Morgane signed an undisclosed contract when swearing revenge on her brother. The ultimate recourse of a wife is to become good. The ultimate recourse of a mother is to become wise.
Legends never stay the same. In the wrong hands – in the right hands – they transform, coming to a change. There is a course of history but when history is written by poets, chanters, foreigners, and products of a new generation, truth becomes interchangeable with ideology. Truth and reality are separated by a single veil and as centuries pass, they are impossible to tell apart from wild tales. In the end, all that remains is the shell of a story. Raw, truncated, unreliable.
Time changes the narrative. Alien ideologies sweep through the loose threads of a legend and before long, they take over and flip the world upside down. The force of creation takes all that is not pure, proper, or beautiful and inflicts change.
She believes her story is changed the moment when she awakens to the truth about her mother and King Uther. (And she awakens to it before even her mother would know, eyes snapping open in her bed, unable to move, unable to speak. It is only the mute understanding she has, of her situation, of the helplessness. ) She thinks it is the sorcerer who corrupts everything, the man with those watery, grey eyes. It is the emptiest shade she had ever seen. The sorcerer is visiting their house to take away the intruder child. The child Morgane perhaps hates more than she hates King Uther.
King Uther abused her mother but it was this little thing – this hateful little being she could never strangle – who came to life to remind her of the shame. The king committed a sin, but the boy became the icon of it. This small, sometimes giggly, sometimes wailing life, with rosy cheeks, who had no awareness of the world around him and the sin he was born out of. Morgane too, at this time, barely has any understanding of the world.
But disgrace, shame, fear, and hatred needs no age. In fact, it needs no understanding. Even in a young body, they burn and destroy. The absence of love. She implores the gods, offering even her soul to mend the anger.
Before leaving with the intruder child, the sorcerer comes to her. Morgane knows the look in his eyes, measuring her up, trying to see how much she understands. Disdain fills her to the core. She remains silent but her eyes sting him. I know all! She screams at him in her head, and the sorcerer hears her. Her magic sweeps through him, a surprise.
Will you take me too? She asks. It is almost hopeful. I am the one you need. He should not have been born.
He should not have been born, and yet, he was - so I am protecting him. What of me? Who will protect me?
The sorcerer leaves Morgane without an answer. It is how she knows. Protection does not come for girls like her, no matter how helpless, no matter how adept. It just does not. Protection and luck are restricted for men like the King, and his sinful products.
Her father dies in battle. Her mother takes her life by her own hands, disgraced, humiliated, alone.
It feels as if ever since the time she saw under his father’s skin and faced the King Uther, her life was not her own. Her veins filled with existential loneliness, the ache of solitude, and they grappled her. Nobody in the world can understand this solitude. There was more than that. An insatiable desire for vengeance. The girl child she used to be before died and the only thing alive in her was the welling disdain in her chest, pushing her towards the path of vengeance night by night. There are two things in this world, aggravating magic. One of them is hatred. The other one is love.
Morgane is a young girl when she meets her friends. They are born out of the hot flames of hell, stepping out naked from the smouldering ash. It is never a secret where they come from. They look the same age as her, and they have soft hands and slimy lips. They turn their palms towards her, invitingly. There is the same, empty grey look in their eyes Merlin used to look at her with.
“We could be just like three sisters,” they promise her. “We could show you how to work the magic you received. We could help you grow. You could become a woman beside us.”
It always seems as if Morgane has the most powerful magic out of the three of them. She is adept at magic, it comes to her as if she was a magnet, sucking up all the knowledge and skill. Her ability grows every day. After a while, she takes over her two demon companions - or as they introduce themselves: Leia and Hellawes. She discovers magic on their side.
However, it is not as though Morgane would not live in solitude. She voluntarily distances herself from those two. They never become anything such as “sisters.” In her heart, she could not trust them as equals. There is only one thing she could look at them and love them as: subjects.
If it teaches her anything, then it is the following: there is no true love in the world. She does not remember the protective embrace of her mother, she only recalls the way she abandoned her in this world. She cannot recall the loving words of her father, she could only see King Uther’s unbecoming eyes glowing under his iris, mocking her pain. Then she thinks of the intruder child, and her chest fills with an even more vicious poison.
And yet, by the time she is an adolescent – and older – she grows to hate one more person with a fiery passion. Merlin. The sorcerer with the cold emptiness in his eyes. Had he no remorse?
Sympathy for a witch child? In another world, Morgane thinks, he could have come for her, and taken her away. She could have become his apprentice and learn to be a sorceress. The kind they would never call a “witch.”
Now she lives on top of a mountain, with her grudges against humankind. There is no way she had any of her old blood left in her. Any with the innocence of a child. If she tried to open her heart, she tells herself, she would find she had none, to begin with. That is what life had done to her.
And the most bitter of it all? It is what life had done to her, and as if she had no control over it, she followed wherever fate led. She filled with hatred because Merlin destroyed her. She became loveless because her family abandoned her. She feasted on solitude… because she did not know any other. Ever since the birth of her brother, there was not a waking moment she felt at place (even though he was the displaced one!). There was not a night she could sleep without dreams disturbing her, old memories coming to the fore. Pictures she longed to forget.
If only she created herself a villain. But it was not her action: it was merely her reaction.
“One day I come down from the mountains and deceive mankind,” she tells Leia. “They will think they could trust me and that is when I have my revenge.”
“Yes, mistress. Until then, you practice how to deceive… even yourself.”
Leia and Hellawes look nothing alike. Of course, even when a child, Morgane realized that they were not sisters in blood. They were sisters in something deeper than that – the strange magic flowing in them connected the two. Where Leia was tinted blue and cold, Hellawes was pink and warm. She did not fit between them, she only fit above them. It is a different kind of integrity.
There is a distance between mistress and servant. Intentional and accidental, too.
“For me, a woman who had abandoned all her affections and ties…” she tells them, her fingers caressing their ever-so-young, healthy demon faces. “You are the only two I love.”
She lies, however. There was nothing she abandoned out of her own volition. Her ties got severed, as she watched, a paralyzed, scared little child.
Those two nuzzle against her like pets. They are not warm and not cold. They take the shape of a woman, but Morgane knows they are something else. It dawns on her that she is alone, even in her womanhood. Those two may imitate the shape of the perfect woman but all that is feminine about them is nothing more than magic. She can love them freely because they are not of this world.
When she speaks, they listen but they never have ideas of their own. It is like they can only resound her own thoughts, caressing her with sympathy, but never go past being simple echoes of her own voice. There is a loneliness in that as well – the solitude of being around others and knowing that you do not belong.
For her, love between two humans is vulnerability. At first, the love of the flesh is also disgusting. It is a weapon, but anytime she uses that weapon she invokes King Uther and his abuse in herself. This aggravates the nightmares. However, a sorceress, a priestess needs her blood and her flesh for rituals. When she is making offering to the goddess of revenge she could feel her powers grow. Time passes, and she learns to embrace it and use it without remorse. The prowess. It is just another branch of her magic, it is just another way for her to realize her plans.
Méléagant wants her the same way all men desire a woman’s touch. She is disgusted. Of the treachery and weakness of mankind, unable to settle for one object to long for. They see a pretty face, and they plan to have it all. As disgusting as vulnerable it is, Morgane always thinks. King Uther was nothing more than a pathetic man, who happened to have an army, authority, and a powerful sorcerer on his side who would grant his every wish. And called it fate. As justification.
“You want Guinevere,” she tells Mélégeant, nails clawing at his chin. “I can give you that. And more.”
“How much more?”
“As far as your ambition goes.” He grabs her by the wrist but as strong as he physically is, as weak in will. There is darkness inside his heart. Purity escaped him, so she can control him with ease. “You want Guinevere, you want Arthur’s glory. I want Arthur. But his death is not timely.”
“Death is my gift to him. First, he suffers.”
Mélégeant calls her a wicked witch and seeks out her lips. She slips away from him before he would reach, pretending it is only a game they play. Her magic is powerful enough to render him helpless but she knows it is not the reality of other women. Then, she has no capacity to think of other women deeply. The revenge she seeks is for her own solitude and not for her mother. It used to be for her mother before she learned better.
“First, work,” she tells him. “And then we negotiate the terms of surrender.”
He thinks he is winning but Morgane is not the one who will surrender her body to him. She is constructing a plan greater than him, something he cannot even begin to comprehend. Mélégéant is only the first step towards her torturous revenge – and if she needs to fool him using his disgusting, carnal desires, she will very well do so.
She takes Leia and Hellawes by the arm and kisses them on the lips. “You seal your vengeance, mistress?” Leia asks.
“You seal your will to interfere in that man’s history? Through whatever it takes?” So does Hellawes.
Their skinny arms curl around her as they lower themselves below the priestess, beautiful pet demons. She likes the way they serve her. They are silent when they have to be and their watery, grey eyes are always on her, following her steps, protecting her with their gazes.
“I seal my victory.”
They speak in unison, their voices melting into one another. “So be it.” A pause. “It is done.”
Arthur is just as she expects him to be. Foolish and angry, not understanding anything of the world. He yells treason and rejects reality and the truth so aggressively, Morgane has to laugh. There is nothing that would cut as sharp and deep as truth. Not love, not hatred. It is only truth that could hurt the flesh and the soul with the same intensity. And when she sees Arthur being hurt, she feels immense joy. It is but the beginning of her revenge, and he is already red in the face, calling her a liar and a scoundrel. Well, she is a liar and a scoundrel! But that is how Arthur’s father made her be. It is not her craft.
From now on, it will be her craft.
For Arthur’s woman to come to her rescue and beg the King to let Morgane stay – she would not have expected that to happen. Sympathy? Solidarity? Those concepts are unknown to her. The girl is all that the sorceress is not. Pink in the face, fair in the hair, innocent, and pure. When their fingers interlace, as she calls her “elder sister,” and swears to take care of her, something close to disgust moves in Morgane.
“My lord! Please, I implore you: love Morgane! As a woman, I need to protect my future sister-in- law,” Guinevere thinks, and she cannot even mask her momentary surprise. The girl is soft to the touch and for the most of it, real, and warm. She turns back to her, smiling. “You and I can watch over His Majesty together. We will make you feel welcome here.”
Then, Morgane suddenly feels at ease. The girl is even more stupid than she thought, playing into her plans without any suspicion. Very well. She shall be their wise, elder sister, full of the love she never got to experience, and the craft, the only thing she ever had in the world. She bestows the girl with her demons, winning her favours, and securing herself leverage to corrupt her according to her plans.
Guinevere unwittingly vouches for her own downfall and the feast continues.
She looks at Merlin and they exchange thoughts.
You took my future from me but now I am creating my own version of the story, she says.
You cannot take what is not yours to take, Morgane, Merlin warns him. The hall freezes between them and Morgane’s anger is bubbling in her chest, screaming for the man’s retribution. If you take Arthur’s future in exchange of yours, you will inflict more suffering on yourself.
Do you suffer? For letting Uther take what was not his to take? I will show you suffering! Arthur is not the only one I have my eyes on. You villain.
"Do not call me that,” he says with real words, on an accident. It is in his blind rage that someone dared to look into his eyes and tell only the truth about him. The very same pain Arthur felt earlier, she thinks.
Then, the tale starts subtly turning against her. Morgane feels like a puppeteer, dragging all players in this game on strings until her brother shows his true colours. At first, she does not realize anything. She is nothing less than baffled.
“My revered older sister!” A voice calls her later that evening when the guests retire and she roams the castle hallways alone – the castle she will own and destroy, soon. Having not used to the words of respect and affection, she does not realize the words are targeted towards her. “Lady Morgane.”
Her gaze is full of disdain at first as she looks at him before she could check herself. Thankfully, the boy is too much of a fool to notice anything, of course. He is standing there awkwardly, a pathetic little being. You call this a king? It is nothing but a nervous child, but with shoulders.
Then, she pretends to have a smile on her lips, painted red and inviting as poison apple. The grim castle walls ooze coldness on them but she can barely feel it. Her skin is always like this. Cold.
Impregnable. She is made out of alabaster.
“Brother dear,” she exclaims, in a sweetened voice. “What is it you seek from me?”
He steps closer but he does not touch her. His eyes flutter to the side, on the floor, before he could look at his sister. In his brown eyes, she sees something she never wanted to see.
“I come to apologize,” he says. “For what my father had done to you and your family. For what Merlin had done to you. For what I have… done to you.”
Apology? She wants to laugh. What a foolish boy to think that some words could mend her heart! The heart she kept away, cold, and preserved in ice, never to be awakened again. If she sought an apology, she would be a fool. Vengeance is sweeter than forgiveness.
“All my life,” Arthur continues. “I felt a loneliness, as though I did not belong to the family that raised me. I sit with my knights and I feel the same solitude, even though we fight together and laugh together. It may be that I was… born wrong, fallen out of place. I thought maybe you also felt flung out of where you used to belong. That maybe all I sought my life was the only true family I have remaining.”
Morgane looks up at him with her black eyes, hatred smouldering in them. How dare this man, who has everything - a bride, a realm, glory, and happiness – in the world to talk about the pain of solitude to her!
“I will be a good sister to you,” she promises. “And I… a brother you could love.”
When Arthur leaves her alone, she cackles so violently, she is afraid she would break down in tears at any second.
Guinevere is innocent, untouched as fresh snow but there is desire under her skin she wants to unleash. When she looks at her, she understands as much. It is a burning passion that she feels for Arthur, not unlike the yearning Morgane has for vengeance. But it is different, Guinevere marks it “love” and wishes it to be something that may create happiness and order in the world.
As if love ever solved anything, Morgane thinks. As if desire ever caused happiness in the world. The only thing desire is capable of is to destroy everything around itself – and the sorceress is going to prove this truth to the entire court. Men are all the same. They want what they cannot have and they let their pleasures and desires destroy, without a regard to the state of the world.
And women, foolish women like Guinevere want to create and nurture.
She had stopped being like a woman when Uther made her a witch. She does not want to nurture. With the same force, her poor life was destroyed, she wants to annihilate all who wronged her.
She was abused, and through that process, she became the abuse she suffered herself. Now, she wields it as her shield.
They sit in silence for a while. Everything in this castle is just as cold as it was up in the mountains and Morgane starts to think it is all her. Her coldness infects everything. Guinevere plays with the blue ruffles on her gown.
“You will find that he is heroic and noble,” she promises Morgane as though she felt the disdain from her, targeted at her brother. “You will find that no matter his origins, he is fit to be a king. In fact, I have not met a man who would be kinder than him. Who would have the same gentleness to his soul. He saved my life and stole my heart. As if he put me under a spell.”
You confuse gratitude with affection, fine, Morgane thinks. If she misinterprets her own feelings towards Arthur, the next step of the tale will be easier to accomplish. Love potions and magic spells could only go so far when there is no real doubt dwelling in one’s chest. She caresses the girl’s fair hair.
“How does he kiss you?”
“We are chaste,” Guinevere answers, a blush tinting her pretty visage pinker. She is longing for his embrace. “If he has any desire for other than a kiss, he represses it with marvellous effort.”
A man… no. Not just a man. Uther’s son, who overcomes his own desires? Morgane could hardly believe this to be true. He was the very product of greed itself, he had to chase satisfaction the same way his father did.
To these words, she stays silent. For Guinevere to carry Arthur’s child is thus impossible. He had not bedded her. His sudden spurt of virtue, or more like his buffoonery will be the end of him, Morgane thinks. Men who do not take what they desire may awaken on one day, realizing that someone else had taken what was dear to them. Guinevere shall never carry his heir. It should be someone else, who carries his heir.
And so she lays with Arthur before his bride could. Shapeshifting is not what she does. (That repels her.) It is an illusion of sorts, rather than transforming her body into another woman’s. A veil of a dream. The potion is a carefully crafted one, using the hair she stole from Guinevere the time she visited in her room, discussing her brother. Merlin had practised a different sort of trick when he had transformed Uther into her own father. But essentially – it is all the same. Deceit. A kiss will break the spell.
She comes to Arthur’s bedroom, unveiled, dressed in red. The colour of passion, and the colour of her blind rage. He is just as awkward as he was when standing across Morgane, apologetic and lost. An expression of bafflement appears on his face.
“Guinevere? It is the middle of the night.”
She embraces him, forcefully, and his arms curl around her waist in response. Surely, he is embarrassed, if not entirely dumbfounded. But there is something alien in his touch, something Morgane never experienced before, too. He holds his woman as she was a treasure. With the will to protect and revere her, not only as a queen but as a goddess. Morgane has to laugh. What a simpleton! What an utter fool!
“Why have you come so late? A nightmare?” He kisses her wrist as they separate. “You have never been so beautiful like tonight.”
“I come here because I want you.” Guinevere's voice sounds rough on her throat, unlike the true innocence that would sweeten it. “I want you to put a child in me. My desire for you burns me alive, night by night. I cannot wait any longer.”
She presses against him before he could say anything, invoking his desire with a hot embrace. Her lips brush against his skin. Soon, they are frolicking in his bedchambers like two young lovers.
She makes Arthur chase after her, breathless, with growing desire each second they spend apart. Evading all attempts for him to kiss her on the mouth she targets his neck again – and the fool he is, her experienced, eager touches do not stir any suspicion in him. Men are men. Fools are fools.
Arthur soon learns the game from her, planting kisses on the side of her throat and her jaw instead of her lips. His embrace is reciprocated and for a second, Morgane forgets the hastiness of their situation. The child! She remembers. Holding him between her thighs she yields – laying with a king, the same sin her mother committed, she changes the narrative. Tonight it is her victory, her choice. Fate is in her hands, Arthur’s future in her belly. Merlin stole her future once but tonight she will turn history upside down.
At the height of his pleasure, she allows him a kiss on the mouth, to catch him off guard. The spell breaks. Breeches undone, hair ruffled, panting, Arthur stares into the black abyss of his sister’s eyes, open wide, probing him. He halts back immediately.
“Sister!” he exclaims, startled. “What dream have I just seen! I…”
She smiles. It was not a dream he saw, but his own downfall in the form of a woman’s sweet embrace. Morgane arranges her clothing, in the most natural way, enjoying the turmoil that her brother appears to have inside of him. She steps closer to the boy, a hand on his shoulder.
“It was no dream,” she claims, another hand on her belly. “You put your child in me.”
She proceeds to leave but something pulls her back, Arthur’s touch on her wrist. He stops her, a mournful look in his eyes. Is it remorse? There is always something in him that surprises her.
“What have I done?”
“You impregnated me.” Her voice turns cold. She promised herself to chase him to hell. “A woman who was not your bride. Fathered a bastard. Just like your father before you.”
When she laughs, she thinks Arthur would strike her but instead, he takes her into his arms, drawing her into another embrace. Now it is Morgane’s turn to be startled.
“I have betrayed you!” Arthur thinks. “I have betrayed my wife and I have betrayed you. Sister, forgive me for what I have done! I have seen Guinevere in your place, I did not realize what I was doing was against our nature.”
When she tries to pry herself away from him, the boy lets him go.
“You need to leave this castle and go far away. To save you from shame. I will ask Merlin, to cast you away and help you hide. From the shame I have given you.”
“Brother dear… You truly do not understand anything. Do you?” she asks with a laugh, before leaving him alone with his sin.
They talk nothing of the incident, a blemish on Arthur’s conscience. She is anxious for a while. If that pure brother of hers decides to come clean, and tell his bride, who knows where her plans would end up. But Arthur is silent, as a grave. And so, Morgane, Leia and Hellawes summon Lancelot. Guinevere has doubt in her and so it will aggravate the magic. They are not bound by physical love towards each other. So Guinevere will pine for the touch of another.
She directs her demons to lead Lancelot in the girl’s way and the deed is done. Young, wistful, and full of desire. They will soon burn one another.
“What is the meaning of this, Morgane?” Merlin asks her. “What are you trying to accomplish with the child? The life you carry under your heart will soon become the target of your only affections. You cannot change fate to your own means.”
“A child? The target of my affections?” She cackles. “You think a child is a mother’s pride. A child is not subject to a mother’s love. A child is a mother’s instrument. You too must know, Merlin. And men are the son of the gods, the same way. Instruments who receive orders, rather than beloved offsprings.”
A sound, most resembling a thunder comes down from the sky. Morgane and the sorcerer look up at the same time. It is nothing natural, they both understand as much. However, it is also not magical. There is something else. Divinity.
"You can hear it too?” Merlin asks. “It is a sign. Do not fiddle with legends, Morgane. Do not change the course of history. Or else, you and Arthur will need to pray the price.”
“I have already changed the course of history.” She shrugs. “And the price, Arthur was designed to pay, with his future and happiness.”
“Morgane, hear me out. Legends and histories do change but it is never those living in it, who make the change. Do not try to transform the narrative, or else you will find the forces above punishing you for trying to forge your own fate.”
“Is it only for you? To corrupt other people’s stories?” Morgane spits. “I am tired of kings and their loyal dogs abusing power and prying it out of my hands in their selfishness. You changed history once and took my happiness, now deal with the consequences.”
“Arthur had done nothing against you to shoulder your vengeance. You cannot say I have not warned you. Morgane, the gods are not on your side.”
Another crumbling from the air, and this time it comes as confirmation. Morgane is not amused.
“I am a woman. Gods were never on my side. So you must see it too, I have nothing to lose. And I will risk all to see Arthur and your downfall.”
She watches her brother’s wedding as an important guest, finding satisfaction in the way Guinevere is torn between two men she believes she is in love with. The sorceress has no pity for her. Just like her child, Guinevere is becoming an instrument for her to use as well. She learned this from Uther. To take what she wants and never to have any remorse.
Later, she presents the girl with the rings, another trap she so easily falls into. She tells her to give it to the one she loves the most: Arthur. Hellawes stays with her and deepens the wounds. It is crafted well. She deliberately talks of the risks Lancelot is to take and before long, the girl has decided to go down the wrong path. Morgane is filled with false joy.
Leia kisses her on the mouth as she did upon sealing her vengeance. The tale keeps acting against her.
“What is it?” Morgane asks her. “Leia?”
“I seal your progress. You have chosen for Guinevere to abandon her wifely duties and betray her husband.”
She remembers the time she disguised herself as the girl and had Arthur’s arm about herself, a warm, loving touch. There was something alien in the way he turned towards her, adoration mixed with love and respect. She does not want to say it is something she craves. Guinevere shall never experience that embrace, she thinks, the embrace that was reserved for her, to begin with.
“So I have.”
“She will not be a good wife anymore. Nor can she bear Arthur’s children.”
Morgane stares at her for a while. Yes. And what is more, she will be abducted by Mélégeant soon, to aggravate Arthur’s pain and suffering before the truth about his wife comes to the fore. Over the course of that, she can finally rid herself of that man, greedy, unappealing, impure, underfoot. Sometimes her pet demons were incredibly slow creatures.
It all has consequences. The kidnapping of Guinevere barely reached their ears when Merlin also arrives and begs Arthur to get rid of the child. It is unlikely, for the sorcerer to go so boldly against the fate he seemed to serve before. And yet, he is nothing less than desperate. The changes in her body are not yet visible and she could barely sense the life growing in her belly.
“I did scry for answers from above. The child needs to perish or there is no way to help it.” “For the child, to perish?”
“If it does not, the consequences may be more severe than you think. My lord, listen to me.” He gestures towards Morgane. “She does not want the child, she said so herself. It needs to perish as soon as it is born. This is crucial.”
“You do not condemn my child. You have no right. It is mine, and I use it the way I want,” Morgane retorts.
Before Merlin could open his mouth again, her brother draws her to be by his side, his arm around her. He wants to protect her.
“It is my sister you talk about! And her child.” He glances to the side, full of shame. “Her child, and mine. I will hear no more of his death.”
“My lord! This could mean the end of you and your realm as you know it. You yourself wanted to send the sorceress away from Camelot.”
“To save her dignity.” Arthur does not release her and with each second, her disgust grows.
How dare this man come to her rescue and think that he is doing any service for her! She is more powerful than any of them in this room. Her prowess is greater than Merlin’s – this is why he needs permission. This is why he could only implore, and never act. He pretends to be the tool of fate but in reality, he is nothing more but a tired old man, who cannot play the role of the authoritative anymore. Morgane has more magical influence, which is why he could only watch her enchant Lancelot and Guinevere and push them towards sin, unable to stop the tragedy.
“Can you not see it?” Merlin asks. “It is all a deceit. She used magic to impregnate herself with your child and she will use it against you unless you allow it to perish.”
“Watch your tongue!” Arthur commands. “Leave us, now. Merlin. The child does not die. It is my blood.”
Bewildered, Merlin leaves the two of them alone. Arthur’s hand is still on her as if there was anything in this world she needed protection from. She wishes to cast him away and to express her disdain. Having no common sense, Arthur draws her into his arms again, his hand resting on her back, warming it.
“My revered elder sister! The times are more concerning than ever, but I swear to protect you and the child.”
“You cannot even protect your wife,” she retorts, escaping from the touch.
The scales only fall from Arthur’s eyes when his wife is returned from Mélégeant. Even then the sorceress needs to spell all out for him as if he was a small child, who had all the trust in the world. But it is not true. Below the surface of his cheerful manners, there was something melancholic hidden behind his boyish visage. Morgane could see it, she could even recognize it, but she made an effort to ignore everything.
Arthur is standing all alone in one of the corners of the hall, watching over the inhabitants of the castle, all celebrating the queen’s miraculous return. The way sadness and hope mix in his eyes is truly deplorable. She corners him.
“Baby brother,” she says, without realizing the change. “Does it bother to see your Guinevere's smile like this? A smile she would show to Lancelot, but never to you? Her own husband?”
She tells of all because this is the end of the first act – of Arthur’s downfall. He could taste pleasure for the briefest moments in his life and now it will all turn into ashes in his mouth. For the first time, he loses his patience with her, as she taunts him. For the first time, he finally understands who Morgane was all along. Merlin’s words finally make sense in your stupid little head, Morgane thinks. Except, she does not think only that.
“Silence. You witch!” She heard that word for a thousand times but never did it reach her chest as though a thousand pins would sting her at the same time.
Of all people, Arthur was always the one who wanted to nurture and to help others grow. Having pushed him to his limit was truly something unprecedented. Hellawes and Leia are regarding them from afar, but she has an awareness of them.
“You think I became this way because it was my desire to do so? It was your father who made me this way!”
Each time King Uther would be mentioned, Arthur apologized and held her close. She waits for that to happen. Now, it does not. In her confusion, Morgane goes after him, placing a hand on his arm: it is almost like an embrace but she never embraced any humans in her life for only the sake of being embraced. He shakes her hand off of himself, stepping away.
“I love my wife. And I trust her.”
It feels like a slap in her face. Arthur always had faith in foolish things like love, surprising and disappointing her along the way. His childishness is disgusting. He is too pure.
“Then you are a fool! Your wife had betrayed you.” She wants to touch him once more but he slips away. “Your true enemy is your weakling heart! Your love for her!”
“Can’t you see? It is not the enemy – it is the reason I can emerge victorious.” In her last attempt, she yells.
“Hearts change!” So do feelings.
She tells of the letters to him – the downfall of Guinevere.
“None of them will come,” Arthur tells her. “None of them will betray me.”
Hellawes later kisses her at night and she stares at her, puzzled. She does not ask the same question, however. Something untouchable lingers in the air, and she is anxious. It is unlike herself.
“Why was I longing for an embrace?”
“He is the father of your unborn child, after all.” She never said whose embrace.
And then they both betray him and she laughs again. She laughs, even though she knows that it will only make the distance greater between them. Arthur looks at her with empty eyes. She demands execution. As always. Righteous and full of love, he wants a trial. Deep inside, what she longs for is Arthur’s eyes to turn warm again and embrace her but she fights it. It is not her! She knows it is not her, she is smart enough. It is not yet time for her to realize what is amiss. But almost.
In order to gain back her old self, she pushes forward, unafraid. She thinks that the victory over Arthur will break the spell. (It has to be a similar spell that chained the two lovers together, a curse she inflicted on them. But she is adept enough in her magic to understand, this is not her true desire.) Guinevere and Lancelot chained together, in sin and in love fills her with disgust and incredible joy. Those two are the people Arthur loved the most in his life. Soon, they would be burning in the flames, which will consume them as desire for one another consumed them once.
Morgane places a hand on her belly and regards them from afar. When Arthur grants them pardon, her spirits fall, the boy’s name on her lips. That evening it does not sound hateful, it sounds disappointed and desperate. Leia and Hellawes gather around her, their arms curling around her.
Guinevere screeches like a madwoman. That humbles her. She is almost rendered to tears, looking at the girl who once vouched for her, only to reach her own downfall. Maybe death is better than madness.
“She lost her mind?” Morgane whispers to herself.
“She lost her mind as a punishment for failing to fulfil the duty of a good wife,” Leia says and kisses her on the lips. “For you have deceived her and made her betray her own husband and yield to human passion.”
“She could never become a mother for Arthur’s sons,” Hellawes continues, placing another kiss on her mouth. For the first time, Morgane sees them as the gods they are, instead of lowly demons. “The ultimate recourse of a wife is to become good.”
“The ultimate recourse of a mother is to become wise.”
“What does that mean? The narrative changed – and Arthur may have won now, but the story carries on due to the child in my belly. Revenge is mine!”
“You were right about that. History is not set in stone, Morgane. But not in a way you think. Seeking revenge is not something for mothers. The duty of a mother is different. And you are a mother now.”
“The ultimate recourse of a woman is to become a wife. For a wife to become good. For a mother to become wise…”
The world starts spinning with her.
“In exchange of Guinevere, now you have to become all that you stole from her.” “You agreed to this, remember? You sealed it with a kiss.”
When Leia locks their lips again, she collapses.
She awakens in her darkened bedchambers, a figure by her side. It is not Hellawes, nor Leia. A man, instead. A man-child, with an awkward expression, and wide shoulders. His face seems troubled and he does not realize that Morgane roused.
“Did the child die?” she asks, almost desperately. She hopes the child died but she knows she would never let them take it from her – it would need to be an accident.
At the same time, she also knows it is impossible, for her to be all that. A wife. A mother. No! She is a witch from deep within the mountains, with ruffled hair and disdain for mankind, for Uther.
Disdain for Arthur….
“Merlin says the child is well.”
She wants to wake up but she is weak. Her strength is being drained from her and she supposes it is something she could not even expect happening. She unknowingly signed a contract with those two demons, when she finally swore vengeance on her brother. And now here she is, her body changing, a new life under her heart and a desire to be loved with that gentle touch Arthur held his wife with. As she emerges from the bed, she almost immediately collapses again. Arthur catches her. At least there is one thing in him still… kindness. But his kindness is not on her side.
“The child has to die,” Morgane insists. “The child will force me to love it. The child is not an instrument of my revenge… It changed the narrative. The child is the instrument of my enslavement.”
Arthur places a hand on her brows and leads her back to bed. She is sweating, she knows that, and he may think she went mad, just as Guinevere did. But this is in order to escape from madness! Leia and Hellawes warned her, as the chanters of the story. If she does not fulfil her duty, she will become a madwoman in her punishment. So, if she wants to regain her old self, the one full of disdain the one who does not want to mend the ache of solitude with an embrace – she must cease to be a mother. The child has to die.
“The child is the blood of my blood,” Arthur tells her. “I take the responsibility. To build a future. With the child, and with you, who bore it. We do not have to suffer the solitude anymore.”
There is a little pause. Her brother strokes the black locks out of her face and looks into her eyes. Morgane knows that she is trapped but nobody could understand her pain. She only wanted to change the narrative but did not realize that the story was in wrong hands. The gods favour men, she reminds herself. Even Merlin told her so. The sorcerer must have known from the beginning. Wagering, to make her brother fall, she lost the only thing she had: herself.
“This is not us, I warn you! As a punishment, this child will make me love you, and I don’t love you, baby brother!” she exclaims. “I do not want to love you, baby brother!”
“Hearts change,” Arthur echoes her. She feels mournful, all of a sudden, drawn into his warm, protective embrace. This is not her story – but she hasn’t realized until now, it was not Merlin who corrupted her fate. It was someone else, even above Merlin. Her tears start flowing as Arthur presses his nose onto her neck. “I forgive you, Morgane. I forgive you.”
Then, her belly starts visibly growing and she cannot hide the child with clothes getting looser and looser with each passing week. Revenge is hardly revenge if you do not have to go out of your way at least a little to reach the perfect heights of it… But this growing life under her heart is more than a little trouble. In the perfect world, he would be the perfect punishment for Arthur, and she knows that. However, this world they live in far from perfect. Leia and Hellawes visit her in bed from time to time and rub her belly, kissing her promises back on her lips and brows. It is nothing more than mockery. She feels heavier and heavier with each kiss, her decisions weigh her down.
Arthur does not send her away from the castle, even when it is almost impossible to hide that she is with child. She uses magic, to cover up the truth but spells take time and energy. With another life growing in her, leeching onto her, it becomes harder and harder to concentrate on magic. She requests to be sent away, at least to a remote place in the kingdom. (It is not that she could not just… decide and leave and yet!) Arthur has none of it.
“No. It is too dangerous.”
In the end, they feign her depart and she is locked away in the castle tower, far away from the court’s peeping eyes. Her demons, and often Sir Kay serve her, instead of attendants. It is on her request, as Arthur would trust any of the ladies blindly, but Morgane knows better. Kay was her brother’s choice: he trusts him with his life, he said. Another foolish thing to say.
At night the sharp wind resounds in her ears and she lays sleepless. When the rain falls, the tower becomes even more damp with the weather.
Arthur comes to her sometimes, without a plan. He would be busy during the day, and often come at late hours of the afternoon bleeding into the evening, finding some excuse to separate from the courtiers and visit her. Or, even more often, he would come in the middle of the night, losing sleep over a fruitless visit.
“I disdain all parts of being a mother,” Morgane tells him. “I sought a child, so it would become my instrument and you took even that from me. Motherhood was supposed to be the creation of a weapon only I could use, but I did not know children were the best way to subjugate a woman.”
Arthur goes red in the face. He is still that awkward child, tall and lanky, too old to believe in fables of eternal happiness, and too young to let them go. He would lie to everyone, and mostly to himself in order to keep those fantasies. Morgane is the exact opposite of him: she was forced to throw those dreams away at an early age, and now, nothing can make her believe in happiness. Even vengeance was ripped out of her hands. Arthur looks to the side.
“Merlin says it is best for the child to perish. Please swear to me you will not hurt an innocent life. If you want to punish me for whatever it is I had done against you, do not do it by…”
“Not yet born, not yet named and you are already negotiating its price over mine,” Morgane spits, feeling the anger over injustice burning her stomach from the inside. Arthur is Uther’s son, after all. It is clear from the way he thinks. “It is true, you feel entitled to it, as though it belonged to you at all.”
“The child is innocent… I am pleading you. Do not hurt a life who could not have done anything against you. You needn’t raise him. You needn’t act motherly, but do not punish me by taking the life from him after he is born.”
“Oh, baby brother! You think it is so easy? If it is alive, I am bound to it by an unwritten rule I did not agree to.”
Arthur looks at her with those sad, puppy eyes. A king should never act like a child, she thinks. And most of all, a king should never resemble a dog. In any manner.
“You do not have to love him, and you do not have to care for him. I will take the burden. I forgive you sister, and I forgive him, too.” He stays silent for a while. “Let him grow up the way we could not.”
Those words echo in her ears all through the night.
Merlin is there when the child is born – and she forbids her brother to come inside the tower room. He is waiting on the other side of the door, back pressed to it as he silently waits for the verdict. Morgane has a peculiar awareness of him. She does not hold the child, she only barely glances at it once, his red, tormented little body. He is born with a single black lock, curling on his little head. Befitting of a son of a mountain witch. The infant is wailing with his toothless mouth open.
“Please kill it!” Merlin implores. “For your sake and for Arthur’s. If you let him live, the world will never be the same.”
“You do not order me, druid.”
“No, I am begging you!” He lowers his voice and uses her temporary weak state to influence her. “Arthur would never let this happen, because he is soft hearted and tolerant, but you have to listen to me. You are smarter than him. The child is both of your downfall, not just his.”
She takes him then, and holds the child to herself, burning the druid with her black eyes as hatred grows in them for him. Merlin understands.
“It has already started. You want it.”
“I don’t want it!” Morgane exclaims, her eyes welling up with tears. “I don’t want it but if it dies, I might go mad.”
She stares at the child for a long while as he sleeps in her arms. There is nothing of a motherly instinct in her and she wishes she could take it and throw it out the tower window, so it would fall down in the nothingness spreading below them. But she cannot allow herself to do so. The fear of Hellawes and Leia avenging the death – punishing her for not being a wise mother is greater than her aversion to the child. If only she could pretend to be the mother they decided her to become, she could keep her sanity, Morgane thinks. What she wants the most is keeping the freedom of her thoughts. But when she thinks of the way Guinevere crumbled under failing to fulfil her duties, sanity itself sounds promising enough.
Arthur comes through and she is still so tired and weak from giving birth, she hasn’t even the will to order him out. She feels all her weakness and vulnerabilities, as she never did before. He drops on his knees at the bed, not minding the blood and sweat around them, not even noticing the strained, pale face of his sister. This is what you had done to my mother, Morgane tells him in her head. And now this is what you had tone to me, too.
Arthur offers some water to her, and cleans her brows with a damp cloth – she just stares at him wide-eyed, her lips chapped from dehydration, from biting at them through the whole night trying to fight her pained screams. Speaking at all hurts.
His warm embrace only caused more torture for her and at the end, the child will only be her prison. Arthur bonds with the infant immediately, his fingers caressing his fat cheeks, all bundled up in warm cloths. Merlin shares a mournful look with Morgane, realizing that this is the time when this odd family is establishing their first ties, unable to break them anymore. She wants to touch Arthur’s hair as he is cooing at the boy, enamoured by the new life.
Fate, Morgane says, is something you want to make of the future. I will rather suffer than let you have it your way.
Both of you will pay a high price for this, Merlin thinks, and swishes out of the tower room, his robes curling behind him in the air.
She turns her head, to look after his figure. Is he jealous? It must hurt him greatly that Arthur refuses to listen, no matter what he says. And now, he cannot even rid himself of Morgane, or the child. She is contented with that. Even if the flames of hell are waiting for her, for the sins she amassed, if she can inconvenience Merlin for a little longer in this life, she could be content.
“My revered sister,” Arthur blindly seeks her free hand, curling up on the bed with his upper body. “How you must have suffered.”
“Don’t touch me.”
They fall asleep like that. Arthur kneeling on the floor, hand in hand, resting his head at her side.
Arthur’s plan for the child is not a fool proof one. They take the boy from her arms the next day and claim to have found it abandoned at the castle gates. The king, of course, being the benevolent man he is, and he always was, would take the child in as an orphan and have him brought up with the other infants at court. Nobody would even doubt his decision – he always had a heart ready to give anyone the mercy they deserved. Arthur too was an orphan once, and the court knows this too well.
Morgane is to stay in her tower for the next few weeks until her belly shrinks, and she gains her strength back. Separation from the child comes easier than she thought. There may be a pressure for her to act as a wise mother, but her body is rebelling against the thought. She is sick of it. Motherhood. Motherly instincts are alien to her, perhaps because she had never experienced love in her life, only from the fragments Arthur had shown her out of duty.
And if duty, he does fulfil it day by day. He sneaks the infant to Morgane’s tower every now and then, thinking that they should spend time together, mother and child.
“Look at our child,” he whispers, breathless from the pride and love that accumulated in his chest. “Look at this life you created.”
Morgane looks at it and only sees her enslavement. She only sees the torture she went through for the past moons, the way her body changed and tormented her, the way she could not sleep at night, the way the intruder was kicking her from the inside, the way she threw up anything she ate… The way it fought its way out of her body, tearing her apart. And no spells of Merlin were good enough to subdue her pain. That is what she thinks of when she looks at the red face of this little monster. She looks at it, and she sees Arthur again.
“If you gave birth to it…” Morgane tries to retort but two fingers on her lips stop the complaints from coming out of her mouth. Arthur gives her an understanding smile and she hates it. There is no way he could ever understand any of the pain she needed to go through. Simply on the basis of being a man and favoured by the gods.
“You wake him.”
They take a nap on the bed, their head knocked together as the child is placed between their bodies, wearing all white. When Morgane wakes, the first thing she sees is her brother’s eyelashes, softly fluttering as he still pretends to be asleep. Her fingers fill with magic and she sends a buzz through him as she touches his face, skin biting into skin. Arthur makes a sound, which ends up in a soft giggle. The sorceress does not understand – it was supposed to be teasing him, a mockery, not something familiar.
“I never felt this,” Arthur admits, as he touches his face where the small ray of magic touched him.
“Stung?” she asks.
“The absence of solitude.”
They stare at one another until the child cries out in hunger.
The day when they smuggle her back into the castle is a freezing, winter afternoon. She comes mantled and hidden behind several veils, fur warming her hands as though she had to make a long journey. Her errand girls (the demons) are accompanying him at the gate, probing her with their grey, lifeless eyes. Morgane knows better now than to trust them: every waking moment is a scrutiny and they cannot wait to call her a fraud, an unwise mother. She presents herself at Arthur’s sight and hands over the enchanted goods she had taken from her journeys with her.
Court gossip starts not long after she arrives, of course. The lady attendants are always dismissed as poor, simple souls but their eyes see everything and their minds work out the secrets of those around them. Even though Morgane only visits the child during the deepest nights (and that, only to put on a show for those vicious demons that enslave her), soon, you can hear the theories of why she had to abruptly leave the castle all those months ago. But who is the father? That is what sparks the endless circulation of gossip. Who could it possibly be?
At night, they visit Mordred’s room at the same time. Arthur is already at his cradle, a wide smile on his face as he watches the little boy sound asleep. She shuts the door close, just loudly enough for the man to take notice of her.
“Baby brother. What is it you are doing here?”
“I am visiting my son.”
“What will the attendants and the wet nurses think? You give attention to a bastard, appeared from nowhere?”
“I have an affinity for poor, orphaned bastards. It is known around the castle.”
Morgane measures him up, slightly annoyed. She is unsure whether he is simply jesting or this is truly what lies in his simple, loving heart, overflowing with affection. It is ridiculous, to put such a merciful king on the throne, she thinks. They will come for him and use his trusting nature to bring him down. (Just as she planned to do it, and now she is tied to him, due to the rules of motherhood she did not understand when she made her plans.)
“You have an affinity to pardon the unpardonable, baby brother,” Morgane retorts, and it is not without affection, which she recognizes with a certain brand of fear.
“Hatred and revenge destroys. Love and forgiveness builds,” Arthur answers, rather stubbornly, and takes the whimpering child in his arms, as the voices roused him from his light sleep. When he coos at the boy, his cheeks pod up in fatherly pride. Morgane steels her mind.
“There are unforgivable things.”
“We’ve still got to give it a try.”
The child starts wailing at his loudest soon, and afraid to attract the interest of the wet nurse – and the neighbouring attendants -, Morgane steps in. Running her fingers down the child’s face she closes his eyes with a silent spell, luring him into deep sleep. The child is spellbound into a quiet slumber. Arthur just stares at her, completely at awe. But mostly, at loss.
“Nothing as effective as a mother’s touch,” he thinks, the foolish layman he is. She shall show him.
“Put Mordred back in his cradle.”
His eyelids fall heavy the same moment the child is safe and Morgane observes this with a satisfied expression. No matter how clear hearted and pure Arthur is, his body still reacts to her newest spells like he was her marionette doll. He steps away from the crib, limbs weighing him down until he collapses on the side of the bed. She thinks he would close his eyes and be gone but his arms reach for her.
“Sleep, Morgane, sleep,” he asks her. “Dream with me.”
The spell turns against her the minute skin touches skin, Arthur’s drowsiness channelling right back into her. It is unexpected enough that the strength of her own spell would incapacitate her. Heads stuck together once again, she wakes hours later in still half a sitting position, Arthur’s scent in her nose. When she moves, to release herself, Arthur curls an arm around her waist, and still sound asleep, pulls her back in pursuit of her warmth. The sorceress does not fight it – even though it would take her nothing to find an escape route.
They rouse again with the morning sun, comfortably confused. The warmth trapped between their arms suddenly finds her unexpectedly bothered and out of place. She puts the blame on Arthur in her head, for reminding her of the tender way he held Morgane, under the guise of his own wife.
“Have you cast a spell on me?” he asks her, and there is something almost resembling fear in his eyes.
“Nothing as effective as a mother’s touch.”
Arthur darts up immediately, almost knocking her over. Unaware of their surroundings, and the room they accidentally slept in, he questions her. If Morgane ever saw him furious after the incident with the letters, then this is it.
“Is that what you do to make me think this way? Is that what you did to Guinevere and Lancelot? Did you use magic to fool our hearts?”
No, an instinct immediately wants to scream out in her and the vehemence of her thoughts pull her back to reality. She collects herself and musters all the composure she could gather to answer him coolly.
“You are the protégé of the great sorcerer Merlin and yet, he taught you nothing worthwhile of magic?” Her laugh is not returned by Arthur. “For every person with feelings, there is such a thing as a free will. No magic could break that free will.”
“If you want to say something, say it directly. Did you make me feel this way? And Lancelot? And Guinevere? Were they loyal?”
“As I said, feelings depend on free will. If they embraced one another, they already had the thoughts of betrayal in their hearts – I simply helped them discover it. Have you never wondered, why Merlin never made my mother and your father fall in love instead of having him shift shapes? Apart from, of course, your father being just a man, who only wanted to take whatever he found pretty, against their will or not.”
“Not all men are…”
“And not all sorcerers play with people’s hearts uninvited. And yet, do you know any who hasn’t done so? Even though, love cannot be touched by magic.” She thinks of Merlin, Merlin who used the exact same practices on his father – and yet was kept in such a high regard.
“That is because love is a form of magic on its own,” Arthur thinks.
Morgane cannot answer. She leaves the room before the wet nurse would find them.