The tension in the air was thick. Morgause could taste the terror of Arthur’s servant, could feel not only Arthur’s fear, but his determination to uphold his given word. Even as she raised the axe high, ready to bring it down upon his neck, the prince did not flinch or shrink away.
Slowly, she lowered it and stepped back. “You have shown that you are truly a man of your word, Arthur Pendragon.” She gestured, bidding him to stand up. She bit back a laugh when he and his servant both gaped at her incredulously.
“That’s it?” Arthur sputtered. “You had me come here just to see if I would uphold my word?”
Morgause shook her head. “No, that was a test, to see if you had the strength of purpose to hold to what I would ask of you.” Nodding toward the staircase that led into the keep, she said, “Come with me.”
Arthur nodded and indicated that she should lead the way. She turned to do so, but movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention. Arthur’s servant was moving to follow them, and she stopped. “Your servant must wait for you here,” she informed him. What lay ahead was not for the eyes of spectators.
The prince eyed her for a moment, and then turned to his servant. “Stay here, Merlin,” he ordered.
The servant jerked, his eyes wide. “Arthur -” he started to protest.
Arthur opened his mouth to repeat the order, but Morgause intervened. “Your master has shown himself to be a man of his word,” she stated. “I can be no less, and so I give you my word that no harm will come to him within these walls. He will be returned to you, safe and whole.”
The boy stared at her, blue eyes sharp and narrow. He was clearly mistrustful, but Morgause had made her point, and in any case, she had no intention of harming Arthur. What she required of him need him to be of sound body and mind.
Without waiting further, Morgause turned on her heel and started up the steps. A moment later, she heard the heavier tread of Arthur’s boots on the stones behind her. It pleased her, but just to be safe, she whispered a small shielding enchantment, which would prevent the boy, Merlin, from pursuing them.
This moment had been months in the making. It had been hard, choosing to pursue this path. A darker, more vengeful part of her longed to follow her original plan, to summon the spirit of Ygraine from beyond the veil, to place a few well-chosen half-truths in her ears, and to have her whisper those half-truths into the eager ears of her son. Morgause did not have to be a seer like her half-sister to know that Uther would be dead within a day if that route had been chosen.
But the Druids had urged her to think again. Yes, they would be rid of the traitorous king and would have his son in his place, but they pointed out that Arthur was, at heart, a good man. His anger would fade and be replaced by self-loathing and guilt, and he would ultimately lash out at those who had set him on the path of patricide, and all those associated with them. Then they would have another holocaust of magical beings on their hands, only one infinitely worse than the one that had come before.
“Show him the purpose of magic,” one of the elders had urged her. “Show him how it nourishes the land and connects all those who dwell on it. Show him what it should be, Morgause, and we will have an another ally within Camelot.”
Morgause had wondered what other ally they could possibly have within Camelot. Surely not Gaius, who had betrayed their kind and kept faith with his precious king. She had asked, but the Druids were notorious about keeping secrets and said that when the time was right, she would know.
Irritating as the Druids were in their pacifism and mysterious natures, they were also wise. She took their words to heart, and reconsidered her options. In time, she had realized that the night of high summer was approaching, which would set the land on the path toward the time of harvest. The old traditions of that time were benign, meant only to celebrate the land’s gifts and to bolster them in the time of plenty. In short, it was a perfect avenue of demonstration.
Morgause led Arthur into the ruins of the castle’s old council chamber. Much of it was overgrown, full of vines and grass, but one could still make out the walls and columns. The numerous lit candles gave the room an eerie, exceptional glow. It was a beautiful combination of nature and the touch of man.
They both came to a halt at the altar which lay in the center of the old chamber. Turning to him, she asked, “I don’t suppose you were ever taught about the old rites, the ceremonies performed throughout the year in service to the land, were you?”
Arthur, who had been looking around, taking in his new surroundings, faced her and shook his head. “No, nothing like that. My father would never have allowed it.”
Of course not, Morgause sneered inwardly, cursing Uther. It was travesty enough that he had betrayed his own oaths and left the bonds between the land and the king to rot, but to willfully leave his son and heir completely ignorant of them was an even greater crime. There was only so long one could go without the rituals before the bonds broke down completely, which would likely happen within a few years if something wasn’t done to stop it. Uther might not live to see that day, but his son surely would, and he would have no way to rectify the situation, no knowledge of what to do.
Taking a deep breath to steady her temper, Morgause set about explaining the ties between the ruler and the land, of how the one nourished the other. She told him of how the old kings had kept faith with the ceremonies, and how they had prospered for centuries, until the Romans had come from the lands beyond the parting sea. The traditions had had to be performed in secret, lest the Romans and their priests find out and attempt to burn those who performed them, but had slowly returned to the open once the Romans had retreated back to their own barbaric lands. The new kings that had come to power in the aftermath of that retreat were people who at the very least respected the old ways, sometimes even genuinely believing in them.
“Your mother was a great believer in these traditions,” she added. “She and your father participated in the rites every year until her death.”
Arthur perked up. “My mother?” There was a hungry, desperate quality to his voice, and something like pity stole through her. It was horrid that he knew so little of Ygraine, that Uther had let her legacy to their child fall into the dust.
“Yes,” she assured him. “I think she even hoped that she and your father might conceive a child during the rites, though it never occurred, sadly.” It had been nearly a century since any royal child had been conceived during the ceremonies.
Arthur nodded. His eyes were bright and inquisitive and Morgause could see how he longed to ask more questions about Ygraine, but to his credit, he restrained himself. Instead, he straightened, and asked, “What is it you require of me?”
Now they came to it. Seeing no point in delaying her point, Morgause answered him. “I wish for you to participate with me in the rites.”
He blinked, clearly thrown. After a moment, he shook his head. “I am not the King of Camelot. I can’t -”
“Your father broke faith with us when he turned his back on magic and outlawed the rites,” she cut him off harshly. “In doing so, he gave up his right to be recognized as king by the land and the magics of old. The rites do not need such superficial things like crowns and coronations. You are the son of Ygraine, who died with her belief, and that is enough.”
He didn’t respond, and she could see the conflict on his face, clear as day. On the one hand, he had given his word to take up whatever challenge she set before him. On the other, he still felt the pressure of his loyalties to his father. Narrowing her eyes, Morgause brought a bit more pressure to bear, telling him that the rites had been left in abeyance for so long, that it wouldn’t be long before the lands would soon begin to show the lack of support. “If they haven’t already,” she added. She gave him a pointed look. “Have not your harvests been growing less and less successful these past few summers?”
Arthur’s eyes widened, and then narrowed suspiciously. “How do you know about that?” he demanded.
Morgause rolled her eyes. “I can feel the land’s pain, young prince!” she snapped. “Anyone with any magic in them can! It is buckling without the ceremonies and the worship it requires. Your father’s betrayal has literally starved the land, and it won’t be long before the very fabric of nature unravels!” She glared at him. “And when the land goes, your people won’t be far behind.”
The anger slowly trickled out of Arthur’s face and his shoulders slumped. Morgause knew then that she’d won, even before he finally nodded, acquiescing at last.
Morgause had made the majority of the preparations even before Arthur had come through the waterfall and into the castle keep, and thus they were able to begin rather quickly. Magic swirled through the chamber and the candle fire danced from it as she chanted the ancient mantras that hundreds of priestesses had chanted before her. The air grew heated and heavy, and removing her dress and his chain mail were irritating delays. When Arthur lowered her onto the grass and settled between her pale thighs, his straining manhood slipping inside her, the sense of exultation and relief nearly made her sob.
The land sang. Its king had returned at last to give what it needed.
The land also proved generous. Months after Arthur departed her castle in thoughtful silence, his servant in tow, Morgause’s body ripened.
In the legends to come, the son of Morgause would be remembered. Sadly, they remembered him as a bad fruit, fusing him with the boy Mordred, naming him as the one responsible for Arthur’s fall at Camlann. No one remembered Sir Gorlan, the man with dark eyes that flared gold and had the ability to wield a sword that rivaled the king's.
No one remembered if the king knew the knight was his son.