Morgana walked through the halls of the castle, pretending to have a destination, but really only avoiding arriving anywhere. The soles of her shoes clicked against the polished stone floors and she worried that the noise would give her away, make it obvious to anyone listening that she was lost. Not truly lost, of course; the castle was her home and she knew it well. But lost in her mind. She wasn't sure what she was doing.
She heard Uther's voice from a hall as she passed, in the middle of an animated discussion with a neighboring king. She should be part of this meeting. She was his queen now, after all. Defiance made her pause in the doorway to listen to Uther's arguments- something about a treaty- when Uther suddenly looked in her direction, meeting her eyes for just a moment. Desire and anger and dread mixed up in her, closing her throat so that she couldn't speak, but could only stare back at Uther. She wondered what he saw in her eyes, for he said nothing either. When he turned his attention back to King Paldriot, she moved away, leaving the doorway empty.
She was sure she was doing the right thing. She knew that Uther was capable of being a good man, and she could show him how; it was why she had agreed to marry him. Her father had also thought Uther was a good man. She knew he had, because he had sent her to Uther when he died, and he had been a good judge of character. And it was easy to be queen. Morgana had slipped into the role without a misstep, like it was her destiny. She liked making decisions; she liked sitting at the head of the table during banquets; she liked being called 'your majesty'. Not when Gwen did it. But it was not so bad, from others.
Uther scared her sometimes, but it was an agreeable kind of fear, one that sent her blood rushing through her veins. It was like riding a wild horse, or standing along the castle battlements in a storm. Morgana liked the way he looked at her, the way he faced her down like no one else. Even Arthur had never dared to shout at her.
The thought of the executions, though, made her ill. There had been no suspicions of magic-users yet, but she had been queen for such a short time. If someone was driven away now, or if someone was killed, would it be in her name? Would it be her the rebels began to plot against?
A cloud crossed the sun, sending the hallway briefly into shadow. Morgana ran a hand over her stomach. There was a slight swell now, but her gown hid it remarkably well. It was barely noticeable even when she was unclothed. But that wouldn't remain the case for long. The dreams that had haunted her for so long, glimpses of a dark future, did not include a child. That must be a sign that she was doing the right thing. She was changing the events to come, just as she had hoped.
She would change Uther. He would stop if only he understood, and she knew she could make him see. She would tell him that she had magic, and then he would know that he had been wrong. She would tell him that their child might have the power too, and then Uther would simply have to accept it. He wouldn't treat her like the others. Love would be their salvation. The salvation of all of Camelot.
Gwen was folding laundry when Morgana entered the room. Morgana had always owned more clothes than seemed necessary, but since she had married- since she had become queen- it had gotten worse. Gwen wasn't sure Morgana had even seen some of these. She set the gown she was holding on top of the chest and curtseyed, sweeping her own skirts across the floor. "Your majesty," Gwen said, her head bowed.
She heard Morgana's awkward laugh. "Guinevere, we've discussed this."
"You are the queen, you should be addressed as such." Gwen straightened up, but did not meet Morgana's gaze, turning aside to fuss needlessly with flowers in a vase. A petal fell and clung limply to her wrist before she brushed it away. "So says the king."
"Gwen, please," Morgana said softly. "I found it difficult enough being referred to as 'my lady'. This is worse."
Morgana meant no harm. She didn't know that Uther had sent away a maid for forgetting her new title. Gwen turned to her, about to tell her the truth, but it was so obvious that Morgana was unhappy, her ornate new gown just emphasizing the dark circles under her eyes, that Gwen's heart sank and she resolved to wait until later. "Very well, Morgana." Morgana gave her a relieved smile, and Gwen quickly switched to a safer topic, wishing she didn't feel guilty for it. "What are your plans for the day?"
Morgana laughed, but she looked down as she did, spreading her empty hands for evidence. "I'm the Queen Consort, Gwen. My plans are merely to make my husband happy."
"And that you do," Gwen said, thinking, There's no merely to that task. Morgana seemed reluctant to talk about her relationship with Uther, sticking to platitudes and commonplaces. She was hiding something, Gwen sensed, and the knowledge that there was a secret between them was a small, constant hurt, like a stone in her shoe she couldn't get rid of. She wanted to ask who made Morgana happy, but the question seemed clumsy, and she couldn't think of the words to make it come out right. "We haven't really had a chance to talk about it," Gwen said instead, keeping her tone light. "What exactly does the Queen Consort do?"
"The Queen Consort," Morgana began, lifting her head. She had a look in her eyes that Gwen didn't recognize, one she'd never noticed in Morgana before. Something still and small. "I have no true power. It's merely a title I hold because I married the king."
Gwen spoke cautiously. "Isn't that enough power?"
Morgana shook her head. "In the past, the Queen Consort has had one role: to give her husband an heir. Traditionally, it is hoped that the heir is a son." She met Gwen's gaze, and slowly placed a hand over her stomach. "However, Uther has expressed hope that his next heir is a daughter. He thinks it will be easier for Arthur, you see."
For a moment, Gwen did not understand. She recalled Morgana as a child, when she had first arrived in Camelot, grieving and afraid and refusing to admit it. Gwen had shown her around the castle, and then the town, and then the nearby woods, until Morgana lost that tight look around her eyes and smiled. She had burst into tears immediately after, and Gwen had not known what to do, scared herself. Morgana had sobbed like a much younger child, and Gwen was sure there must be something wrong with her, something unfixable, but she had put her arms around Morgana and promised her everything; she had said it will be alright and you will be happy here and tomorrow will be better until finally Morgana believed it.
And then Gwen understood, and she put a smile on her face as she rushed to Morgana, embracing her. "Oh, my lady!" she said, the words escaping. Morgana clung to her; Gwen could hear her breath, rough with held-back tears.
Morgana pulled back. She glanced at the open door and bit her bottom lip. "Could you close the door?"
"Of course," Gwen said, her arms dropping away from Morgana. She closed the door, holding on to the handle slightly longer than necessary, delaying turning back. When she looked at her, Morgana met her eyes for just a moment before looking away.
"There's something I need to tell you. I trust you'll hold my words in your strictest confidence."
"Without question." Gwen watched Morgana make her way to the window and open the glass. The air in the room felt stifled, unmoving, but no breeze came in to relieve them. "You have my word, Morgana."
Morgana stared out into the sunlight, one hand moving to cover her stomach. The sound of children playing drifted faintly to Gwen's ears; it sounded too close. "As much as Uther would disagree with the description, Camelot is a magical kingdom. And it will remain so for many years to come, if I have anything to say about it." She looked at Gwen over her shoulder, taking a deep breath. "I have been having more nightmares lately. No. Not nightmares. I think- I think that they are much more than dreams." She turned back to the window, but not before Gwen saw the glimmer of tears in her eyes.
Gwen's mind was blank; she couldn't seem to think. "What do you mean?"
Morgana faced the window, but Gwen could see how she had set her shoulders, taking the stubborn pose she always did when she was frightened, the way she had since she was a child. "Magic. I don't know why-" Morgana's voice broke abruptly and she stopped. A silent moment passed before she spoke again, her voice once more under control. "I see the future. In my dreams. I've seen things before they happened."
"It could be coincidence," Gwen argued, taking Morgana's free hand into hers.
Morgana shook her head. "It could be passed on to my child. I have to tell him before the birth."
"You should make sure," Gwen whispered quickly. "You should make sure before you tell him anything."
You think he would hurt me? Or the baby?" Morgana's fingers stuttered tighter on Gwen's. "Uther loves me!"
"No, I don't think he'd be able," Gwen said soothingly, her mind racing faster than her voice. "Even before... he's never been able to punish you. I just think that there's no need to worry him. Be sure."
"How am I supposed to be sure?" Morgana said, her voice harsh. She stared at Gwen, who reached out to stroke her hair. Morgana shut her eyes; in pain or in relief, Gwen couldn't tell.
"What," Gwen swallowed. She knew she shouldn't ask, but she couldn't stop wondering. She knew magic was something better avoided, something that, even if it wasn't evil like Uther claimed, could only lead to trouble for as long as he reigned. But the thought of it fascinated her, claimed her thoughts, as though the very mention of magic was itself a spell. "What do you dream? Of the future?"
She felt the shiver that went through Morgana. "I don't understand it," she whispered. "Most of my dreams are terrible, full of dragons and trolls and monsters. But also, I dreamed that I had a sister, that she was short and golden-haired and kind to me. I dreamed that your father died, and they took away his body on a cart like a traitor." Gwen's hands were cold; for a moment she could not feel Morgana's shoulders under them. "I dreamed, once, of standing over a man I had killed, the knife still in my hand with the blood so very red on it, and Uther was at my feet, Gwen, and he was afraid of me, I saw it in his eyes, and I knew I had meant to kill him. I had wanted to. But I didn't, and that, that was the worst thing."
Gwen's insides had turned to stone; finally she remembered to breathe, to look up and check that the door was still closed. Morgana's eyes were wide and focused on nothing. "But none of those things have happened, my lady."
Morgana shook her head. "I know. I know. I think I have a chance to change the future, if I do the right thing. I must. Why else would I be able to see them if there wasn't a chance to change things?"
"Of course," Gwen said. But she looked down and did not meet Morgana's searching gaze, and all the stories she had heard of magic clamored in the back of her mind.
"It's why I need power. If I'm the Queen Consort, I will be able to do the right thing. It's why the baby is so important." Morgana took her hands from Gwen and crossed her arms over her belly. "Surely, if Uther's own child is magic, he will understand. His own child, he would not..." Morgana's voice died.
Gwen tightened her arms around Morgana. "You're right," she said, sounding like she was certain. She could feel Morgana breathing, feel the warmth of her body, smell the scent of her hair, the lavender soap she used. But no matter how close she held Morgana, she had never felt further away from her. "I will help you," she promised quickly. "I think I know someone who can help, but I'll need to talk to him first."
Morgana nodded. "Thank you. I knew you would understand. That you wouldn't be afraid of me." Gwen rested her cheek on Morgana's head and thought of magic, thought of secrets, thought of fate. And she thought of her father.
Arthur was nervous. He wasn't unused to meeting his father to discuss matters of importance, but something felt off about today; Uther rarely bothered to have Arthur formally summoned to his rooms. Arthur knew to bring important decisions to his father, and Uther knew that he knew, and that had always been enough.
Arthur's intuition was right. There was something different about today.
"A baby?" He couldn't keep the surprise out of his voice. "You're having a baby?"
Uther smiled, the expression smug. "Well, to be accurate, Morgana is having a baby."
"I- of course." Arthur shook his head. "I apologize, Father. I'm just... well, this is more than a bit of a shock."
Uther paused, regarding him carefully. Arthur felt the weight of that scrutiny like armor, heavy and stiff on his skin, he knew again that he had made a mistake, that he had done something not quite right for the crown prince. It was a relief when Uther finally nodded. "You have nothing to worry about. Camelot will still fall to you after my death."
And the relief vanished. Arthur straightened his back. "You think I'm worried about that?"
"You're not?" Uther answered quickly, one eyebrow raised. "Apparently, my brother was rather worried when I was born."
Arthur could only stare at his father- who was, after all, the youngest child, the one who had not been born to the crown- with no idea of what to say. Which brother did Uther mean, anyway: the one who was stabbed in his sleep, or the one who was poisoned? There were so many implications to that sentence, but his father couldn't think- it wasn't an accusation...
"I'm not your brother," Arthur said softly. "The new prince or princess will be a most welcome addition to the Pendragon family."
"Good." Uther still had his gaze on Arthur's face, as though he was searching for something. "You are so much like your mother."
Arthur's emotions lurched again; Uther so rarely mentioned Ygraine. Arthur wanted to ask more, but before he could pick one question out of the multitude he had, Uther reached out and placed his hand on Arthur's shoulder. "I'm very proud of you, son. And she would be as well."
Arthur grinned abruptly. He felt happiness well up in his chest, certain now that he had simply misunderstood Uther's remark about his brother, that everything, after all, was going to be alright. Uther turned to go, but he paused with his hand on the doorknob. His back still to Arthur, he said, "I know that attractions can be surprising. But remember that you are to be king. You must not allow yourself to worry about what others will think. Your choices are not to be questioned."
Arthur swallowed hard; his joy leaked away like blood from a wound, and in its place came the cold realization that his father knew. For a moment, he could only try and remember where he had slipped up, when the mistake had been. "How long have you known?"
And the answer he had known would come: "It doesn't matter."
Arthur didn't want to look at his father, but he couldn't seem to tear his gaze away. He stared at Uther's shoulders, the bare skin of his neck below his hair and above his collar, as though there might be some hope hidden there. "You have no issues with this? With me being with a servant? A male servant?"
"Such relationships are forbidden," Uther said. "But you are a prince. I will not impose such punishment on you." He pulled the door open and left the room.
Arthur watched him go, unable to think of any excuse to call after him. As he stood there, waiting to think of something, shame and regret sapped his strength, and he blindly found a chair to fall into. After a moment, he dropped his head into his hands.
"But isn't this a good thing?" Merlin said. "I mean, didn't he say it was alright?"
"He said," Arthur said, his voice sharp with irritation, as though he was explaining something to an idiot, "that he wouldn't stop us."
"Right." Merlin shrugged, not acknowledging how he hated it when Arthur treated him like he was stupid. "Why is that bad?"
"It's not!" Arthur said, shoving his chair back from the table. The chair clattered loudly against the floor and Merlin winced. Arthur stormed across the room, slamming shut the door of a cabinet, and then paced back the other way, stopping in front of his bed. "It's just fine. My father is very proud of me. So much so that he doesn't even care what I do."
"But he said-"
"Tolerance is not the same as caring." Arthur said, each word distinct in anger. He knocked away Merlin's outstretched hand and stalked out of the room.
Merlin sighed. He started after Arthur, but Gwen appeared in the door just then, blocking his way. "Merlin, I have to speak to you. It's important."
Merlin looked after Arthur, but he recognized that walk, the stiffness in Arthur's back, the way his hands had curled unconsciously into fists. There was no point to trying to talk to him now; he could always find Arthur later. He looked down at Gwen and nodded.
"Is it alright if we talk here?"
"Well, it doesn't look like Arthur's coming back anytime soon," Merlin said, feeling a rueful smile on his lips. Gwen smiled back, but her eyes were distant; she wasn't really listening. She glanced into the hallway after Arthur and closed the door, her movements nervous. Her seriousness infected Merlin. "What's wrong?"
"It's Morgana. Has Arthur told you?" Gwen looked up at him. A few curls had escaped her tight bun, and they had fallen to frame her heart-shaped face. There was none of her usual brightness in her eyes; instead she looked tired.
"He didn't say anything about Morgana," Merlin said cautiously.
"She's having a baby."
"Really? Congratulations! I mean, not to you, because- but that's great!" Merlin took in Gwen's frown. "Isn't it?"
"Of course it is," Gwen said, giving him a small smile. "It's just, well, Morgana is worried that-" she stopped suddenly, and stared disconcertingly straight into Merlin's eyes. Merlin felt a blush starting. Gwen reached out and grabbed his hand, squeezing it. "Merlin, can I trust you?"
"I- of course- what do you-"
"Are you magic?"
Merlin snatched his hand away, his blush dying to a cold feeling on his face and neck. "What? No. Why, what did you see?"
"But you know something, don't you?" Merlin backed away and Gwen followed, nearly driving him into a corner. He tripped over his feet and she caught him, surprisingly strong. "You must help Morgana."
Merlin glanced at the door- still closed- the windows, the walls, and finally back to Gwen, her wide eyes, lower lip caught in her teeth. He took a breath to deny it again and found himself whispering, "What's wrong with Morgana?"
"She's magic. She thinks." Gwen threw a glance over her shoulder. "She says she can see the future. That's why she has nightmares."
A brief rush of satisfaction made Merlin nod; he'd known it. He wondered how long Gwen had known, and if Arthur knew. What Arthur thought. "But what does she want me to do about it?"
"She's afraid for the baby. She doesn't know how magic is passed on." Gwen was still staring at him. It made Merlin self-conscious, and he wished he knew what she was looking for. "Can you reassure her?"
Merlin's first answer, for once, died before he blurted it out. He watched Gwen, taking in the tension in her hands, how the pink was gone from her cheeks. He had thought that if only he didn't have to keep his magic a secret, things would feel different at Camelot. He wouldn't be such an outsider, inescapably foreign to these people who had known one another for all their lives. "What would reassure her?" he said. His voice sounded cold to his own ears. "Does she want to hear that her baby has magic? Or not?"
Gwen finally looked away, ducking her head. "I don't know," she whispered. "I love her. I know she wants to do the right thing. But I think she's confused."
"So am I," Merlin said. His magic was revealed, but he felt just the same, nervous and insecure. He had thought truth and lies would be less alike. Gwen didn't even seem to care. He supposed that meant she wouldn't give him away, but what about Morgana? Arthur liked her, Gwen liked her, but she rarely spoke to Merlin. He wanted so very much to be able to talk to someone else with magic, someone else who understood how it was to live here in Camelot with its secrets and dangers. He wanted it enough to risk almost anything.
"She cares about the people, I'm sure of it." Gwen swallowed. "Isn't it better with her as a ruler? Couldn't she make Camelot different? Can't she change Uther?"
"Of course," Merlin said awkwardly. What would Morgana be willing to do to keep herself safe? To keep her child safe? And the question he had been trying not to ask: would Arthur keep him safe if Uther knew? "Love surprises us all."
Visitors to Camelot had been assuming Morgana was queen for years before she actually became so. Perhaps it was those misconceptions that first gave Uther the idea, or perhaps it was something simpler, his own growing awareness of the beauty and stateliness that gave her that deceptively queenly bearing. She was so very self-confident- always sure that she was right, that she was special- and it was that, more than anything else, which drew his admiration. Uther knew he may well have crafted this lure himself: she had been a pretty child, pampered and spoiled, raised at a court with few other females. Of course she saw herself as extraordinary.
Uther had heard the whispers when he announced his betrothal to Morgana, but none of the people's misgivings seemed important. Morgana was stubborn, but a queen must be strong-willed. She was soft-hearted, but a queen must be generous. She was proud, but should not a queen be proud? She had resided in Camelot for many years, and knew its people, knew its strengths and weaknesses. All of this was simply evidence of the rightness of his choice. Perhaps, he conceded, the marriage had been too quick. But then, she was his ward. A long engagement would also have been unseemly.
Morgana had been surprised at first, of course. She enjoyed her beauty and liked to know that others enjoyed it as well, and so had always been flirtatious. But Uther kept a close watch when she played those games, and knew that they meant nothing. She was young, and did not think ahead
He did not have that freedom; it was his responsibility to try and see the future. He saw that any kingdom with one heir was inherently unstable. He saw that Morgana had taken upon herself, unthinkingly, the role of queen, and the disruption that would result if she married outside of Camelot. He foresaw the steadiness that would be imparted by having both king and queen upon the throne, rather than one man, growing old, merely waiting to pass the title to his son. And Uther would not deny that there were additional reasons for his choice of Morgana as queen, ones less sensible. The way she lifted her chin when they disagreed. The line of her arm when she poured his wine. Her teasing smile, which curved her lips so slightly. Morgana was startlingly beautiful, tall and dark-haired.
She was so unlike Ygraine. Uther was aware that Morgana would not be a queen like his first wife, who had always been peaceful and wise, her very presence calming. For all her virtues, Morgana could never be called calming. She seemed to enjoy being provocative, in fact, to take pleasure in rebelling. He was too harsh in those fights, perhaps, but it was only that she could make him so angry. She could convince herself of such silly things, and she just needed to be made to see that she was being irrational and emotional. Her defiance was sometimes the very trait that stuck in his mind: how wide her eyes were when she was upset, the deep red of her lips when she was angry, and how loud the beat of his own pulse was when they fought-
Footsteps sounded in the hall, and Uther shook his head. He recognized Morgana's step, moving away, and it called him from thoughts he didn't need now. He had business to attend to, for Morgana differed from Ygraine in other ways as well. Uther had always known that the sorceress lied, that he didn't need any help to father a child, and now he had proof: Morgana had conceived. He had been a fool to trust a magic-user.
Morgana would bear her child naturally. He loved her for it; he knew she was sympathetic to the magic-users, but that was because she was pure, she had never been touched by magic's stain. She didn't know how it could pollute everything, how its corruption lasted for years, waiting to poison everything. Magic would have been the downfall of Camelot, had he allowed it.