Of course she shouldn't be here.
They lie in the king's bed, the three of them, its great drapes closed around them, intimate and protected. Morgana is by her side and Morgause by hers; the two of them are enlaced now; Gwen can faintly hear Morgause whisper as she holds her sister, her quiet voice soft and fierce. Perhaps she makes promises about future conquests and power; Gwen can't imagine the knight whispering sweet nothings. But to Morgana, perhaps she does. Morgause isn't what Gwen expected.
They haven't had sex. That was her doing; Morgana pushed her down on the bed, and seemed so joyful as she did, and it was wrong, evil shouldn't be allowed to wear this delighted face bare of cruelty that had adorned her Morgana's face far too rarely; this Morgana pushed her down and kissed her, and covered her body with hers, filling her with familiar warmth and longing. Morgause, by their side, looked at them with intent eyes and an unreadable smile.
Gwen stopped her then. She was afraid: afraid of what she might let slip in a moment so intimate, afraid that her anger would cut through in her gestures, her betrayal be written over her face in a moment of highest pleasure. They used to speak to each other through physical intimacy, the two of them, when words wouldn't suffice, when distance or lack of understanding threatened to raise a wall between them – and Gwen hasn't had the occasion to learn to lie in this particular language.
If she was afraid of other, more unspeakable things, she tried not to think of that too much.
But, and this is why she should be far away, the thoughts rise up now, in the darkness of this shared, closed bed, with Morgana's breathing seeming to caress her skin even as she lies apart. She is glad of the other one's presence, for the disturbance it brings, her breath out of tune with theirs and sharp to her ear as the blade of a knife, a welcome reminder of where they are and how they got here.
She was so sure that her hatred of Morgana was secure, her sides chosen, chosen for her by her mistress herself, because for all her sleeping love she can not stand by someone who would murder Arthur and her brother and have arrows shot at innocent bystanders. Yet the love, of course, is still there: and alive, awake, in this feel of familiarity that Morgana's very body brings, her voice, her hands, the happiness in her smile. Gwen wants to rejoice in this, this honest elation she sees in Morgana, wants to give herself up to it and make her false assurances of loyalty a reality. The Morgana she knew would have been a great queen: just and compassionate, brave and mindful of her people before everything else, intelligent and beautiful, wonderful on her throne.
Or so Gwen used to think. And maybe it is true. Maybe it is Morgause who corrupted her, or perhaps it is the magic. But a part of Gwen, the part that fights fiercely against the temptations of surrender and old love, now wonders, re-examines Morgana's every old fault for seeds of this, and this frightens her almost as much as the opposite, this attempt to taint every past memory. Did she push Arthur beyond his limits for the good he would do, or for the feel of power? Did she come for Merlin's village for him, or for the pleasure of fighting and killing? Was it compassion that drove her to save the druid boy, or knowledge of their shared magic? Was it kindness or a kind of possessive pride that lead her to cry uselessly at Uther when she would have needed her support more than ever?
She is wrong in all this, she knows that. But, desperately, her mind sears through the past, searches for the beginning of the thread that lead to this; counteracts the voice that whispers, just as persuasively, that this is the same Morgana indeed, the one she loves, the one she thought she had given up a long time ago, when love for Arthur tore her away. For how long have they not been close, for how long before her abduction by Morgause has Morgana been cold and distant and no longer first in Gwen's thoughts?
And yet, Morgana, at the high of her power, has asked for her allegiance, has lead her here, to share this royal room, this royal bed (this royal consort? Gwen does not know who or what Morgause is). So the link is still here in Morgana's mind, and the memory of it and all the feelings attached to them for Gwen – and perhaps, Gwen thinks, appeased by the thought, that it all this is to Morgana as well: the revived memory of a lost time when they were happy together. Maybe she needs to search no further, and worry no more, maybe she is exactly where she should be to deceive best. Soon she will escape with Leon, help Arthur, and with him defeat Morgana and set things right, and let go of the past.
She closes her eyes at last on the surrounding darkness. Morgana's breathing is even as it never used to be. Morgause's, light and easy, still seems to cut through the air with a metallic ring. It is to these sounds that Gwen eventually falls asleep.
She wakes up, early in the morning, to the sight of Morgana and Morgause making love. It's hard to call it anything else: Morgause is keeling on the floor by the bed, the curtain draped over her back, her head buried between Morgana's open legs. Her eyes, Gwen sees, are closed as if in bliss. Her hands are resting on Morgana's upper legs, their grip strong-looking and, Gwen thinks, steadying, and that is what she finds striking, this obvious mixture of protectiveness and reverence that seems to say the one above her deserves everything, everything at all. Maybe that is what corrupted Morgana. But did she never treat Morgana like that? Maybe she didn't. Morgana's own eyes are half-lidded, but if she has noticed Gwen watching, she doesn't show it.
Belatedly, after having taken in every detail of the scene, Gwen averts her eyes. Sisters. She knew, of course, it was obvious by the way they spoke, touched, looked. Still, seeing the evidence of it is a little shocking. Morgause even calls her "sister", they see each other as such, and yet...
It shouldn't matter to her now, after everything that went down, but Gwen recognises the feeling pulsing inside her now as jealousy. Not just of the intimacy. Why did Morgana abandon them all for this woman who stole her away? What, she thinks, despite that very sense of reverence and protectiveness she senses in Morgause, did that woman do to her?
But that is a path that leads to hesitance and corruption. The truth is, it doesn't matter. For what Morgana did, there is no justification.
Gwen closes her eyes again, on the image of Morgana's body bent backwards, proud and abandoned to feeling, her lips half parted. Her harsh breathing follows her into the darkness. This time, Gwen finds no sleep.
"Gwen," Morgana says, in a tone curter than she used to. "Come help me dress."
Morgause has left by now, probably to give orders to the guards; she is the one who leads the immortal army that took and holds Camelot. Gwen obeys; the gestures are familiar, even if the surroundings are not. She has to wonder what it feels like for Morgana to sleep in her father's bed while he sits in his cell.
The objects too are familiar, a dark green dress, silver jewellery, a comb. Morgana sits before a mirror, her back very straight, her mouth drawn to a thin line, hard and judging. There is nothing, now, of the happy, freed woman of last night.
"My –" Gwen begins, then interrupts herself, and says instead: "Your Majesty –"
"You can call me Morgana," her lady says, though she says it with the air of one who is bestowing a great favour, and one whose reach they have carefully calculated; Gwen has the sensation of a trap closing on her, though she couldn't tell why. "But only when we are alone." There is a pause, as Gwen works on her hair, careful not to straighten the curls even as she combs it.
"Morgana," Gwen starts again, and when no interruption follows this time, goes on: "You wanted me to talk to Sir Leon..."
"Yes. You will do that."
"Now?" Gwen says, trying not to sound too eager; her plan hinges on this; she will not leave him here, she will not go to Arthur empty-handed.
"Later," Morgana says, "I have other matters to think of. I want you –" she turns, so that Gwen has to start back, detangling the comb from her hair, "– to be there."
The coldness from before seems gone; there is something hopeful in Morgana's eyes, and Gwen has to look away to hide her anger: Morgana had people killed the day before to gain the knights' allegiance; at the very least, succeeding in this should be her highest priority!...
She bows her head.
"As you wish. Morgana."
"Is that all?" Morgana asks as they enter the throne room; Gwen is walking by her side. She feels displayed; she is not a knight of Camelot, but at least she is an ancient servant of the new queen, standing by her now; the people in the crowd, petitioners, old members of the court who look frightened and diminished, the dark, silent guards of Cenred's army, they can all see it.
Morgause, in a knight's chain-mail, waits for them to reach the throne, for Morgana to sit upon it, head high under her crown, before she answers. There is a small group of people, five of them, three men and two women, huddled together in the centre of the hall. They wear the worn rags of peasants or the finer and even more worn-down and torn clothes of city beggars. They stand close, as if for comfort, but their stance goes from composed to proud, boisterous. They look like people who are here to make demands, and Gwen fears for them.
"They are the only ones who would come forth on this short notice," Morgause says. "There will be more, many, many more, once they have learnt to know you, your Majesty."
Morgana nods faintly in acknowledgement, then gestures at the group.
"Come forward," she orders.
They obey. Gwen watches from her spot next to the throne. A tall man, who might be forty, or fifty years old, his steps easy and supple, the lines of his face edged deep and his hair entirely grey, and an old women take the lead. The other three follow; they look young, under twenty perhaps.
As he reaches the throne, the man bows briefly. The old women stands still, back slightly bent. Gwen steals a quick glance at Morgana's face; she looks eager and as if trying to hide the fact.
"You are all magic users, persecuted by Uther?" she says.
"As all magic users," the man says; his voice is deep and vibrant, as if made for long speeches before crowds.
"Then you are welcome in Camelot." She pauses briefly; perhaps she waits for a bow of thanks, but none if forthcoming. "You will help me find other users of magic; you will help me return magic to the land."
"Your Majesty." It is the old woman who speaks, and while the words sound like agreement and submission, the distrust is clearly drawn upon her face. Morgana frowns at her, before she goes on, after a brief look at Morgause:
"You may each ask a boon of me."
The man and the woman exchange a quick glance.
"I ask for food, your majesty. We are poor; I was a weaver before the purge, but I practiced my art with magic – you will see my work; it is not comparable to what is done by hand."
Gwen takes another glance at Morgana's face; the queen has stopped trying to mask her eagerness, and now it is mixed with a kind of delight; Gwen finds it hard to fault her; the magic the woman spoke of seems so very innocent...
The boon is granted gladly; Morgause gives the necessary orders, and Gwen feels the threat of a softening inside herself, so close does this Morgana, who gives food to those who need it feel to her old mistress. But Arthur would – has done no less. And magic is used for more than weave beautiful cloth.
Then the man comes forth; he looks square into Morgana's still softened face, then around, at the assembled people.
"I ask that you re-establish the folkmoots to their old functions; the power to speak justice; the right to elect a king." A murmur goes through the room, like the rising of the sea, and at the last part, Morgana's mouth gapes open. Apparently unperturbed, the man goes on. "The members of the royal council will be chosen not among Uther's court, but in people of the old religion."
"The right to elect –" Morgana repeats, interrupting what seems to have been meant as a longer discourse; the hall has fallen dead silent as the queen speaks, her voice a low hiss. "I am your queen."
"We do not seek to depose you," the man says calmly. "But the old custom must be respected."
"Tyranny," the old woman adds, and her voice rings cold through the silent hall, "must come to an end." There are asserting nods from the three behind them.
Morgana stands up.
Then Morgause is there, stepping between the five men and women and the queen, and pushing them back as if with the mere power of her presence.
"The queen has heard you," she says. "Your audience is at an end."
As if the interruption meant a permission to speak, chatter breaks out all throughout the hall, louder than the earlier murmur, and frantic. Gwen doubts even Morgause could easily have re-established calm if she tried. Morgana watches from before her throne as the small group is lead outside.
"How dare they," Morgana hisses as the three of them, followed by two silent and seemingly life-less guards, walk down the corridors to the royal chambers. The next audiences have been adjourned. Close as she's been standing, Gwen still hasn't been able to hear what Morgause whispered to her sister when she's returned; but whatever it was, it must have decided her to leave the throne-room for a while. "They don't seek to depose me? I should have –"
She breaks off. Gwen is not reassured when she sees Morgause watch her with every sign of awe.
"They are nothing," the knight says. "Five people. Driven mad by persecution. Most users of magic will love nothing more than to hail you as their queen, I swear this to you."
"How will I find them?"
"I will find them for you. I should have done that first."
Morgana startles to a halt.
"You will leave me?"
Morgause takes her hand; they seem to have forgotten her, the men behind them, everything but each other.
"For a little while. To help you. As soon as your brother is dead, you will be perfectly safe."
Gwen freezes at this casual mention of Arthur's murder, but luckily, the two of them are too immersed in each other for notice; they hands locked, looking deep into each other's eyes, before Morgana briskly breaks the contact and resumes walking.
"You are right," she says.
They soon reach Uther's chambers; Morgause stops at the door while Morgana walks in, and Gwen is about to follow when the knight stops her.
"Gwen? I'd like a word."
Startled, feeling caught, Gwen glances at Morgana almost pleadingly; but Morgana gives her permission with a small gesture, and Gwen is forced to follow the sorceress down another corridor, where Morgause apparently has her own chambers. Gwen memorises their location, just in case; it might turn out useful.
"Morgana told me about you," Morgause says, once they are inside, and Gwen has seen the door close upon them like a trap. "You were a loyal servant to her when she had no-one else."
Was that what Morgana told her? Gwen is not ashamed of being a servant, but she thinks that no more than Arthur used to, Morgana would quite have understood that; if she loved her, she would have called her a friend instead.
But if that was what she was, then Morgana wouldn't have tried to have her killed, would she? And then, Morgana never had "no-one else". They all loved her, her, Arthur, Merlin, even Uther.
"I tried to be," she says softly, as Morgause seems to expect an answer.
"I'm glad of it." The sorceress looks at her searchingly. "Morgana tells me that prince Arthur is in love with you."
Gwen doesn't know what to say to that, so she just shrugs. Perhaps she should have left Leon to his fate and tried everything to flee instead. What if they now use her against Arthur?
"I gave him a chance to be king once," Morgause says. Gwen gives no answer, unsure of what the sorceress expects of her. "I told him what his father did, how he used magic to kill his wife to have a son. I let him know through the mouth of one whose word he could not possibly doubt." Again that searching look; Gwen doesn't know if she's supposed to look shocked; nothing of Uther can shock her, even if this is the truth. "I let him know, giving him a chance to right his father's wrongs and put an end to his murders – but he choose to remain his father's loyal henchman."
Suddenly Morgause is moving, touching her, grabbing his shoulders; her grip is heavy and assured, and Gwen thinks about how easy it would be to fall into it, if she were someone different. She is the only one, besides Lancelot, whom she has seen beat Arthur in a fight in a very long time.
"Do you understand?" Morgause says, her face close to hers now. "This is when I gave up on him. In some things, he is noble, and loyal. But he will be like his father."
"I understand," Gwen says, because that is what the other woman wants to hear.
Morgause lets go of her shoulders.
"You promised to talk to the knights," she says, sounding less intent now, more businesslike.
"To Sir Leon," Gwen confirms. "I knew him as a child. He might listen to me."
"Good," Morgause says. "That is good. You may go back to your mistress, Gwen."
Gwen gratefully flees.
It is only later, without the weight of imminent danger, that Gwen pieces together what Morgause meant. She is lying on the bed next to Morgana again; her queen demanded her presence. Morgana has her eyes closed, but Gwen can tell that she is awake by her uneven breathing and the way her body is tense and stiff.
What Morgause expected of Arthur in her tale is that he depose his father, kill him most likely. It is a horrifying thought. The end of Uther's reign, which she waits for with such hope, should not come at the price of a parricide. But then, she loves Arthur more than she hates Uther; she can almost understand that Morgause doesn't.
Of course, her whole tale is probably a lie or a delusion. Perhaps her fool-proof way of telling Arthur was not so secure after all. Perhaps it is all invention, for Gwen can not see Arthur be able to live with this hypocrisy; he would not have done what Morgause wanted, she hopes; but he might have left Camelot before he became an accomplice in more deaths like her father or Gaius.
There is, however, a much more important matter: in telling her all this, truth or lie, it makes no difference, Morgause was trying to sway her to their side. That manifestly means that she does not fully trust her, and so she needs to be careful. Perhaps, in her first meeting with Leon, she will truly have to speak as if to convince him to submit to Morgana. Then she will plead for more time, and eventually, when they trust her...
Gwen jumps; she hasn't noticed that Morgana has opened her eyes and is looking at her; in answer to her acknowledgement, Morgana moves into a sitting position, back almost straight and knees bent; she's still wearing her fine green gown, and it will be rumpled and need caring for.
Gwen follows suit, sitting up as well. They've been like that together often in the past, in Morgana's much brighter room.
"My – Morgana."
"You don't hate me," Morgana says.
Gwen can't tell what it is, a question, a statement, an order.
"Of course not," she says.
For a moment, as Morgana looks down in answer, Gwen thinks that she's going to admit to her attempt on her life, her brother's. But after a brief silence, Morgana says instead:
"Merlin tried to murder me."
"What?" That is news to her; she has no idea when Merlin would have had a chance to do that. And how like this new Morgana, with her egotism and her twisted sense of justice, to call an attempt on her life in this war she dragged them into a murder. "When?"
"Not now," says Morgana, as if guessing at her thoughts. "Before. When I had had never done anything to hurt him or anyone close to him."
Gwen stares at her, and she hopes that she looks properly shocked. This is absurd. Morgause's attempt to sway her was much less clumsy.
"Why would he do that?" she asks.
"I don't know," Morgana says in a kind of hiss, and sits up straighter, drawing her left leg to her body. "But he knew."
"That I was magic."
Gwen represses a shiver. That long, then. Before she had been abducted by Morgause, Morgana had already been working against them, using sorcery behind their back. For how long has she secretly hated them all...?
But no. This is no evidence. Even magic can be benign. Magic once saved her father's life, even if it almost cost her a heavy price. Perhaps something like this is where Morgana started, where the corruption began...
"Gwen," Morgana prompts at her silence.
"I'm sorry," Gwen says, unsure whether it's for her distraction alone or Merlin's supposed action.
Morgana shrugs, an elegant gesture on her.
"But you – I was sure you would despise me for what I am."
She does. It seems like every user of magic she has known was an enemy bound to Camelot's destruction. And a magician led her father to his death. A sorceress stole Morgana from her, and the same sorceress threw this immortal army at them. So seeing Morgana perform magic in secret was enough to confirm what she was already fearing: that Morgana is their friend no more, but an implacable enemy.
"When..." She has to know. "When did you start using magic?" But there was Merlin's friend, back in his village. There was the druid boy, still a child. If Morgana had shared this with her instead of hiding it...
"You remember the fire in my room?" Gwen nods. "That's where it started."
"You lit that fire?" It sounds like madness.
"I didn't mean to! It's not – I didn't choose this. I didn't choose to have the dreams, I didn't choose the magic. It came to me." She marks a pause, and her mouth thins into a line, hard and proud, while Gwen tries to process this new information. She has been taught different. "I am not sorry now," Morgana adds, sounding almost petulant. "I am free now, and loved."
"Yes," Gwen says. There it is again, stronger than with Morgause, this feeling of a trap closing on her, a trap made of Morgana's words and assurances. Not such a bad attempt at her loyalty, after all.
"I love you," Morgana says, in a whisper, fragile. "I always have. You know that, don't you?" Gwen gives no answer, but she doesn't resist when Morgana takes her hands. "I couldn't bear seeing you leave me for Arthur. I hated that you'd forgotten me and moved on."
"I never –"
"But it's over. You're here."
"I'm here," Gwen confirms. Already the dangerous rush of tenderness is abating, with this reminder of Morgana's hatred for her and Arthur's love.
"You will see," Morgana says, and again there is bravado in her fierceness, false perhaps; Gwen decides that she doesn't care enough to try and find out. "Things will be better. Once magic returns – healers, diviners, warriors who protect without killing! No more unjust deaths like both our fathers'."
Morgana draws her close with those last words, and Gwen lets her even as she turns her head aside to hide her disgust. Are the deaths Morgana brings not unjust? Was her father killed when he fled from execution? Hasn't Morgana needed reminding of her own loss a day ago?
But Morgana must have noticed anyway, and something stirs in Gwen still, to see her so attentive to her, after the long period of coldness.
"You don't believe me," Morgana says, and lets go of her hands; maybe she isn't even aware of the threat that slips into her voice. Maybe this has become natural to her, as it was for Uther.
But Gwen doesn't see how she could get out of this one.
"I heard of the order you gave on the main square," she says.
Morgana moves away from her completely, and the look she gives her, from a distant now, is icy cold. Gwen swallows, draws her arms around herself. To think that a few moments ago, she felt the old warmth from Morgana's presence, tempted by her despite everything she believes in and loves!...
"I had to," Morgana says. "You don't understand, you know nothing about being queen." Her voice is dripping with contempt, and hate, perhaps. Gwen will never again understand Morgana. "Uther is a monster, but he taught me some things. I need the knights' allegiance. I will have it, no matter what the cost." Briskly, she turns away and moves to stand up; the curtains of the bed are drawn open, and Gwen watches her move across the room, still frozen in fear. "You will talk to Leon now."
Gwen gives a stiff nod of agreement and rises as well. The thought does not hold the same promise of hope it used to, after these conversations with the two sisters, now that she knows she will have to start out with lying to Leon.
"I will do my best," she promises. "But it could take time. He's very loyal."
"To Camelot, I hope," Morgana says almost flippantly. She has walked towards the mirror and is taking poses, but there's none of the old playfulness; the looks Gwen can see her give herself in the mirror are cold and asserting. "You will see him now."
It isn't until the evening that she sees either of the sisters again. Naturally, it seems, she finds herself in their bed again. Morgana, by her side, is stiff and angry. They have found other sorcerers already; two of them were glad to join this new queen who promised them, at last, freedom from persecution. But one woman declared high and loud that she would await the reign of the destined king, and that was not Morgana. The sorceress would be executed in the morning.
"Give me time," Gwen pleaded, after a painful audience where Leon looked at her like he didn't know her. "I've given him things to think on. He will come round." She told him that he had a duty to the people of Camelot, who would suffer from his refusal, and she was not lying: she would have sworn herself to Morgana, and betrayed her after. But then, she is no knight.
"Maybe," Morgana said, and Gwen wasn't sure if she imagined the golden flash in her eyes, "he needs more persuasion." There was pleasure in her as she spoke: she hates Camelot's people, Gwen is sure of that now. Maybe she hates everything and everyone in Camelot. It must be the magic, or Morgause.
"Please, Morgana," Gwen pleaded some more. "Please, just a little time." And desperate: "You said you loved me. Please."
She is still surprised that Morgana gave in. Perhaps she is regretting is now, as she lies stiff between them, while Morgause runs gentle fingers through the hair Gwen brushed earlier, before bed.
"I talked to Uther," Morgana says briskly into the air, then turns to look at Morgause.
"You should let the old fool die already," Morgause says gently; it sounds very much like she is advising an act of mercy.
"I want him to see Arthur die," Morgana snaps.
Despite her best efforts, something must have shown on Gwen's face; or perhaps Morgause can really read her thoughts, because suddenly her eyes lock with hers, provocative and dangerous.
"You don't want Uther to suffer? Arthur to die?" she asks; Morgana, surprised by this interruption, pushes herself up to her elbows, and looks at Gwen as well.
Gwen gives no answer.
"He is the one who arrested your father," Morgana says, after a moment of silence, while Morgause looks on, her gaze hypnotising. "He is responsible for his death."
"I know," Gwen says.
"I was ready to kill Uther for it, did you know that? I almost did."
Oddly, this time, Gwen doesn't doubt her. She remembers Morgana after her father's death, gentle and purposeful, and absent. Uther threw her in chains for speaking for her. At the time, had she known, she would have been shocked, she would have disapproved, another death can not bring back her father, but she would have loved Morgana for it too. Now all she feels at the revelation is cold, and sadness over the fact that Morgana was a murderess this long way back.
"Gwen," Morgana prompts, when Gwen doesn't react.
"You did that for me," Gwen says, trying not to sound too blank.
"Of course," Morgana says. "I spared him because he claimed regrets. But I was wrong. You are wrong if you think we should spare them. They would destroy us. Gwen."
Suddenly Morgana is there, kissing her, and Gwen finds herself kissing back, engulfed in such an old mixture of warmth and excitement; and if she thinks of someone else, it is Lancelot, not Arthur, and their kisses shared like two people about to drown.
When Morgana draws back, she looks a little wild. Gwen stares up at her. She thought her love – not her affection or even her crush, but the deep, admiring love – had died long ago, but she was wrong.
And she has to try.
"Arthur loves you, Morgana."
Morgana's face closes up. Suddenly she is all the cold, proud queen, not this strange person pretending to still be her lover and her friend. She moves away from Gwen, sitting up by her side, and immediately Morgause is there, drawing an arm around her shoulders.
"Arthur doesn't love me."
"You have to know that's not true. He might even forgive you." Hope stirs inside her as she sits up completely, because here is something that even when she was most certain of her hate of Morgana, she tried not to think on too hard: most likely, defeat, for Morgana, will mean death. Uther can not let her live, can he?
"Forgive me? For being a sorceress? For living in fear in this castle because he lead people like me to their dead every other day?"
"He saved the druid boy."
Morgana presses her lips together and gives no answer; Gwen begins to hope a little, but then Morgause breaks in, her voice soft and artless.
"Mordred was just a child. Arthur can be soft-hearted. But his principles are his father's. He has no such hesitations with all the adults he helped bring to their execution."
"Arthur loves you," Gwen just repeats, ignoring the sorceress. She could be saying, instead, that Arthur is like them all, Uther's subject, and forced to wait for his time to come; but the truth is that Gwen loves his every transgression, would have stood by him even if he had killed his father as this sorceress wanted him to. So she just clings to this simple, true fact: Arthur loves Morgana.
"He'd not let that stop him from killing me," Morgana eventually responds, calm now. "Why should I?"
The next day, she flees with Leon.
At first, there is nothing but elation. She rides back into Camelot, by Arthur's side, triumphant, and with them Camelot's new knights: Percival, and Lancelot and Gwaine, her friends, and her own brother, Leon with them – and, of course, though he's no more a knight than she is, Merlin.
She feels like she has wings. Nothing seems impossible. Her marriage to Arthur? No longer a distant dream; she could be queen. She wants to be queen, and stand by Arthur's side as he manoeuvres through the hardships of ruling, and love him, help him, wield the power to do good of her own. Her brother's presence? Not a brief interlude this time, bound as he is now to Camelot, by choice, a knight of the realm. And the love she shares with Lancelot, her friendship with Gwaine and Merlin, they feel sweet and without danger, secure, shared affection and mutual protection.
Morgana? Morgana is the distant past. She loved her years ago, all through her small crushes, before Arthur came along, and for a long time after. She loves her still, of course, a sad, painful rest of affection filled with pity, a kind of fearful gladness that she isn't dead, even if she wishes, of course, that she had been caught. These last few days together were nothing but deception on both sides.
Arthur doesn't ask, beyond the first assurance that she is quite sound, quite alright. He'd listen if she talked to him; but maybe he's not ready to hear more about Morgana's evil. Gwen is glad that in this instance, there is nothing to tell.
Lancelot barely speaks to her at all. She sees the convert looks he throws her – he's really bad at hiding them, in fact – and they make her awkward when she tries to establish contact herself. She's constantly reminded that she was in so deep with Lancelot, ready to live and die with him, and how he left her without a choice; to have him here now does not, in fact, give her a feeling of security: it makes her heart flutter in her chest, her head fill with desire and anger, and then she has to think of Morgana...
It is Merlin, a few days later, in the bright, sun-filled chambers that have been declared Gwen's and which, technically, Merlin shouldn't be visiting alone, who says, after filling her in on the lack of progress of the search.
"Did she do anything to you?"
They are looking for Morgana all over, a twisted repetition of what happened a year ago, though this time Arthur has not, like Uther, thrown all his forces into the chase: catching a traitor is not, after all, quite as important as rescuing a loved one.
Gwen shakes her head and puts aside a piece of cloth; she has no maidservants, not yet; but she will not escape it once Arthur has, as he's planning to, handed her over new duties: she is to oversee the happenings of the castle, as she would as a queen (as Morgana used to). It will have its perks, not having to worry about all the mundane things of her own daily life – but it will certainly be very strange.
"No," she says.
Of course, she bears no marks of any ill-treatment. But a sorceress, certainly, can inflict pain without marring your skin? And then, Morgana is a masterful manipulator of those she knows well; perhaps it is emotional hurt Merlin fears for.
"You fooled her, then," Merlin says; his grin is not quite as bright as usual, but it's a good attempt; he knows he's wrong; if she had, she wouldn't foolishly have lead a man of Morgana and Morgause's to their hideout, despite all the precautions they took to throw off pursuers.
"Not really." She folds her hands. Merlin has been called to court, officially, which was a scandal, the reigning prince, as his father is stricken down, making his old manservant part of the council; a ridiculous kind of favouritism, a bad joke, the old members said, but Arthur has their recent lack of revolt against Morgana's reign to hold over them. Gwen thinks that maybe Merlin is making things worse by still wearing his old clothes. Then again, she has seen the ones Arthur produced in replacement. "But she didn't try to hurt me. I think she wanted an audience."
She has thought it, and this is the most likely explanation: Morgana wanted someone from before, someone who'd understand and even was close to her, to witness her elevation and her perceived justice; approve of it if possible, admire and fear it at the least. She kept her close for that.
"Okay," Merlin says, looking a little helpless. For him too, this is hard; Gwen rather suspects he was a little in love with Morgana once. She does her best to smile at him, and keeps the expression in place clumsily until he leaves.
In the end, she decides later, as she's sitting by the court-yard where the knight train, absent-headedly mending an old dress – a queen is expected to knit, isn't she? – the explanation doesn't satisfy her. She can't tell that to Merlin, it'd put him into a weird position vis-à-vis of Arthur to know that she spent these days with Morgana in her bed, if rather chastely. And she doesn't regret it, not exactly: it was good to have Morgana back, or an illusion of her, for a little while. And Morgana, at the high of her power, cared enough about her to seek her, loved her enough to spare her after she'd decided her death once – Gwen wants to think it was more that motivated her, in the end, than the mere need for a witness.
But the thing is: Morgana is not here, and Morgana is an enemy, who, now that she is defeated and weak, will seek to destroy her again. Gwen is a practical person: as things stand, it is best to let go of Morgana.
And so she does.
"My Lady," Lancelot says as he helps her off her horse, lowering her gently on the courtyard's ground.
His tone is serious, and his grip honestly steadying, much more than she would need, but still there is a look of understanding that passes between them that means they both understand she is a lady only in certain ways; it's fine, because it doesn't matter to Lancelot; he doesn't treat her like this because she is a knight's sister and almost the crown prince's betrothed.
"Thanks," she says, and feels her cheeks heat up a bit, glad that he looks down.
This is how things stand between them; they're on speaking terms again, and despite herself, she has forgiven him for leaving her. It is part of him, this self-denying nobility; she loves him for that too.
Because she does love him, and sometimes, in his presence, she blushes and stumbles over her words, like the past never happened and she's a girl with a crush again. He kissed her fingers once, in the cosy darkness of her old home, where she and Arthur shared their first kiss. She held her hand in place to let him continue, but he stepped back and left her hand hanging in the air.
And she can't: she can't betray and hurt Arthur, whom she loves, and certainly not with Lancelot, who is so serious, so intent, who loves Arthur so. If she wants him, she has to leave with him.
So they have this instead, Lancelot raising back his gaze to her receding blush, a shared smile covering a small secret, insignificant for anyone but the two who keep it. Then Elyan is there, reigning in his horse next to hers, and then a squire, who takes the horses from them, and the rapport closes up.
"Elyan killed the boar," Arthur tells her after a hunt, and once they are detangled enough for him to speak clearly.
Gwen thinks she should say something about the advisability of mentioning someone's brother while making out – they're in Arthur deep red bed, she naked to the waist and Arthur still way, way too dressed – but doesn't have the heart. Resigned, she pulls back further, even as his lips follow her face, skimming clumsily over her chin, and she stifles a giggle.
"He's a great hunter."
Arthur is constantly impressed by Elyan; it's almost a little insulting, there's a certain sense of surprise that a commoner can be this good at anything he wasn't born to in it – he's met Lancelot under too different circumstances, was fooled by him first –, but she finds it a bit charming all the same.
"I know," she says; she used to wish that her brother wouldn't be so good at things other than staying home by the forge, but maybe things worked out for the best.
"But Merlin –" he begins, with that tone of mixed fondness and irritation, so that Gwen has to stop him with a kiss; Arthur has little time for hunts these days, so when he does, he drags Merlin with him still. She's glad that Merlin has Gwaine and Lancelot now, to rant to about Arthur, because she feels like she's a bad deposit for these complaints these days.
Arthur obligingly returns to kissing her, licking over her tongue, messy. His eyes, wide open and very blue are focused; she feels held by that gaze as by nothing else, and almost forgets the physical contact over it.
"Don't," she adds, mock severe, when they pause briefly, grinning, and lays his hand, deliberately, on her left breast.
"All right," Arthur says, quietly following the movement with his eyes, reverent almost.
Gwen smiles at him. There are the consequences of the war and the king's continuing illness still to deal with, but Cenred's army lies mysteriously defeated, the sorceress Morgause dead, Camelot's knights strengthened by the hardships; and (with time) Arthur will learn to distance himself from his father; the future that lies ahead looks bright and hopeful.