You can also read this and view story artwork on my blog: http://talesfromamodernbard.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-voices-beneath-chapter-twenty-one.html
A Dark Rider Approaches
I spent the next week tending to Merlin who mostly slept and when he wasn’t sleeping, he was eating, trying to gain his strength back. All the time, a worry knotted in my belly from what he had told me. He had told Arthur everything—apart from my connection to Lady Morgan, which he avoided by saying that he had gone because of certain rumors he had heard and wanted to see for himself if they were true. There were many long discussions at the Round Table about what Morgan la Fay might be planning, and the inevitable war ahead that seemed to be more and more likely to turn into more than just rumors. I wanted so badly for everything to just come to a head and be done with, whether it took me with it or not. It seemed the waiting was always so much worse. I had been suffering for so long that when things finally seemed to be coming to some sort of end, the agony of anticipation seemed only all the more bitter.
One day, after seeing to Merlin who was starting to get up and about again, I decided to go and talk to Arthur. I wanted to know more about what he had to say of Morgan la Fay. I had rarely, if ever, heard him mention her before these troubles had come up, and I knew that, for a time at least, they had been raised together, and indeed, she was his half-sister so he must have known something of her. I feared it might be a sore subject, and part of me didn’t want to open what old wounds might be there, but I figured that with the impending war, any old wounds there might be were already reopened, and it was as good a time as any to show my curiosity for the subject. Besides, I was interested to see what rivalries might have been between them so I could better understand why Lady Morgan was so determined to see Arthur dead.
I found Arthur alone in his study looking over papers on his desk with a weary expression. He seemed to be overly tired of late, the trying circumstances weighing heavily upon him, and I assumed he had not been sleeping well. I very nearly turned around right then, seeing him such, or made some other excuse as to why I was there, but I needed to understand things too, and he had already turned a tired smile my way and beckoned me in.
“Ah, Mordred, can I help you with something?”
I came in and sat in the chair across from him at his desk. “I didn’t mean to intrude, I just, well, I had a few questions. I hope it doesn’t seem impertinent.”
Arthur smiled again and got up to pour two glasses of wine from a sideboard, handing one to me before he sat down again. “You know you can talk to me about anything, Mordred. It’s an open invitation.”
I took a deep breath before I continued. “I was just wondering about Lady Morgan. Why she seems so bent on war. I…I know very little of her.” It was true enough, though I still cringed at the deception. I did know very little of her. For I was never certain who she really was under all her guises. Certainly the Morgan la Fay I had met in the beginning was nothing like the Morgan I knew now. She had never told me, either, about why she was so bent on Camelot’s and Arthur’s destructions apart from the fact that she thought she deserved a place on the throne as was her right by birth.
Arthur looked somewhat reluctant by my choice of topic, but he set his cup down on the desk and looked across at me. “I suppose you know that she is my half-sister?” he asked and when I nodded confirmation, he continued. “Well, she actually is older than me by several years. You see, like Guinevere, everyone thought that my mother was barren, though she actually wasn’t, as was later to be seen by my conception. But in that time, my father grew…contemptible of my mother and had other relations with certain women of the court. And that was where Morgan came from. At first, he made to raise her as his daughter, despite what my mother thought, and maybe to spite her. But then it was discovered she was pregnant, and when I was born and found to be a male heir, the council thought it wise to be rid of Morgan, finding it inappropriate that an…illegitimate child be brought up in the palace.” He cast an uncomfortable look at me, thinking on the story I had told when I first came. I nodded slightly to put him at ease.
“However,” he continued, “my father knew he couldn’t just cast her out so he saw to it that she and the mother were well taken care of, though the woman was a noble in the first place and not by any means destitute, and Morgan was to be called ‘niece’ to the king in public instead of admitting she was his daughter even though everyone knew the difference. She and her mother frequented the palace much in my younger years and we got to know each other as cousins would, but there was always a bitterness on her part that has never truly gone away. I think she always felt that I had stolen her chance at the throne, and as can sometimes happen, that bitterness grew into hatred, and drove her to darker things. Eventually, after her mother died of fever, she went away and we saw her only rarely when she came back for holidays to gloat and spread her bitterness to make sure we never forgot. It was in that time of her long absences that she learned the art of sorcery. I know not what else she was doing in that time.” I swallowed hard, knowing very well indeed what Lady Morgan had been doing in that time. She had been raising a boy to turn assassin when she felt the time was right to rid the world of her noble half-brother.
“It is sad how bitterness and hatred can drive someone to such things,” Arthur said and looked into his wine glass as if seeing something far away. “My father was not a kind man, Mordred, I understand that, and while I think what he did was wrong, taunting my mother so, I can’t help but wonder if everything would be different if he had pleaded with the council to keep Morgan on and raise us together as brother and sister.”
I took a deep drink of the wine, unable to help myself from the words that came out of my mouth. “Sometimes, some people are just born evil, just like others are born good. It doesn’t always matter how they are brought up, or whether anything bad even happens to them. Perhaps Morgan la Fay is just the shadow to your light.”
Arthur gave a small, bemused smile at that as if he weren’t quite sure what to think of it, and was surprised it had come out of my mouth. “You see things in a very unique light, Mordred. You remind me of Merlin in that aspect. I like to try to see the best in people, but sometimes, you are right, there is little or none to be found.”
I felt bad then, for what I had said. I knew Arthur was anything but naïve, but I had been through so much in my life, so much cruelty, whereas he had lived in relative comfort, that he truly could not understand the darkness that so often frequented people’s hearts even where one was least expecting it. I felt sick to my stomach as I began to wonder whether I too would show him what darkness lay inside me that Morgan had put there and betray him when he least expected it.
“Everyone deserves a chance to be redeemed,” I told him kindly, trying to soften the blow I had given before. “Perhaps she too will see sense in the end.”
Arthur smiled kindly. “It is nice of you to say so, Mordred. But I fear you were right the first time. I do not think it is in Morgan’s interests to be redeemed in my sight. She only wants my blood and my throne.”
I didn’t really know what to reply to that, but had no more time to think of it, for there was shouting out in the courtyard, and Arthur and I exchanged a look before we got up and hurried over to the window, looking down to see what the commotion was about.
“Gawain, what is it?” Arthur called down, leaning out of the window and catching sight of the knight.
Gawain looked up, his hair whipping back and fourth in the winds that had come up, indicating a storm on the horizon. “There are riders approaching, sire!”
“Can you tell where they hail from?” Arthur asked.
Gawain looked straight up at Arthur and there was none of the usual joviality in his features. “They bear the Lady Morgan’s pennant, sire.”
“Arm yourselves to meet them, but do not attack until we find out what they want, I will meet you at the gate.”
Arthur pulled back from the window and turned to look at me. “It seems that things are going to happen quicker than I thought,” he said. “Go fetch Merlin and come out to the gate to meet the entourage.”
I nodded, trying to hide my fear as I rushed off to Merlin’s room to fetch him. I had a feeling as dark and foreboding as the coming storm about this meeting. I did not know what it would bring, but I knew in my bones that it would be nothing good.
©Copyright 2014 by Hazel B West