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Lighting Candles - Part Two

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Uther was a hard man, stern and implacable in his hatred of magic and all things he did not understand, demanding perfection in all things he thought he did. Morgana rejoiced, over and over, that she was not his son. Arthur's desperation to please his father seemed obvious only to her and the girl from the town Uther had appointed to be her maid. For every success of Arthur's, Uther demanded more and more. For every failure, his disapproval chilled the castle. Morgana was glad indeed not to be his son; her role was easier. Uther doted upon her, heaping her with presents and the delicate, detailed education a princess of a far greater realm might have wished for. She was his decorative, clever daughter, and as long as she was beautiful and witty she could not disappoint him.

"You look lovely," she said to Gwen as they sat in Morgana's chamber after the Midwinter feast. Downstairs the men were still talking and drinking, their cheerful, loud voices drifting up indistinctly. "All the young men were watching you – they were!" She laughed at Gwen's amused expression.

"It's the dress they saw," Gwen said, smoothing her hands over the skirts. She glowed in the gown's ruby-tones, Morgana thought, watching the candlelight flicker on her face and clothes as she moved. She resolved at once to give Gwen more of her dresses, her pick of whichever she wanted, so that she would glow in all the colours of the rainbow. She was no longer the slightly awkward girl she had been when she first came to the castle, and neither was Morgana. They were both growing up, both having men look at them with more than amusement at their childishness. One day soon, Morgana thought, Gwen would look back at one of those young men and would be luckier by far than she would be. Gwen could choose who she wanted, it was Uther who would choose for Morgana.

The men's voices sounded clearer below as they moved out into the courtyard. Morgana opened the window and leant out, watching them mount their horses and form up behind the king. Their merriment was a little more muted now as they set out for the Midwinter sacrifice, though the whole castle would be woken when they returned, all their torches ablaze and their voices loud in song, the bull's blood still on their faces.

"A cold night," Gwen said, reaching past her to close the window again.

"Yes," Morgana said, her eyes on Arthur, sitting straight and silent in the saddle, his eyes on his father's back. She was seventeen years old, and this year or the next, Uther would start looking for a suitable husband for her, someone her father would have approved of. She would marry and have children, and her sons would follow their father to the Midwinter rites, hoping they would one day be perfect enough for his love. Her daughters would be left to her, to teach as she wished – but she had nothing to teach. She could remember almost nothing of her own mother's lessons.

"Gwen," she said, "could you bring me fresh candles, please?"

Gwen did as she was asked, and watched Morgana put them in her best candesticks. She wished she had her mother's branched candlestick, but this would have to do. She lit them and though it was long past sunset, and she struggled to remember more than half the words, she welcomed in the Day of Rest, and imagined she felt her mother's hands on her own as she covered her eyes.

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