Actions

Work Header

always been the tower

Work Text:

The last thing Merlin thinks (after he’s screamed himself hoarse and watched Arthur go into the mists of Avalon and Merlin resolves to wait on these shores for as long as it takes him to return, as he lets the exhaustion finally hit him) is: I wish I could do this all over again. There’s so much I should have done different.  I would not lose Arthur.

*

Morgana wakes, for once, not jerked from a nightmare, but to Gwen opening the curtains and letting natural light stream in.

She opens her eyes slowly. “Am I still dreaming?” she asks.

“No,” Gwen replies, beaming at her. “I believe we both slept like babes last night.” She moves the breakfast tray from the sideboard to Morgana’s small table, then goes to fetch a day dress from the wardrobe.

Picking at her breakfast, Morgana says, “I cannot think of what was different last night, but I am grateful for both our sakes. What is my schedule today?”

Gwen turns, laying out a green silk gown. “You are free to do things at your leisure today, my lady, though I might remind you that you’ve been putting off a large stack of letters from Tintagel.”

“Gods,” Morgana groans. Though Uther owns all lands as is his right as king, Morgana still sees to smaller issues from her father’s estate. It gives her pleasure and a sense that he would be proud… except for the petty ones she’s been putting off. “I can only take so many letters about who rightfully owns a cow if she elopes with someone else’s bull!”

“Eloping cows!” Gwen giggles. “Well, what’s the right answer?”

Morgana smiles and nibbles on a fig, arching an eyebrow at Gwen to let her know the answer she’s patiently waiting for is going to be good. “Last time, I told them to ask the cow herself, as she would probably appreciate some input on her own fate, instead of listening to men argue over who owns her, like any other lady.”

“No, you didn’t!”

“I surely did!” Morgana insists. “And I never heard from that man again.” She drinks the last of her wine and then moves away from the table. “Alright then, time to get dressed to face the day, I suppose. Would you like to stay for a bit of poetry reading?” Lately, Morgana has taken a break from her heavy reading, like De libero arbitrio, to enjoy lighter fare--though still books that would put Uther in a fit, like translations of the violet-crowned tenth muse. She’ll never forget Gwen’s face the first time she read her, either, but her friend has warmed to it.

Gwen laces up Morgana’s gown and does a careful knot. “I would love to. As long as you promise to look at those letters later,” she says pointedly, and Morgana just waves her hand.

*

Unfortunately, the next night is not so easy as the last.

Morgana knows she is in a dream--this one is the most vivid she has ever had--but she cannot stop the images from coming or wake herself up. In her dream, great beasts as black as night and a single white dragon descend from the skies, and Arthur falls, bleeding. She calls out to him, but he is up again and fighting a mass of soldiers--not for long, though. Like all her dreams, he’s struck down a final time. It’s always Arthur, always dying. When his last breath exhales, her vision expands and she sees herself standing over him.

She wakes up screaming; as she darts upright in bed, she watches her favorite vase, the one with flowers from Gwen, shatter to pieces, along with her window. She’d been wary of the dreams before, but coupled with this--she’s frightened, her pulse racing. Gods, gods, what am I? Am I going to kill Arthur? Am I a monster?

Morgana grabs her dressing robe and leaves her room for the physician’s chambers. She’s going to get answers this time. Real ones. The sleeping draughts might help her sleep, but they are becoming less and less effective, and they are obviously suppressing something--something that no one wants to tell her about, even though it’s happening to her.

The halls of the castle are quiet as she passes through them quickly. The door to Gaius’ room is ajar, and she pushes it open and calls out to him.

“Oh, he’s gone to see the king,” she hears Merlin say, as he pokes his head out of his room. “Do you need another draught? I can make it for you.”

Maybe that’s for the better, she thinks. Maybe she can get the truth from someone other than Gaius. “No. I don’t want any more remedies--they don’t do anything.”

Merlin tilts his head. “What’s wrong, then? I want to help. You can trust me.”

“The fire was me. It’s magic. The remedies won’t do anything because I have magic.” She looks up at him, pleading with her eyes. “Don’t you see? I need someone else to say it, so I don’t think I’m losing my mind.”

He doesn’t look the least bit surprised, and she finds that she’s not unsurprised by that. But still, he averts his eyes from her. “Morgana--Gaius will be back soon and…”

“No,” she says firmly. “I will not be lied to anymore. You know the truth and I know you want to tell me. So do it.”

“Okay,” he sighs. Merlin drops down onto one of the workroom benches. “Yes, it is magic. Your dreams are visions because you are probably a seer. The fire and vase are a manifestation of your magic, because you don’t know how to control it yet.”

“The vase?” Morgana asks slowly. “I didn’t mention my vase breaking.”

Merlin looks close to panicking, which is curious since she’s the one putting herself at risk here, and then he blurts out, “I have magic, too.”

“What? No.” Merlin, Arthur’s manservant who’s always falling over his own feet?  “Surely you’re pulling my leg! That’s not a very kind thing to do right now, Merlin.”

He opens his palm up and a small sphere of light glows. In another second, it’s gone.

She joins him on the bench. “Who else knows?”

“Gaius, my mom.” Merlin shrugs. “Lancelot caught me, with the griffin.”

Gaius didn’t want me to know about my magic, while he willingly helped you with yours,” she murmurs. It’s not a question. “Instead he told me I was imagining it, that they were just dreams, and kept giving me stronger and stronger potions to hide it. I’ve been terrified, thinking I was crazy. Or evil.”

She can see Merlin’s jaw clench. “Yeah. We had an argument about you yesterday, actually. I wanted to tell you then… Magic can be good. I didn’t think keeping you in the dark would do anything other than keep you scared.”

Morgana places her hand over Merlin’s, genuinely touched by his concern for her. “Thank you,” she says sincerely. “You’re right. I feel so alone, and I’ve had no clue what’s going on with myself. Every day I must look Uther in the eye knowing that if he were to discover who I really am, he'd have me killed.”

“You are not alone,” he tells her.

They hear footsteps approaching. Morgana stands up once more and pulls the fur collar on her dressing robe tight.  “This will be our secret. Can we speak of it again tomorrow?”

Merlin grins at her, which she takes for a yes.

At that moment, Gaius returns to the room. “Lady Morgana!”

“Gaius,” she says, turning and smiling softly. “I couldn’t sleep again and came seeking a draught. I didn’t want to wake Gwen, after all she’s endured from me. Merlin was just telling me you had stepped away. I’m so glad I didn’t miss you.”

“Of course, of course,” Gaius says, shuffling over to one of his cabinets. He retrieves a bottle and hands it to her. “There you go, my dear.”

She plans to crush the bottle beneath her feet as soon as she returns to her chambers.

*

There’s a knock on her door the next morning, and she cracks it open, revealing Merlin.

“My lady,” he says, sweeping an exaggerated bow. “May I escort you on a walk?”

“How thoughtful of you,” she replies, slyly, and opens the door further. “Gwen, are you willing to chaperone myself and Merlin on a walk this morning?”

“Um,” Gwen says, looking at them, clearly baffled by this turn of events, but quickly recovers. “Of course. Shall I pack a basket from the kitchens?”

Merlin lifts something and Morgana realizes he actually had the foresight to bring a light meal.

“Perfect.” Morgana reaches back towards Gwen for her hand, and then pulls her out the door with them.

Once they are outside, she says, “Let’s take a break under my favorite tree. Gwen, would you mind if we go ahead a little?”

Gwen inclines her head. “By all means. As long as I can still see you to chaperone,” she adds cheekily.

Morgana squeezes Gwen’s hand before releasing it, and beckons Merlin to follow her further ahead.

“You know what Gwen’s thinking,” Merlin says.

“Well, you certainly didn’t help matters by gallivanting to my chambers and bowing and bringing me treats,” Morgana replies coolly. “Gwen knows better, though, and as for anyone else, I’m used to them thinking unseemly things about me.”

“Hey!” Merlin cries, clearly affronted at her suggestion that close relations with him are unseemly.

“Please,” Morgana scoffs. “No, who you need to worry about is Arthur. He will probably be boxing your ears later. But until then, tell me more. How did you come to be in Camelot? Why do you stay? What can you do? What can I do?”

Merlin takes her barrage of questions in stride. “My mum sent me to Camelot because of my magic--it was causing trouble in Ealdor--and she knew Gaius would look after me. My first week here I met the Great Dragon,” here he cuts a glance over to Morgana, whose eyes have widened, but does not stop him, “who said it was my destiny to help Arthur become a great king.”

“He certainly needs all the help he can get,” Morgana agrees.

“Anyway,” Merlin continues, though not in disagreement with her interruption, “I wanted my magic to have a purpose, and here it does, protecting Arthur, even if he’s a terrible bully sometimes.”

“You keep him out of a lot of trouble, don’t you?” she asks softly.

Merlin smiles crookedly. “I try to, at least.”

“Mmm.” There’s so much more she could ask him now: does he think Arthur is worthy? Will he be a great king? Merlin must see the same spark of promise in him that Morgana does; although he is, as Merlin might say, a self-absorbed prat, and too often under his father’s thumb, he still has a conscience and a care for his people. Any sane person wouldn’t stay in a place where they risk getting being hanged every day just because a dragon tells them they should.  Why doesn’t Arthur know? Doesn’t it hurt to not be able to unfurl the magic inside you to its greatest extent? Since the accident in her room, she’s calmer now, but she still feels a thrumming under her skin, in her blood, that needs release.

And her dream--what does her dream mean?

That’s what she wants to know about the most, right now. “I had a dream,” she tells Merlin. “There was a battle, with dark monsters and a white dragon in the sky. I saw Arthur die, and then I realized that it was me who dealt the killing blow.” She pauses, looking pained. “If I am a seer, does that mean I am destined to kill Arthur?”

Merlin shakes his head vigorously. “No. A seer’s visions are only one possibility. The future is as yet unshaped. It is we that shape it, the decisions you make, the actions you take. Remember how you saw Arthur drowning, but he didn’t?”

“Then you mean I can change that future, too?” she asks.

“Yes. The fact that you have already had this vision, and now you know and can take steps to avoid it… that’s important.” He takes a deep breath. “Morgana, I have seen this future too. It happened because Gaius and I continued to deceive you, and your hurt turned to hate, and someone took advantage of you and that darkness to destroy Camelot. But right now, this you, you are good and kind. You are fierce but compassionate. I don’t want to be responsible for that changing. That’s why I told you about my magic. The vision you had is not your destiny.”

Morgana stops to look at him. “You’re a good friend and a good man, Merlin. Smarter than Arthur gives you credit for.”

He laughs. “I have my moments.”

“How can I learn more, learn how to stop the dreams?” she asks.

“I’m no seer, but I think now that you know what they are, your nightmares may still come, but they will not plague you repeatedly,” Merlin says. “I have a few books that I can lend you.”

“I will take great care of them,” she swears. “And then I can start needling Arthur about seeing past his father’s prejudices. He will come around one day. Ah, here is our spot! Let’s sit and eat.”

Merlin spreads out a cloth, and Gwen hurries to join them. Once the two women are settled, he stands up. “Arthur will probably have noticed I’m gone by now and start throwing things if I don’t get back to him,” he tells them. “You two stay and enjoy the weather though. See you!” With that, he walks leisurely back to the castle. Morgana doesn’t think he seems to be in any hurry to get back to Arthur and his wrath.

Gwen smooths her skirt and starts unpacking the basket. “What was that all about?”

“I’m not quite ready to discuss it yet, Gwen, though you know I trust you with all my heart,” she says, “and you can rest assured it’s nothing untoward.”

“Obviously. The only one Merlin is untowards to is Prince Arthur,” Gwen retorts. Then she seems to realize what she said. “I mean, not untoward, but inappropriate… I mean, disrespectful.”

Morgana laughs, high and bright. “I don’t think you were too far off the first time. Alas, I am not as fair and bewitching as our dear prince.”

“I think you have far many more virtues, my lady.”

There’s a gentle flush to Gwen’s cheeks. Morgana tries to ignore it, ignore how it warms her own chest.  Instead, she leans forward and grasps Gwen’s hand. “I must thank you for being so patient with me these past few months with my nightmares. I’d like to grant you a gift.”

Gwen shakes her head. “No, that is not necessary. I am just doing my duty.”

Morgana leans in closer to her. “You are the one person I can trust completely, even in my most vulnerable moments. That is invaluable to me, Gwen. Please think on it and let me know what you desire. A few days off, a new furnishing for your home; anything you want, you can have, if it is within my power.”

“I will think on it,” Gwen promises her.

After that, their talk grows less serious, comments about the attire of ladies seen in court that week, stories about hijinks Gwen has seen young boys in the lower town get up to.

*

After Gwen leaves for the night, Morgana lights a candle, as she has taken to doing. She props open one of the books Merlin gave her. They think her strength lies in foretelling, since that is what manifested first, but obviously she can still do other works of magic. The spells appear to all be in the Old Tongue; Morgana does not know it, but she knows she has the advantage of being familiar with learning new languages thanks to her upbringing.

She has an empty bowl out, with a full cup beside it, and focuses on it. “Sφrawo-lendu kwei tuxslo,” she whispers, and watches with delight as the water flows from the cup to the empty bowl.

After a few more rounds of magically transferring the water between vessels, she sits back with satisfaction. This is one of the easier spells, she knows. Merlin left her notes explaining that those that simply move or otherwise use existing things for their intended purposes are easiest, and ones that transform or create or destroy are the hardest, ones that she might never accomplish, for they rely not on her perfect pronunciation but raw power. Morgana is fine with that, she finds, because there are still so many ways to use her gift.

Although it was a shock in the beginning, she can understand how she might have come to be the person she saw in her dreams, twisted with fear and hatred, the blood of both Pendragons on her hands. Uther, yes; she wavers about whether she regrets not following through with his assassination, but she knows if he were to die her eyes would remain dry. Arthur, though, she cannot imagine doing that to him.  At this point, she is more inclined to include Gaius in any hypothetical vengeance, even though Merlin assured her that Gaius really thought he was doing what was best to protect her--the man who harbors a sorcerer like a son while drugging her into ignorance and aiding his king in executing endless innocents.

She breathes out, trying to let the anger lessen; it will do no good without direction. She will add it to the layers of her defenses, beneath her smile and pretty dresses.

Morgana still has that awful dream about Arthur, some nights, but she doesn’t wake up screaming anymore; it doesn’t have the terrifying urgency that first one did. She can only guess that means they are at least on their way out of the woods.  

*

It must seem odd, Morgana knows, to be returning to her father’s grave a mere week after visiting it with Uther; she explains that her early pilgrimage was tainted by the attempt on the king’s life. Even moreso, it goes unsaid, because she was a willing participant in the failed assassination, even if she did choose to stop it in the end.

So in the morning, she and Gwen saddle up their horses, and, escorted by two castle guards, make their way back to his resting place.

She is lost in her own thoughts, thinking she will stretch this visit out as long as possible so she and Gwen both can have some quiet solitude, when the arrow whistles through the air. The first guard falls off his horse, followed quickly by the other one. Morgana tumbles off her horse and grabs one of the guards’ swords just as the attackers burst through the trees, rushing for them.

“Gwen, get behind me!” she shouts.

Gwen wrenches the other guard’s sword from its sheath. “I don’t think so.”

Morgana’s eyes dart back and forth between their three attackers, and she tries to gauge how much leeway she has to protect them. Gwen doesn’t know she has magic, and that’s a risk; but she’s loyal, she’s also been on the receiving end of Uther’s madness more than once, and Morgana is confident that no matter what, Gwen would not do anything that would lead Morgana to the stake. If it’s between them dying or Gwen disapproving of her without turning her in, Morgana will take the latter.

Her mind is made up as she blocks the first strike from one of the attackers, and she can hear Gwen and her opponent clashing as well.  The second attacker will be upon them in moments.

Dwei-φlo,” she hisses to her sword, feeling the magic rise in her, and an identical one appears in her other hand. “Aφl-ant darnājo,” she adds, and the next time she her sword meets the attackers, theirs shatter, and she drives a sword through each man’s chest.

Next she eyes Gwen’s fight. The remaining man has stopped and is staring at her. “You witch!” he yells.

“You flatter me with sweet words,” Morgana replies. The man and Gwen have drifted off further, near a tree. Morgana focuses on it. “φesti -- Fall back!” she shouts to Gwen, who looks at her like she’s crazy, but thankfully obeys.

Not a moment too soon. Gwen manages to get maybe a foot from her attacker when, with an ear-splitting crack, an entire tree falls on the last man. Morgana looks at it. It’s broken off at the trunk, and she can’t help but laugh. “Well, maybe that was a bit much. I meant to go just for one of the big branches. Are you alright?”

“What was that?” Gwen asks, stunned. “How did that happen? Morgana?”

“Because I made it happen,” she replies softly, no longer giddy with magic. “Just like the fires and the windows, except now I know how to control it. If you don’t wish to work for me any longer, I promise I will find you an excellent position elsewhere.”

Gwen grins at her. “Never. Thank you--you saved us, surely.”

“Thank you , Gwen,” Morgana says, sweeping her into a tight hug.

“Oh, me!” Gwen shakes her head, her nose brushing Morgana’s neck. “It’s nothing. You know I would never leave your side.”

Morgana finds herself more affected by this proclamation than she expected, her eyes prickling slightly. She clears her throat and pulls back from Gwen, brushing curls from her face gently.

“Well, as much as I’d like to continue,” Morgana says, “I don’t want to encounter more of those men. We should head back to Camelot. Let’s return with our men, if we can.” The both of them manage to heave each dead guard onto their horses, and each one of them takes a lead.

The ride back to Camelot is quick; they hadn’t made it that far before being attacked, and they know to get into a full run instead of the leisurely pace they had set on the way out.

When they reach the citadel, the king is waiting on the steps of the castle. His eyes widen when he sees the guards’ bodies, and he rushes to Morgana. “Are you alright? What happened?”

“We were attacked before we could reach our destination,” Morgana tells him breathlessly, allowing him to check her over for wounds and clasp at her hands. “The guards were taken by surprise, but Gwen and I managed to defend ourselves with their swords.”

To her surprise, Uther turns to Gwen. “You are the most loyal and brave maidservant I could hope for my ward to have, to defend her so after what I did to you. You have my thanks.”

Morgana blinks in astonishment; although Uther had told her that he believed he was wrong to have Tom killed--a confession that saved his life--she would never have expected him to directly say so, to give any hint that he was not absolutely justified.

Gwen gives a slight curtsey, but Morgana can see that she does not look at the king, and her response of “Thank you, my lord,” is uncharacteristically cold.

*

When Merlin lets slip a comment about the events early that day-- “I haven’t seen the king be so nice to a servant since he made me Arthur’s manservant, though that makes sense, I guess, his protectiveness for his children allows him to not be King Prat once in awhile”--Morgana stops him.

“His what?” she snaps.

He cannot be expected to remember clearly everything that has or hasn’t happened in this timeline compared to the other one, Merlin vents at her, which prompts another conversation because he hadn’t mentioned those things he saw were the result of actually living them.  

And that’s how he ends up in her chambers, Gwen sitting in the corner doing some mending. She’s told Merlin that Gwen knows about her magic, but they keep their voices quiet regardless, as Morgana demands that he tell her everything this time.

While he shrugs an answer to how he got here, now, he’s able to answer her other questions, and that’s how she finds out the depths of her betrayal that Merlin had mentioned before; how she learns there was a reality where she orchestrated the death of Uther, a bloody takeover of the throne, and did indeed watch the life seep out of her brother after she gave the order for him to be killed. But perhaps what pains her most is hearing how she treated sweet Gwen, the way--Merlin doesn’t say this, but she knows--her heartbreak at losing her affections led to her deadly thirst for the crown and twisted manipulations of her friend.

As Merlin tells her these things, she feels a sense of deja vu, and tries to reach for more memories but can’t quite grasp them.

Merlin’s reveal of a past future, however, now casts doubt on her visions. Though they have ceased to be the sort that wake her up screaming every night, Morgana can no longer tell if her dreams are a future that could be or the future that already was. That’s nearly as frightening.

She dreams of placing a root under Uther’s bed and sees his dead face; when she drifts off in her lessons, she sees herself on a throne; at night when she closes her eyes, there float visions of Merlin at Arthur’s side in court; she sees herself breaking Gwen until she folds into Morgana’s embrace, hears herself saying my darling, I was wrong to make you suffer, I am the only one you have left in this world ; she sees herself choking, clutching her own throat, crying as she stares into Merlin’s eyes (and prays that’s the one that was , and not could still be ); on the lightest mornings when she’s half-awake, she sees the people of Camelot happy and healthy, children playing with spells in the streets (she hopes that one’s the future that could still be ).

How can she interpret these? How can she trust these when she doesn’t know which future they are coming from?

She’s starting to feel splintered again.

*

The incident with the bandits makes Morgana feel bolder, more assured in her magic and herself. So there is no question that she is going to do something with all the information she has just received from Merlin, including that Uther is her father.   Right now, she has the leverage to get almost anything she wants from him.

They are hosting guests tonight, so cornering him at supper won’t do; still, it’s easy enough to find him alone, reviewing documents. Probably picking the next innocent person to execute because they once dared to breathe the same air as someone with magic.

He looks up when she enters and gestures for her to take a seat. “Morgana, to what do I owe the pleasure?”

She remains standing. “I’ve come across something most curious, my lord,” she says. “One of the maids in Cornubia came across a book in my mother’s room, and sent it on to me for sentimental keeping. Imagine my surprise when I found it was actually a diary.” It’s a lie, but nothing compared to the one he’s been telling for the past decade. “Its entries dated back before my birth, which my mother described with all honesty, the only place she could. Did you know that Gorlois was not my blood father?” She raises her eyebrows in mock surprise.

For a moment, she thinks the king might send her to the dungeons again. It is rare she sees Uther so shaken. But instead he lowers his face into his hands, and says, muffled, “Morgana, please--you have to understand--I couldn’t tell you, or I would dishonor Gorlois.”

“You dishonored him and my mother when you took advantage of your position as his lord and took her to bed while he was away and she was alone,” Morgana snaps at him. “I have no desire to expose you, but I do have some conditions.” Finally, she takes a seat, staring at him with her chin held high.

“Very well,” the king assents.

“I want the duchy in my own right,” Morgana says. “I already do most of the administration for it, as you know.”

Uther sighs and leans back. “That one’s easy enough, I suppose. What else?”

“You will allow me to make my own choices about marriage and surrender your right to arrange it. I will not be used as a pawn; not that I would not be that advantageous to you, anyway, since I am just your ward.” She smiles at him, sharp.

“You won’t be just my ward if I grant you the duchy, will you?” Uther points out.

“That doesn’t matter. Those are my terms,” Morgana says. “With that, I will never breathe a word of our true relationship; I have no desire for the crown here.” Then she takes a gamble, and adds, “I will also never tell that both of your children have been born of magic. You used it to trick my mother, after you sent my father into battle and purposely withheld reinforcements.”

This is not something she knows for certain, but she knows Uther welcomed magic for Arthur’s conception, and she feels sure that the love she remembers between her parents was not something from only her youthful imagination; her mother would not have betrayed Gorlois while he was at war.

“How dare you,” Uther snarls.

“If any of your affection for me has been real, and for a daughter rather than misplaced desire for a girl who resembles the woman you molested,” Morgana replies, voice curt, thinking of all the times he coddled her in her bed without knowing it fatherly, “you will do as I say.”

Fingers to his temple, Uther says, “It pains me that this is how you choose to approach this new knowledge, but I suppose I cannot blame you for this, only myself. I will have Geoffrey draw up the documents. Get out of my sight.”

Morgana does not smile, but she allows her expression to soften some as she rises. “I am glad we are in agreement. Good evening, my lord.”

*

At the dinner feast, Uther is predictably in a sour mood, but Morgana still takes her chair beside him and offers winning smiles and compliments to their guests.

Princess Vivian of Powys is seated next to her, currently scrunching her nose and sniffing at her food. “What is this?”

Morgana glances at her plate. “That is boar,” she tells her. “I do believe the king and Prince Arthur brought it back from a hunt just yesterday.”

“Ugh.” Vivian turns her head from it in disgust. She gestures impatiently at one of the serving maids. “Take this and bring me something more appetizing.”

“I’m sorry our food is not to your liking,” Morgana says, although she is not at all. Vivian could have very well chosen something else from the trenchers herself.

“I don’t eat anything with hair,” Vivian says. “It’s unsanitary.”

Morgana suppresses a laugh. “Of course. I’m sure you’ll like the other foods.” As she speaks, the servant returns with a plate of oysters, bread, and vegetables.

Vivian nods. “This will do.”

Abruptly, the doors slam open and conversation stops as they watch someone in full armor stride through the hall to stand in front of Uther and Arthur.  The man removes his gauntlet and throws it down in front of king and prince.

Arthur stands, then retrieves the gauntlet. “I accept your challenge. If I'm to face you in combat, do me the courtesy of revealing your identity.”

He takes off his helmet, and long blonde hair falls out of it. The hall gasps as they realize this is a woman. “My name is Morgause,” she says. “I look forward to facing you tomorrow, Prince Arthur.” With that, she turns back and exits the hall.

Arthur looks stunned, and glances at his father, who appears to favor detachment over shock.

“Let our guests finish their meals, Arthur,” Uther says to him. “We will handle this after. I’m sure Geoffrey will know the rules disqualify a woman.”

They return to eating, and when Gwen appears by her side to refill her wine glass, Morgana can’t help herself: “Did you see Arthur got challenged by a woman?”

Gwen giggles. “Oh, yes, Merlin and I were quite amused.”

“You are absolutely attending with me. I wouldn’t dare let you miss this,” Morgana says.

Gwen returns to standing with Merlin, and as she leaves, Vivian gives a little sniff of disdain. Morgana refrains from commenting, and instead simply drops a piece of boar meat into Vivian’s cup.

*

The morning is fair and clear, so she wears one of her favorite gowns, gleaming silver silk like water. She and Gwen take their place in the stands of the tournament grounds, which quickly fill. Uther begins his speech, and Morgause looks up to them. A shock of recognition and a rush of images goes through Morgana.

“Gwen, I know her,” she whispers.

“Really? Where could you know her from?” Gwen whispers back.

Morgana gives her a significant look that Gwen understands as magic. “She cannot win this challenge. Terrible things will follow.”

“Then you must make sure she doesn’t,” Gwen replies, just as the match starts.

Arthur and Morgause lunge at each other, swords clanging.  Morgause is quick, but Arthur blocks her and takes a swipe at her stomach, which she dodges. She’s on the defensive, now, however, as Arthur practically hammers at her sword. She drops it, and on the downward swing, Arthur’s blade cuts her arm. He declines to give a killing blow, however, and backs up, giving her time to recover.

Morgana exhales. Maybe this will end just fine. She still has a tight grip on Gwen’s sleeve out of nervousness.

Morgause retrieves her sword, and attacks Arthur in a flurry of movement. He blocks each strike and corners her against one of the walls. He raises his sword again, but Morgause ducks and rolls, kicking out one of her legs to trip him.

“No!” Morgana jumps up, then sits down. “Sterstā katu-wiro,” she says quietly.

Arthur stumbles briefly but regains his balance quickly. Morgause appears to be taken by surprise at this, and is too slow in blocking Arthur’s next strike. The force of it sends her sword to the ground again, and this time Arthur immediately puts the point of his blade to her chest.

“I do not want to kill you,” he says. “Do you yield?”

“I yield, my lord,” Morgause says, bowing her head.

He sheaths his sword and stalks out of the arena.

Afterwards, Morgana finds Morgause in her rooms, packing her things. “I wanted to introduce myself,” she says.

“I know who you are,” Morgause says.

“Yes, as I know you,” Morgana replies.

Morgause’s face shows surprise for the second time that morning. “You do? Oh, sister, that brings me such joy. Here, I want you to have this,” she says, removing a bracelet from her wrist. “It was a gift from our mother, a healing bracelet. It will help you sleep.”

“Thank you, but my sleep is fine,” Morgana says. “I would not want to part you from such a gift.” She turns towards the door. “Congratulations on a well-fought match.”

“I hope you remember me fondly,” Morgause says quickly.

Morgana looks back briefly. “I will leave you to rest.”

*

The week has been good to her: two days after Morgause leaves, a knight returns from his quest.

Overseeing the reporting and judgment of quests is one of Morgana’s favorite duties--hearing the escapades of the knights and, for once, having the clearance to give them a piece of her mind if it comes to that. Normally, this task befalls the queen, but in the absence of one in Camelot, Morgana has gladly taken it up.

For her first one since her victory over Uther, Morgana had a new dress made, ocean blue with an ivory panel and long split sleeves, and golden thread woven throughout. Gwen helps her ready, and pins delicate gold flowers in her hair.

“You look stunning, Morgana,” Gwen tells her. “All eyes will be on you, as they should.”

“You’re too sweet.” Morgana smiles. “You are coming with me, aren’t you?” She doesn’t give Gwen a chance to respond, twining their arms together and directing them towards the hall.

“Her Grace The Duchess of Cornubia, Morgana le Fay,” the court herald announces, and she gets a thrill of validation from hearing her title, ward nowhere near it, pronounced loudly to all.

Morgana takes her seat next to the throne and surveys the room.  There is a small smattering of castle nobles and servants along with the knights and their squires. Arthur is on the other minor throne--arms crossed, bored--as the knights are under his purview, but Uther is nowhere to be seen; this is Morgana’s territory.

“Which brave knight has completed an honorable quest and wishes it judged?” she asks the room. The words are always the same, rehearsed--she is playing a role, but one she enjoys.

One of them steps forward. “I, Sir Gareth, your grace,” he says.

“Come, Sir Gareth,” she says, and he approaches closer and bows before her. “Tell me of your deeds, why they are righteous under our chivalric code, and perhaps they will deserve recognition.”

The knight inclines his head, and a bard appears from the crowd. Morgana raises her eyebrows; knights are supposed to report on their own quests, and to have someone else perform this is unorthodox. However, she cannot argue that it’s not romantic, especially since most of the knights are not very good storytellers. She acknowledges the bard. “You may begin,” she tells him.

The bard sing-speaks a poem telling of Sir Gareth’s mission, his compassion and his humility.  The knight, he tells them, traveled to the home village of his love, and offered his services to his love’s mother, who still resided in the village. There, the bard sings, he gave up his sword and his pride to instead work with his hands in a way he would have in the past turned over to servants; Sir Gareth weeded crop gardens, sheared and milked sheep; and when he left, he left behind a kiss on the mother’s hand and one of the heavy Camelot castle blankets.

“Which village was this so graced by you?” Morgana asks, once the tale winds down.

“Ealdor,” Sir Gareth replies, “and ‘tis I that was graced.”

At this, Arthur sits up ramrod-straight, suddenly paying attention. Morgana can tell they both know where this is going, and she smirks to herself.

“What prize did you hope to gain, Sir Gareth, and with what do you return?” she asks.

“My prize is yet to be granted, but I hope my deeds make me worthy of it,” he replies. “The lady with whom I spent my time is named Hunith, and I hope only for her son’s favor.”

“What!” Merlin squeaks from the side of the room.

Morgana hides a laugh behind her hand as she watches him look around wildly, and as Arthur shoots up from his seat. “I don’t think this is appropriate--” Arthur begins.

“Arthur, sit down,” she commands him. “This is my court.” Arthur glares at her and looks like he is going to say something again, but instead of sits and slouches back into his chair, visibly fuming. She knows his anger is about Merlin in particular being wooed, and not offense at Sir Gareth’s preference towards men; such things have been spoken less of since the Christians started appearing and building their churches, but it’s never been a crime nor a moral transgression in their lands. Besides, she’s not blind.

“Sir Gareth,” she continues. “Although I find your quest noble and chivalrous, I cannot bestow another’s favor, and thus I cannot acknowledge your prize. That is something you will have to continue to quest for yourself until the holder grants it, if they so wish.”

Sir Gareth bows once more, knowing their routine has come to an end. “Thank you, your grace, I shall.”

“You are all dismissed,” she tells the court, and there is plenty of chatter as everyone turns to get back to their regular schedules.

Morgana watches Arthur move swiftly across the room to haul Merlin away by the arm, saying “Are you fornicating with my knights!? Don’t you have better things to do!? Like polishing my sword,” and Merlin protesting with “I had no idea, I swear! He’s really not my type!”

*

Morgana is responding to a letter from the chatelaine at Tintagel when Gwen opens the door. “Morgana, could I trouble you on behalf of an old friend of mine?”

“Of course!” Morgana motions them inside and to her small table. “What is the matter?”

Gwen introduces her friend as Mary, who then says, “Our village, we're blighted by a sickness. Three good men it has taken now. We have no physician. It is beyond our understanding.”

“Are they still alive, or does this sickness kill?” Morgana asks.

Mary’s face is sad. “Alive, it seems, but only barely. We've tried to feed them, keep them warm, but nothing seems to make any difference. It just strikes suddenly, without warning.” She looks down at her hands. “We are just a small village, and I feel silly bringing this to someone of your standing, but Gwen insisted.”

“She was right to,” Morgana says. She is thoughtful for a moment. “Besides concern for your own village, it would be very worrisome if this were to spread. I will speak to the king and our court physician.”

“Thank you, my lady,” Mary says.

Morgana puts a hand on her shoulder.  “We’ll find out what’s going on. Gwen, why don’t you get her some food while I see about sending assistance?”

Gwen nods, and Morgana leaves to find Arthur. She said she would speak to the king, but Morgana knows that would be a lost cause; she’ll start with Arthur. He listens to her sympathetically, and agrees someone should be sent.

It turns out Camelot is dealing with its own sickness and Gaius can not be spared; he suggests having Merlin travel there and either provide the remedy or travel back with his findings.

“Findings?” Arthur scoffs. “Merlin can't find his own backside most of the time.”

“Says the man who can’t even dress himself,” Merlin retorts.

Gaius says, “I think he's capable of much more than you imagine, sire.” That seems to settle the matter, because Arthur summons Leon and Percival and instructs them to ready for a trip.

“I’m going with them,” Gwen tells Morgana. “If that’s alright.”

Morgana hugs her. “Yes, these are your friends. But please do be careful. I couldn’t bear it if you caught this sickness.”

“I will be fine,” Gwen promises her.

While Arthur is in Longstead investigating the illness, the king insists on involving himself with a skirmish at the gates, and by the time they get him back to the castle, he is already long gone from the world. In the end, his death has nothing to do with magic.

They try to keep Morgana from seeing him, but she wins out. Uther’s pallid face is nothing compared to the gaping wound wound just below his sternum. Gaius reluctantly explains that a wound like that would have resulted in a slow, bloody death, and that there was little that could have been done. A gruesome death for a gruesome man, she thinks with only the slightest satisfaction. The kingdom is better off without him; she mourns only for Arthur’s sake.

Arthur’s face when he returns to the castle and is greeted with “Long live the King!” breaks her heart, and though she sheds no tears for Uther Pendragon, she wishes he could have held on until Arthur said his goodbyes. She takes his arm gently and leads him to Uther’s chambers.  Merlin, Gwen, and the knights who traveled with them stand back and allow her.

While Arthur is with his father, Morgana embraces Gwen. “Oh, I missed you, Gwen,” she sighs.

“I’m so sorry I wasn’t here,” Gwen says.

“I’m fine. It’s Arthur I hurt for.” She sits with Gwen in the hall outside Uther’s room, hands clasped between them. “Tell me what happened with the village.”

Gwen explains the illness was too complicated for Merlin and they’ve returned to fetch Gaius. “We were delayed because there was a woman pretending to need help who enchanted the knights,” Gwen says. “Fortunately, for some reason neither Arthur nor Merlin were affected, and after she turned into a great beast, they were able to kill her and break the enchantment.”

Morgana smiles a little at that. Of course those two weren’t enchanted. She almost wonders if Gwen was, but doesn’t ask; that would be inappropriate to do at the moment.

Merlin joins them, and soon after Arthur leaves his father’s room. He gives them a grateful look.

Arthur takes his oath and the crown, but refuses a larger coronation ceremony for the time being.

Merlin wishes to tell Arthur of his magic immediately, but Morgana thinks that’s a terrible idea, to drop a bombshell so soon after his father’s passing, and she tells Merlin so.  He grudgingly agrees to wait some time, and they decide they’ll tell him together, since he very well couldn’t bear to execute or banish the both of them at once.

Instead, during the days when Arthur is spending long hours into the night with the council, or requesting solitude in his room, Morgana persuades Merlin to help her practice magic. She very well can’t be seen alone with him in the castle sans a chaperone, so Morgana dons breeches and her hooded cape and goes along when he has errands from Gaius. There in the fields picking herbs, away from prying eyes, she can try pulling roots without touching them.

A few months later, Arthur finally agrees to a formal coronation, and preparations begin and invitations go out in earnest.  As the highest-ranking lady in the castle, Morgana is able to get her hands on the invitation list and ensure a few names are on there.

Merlin’s face when Lancelot appears in the dining hall on coronation day is worth at least a few of her jewels--and Arthur’s expression when Merlin practically jumps into the arms of his old friend is even moreso. But Arthur has made her a promise, and so as part of the festivities, Sir Lancelot and Sir Elyan are knighted.

*

Morgana is just returning from handing off some letters to the steward to have delivered--taxes she had to review, marriages she had to approve, from Cornubia--when she bumps into Arthur.

“Arthur! I’ve been meaning to find you.”  She snags his arm and stops him. “Do you have a moment?”

He nods at her. “I suppose I can spare a few minutes. What is it?”

She pulls him towards his chambers. “This is a delicate conversation best suited for some privacy.” She shuts the door firmly behind them and locks it.

Merlin is already there, cleaning up the clutter Arthur has created throughout the day. When he sees them, he starts. “Oh! Are we doing this now? Did you just ambush him like that?”

“What? What are we doing?” Arthur looks back and forth between the two of them.

“Sit down,” Morgana tells him. “You’ll want to be sitting for this. Merlin and I have something to tell you.” Arthur starts to open his mouth, but she interrupts. “But you have to promise to listen. Merlin?”

Merlin stands by her awkwardly. “I have magic. She has magic. We both have magic,” he says in a rush. Then he stops and waits.

“Yes, very eloquent, thank you,” Morgana sighs.

Arthur leans back in his chair. His face is schooled into neutrality, but his posture is relaxed, which she takes as a good sign. “Well, I can’t decide if that’s preferable or not to my alternate theory that you two were having an affair and Morgana was going to tell me she’d gotten in a spot of trouble.”

Theoretically, they had even discussed that Arthur might come to this conclusion, but still Merlin looks like he just ate a dozen lemons or is going to be sick, or possibly both, and Morgana tries not to take offense; after all, it’s not like the feeling isn’t mutual.

“Now, now, Arthur,” she says coyly. “You know I leave the affair with Merlin to you.”

“Morgana!” he hisses back at her. Then he continues, more calmly, “Don’t think you can distract me from the point here.  You two are lucky that I know and trust you so well, otherwise I might wonder why two sorcerers were hiding from me for so long and what they were conspiring about together.”

“You don’t sound surprised,” Merlin says slowly.

“Good catch, Merlin,” Arthur drawls.

Morgana drops into one of the other chairs. This is definitely a better start than she had imagined, but sometimes Arthur’s calm can hide a storm. “How long have you known?”

“Merlin, sit down, I won’t have you looming over the both of us,” Arthur says to Merlin, and then regards the both of them. “I didn’t know for sure, but I had an inkling. Astoundingly, I didn’t really suspect Merlin; it was you. You were always fighting Father about magic and the fate of magic users, and lately it seems as if your nightmares have stopped, but you still have uncanny advice. When I noticed you and Merlin around each other more often, I wracked my brain trying to figure out why. And, well, that you both had magic certainly seemed more likely than anything illicit.”

“I could be involved in illicit things!” Merlin protests, frowning.

Arthur rolls his eyes. “Please.”

“I could,” Merlin insists. “I’ve been practicing magic illegally! For years! Aren’t you appalled at my deviousness?”

Arthur’s voice is soft. “Merlin, despite your best efforts, there is very little you could do at this point to make me believe you are not entirely loyal to Camelot.”

“Loyal to you,” Merlin responds, just as softly.

The sweetness is getting a little thick for Morgana, so she asks, with a lift of her eyebrows and some skepticism in her voice, “You’re not angry?”

“You both should have told me earlier, Merlin especially,” Arthur says. “But as I’ve had time to really reflect on Father’s laws, I understand why you waited. However,” he adds, putting his feet up on the table, which Morgana cringes at, “that doesn’t mean I don’t have plenty of questions. Get comfortable.”

After Arthur runs them through a minor interrogation, demanding details of every time they have used magic, it turns out, he tells them, he already has a speech and new laws drafted to rescind the ban.

*

One night as they dine, Arthur turns to her. “Would you want to be Queen?” he asks.

Morgana nearly chokes, and tries to cough delicately. “What?”

“I know that’s what you were angling for years ago,” he tells her.

“Arthur.” Morgana pauses. “I am your half sister.” He opens his mouth, but she holds up a hand. “That may have been my dream long ago, but even if it were advisable today, I am now a noblewoman in my own right.”

Arthur looks into his wine cup. “Well,” he starts. “I suspected, but Father never confirmed. Regardless, the people wouldn’t know of our relation, only that you would make a great queen, and you would have nothing to fear from me as my interests lie in another direction--”

“I’m not marrying my brother,” Morgana says. “And most certainly not you.”

“You’ve wounded me,” he replies, hand over his heart.

“You wouldn’t be the first king to rule without a queen, though historically, the reverse does it better. Uther did it for two decades, after all; the only real issue is of course an heir, which you can appoint later.” She says all of this briskly, surely, leaving no room for Arthur to argue. “However, if you were to put together an equitable council rather than recycling the old men your father used, I would be pleased to invite myself to a position there.”

At that, Arthur laughs. “I’m glad you have not changed, Morgana.”

Morgana smiles ferally. “You have no idea. Now tell me about these interests of yours and what direction they lie in,” she says, tone innocent, like she has no idea that Arthur has a weakness for disobedient manservants-slash-secret-sorcerers. “Have you perhaps considered a Prince Consort instead of a Queen?”

Arthur groans in regret.

 

*

“Morgana, I can’t spy on the king!” Gwen whispers fiercely.

“We are not spying,” Morgana whispers back. “We simply came to ask him a question, and he did not answer his door, so we are awaiting his return.”

The question is a ruse, of course. She’s noticed Merlin and Arthur making frequent visits to the king’s chambers at various times throughout the day, and she’s dying of curiosity. She gave him a good kick during their last conversation, telling him he was an idiot not fit to be king if he couldn’t figure out that Merlin does what he does out of more than just duty. She’s always found that insults are best at getting him to do the right thing--the right thing, in this case, being finally confessing feelings and getting his not-so-subservient manservant into bed.

“Awaiting his return even though we can hear him inside,” Gwen deadpans.

“Yes,” Morgana says. “Now hush and listen!”

The two men are quiet enough, for once, that they can only make out words here and there. There’s a loud clatter that sounds like dishes, and Morgana feels a flair of magic (being put to creative use, she can only imagine), and then from within the room Arthur shouts “Fuck!”

Gwen looks at Morgana wildly. “Do you think he’s hurt?”

Morgana puts a finger up to her lips and shakes her head, smiling. “Not in any way he’d want us to stop,” she says under her breath.

“My gods, the mouth on you. You can’t talk to me like that,” Arthur says loudly, but sounds strained. Merlin laughs and says something to him that makes Arthur curse again. “Come here, then.” The room and the hall goes quiet. If Morgana presses her ear to the wood of the door, she can just barely make out muffled little gasps.

She’s so tempted to cast a spell to peek in, but Gwen apparently finally catches onto what’s happening and what Morgana has in mind. “No,” Gwen tells her firmly. “They’re our friends and we should give them privacy now.” She tugs at Morgana’s hand, pulling her away.

“Did you need something, your grace?” a voice behind them says. She turns around and sees Leon watching them kindly.

“No, I--I thought I heard Arthur reciting poetry and had to stop at such a marvel, but I suppose I misheard,” she tells him, smiling. She doesn’t need an excuse, necessarily, but she also doesn’t want him reporting to Arthur that she was loitering outside his quarters in the evening.

“Ah, poetry, yes,” Leon says with meaning that Morgana can’t decipher. “Very well then, good night, my ladies.” He continues on his patrol, and Morgana and Gwen return to her chambers.

Morgana wanted to see , though. Not out of a perverse desire to be a voyeur, but to see how pale skin and dark hair looked against someone so golden and bright. She aches to see the moon and the sun come together with neither being eclipsed nor burned. Surely if the space between servant and king were not insurmountable, neither would be that between maid and lady?

*

“Arthur, I want you to grant Gwen freewoman status,” Morgana says at supper. It’s just the two of them. “I think she should serve on the council as a representative of the people.”

“And I think you’re really quite demanding,” Arthur replies, talking with his mouth full like a barbarian rather than a king.

Morgana gives him a look. “I don’t care what you think, so long as you do what I ask.” Arthur snorts, and she continues. “Look. They’ve no one to run their father’s forge since you made Elyan a knight. You know that Gwen inherited that talent, and besides that, she sees things neither of us ever could, but keeps a calm head and a bearing to rival Geoffrey’s. She would be an invaluable asset to the council if you allow it.”

“I don’t disagree.” Arthur has stopped eating like he was raised in a barn and is considering her seriously. “Are you really prepared to lose her as a maid, though?”

“We are friends,” Morgana says simply. “I know that although I will lose a maid, that will not change.”

Arthur nods. “It will be taken care of.”

*

Later that week, Gwen enters Morgana’s chambers in a fluster, waving a scroll of paper at her. “Did you know about this?” she demands.

Morgana can guess what she’s brandishing, and smiles at her. “I had some idea.”

Gwen stops and puts her hand on her hips, and Morgana, stomach sinking, realizes that she does not look that happy. “Have I done something to displease you, Morgana? To send me away like this, after all we’ve been through, even the reveal of your magic when it was forbidden? At least tell me to my face instead of having Arthur do it.”

Some of the dread lifts from Morgana.

“Oh no, Gwen,” Morgana gasps. “No, absolutely not. I think you are too wise to spend all your days fixing my hair, and I want you to have choices . But I would never want to send you away and stop seeing you.” She reaches for Gwen’s hand. “I had hopes, in fact, that it would allow us to become closer friends.”

Gwen no longer looks ready for a battle, but she still has a small frown, eyebrows furrowed. It’s such an adorable look. “How so?”

“Well.” Morgana thinks. “You’ll have more time for your own hobbies. And when you’re working in the forge again, we can spar together!”

“Morgana.” Gwen comes a little closer, all fight having left her face. “Did you make Arthur do this so you wouldn’t have guilt about kissing me?”

Her desk is against her back, and Gwen just a hand's width away from her.   She hasn’t kissed Gwen, that’s the whole point. The whole point of the feelings coiled inside her, her wish for Gwen to obtain her true dreams, yes, but also for she herself to not be confronted with such temptation everyday, desire simmering beneath her skin; or, if she were to give in, for it to not be an abuse of her power. “I haven’t kissed you,” she says.

Gwen grins. “Well, you should,” she teases, and then is the one kissing her.

It’s new, letting Gwen have control of this. Morgana is so used to just manipulating or taking what she wants that she can, and has, done it in her sleep---but never with anything or anyone as precious as Gwen. She would not even think to take; but now she is offered, and she opens to it.  She finds herself clutching at Gwen’s arms, soft and strong all at once, desperately, tilting her head to deepen the kiss.

When Gwen pulls back, she’s beaming. “See? You can’t take advantage of me if I take advantage of you first, Morgana.”

Gwen leaves with a final, brief kiss and her promise to return after getting the forge opened again, and Morgana sees herself to bed.  

She remember Gwen’s hand in hers and craves more, but the more leaves her both aroused and wracked with guilt. Here, alone, she lets her hands find their way beneath her sleeping gown as she imagines. She wants to be at her friend’s mercy, on her knees, wants Gwen to dig fingers and teeth into her until she bleeds, hands on her throat until she loses her breath.  These are not the things Gwen deserves, the woman who picks flowers for Morgana just to cheer her up.

After all she’s done to put herself on a new path, is she always destined to descend into such darkness?

*

It’s not like she can talk to anyone about these fears--she wouldn’t want to traumatize Merlin, and she’d talk about her desire with Arthur over her own dead body.  Still, it seems Merlin senses she’s distracted by something, because he tells her that he is showing Arthur something magical tonight in the clearing near the forest, and that she is more than welcome to join them, too. “You have to come,” he says, actually, full of eagerness, and Morgana can’t decline then.

So there she is in the cold twilight, sitting with Arthur, waiting on their friend. “It’s comforting to know at least he’s late with everything including sorcerous displays, and not just with my needs,” Arthur complains, but she can hear the fondness in his voice.

Suddenly they hear great gusts of wind, and a dragon descends onto the ground. She expects Arthur to unsheath his sword and charge, but Merlin must have given him a warning, because Arthur just stands still while Merlin hops off the dragon’s back. He’s clutching a large white egg in his arms.

“The witch is here,” says the deep rumble of the dragon.

Merlin rolls his eyes. “Don’t mind him, Morgana. He’s grumpy that he had to change his prophecies about you being the doom of us and all that.” The dragon sends a small huff of smoke Merlin’s way. “I wanted both of you to be here for this,” he says, setting the egg down. “This is the last dragon egg, and it’s time for her to hatch.”

Morgana arches an eyebrow. “How do you know that? Where did you get that egg, anyway?”

“Um,” Merlin says. “Did I ever mention I was the last Dragonlord? No? Surprise.”

“Oh, just the last Dragonlord, no big deal,” Arthur mocks. He turns to Morgana and adds, “He didn’t even tell me until last night. What’s next? Maybe he’s actually part fae. Certainly would explain those ears.”

Merlin huffs. “Stop whining, do you want to see this or not? Ready, Kilgharrah?”

“I never dared dream of such a moment,” the dragon says. Morgana thinks he may be smiling, in a reptilian way. “You must give it a name.”

“I know.” Merlin closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, then throws his head back and yells in the guttural dragon tongue. “Aithusa!”

Morgana watches as the egg slowly cracks open piece by piece. A tiny white snout pokes out, followed by a head and then wings, then finally the rest of the baby dragon. “She’s so darling,” she coos.

“A white dragon is, indeed, a rare thing--and fitting. In the dragon tongue, you named her after the light of the sun,” the large dragon, Kilgharrah, says. “No dragon birth is without meaning, and Aithusa bodes well for Albion, for you and Arthur, and for the land that you will build together.”

Merlin flushes at that, and Arthur steps up to stand by him and brush his hand against Merlin’s. Merlin beams at him, and Morgana smiles to herself as Arthur cups Merlin’s chin and leans in for a small kiss.

Aithusa is trilling happily, and makes small little hop-flights over to Morgana, who scratches her under the chin. “Who will watch over her for now?” she asks. “Can she be on her own?”

“We could care for her until she gets too big,” Merlin says, tearing his gaze away from Arthur. “Then she’d be able to be on her own, with some guidance from Kilgharrah, of course.”

“She can stay with me,” Morgana volunteers. “Can’t you, girl? Yes, we’ll be the best of friends, won’t we? Gwen will love you.”

Arthur is staring at her, looking appalled. “My gods, Morgana, it’s a dragon! Stop talking to it like it’s a pup!”

She glares at him and picks up Aithusa, who flaps her small wings in Morgana’s arms. “No need to be so mean, Arthur,” she tells him, and starts back to the castle. Merlin laughs at Arthur’s face and bids farewell to Kilgharrah, then drags Arthur in that direction as well.

*

Morgana was right: the next day when she shows up at Gwen’s door and Gwen sets eyes on Aithusa, she’s squealing with delight. “She’s adorable! Was she not manly enough for Arthur to claim?” she asks after giving Morgana a quick kiss hello.

“I didn’t really give him the chance,” Morgana laughs. The small dragon is curled up in Morgana’s arms, and opens her eyes to blink at them.  

“How is everyone else reacting to having a dragon in the castle?” Gwen asks. She’s still friendly with castle servants and gets the most important gossip, but she no longer hears the minute goings-on.

She allows Aithusa to jump onto the floor, where she stretches. “It’s mixed, but fortunately Aithusa is small and sweet enough, for now, that she’s not frightening. It’s mostly the older ones who object. They’re still clinging to Uther’s ways.”

Gwen nods. “Yes, during the last council I attended, Lord Moriaen spent a good quarter of it complaining about how Arthur is ‘obliterating’,” here she made a face, “his father’s legacy by not actively hunting magic users and such.”

“I can imagine how Arthur responded to that!” Morgana says.

Gwen’s cheeks pinken a little and she grins. “Well, I may have responded before Arthur, reminding Lord Moriaen that some of us present had suffered the misguided consequences of Uther’s war against magic. But Arthur did give him a good lecture after that, and Merlin was staring daggers at him the whole time.”

“Good. He’s grown much.” It goes unspoken that Uther’s death was a blessing for them all; even Arthur, really, who no longer has to reconcile his need to please his father with the need to do what’s right, two things that were so often at odds.  

Her thoughts are broken by Gwen taking her hand. “Shall we take Aithusa for a walk?” The little dragon chirps from where she is on the chandelier. “I think that’s a yes,” Gwen says, beckoning her down. They exit Gwen’s home and walk towards the woods arm in arm.

When they reach the clearing, Morgana wonders if Aithusa recognizes her hatching place. She doesn’t give much indication either way, simply taking the space to flex her wings and fly short distances. Morgana and Gwen settle in a shaded spot in the grass; Morgana momentarily wishes she hadn’t worn one of her dresses, but she can magic out any grass markings later.

Gwen rests her head on Morgana’s shoulder, and they watch Aithusa frolicking underneath the clear skies. After a moment, Morgana turns to kiss Gwen, who responds instantly, opening her mouth to Morgana’s. She bites at Morgana’s bottom lip before sliding her tongue in. Morgana feels the sun at her back, Gwen’s hot mouth and breeches-clad thigh in front of her, and she is happy.

So, of course, that’s the exact moment that Aithusa decides to practice her fire-breathing, which they notice when the tree branches right above them burst into flames. They jump away and Morgana quickly douses it with a water spell.

Morgana turns to Aithusa, hands on her hips. “Next time try not to set fires so close to us, my lady,” she scolds her.

Aithusa trills, and any irritation dissipates.  Morgana pets her head before allowing her to go back and play; this time, she and Gwen sit in the open, away from anything that might go up in flames around an enthusiastic young dragon.

*

After dinner, Morgana pulls Gwen to her on the bed and nestles her face in Gwen’s neck. “You smell so good,” she tells her.

Gwen snorts in disbelief. “I’ve been at the forge. I could use a bath, really.”

“No, you smell warm, like fire and iron. It’s nice.” She kisses along Gwen’s neck and shoulder. “But I can prepare a bath for us.”

“That would be lovely,” Gwen says, sighing.

Morgana moves to the tub behind her screen and pours the water from a few buckets into the tub, using magic to heat it to a reasonable temperature. “It’s nice not having to wait for someone to haul buckets of boiling water up anymore,” she says. “And I’m sure the staff prefers it as well. Come, it’s ready.”

She unlaces Gwen’s dress for her, pulling it down around her shoulders to her waist. Gwen is then bare; when working in the heat, she forgoes the extra layers and undergarments usually appropriate for a woman. Morgana gazes at her hungrily, at her round, brown nipples tightening in the cool air. So far she’s kept their relationship to leisurely kisses, scared of her own wants, but she’s growing just as needy as she knows Gwen is. “Can I touch you?” she asks.

Gwen gasps. “Yes, please, finally.”

That’s all the permission Morgana needs, and she pushes Gwen to the stool next to the tub, following her on her knees. Then her hands are all over the glowing bronze of Gwen’s skin, sweeping over her sides to hold her still as Morgana ducks her head and takes a nipple into her mouth. Gwen runs her fingers through Morgana’s hair and then grips her by the roots, holding her head, trying to bring her even closer, and Morgana hums, feeling heady at the pull.  

Her hands lift Gwen’s skirt until she finds wetness, her thumb stroking over the bud of Gwen’s clit. Gwen moans, releasing Morgana’s head so she can lean backwards against the tub, allowing her legs to fall ever-so-slightly more open.  She kisses along the soft inside of Gwen’s thighs, then replaces her thumb with her mouth. Morgana moves her hands to rest on Gwen’s bottom, nudging her to lift her hips to a better angle. Gwen is hard and wet beneath her tongue, and the sounds she is making has Morgana feeling as if she’s on fire.

Gwen’s thighs start to quiver and she wraps them tighter around Morgana’s shoulders, sighing yesyesyes, and Morgana redoubles her attentions. She flattens her tongue and licks a broad stripe over Gwen’s cunt before suckling her clit back into her mouth, lapping at it with her tongue quickly. Gwen shoves Morgana’s head impossibly closer, and Morgana’s entire face is damp, which sends a bolt of pleasure through her. Gwen grinds up into her, and then her muscles are tensing and she’s pulsing under Morgana’s tongue, gasping out her name.

“Mmm,” Morgana murmurs.

Gwen pulls her back up and kisses, open-mouthed, at the wetness on her face. “Let me undress you now,” she says.  She finishes removing her own dress and then moves to Morgana’s, unlacing her and holding her hand as Morgana steps out of it.

Gwen moves her hands over Morgana’s hips, dipping lower, but Morgana stops her, grabbing her hands and kissing it gently.

“Let’s get in that bath,” she says.

*

When Morgana wakes up from her dream about an invading army, her heart is racing. There’s an urgency pounding in her, and she knows: this is how I know what’s real. This attack is coming, and soon. She hurries out of bed, trying not to disturb Gwen, but Gwen still stirs.

“What’s going on?” Gwen says sleepily.

“I had a vision,” Morgana tells her. “Nothing to worry about yet, but I’m going to Arthur. Go back to sleep.” She kisses Gwen’s nose and throws on her dressing robe. After grabbing a candle, she makes her way to Arthur’s chambers.

She enters without knocking, shutting the door loudly behind her. “Arthur, get up!”

Arthur bolts upright, chest bare, immediately alert. “What are you bothering me in the middle of the night for, Morgana?” Beside him, a mop of black hair burrows deeper under the blankets, as if trying to block out the sound. Or hide.

“We are going to be attacked,” she says.  “I’ve seen it.” Morgana says it with such sure conviction that Merlin uncovers his head.

“Alright, look away while we make ourselves decent.”

She obliges, setting her candle down on Arthur’s table while she listens to the rustle of clothing in the background.  She hears the roar of a new fire, which Merlin must have started, and it casts the room in dim light. They join her at the table then, faces serious.

“What did you see?” Merlin asks. He rubs at a spot on his neck, dark red-purple peeking out from his fingers, where his neckerchief would usually cover.

“An attack--an army of, oh, thousands, battering at the citadel gates.” She closes her eyes, recalling the vision. This is one thing she’s learned to do--to replay the visions, control the speed and focus. “It was night, but there was no moon in the sky. The new moon! That’s just one night from now.”

Arthur lets out a breath. “At least that means we have some time. Could you tell who it was?”

Morgana shakes her head sadly. “No. But--they were a sea of red and black, and their shields had two entwined snakes.”

“Saxons.” Arthur growls. “I’m getting the knights. Merlin, you and Morgana discuss our magical defenses. No one sleeps until this is over.”

For once, neither Morgana nor Merlin offer any disagreement or complaint, but there is little to plan that hasn’t been discussed before. Morgana is better with defensive and healing spells, and that’s where here energy will be spent. They both know Merlin will be following Arthur to guard him and cast more powerful offensive spells.

Arthur returns with the knights, and once everyone is gathered, he stands before them.  “Thanks to Morgana, we have forewarning that the Saxons will be attacking us by the next nightfall. I want all of you spending the time until then preparing.”

“How many?” Gwaine asks.

“Morgana estimates that they have a few times our numbers,” Arthur admits. “But we know they are coming, and we also have two sorcerers on our side that they don’t.”

Percival speaks up. “If we know which direction they are coming from, we could send a small party of archers to deplete their numbers from a distance.”

“North,” Morgana says. Arthur nods, signaling that this shall be done.

By time they finish with laying out tactics, the sun has risen.  

Morgana returns to her room, where Gwen is already awake and dressed. “Best fetch some of your armor, dearheart,” Morgana tells her. She quickly removes her robe and night dress, switching them for tunic and breeches. “We have a battle coming to Camelot’s door tonight.”

“Preparations have already been made?” Gwen asks.

“That’s what we’re working on now,” Morgana says.

Gwen kisses her as she passes by. “I’ll be back soon.”

Morgana spends the time in between adding a layer of protection to the windows and outside doors of the castle, strengthening them and making them impervious to to fire. She helps Gaius set up medical stations in the entrance hall.

Some time later, Gwen returns, hair in a thick braid, clad in hauberk and leather cuirass, and hands a matching set over to Morgana. “Just made these,” she says. “Here’s to hoping you won’t get a chance to break them in today.”

“I know nothing will harm me while I am protected by your handiwork,” Morgana replies, smirking. “And by my own talents.”

Gwen rolls her eyes good-naturedly at Morgana as she starts putting on the armor, and takes in the action around her. “What else do you need me to do?”

“Arthur and the knights have rounded up and ensured all the soldiers are armed, Gaius and I have the great hall prepared for any injuries… honestly, we should take an hour to find some lunch for everyone.” Morgana raises an arm for Gwen to help her fasten the sides of the cuirass. “I’m not sure anyone has eaten yet, and we don’t need them fatigued from hunger later.”

“Alright then.” She pats Morgana on her side, signaling she’s done with the fastenings. “Let’s head to the kitchens.”

The kitchen staff is only too happy to help, producing platters of meat and eggs at an incredible speed. Morgana and Gwen each take their helping first, then summon a few serving maids along with them to set out the food in the entrance hall.

When one of the soldiers races back with the message that their enemy has been seen approaching, she feels ready.

She finds Arthur and Merlin, grabs each of them to wish them good luck, then turns around to everyone else. “If you are not fighting or assisting with the infirmary, leave this room now!” she shouts over the noise. “All of the doors leading into the main castle will be magically sealed for your protection.”

Everything then passes in a blur. People shuffle out, and Morgana shuts and seals each of the heavy doors. She and Gwen stay in their place in the hall; Gwen near the outside door, the only one left unguarded, to help usher in the wounded and prevent anyone else from besieging them, and Morgana at the ready to help Gaius with treating and healing.

She knows her brother and his sorcerer are headed to the parapets of the western tower, and despite feeling they had adequate time to prepare, she can’t stop her stomach from clenching in worry about them.

Distant sounds of battle start soon after, but it takes a while for anyone in need of medical care to join them, which she takes as a good omen.  

The first man has a deep wound in his thigh, and while Gaius handles a few more minor injuries, Morgana takes over with him, whispering “ad-lāto jīkkā.” He watches in astonishment as his wound stops bleeding. “How do things fare out there?” she asks as she sews up the skin and places a bandage over it, then repeats the spell.

He stretches his leg, looking amazed. “I think we have a chance, your grace,” he tells her. “The archers were able to get a couple hundred of ‘em before they reached us. And that Merlin is a marvel, raining lightning and fire, but it only ever touches our enemy.”

Morgana smiles in relief. “I’m so glad.” She hands him a flask of watered wine. “I suggest you take as much time as possible here to let your wound finish healing. I’m able to stop the bleeding and speed up the mending of your skin, but I cannot create new tissue to do it instantly, so there is some risk of it reopening if you return to battle immediately.”

The soldier inclines his head to her. “Thank you.”

When total darkness falls, the number of injured coming to them increases. Morgana tells Gaius she’ll be right back, and runs up to the parapets. She sees Aithusa circling in the air, calculating her next sweeping attack. Merlin and Arthur are standing towards the back. “Merlin! The men on the ground can’t see, more of them are being injured--they need light.”

It’s Arthur who answers her. “He’s doing too much already, Morgana. Can you give them light?”

Morgana’s eyes widen. “I… I haven’t done more than just small lights.”

“You can,” Merlin grits out. “You have to.”

“Yes. Alright.” Morgana moves forward, closer to the edge, and focuses on one of the torches along the wall to summon an image of light. “Leuxs!” She gestures her hand to separate the ball of light from the flames, raising it in front of her. She feels the light expand. “Φātse φlandi-tuarimāro,” she tells the light, and it grows even more.

She faintly hears Arthur gasp at something. “Merlin, I see their commander. There. Take him alive.”

Morgana thinks of Gwen back in the hall, of Merlin behind her, shaking from using his magic to the fullest, of Arthur giving orders to his men while keeping guard over Merlin. She thinks of second chances, and how they can’t end here. The light before her swells until it engulfs her.

Below them, Camelot’s soldiers are able to regain their footing. If anyone on the ground were to look up, they would see Morgana shining like a beacon for them upon the tower.

*

In the end, they only lose a few dozen men, and none of Arthur’s most trusted knights, a near miracle given the scale of the battle.

Morgana returns to Gaius to tend to the wounded while Arthur deals with the Saxon commander. After the last appendage is healed and bandaged, she stumbles with Gwen back up to her room. Any celebrations can wait until they’ve all had a few hours of sleep.

*

The feast following their victory is the largest and most festive they’ve had since Arthur’s coronation. Arthur dotes very publicly on a still-tired but beaming Merlin, and Morgana and Gwen are flushed with wine and happiness when they return to Morgana’s room.

Once they are undressed, Gwen bestows light kisses on Morgana’s eyes, nose, cheeks, mouth. “Let me touch you tonight, please,” she murmurs.

“It’s fine, Gwen--” Morgana starts.

“I want to,” Gwen replies. “How can you think I don’t long to? Why don’t you let me?”

She might blame the wine, later, but she really didn’t drink that much, and so in truth it’s just the weight of the last few weeks being lifted by their victory--and her part in it--that allows her to answer Gwen. “I’m still frightened of myself, sometimes. Sometimes, my dreams are still terrible and I don’t know if it’s a vision or just my own mind, and I don’t want to let go and let that darkness touch you. You deserve flowers and poetry and romance. Everything good, like you.”

“You can have both, you know,” Gwen laughs.

Morgana’s mouth opens in surprise at her. “Gwen?”

“I had some idea,” she confesses. “Nothing gets you worked up more than when I’ve been in the forge all day, and you love when I pull your hair or grip you so hard it must hurt.”  Gwen pushes her down on the bed and straddles her waist, holding her there. She scrapes her rough nails over the soft skin of Morgana’s breasts, watching her nipples harden but ignoring them. “You might have to give me some direction, though. Tell me about what you want.”

“I think about waiting for you in bed, naked, just waiting for you to get home. To shove me around until I’m where you want. I think about you sitting on top of me like this, using my mouth.” Morgana moans as Gwen gives her clit a few teasing strokes before slipping a finger into her.

Gwen’s breath is warm on her ear. “What else?”

“You’ll hold my throat until I can’t do anything but gasp your name,” Morgana says, voice becoming strained. Gwen has two fingers in her now, quickly followed by a third, curling. “And I want to be filled twice by you.”

“You mean…?” Gwen trails off, flushing.

Morgana looks away even as she raises her hips into Gwen’s hand. “Yes.”

Gwen pulls away and sits back, and Morgana feels her face heat; that was obviously too much. But then Gwen isn’t leaving, she’s just moving to the edge of the bed. “Come here,” Gwen says. Morgana scoots over to her, and together they arrange themselves so Morgana is sitting in Gwen’s lap, facing her.

One hand sneaks between them, Gwen’s fingers rubbing circles on her clit. Morgana catches Gwen’s mouth in a kiss, humming happily. She feels herself growing wetter; Gwen dips her fingers inside again, but only for the briefest moment, and then a slick finger is moving, snaking around her back, gently touching the pucker between her cheeks.

“Oh!” Morgana gasps. She didn’t expect Gwen to be open to this so soon-- now . But it’s good, and Gwen uses her other hand to push fingers back into Morgana’s cunt as she breaches her other hole. It’s just the fingertip and already Morgana is on fire, electricity exploding in her veins. She grinds onto the fingers in front, letting Gwen set a shallow, teasing pace with her arse. “Gwen,” she cries out. “Gwengwengwen , yes.”

She arches, throwing her head back, and Gwen takes the opportunity the angle provides to lick at Morgana’s nipples. “Is that good?” she asks.

“Yes, gods, don’t you dare--dare stop,” she manages, thrusting downwards so Gwen’s fingers go deeper, riding her hands. Then that’s too much, so much, and Morgana’s shaking and her entire body is vibrating as she sobs and comes.

Gwen retreats from her body gently, then holds her and nuzzles into her neck. “You’re good, see, you’re so lovely.”

Morgana takes a few minutes to catch her breath, then kisses Gwen. “You seem to never think me strange no matter what I do.”

She can feel Gwen smile against her skin. “Well,” she laughs. “I’ve long learned you’re like no one else. Not to be surprised by you. You make things interesting and I like a bit of adventure.”

Morgana says, “Come with me to Tintagel? I haven’t been home since… since I came to Camelot. I need to get some things in order now that it’s my duchy, and I want you by my side.”

“Of course!” Gwen props herself up on her elbows.

“You’re amazing. I love you,” Morgana tells her, reaching up to smooth Gwen’s hair.

“I love you, always,” Gwen replies, lighting up.


*

Arthur and Merlin stand on the steps of the castle courtyard, waiting for Morgana and Gwen to finish packing up their horses.

When Morgana turns around back to them, she smiles at them, basked in the early morning light. Merlin has been resistant to the title of Prince Consort (though Morgana is sure Arthur will manage to convince him eventually), but by now he’s that in all but title, and everyone knows. Arthur has wrestled him into finer tunics and a simple thin circlet. When they are shoulder to shoulder, it is obvious who Arthur has chosen to love and rule with.

She looks to Gwen; neither of them are meant for a crown--better suited for fire under their hands, iron beneath silk, daggers sheathed by diplomatic words--but theirs is a fairytale too.

“Well, good riddance,” Arthur says to break the silence, but he’s grinning at them.

Morgana strides over to embrace him. “Keep talking like that and I’ll come back next week instead of next month,” she threatens. Then she goes on to wrap her arms around Merlin as Gwen and Arthur hug. “Thank you for everything, Merlin. Keep our king in line, won’t you?”

“Don’t worry, I’ve got a good handle on him,” Merlin says. Morgana gives a small huff of laughter and then returns to their horses.

“Safe travels,” says Arthur. “And in all seriousness, if you find everything in order sooner than expected, your rooms are always yours and require no invitation.”

The two women mount and wave farewell. Then they are trotting off onto the roads, accompanied only by Sir Gareth, who has been trying his best to hide his pining behind happiness for his king, and who will benefit from a little adventure away. With Morgana’s magic and Gwen’s ever-increasing skill with swords, he’s more of a backup rather than their only line of defense.

“We should reach Tintagel before dark, my ladies,” Sir Gareth tells them.

Morgana knows this, of course, since it’s her home they are headed towards, but still she nods.

Tintagel. There, she will see to her father Gorlois’ nobles, re-acquaint herself with the castle staff, gradually step fully into the role of Duchess rather than governing from afar.  Maybe introduce a spell or two for the lands, which she knows from reports have been dry.

Gwen is accompanying her to inspect the armory, but also to train, away from watchful eyes, with Sir Gareth.  Among the edicts of Uther’s that Arthur did away with was the rule that knighthood must only be bestowed upon noble sons. Guinevere may very well be the first female knight a long while. That’s one tradition they are all happy to return.

(Once, Morgana had a dream-vision of Gwen as a queen who strayed from her king with a knight. At the time, she felt an anger and despair she didn’t understand.

Now, she thinks of that with amusement: for Arthur’s love will never stray from him, not in any universe or reality, and instead Gwen will be the knight with the love of a lady.)

*


Leagues away from Emrys and the Once and Future King, back on the red-soaked battlefield, the the last High Priestess laid with unblinking eyes, floating in the moments just before death. How did we end up here? she thought. How did I lose everyone?  She was absolutely numb, but swore she felt her magic give one last faint surge, a whisper of the same words in another voice, and then all she knew was warmth.