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i.

“Guinevere,” Arthur starts, breaking the evening silence as they lay in bed together. “You’re a woman.”

“I am indeed” she answers stately, and then ruins it with a snort and laugh. “I would have thought that was obvious on our wedding night.”

“No, I meant--” Arthur’s face is all shadow, the fire that heated the room long banked, but she can almost feel the heat of his blush. Even with her he could still be that bashful prince. “What do you know of the Three Goddess?”

In the darkness he cannot see her face fall.

Gwen’s mother had had a silver trinket, a divided triangle on a thin charm. Her father had made it as a courting gift years ago (his only fumbling attempt at jewelry-making) and Lyssa had clasped it constantly weakly in her last hour, whispering prayers in a hoarse fading voice. Gaius had bid them to boil all her possessions after her passing, even the metal, and had looked away when her father dropped the illegal charm in with the cookware.

“The Threefold  Goddess is a figure of the old religion....”

“Go on.”

“She has three forms, maiden, mother, and crone… with power over birth and death. Women giving labor look for her for help.”

“They looked-” Arthur corrects, half asleep but still sharp. Gwen nods.

Gwen is queen of her people, nobles and farmers, men and women alike.  She was not born into this duty, but she is queen; the unexpected burden still rests heavy on her shoulders.  Arthur knows nothing of birthing, at least not beyond that of the castle’s dogs and horses. The court physician is not even called for childbirth; that is the domain of midwives.

What does her warrior king know of blood and fear when there is no enemy to fight, but death itself?

“Yes,” she says. “Women looked to her for protection. No one prays to her anymore.”

She rolls over onto her back and stares the canopy over their heads, that Camelot red turned rich black by nightfall. 

Why does Arthur ask her, anyway?

What does Queen Guinevere know of sorcery?

...

The next morning, his movement jostle her awake and he looks guilty when she murmurs, “Arthur?”

“Guinevere, I must-- I ride out to the Disir. I shall be back in a two days.”

She does not say: a king is not a prince, to quest and roam. A king is not an adventurer, to ride out at all hours. A king sits on a throne, not on horseback.

She does not say: if I must sit as queen, can you not be my king?

“Alright,” she says and sits up to gather her long hair into a knot. She reaches out to collect her vest and breeches. “Then I’m coming with you.”

...

They leave Sir Leon in charge of Camelot, and Gwen rides out behind Arthur and Merlin.

They are all three of them fatherless.

...

What are the reasons for Queen Guinevere to continue to hate sorcery?

Accused a witch herself, a first hand witness to the destruction of Camelot by a sorceress, her husband enchanted, her childhood friend grown wicked and dark, threatened personally by magic so many times.

...

The jagged empty place in her heart where Morgana had been, once warm with familiarity and fondness, is healing over. Time heals all loss--the death of her mother has healed to a springtime ache, and that of her father has softened into a pang when the winter wind is sharp and the smell of metal hangs in the air.

She rides out behind Arthur and Merlin, their hair bright and dark glinting in the weak morning sunlight, and turns once to exchange a glance with Morgana beside her, a weary smile on her lips: The Disir! What legends we ride into!

But the space beside her horse is empty, and Morgana is her enemy now.  

 

ii.

That night around the campfire, Arthur explains their first meeting with The Disir, the curse on Mordred and the demand to allow magic in Camelot, "I would have your council. I have always depended on you and Merlin to set me straight."

She does not say: once you depended on Morgana for that as well

“You cannot make the trade for Mordred’s life.” Merlin starts, tripping to get the words out. 

She remembers Merlin’s face when he told her he pronounced himself a sorcerer to try and save her from the pyre, his wide eyed fear of the witch hunter, the horror at Giaus being proclaimed anethemen. He’s the last one she would expect to resist this change, but fear makes people do many things. 

“Camelot has lost so much to magic.”

...

What does Gwen know of loss?

Elyan took her mother’s charm when he snuck out in the middle of the night and rode out to find his fortune, a note left upon their kitchen table. She remembers her father’s calloused, capable hands trembling as they held Elyan’s discarded leather jerkin and smoothing over Elyan’s charcoal letters that he had had to ask Gwen to read to him.

...

What reasons could Guinevere have for wishing the repeal of the ban on sorcery?

Accused a witch herself--

...

When her father became sick, she had tried to steel herself for illness to steal away her father. She tried to imagine a future without him and despaired. She laid at his bedside and prayed with each tear, let my father live. He has so much ahead of him, please let this sickness pass. Let him live.

Her mother’s blessed pendant long gone, no sigils painted above the forge, no cure from Gaius... there would be no help coming for the blacksmith of Camelot, but she had knelt at her father’s bedside and cried out to a stronger power, any power: Please! Save him!

...

When her father was cured, she brought flowers up to the castle.

...

When her father was cured, Gwen was imprisoned into the dungeons for the crime of sorcery. What does Gwen remember of that night trapped in stone behind bars her father forged?

There were not many cells beneath the castle. Uther had believed in a process that funneled most prisoners to their graves.

...

When her father died,

When her father was murdered, and after she had buried him far from the forge he had built and loved, she cleaned Morgana’s chambers and folded laundry and picked up buckets from the well and stood ready at feasts, for there were many feasts after her father died, and every day--

-- every day, she nodded in passing to the knights in the courtyard:  to Sir Ethan who ran the armoury, to Sir Leon teaching the squires, to Sir Betrod, Squire Reynolds, Sir Domin, Sir Tomin...

and she smiled at the guards at the gate and asked after their families, and never once, not once, dared think:

Was it you?

Was it you, Sir Leon? Sir Reynolds? Sir Oswald? Gregory of the night watch? Adian of the morning guard?

Was it you who cut down my father?

 

iii.

“Mordred has been nothing but loyal. How can you repay his loyalty with death?”

Merlin answers, his voice hoarse, ”A king must think of his kingdom, not just one man.”

“And what of a prince, concerned for a servant? Or a serving girl? You have never been the type of person to sacrifice those you love. To become so now, that would betray yourself.”

Indeed, she can see it in Merlin’s eyes. That may have been true for a prince, but Arthur is king now. What does Guinevere, servant girl-turned-queen, know of knights and loyalty? She is not a knight. She is not a king. She cannot understand.

...

When her father was imprisoned, he clasped her hand through iron bars and said that he did it for her.

“But I am happy! I don’t need anything else; I have everything I want!” She cried to him.

She didn’t mind the hours on her knees required of a servant. What was the scratch of cotton compared with the softness of Morgana’s smile? The ache in feet from standing in the throne room when that brought her close to Arthur?  What were hours lost fetching water when that time was shared with Merlin?

What does Gwen know of loyalty?

...

At the feast, in honor of Lancelot named knight, Merlin teased her: “But if you had to choose,”

Gwen looked at Lancelot and Arthur, her glance flitting back to dark haired Merlin as Morgana’s laugh rang out somewhere behind them. She huffed good naturedly at Merlin’s teasing, “But I won’t have to choose, will I? So there’s no point in it.”

Does the loss hurt less if you knew it was coming all along?

...

When Lancelot was banished from Camelot, did the flair of his cloak as he rode away hurt more the first or the third time?

...

Even after she had chosen Arthur, she would talk to Lancelot, gift him flowers for protection and flowers for happiness. It wasn’t so hard, that they loved each other, because they both loved Arthur as well. She was happy with Arthur, and Lancelot was happy serving him as a knight. If sometimes she thought-- If sometimes she wondered--

“So, come on, just for the sake of argument; If you had to: Arthur or Lancelot?”

...

“You execute Gwen’s father, and I will never forgive you.”

...

When her father was murdered, Merlin stood behind her and asked, so very grave, “If you had the, you know, choice, what would you do? If you had the power of life or death over Uther. Would you kill him? For what he did?”

"No. What would that solve? That would make me a murderer. That would make me as bad as him.”

She doesn't regret her answer. She doesn't.

  

iv.

Gwen turns to Arthur and says: “You told me once that you atoned for the slaughter of druids to save Elyan’s life. How is this any different?”

“It’s-

Merlin cuts in, his voice flat. “Elyan was possessed; he was forced against his will. Magic users, they choose their treason.”

“Oh Merlin, You don’t truly believe that. You can’t believe that.”

Arthur looks between to them. She cannot bear to watch him choose.

...

Had Elyan known, that night that their father died?  Did he have a moment-- did the loss steal upon him in the early morning, the knowledge of grief forced upon him?

Where was he when-

Was he trapped in a dungeon? Readying himself for common tourney, his lacers drawn tight and sword shiny? Squinting at the morning sun from the bed of a lover? Sputtering in the trough after a night of drinking?

Where was Elyan when their father was murdered?

Gwen had greeted her brother as a knight of Camelot when they sat together at the round table council, but she remembered mourning alone.

She remembers how his face turned from her when Arthur cast her out.

...

"We used to collect frogs from the creek, don't you remember Leon?"

...

Leon, lean and coltish with new growth, as he watched Gwen from the bank of the creek. The full moon shone down as he made his excuses; “I’m going to be a page, I can't be privy to this- this devilry!”

He balanced on stones while Elyan built a mud castle on the shore. “What are you going to do with frogs anyway?  They're dull.”

“These frogs are magic,” Gwen answered, and kept two of her prizes hidden in a bowl in the estate kitchen.  She had fed them flies daily, even as her skin crawled handling the insects. Frogs caught on a full moon were magical (everyone knew that) and she thought they would save her mother.

They didn’t.

...

What reasons could Guinevere have for wishing the repeal of the ban on sorcery?

Accused a witch herself, the daughter of magical conspirator, her former friend turned an evil sorceress, former love raised by sorcery--

...

When Lancelot returned to Camelot from beyond the Darracha, did her joy at his miraculous return lessen the ache of his first death?

The pyre in the courtyard was attended by all the knights, respects paid by all, while Gwen stood off to the side and watched the procession. Uther had burned witches but Arthur burned a great man’s memory in a funeral bonfire. She remembered the heat of the flames against her face, and the choke of smoke and heartbreak. It burned for days, long after she knew it should have extinguished itself.

Did the remembered flair of Lancelot’s cloak as he rode away hurt more the first time or the third time, when it was she who was banished from Camelot?

Was that why she had gone to him as she had--

It was Percival who brought her the cart for her belongings, and given her a calm “It’ll be alright“ before he walked back to the castle denied to her. Merlin came once in the morning, to console her, and then again, to watch her go. Leon and Elyan couldn’t even look at her. She had shamed them all and shamed herself...

Lancelot remained in the dungeons. She didn’t get to say goodbye.

“Do you know where you’re going? There’s a village, four days ride. It’s not quite a village, but it’s somewhere to stay.  For now. Take the western road, for it will be safer during spring time. The guards at the western gate will give you a horse in exchange for this,” Gwaine said, handing her a clinking bag of coins. She thought her tears had been used up, but she felt them prickle at his kindness.

What does Gwen know of loyalty?

...

When Gwen was imprisoned for adultery and banished from Camelot,

Her banishment from Camelot! She had thought that with her gone, at least her men would be happy, eventually. Arthur would forgive Lancelot, Lancelot would protect him, and they would stand together as brothers-in-arms without her to come between them. She traveled further each day from her exiled home and laid her head down on rough ground each night to an image of Lancelot and Arthur sitting beneath Camelot’s bright banner. Perhaps it was a memory of that feast so long ago that gave her comfort. But then--

Merlin’s letter arrived at the deep of winter, after she helped Hunith rethatch the house and slaughter pigs for winter.  She burned the last candle just to read it. His hand was shaky and the script tiny:

Lancelot was not himself. He was under the influence of magic.. He wasn’t alive, not really. I’m so sorry. Morgana raised him from beyond the veil and spelled him...

And she? Had she been under guise? Was that reason for why she had gone to him as she had?

...

When Gwen was imprisoned for sorcery, she was brought before the king and forced to kneel.

When Gwen was imprisoned for adultery, she was brought before the king and forced to kneel.

...

She laid abed all the next day and ran her fingers over the Merlin’s letter. Tears pricked her face, as the daydream of Arthur and Lancelot standing together was replaced by another.

A funeral pyre on the lake, unseen from the wood walls of Hunith’s cottage, but imagined all too well:  the red of Lancelot’s livery, the rough skiff on a placid waters, the flames fierce and bright as the boat moved ever further out of reach…

Morgana raised him from beyond the veil and spelled him. He killed himself. I’m so sorry Gwen. I gave him to the water.

Who stood in attendance at the last embarkment of Lancelot, most beloved knight of Camelot?

Merlin and Merlin alone?

(Who buried the greatest blacksmith in all of Albion?)

 

v.

Gwen says: “Perhaps not all sorcerers are bad. You said yourself that the man who gave you the judgement of the Disir did not harm you.... and you yourself saved a nameless Druid boy once. You don’t think I didn’t wonder what might have happened to him? Not a few months later, you lead a raid on the druids. You risked so much to save him! Morgana had--”

Arthur's face twists at the mention of Morgana, and she cuts herself off.

Morgana had dreamt of the druid boy dead for weeks afterward. She dreamed of Arthur and the boy gutted on a battlefield, their bodies lying side by side. How horrible, Gwen had whispered, and stroked her hair.  Her hands trembled despite herself. It was just a dream, just a dream...

Even then, those words had felt like lies.

...

When her father was cured, Gwen brought flowers to the Lady Morgana, her friend and employer,

Morgana, who had cried at the sight of the Gwen on a cell’s cold floor when she was imprisoned,

Morgana, who freed her father and lead him to his death, who found her lost brother and imprisoned him, who had loved Gwen dearly and tried to murder her.

...

What reasons could Guinevere have for wishing the repeal of the ban on sorcery?

Accused a witch herself, the daughter of magical conspirator, her former love corrupted by an evil sorceress--

...

"Uther killed my father."

"I forgot, you too had suffered."

There are many ways to lose someone.

...

Does the loss of a father hurt more if you thought them ineffable? If a father was a distant god instead of a warm overworked craftsman?  Uther, in life, had been Arthur’s frustration- a force that he yearned toward and a force that denied him benediction. Uthe, in death, was the greatest king Albion had ever known, the one who united Camelot’s baronies into a monarchy, a near god that did no wrong.

Gwen knew her father to be human. He had struggled after her mother died, after Elyan disappeared. A working man, his arms corded and strong, surrounded by metal and fire and practical things, had been left with a young daughter, her hair still in braids.

What does a working man think a little daughter needs?

Good prospects, pretty flowers, nice dresses.

She tried to tell him that her only real need was love, and she had it in spades.

...

When she lost her father,

When she lost Lancelot,

When she lost Morgana,

...

“You execute Gwen’s father, and I will never forgive you.”

It was Morgana who said that.

 

vi.

Arthur says: “I cannot leave the common people prey to magic users.”

What does Queen Guinevere know of being prey to the powerful? What does Queen Guinevere know of the powers common people turn to in hard times?

Birth and death. These are the dominion of women. In battle, men might call out to a leader, a fellow in arms, a king for aid.  When a peasant woman is frightened and alone, what power does she cry out to?

This Gwen will never ask: When Uther laid dying, what power did Arthur cry out to?

...

Gwen says instead, "You leave them at the mercy of-of any passing witchfinder, and the accusation of sorcery is more damning than murderer or oathbreaker! We have made some peace with the druids. Can we not make peace with ourselves?"

Merlin turns his face away from the firelight, his voice low and defeated. “There cannot be magic in Camelot.”

What does Gwen know of magic?

...

Her father’s rough hands had struggled to stitch the pastel leaves onto her little girl tunics, until a young Morgana eyed the crooked stitches across her front and asked "Oh Gwen, bring me your dresses to practice my needlework on?”

Who would know that those garments meant for practice saw more care than the noblewoman’s needlepoint circle? Who but Gwen would see the tiny stitching inside the neck of the shift, precise and planned with a considering eye? Sigils are not just meant etched in stone, but in every markable surface. Cloth holds a prayer just as easily as air. Green thread for healing, blue for strength, yellow for love--

She always knew Morgana would end up leaving her; she just never thought it would be--

Does the loss hurt more if, deep in your heart, you always knew it was coming?

...

Who walks to the market and asks after the villagers? Who sees the tiny marks in windows and the apple peels on dirt floors, asking a supernatural power for a youthful love, the tiny signs of an old regime that is slowly lifting?

...

After her father had died, Morgana had walked her to her empty home and stayed the night with her, both of them curled around each other on the cottage’s only bed. She had brushed Gwen’s hair out in the early morning before sneaking back into the castle. No one ever knew what Morgana had done for her, and in the weeks that followed, her concern warmed Gwen against the chill.

What reason could Gwen have for wishing the repeal on magic?

There are many ways to lose someone.

 

vii.

Arthur says: “Children should not-”

“But Arthur, children are. Children are orphaned, children are frightened, children are manipulated. Poor Sefa showed that much. And what of the condemned children? Or children born with magic through no fault of their own? What do you say to those children Arthur? Will you drown the lot of them in wells?”

He goes pale and stares at her. They were infants when the purge happened, but that does not mean those ghosts do not haunt them.  It does not mean that they do not haunt all of Camelot.

“Are those your words or Morgana’s?”

She will not bend. “Is this your decision or Uther’s?”

...

“I forgot you too had suffered.” How different things might have been if Morgana had not--

...

Morgana wasn’t wrong, in her tirades of Uther gone mad with power. And then Gwen watched it happen to Morgana herself. She stood beside the throne while Sir Leon spat at Morgana’s feet and Morgause reveled in the screams of townspeople murdered. Camelot’s crown sat upon Morgana’s brow like it had been fitted for her alone, and she treated that metal piece with more care than the people she ruled. What was the point of all it them? What is the point of ruling if you didn’t care?

“I forgot that you too, had suffered by Uther’s hand.”

If the death of Gwen’s father was what Morgana had forgotten, what was it she remembered? Hatred. Madness. Power.

Was this what magic did? Sucked a person dry until all that remained was the worst of themselves reflected twelve times over? Or perhaps it was not the magic and something else entirely that caused her change? Uther was as magical as a goat and yet.... Maybe it was in the blood, the Pendragon blood that flowed secretly through Morgana’s veins, and had made her forget the important things and remember only hate.

Shall she watch it happen to Arthur too?

...

When Arthur spoke of the danger of magic, what was it that he had already forgotten?

The blue-eyed Druid boy who had been saved from the pyre by Arthur himself

Merlin’s boyhood friend Will who harnessed the wind to save his village from bandits

The Cup of Life that had been left safe with the druids

Sir Leon, raised hale and whole by the Cup

The innocents who had been harmed by the laws against magic: Gaius, Merlin, Gwen herself... and Tom the blacksmith, condemned to death.

But then again, everyone forgets her father.

...

What reasons could Guinevere have for wishing the repeal of the ban on sorcery?

Flowers for health, flowers for death, flower for birth, and flowers for healing. Flowers for the lady, flowers for the shy lad...

Gwen could be lost in the barren lands past the kingdom of the Fisher King, and she knew if she looked hard enough she could find a few blossoms.

 

viii.

Arthur says: “When my father-"

“Uther!” Guinevere cries. “Again, we speak of your father. Your father! Why not Merlin’s father or- or my father?”

...

Who buried the greatest blacksmith in Albion, wrapped in a cotton shroud and saved from the paupers pyre only by the tears of his daughter and the remorse of a prince, in an unmarked grave a full day’s ride away from his beloved stone city?

Morgana’s pale wrists marred with bruises, Gwen’s face marked with tear tracks, how long until that hurt faded?

Two girls, not yet women, with shovels, began to dig her father’s grave in late morning. After Morgana had lead Gwen away to rest, they returned not an hour later to find Merlin had nearly finished, the deep dirt walls crisp and packed.

“Merlin,” she breathed, shocked at the precision, almost undone by the care. “How did you--”

...

When Arthur and his knights rode out with their red cloaks billowing and swords shining, it was Merlin in plain leathers who she had called out to.

“Merlin, you will take care of him.”

 

ix.

“I believe-” Guinevere says, taking a steadying breath,

And here she carefully does not think of the plain wooden cart that pulled her father’s body through the lower town, nor the tree she buried him under, grave unmarked.

“I believe the laws against sorcery have done much harm.”

Across the campfire, Merlin is crying. He hides it well, his face still turned away from the firelight, and perhaps in the darkness Arthur cannot see, but Gwen has always known his emotions.

Merlin cannot hide from her.

...

When her father was cured, and she imprisoned, what does Gwen remember of that night trapped in stone, behind bars her father forged?

Which night? The night Arthur threw her in the dungeon for adultery?  The night she had awaited execution for loving him?

The night that she cried into straw after being damned a witch? The night Merlin snuck down and reached out to her through the bars, his hands warming the metal that had begun to cool in Morgana's absence?

"Oh Gwen, I can't have this happen. You're not going to die. I won't let that happen."

In her grief, she had truly deeply believed him.

....

When her father was cured, she brought flowers to the castle for her love the Lady Morgana, and to her friend Merlin she gifted a single summer blossom, tucked close into his neckerchief. 

....

What reasons could Gwen have to wish the repeal of sorcery?

Saved from the pyre by the confession of a wizard, beloved by the deep green magic of the earth, her favored knight granted life by the druids, her best friend secretly magical, her father unjustly murdered under the laws against magic.

Queen Guinevere has lost more than most to Uther’s hate of magic.

 

x.

Brushing off the morning dew, they pack up the bedrolls and saddle the horses. Arthur offers her a hand up to mount her horse and then pauses looking up at her, strong hand gentle around her ankle.

"Thank you," he says as she reaches down to entwine her fingers with his, "for being honest and-- for everything I mean."

She holds his hand in hers, his heart in hers. "A servant girl is Queen; commoners are knights. Camelot can weather this, whatever you choose."

"That thankyou better be for me as well!" Merlin says from his saddle, attempting a laugh but it comes out high pitched, nervous.

"Of course, Mer-lin," Arthur drawls and then they're off, to face the judgement of the Disir.

...

In a hidden cavern just beyond the border, The Disir, three women who are the same goddess, look across a chasm at the three of them. Their faces and figures are shrouded in inky cloaks, and Gwen cannot look away. They speak, a single question passed around three voices:

"What is your--"

"Choice, Arthur Pendragon?"

"Does magic have a place in--"

"Camelot?"

...

They leave the cave of the Disir and ride two hours south in silence.

In a clearing in the deep woods, there is a small cottage, a near hovel, with a disheveled thatched roof and vines sprawled across the sunken windows. The dwelling is cast all in shadow, but inside someone moves, clinking jars and winding between tall shelves.

Arthur steps up to the door.

Behind him, Gwen squeezes Merlin’s hand and smiles.

At her feet, she can see the first crocuses of spring, their tiny stalks pushing out of the frozen ground and fragile purple buds just starting to unfurl.

 

end.