use magic this time. His lips twisted in disgust as he put his hands on either side of her head and broke her neck with a quick, efficient jerk. She slumped lifeless at his feet, her scream cut off, and everything seemed to eek out of me. I could barely keep my eyes open.
“Mordred, stay with me,” Arthur pleaded, pushing the wet hair from my face. I clutched at his tunic with my good hand.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered.
“Mordred!” Merlin’s voice was heard and I felt him skid to his knees on my other side, his hands fumbling with my tunic. Ripping it open, and forcing my chain mail up to reveal the wound. “You bloody idiot!”
I cried out as he pressed a hand over my wound, muttering something that I wasn’t sure was a spell or a curse. Arthur pulled me closer and I clutched at him tighter as I felt myself slipping. I didn’t want to go now. Not when everything was okay again. Tears slid down my cheeks. It wasn’t fair.
“Merlin, is there nothing you can do?”
“Not out here, blast it all,” Merlin ground out, his voice fading. “He needs to be warm and in a bed, we’ll patch him as well as we can and get him out of here.”
I somehow managed to open my eyes a crack to see Arthur leaning over me, his hand on my cheek. “Stay with me,” was all he said.
I reached up to grab his hand but don’t even know if I made it there because the darkness took me and that was all I knew.
©Copyright 2014 by Hazel B West
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