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The Gifts She Gave of Flesh and Breath and Bone

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Morgause is born shouting, her voice fierce and triumphant and the wet wisps of hair that curl across her head clarion-gold. She is a fighter from the very beginning. Her grip is firm on Vivienne’s fingers, hard but not painful, like a claim.

Morgana is quieter at first, bald at first. Her hair grows in the same raven-dark as Vivienne’s and she learns to laugh when Morgause tickles her or scream when she hungers, but Vivienne worries for Morgana all the same, her frail and lovely daughter—the king’s bastard, like a hidden fortune in pearl and onyx, vulnerable to anyone who discovers her.

Gorlois is a good man, and Vivienne knows the honor of being his wife. He wants a family with her. He wants to carve out a space for them all in the kingdom Uther is building. Vivienne loves him as she loves the days in summertime that linger sweet and golden over ripening grain.

She shares his bed contentedly, as she shares his life, as she is content with the world when it is stable and ordered and magic sings softly at the edge of her hearing like the distant rush of river-water.

Uther is—even in the early days of his reign Vivienne would never have described him as a good man. He is frightening, with a sheer force of presence that leaves Vivienne breathless; he is glorious. She never wonders why Ygraine de Bois would marry this man born a common soldier, or why even the Lady Nimueh is willing to call a man so unlike anyone else she knows not only ally but friend. Uther passes through crowds like a falling star, like a fire and an omen of change.

He comes to Vivienne only once, and she is lost under the weight of his regard: exalted, illuminated, ablaze and undone. It is no honor that he offers her, only passion that must be held in secret, but she wants him, helplessly, despite that—wants him as she loves thunderstorms, the searing spears of lightning and the bone-rattling drums of thunder, the magic that pounds against her skin with every glittering drop of rain.

Vivienne conceives Morgause after months of trying, of taking strengthening tonics and lying still after she and Gorlois have coupled. (Ygraine tries the same methods, fruitlessly, and Vivienne feels soft pangs of guilt that later sharpen to knives.) Their firstborn was going to be a son, a warrior like Gorlois to serve his king and the family’s good name.

Morgause is a girl but she looks like her father nonetheless, with his determination—fiercer, brighter, but still at heart the same.

Vivienne conceives Morgana by accident, over half a month before Gorlois comes back from the season’s battles. There had been no tonics, no careful stillness, but her courses don’t come and she beds her husband almost with more fear for herself than relief at his safe return. (Ygraine finds rare ointments and has Vivienne rub them into the pale skin of her belly, and Vivienne feels sick with the knowledge that she has Ygraine’s husband’s child growing within her.)

She didn’t dare have expectations for this second child, but Morgana—well. Morgause is already shaping herself to be a warrior; Morgana can, after all, be Vivienne’s gift to her religion.

Morgause’s eyes flash gold when she’s still very young, and the candles dance at her command.

“No,” Vivienne breathes. No. Nobody will hurt her children, not even the mad king, not while she has breath left in her body and a single jewel or coin from her dowry to buy them shelter.

She sends Morgause away to save her, and when baby Morgana cries herself to sleep and then screams herself awake again Vivienne holds her against her heart, singing soft old songs: lullabies and dirges, promises never again to part.