When I came to, I found myself in a large, overly soft bed. I sat up, struggling to disentangle myself from the goose down quilts. When finally succeeded, I looked around.
A crackling fire was blazing in the fireplace. By the light that it cast, I saw that I was in a bedchamber meant for a queen. The walls were edged in gold, the four poster bed sculpted from ebony. A side table made out of ivory sat beside the bed, with a porcelain pitcher and wash basin set on top. A spun wool wash towel was folded beside them. A ginormous crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling.
It was only after I swung my legs over the edge of the bed that I noticed that I was no longer wearing the gown that I had conjured up upon arriving. Instead, I was wearing a low cut, thin silk nightdress. I did not know whether I had accidentally created it in my sleep, or if whoever moved me into this room had changed me. I decided the latter, after realizing that my hair was combed and smelt of rose petals. A lady’s maid must have bathed me, brushed out my hair, dressed me and placed me in this bed. I felt bad, as I knew that a limp body is not easy at all to move around. Even though I was alone, I blushed as I thought of how that person would have also seen me naked.
I saw a little golden bell on the fireplace mantel. Wrapping a velvet robe from the foot of the bed around me, I crossed to the fire. The bell made a delicate tinkling sound when I rang it. Almost immediately, like she was waiting just outside the door, a lady’s maid hustled into the room.
“You rang, Milady?” she inquired, curtsying.
As I was not used to this treatment, I merely nodded. The maid rose.
“How may I assist you?” she asked.
“I would like to dress,” I stated, “and I seek an audience with the king.”
The maid nodded, a black ringlet falling loose from under her maid’s cap. She crossed to a cherry armoire, and opened it. I gasped.
Inside were more gowns than I had ever owned in all my years, from simple day dresses for lunch, to luxurious ball gowns for dancing the night away, in every color imaginable.
“What would you like to wear, Milady?” she asked.
“I, uh, um, I have no idea what would be appropriate. I was raised in a convent,” I added in response to her questioning look.
“Ah,” she said, turning to the wardrobe. “In that case, as you wish to meet with the king, I would suggest one of these.” She pulled out two dresses, both exquisite but not as fancy as the ball gowns.
The first was velvet, a deep violet with golden fleur embroidery on the bodice and elbows. Purple lace draped from the elbows to the wrist, and peeked out as the underlay.
The second was silk, a beautiful emerald. It had a golden belt, a snake that was biting its own tail. A closer look showed me that the snake had rubies for eyes. Both were floor length and very beautiful.
I pointed to the purple gown, speechless at the beauty of it. The maid replaced the snake dress and helped me out of my nightgown and into the day gown. She then sat me down at the vanity and pulled my hair into an elaborate up-do. She brushed and curled and pulled until it felt like she was going to yank my scalp off. Pinning the last strand in place, she spun me around and dabbed rouge on my cheeks. After she coated my lips with ochor and outlined my eyes with powdered pearl, she placed a headband of amethysts on my head and turned me back to face the mirror.
I gasped again. I did not recognize the lady staring back at me. She looked like she had been raised in a court, not in a convent. She looked regal, confident. I smiled at the maid in the mirror.
“Thank you so much, um,” I faltered, not knowing what to call her.
“Nimueh, Milady,” she said, nodding.
“Nimueh, thank you. This is amazing.” I gestured to my head.
Nimueh blushed. “It was nothing, Milady.”
“Please, call me Morgana,” I interrupted.
“Yes, Mila-Morgana.” She stumbled over my name, obviously not used to calling those whom she served by their names. “Now if you will follow me, I will take you to see the king.”
With that, I followed her out of the room.
“Ah, Princess Morgana.”
King Nentres rose, arms outstretched, as I entered the room. I curtsied.
“My Lord,” I replied, noticing with a pang the empty queen’s throne beside him. “I thank you for your hospitality.”
Nentres waved his hand. “It is nothing,” he insisted. “After all, you are Elaine’s sister, are you not?”
“Indeed, yet I have yet to see her. I am told she is no more. Pray tell me this is not true.” I awaited his answer with baited breath.
Nentres hung his head. “Alas, I am sorry to confirm your rumors,” he said sadly. “She caught the childbirth fever. She was gone before the night had passed.”
“And what of the child?”
“What of Mordred?” I choked out.
“Mordred is well,” Nentres said, perking up. “Would you like to see him?”
I nodded, unshed tears blocking my throat.
With a gesture from Nentres, a guard left the room and returned a moment later with a small boy.
He had about four years of age, with a head full of curly black hair, and full pink lips. He wore a blue doublet with gold embroidery and maroon breeches. He froze when he saw me.
I glanced at Nentres. His eyes were flicking back and forth between Mordred and me. I saw an idea beginning to form in his mind. I opened my mouth to say that no, I was not Mordred’s mother, when Nentres cut me off.
“Yes, my boy, this is your mother. She has returned.”
A huge grin spread across Mordred’s face. He ran and threw his arms around me.
“Mama, Mama,” he cried, his voice muffled in my gown. “Mama, where were you?”
“Enough, Mordred,” Nentres scolded. “Your mother is very busy, and I know that you know that you are not supposed to rush up and grab people.”
Mordred quickly stepped back. “Yes, Papa. I am sorry, Mama.”
“That is better,” Nentres said. “Now, go and find Freyre.”
Mordred bowed and scurried back out of the hall. I turned to Nentres.
“How dare you?” I snapped. “How dare you tell that poor child that I am his mother? It is an insult to Elaine’s memory.”
Nentres glared at me. “Leave us,” he told the guards.
“Now,” he said, once the guards had left, “let us get something straight. Contrary to what I may have everyone else think, Elaine is not dead. She is currently serving time as a farmer’s wife on the outskirts of my kingdom. She was unfaithful to me, and for reasons I cannot fathom, fell in love with that peasant. Instead of having her executed, I quietly divorced her and sent her to live on his farm. I could have ignored her crime, this is true, but it would have been too painful. The child she carried was the farmer’s, and was stillborn. We used this time to cover up her departure, and I announced that poor Elaine had caught the birthing fever, which, sadly, is not uncommon.”
“Then why does Mordred think that his mother had left, if he was told that she had died?” I asked.
“Because he is too young to have any understanding of death,” Nentres explained. “He thinks that she simply went on a long journey.”
I nodded thoughtfully. “While I do not approve of your methods,” I volunteered, “I do see your reasoning behind your actions. And you have still not told me why you told your son that I am his mother!”
Nentres grinned. “Because you resemble your sister. Apart from your hair, you could be her döppelganger, which is why Mordred mistook you for his mother. He is still young enough to believe anything he is told, and his memory of Elaine is already fading, so he will have no trouble believing me. And,” Nentres added, “you are very beautiful, and I need another wife. As you are from the same family as my last one, it makes sense that you should be my bride. Yes, Morgana,” he said, smirking at my horrorstruck expression, “you will marry me.”