He made himself a difficult man to love.
Morgana expected that now. She’d spent enough time in his company to know there were depths to him she would never fathom. She wasn’t sure she even wanted to try.
* * * *
She rolled over in her bed, unwilling to give in to sleep and the nightmares that could doom her. The druid boy was safe, but Uther’s thirst for revenge had not been satiated. He suspected her of betrayal. She still felt his grip on her throat, the heat of his fury radiating between them. The storm gathered and soon it would break.
When he’d grabbed her, when he’d threatened her over her defense of the druid child she had seen what he felt for her, plain as ink on parchment. Uther Pendragon wanted her, and so he needed her to fear him. He needed her to keep her distance.
He didn’t realize yet that neither of them had any choice in the matter.
Morgana knew that the first time he took her, he would be angry.
That it would happen between them was a certainty. She had seen it in her dreams, felt it between them, in the weight of glances he tried to avoid. He could declare that he treated her like a daughter and that he’d made promises to her father, but those lies were as transparent as water.
Uther would never see it, not without the clarity of anger. The only time he was honest was when he was in a rage. And no one infuriated him more than Morgana; it was a point of pride for her now.
The dream frightened her. She didn’t like being frightened, not of her nightmares, and not of Uther. Even when she woke, her hair damp with perspiration, her throat raw from harsh breath, she heard his voice in her ear. Is this your will, Morgana?
When the time came, it wouldn’t matter how she felt in the cold, comforting darkness of her room. It wouldn’t matter how she tried to avoid him, how she might steel herself against the temptation. She would give in, give him his way. She’d seen it, and she knew all too well the futility of trying to change reality from the visions that tormented her.
Only a madman hears the truth as treason! She clutched at her head, unable to block out the shrill fury.
Is this your will, Morgana?
Though she kicked the bedclothes off, she still felt the heat of the nightmare, the heat of him as he crushed her beneath him. It had been her will; the wanting had been so keen it had transcended her dreams and affected her body. Though she climbed from her bed and washed herself, she could still feel the stickiness between her thighs, mocking her.
* * * *
The day he murdered Gwen’s father, Morgana knew she could no longer cower in fear of inevitability. Her own anger was too great, and her disappointment in the king. Beneath her sorrow and indignation on behalf of her friend, another current ran. Though he could not know where his actions had led them, she knew the path too well. The map had been drawn on her mind every night for weeks.
“You have blood on your hands, Uther Pendragon,” she accused as she pushed through the doors. “Blood that will never wash off!”
“May I remind you that you are speaking to your king?” He hardly glanced at her. He sounded bored.
It was an act. Though he had no dreams to prophecy what would happen if he let himself lose control, he knew it as well as she.
She could walk away now. It was the same thing she told herself every time. If she could only resist the lure of the fate her visions showed her, she could change destiny. But it never worked, and to walk away now would be to back down and excuse him for taking a man’s life. Gwen’s father’s life.
If there were no words that would force him to feel sorrow for the blacksmith, there were at least words that could bring out the king’s darkness. She would make him remember how he’d felt the day he’d put his hand to her throat.
“May I remind you that a king is wise and just?” She stalked after him, getting far too close to the lion in its cage. “You are neither. You rule only with a sword.”
She heard her breathing in the silence between them. He still would not look at her.
“You know nothing of what it means to be king.” His dismissive contempt didn’t mask his fury. “The fate of Camelot rests in my hands. It’s my responsibility to protect the people of this land from its enemies.”
There it was again, the same half-hearted justification for his hatred of people like her, people cursed with magic. If Uther had half the compassion of his son there would be no threat so great that it could not be overcome by good will.
But Uther knew nothing of compassion. There was something broken in him, deeply broken, Morgana knew, and it called to something broken in herself. If she had the power Uther wielded - and one day, she sensed she would - would she rule with compassion, or darkness?
She feared it was the latter, but she couldn’t admit that to herself, standing in front of the man she hated more than anyone alive or dead. She did not choose her words, but she could have no sooner stopped them than she could have stopped the sun from rising. She heard each one as she spoke it, and savored the malice in them. “Then the kingdom is doomed. For one by one, you make enemies of us all.”
That he did not react with brutish hostility meant she had wounded him. Good. He could not feel even a fraction of the pain Gwen felt mourning her father, but Morgana would take whatever feeble drops of sorrow she might rob from him.
Strike me. Shove me. Prove to me that you feel even a crumb of remorse for the murder you sanctioned.
Prove to me that some part of you is good. If only he could do that, she would accept the vision that had tormented her.
He met her gaze at last. “You speak treason, Morgana.”
“Only a madman hears the truth as treason.” She looked him in the eyes, searched for anything that would make it easier not to hate herself after what would happen.
Is this your will, Morgana?
She could almost feel him, pressing her down, the scrape of parchment against her face. Her gaze flickered over the parchment on the table.
Now. It’s happening now. We’ve already started.
“Take care, child, or I’ll have your restrained,” he warned, and she said something back, unthinking. Whatever it was, it changed him.
She’d known he would be angry when it happened; she’d never seen him as furious as he was now. His fingers closed over her throat again, and his other arm swept cups and parchment from the table. She clawed at his hand as he crushed the breath from her, but he did not let up until she saw red haze at the corners of her vision. He’d only released her to grapple her hands behind her back. When he had her wrists pinned in his crushing grip, he shoved her down, and her head bounced painfully against the polished table.
A strange sort of relief blossomed with the pain. Soon, it would be over, and she would have nothing to fear from her dreams, or from Uther. He would bear the burden of this memory as she had borne her vision of it for weeks.
The shoulder of her gown ripped as she struggled beneath him. The air of the room was chill on her bare skin when he fumbled up her skirts. “Is this your will, Morgana?”
His grip on her wrists tightened.
It was her will. Not just for it to be over, but because she wanted it, and hated herself for wanting it. She would not gloat that she had found him out, that she had seen beneath his anger to the desire he’d thought he kept so well hidden.
Even without her nightmares, she would have seen it.
“Do it, coward!” she spat. There was a rustle and the faint clink of a buckle, and then she felt him, hard and surprisingly silky against her. He forced his way inside, and her exclamation was one of relief and pain and lust and shame all mingled together. He released her hands to grip her hips, and she braced herself against the table, her nails digging into the wood. She had not expected him to be careful, but she’d been unprepared for this violence, and she held her breath, willing it to be over. He drove into her again and again, the table legs shuddering and scraping against the stone. With a final, hard plunge, he hesitated, then withdrew with a groan. Hot, heavy droplets fell and rolled down her thighs, and he crushed her flat to the table, breathing hard.
It was done. It was over. Her nightly torment would cease. The hunger between them was sated. It would never have to happen again.
But as Uther’s guards marched her to a dungeon cell, her skirts sticking to her legs with every step, she knew it would happen again. And worse, she would want it, when it did.
She didn’t need a dream to torment her now. She had memory. As she stood before him in her chains and looked into his eyes, she knew that he would not be as troubled by it as she.
The cell door closed with the finality of an executioner’s axe falling, leaving Morgana alone with what she had done, and the regret Uther could never feel. She would bear that for the both of them, too.
* * * *
“A warm bed is preferable to a cold dungeon, Morgana.”
She would not look at him. She could not ignore the feeling of his hot, sweat-slick skin against her back as he curled around her. She could not blame this night on her dreams, nor any night in the future.
She slipped away from him, to sit up and pull her ruined nightgown over her head.
“Where are you going?” It was not a question from him, but a command that she should stay.
“What does it matter?” she snapped. “You had what you wanted.”
One nightmare in the king’s bed would end with her back to the stake. She could never let herself believe she was safe with him, for even a moment.
“I am not a cruel man, Morgana,” he lied. “Do not be cruel to me.”
“Never, your majesty.” She smiled at him, knowing he would not see how false the expression was.
* * * *
He made himself a difficult man to love.
It was more difficult to not love him at all.