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At the Start of the Feast

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The invitations had been extended through various emissaries, so the first time Morgan actually saw her brother who was now High King was in his hall at the start of the feast. She was surprised to find that she felt rather shy when she entered the room. After all, she had been raised in the grand, newly-built fortress of Tintagel before her family was ousted from it, and had spent plenty of time in the courts of her other kin, in their caers or villas. Camelot was grander, more ambitious and modern in its size and scope, but she wasn’t one to be awed by mere architecture, even in the best Roman tradition.

And she was eager to see her brother. The memories of her father’s death and Arthur’s birth were still raw for her, but her mother had loved Arthur, and her own gifts and those of everyone she had ever met who was like her told of his great destiny. She had resolved to try to love Arthur for Igraine’s sake, and she was keen to see what he was like and whether he would accept her counsel. She didn’t think she was shy about seeing him. Their meeting offered possibilities – for influence and recognition no less than for family and reconciliation. As for Merlin Emrys, well, they knew one another already. While he might think she had wasted her talents preparing curse tablets and the like for scorned lovers or unlucky gamblers, he had no right to condescend to her for downplaying her gifts. He, too, had often played the simple harpist or healer. They were very much alike, in some ways. She should be intrigued at the thought of seeing him again, nothing more.

Morgan pulled her mantle more closely about her as she strode into the hall. She had wondered earlier if she were dressed grandly enough. Arthur’s queen was rumoured to wear gowns of silk like the greatest ladies in Rome, and Morgan had never had such finery. But she reminded herself that she had other gifts which she would not trade for silk gowns. Besides, the rumours were probably just that. No one had really fine clothes or other luxury goods in these days, and even the High Queen lived in the same world and the same time as other people. Morgan knew this because she was technically the daughter of a High Queen, even if her poor mother’s marriage to Uther had heralded the end of her life. So Morgan willed her blush away and held her head high as she approached the empty seats at the round table.

The assembled guests all rose, except for a slim young woman wearing a gold circlet over her red-gold hair. Morgan was hardly slighted. She was no longer accustomed to anyone rising in her presence, necessarily, and she assumed that the girl with the bright hair was Arthur’s queen. Morgan smiled at her as she bowed her head.

“You must be my husband’s sister,” the young queen responded, with a small cautious smile of her own. She looked very shy herself. “Please, sit down.”

Queen Guenever’s speech made it obvious that she had not been born in a high court, which confirmed what most of the country gossip said. She might be like Arthur himself, then, raised in relative obscurity like a hero or a demi-god in one of the many traditions which were now dying out. Morgan supposed it might fit Merlin’s prophecies and visions, though she did not presume to know how his mind worked.

“Thank you,” Morgan said. She made her face a blank mask as she reflected that it was strange for a woman who was so much younger than she and from no better a family to be High Queen. But Morgan did not see herself as a worldly person, so she thought little of it for now.

She was about to take one of the empty seats when the young High King – her brother whom she had not seen in years – entered the room. This time, everyone stood up, including Queen Guenever. Of course: it would be a great breach of etiquette otherwise. Morgan stood tall, inclining her head again, though only for a brief moment before her gaze darted to her brother’s face. She could not help herself: she was too fascinated.

The sight of him sent a small chill up her spine. There was definitely something of their mother Igraine in his bright colouring. The shape of his face, however, was very like King Uther’s, and it took all her willpower not to curse that face in her mind before she realized that Arthur’s features were softer, his expression kind, if distracted. She had to grant him that.

Arthur met her gaze and the blood drained from his face.