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Just A Handful Of Stardust

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A philosopher once asked, “Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?” A pointless inquiry, really. The better question is, do the stars gaze back?

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Our story really begins two hundred and fifty years ago, with a young man, a baby, and a town called Wall. So named because of the wall that ran alongside it. A wall, that, according to local folklore, hid an extraordinary secret.

***

“Uther, please. You must go,” a young woman pleaded. She was tall, and as regal as royalty ought to be. “They’ll kill you, if you don’t.”

Her lover, Uther, stood stubbornly at her side. “Come with me, Ygraine. I won’t leave you at their mercy.” He reached out, stroking her long, golden hair in a comforting gesture. Not long ago, it would have left her weak in the knees. “I won’t cross the wall without you.”

A wailing sound interrupted her reply, and she started, having nearly forgotten the bundle in her arms. She made a soft shushing sound, rocking the bundle until the crying had eased. Turning back to the man, Ygraine tried to smile. “I cannot. As awful as they can be, Uther, they’re my brothers. My family. I cannot abandon them.”

Uther huffed. “Your father, Ygraine, he’ll have you killed if—”

“If he discovers Arthur. I know, my love, which is why you must take him away. Cross the wall. Protect our son, Uther.” Uther tried once more to object, but was silenced by the brush of her lips against his own. The bundle was pushed gently into his arms, and Ygraine pulled away. “Please, my love.”

Uther grunted in anger, but was careful not to jostle the baby now secured safely in his arms. “You want me to cross the wall— which no one does— and raise our child in the mortal realm without you? And leave you to be killed by your brothers.

“He’ll be safer with you, as far away from Camelot as possible. They won’t kill me, I’m sure of it.”

“I cannot do this without you, Ygraine. I don’t know how.”

Ygraine let her tears fall freely, now. She leaned in, focused entirely on the contents of his arms, now. Delicate hands moved aside the blankets and revealed the chubby, pink cheeks of their son. Leaning in, she pressed a hasty kiss on the sleeping child’s forehead. When her gaze returned to her lover, she was relieved to find his expression resigned. “You can, Uther. For him, you can.”

***

For hundreds of years, the wall had successfully done it’s job of hiding the magical kingdom of Camelot.

The young Uther learned, the night he crossed the wall, that Camelot was as much a legend in the mortal realm as the mortal realm was in Camelot. And so, heartbroken at the thought of losing his beloved Ygraine, Uther did his best to forget his life before Wall. Twenty-three years past, and the baby Arthur grew up, knowing nothing of his unconventional heritage.

But never mind how the infant became a boy. This is the story of how Arthur Pendragon becomes a man: a much greater challenge altogether. For to achieve it, he must win the heart of his one true love.

***

Arthur Pendragon had never been remarkable at anything. He was no great politician, though he always thought he’d be decent if presented the opportunity to try. He couldn’t draw or paint or sculpt, and writing beyond the realistic was never his forte. He’d done alright in school, gotten okay scores in mathematics and the sciences, and he could read as well as anyone else. Perhaps he could have improved on his studies, his father scolded, were he not daydreaming about knights and swords and great battles and rescuing damsels in distress. His imagination was nothing to be worried about, the villagers would say. After all, what shop boy didn’t dream of adventure?

Anything he did show proficiency in, well, Uther was adamant on shutting it down quickly. It wasn't that Arthur wasn't allowed to be good at things, per say, just that his father seemed hard-set on making sure no one except the two of them was aware of it. The boy had learned long ago not to question the man's overprotectiveness, lest he be met with nothing more than a cold glare and a weeks extra chores. So Arthur lived his life as average as he possibly could, avoiding any and all things that peaked his interest. All things except, of course, his soon-to-be lady love.

Arthur pondered his unremarkableness as he adjusted his collar, pacing nervously outside the Sidhe household. It was well after dark, but he knew the maiden of the house was often awake long after the rest of the village had gone to sleep. Taking a deep breath, the young man picked up a pebble and tossed it towards the second floor, grinning in satisfaction as it hit the window. He heard giggling, and quickly leaned down to grab the bouquet of wild flowers he’s collected earlier that day. As he stood back up, he was delighted to see Sophia open the window, her friends still giggling behind her.

“Valiant?” She called, leaning out.

Arthur cleared his throat awkwardly. “It’s Arthur, actually.”

“Oh,” she gave him a polite smile as the giggling died down. Arthur perked up a bit at the gesture, however small. Sophia Sidhe was the most beautiful girl in the village, by anyone’s standards. He'd known since he was thirteen and she complimented the brand-new jacket his father had gotten him for his birthday that she would someday be his bride.

“Did I leave something at the shop?” She tucked her long, copper hair behind her ear and glanced back into the room, shushing her friends.

“No,” he assured her, “I just thought I could bring—” He was cut off by a sharp whipping sound of the wildflowers being slashed out of his hand. He turned, only to find a foil pressed sharply against his chest.

“Arthur Pendragon. Shop boy by day, peeping tom by night. Is there no end to your charms?” The sickeningly confident voice sent shivers down Arthur's spine. Valiant, the towns own resident Gaston. Of course he’d be here. Why not?

“Valiant, there’s no need to be like that,” Sophia’s angelic voice called down to them, as if from the heavens. “Be nice to the poor boy.”

Valiant glanced towards the ground, smirking at the sight of the crushed wildflowers that Arthur had previously bee holding. “Ah, were those for Sophia?”

Arthur followed his gaze before looking back at Valiant. His foil was still pointed at Arthur, and in his other hand he held a bouquet of a dozen red roses. The blonde knew he could easily disarm the larger man, had he been allowed to nurture his natural skills. Still, as unpracticed at he was, he would not be made a fool of in front of Sophia. Arthur lunged, grabbing a large stick from the ground and swiping at Valiant with it. Valiant was quick to block the pathetic attempt, knocking the stick out of Arthurs hands and jabbing him with the foil. Arthur fell to the ground, landing on his back.

“You always were useless at fencing in school, Arthur,” Valiant snickered, moving away from where the blond still lay on the ground. Arthur groaned internally. “In fact, I’m having trouble remembering if there was anything you were good at.”

“Valiant, that’s enough,” Sophia called, her friends once more returning to their giggling. Arthur wondered if any of them had actual personalities. Valiant smiled at her, swaggering around the side of the house towards the front door without sparing another look at the young man on the ground.

“Are you alright?” Sophia asked him.

Arthur grinned at the attention. “Yeah, yeah. Fine.”

Sophia snorted, falling back into a fit of giggling as she closed the window once more.

As Arthur trudged home that night, he resolved not to tell his father.

***

Arthur ran down the stairs, taking them two at a time. He avoided eye contact with his father, who was sitting at their kitchen table looking as stern as ever. Throwing on his coat, he brushed off his father’s offer of breakfast.

“I’m really late for work,” he explained, running out the front door and slamming it behind him without another glance. Uther stared in amusement at the place where his son had just been standing.

Arthur smiled at the customer in front of the counter, counting out her change exactly and waving her out the door. It was a Friday, and the shop was packed with customers. He stared at the growing line forlornly, but continued to politely assist the customers as best he was able. He’d not been lying about being late this morning, and his boss was already in a foul mood. He found it was best to just do as he was told so as to avoid any more trouble.

“Hello, Arthur,” a sharp voice cut him off as he greeted the next customer. He looked to the right of the line, to find a familiar young lady who’d walked up to the counter.

“Sophia! Wha—”

“Pound of sugar, please.”

Arthur froze, his mouth opening and closing for a moment as he looked between Sophia and his current customer. The people in line looked at him expectantly, as were it anyone else they’d have been sent to wait their turns. He turned back to Sophia to do so, but one look had him quickly obeying her request.

“Let’s see, um, a bag of flour, a dozen eggs,” she continued to list groceries as he scrambled around the counter to retrieve her items. “Oh, look, I’m sorry about last night. Valiant was really rude.” She smiled innocently at the customers in line. “I also need a sack of potatoes and some chocolate, please.”

“Right.” Arthur stacked the items on the counter in front of her. “May I, perhaps, see you tonight?”

“No. But you may walk me home.”

“Wha— now?” Arthur asked, turning to see his boss still glaring at him.

“Yes, now.” Sophia turned, exiting the shop. Bad idea, Arthur. Terrible idea. You'll be sacked this time. Arthur hesitated a moment before lifting her groceries into his arms and following her out.

***

“Father, I lost my job.”

Arthur shook his head and rolled his shoulders, looking back into the mirror to attempt a more humble approach. “Father, I lost my job, I’m sorry.”

He groaned, running a nervous hand through his hair. “Father—”

“You lost your job.” A deep voice spoke from behind him. “Yes, so I heard.”

Arthur turned around slowly, doing his best to look his father in the eye. “Father,” he greeted. “I’m sorry. I— it was just, Sophia was there and I. . .”

Uther’s ever-present frown deepened. “Sophia? What does this have to do with the Sidhe girl?”

Arthur slumped his shoulders, gesturing for his father to sit as he explained the situation. He recounted the tale of the night before, leaving out their almost swordfight to preserve what was left of his dignity.  “Maybe Valiant is right,” Arthur concluded. “I mean, I’m not good enough for Sophia.”

“I take it it didn’t go so well last night, then,” Uther stated. It wasn’t a question.

“No. No, not really.” Arthur hated admitting to it. No matter their station, Uther was a man of pride. He believed soundly that admitting defeat was admitting weakness. “I mean, come on, I’m not like Valiant.”

Uther sighed heavily, reaching out to place a hand on his sons shoulder. “No, you’re not like Valiant. I take that as a very good omen. The people in this town, they'll never see outside it's borders, no matter how far they travel. You have a destiny far beyond what lies in this village.”

Arthur tried not to show his surprise at his fathers, well, fatherly behavior. His father had always been a strict man, regal beyond his station, and distant. Despite the harshness of his manner, though, Arthur knew his father only wanted the best for him. He gave the man an appreciative smile before standing. He had an idea.

***

That night, Arthur found himself once more outside Sophia’s window. Much to his relief there was no giggling as the pebble hit the glass. Sophia opened it and leaned out, groaning at the sight of the blond. “Arthur, I clearly said—”

“I know, you told me not to come. But I have something for you. A surprise,” Arthur looked up at her hopefully. Sophia rolled her eyes. He noticed she did that quite a lot.

She closed the window without another word, and Arthur felt the slightest bit of disappointment. He waited a moment, just in case she returned, before sighing and turning slowly to begin the walk home. Much to his surprise, Sophia appeared from around the side of the hour, taking his arm with a bemused expression. “It’s not my birthday for another week, you know.”

An hour later, he found himself in the meadow near the wall, Sophia at his side, as they feasted on fresh bread and fruit and champagne that he’d spent all of his savings on earlier that day. Candles surrounded them as they lay on a blanket, laughing at one of Arthurs earlier plights.

“So, how does a shop boy afford a moonlight picnic?” She asked, slightly tipsy from the champagne.

“I’m not a shop boy,” Arthur defended quickly.

Sophia seemed to realize her mistake. “Right, I heard, I’m sorry. What are you going to do now?”

Arthur sat up. “No, I mean, I’m not a shop boy. I was just working in a shop.” He popped a grape into his mouth before continuing. “And now I’m not, now I’m free to live my life as I wish. I’ve never intended to stay in Wall, I’m going to go off into the world and make my fortune.”

Sophia laughed. “You sound just like Valiant. He’s quite the traveler, you know. He’s gone all the way to Ealdor just to buy me a ring.”

“Ealdor?” Arthur laughed. “Sophia, I’m talking about Mercia! Or the Vale, or— wait, a ring? Why is he. . . what kind of a ring?” He felt something pool in his stomach, but he wasn’t sure exactly what to call it.

Sophia smiled. “Rumor is he’s going to propose to me on my birthday.”

Arthur frowned, feeling much like his father in that moment. “And you’re going to say yes.”

“Well, I can’t exactly say no after he’s gone all the way to Ealdor.”

“All the way to Ealdor?” Arthur asked her incredulously. “Sophia, for your hand in marriage I’d cross oceans. For your hand in marriage I would go to the golden fields of west Mercia and bring you back your weight in gold!”

Sophia giggled, blushing a bit. “Really?”

“Yes! Sophia, for your hand in marriage, I’d go to Africa and bring you back a diamond as big as your fist.” As he spoke, she began to lean closer to him, her champagne long forgotten. “Or I’d go to the Arctic and slaughter a polar bear and. . .” he swallowed as she got ever closer, “bring you back it’s head."

Sophia pulled back. “A polar bears head?” she exclaimed in disgust. He closed his eyes, realizing his mistake. She giggled more, reaching out to poke him. “You’re funny, Arthur. But people like you and people like me, we’re just not. . .”

He nodded in understanding and shifted away. He knew she didn't truly believe that, she mustn't, but he admired her loyalty to her family and station. Now, how to change her mind. . .

Had Arthur known then how the stars watched Earth, he’d have shuddered at the very thought of having an audience to his humiliation. Fortunately for him, nearly every star in the sky was looking in earnest at the land at the other side of the wall, where the King of all of Camelot lay in his deathbed. This was quite the coincidence, because it was the king’s final act that would change the course of Arthur’s destiny forever.

***

King Odin lay in his bed, looking, to his sons’ annoyance, as unimpressed with his children as ever. “Where is Agravaine?”

“He’s on his way, Father,” Mordred reassured the man, while sharing a look of understanding with his brother Sigan. Their eldest brother, Cenred, watched them silently.

“Then we shall wait,” Odin spoke harshly.

The doors to their fathers chambers opened loudly, and Agravaine swaggered in dressed in the red and gold of a king. The other three brothers rolled their eyes. “Sorry I’m late, Father,” he spoke loudly. He bowed low to the bedridden king before turning to his brothers. “Cenred. Sigan. Mordred,” he greeted each with disdain.

“So,” Odin began, bored already with the formalities, “to the matter of succession. Of my seven sons, there are four of you still here today. This is quite a break in tradition. I had twelve brothers, and-”

“And you killed them all for your throne before your father the king even felt poorly.” Cenred replied. “We know, Father. You’re strong and courageous.”

The king nodded. “And cunning. Most importantly cunning." He studied the four men before him for a moment, his gaze landing on the least inconspicuous of the bunch. "Agravaine. Look out the window, tell me what you see.”

Agravaine gave his brothers a cocky smirk, walking to the window. He stared out of it for a moment, admiring the view from the tower. Beyond the mountain where their castle was built, he could see Camelot, stretching out all the way to the east ocean. “I see the kingdom, father.” He grinned, turning back to the others. “The whole of Camelot.”

“And?” Odin pressed.

Agravaine puffed his chest. “My kingdom?”

Odin pretended to ponder. “Perhaps. Look up.”

Agravaine did as he was told, leaning out to get a better look at the stars. Odin turned away from his sons, exhausted with this conversation. Cenred grinned at his brothers distraction and leaned over to Agravaine, shoving him as hard as he could. Agravaine gave a sharp yelp as he lost his footing, falling out the window. The king and princes listened for a few moments as their falling relation screamed for his life, then silence.

Odin began to laugh. Mordred and Sigan looked at each other uneasily.

One moment, Agravaine was falling, and the next he found himself standing back in his fathers chambers, his face half-flattened by the impact. He looked down at himself to see the transparency of his hands, and heard the familiar laughter of three voices he thought he’d never have to hear again. Looking up, he was shocked to see three other transparent figures. One with an axe in his skull, one with his flesh half-burned, and one with a sword wound through his abdomen.

“Myror, Kanen, Helios!” Agravaine laughed. “You’re alive!” The three figures shook their heads, staring at him pointedly. “Oh, then I’m, uh—”

“Stuck like this till a new king is crowned,” Helios spoke, scratching at his sword wound.

Agravaine groaned. “I was that close!”

The half-burned man let out a chuckle. “Yes, well, at least you haven’t lost your looks.”

Agravaine rolled his eyes. “Oh, please, you’re not still upset over that whole murder thing, are you, Myror? I mean that was ten years ago!”

The third man laughed, throwing his head back. Agravaine ducked, narrowly avoiding the hilt of the axe in the mans head. “Lot of good it did you, huh? After all, you’re now king of all Camelot. Oh, wait, no you’re not, you’re dead.”

“Shut up, Kanen.”

The four living men in the room, oblivious to the exchanges of the dead, continued their debate about the rightful successor to the throne. Odin’s eyes had glossed over, and he turned to look at Sigan. “Ygraine? Ygraine?”

Sigan heaved a sigh. “No, Father, it’s me. Your son. Cornelius.”

“Where is your sister Ygraine?” Odin turned to look at his living sons.

Mordred rubbed his arm nervously. “No one has seen her in nearly fifteen years, Father. After her child was a stillborn and Uther ran off, she got weird for years. Then she just disappeared. We assumed the worst, don’t you remember?”

Odin frowned. Sons were born to fight and die, and the survivor would become king. But he’d always cherished his daughter. She had no claim to the throne and no male heirs, so he and his sons had allowed themselves to get attached to her, satisfied that she posed no threat. “Very well. We shall have to resolve this situation in a non-traditional manner.” He sat up weakly, removing an amulet from his neck. The ruby was about the size of a child’s fist, and as he lifted it from it’s place, the stone turned to a clear white crystal.

“Only he of royal blood can restore the ruby, and take his rightful place on the throne of Camelot.” Odin let go of the amulet, his arm falling limply to his side as he exhaled his final breath. The amulet, now glowing, floated above the kings body for a moment, as if examining the three remaining heirs in turn.

Mordred, Cenred, and Sigan all looked at each other, before simultaneously lunging for the stone. The amulet was having none of their antics, shooting out of their reach and out the window of the chambers. It soured into the sky, towards the stars, and blinked out of sight.

The three princes stood at the window, watching silently as a shooting star fell towards the Earth in the distance.

***

"Oh, Arthur, a shooting star!” Sophia exclaimed excitedly.

Arthur looked up, surprised to see that there was, in fact, a ball of light falling in the distance, clearly on the other side of the wall. He felt his heart constrict in his chest as if trying to pull him towards it.

“How beautiful,” Sophia continued.

Arthur turned to look at her, an idea forming in his mind. “More beautiful than a fancy ring from Ealdor?”

Sophia stared at the boy, confused as he took another sip of his champagne before placing it in the grass. “Sophia, for your hand in marriage, I’d cross the wall and I’d bring you back that flying star.”

Sophia blinked at him, no longer amused. “You can’t cross the wall. No one crosses the wall, now you’re just being silly.”

“I’m not being silly.” He wasn’t. For the first time in his life, Arthur was sure of something. He was sure that he was meant to cross that wall and retrieve that fallen star. For Sophia, if not for himself. Something told him it was meant to be. “For you, I’d do anything.”

Sophia thought hard for a moment, her eyebrows furrowing as she stared into her glass. “Hmm. My very own star.” She looked back at Arthur, as if seeing him in a new light. “It seems we have ourselves an agreement. You bring me that star, and you can have my hand.” She leaned in, clinking her glass against his. “You have exactly one week, Arthur Pendragon, or I’m marrying Valiant.”

***

Three hundred miles away, a young man with skin as pale as moonlight groaned and blinked open his eyes. He sat up slowly, taking note of the ache in his back. As he moved to stand, a sharp pain shot through his leg and he fell back to the ground with a cry.

The ground? Oh, this was not good.

He sat up once more, taking in his surroundings. Yes, he was definitely on the ground alright, and his ankle was twisted at an odd angle. Looking around once more, his gaze landed on a golden amulet a few feet away, inset a beautiful stone of clear crystal.

***

“Morgana! Morgause! Sisters, wake up!” And old voice croaked. The voice belonged to a woman, seemingly old enough that her age was undeterminable. Her skin was wrinkled and leathery, and what was left of her hair was in nearly transparent grey whisps around her ears.

 Two other woman groaned from the bed. Each equally as decrepid, and neither in any hurry to rise from their sleeping positions. “What is it, Nimueh?” Morgause asked irritably.

 “A star has fallen!” Nimueh shrieked, waiting for the words to sink it.

All three women stared at each other for a moment before erupting into excited shrieks. Morgana and Morgause tumbled out of the bed and chased Nimueh out of the bedroom to a storage closet down the hall. Nimueh opened the door and ran to a cabinet, throwing open the doors. “Where are the Babylon candles?”

“You used the last one, Nimueh. Two hundred years ago, do you not recall?” Morgause snapped, still half asleep.

“Perhaps we can obtain another,” piped Morgana.

Nimueh spun to face her sisters. “Has your mind become as decrepit as your face, Morgana? You speak as if such things are freely available! You’d have us hunting for a Babylon candle while some other witch finds our star. Fools. There’s no time to waste, we’ll retrieve it on foot.”

Morgana shrank back, turning to Morgause. Morgause rolled her eyes and wandered over to a wall of cages, each filled with creatures both common and exotic. She reached in to a smaller cage, murmuring comfortingly as she pulled out a ferret. Morgana looked away as her sister drew a knife and slashed the ferret across the belly. The cages erupted in shrieks and snarls, all ignored as the three sisters leaned over the small animals remains.

“The fallen star lies one hundred miles away,” Morgana spoke, reading the remains. “Four centuries we’ve waited for this. What hardship a few more days?”

“Which of us shall go, then, to seek it out?” Morgause replied.

The three sisters eyed each other, before closing their eyes and reaching towards the remains. Each grabbed an organ delicately before opening their eyes once more.

“I’ve his kidney.”

“I’ve his liver.”

Nimueh smiled cruelly. “And I’ve his heart.”

Morgana and Morgause rolled their eyes at her arrogant smirk. Morgause relented first. “You’ll be needing what’s left of the last star.”

Morgana sulked back to the cabinet, pulling out an ornate silver box and opening it, presenting the remains to Nimueh. “There’s not much left,” she spoke softly.

Nimueh grinned. “Oh, soon there’ll be plenty for us all.” She reached into the box, grabbing the silver, glowing contents in her palm. The raised her glowing fist to her lips, swallowing the remains of the heart. The three scurried towards full-sized mirror and Nimueh watched in satisfaction as the wrinkles on her hands began to smooth out. From her head grew long, rich dark hair and her lips darkened to a ruby red. Her sisters huffed as she dropped her robe, observing her newly rejuvenated body with pride.

***

“Cross the wall?” Uther repeated again, still frozen in shock at his son’s plan.

Arthur moaned. “Yes, Father. I’m going to cross the wall and bring back a gift for Sophia by her birthday.”

Uther rubbed his eyes, knowing already that he’d lost this fight. He’d always known the day would come that his son would want to travel beyond the walls borders. He’d tried his best to raise the boy with a sensible head on his shoulders, but Arthur had his mothers spirit. Still, Uther had to try. “Why can’t you get her a gift here in town? Or from somewhere nearby? There’s no need to cross the wall just for a silly girls birthday.”

Arthur closed in on himself, and Uther knew for certain the boy was hiding something from him. “There’s something specific I have to get. Something that can’t be found on this side of the wall.”

Uther wanted to press, but he’d seen that expression dozens of times before. Just never on his son. “You’re just like your mother, you know.”

The boy started, nearly jumping out of his skin at his fathers words. In the twenty-three years he’d lived with his father, the man had never once spoken of the woman who bore him. He’d asked loads of times as a kid, but given up after Uther had pointedly avoided every question. “Really?”

Uther nodded. “She was just as stubborn, knew what she wanted and didn’t stop until she got it. She loved to break the rules— though, admittedly, there were very few rules that actually applied to her.”

Arthur shifted closer to his father, latching on to every word. “What do you mean?”

Uther began to say something, then seemed to think better of it. “Her family was. . . different than others. She was quite spoiled, I suppose. But they were harsh, too. Dangerous. That’s why she asked me to run here, and take you with me.”

Arthur’s eyes widened. “What, you mean she’s still alive?”

Uther cracked a smile. “I hope so. I certainly like to think so. She wouldn’t be, not if her family found out about you. But she’s quick, likely thought up some elaborate story to cover our tracks.”

Arthur shook his head. “Father, you’re not making any sense. Her family?”

Uther stood from his seat at the table, looking down at the blond and laying a heavy hand on his shoulder. “I think it’s best I let her explain that for herself.” He moved over to the cabinet above the kitchen counter, searching for something.

“Wha— herself?” Arthur stood, pacing. This was too much to take in at once.

Uther walked back to the table. In his hand was a black box that Arthur had never seen before. “If you’ve made your mind up about crossing the wall, then this is as good a time as any for you to meet her.”

Arthur sunk back down in his chair. “My mother. . . lives on the other side of the wall?”

“Yes.”

“Did you live there?”

“Yes.”

Arthur stood, adrenaline fueling his anger as he began to pace once more. “This is too much. Why did you never tell me?”

“My first priority is to keep you safe, Arthur. As much as I’d have liked you to know your mother, she knew you’d be in danger there. I can’t explain the rest, she wants to tell you herself.” Uther lifted the box, opening it to reveal a thick black candle and a white glass flower, no bigger than his pinky. “You’ll never get past the guard at the wall. Kilgharrah takes his job very seriously. You’d end up back here with a black eye before the night was out.”

Arthur frowned. “I have to go, Father. To meet mother." And for Sophia. . .

Uther nodded. “I know.” He lifted the candle from the box, handing it to his son. “This is a Babylon candle. It was a gift from your mother. She wanted me to give it to you, when you were old enough to understand, so you could meet her.”

Arthur took the candle, examining it. “How is this supposed to help me get across the wall?”

Uther smiled, a rare sight even in the eyes if his own flesh and blood. “Light the candle, and think of your mother. Only of her, do you understand? The candle will do the rest. And here,” he took the flower, carefully placing it in Arthur's coat pocket, "for luck. It was hers."

The young man stared down at the candle, then looked back up at his father. He put his hand to his coat pocket, feeling the flower there. It was nearly weightless, but its presence gave him a form of comfort he wasn't familiar with. As skeptical as he was, Arthur knew his father was first and foremost a logical man. If he believed it to be true, who was Arthur to argue?

Arthur reached across the table, giving his father an awkward half-hug. It was most affection than either of them were used to bestowing upon each other, but he supposed it was needed in the moment. After pulling back, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a box of matches. A quick strike of the match and the candle was ablaze. Arthur barely had time to think before he felt himself disappear.

***

It was a strange feeling, travelling by candlelight. As if he were both here and there at the same time. He concentrated hard on the thought of his mother, at first. What she might be like, look like. Why she lived on the other side of the wall. At the thought of the wall, Arthur’s mind drifted to the star he’d seen fall and how excited Sophia would be when he returned with it. He felt himself be pulled, roughly, off his initial path and hours, minutes, seconds later he was crashing to the ground, landing on top of a warm body.

“Mother? Mother, I’m so sorry, I—” Arthur lifted himself up to find that he was, in fact, straddling a young man. “You’re not my mother.”

The man glared at him, and Arthur was caught for a moment in the startling blue of his eyes. He thought he could have stayed there for eternity, in that moment, before an annoyed voice replied “Do I look like your mother?”

Arthur let out a breathy laugh, moving off of the other boy quickly. “No. No, you don’t.” He stood, looking down at the boy in awe.

The young man gave a bitter laugh, shifting into a sitting position. Arthur took a moment to observe him. His skin was pale, almost worryingly so, and unblemished, as if he’d never seen the sun. His eyes, as the blond had noticed earlier, were a clear cobalt blue, making Arthur feel as if he could stare forever into them as he might the ocean. His hair was black, smooth and curled where it grew around his abnormally large ears. He was dressed in a silver silk tunic and close-fitting trousers, and there was a crystal amulet fastened around his neck. In the moonlight, he looked almost ethereal.

The boy cleared his throat, and Arthur realized he was staring. He tried to think of something to say. “Are you alright, then, do you need some help?”

“You can help by leaving me alone,” the boy spat, standing slowly and limping a few feet.

Arthur raised his hands in surrender. “Okay.” He turned, trying to figure out where he was. The ground was sloped up on all sides, and looked recently disturbed, almost as if he were in a crater.

A crater.

Realization dawned. “Light the candle and think of Mom. I was, I was thinking of my— but then Sophia and the star just popped into my head.” He whipped back around to where the strange boy was still limping. “Excuse me, this may seem strange but have you seen a fallen star anywhere?”

The boy stared at him for a moment. “Very funny.”

Arthur understood the boys disbelief, but pressed on excitedly. He spun around, his gaze landing on every lump and stone and root in the crater as he desperately searched for anything that might resemble a meteor of some kind. “No, really! We’re in a crater. This must be where it fell.”

The boy’s eyes hardened, and he gave Arthur a wide, false smile. “Actually, yeah, this is where it fell! Or, if you want to be really specific,” he pointed towards the sky behind Arthur, “up there is where this weird bloody necklace knocked it out of the heavens while it was minding its own business.” He gestured to the amulet.

Arthur blinked, not quite sure what the boy was trying to tell him. “What?”

The boy continued, ignoring him. “And over there is where it landed and injured it’s leg. And right here, well.” He looked Arthur dead in the eye. “This is where it got hit by a Magical Flying Clotpole.