It's hardly dark when Uther retires. Scarcely a bite has passed his lips all the long while he sat at table. Scarcely a word either. His children's thinly veiled concern for him is overwhelming though they too hardly speak. With curt nods and stilted 'goodnights', he takes his leave of them and goes directly to his bedchamber. The usual meetings and reports seem pointless beyond enduring and he forgoes them without hesitation. Surely the world he had thought to leave forever can abide one evening without his intervention. The sun will rise whether he sees to it or not.
Restless, Uther lies in the dark like a cat, watchful to no real purpose. He has not slept in more than a day and now he is too tense. Too retroactively afraid of those things which he dared not think on while the battle still lay ahead. His own death. Leaving Arthur to flounder in his inexperience. The justice of Tristain's cause.
Now, in the growing stillness of the night, thought preys upon his disturbed mind and the sleep he longs for shuns him. He is plagued by deep regrets and trivial matters alike. He thinks of Ygraine and how close he has come to failing her again, to losing Arthur, whose life she purchased with her own. He wonders where Merlin really got that marvelous sword and what it must have been made of to allow him to do as he has done.
He thinks of Nimeuh with anger that doubts it's own justice but stands firm all the same. Knowing from her own lips that her spell must cost a life, how could he not have ask the obvious question? Who? In his arrogance, Uther had assumed some lesser man must die to suit his needs, as men will do for kings from time to time. Had a sorceress the same arrogance, the same blindness?
But no! Despite her claim of innocence, Nimeuh has since proved herself villain enough. We will not think on it! But still his mind runs on. It will not be still.
He thinks of Gaius. His priceless friendship, certainly, but also the way that the man pricks at his soul, nettles his conscience as few have the privilege to dare. If he had told Gaius that Nimeuh's spell would cost a life, the old medler would have objected that though a king might have the right to take another's life, he had a responsibility not to do so for selfish ends. And he'd have found Uther's ends selfish indeed had he known the king had already an heir in blood if not in name, lacking only his word of acknowledgment.
He should have told Gaius of course, despite all that. If he had, the sharp physician might have pointed out the obvious risk that the life to be sacrificed would be that which he held most dear, that from which the newly created life took it's substance. Such was the twisted cruelty of magic.
And what if Gaius had warned him? Would the hotblooded young king have had sense enough to listen, mad as both he and Ygraine had been driven by their quest to conceive? He would never have knowingly risked her life. And yet... Nimeuh's question still rings in his ears. Do you wish you didn't have a son?
One more subject he can't think on, Uther decides. His mind lights instead on Morgana, who worries him nearly as much as his son. Her wardship is a lie. By some relevant methods of reckoning (for half the kingdoms of Albion owe as much of their law to the ancient tribes of these islands as to the traditions of Rome) she is as much or more his heir than Arthur is. A fact which, as long as there is magic and prophecy in the world, may yet be divined.
To marry her well, to a great king or an ambitious prince, is to set up a rival to Arthur and a threat to Camelot. To marry her poorly, on the other hand, is to disgrace her and to betray Gerlois yet again. Not that (even at the arguably over-ripe age of twenty-four) she has shown any inclination whatsoever to be married.
And if she does not marry, what's to become of her? She is so beautiful. So proud. So strong. For a moment he imagines her, as a mature woman, sitting in the shadows while Arthur's Queen holds court, weaving tapestries and making bitter, ribald jokes at the expense of young lovers to mask her loneliness and disappointment.
Uther turns over with a violent thrash that sends pain shooting through his shoulders. Another unproductive line of thought is discarded only to be replaced, once again, with thoughts of Arthur.
In some ways, he is already so much more than Uther could have ever been, never mind at the same age. Oh, Arthur can be temperamental and impatient like his father. He can be a hard man, a ferocious warrior. But kindness, mercy, justice; these too are fundamental to his character. These virtues, which Uther must keep carefully in mind as he strives to be a righteous king, overflow in him as from the soul of Ygraine de Bois. Wisdom, patience, temperance; he will learn.
One day Arthur will be a Great King. This is the thought that quiets Uther's pains, comforts his soul, and helps him find sleep at last.