The sky was blue and clear. Only a single cloud could be seen in the horizon. Igraine had called them lonely clouds. Left behind from their brother or sisters, or formed too early for the others, drifting in the big blue sky hoping to find more. Uther had teased her that that was crazy. Clouds didn’t have feelings. Igraine kissed him every time, smiled and said “Maybe you just need to broaden your horizons?”
Igraine couldn’t call this one a lonely cloud because she was in the box being lowered into the ground.
It was just a stupid cloud.
His arms were heavy from carrying Arthur. He couldn’t seem to put him down. He had held the newborn babe through the funeral service and the wake. Now, as she was finally lowered into the freshly dug pit, Uther tightened his arms around Arthur. It was the only sign he gave. Surrounded by his weeping friends, his business partners and people he didn’t know, Uther stood stone faced and solid, the quiet baby in his arms.
The baby had been excellent, as if he could tell his father was barely holding it together. He had fussed only two times, both of which Uther had been able to quiet him quickly.
He watched as his best friend, Gorlois, shoveled the first heap full of dirt onto the coffin. People had expected Uther to do that. But Uther needed to hold Arthur and that was much more important.
“Sorry,” the cascade of books from the library shelf hit his head and knocked him sideways, unprepared for the assault.
“I’m so sorry! Are you okay?”
Looking up, Uther almost couldn’t breathe. She was gorgeous. With long blonde hair in a simple braid, wide blue eyes filled with worry and killer legs in short shorts that made Uther infinitely happy universities did not have the same dress codes as the boarding school he had attended.
“You’re amazing,” Uther blurted out. Blushing furiously, Uther tried to backtrack. “I mean, it’s okay. I’m fine.”
“Are you sure?” she asked.
“Yes,” Uther straightened up and made sure his dress shirt hadn’t been wrinkled.
“A bit dressed up for a study session,” she had noted with an air of amusement.
“I’m studying business, we have this important meeting for third year students with actual heads of corporations,” Uther said importantly, doing his best to look impressive. “It’s very important. I was just coming to look up a few of the labour laws before we headed in.”
It was a much better cover story then sneaking into the library to read Lord of the Rings before meeting with his father and his associates. Lord of the Rings always made him forget about the pressures and stress of the real world for a few seconds, but it would hardly impress a girl.
“Corporations are evil,” the girl had shivered in disgust. “Do you really want to work for one?”
Did he? No. Would he? Yes. He was a Pendragon and he would take over Pendragon Incorporation and then his son would take over it and so on.
“Sorry, maybe I missed it because of this concussion I’ve got, but what’s your name?” Uther asked, switching the subject away from his family.
“I’m Igraine, and you?” she smiled. It was the best smile in the whole world.
“I’m Uther,” he greeted, shaking her hand on impulse and causing her to giggle. “I, um, probably should go. But, maybe we could get a bite to eat?”
“I don’t know ...” Igraine hedged. “I’m really busy. And I really don’t know you. Give me some time to think it over, okay?”
Uther had never been so close to begging in his life.
“But how will I find you?” Uther asked, as she started walking away.
Igraine threw her head back laughing and then sent him a crooked smile that sent his heart racing. “I guess you’ll need to get creative. Oh, and to look up that law, you might have more luck in the law library across campus. This is all fantasy novels.”
With a flash of golden hair she disappeared out of the aisle.
Arthur kept crying. He would wake up and nothing Uther did could soothe him. He wanted to scream that he knew he wasn’t his mother; that he wasn’t Igraine, but she was gone and this was all he could have. Instead, in the dark solace of his son’s room with cartoon owls and overlooked by stuff toys, Uther cried with his son.
“Seriously, you are spending too much time in the library,” Gorlois said as he lay out on his bed. “I mean, if you want a date that badly, I think Vivienne has some friends.”
“You didn’t see her,” Uther said. “She was unbelievable.”
“You’ve worked this girl up in your mind so much, you’re probably walking right by her and not seeing her, because you’re expecting some goddess,” Gorlois teased, his concern lacing his tone. “Come on, mate, its Friday night and you had to meet with your dad this week twice. You need to loosen up.”
“I’ll swing by after the library,” Uther promised.
Uther needed to get back to work. The house was driving him insane. The living room was filled with Igraine’s laughter, the kitchen with her voice, their bedroom with her scent. He felt trapped in the walls, immobile and struck dumb with pain. It was too much.
But there was Arthur. He kept Arthur with him at all times, as a buffer between the pain and the ghost of the past. The few tuffs of hair were a white-blonde and Uther wished every night that he would take after his mother. The world needed Igraine, but since it could no longer have her Arthur would have to suffice. Arthur needed to be protected; he needed to be cared for.
He had interviewed eight nannies and each one had been less than impressive.
“I think you’re being too hard on yourself,” Gorlois said, worriedly when he and Vivienne came over to make him dinner. “When was the last time you had dinner?”
“I fed Arthur just an hour ago,” Uther growled, hating how his old friend hovered and mothered him.
“I’m not talking about Arthur, Uther,” Gorlois said. “I’m talking about you. Having an actual meal. Don’t even try to lie to me. I know it’s been since she passed away. You need to take care of yourself. Arthur needs you to take care of yourself.”
Gorlois had always been able to make him feel so small at times. He hadn’t had a meal since Igraine had been taken from him. Food tasted like ash in his mouth, and he had more important things to worry about – such as Arthur. Feeding Arthur, bathing Arthur, changing Arthur, burping Arthur ... nothing else existed in the world.
“I need help,” Uther admitted, allowing his trusted friend to see how deep he was wounded.
“I know,” Gorlois said, holding his shoulders tightly. “Vivienne and I have talked about it. I have so many meeting in Tokyo right now with this merger coming up, and Vivienne hates being home alone. And you know how much we love Arthur. Why don’t you let Vivienne be his nanny? You know we love him like our own. We’re family. Let us do this for you.”
Feeling gutted and hollow, Uther nodded.
“Igraine!” Uther called out, waving perhaps a bit too enthusiastically at the sight of the blonde-haired babe.
“Uther?” she asked, and Uther couldn’t help his heart leaping with joy that she remembered his name. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh, just looking for a few more labour laws,” Uther quipped, happy when he made her laugh. She had an amazing laugh, the way she would throw back her head and her eyes crinkled with mirth. He could get used to her laughing.
“You must really be bad at researching law if you keep looking for it in the fantasy section,” Igraine teased.
“That would explain it,” Uther laughed. “So, it’s been two weeks. Have you thought about it?”
“Straight to the point,” Igraine smiled brightly. “I like it.”
“And?” Uther prodded.
“I guess a date would be nice,” Igraine said. “But, only if you tell me the truth.”
“The truth?” Uther asked, wondering what she was going to ask him.
“About why you were here, the first time,” Igraine said.
Shuffling his expensive loafers against the scuffed library floor, Uther debated what was more important: his dignity or this date. He looked up at the Igraine waiting for his answer, and knew he had to go out with her. There was just something about her; he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
“I did have a meeting, but I was here to read a few pages from Lord of the Rings, because it calms me down,” Uther admitted, blushing a deep red. “Which I know is lame ...”
“I love Lord of the Rings,” Igraine gushed.
That first date they discussed Tolkien in and out, going over each character no matter how minor, and then arguing about international policies over pizza at the corner restaurant that had cheap plastic booths and smoke stained ceilings. Uther walked her back to her dormitory, learning that she was a second year Political Science major, that she wanted to save the world one starving child at a time, and the smell of dill made her sick to her stomach. Their first kiss was in front of her room. It was quick, and chaste, but Uther thought it had to have been the most perfect kiss in the world.
“I’m not inviting you in,” Igraine had told him. “I’m not that easy. Goodnight Uther.”
It was only afterwards that Uther realized he still didn’t have her number.
Vivienne had long dark hair, almost black. She was quick witted, ruthlessly intelligent, and Uther had always enjoyed spending time with her. She and Gorlois had been dating for years, since first year University. Uther had many fond memories of the adventures the three of them used to have. Before Igraine the three of them had been practically inseparable.
“First day back?” Vivienne asked, as she changed Arthur’s diaper. Despite never having her own child, Vivienne had proven to be a highly effective nanny. She had taken to Arthur with the care of a person who truly loves children.
“Yes,” Uther said simply. Today would mark the return of Uther as the head CEO of Pendragon Industries, the media monopoly which owned practically every newspaper across the UK. “I just want to say goodbye to Arthur.”
“Ready to say goodbye to Daddy?” Vivienne asked, lifting a newly changed Arthur off the changing table. She passed him to Uther. “He’s going to work now. Have to wish him good luck.”
“Bye Arthur,” Uther said quietly kissing him lightly on the top of his head. “You be good for Aunt Vivienne.”
Looking down at the baby, he wasn’t ready for Arthur to blink wide as his mouth turned upward in a full blown smile. It was his first smile. Uther almost called out for Igraine to come see. But Igraine wasn’t there. She would never see her son smile.
His arms started shaking.
“Uther?” Vivienne said. “Uther, you need to go.”
“I can’t,” he said, holding Arthur closer.
“Arthur will be fine,” Vivienne told him gently, lifting Arthur out of his arms. “We’re going to have fun today, you are going to go back out into the real world, and when you come home, there will be a lovely dinner waiting for you.”
Nodding, Uther took one last look at the gurgling Arthur, picked up his suitcase and left.
“Son, I have been hearing about your grades for this term from the Dean, an old friend of mine as I’m sure you know,” his father said, sitting at the head of the table and eating his steak in small bites, and chewing endlessly on each piece. “It seems you’ve gone down by five percent. This is unacceptable Uther, it’s your last term and your marks must be excellent if you wish to take over the family business one day. Is there something I should know about?”
“No father,” Uther lied, rolling his potato back and forth with his fork.
“Stop that,” his father snapped and Uther dropped his fork. “According to Lord Godwyn, whose son I believe plays footie with you, it would seem you are dating. I’m surprised you would try to hide this from me.”
“I wasn’t hiding it,” Uther denied. “I didn’t realize you would be interested.
“You’re my son and your grades have obviously been effected by this change in your lifestyle,” his father continued. “I want to meet her. Next Sunday, when we have are weekly dinners, bring her.”
“Of course Father,” Uther said, because no one argued with Lord Pendragon, especially not his son.
Work was overwhelming. One month in and he was still drowning in paperwork.
It had been a rude wake-up call to realise that the world had not ended when Igraine died. The world had not stopped turning, people hadn’t stopped living, and time had continued to pass. It was the rough punch in the face he had needed.
Vivienne spent half the time at his place with Arthur and only went home when Gorlois was back from his most recent trip. Gorlois seemed to be spending more and more time away, and Vivienne was quickly becoming irreplaceable in the Pendragon household.
Still, every now and then, he would wake in the dead of night; sure that Arthur was going to die. Uther would sneak into his nursery and sit in the rocking chair beside Arthur’s crib, watching his son sleep. In those times, where no one could see him, he would feel the pressure of the world on him.
Igraine would have told him he was being dramatic.
It was after a rough day at work, after dinner and putting Arthur to bed, that he saw Vivienne crying on the couch. He sighed and grabbed a bottle of wine and two glasses to take with him as he joined her on the couch.
Rubbing fiercely at her eyes, Vivienne accepted the glass of wine and took a large gulp.
“It’s our anniversary next week, and Gorlois just called to tell me that he wants to stay in Hong Kong because he thinks there’s a chance that they might rescind on their offer,” Vivienne said. “But it’s because he doesn’t want to be with me. God, Uther, I don’t know what to do.”
Uther didn’t know what to say, so placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.
“I’m sorry, he’s your best friend,” Vivienne apologized. “I used to talk to Igraine about these things. She always seemed to know just what to say.”
“She always did,” Uther agreed. It was the first time they had talked about Igraine, and suddenly it was too much, too soon. Tears streamed down his face, and he couldn’t stop it. “I’m sorry.”
“No, no, it’s my fault,” Vivienne hugged him close. No one had hugged him since Igraine. During the funeral and the wake, Uther had stood silent and untouchable, a babe in his arms and a blank look in his eye. It felt so good, to be this close to another human being, to take comfort in them.
“I know how lonely it’s been,” Vivienne murmured, as Uther clutched her tightly against him. “I know.”
Uther wasn’t sure who moved first, but soon they were kissing, both desperate for someone to make them feel loved, accepted, whole. They never moved off the couch, as clothes were pealed back and flesh was bared for lips to touch and take.
Uther woke in the middle of the night naked on the couch to Arthur fussing over the baby monitor. Vivienne was gone with a note that simply said; I’m sorry. This was a mistake.
“My father might seem a bit intimidating,” Uther said, straightening his tie for the seventh time. “But as long as you don’t bring up politics, or money, or religion and act like you’re from the eighteen-hundreds, everything should be fine.”
“Uther,” Igraine said, wrapping a hand around his neck and kissing him deeply. “I promise to be on my best behaviour.”
“I’m more worried about him,” Uther admitted. “He’s not an easy person.”
“Well, luckily, I don’t plan to go home with him tonight. His son on the other hand,” Igraine teased, cupping his butt seductively and giving him a wink.
“I’m serious,” Uther said impatiently, angry that Igraine wasn’t treating this more seriously.
“I know,” she said softly. “Uther, I promise to try my best, but at the end of the day, I want to be with you and as long as you feel the same, your father isn’t going to scare me away. Even if he is the Dark Lord Sauron reincarnate.”
Uther couldn’t help but smile at that. Igraine could always make him smile. Kissing her quickly before they headed out to their doom, Uther simply said, “I always want to be with you.”
The dinner was not a disaster. Igraine’s family was well-off, but not part of the old aristocracy that the Pendragon line hailed from. In this day and age, there was such a blur between the two lines, that Igraine proved herself more than capable at passing each one of his father’s tests. Uther was pleased to see his father become more and more resigned to the fact that Igraine was someone who was going to be in Uther’s life.
That night, in Uther’s bed, when their breath returned after a round of celebratory “we survived meeting your father” sex, Uther couldn’t keep it to himself anymore.
“I love you,” he admitted, still shaking from the aftershocks. “I’ll always love you.”
“I love you too,” Igraine whispered, smiling brilliantly up at him. “My nerdy, aristocratic, library stalking man.”
“How could you?” Gorlois punched him in the face. Uther couldn’t even fight him. He deserved to be hit, punched, tossed out a window. “You slept with my wife!”
Arthur started to wail in his playpen.
“Shh, Arthur, it’s alright,” Uther tried to comfort him from where he sat spitting out blood on the floor.
“You’re my best friend,” Gorlois raged, kicking out and catching him under the ribs. “How could you betray me like this?”
“I’m sorry,” Uther gasped, “But please, Arthur ...”
Gorlois blinked. He looked over at where Arthur had pulled himself up in the playpen. He was red faced and wailing obviously frightened by the shouts and the violence. Igraine would have hated Uther for letting Arthur see something so horrible. Igraine would have hated Uther for sleeping with another woman, especially one of her married best friends.
“Damn you Pendragon,” Gorlois said, sinking onto the couch and covering his eyes. Uther gingerly got up and limped over to Arthur. Picking up his whimpering son, he tried to calm him down.
“I’ve got you Arthur,” Uther promised. “Shhh, it’s okay.”
“I can’t even look at you,” Gorlois said, as Arthur finally quieted, but still looking as if he was about to go off in any second. “I can’t even look at you.”
“I know,” Uther said his heart was a stone in his chest. There was so much he could try to say, try to apologize, try to explain, but there was nothing he could do that would make this okay. So instead he held his son and watched his best friend fall apart because of him.
“I’ve found a new nanny,” Uther finally said. “I understand if ... if you don’t want to see us anymore.”
“Not right now,” Gorlois agreed. “It’s too soon.”
“I understand,” Uther said, and he did. But after Gorlois left, and Uther fed Arthur his bottle, he had never felt so alone in his entire life. Gone were his wife and his best friends.
It was as if he and Arthur were on a separate island, buffered by storms, completely apart from the rest of the world.
“Eyes closed?” Uther asked, guiding Igraine into the student pub.
“Yes,” she huffed, still annoyed at having to close her eyes and be led around. “What’s going on?”
“Well, I’ve heard this rumor that it was my girlfriend’s birthday this weekend,” Uther said, grabbing her around the waist and urging her further and further into the room. “And since she’s this amazing person, I knew that something had to be done. Open your eyes.”
“SURPRISE!” People shouted, leaping out from behind the bar and tables. Vivienne had done up all the banners, which now wished Igraine a happy birthday across the bar and every table.
“Oh my ... I always wanted a Surprise Party!” Yrgaine laughed. “How did you know?”
“You told me,” Uther reminded her.
“No I didn’t,” Igraine argued.
“Yes, remember, it was our second date and you said that your brothers had each had a surprise party, and you really wanted one,” Uther said, smiling smugly at being able to win this argument before it even began.
“You remembered that?” Igraine asked softly.
“Of course he did, the love sick fool,” Gorlois laughed, messing up Uther’s hair and pulling him into a one armed hug. “He’s had us working on this for ages. You should see the cake.”
Sending an amused glance back at a blushing Uther, Igraine walked over to the large sheet cake, on which was a map of Middle Earth. Laughing, she jumped into Uther’s arms and kissed him deeply in front of everyone.
“You’re amazing,” she said breathlessly.
“Not as much as you are,” he muttered, feeling a bit uncomfortable to be this close with so many people watching them, but feeling too good to let it get in the way.
“Ugh, before these love birds make us lose our appetite, let’s dig in,” Gorlois teased. “Viv, my sweet, would you like a drink?”
“Of course,” Vivienne smiled, leaning over to take his arm.
“Dada!” two year old Arthur raised his arms determinedly up towards Uther. Despite the stack of work in front of him, Uther sighed, and placed Arthur on his lap, still concentrating on his work.
“Dada bounce!” Arthur demanded. Uther bounced his knee half-heartedly as he finished another letter of correspondence to one of their major sponsors. Clapping his hands with glee, Arthur laughed madly at being bounced up and down. Finally, smiling down at his son, Uther leaned back and tickled the toddler on his lap.
“Dada no!” Arthur screamed, kicking his little feet out.
Laughing Uther stood up, and zoomed his son around the room. “Here comes flying Arthur the great! About to land!”
Screaming out, Arthur giggled, as Uther pretended to crash him against the couch. He made sure to make the sound effects that Arthur loved so much.
“Oh no! Better check if there’s any survivors,” Uther said seriously, leaning down to press his mouth against Arthur’s exposed stomach and blew a raspberry much to Arthur’s delight.
“Uther, the hospital just called,” Igraine said. Uther had known something was wrong from the moment he had seen her pale drawn face. They had been living together for a year now, ever since Uther had graduated and started working for his father’s company. Their small one bedroom apartment was nice, and quaint, close enough to the University for Igraine to finish her degree.
“What’s happened?” He asked.
“It’s your dad,” Igraine whispered. “He had a heart attack.”
“Is he ... is he okay?” Uther asked. “I, what hospital was it? I should get there. He’ll want me to be there.”
“Uther, wait, he didn’t make it,” Igraine said, tears spilling down her cheeks. “He didn’t make it Uther.”
“What do you mean?” His brain seemed unable to process the words. “He’s not ... he can’t be ...”
Igraine just held him tight. As Uther’s mind finally clicked into place and his knees gave out. Gasping for breath they sank down onto the floor together.
“You’ll be okay,” Igraine murmured. “You’ve got me. You’ve always got me.”
“Daddy?” Arthur asked, almost three he was still blonde and blue eyed. Everyday Uther saw more and more of Igraine in Arthur. It was a painful joyous wonder to watch a part of her survive in the world.
“Yes Arthur,” Uther asked, undoing his tie. It had been a busy day at work, and he had been late picking Arthur up from daycare.
“What’s a Mommy?” Arthur was stubbornly pulling at his shoes, having gotten upset recently if anyone tried to help him. He missed Uther closing his eyes in pain.
“A Mommy is ... like a Daddy,” Uther tried to explain, but his voice trembled and his hands shook. “But it’s a woman.”
“Oh,” Arthur said, finally succeeding in pulling off his shoes. “Do most kids have mommies?”
Swallowing thickly, Uther said, “Everyone has a Mother.”
“I don’t,” Arthur argued.
“Yes you do,” Uther said. “Igraine. She’s your mommy.”
“Who’s she?” Arthur asked, looking up quizzically and full of wonder at the thought of having a Mother.
“Come here,” Uther said, picking up his son and taking him upstairs. It seemed impossible that Arthur wouldn’t know Igraine. When everyday Uther thought of her, felt her with him. There were still pictures of Igraine on the mantel piece, in the hallway, in Uther’s study and of course their bedroom. He had never had it in him to take them down; even when it was so painful they would tear at his heart.
Pulling out a cardboard box where he had kept the important trinkets, Uther set Arthur on the bed and opened the box beside him.
“Your Mom died when you were born,” Uther explained. “But Igraine, she’s still your mother. When she held you, she loved you more than anything else in the entire world. Because Mothers, like Fathers, love their children so much, it’s what they live for.”
“Then why did she die?” Arthur asked. “If she loved me, then why?”
“She didn’t want to,” Uther croaked. “She wanted to stay with you forever, but she couldn’t.”
Clearing his throat, he blinked his eyes dry a couple of times, and started to take things out of the box for Arthur.
“Here, this is a picture of her,” Uther said, showing a picture from the surprise party he had thrown for her when they had first started dating. Igraine is so young, smiling up at the camera as she ate Hobbiton.
“She looks like an angel,” Arthur whispered, holding the picture in his small little hands as if it were the most precious thing.
“She looks like you,” Uther pointed out. Arthur is wide eyed as he seemed to memorize the picture. They go through the items of the box, with Uther explaining each object, telling Arthur about his mother. Finally, as Uther goes to put the box away, he hesitates.
In his hands is almost all he has of Igraine, but as Arthur’s hungry gaze trails after the box, he realizes what he must do. He has his memories, Arthur does not even have that. Straightening his back, he turns to Arthur.
“How about we find a special place to put this in your room?” Uther suggests, making Arthur grin and look up at him as if Uther is the best hero in the entire world.
“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” Uther reminds her. “If we’re caught, it’s completely your fault.”
Igraine just grabs his hand and rolls his eyes.
“Uther Pendragon, has anyone told you that you’re a stick in the mud?” Igraine asked.
“Yes. It was you as a matter of fact, right before you convinced me to wear nothing but bright pink boxers for charity,” Uther reminded her. “And the time before that you said it right before we were almost caught doing it in the Dean’s office.”
“Are you complaining?” Igraine asked, and Uther had to sigh, because he wasn’t. Igraine was always up for making things exciting. It was always an adventure, a new prank, another jump into the unknown.
“Still, skinny dipping?” Uther whispered, his voice echoing around the empty pool chamber.
“Don’t worry,” Igraine said, shrugging out of her sundress to show she had come prepared. She hadn’t even worn knickers under it. She quickly jumped into the pool and called out for him to join him.
Glancing around, Uther quickly got rid of his clothes and joined Igraine in the pool.
Uther found out about Morgana eight years after the affair. He hadn’t spoken to Vivienne or Gorlois since Gorlois had punched him in the face, and the first time he heard about their deaths it was to say that he had a daughter who was going to be living with him. Uther had a hard enough time keeping up with Arthur, but now he had a little girl with dark black hair and deep blue eyes that looked upon him with distrust.
Arthur had taken a dislike for Morgana. Uther couldn’t tell if it was because he was in a girls are yucky stage, or if he felt threatened by the sudden appearance of a sibling he had never known.
Morgana seemed to take a dislike to both Uther and Arthur. She had lost her parents suddenly and ruthlessly when their plane crashed just off the coast of Ireland on their way back from a North American conference for Gorlois’ work. Uther didn’t know how to deal with a child who had been through such trauma, and taking her to a therapist seemed to make her hate him more.
“Perhaps a trip?” Gaius suggested. He was the pediatrician he had found for Arthur when he had started school. “I’m no expert, but it might help them bond a bit.”
“Or I’ll pull out all my hair in frustration,” Uther sighed, running a tired hand through his greying hair.
He took Gaius’ advice though. That weekend he piled both kids into the car and he drove one hour to the zoo. During that time he had to tell Arthur note to poke Morgana, Morgana not to scream in Arthur’s ear, Arthur not to steal Morgana’s book and Morgana not to hit Arthur with the book.
It was a complete disaster. Uther lost his temper on the way back, after the zoo manager had managed to politely insinuate that his children were made of the devil, Uther had never been so humiliated in his life.
“How dare you behave like that?” He roared, his face beat red and a vein or two popping out. “You two are Pendragon’s and when you are out in public you do not yell. You do not spit. You do not kick. You do not act like animals! You are nice, polite and well-mannered. I have never been so disappointed in my entire life! You are both grounded for one week. You will apologize to each other, and then you are going to write a page saying why you do not behave like you just did! Is that understood?”
Both children mumbled in the backseat.
“I said, is that understood?” Uther yelled back at them.
“Yes,” the finally said.
Nothing seemed to work, until little Gwen Smith somehow became friends with both of them. Arthur and Morgana still bickered, but Gwen seemed the perfect balance needed to keep things friendly.
Uther, from that second on, always had a soft spot for Gwen. She had, after all, saved his sanity.
“Will you marry me?” Uther asked Gorlois, pulling out the ring.
“Yep, sounds good,” Gorlois said, ordering another pitcher of beer. “Don’t know what you’re so worried about.”
“So, you weren’t nervous when you asked Vivienne?” Uther scoffed.
“Of course not, I love her, I know she loves me, why would I be worried about asking her to marry me?” Gorlois laughed. “Uther, you and Igraine are one of those rare, perfect couples. They’re rare as hell, and believe me, there is no way this isn’t going to work for you guys.”
“Right,” Uther muttered, looking down at the ring in the box. “But maybe I should make it more special.”
“Igraine hates when you go all out,” Gorlois reminded him. “This is perfect.”
“And you’ll be the best man?” Uther asked, grinning up at his best mate.
“Of course I will be,” Gorlois laughed. “You would be lost without me!”
The next night, Uther felt sweaty and gross in his suit. Igraine was dazzling as ever in her beautiful, classic dinner dress. How Uther made it through dinner with the ring burning a hole in his pocket, he would never be able to recall. In the years to follow, he wouldn’t be able to remember what he ate or drank. Finally though, as dessert was served, he got down onto one knee, and the speech he prepared completely left him.
“I love you,” he said, his heart beating so hard it felt like it would fall out of his chest. “You are amazing, and being with you makes me a better person, a person I want to be. If you give me a chance I promise I will do everything I can to make you proud. Because you’re the one. Will you marry me?”
“Yes,” Igraine cried, yanking Uther off his knees and up into a kiss. He very barely realised that the other patrons in the restaurant were applauding. He was too busy kissing his fiancé to care.
The summer Arthur was ten and Morgana was nine, Uther decided to give them a project to work on as a family. They were going to build a tree fort in the yard. It was one in a long line of family projects Uther had attempted. All the others had failed miserably and usually resulted in one if not both of the kids being grounded.
Uther cut his work hours down, hired a new assistant named Geoffrey Monmouth who was ancient as the hills, but a dedicated worker.
That summer he taught Arthur and Morgana how to hammer nails on the board, measure and saw the pieces of plywood and together, slowly, they built the ugliest tree fort Uther had ever seen. He didn’t mind though, he was just happy that one of his projects had finally worked. Arthur and Morgana had Gwen and a number of their other friends over to show off their new tree fort.
When Uther went out to check on them, he heard them laughing and playing. Before his eyes, he watched Morgana trip on a root, and fall hard against the ground. About to run over to check on her, he stopped as Arthur ran to his sister.
He watched as Arthur checked the wound and said something that made Morgana smile. Uther could see that it was just bruised, and smiled as Arthur and Morgana sat together, away from their friends and Arthur cheered Morgana up.
For the first time in years, Uther felt hopeful that his small, fragile family would be okay.
“You can’t just invite my parents!” Igraine yelled, tossing the guest list in his face. “I haven’t talked to them in years. And I don’t want them there.”
“Igraine, its tradition,” Uther tried to justify his actions.
“And you think I give a crap about tradition? It’s our wedding. We can do it the way we want. If we want to do it in the nude, we can do it in the nude. You can’t just hide behind tradition to do something so underhanded as inviting my parents!” Igraine argued, her face splotched red with anger.
“Well, I’m sorry if I thought I should invite the only parents who are still around to make it,” Uther snapped. “I didn’t realize it would be such a big deal. I was being polite. We can uninvited them.”
“Didn’t realize it was such a big deal?” Igraine laughed, but there was no humour in it. “My parents are mean, hypocritical, conniving, obnoxious people who I hate. I haven’t talked to them in three years. Three! And you just thought it would polite to invite them without telling me?”
“I just didn’t think,” Uther said.
“That’s right, you didn’t think,” Igraine snapped.
“Where are you going?” Uther asked, as Igraine grabbed her coat and headed out the door.
“I’m going for a walk, and by the time I get back you better have uninvited them,” Igraine said, slamming the front door on her way out.
A slam of the front door informed Uther that his teenagers were back home. This was immediately followed by the loud bickering of Morgana and Uther as they moved into the hallway. Uther sighed and quickly got off the computer where he had been working from home that day. Arthur and Morgana had entered a new stage where they hid up in their bedrooms and barely spoke to Uther.
From what Uther could overhear Arthur had either bullied or pranked someone who might or might not have been a nerd, depending on which version of events was to be believed. Children, Uther believed, should come with detailed instructions to help parents navigate these situations.
“What’s this about bullying?” He interrupted, and he could see from the shared panicked looks, Morgana hadn’t actually planned on telling him about this, despite what she had been threatening Arthur. That was the one downside to working so hard to bring the two together; they now made silent pacts against Uther to protect the other when they did things which would get them into trouble.
“Nothing,” Arthur shrugged. “Just a prank.”
“So, if I were to call the school and ask about a Will in your grade and ask what sort of prank you played on him – what would the school tell me?” Uther asked, sending his best disappointed look at Arthur he had perfected over the years.
Arthur was now shuffling his feet guiltily against the stairs, unable to look Uther in the eye.
“Arthur, you’re grounded, go to your room,” Uther said.
“What? You don’t even know what happened!” Arthur yelled. “That’s completely unfair!”
“Fine. Tell me what happened and we’ll decide whether you deserve to be grounded, or you can just go to your room and be grounded,” Uther gave Arthur the choice. He watched his son open and close his mouth a few times, before stomping up the stairs and slamming his bedroom door. Morgana hesitated for a second.
“What Arthur did was stupid, but it’s better than if had let Valiant do it,” Morgana said finally. Valiant was a boy Uther wasn’t too fond of who played on Arthur’s football team. He didn’t like the way the boy had eyed Morgana, who was still just fifteen. It would seem he had found another reason not to be fond of Valiant. “His friends made him. Don’t be too hard on him.”
Nodding so that Morgana knew he had heard her, Uther went up to Arthur room. He didn’t bother knocking, just went straight in, and sat on Arthur’s bed. Arthur was busy ignoring him, his Ipod blaring music loudly in his ear. He waited for Arthur to stop playing his music.
“Why did you pick on Will?” Uther asked, when Arthur finally turned off his Ipod.
Arthur just shrugged.
“I just want to understand how you could do something which is so unlike you,” Uther said.
Again Arthur stayed silent and moodily stared at the wall.
“You’re going to tell me Will’s last name, we are going to call him up, and you are going to apologize,” Uther said.
“What? I can’t call Will up, it would be social suicide,” Arthur moaned. “If any of my footie mates heard about it, I would be the laughing stock of the school.”
Uther looked at his son, and he felt such a pang of hurt. He imagined Igraine, who had worn bright pink underwear for charity and wanted to save the world one starving child at a time, hearing her son talking like that. In that moment, he felt the guilt and pressure of the years, and felt like he had somehow failed her.
Silently getting up and walking out of the room, he stopped at the door.
“I’m happy you mother couldn’t hear you talk like that,” Uther finally muttered, taking his leave.
He heard Arthur cry that night, and when he cracked open the door, he saw the box of her things open and scattered around the room.
The next day he heard Arthur on the phone to someone named Will.
She drifted down to him. She was an angel in white, beaming, glorious, perfect and his. She walked without a father to give her away. When she reached him, Vivienne stood on the other side and Gorlois beside him. As they said their vows and exchanged rings, Uther knew he would never be happier in his life.
Morgana had her first boyfriend when she was sixteen. His name was Leon, who had enough scruff on his face Uther had thought he was at least twenty, not seventeen. Arthur had assured Uther that Leon was in his class, and one of the best guys he knew.
It was hard, watching her go on movie dates and out to dinner. He thought of his date with Igraine and wondered if the restaurant with cheap plastic seats and smoke stained ceiling would still be there. He just hoped Morgana had Igraine’s standards.
Arthur still hadn’t dated anyone. Everytime Uther brought up the subject; Arthur would turn red and run out of the room.
“We should have kids,” Uther said, kissing along Igraine’s flat stomach.
Igraine laughed and threaded her fingers through his hair.
“Is that right?” She murmured.
“Yep, lot’s of them,” Uther leaned up and kissed her cheek. “So many we can have football matches between them all.”
“No, no way, maybe two or three, but no more,” Igraine said. “Maybe four. You might convince me of four.”
“You wouldn’t want to have more?” Uther teased.
“You push a watermelon out your ass and then we’ll talk about more than four,” Igraine promised.
But it wasn’t that easy. At first they just thought they were unlucky. Then they started to be scared. By the time they made their appointment at the fertility clinic, Uther and Igraine would hold each other late into the night, unable to voice their fears, but able to find comfort in each other regardless.
Their doctor in the clinic, a Nimueh gave them the bad news on a rainy Thursday afternoon. Uther’s sperm count was normal, but Igraine was unable to have children. When they got home that night, Igraine cried in his arms, and all he could do was hold her close and keep telling her he loved her.
Merlin arrived in Uther’s life so fast and so speedily that Uther did not have time to even wonder where he came from. Arthur was just turned eighteen when suddenly it wasn’t just Arthur. It was Arthur and Merlin. Where was Arthur tonight? Oh, Arthur and Merlin are at a party at Leon’s. How was Arthur’s studying going? Good, Arthur and Merlin have been going over things for hours. How’s the game? Okay, Arthur and Merlin are making some popcorn for it.
Merlin was a goofy looking kid, big ears, big smile, stick-like figure. He was at the house when Uther got home; having dinner with them because he had stayed late studying or playing one of the video games; he has breaking Uther’s favourite vase, helping Arthur wash the dishes and helping Morgana find her cell phone.
It was slightly bothersome, because it was getting so rare for Uther to spend any time with just his kids, but then he watched Merlin make Arthur laugh so he threw his head back and his eyes crinkled in mirth. He watched as Arthur helped raise money for a charity Merlin felt strongly about. He sat back and didn’t say anything when Merlin gave Arthur the Lord of the Rings to read. No matter how many vases Merlin broke, no matter how many times he interrupted family time, Uther couldn’t help but be grateful. Because he brought out all the parts of Arthur that had been Igraine, and as far as Uther could tell, those were the very best parts.
“Please, there must be something,” Uther pleaded in Doctor Nimueh’s office.
“There is a procedure, but it’s very risky,” Nimueh explained. “I can give you the information if you would like, but you must really think this over. It costs a lot of money, and there is no guarantee that it would be successful.”
“My wife is ...” Uther said. “Let me show her the options.”
That night, with the pamphlet’s from Nimueh’s office, Igraine shuffled through the papers and read about the different risks with various procedures. That night, as they sipped their tea watching the evening news, Igraine simply turned to Uther and said, “Let’s do it.”
And that was it.
Two months later Igraine was pregnant.
“Dad, can we talk?” Arthur asked, hovering in the door to Uther’s study.
“Of course, come in,” Uther said, leaning back in the chair and rubbing a tired hand over his face. “What’s this about?”
“I just ... I need to tell you something, about me,” Arthur said, shifting in his seat, unable to get comfortable. “I’m gay.”
Uther blinked. He leaned back in his chair and tried to say something, anything, because he was sure that the silence was probably not good.
He hadn’t known, hadn’t even thought that Arthur might be gay. Arthur was into sports and didn’t like artsy movies. There had been no indications that Uther had been aware of, nothing to prepare him. He wasn’t sure how he was supposed to react.
“Do you hate me?” Arthur whispered, and Uther saw the little baby so quiet in his arms at his mother’s funeral, the child who asked what a Mommy was, and the one who had looked at Uther like he was a hero. Getting up, he pulled Arthur into a hug, realising as he did it, that it had been way too long since he last embraced his son.
“You can think I’m old fashioned, or senile, or incompetent, but don’t you ever think I hate you Arthur Pendragon,” Uther demanded. Arthur sniffled into his neck, clutching back at his father desperately. “Nothing can make me hate you. Nothing. I’m always proud of you.”
Unable to say anything, Arthur just clung tighter. Uther gladly held him, as he did all those years ago, but this time it wasn’t Uther that needed it, it was Arthur.
Finally, breaking apart, he reached behind him and gave Arthur some tissues.
“Do you ... do you think Mom would have been okay with it?” Arthur asked, looking nervously at Uther.
“Your mother convinced me when we were still dating to wear bright pink boxers and collect money for a charity which helped youths coming out to their parents,” Uther told him, sitting back down at his desk. “I wish now that I had kept one of those pamphlets.”
“She did?” Arthur looked amazed.
“Yes, of course I mostly said yes because she was going to be there wearing nothing but a pink bra and underwear,” Uther reminisced, as Arthur looked slightly disgusted at the thought of his father and mother in their underwear. “I can safely say she would not have cared in the slightest.”
Arthur nodded and turned to leave, and then paused.
“I, ugh, I have a boyfriend too,” Arthur said.
“And who is it?” Uther asked.
Uther groaned. He had known he would never get rid of that kid.
“Thank you for telling me, I will be sure to lock away any expensive or breakable things in the future,” Uther said drily, causing Arthur to laugh and smile the crooked smile he had gotten from his mother.
There was a lot of blood.
The doctor said there had been complications. His newborn son wasn’t breathing and he watched the tiny red mass as the doctors worked on him. Then he would glance down at Igraine, half out of it from the drugs in her veins. The scrubs he wore crinkled as he stroked her sweat stained face.
“Where’s Arthur?” She asked. “Where’s my son?”
Uther couldn’t say anything; he gripped her hand and watched the doctors’ work. He couldn’t lose them. He couldn’t lose them. If both Igraine and Arthur didn’t make it, he had nothing to live for. In that moment, Uther was the most scared he had ever been.
Then he heard a shout of congratulations, and his son started to wail. Arthur let the world know of his arrival waving tiny fists and screaming at the top of his lungs. The doctor swaddled him in a baby blue clothe and brought him over to his parents.
“He’s beautiful,” the nurse said, but when they took Uther aside, they were white faced and tensed.
There was hemorrhaging and clots and Uther could not understand what they were telling him. Finally, with a somber voice, the doctor said, “There’s nothing we can do for her.”
Uther didn’t hear anything else; he stumbled back to Igraine and their son. Bile burned the back of his throat as he brought one arm around her shoulders and the other helping her hold their son.
“My beautiful Arthur,” she murmured her eyes dark and bruised looking. “My beautiful son.”
“You’re both beautiful,” Uther choked out, kissing Igraine one last time. “I love you.”
The last thing she ever said to him was a whispered, “he’s perfect.”
Uther waited in the lobby of Arthur and Merlin’s house. Beside him Gwaine, Morgana’s newest boyfriend, was helping to hang up the banner in the living room. His hair was long enough to put in a ponytail, but Uther knew better than to say anything. Morgana was likely to find someone with hair past his butt to get back at him for any comment like that. At least this one seemed to not let Morgana walk all over him.
“Merlin just texted, they’re right around the corner,” Morgana said, rushing in. “Are you ready Dad?”
“Of course I am,” Uther scoffed, standing tall and pride.
Gwaine laughed good-naturedly and swung a careless arm over Morgana’s shoulders. Uther gave him a death glare, but unlike the other boyfriends, this one just smirked back. He missed the days when Leon would run out of the house at the sound of him closing his car door.
The front door opened and in walked Arthur and Merlin. In Merlin’s arms was a small bundle, a little girl just a few months old.
“Hi! I’m your Aunt Morgana,” Morgana cooed, taking the baby girl out of Merlin’s arms. “I’m going to be the coolest Aunt ever.”
“I’ll teach you how to ride a motorbike,” Gwaine promised, and Uther stifled a laugh at Arthur’s panicked look.
“Here, meet your Grandpa,” Morgana said, bringing her to Uther. It had been years since he had held a baby in his arms, but he found that it returned to him in a flash.
“Hi Igraine,” Uther said, his granddaughter smiling up at him. Merlin started to say how the pick-up had been. Arthur talked about the drive and wondering who had invented baby car seats.
Uther looked up, and he could see a single cloud in the horizon, drifting across the blue sky. He brought Igraine over to the window, and pointed up to it. “See there, that’s a lonely cloud as your Grandma would say, but don’t worry, they always find their family in the end.”