Those who did not have it called it “the gift” of foresight, but those, like Merlin, who possessed it and honed it into enough of a skill to be of some use, knew it as anything but. It was certain to Merlin the king who would unite Britain, the king who would be its true king for all the ages of man, would be of Uther Pendragon’s line. But Uther Pendragon was little more than a warlord, scarcely deserving of the title of king.
He would take no wife and father no princes. His final demand for the lady Ygraine was given at dusk, his eyes taking on the demonic cast of the setting sun in a shadowed face, in a courtyard neglected and grown over with ivy.
“It must be Ygraine. I love her as I can love no other woman. If you were a man to see it! Ah, my false friend. If you are true to me, you will deliver her to me. Any way. Any means. It must be her.”
Merlin had been sired on an unsuspecting princess as she dreamed in her bed by a voracious demon. He was not a stranger to the notion of conception by any means. And yet he was a man all the same, or had been once. Could the same be said of Uther? One moment he thought not; the next he thought, if not, what else?
“You foresee my son will be a great king,” said Uther casually, while the sun died over Merlin’s shoulder.
“Yes. I have seen it,” Merlin said with reluctance. His hands were cold in the sleeves of his cloak.
“A son must have a mother,” chuckled the king. “Is it not so?”
This was a pact between them, though Uther knew it not. He believed he gave commands, and Merlin followed them. Merlin obeyed a higher law than this.
Ygraine’s husband was a loyal follower of Uther’s. They had feasted at his table and smiled and laughed with his family, but these people had been as insubstantial as shadows to the king. He had had other men’s wives before. He could not understand why this one eluded him, and his desire for her, with her dark eyes and full lips, only increased with her pleas of fidelity.
Merlin had heard them one night, as he had walked invisible closely by his king. Ygraine hiding behind a pillar. Uther tearing her sleeve in his efforts to entrap her. You have other loyalties, Uther had insisted; but every man was a king in his own home and to his own wife, pledged Ygraine. She escaped; Uther cursed, stomped off; Merlin alone remained, and long had he brooded.
“You will have the Lady Ygraine,” said Merlin. “Gorlois will absent her bed tonight, called away to a sudden battle with encroaching barbarians. Somehow…. Somehow I will make her yours.” And Britain will have a far superior king , he thought. So be it.
He was loathe to injure the woman, though he did not think that Uther would be pleased with him if he suggested he take her by force. After all, he might have already done so if that had been his wish. And the daughters, indulged and adored by their parents… Morgause, the obedient one, and Morgana, troubling talented, whose prior mistrust of the king spoke to a woman’s intuition that surpassed her years… It would set a poor example of womanhood for them to see their mother shamed. A notion that eased his conscience came to him, one in which their small family would remain undisturbed.
A raven cawed from atop a stone tower and took flight, and nighttime was upon them very, very soon.