The victory show played a duet this year. The first couple of days were relatively quickly dealt with, but Arthur winced to see the footage lingering lovingly over Sophia's mad scramble to try and get out of the landslide that took her life. They were quick, too, to note every angry glance passing between him and Morgause, and to zoom in on Morgana's and Morgause's shared talks.
The cameras showed Arthur the part of the Games he had so far been ignorant of—how Merlin and Guinevere had made their way over the mountains into the more pleasant area of the arena, how they had found Gwaine trying to carry along a feverish and half delirious Elena, and how they had made common cause.
Then there was one of the obvious highlights of the Games: the breaking of the alliance. The ones who edited the footage this year must have been annoyed that it hadn't come down to Arthur and Morgause in the end—there was a clear rivalry there and that would have made for almost too easy editing. Instead, they were marketing Morgause and Morgana as a team and playing them against Arthur as a unit, being sure to linger over the looks passed between Arthur and Morgana in order to build her up as the eventual victor.
After that, the real story began. Brightly-lit footage of Arthur and his new group relaxing by the riverside was intercut with dark images of Morgana and the rest fighting off a herd of mutts, getting lost in the mountains and falling down steep slopes. There was also a long, drawn-out fight between Morgana and the boy from District Ten, a stocky seventeen-year-old who had excelled at wrestling during training week. The camera's perverse delight in her many injuries, in the dislocated shoulder, the swelling black eye and the deep gashes in her right arm, made Arthur turn his face away.
Then the music changed, and the idyll of the riverside camp was broken. Lamia arrived like a snake in the garden, and the ending of their sojourn was a fact. There was the fall of Merlin, Elena and Gwaine—this was dealt with quickly and unemotionally—and, separately, the death of Cenred at the hands of Mordred, the little worm.
The final battle was rather excitingly cut together, with Guinevere's scream of anguish at Lancelot's fall and her battle with Morgause given even more time than Arthur had expected. He could only imagine how annoyed the Gamemakers must have been at the result of that fight. If Morgause had lived, she could have had a final duel with her longtime rival Arthur, or—even juicier—a battle with her erstwhile friend and companion Morgana.
Still, the ending was rather nice: Arthur and Morgana's salute to each other was overlaid with the softest strains of the Hunger Games anthem—reminding everyone who watched that these tributes knew their duty and their calling. Their fight with the dragon was glorious. And then the dragon batted Morgana away, paused for a moment, and swallowed Arthur whole.
Arthur grimaced. Merlin shot him a quick glance.
"Sorry," he mouthed.
After that last gulp, the dragon heaved itself down into the crack it had come from again, and Morgana stood up shakily. Behind her was Mordred, raising his knife to stab.
Morgana turned and drove her sword up under his ribcage in one swift, deadly motion.
"Really?" she said, as the cameras zoomed in on her face triumphantly. "You're going to try that with me?"
She let go of the sword, and kicked the boy away from her. The cannon boomed, and as she raised her face to the sky, the anthem blared brashly forth in all its glory.
Arthur looked at her with a curious mix of pride and pity. She was playing out her role so perfectly, standing calm and erect as she waited for the hovercraft to pick her up—even though, as Gaius had told them, she must have broken several ribs in that last fall, not to mention all her other injuries. The cameras held on to her face, still beautiful even through the mask of burns and cuts, and slowly faded her out to leave room for a bright Hunger Games emblem.
Arthur sat back. So that was it. Morgana would go to the Capitol and be a victor, where she was destined for a world of modelling and glamour. She would do well, he thought. She knew how to play the crowds, and she would know how to use those who tried to make her submit to their power utterly powerless in turn.
Yes, she'd do very well. He only wished he knew as much about his own future.
He looked over at the others. Lancelot and Guinevere were holding hands tightly, her face extremely pale. She woke up screaming every other night, Arthur knew.
“I think that was even more of a nightmare to watch than it was hearing about it,” Elena said. She had her hands to her face, and it looked like she might have been crying. “I’m only glad I was out for the end of it.”
Guinevere stood up suddenly, and walked out of the room. Lancelot glanced around at the rest of them, then followed quickly after. Just after he’d left, a middle-aged woman that Arthur had only ever seen at a distance stepped in through the still open door.
Alma Coin, District Thirteen’s current president. Arthur felt himself sit up straighter.
“You’ve all seen the footage,” President Coin said, taking up position next to the telescreen and staring at them all. “You are aware, I trust, that going back is no longer an option.”
They hadn’t exactly needed to watch their own deaths on screen to know that, Arthur thought. Since she seemed to be building to a point, however, he didn’t say anything.
“You have all been employed in some fashion in our district’s service. You must be aware that we are not only surviving, here, but preparing for the day when justice will once again be served and our district will retake its proper place in Panem.”
President Coin apparently spoke in hyperbole a lot. Arthur restrained himself from rolling his eyes.
“As I said, you’ve all found gainful employment,” President Coin continued. “What I wish to talk to you about today is the possibility of other such employment. We have found opportunities, over the years, to place some of our citizens in other districts. If you wish, such an opportunity might be found for you.”
Arthur breathed in sharply.
“You mean, we’d leave District Thirteen?” Merlin asked, sounding more confused than anything else.
“And continue your work from within another district, yes,” President Coin replied. “Reliable information is both crucial and extremely hard to get, after all.”
Arthur kept his face carefully neutral. Being too excited to leave would surely raise questions about loyalty, but just the thought of going somewhere—anywhere—else after weeks of monotonous work, mostly beneath ground level, was exhilarating. Just having the opportunity to be outdoors again would mean a lot.
“Could we—” Elena began, then broke off, looking away. “No, sorry.”
“Going back to your own respective districts would, of course, be out of the question,” President Coin said, without even making an attempt at tact. “However, we might have some possibilities in District Four or Eight.”
Arthur felt Merlin’s hand reach for his. He glanced over, and saw Merlin give a tiny nod. Well then.
“I’m a very good swimmer,” Arthur told him quietly. “And I’ve always wanted to set foot on a ship.”
“I’m not,” Merlin replied. “But I’ll learn, and I’m pretty sure I could walk on top of the water if I found the right spell.”
Arthur smiled at him. “You are going to be the worst undercover agent ever, aren’t you?”
“Very possibly,” Merlin said. “Do you still want to go with me?”
Arthur shifted his hand, lacing their fingers together.
“Most definitely,” he said.