Years before, Annis had known this day would come. Known it as she knew so many things. She hadn't known what it would be, and she hadn't known when it would come, but as her sister's body fell limp and her blood slowed, seeping through sheets and horsehair, Annis had taken the baby, and wrapped it in her shawl, and wept, and asked the other women to leave so she might sit alone with her dead sister.
And she had sat alone with her dead sister, and stared at her niece, and had that stare returned. She had known, then, right then, that this day would come, and she had taken the baby to Gaius and begged him to send her away, so that the girl might grow up with the Old Religion.
Annis had known, because Annis always knew. Annis had known that the darkness would fall.
Igraine is luminously happy, golden hair shining like a beacon as she rests pale, narrow hands on her belly and the sun glints off the sapphires and rubies and emeralds on her fingers.
"It's going to be a boy," she says eagerly. "I know it is."
Uther laughs, loudly and without restraint, and takes one of those narrow hands, raising it to his lips. "A boy it shall be," he agrees. "A boy to be king of Camelot." The knights raise an instinctive cheer, and the great hall is full of talk and laughter as sunlight gleams through windows. Annis sits by her husband and watches her daughter and thinks Camelot has never been more beautiful. There has always been a restlessness, a darkness to Uther before now, like there's something he needs to do but can't, and that's gone, as if his and Igraine's happiness has chased it away. Everything is perfect. Annis talks and laughs with the others, and watches the king.
Annis knows, because Annis always knows, that Uther has done something terrible.
The prince lives.
Annis can work out what happened even as she grieves with the rest of the court for their queen.
The sun still shines, striking off stone and glass and iron, but Annis can feel the darkness coming. Igraine's friend, Nimueh, who follows the Old Religion, has been banished. Uther strides down the corridors, railing against the evil of magic, his expression growing harder and angrier, and Annis holds Morgana to her skirts as he passes. She wants to tell Uther that magic is part of this world. It isn't good or evil, malicious or benevolent, it simply is. She wants to tell him he can't destroy it, it's not a thing, he can't fight it, but Annis thinks he has always known that.
Annis sits in the solar, embroidery quiet in her hands as she watches Morgana play with the wooden toys one of the squires made. Small hands clutch at oaken figures, tousled black hair falls over rosy cheeks, and Annis remembers Carys' girl, the baby with fierce blue eyes. A witch-child, she thinks now, suddenly, and is relieved that she had her hidden, relieved she had a reason for it, as Uther's hatred of magic grows stronger, unchecked, with no-one left to oppose him. ("Magic is no more evil than water or wood or stone," Igraine had argued once. "It's only when man makes it a weapon that we should fear it." Annis had nodded her agreement, and Gorlois had chuckled and slapped his thigh, and supposed they must concede to the ladies, eh?)
She hopes that he will give up. She hopes he will realise that he cannot achieve what he wants: king or not, he is helpless. Uther might as well try to destroy the sky or the sea as magic, and any such attempt would bring consequences she daren't imagine. Uther can't get rid of magic.
Aethel is silly and flighty and comes dancing into the solar, pale brown plaits framing a face filled with fear and excitement.
"There's a dragon!" she says breathlessly. "It's been seen out to the west! A real dragon, here, in Camelot!"
Both her fear and excitement are contagious, and the whole court is talking about it within hours. No dragon has been seen in centuries; the only remnants of such a beast were stories of the Old Magic, stories of creatures otherwise forgotten, fierce, powerful beings who could fell a castle or raise it.
That night, as the sun slips beyond the horizon and the sky turns dark, Uther stands in the great hall and says, "I will defeat this monster, and all other creatures of magic, whatever their form."
Everyone cheers him, and Annis is afraid.
It's dawn when the king and his knights ride out, and Annis stands on the parapet with the other ladies and watches them leave. The men's progress is steady, the weak morning sun sliding over armour, sword and saddle. Uther leads them, upright and determined and, in the light of day, they look like they can defeat anything. It's the start, Annis thinks; the start of vengeance, of a quest, of a purge. She looks to Morgana, whose green eyes flash as she sings a song with Aethel, and wishes she knew her daughter's fate, but that is hidden from her.
"The king rides on alone," someone calls out. The women cluster round, silks and velvet softly shush-shushing against stone, the quiet clink of jewelled hands and waists a gentle shadow to the clank of armour.
"He's so brave," sighs the lady Katherine.
"Or foolish," puts in a more acerbic tongue.
"Gaius has followed him," someone else says.
They watch for a while, see the knights milling round, helpless in their inactivity, but they soon grow bored and return to their pastimes. In the afternoon, Annis joins Lucinda in the herb garden, Igraine's delight, and they drift from bush to bush, picking lavender, rosemary and thyme, until once again the sun disappears and twilight covers Camelot.
It's then, as she walks along the courtyard and through the arch to staircase leading to their quarters, that she feels it, and she stops, reaching out blindly to press her hand against the cold stone wall, chilled fingers chasing up her spine, the dark filling everything until all she can feel is the pounding of her heart, because she knows.
This is it. This is the day. This is the first blow against magic. This is Uther starting something he cannot possibly finish, because magic cannot be destroyed but, oh, the things he can shatter whilst he tries. For a moment, she can't breathe, and her knees dip as fingertips cling to a crack in the stone, but the sound of feet hurrying closer reminds her that she cannot be seen like this, and for the first time, Annis is afraid for herself.
The men return later, and Uther stands amongst the court as he is congratulated on his bravery and strength, but he is alone, always alone. Annis watches him from a shadowed corner and knows, as she has always known, that neither she, nor her husband, nor Uther himself, will survive what has just been started. Those golden days of Camelot are gone, their happiness could not be kept, and the darkness is fallen.