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Sparring Partners

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"Thank you," Forridel whispered when they were together again. She wasn't supposed to be here. She hadn't told Aglain that she knew any of Uther's household, only that she'd been lucky to escape the city alive. "That servant of Arthur's, it was you who sent him, wasn't it?"

Morgana nodded. "There was a whole list of names, but I told him where to find you and what you looked like. I didn't believe you were really one of them, but I couldn't stop thinking what would happen if–"

"Shhh," said Forridel. "We knew what we were doing. All of us who choose to live in Camelot know there are risks." There were also benefits, some she hadn't counted on. "Right now we need to concentrate on getting you well. Later we can figure out what to do about Uther."

*

Forridel had gone to Camelot last year thinking she'd purchase the supplies they needed – including a dagger and a sword – and return to the camp the next day. She certainly hadn't expected the King's own ward to show up at the blacksmith's shop. But Forridel barely had a moment to panic before Tom grinned and greeted her, "Lady Morgana, so good of you to come. Gwen said she's feeling much better today, said she could go back to work tomorrow, but let me go and get her."

"There's no need," Morgana said quickly. "Let her rest, I only came to give her –"

"But it's no trouble, and she'll be glad to see you." Tom shocked Forridel by interrupting the noblewoman. "You just wait here. Talk to Forridel if you like – first woman I ever met that just might know more about swords than you and my Gwen."

And that was the beginning, two minutes alone in a forge, and Forridel barely able to believe she was actually talking to this girl, this young woman. To believe that such a woman could be loved and protected by the man who'd murdered so many of Forridel's people. To believe such a woman was friendly to blacksmiths and servants and strangers, that she had a lilting voice and an easy, brilliant smile.

Somehow by the time Tom came back (by the time Forridel was able to look at Tom's beautiful daughter and think, taken), Morgana had already suggested they get together the following day to practice sparring without any of the boys around, and Forridel had already agreed.

Forridel took the food and the tools and the dagger back to the encampment. She told Aglain she had work keeping her in Camelot.

She didn't tell him she'd made a contact within the castle. He would probably say it wasn't safe for Forridel to even talk to the Lady Morgana, let alone teach her how they fought in the wild. (Morgana, in turn, taught Forridel some things she hadn't known about Uther's knights and their weaknesses.)

She didn't tell Aglain she'd met a beautiful woman and wanted to be around her, let alone that she liked seeing the high flush on her cheeks or hearing her pant when they'd been fighting for hours.

Months went by like that. Forridel kept it secret from the druids, Morgana kept it secret from the castle, and they both kept secrets from each other.

Forridel didn't tell anyone, not even Morgana herself, when she began to suspect that the king's ward had more in common with Forridel and Aglain and Mordred than with the man who'd raised her.

When the time came, Forridel thought – Forridel knew – Morgana would be on their side.

*

When Arthur's servant came to tell them of the arrests, of the king's threat to execute all those who hadn't got away when Forridel did, Morgana said she wouldn't go back, that she'd found her people and needed to stay with them.

"Morgana," said Forridel, taking her hand, "the ones in Uther's dungeons are your people too. If you would not see me burn, if you would not let them take Mordred, or Aglain, or this friend of yours" – the boy's eyes were wide with surprise and fear. But really, it was easy enough to see he was more than a friend, he was one of them. "If you care for us, and for yourself, Morgana, do not hide out here and let other people suffer for your sake."

Aglain came into the tent then, and he had no time for anger at Forridel or the boy because Arthur and his men were on their way. "We must flee," said Aglain.

"No," said Morgana. "I can't run with this foot…and I don't want to hide." She squeezed Forridel's hand and reached for her sword. "We must go to them, together, and tell Arthur the truth. If he accepts it, we'll be safe."

"And if he doesn't," Forridel finished for her, "we know how to fight."