The trouble started one morning, on a rare warm and sunny day towards the end of winter, when the Lady Morgana decided she wanted to take a walk outside of Camelot. She wished to go somewhere quiet and secluded, away from the claustrophobia of a full season spent indoors by fires. She argued bitterly with the King when he insisted she take a number of guards with her, insisting that they would spoil the whole experience, and in the end she was confined to the castle for the day.
Thus when the next day dawned, Morgana's maid entered her bedchamber to find her already up and flitting about the room, gathering the things they would need for the trip. Gwen stammered and frowned as she laced up Morgana's corset and helped her into her clothes, but Morgana refused to listen to Gwen's worries. They quickly slipped from the castle, narrowly avoiding Prince Arthur near the stables by riding off before he had a chance to speak to them.
Gwen could hear Arthur's cries behind them as they left the city, but Morgana took no notice, and they were soon past the edge of the city and amongst the trees.
"Aren't you worried that Arthur's going the send the knights after us?" Gwen finally got
"Oh let him, I don't care what Arthur does. They can take me back to Camelot in irons for all I care, I just want a little solitude before then," Morgana said breezily with a wave of her hand, and tugged on her reins to send her horse off the main path.
"Um, Morgana? Where do you think you're going?" Gwen cried, pulling her own horse to a stop and peering at the narrow gap between the trees which Morgana had slipped through.
"To find that solitude. Come on Gwen, it'll be fine, I promise."
She could hear Morgana's voice, but she already couldn't see her, so it was with a sigh that Gwen reluctantly nudged her horse to the side as well and followed her lady into the denser trees.
So they wandered here and there, letting their horses take them where they would, carefully breaking branches and plucking at bushes to mark their path back. It was this way that they stumbled across a beautiful glade with no path in or out, but for a tiny stream. Morgana was delighted, and immediately dismounted and began plucking blankets from their saddlebags and brushing snow off some large rocks so they could sit, while Gwen gathered together the food for their lunch.
"Isn't this beautiful, Gwen? Definitely worth the tongue lashing Uther will give me in front of the court when we return," Morgana said as she bit into an apple with relish.
"If you say so," Gwen said in a neutral tone, but she couldn't completely hide the smile tugging at her lips. She was always so happy to see Morgana delight in things, and she was certainly delighting in their surroundings.
"Sometimes I wish I was simply a nobleman's daughter instead of a King's ward. Oh sure, being closely tied with royalty has it's advantages, but I do long for more days like this. To be able to spend time away from the court with someone watching my back and two people looking over my shoulder."
"This is very different to having lunch in Camelot's gardens," Gwen admitted with a laugh, and Morgana grinned and threw a grape at her.
Gwen had almost finished packing away the last of their things back into their saddlebags in preparation for returning home, while Morgana drifting absentmindedly about the clearing, trailing her fingers along the stark branches of winter-stripped bushes, when Arthur and his knights arrived. He immediately de-mounted to yell and stamp, but Morgana just rolled her eyes and continued her inspection of the clearing. Gwen carefully ducked their head and continued draping their snow soaked blankets so that they'd cause as little discomfit as possible during their ride, and listened to them argue.
"Honestly Arthur, you need to learn the value of opening your eyes and enjoying yourself," she said disdainfully. "Like here, amongst all this snow and all these bare branches, there are some beautiful wild roses."
The Prince didn't care, he opened his mouth to insist, yet again, that she get back on her horse immediately or he'd order the knights to force her, but she payed him no heed. Gwen looked up again out of curiosity to see Morgana elegantly bend over and pluck one blossom.
"See, Arthur. Beauty among the barren landscape of winter. Well worth the trip, I think," she said, and then she went to hold it aloft with a smug smile, only as she raised her hand she yelped and dropped the rose.
"I suppose the great beauty of winter has some thorns then," Arthur said with a roll of his eyes, but then his swagger towards her became a run as her eyes drifted shut and she collapsed.
Gwen panicked, and ran towards Arthur, heedless of the horses. She could hear the knights behind them, milling about and speaking in loud, anxious voices, but she didn't pay them any mind. Morgana lay awkwardly in Arthur's, only barely caught in time, and the rose lay nearby in snow. Gwen fell to her knees and reached for her lady at the same time as Arthur tried to shift her in his arms so that he could hold her more securely, and Morgana groaned in her sleep. Both of them immediately bent closer, calling her name, and begging her to wake up, but she simply wrinkled her nose delicately, muttered to herself a little, and then batted at their concerned hands.
A bright light seared Gwen's eyes, and she felt herself lifted and flung backwards. Lying in the snow, stunned and a little cold, she only had a moment to be thankful that she had not been flung hard before two concerned faces appeared over her and knights were helping her to her feet. She could see Arthur, a little further away, slowly being dragged to his feet with difficulty.
Some of the knights were crying out: magic; some were calling out concern for Arthur, or for Morgana, but mostly everything simply seemed confused. Nobody else approached Morgana, simply skirting around her if they needed to go near.
"Get blankets for the Lady Morgana to protect her from the snow," Arthur finally rasped. "Damn that was a hard throw."
"Um, my lord?" Gwen called out hesitantly, and gestured helplessly towards where Morgana lay and bit her lip. "I don't think the snow is going to bother her, somehow."
Arthur cursed, and then cursed louder still and drew his sword. For the Lady Morgana was now laying upon a living bed of blooming roses, and the plants didn't seem to content to stop there. There were slowly spreading across the ground, expanding outwards from where she rested. However, more importantly, some of the outermost blooms were intermingled with vines and branches, seemingly growing upwards from the ground. They were straight up in an unbroken circle around Morgana, and they were already fast approaching knee height while she seemed to peacefully slumber on.
"Knights, with me," Arthur cried. "We must free the Lady Morgana from this spell immediately!"
But the magical plants seem to hear the cry, and they grew faster and thicker still, until no matter how many knights took their swords to them it was impossible to reach Morgana, or even see her.
The King fell into total distraction when he heard the news. He took the fastest horses and the best of the other knights, and went straight to glade the following day. He returned the next day, and the day after that. He had people attempt to climb the plants, and to build structures to make them easier to scale. His servants took every possible cutting implement to them, including new implements forged in unusual metals and painted with strange herb brews known to poison plants, to no avail. His son only barely dissuaded him from setting the whole thing on fire, reminding him over and over that anything able to burn through those plants would also surely burn Morgana to a crisp.
Finally he subsided back to the castle, defeated and despondent, and lamenting her loss at every opportunity. Guards were placed in the glade night and day, and a small building was erected to provide shelter to them and to the many people from many schools of knowledge who were brought in to try something new and outlandish against the plants. Gwen visited as often as she could, which was frequently as Uther refused to replace her in the household in the hope that Morgana could be freed at any instant, leaving her employed but with little actual work.
The guards quickly became used to her settling herself in the farthest end of the clearing, next the the plant wall but away from the guard's camp, and talking. To Morgana, to her father, to the plants themselves, or even sometimes to nothing, Gwen would sit and ramble in the hope that Morgana would be reassured and somehow know she was nearby. Late one afternoon Merlin was arriving at the glade as she was leaving, and when she returned the next day he was curled on her usual rock, staring at the wall despondently.
"I'm sure Morgana would be strengthened to know you were here," Gwen said quietly once she reached him, making him jump in surprise, snapped out of his contemplation of the green vines. But he just smiled sadly, and murmured some nonsense comfort words before staggering back off home.
But eventually even Uther's stubborn hope seemed to hire, and number of assigned guards dropped, then halved, then reduced again to a solitary knight. No more exotic people arrived to give the glade their best try, and the hastily built quickly began to show signs of it's rushed construction. One night Gwen never went to bed, donning her cloak once the streets were quiet, and carefully leading a borrowed horse out of Camelot before riding furiously to the glade. She tied the animal to a tree, just out of sight of the entrance to the glade, and then walked off the newly hacked path into denser forest.
It felt a little like following Morgana into the trees again, on the day of their picnic and Morgana's bewitching. Her heart was in her throat, and it's beat was in her eyes as she tried to force her way through the bushes as quietly as possible and terrified of missing her target in the dark and wandering forever. Four times she had to stop, and press her hands to her heart, ordering it to be still and reminding herself that she did this for Morgana. She owed her so much, and had cared and been cared for in return for so long, that she had to try. Perhaps she only had her hands, with no fancy weapons or potion recipes, but she would never forgive herself if for not making the attempt.
But finally, finally, she reached her destination. The green wall seemed to shine through the trees, the unearthly green colour the only colour visible at this hour of night. Gwen could only barely see the glow from the campfire around the other side of the circle, and there were no sounds of movement or of alarm, so she stepped from the trees and pressed a hand against the vines. She'd done the same thing when she'd sat in the clearing and talked to Morgana, and they felt the same - rough and strong under her fingers, covered in tiny bumps and hollows and other imperfections, but this time they seemed to glow brighter under her hand.
First she tried climbing, forcing her hands and feets into the nooks and crannies where the vines twined together, but she had no more luck than anyone else and quickly slid back to the ground. So she went to work with the only tools she had to offer, her hands. She stuck her fingers into those same nooks and cranned and worked at prying them apart instead, she felt carefully along the wall for weaknesses and bigger gaps, and slowly it seemed as though she was making progress. But it was slow going, and dark, and sometimes she stopped and doubted herself. Still, she always returned to her work.
By the time the earliest morning light crept into the glade, Gwen had forced a noticeable hole in the vines. She almost called to the guard to help her, or get help, but something held her back. Instead, she kept working. The bigger the gap got, the easier they seemed to give way, until Gwen had pried and untangled a few inches deep of vines in a hole about the size of her head.
She gasped and flinched backwards when she felt the first petals on the other side, remembering the rose that had started this, but then she'd thrust her hand back in anyway. For Morgana, she told herself firmly, and kept working. She quickly realised, though, that these flowers had no thorns, and kept working with greater confidence.
Tears came to her eyes when she finally saw Morgana again. She still lay sprawled on a bed of rose blooms, looking exactly as she did just before the wall grew up around her, and peaceful. The plants seemed to fall away under the hands once she'd seen Morgana, falling away under her hands so that she could climb.
"Morgana," Gwen cried and dropped to her side, holding Morgana's face in her hands. "Morgana, can you hear me? You have to wake up, Morgana, please."
Morgana barely twitched though, and Gwen looked about her desperately, feeling the despair already building in her chest. Not enough, not enough, her mind chanted at her. As she looked up, she noticed the morning sky outlining the top of the wall.
The top of the wall that seemed to be shriveling. As Gwen watched, the ends of the vines reaching towards the sky began to curl over, leaning outwards. They didn't stop, and the curl began to pull them down. As they slowly turned towards the ground, Morgana shifted restlessly, causing Gwen's gaze to snap back down. When her eyes opened, she smiled sleepily, and placed a hand over one of Gwen's hands where it rested on her cheek.
"I had the most wonderful dream," she said as Gwen started crying and laughing, and then she reached up one elegant hand and pulled Gwen down for a kiss. "You were always talking to me. I can't remember the last time I had a dream as good as that."
"I did," Gwen hiccuped, and then desperately kissed her back. "I talked to you every day."
"Well then," Morgana said, and let Gwen help her sit up. The roses were shriveling away beneath her, and the vines were falling now, in dead, brown clumps around them, and the lone guard was sitting and staring at them stupidly from under the badly patched roof of his tiny hut, but Morgana kissed her again anyway. She kissed her long, and slow, and achingly tender, until Gwen had no breath left in her. "I suppose that makes you my knight, then."